Throughout my service as a full-time missionary, I was blessed to serve closely with many people who touched my life in unique ways. Many of these individuals faced emotional struggles, like anxiety and depression. One of them was my own companion.
For some missionaries, depression and anxiety is something they experience for the first time during their service. In my companion’s case, she had been dealing with depression for several years and was very good at communicating with me and working through the ups and downs. Serving with her was actually very healing for me in many aspects. The things I learned from her blessed me spiritually and emotionally, both later in my mission and in my post-missionary life.
While I did learn a lot about mental health and emotional well-being through these experiences, what I cherish the most are the things I learned about God’s infinite love for each of us as His sons and daughters. Whether or not you are a missionary, and whether or not you have or are experiencing depression, I believe that these are important truths we all need to remember.
Just because God’s love feels far away doesn’t mean He isn’t close.
Sometimes, when we are sad, discouraged, or depressed, we feel distant from God. It’s part of being human that we all experience at some point. But mental illness especially can create a shadow that can block our ability to feel the Spirit in the way we normally would.
Though we might feel more distant from God during these times than any other time in our lives, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland testifies that it is in those times that God is closest to us. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “It may be said that God might love us more in those moments than in any other time—that He’s closer to us in those moments than any other time.”
As we keep seeking God even in our darkest moments, He will help us feel His love. And in times when we struggle to feel it ourselves because mental illness is blocking it out, He will send us people to help and lift us. Sometimes we feel God’s love for us most through others.
One example of this that I experienced was at the end of a particularly rough day when my companion and I knelt by our beds to say our personal prayers. As I finished my prayer, I could hear my companion weeping quietly across the room. I felt an urge to put my arm around her, but I hesitated because I didn’t want to interrupt her if she was having a spiritual experience. When the prompting came again, I crawled across the carpet, knelt beside her, and put my arm around her shoulders. She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face and whispered, “I was literally just praying to feel the Lord’s arm around me.”
President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another person that He meets our needs.” During difficult times, we can turn to others for love and support when we are struggling to feel God’s love on our own. We should also keep in mind that as we follow the Spirit, we can be the Lord’s arms in helping others feel His love when they need it most. Whether you are the one comforting or being comforted, you will probably find that God’s love is closer than you think.
Because God loves us, He wants us to use the resources available to us and take care of ourselves.
Heavenly Father does not expect us to overcome our challenges without help. The resources He has given us are evidence of how much He loves us! Different things work for different people, but from what I observed as the companion of someone battling depression, medication and counseling can be a really great thing.
In his talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,
“If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”
Even if we are not clinically depressed, this principle holds true. Heavenly Father wants us to take care of ourselves. Sometimes this means that we need to take a nap. Or maybe we need to eat better or exercise more. If we feel distant from God, or if we feel discouraged or depressed, there are things we can do to help make it better. It’s harder to feel the Spirit or to feel heavenly comfort when we are hungry, tired, or sick. We may not be able to fix everything or completely eradicate what we are feeling, but as we use the resources available to us to create a healthy balance in our lives, we can put ourselves in a better position to feel God’s love.
God’s love is not something we can earn or lose.
As missionaries, parents, leaders, or just normal people trying to live up to what we feel is expected of us, it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up. Sometimes we may even find ourselves believing that if we don’t do enough, Heavenly Father will love us less.
While it is true that we are blessed for keeping the commandments, the love God has for us as His children is not something we can earn or lose. Sister Joy D. Jones explained, “If we sin, we are less worthy, but we are never worth less! We continue to repent and strive to be like Jesus with our worth intact. … No matter what, we always have worth in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.”
At times we may also mistakenly think that in order to feel God’s love, we need to be happy all the time. Or that because we have the gospel, it should make us happy all the time. My companion struggled at times because we were teaching people that the gospel would make them happy—and yet, she found it difficult to feel that happiness herself.
What we learned is that it’s okay to not be okay. God doesn’t love you any less for feeling sad or broken. Yes, the gospel is a gospel of joy, but that doesn’t guarantee happiness all the time, and it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong if you don’t feel happy all the time. Experiencing pain and sorrow here in mortality is part of God’s plan. The key is that having the knowledge of the gospel is what can give us hope and help us through the darkest times of our lives.
“My dear [brothers and] sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.”
So instead of telling ourselves that we need to be stronger, happier, or more righteous for God to love us, may we remember that God loves us now, just as we are. As we do our best and rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can also find hope in knowing that we don’t have to stay as we are—change is possible, and happier times are ahead.