One of my least favorite get-to-know-you games is called “Two truths and a lie.” To play the game, you share two facts about yourself and one lie, and then everyone tries to guess what the lie is. I struggle every time to come up with a lie that sounds believable but is actually untrue.
But as I look back at my life during the past year and a half since my husband died, I can clearly see that I’ve been distracted by a lie, one that has caused me to sometimes lose focus on two truths I know. My 51-year-old husband fought lung cancer for ten months and was doing great until suddenly he wasn’t. When he passed away, I instantly felt different, like I no longer fit in with my couple friends or in my family-oriented ward. I felt like my presence made people uncomfortable because it seems no one really knows what to say to someone in deep grief. I felt like a spotlight followed me everywhere I went, reminding me and everyone else that I no longer belong, that I’m “different” now. I sat through sacrament meeting talks where speakers told of miraculous healing and answered prayers, and Relief Society lessons about trials and faith, and through it all, I listened to Satan whisper that no one understands what I’ve been through.
It was easy to settle in and get comfortable with this lie. As I struggled to figure out who I am without my husband, I found myself in a haze of grief and questions. And when I focused on how isolated and misunderstood I felt, I started to see that as my new identity. I began to avoid most social gatherings, including church, because I couldn’t help comparing how different my life was from the “normalcy” all around me. With that line of thinking, it took only moments in any social situation before I felt awkward and painfully different. As time passed, I sat deeper and deeper in the lie until my isolated state felt completely inevitable and permanent.
Breaking through the Haze
Ten months after my husband passed away, I decided to experiment with the counsel of my parents and church leaders and find somewhere to serve. I’d been taught that service is the best anecdote to pain—and I needed help with the pain. I began working as a service missionary in the local mission office and accepted a call to team-teach a night seminary class.
In my very first seminary lesson, we studied Psalms 136, where Christ reminds us that “his mercy endureth forever,” a line repeated in every single verse of the chapter. This promise reminded me that He shows up in unexpected places to bring hope and deliverance to His people. And through our study, I was reminded that He would also extend His mercy to me.
During class, I was reminded of times when Christ too felt lonely, friendless, forgotten, and misjudged, specifically in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary. For the first time in months, I knew that He knows how I feel. I am never alone. He invites me over and over again to bring Him my troubles and my worries, for His “burden is easy” and His “yoke is light.” When yoked with Him, our burdens become lighter too. I’ve had to learn how to become yoked to Christ; for me, it looks like sincere earnest prayer, patience while waiting, and the humility to say “I need you to handle this, I can’t do it alone.”
Thirty years ago, I read a quote by Chieko Okazaki that I have never forgotten. She explains the Atonement in this way: “We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything—absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human race. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually.”
As I’ve considered that quote, I’ve found comfort in thinking through how individually the Savior understands my pain: He knows what it felt like when my husband was diagnosed—the fear that immediately surfaces when you hear the word “cancer.” He knows what it felt like to watch my husband endure the painful side effects of chemo, radiation, and immunotherapy. He knows the agonizing uncertainty of every test result and doctor's visit. He knows the desperate loneliness I felt when my eternal companion passed away. He knows the insecurity I feel trying to make every decision as I now parent our children alone. He knows the stress of going back to work after 25 years at home and knowing that I now have so many years to navigate alone. I no longer feel trapped in the lie that no one understands what I'm going through. As I remind myself that Christ knows and loves me, I'm able to feel hope and motivation to keep trying.
Remembering the Truths
In addition to focusing on the Savior to debunk the lie, I’ve also found comfort in two fundamental truths 1) God has a plan, and 2) I can trust Him.
First, I know God has a plan. Each day, I remind myself that His work and His glory is to help us return to Him. Mortality is full of challenges and trials and while God doesn’t cause those things to happen, His plan is to help us learn and grow through them. He sends angels from both sides of the veil to provide comfort and strength. He speaks to us through scriptures and prophets, and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He sends peace. His plan includes a life full of both joy and pain with blessings and consequences. Our experiences here, both good and bad, provide opportunities for us to become like Him. As we make and keep sacred covenants, and try each day to be more like Him, we are able to feel His guiding influence and the peace He promises.
Second, I know I can trust God. As I’ve struggled to find my place in a world that is unfamiliar, and while facing a future I didn’t expect, I have felt the Spirit whisper that everything will be OK, that He knows the beginning from the end, and that someday this will make sense to me too. Over and over again, I have felt peace “which passeth all understanding”—something that is only possible through Him (Philippians 4:7). There is no other explanation. I pray daily to see His hand in my life and to recognize the blessings He provides. This reminds me that He is aware of me and that, like Nephi, I can “suffer afflictions” and be “highly favored of the Lord” (Nephi 1:1). As I’ve studied the stories of Jesus, I see clear indications of His character that I know I can count on; He is loving and kind and selfless. He has the power, and desire, to heal what is broken. I think often of this quote from Elder Patrick Kearon: “Jesus specializes in the seemingly impossible. He came here to make the impossible possible, the irredeemable redeemable, to heal the unhealable, to right the unrightable, to promise the unpromisable. And He’s really good at it. In fact, He’s perfect at it.”
I know that God loves me and wants me to be happy. When I focus on the truths I know, I find freedom from Satan’s lies and the power to feel peace.