Jane Clayson Johnson has called it “perhaps the most distressing part of depression.” Time and time again in the more than 150 interviews for her book Silent Souls Weeping, Johnson heard people describe their struggle to feel the Spirit and the love of God.
In her own case, she said, “For long stretches of time, I just couldn’t feel God’s love.”
On this week’s episode of All In, psychologist David Morgan spoke of this struggle and what Toy Story 4 can teach us about God’s love for us.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: I know for me, David, there have been people in my life that I really love and care about. And I know that they have wonderful hearts, but … they say that when people are dealing with depression, it's hard for them to feel the Spirit, and so then they feel like they're not capable of feeling God's love. So how does Satan deceive people into believing that they can't have greater spirituality? And how have you seen that in those that you've worked with?
David Morgan: Right. Well, and you're absolutely right, Morgan, I think this is something that's probably touched all of us at one point. And we certainly know people who are kind of stuck in that situation where they just feel like they can't change or that God has checked out on them. And they're just beyond hope, and all of those things are just completely satanic—it's his deception, that somehow we've gotten beyond the Savior's grasp, and we aren't.
There are sometimes issues of worthiness ... if we intentionally do things that we shouldn't, and we've commit[ed] sin. And in those cases we can repent. But a lot of times, like you talked about, people with feelings of depression oftentimes describe a difficulty being able to feel the Spirit. In Jane Clayson [Johnson]’s book ... Silent Souls Weeping, she talks about that, and how you just get to that point of feeling numb, and like no feelings are getting through, including feelings of the Spirit.
And of course, Satan's going to capitalize on that and say, "Well, yeah, see, [that's] because you're not doing what you're supposed to. See all these other people that feel the Spirit? They're going to church, they feel the Spirit. You don't feel the Spirit, there's something wrong with you." And I don't know how all that shakes out. I'm sure that the Spirit is powerful enough to break through those things. I don't know if that's part of the difficulties people need to experience in order to become more like their Father in Heaven, but just this idea that we are not worthy—we need to lose that idea.
We need to lose that idea that we are these kind of unworthy creatures. And this is, I'm sure, probably way too colloquial but if you've seen Toy Story 4 you remember, Bonnie makes Forky, right? You know, she makes Forky out of a fork and some other things and that's her new toy. But Forky believes he's garbage, and he keeps trying to jump into the garbage can. And then Woody keeps fishing him out of the garbage can ... and every time he turns his back on Forky, Forky's trying to get to the garbage can to jump in again.
Because he says, "I'm trash." He says, "I am garbage." And Woody says, "You're not garbage, you used to be garbage. But now you are Bonnie's toy. And so you have a different place, you belong up here on the counter instead of in the garbage can." I think that's what we need to understand as human beings. We need to know who we are. We're back to the beginning of our discussion about identity. We are children of our Heavenly Father, and He loves us, and we have 100% immense potential, and He's gonna help us reach that. We don't have to do it on our own. We were never expected to do it on our own.
He gives us liability so that we will turn to Him and so that we say, "Heavenly Father, help me through this difficulty. Teach me how to do this." And then we act. And then as He helps us along, we become better.
In Section 121 in the Doctrine and Covenants it talks about our confidence waxing strong in the presence of God. And I love that idea. Because so often, we have the opposite experience. We feel like Alma the Younger when he was in his ... days of darkness. He said he wanted to be extinct, both soul and body, so that he didn't have to face God. That's how bad he wanted just a big mountain to come crush him and crush him out of existence. And yet here in the Doctrine and Covenants, it talks about the complete opposite of that experience, that our confidence is strong in the presence of God. ...
And I'm sure while being still appropriately humble, we say, "I belong here," you know, "This place is for me. I've done what I needed to do. And the Savior has redeemed me to the point [that] He's taken away the rest of my sin and blemish[es] so that I can be here." And that we feel like we're back home, which is where we belong. That's where we came from. It's where we're destined to go again.
But we need to ... develop that confidence in ourselves. And I think if you lack confidence in that, I think one of the best things you can do is to pray [to] your Heavenly Father and just say, "Heavenly Father, will you help me feel the way about myself that you feel about me?" And you may not get an answer [at] that moment, but I'm confident if you continually ask for that, if you regularly ask for that, you are bound to have a tremendous spiritual experience where you feel Heavenly Father's love for you.
And I've had that experience on occasion. And it is profound … your body just feels completely full of His love. And [for me] it lasted for like 10 seconds, you know, it didn't last the rest of my life, but I remember it. And I know that's the way He still feels about me. And so when I have days where I feel down and depressed and [feel] that I am not worthy or whatever, I try to remember that feeling. And say, "You know what, He still feels that way about me so I can get up off the dirt and do something about it."