From the Church

Depression had me in darkness—how Sister Browning’s Christmas message led me to light

Sister Tracy Y. Browning speaks at the First Presidency's 2023 Christmas devotional.
Sister Tracy Y. Browning speaks at the First Presidency's 2023 Christmas devotional.
Screenshot from the First Presidency’s Christmas devotional broadcast on Sunday, December 3, 2023.

For many of us who experience depression, it can be difficult to find joy in things that once used to bring peace. Our senses can seem dulled—even numb—and smells, colors, tastes, and even sounds can feel less vibrant.

These feelings of heaviness and apathy can be exacerbated by the winter season, as many places have fewer daylight hours and beautiful landscapes become shrouded in frost and ice.

It’s profound that during one of the coldest and darkest periods for many, we are invited to turn our thoughts to the Light of the World. Rather than dwelling on shadows and gloom, we intentionally choose to celebrate and remember the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

This theme of remembrance particularly stood out to me as I watched this year’s First Presidency Christmas devotional.

“One of the wonders of this season is that it seems the whole Christian world, and many beyond our borders, spend this duration of time purposefully looking for and filling their lives with emblems of remembrance at Christmas,” Sister Tracy Y. Browning said.

Despite the “faded slumber” of nature throughout the winter season, as the “rustling of green leaves … gives way to barren trees” and “[once] cheerful birds fall silent,” Sister Browning suggests that we are presented with a gift—the chance to remember:

I remember to give attention to trees that stay evergreen, casting woody, spicy, and earthy scents. I remember to look for flowers and berries that are deeply red or strikingly white and to listen for familiar carols carried into hearts and homes and houses of worship proclaiming joy to the world as I look for Christmas symbols that heaven and nature sing with me and invite me to remember.

Sometimes, when I’m experiencing periods of depression or grief, it feels impossible to awaken my senses or look for the good in the moment. But this insight from Sister Browning reminds me that I can remember times when I have felt joy, turning to the Giver of every good gift (see Moroni 10:18).

As one of my favorite hymns suggests, when “other sources cease to make me whole,” I can turn to my Savior, who “reaches my reaching in my Gethsemane.”

“Our Savior gives gifts not as the world offers—temporary, partial, and prone to erosion over time,” Sister Browning taught. “Jesus Christ extends enduring gifts, even essential gifts, including gifts of the spirit, such as knowledge, wisdom, testimony, and faith, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of eternal life.”

I recently experienced my own emotional winter in a sense, facing an extended period of stress, sleepless nights, and numbness while managing a busy work schedule and supporting a family member through a severe health challenge.

While it was difficult to feel the Spirit during this time, I was guided to the Lord’s light through the service and kindness of others. This experience taught me that we can remember the Savior and see His light through other people, and it inspired me to help others feel and remember Christ through my actions as well.

As Elder Gerrit W. Gong taught in the devotional, “Often Christmas becomes Christmas when we quietly bring Christmas joy to others. … many individuals light the world with the light of Jesus Christ.”

My grandmother Marilyn Tolk was an amazing example of helping others remember the joy of Christ at Christmas. She collected nativities from around the world and stuffed animal bears, and she loved scouting out new Christmas decorations at estate sales and festive holiday shops. She sent grandchildren and neighbors legendary gifts, such as homemade Oreo truffles and personalized cards in her characteristic cursive writing, which showed the immense love and thought she poured into these Christmas tokens.

My grandmother Marilyn Tolk with her homemade Oreo truffles.
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Christmas Giving
My grandmother Marilyn Tolk with her homemade Oreo truffles.
My grandmother Marilyn Tolk with her Christmas bears collection.
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Christmas Giving
My grandmother Marilyn Tolk with her Christmas bears collection.
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Christmas Giving
My grandmother Marilyn Tolk with her homemade Oreo truffles.
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While I enjoyed these gifts and decorations, I came to appreciate their meaning more deeply as I grew older, realizing how they symbolized her desire to share Christ’s love and joy with everyone around her. “The key to a good life is loving people—and loving them unconditionally,” she once said in a message to our family.

For as long as I can remember, she kept a magnet on her fridge that quoted Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

She loved how Dickens’s story taught about the joy that comes from remembering Christ, repenting, and serving others. “At a time when many felt unsettled, isolated, and lonely, Dickens’s Christmas Carol addressed the deep yearning for friendship, love, and anchoring Christian values,” Elder Gong said in the devotional. “Then, as now, the true meaning of Christmas draws us closer to Jesus Christ, born as a babe in a manger.”

My grandmother passed away in August 2022, but I can’t help but remember her—and ultimately the Savior—when I see nativities or watch adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Because of the Savior, I know I will see her again someday. During the Christmas season and throughout the year, I want to honor the Savior as she did, helping others to remember and feel His love.

The Savior will help guide us during our own seasons of darkness or grief, leading us to the light of His love. We can remember His life and mission by both reaching out to others and receiving service ourselves.

And, as we keep our covenants and remember Christ, He promises to remember us always as well.

If you missed the First Presidency's Christmas devotional or want to catch it again, you can watch it here.

▶ You may also like: 12 days of Christ: A Christmas advent to help you connect with the Savior

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