If you’re like me, you have probably had someone tell you recently—or perhaps you have said it yourself—that 2020 has been a total wash. Just look at some of the major events of this year: devastating wildfires in Australia, the eruption of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines, the third impeachment trial in US history, the killing of George Floyd, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Oaxaca, Mexico, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in April 2020 conference, COVID-19 is “a solemn reminder that a virus 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand can bring entire populations and global economies to their knees.”
But the effects of the pandemic are not only seen in the number of cases or the tragic loss of lives. The mental, social, and spiritual effects cannot be underestimated.
The Washington Post released some staggering statistics in May regarding mental health:
- • A Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed nearly half of Americans reporting the coronavirus crisis has harmed their mental health.
- • A 1,000 percent increase was seen by a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress.
- • Talkspace, an online therapy company, reported a 65 percent increase in client usage since February, with coronavirus-related anxiety being a top patient concern.
Personally, I also feel the pandemic has caused a surge of social opinions, and as technology has become the default method of communication, my social media feeds have been inundated with more polarizing posts than I know how to handle.
This “war of words” is something the Prophet Joseph Smith also knew well, as evidenced by what he wrote in his personal history, “Great multitudes united themselves to different . . . parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, ‘Lo here!’ and others, ‘Lo there!’ . . . A scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued . . . so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions” (Joseph Smith—History 1:5-6).
Despite all of the voices and through all the noise, there was one voice that mattered most to Joseph, and it’s that voice that should matter the most to us in our time of strife—the voice of the Lord.
President Russell M. Nelson has invited each of us to “think deeply and often about this key question: ‘How do you hear Him?’”
The year 2020 likely won’t be one that pops up in my Facebook memories with glorious travel pictures or awesome hangouts, but I think 2020 will be memorable for a different reason—how I’ve focused more on hearing the voice of the Savior during “a scene of great confusion and bad feeling.”
Here are four lessons I’ve learned in the last few months about spiritual survival in tumultuous 2020.
1. Nothing is more important than love.
I sometimes think about the people who heard the Savior’s voice firsthand. In 3 Nephi 11:29–30, the Savior instructs the people in America and says:
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
In a joint statement with the NAACP, President Nelson wrote, “Jesus Christ taught an inspired model that leads to peace and harmony—to love God first, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t pretend that either of these pursuits is easy, but we do declare that they yield the fruits the Lord promised.”
Perhaps when Christ called these the two great commandments, they were great not only because of their importance but because of the effort required to achieve them. In this time of division, perhaps we can all find ways to show greater love, both love of God and love of our neighbor.
As Elder Holland said in general conference, “These two divine directives are still—and forever will be—the only real hope we have for giving our children a better world than the one they now know.”
So how do we show love? Through our actions. To combat the evil of racism, President Nelson said, “We need to foster a fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed, or cause. And we need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation.”
To show love during a pandemic, Utah faith leaders recently encouraged people to wear masks. Perhaps love can be shown in the simple way of wearing a mask in public, and perhaps service can happen in those simple ways too, which brings me to my next lesson.
2. Ministering can happen in really simple ways.
I love to travel, especially around my birthday in May. This year I had a wonderful trip planned. My birthday was going to be spent in Nauvoo, exploring Church history sites and attending the Nauvoo Illinois Temple (one of the ones on my bucket list). The week was to conclude with my brother’s wedding in Iowa.
Of course, those plans were canceled, and I ended up watching my brother get married through a Zoom call. I started to think of backup birthday plans and ended up crafting a “treat yourself” birthday, which was going to include a stop at my favorite spa. But of course, it’s 2020 and the spa wasn’t going to open in time for my birthday. One day I was bemoaning this situation to my ministering sister. A few days later I got a text from her. She had just gotten an email about a spa that had opened and wanted to forward it to me so I could fulfill my backup birthday plans. It was such a simple thing, but it meant the world to me.
Her simple act of service reminded me of a teaching from President Jean B. Bingham:
“Sometimes we think we have to do something grand and heroic to ‘count’ as serving our neighbors. Yet simple acts of service can have profound effects on others—as well as on ourselves. What did the Savior do? Through His supernal gifts of the Atonement and Resurrection—which we celebrate on this beautiful Easter Sunday—'none other has had so profound an influence [on] all who have lived and who will yet live upon the earth’ (The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles). But He also smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends, neighbors and strangers alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those ‘simple’ acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today.”
Service definitely looks different during coronavirus. There is always great power in face-to-face interactions. As Elder David A. Bednar recently said during a landmark address on religious freedom, “Gathering for worship, ritual, and fellowship is essential; it is not merely an enjoyable social activity.”
Truly, we need each other. And now as pandemic restrictions ease, perhaps we can look for more physically-distant ways to serve each other. As congregations begin to return to worship services, we can take note of people who aren’t attending, especially our ministering brothers and sisters. I hope that we do our part to account for the Lord’s sheep, because as Elder Bednar said, “Indeed, if the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later they will begin to scatter.”
And if your ministering brothers and sisters aren’t attending because of health concerns for themselves or the high-risk individuals they live with, imagine the isolation they must feel right now as they’ve been strict social distancers for months. Perhaps now, more than ever, these people need to hear our voices.
My next takeaway ties into this one.
3. Sometimes you have to be the one to reach out and ask for help.
In the Book of Mormon, we learn that “the church did meet together oft . . . to speak with one another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moroni 6:5).
As I mentioned before, there are serious mental health concerns emerging due to coronavirus. And if you are struggling with something, whether it’s emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, sometimes you have to be the one to speak up about it.
This is a lesson I feel like I have to learn over and over again in life. I love my independence and it’s really important to me, but I think part of “comforting those that stand in need of comfort” is realizing sometimes it takes a bit of vulnerability to say that you are the one that stands in need (Mosiah 18:9).
Most recently I learned this lesson when my grandpa passed away a few weeks ago. Though he was 90 years old, his death caught me off-guard. I had a physically-distant lunch with him on the Saturday prior and we ate lunch together and joked about whether we’d ever make it back to Disneyland, his favorite place. Just three days later, I got the call saying that his health had taken a sudden turn for the worse. After spending one last day with him, he passed away that night of natural causes.
I spent almost every Saturday of my adult life with my grandpa, and suddenly not having him around has increased my own feelings of loneliness during a time of isolation.
But I have been really blessed that when I’ve reached out to others in my moments of mourning, they have been there to mourn with me. On a work call the day after my grandpa’s passing, I was embarrassed when I choked up after someone asked me how I was doing, but instantly I got so many messages of love and support. I asked some friends if I could just sit with them for a while, and their company made a world of difference. But in order to receive those blessings of comfort, I first had to “speak with [them] concerning the welfare of [my] soul” (Moroni 6:5).
Elder Robert D. Hales has taught, “When you attempt to live life’s experiences alone, you are not being true to yourself, nor to your basic mission in life. Individuals in difficulty often say: ‘I’ll do it alone,’ ‘Leave me alone,’ ‘I don’t need you,’ ‘I can take care of myself.’ It has been said that no one is so rich that he does not need another’s help, no one so poor as not to be useful in some way to his fellowman. The disposition to ask assistance from others with confidence, and to grant it with kindness, should be part of our very nature.”
Sometimes you have to be the one to reach out and ask for help—and it’s terrifying. But there is a power in the covenant community of Christ and inviting that community into your life.
4. We need the Spirit to survive.
We often talk about our physical health. And thankfully, conversations of mental health are beginning to happen more regularly. Yet we rarely talk about our spiritual health—which might be one of the most important health aspects to talk about.
Two years ago, President Nelson said, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
Has your spiritual health survived coronavirus? Or do you maybe feel that the constant influence of the Holy Ghost has eluded you during this time? Perhaps without the strengthening influence of temple worship, the weekly renewal of covenants through the sacrament, or simply being able to gather together, you have taken a detour off the strait and narrow path.
Gospel translates to “good news,” and the good news we know as Latter-day Saints is that a detour is just that—a detour. The Savior not only provides a way back to the strait and narrow path, He is the way. He will lift us and carry us back. He has walked that treacherous road so He knows how to bring us safely home.
In a recent Church News video, President Nelson said, “The road ahead will always be bumpy, but the destination will be serene and secure. So, fasten your seat belt, hang on through the bumps, and do what’s right, and your rewards will be eternal.”
The Savior wants us to survive spiritually and will be with us on that bumpy road. He is our Redeemer. As we hear Him and hearken to His counsel, we will be led to eternal rewards.
In an interview with Church News about COVID-19, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “We will look back on this as a foundational time of preparation and not just something we had to endure.”
Our living prophet has encouraged us to “hear Him”—our Savior. And just like Joseph Smith, we might have to sift through “a contest about opinions” to find His voice. Perhaps circumstances are allowing us to find our own Sacred Groves to commune with Him, and a bedroom closet might be a substitution for a forested wood.
I believe that as we consider how we “hear Him,” even amidst the turmoil of 2020, we truly will find this to be “a foundational time of preparation.”
Lead image: Shutterstock
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