Day 77: Lonely, but Never Alone

Mormon 8:2-3, 23-24

Moroni, the final Book of Mormon prophet-historian, was to his knowledge the last Nephite living around 400 AD. An enormous army of Nephites had been decimated at a final, massive battle; of 24 known survivors (Mormon 6:11, 15) only Moroni escaped the Lamanites’ dogged determination to wipe out every last Nephite (Mormon 8:2-3). “[A]nd I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people” (Mormon 8:3). Moroni was truly alone. His father had been killed, his people were destroyed; he was left to wander the land in constant fear of his life: “And whether they will slay me, I know not” (ibid.).

Have you ever felt alone? In our day, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated, lonely, unheard, unnoticed, uncared for. I have experienced this. After graduating from college and moving in with my grandma, I struggled to make friends in my single adult congregation. I still remember the pain and embarrassment of trying to make friends and singling out a man one Sunday who I didn’t know was engaged. When his fiancée showed up the next Sunday, I realized what I had done. I felt foolish, embarrassed, frustrated. But nothing could compare with the utter loneliness that descended on me. As a missionary, geographically and technologically cut off from my family and assigned to live with perfect strangers, I felt afraid and isolated for many months. Literally no one knew me. The people who should have been my friends didn’t seem to care about me.

Somehow Moroni pressed on. And somehow, I did, too. Moroni testified:

…and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. And he knoweth their prayers…. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)

Like Moroni, I discovered Christ in my extremities. As I walked my lonely paths, I found the Savior walking beside me. He heard my prayers; He organized small details of my life to speak comfort to me and bring great blessings; He provided me with opportunities to grow, to develop self-confidence, to hone talents, to learn how to minister to others, to get outside my comfort zone, to succeed against self-imposed limitations and stiff odds; He kept me safe when I was afraid; He provided for me in my hours of need.

It is tempting in the depths of despair and loneliness to conceitedly think that no one understands. But Jesus Christ truly does understand. He walked the loneliest path of all, through Gethsemane and on to Calvary where even His closest friends abandoned Him. He bore the weight of our sins, suffering, illness, and pain completely alone. On the cross, Jesus even lost the support of His Father’s presence, needing to fully comprehend spiritual death so as to fulfill His role as Savior. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so…. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are” (“None Were with Him,” General Conference [April 2009]).

Jesus Christ understands. He can help you carry your burden, whatever it is. He has felt your pain, loneliness, despair, disappointment. He stands ready to wrap you in the arms of His love and mercy. No matter who you are, what you have done, where you live, Jesus Christ knows and understands you. He loves you perfectly. He can heal you, just as He did Moroni anciently, and just as He has healed me.

Day 68: The Arm of Mercy

3 Nephi 9:3-14

While the death and destruction of 3 Nephi 9 are pretty devastating, I was struck by the Savior’s words as he speaks from heaven to the Nephites and Lamanites. In verses 3-11, Christ names specific cities, describes their destruction and the reasons for it. The Savior was intimately aware of even the minute details of people’s lives, behavior, actions, geographic location, and more. And despite all of the wickedness, despite the ways in which the people rejected Christ and His prophets, He invites them “we ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? … Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Have you ever carried an emotional, spiritual, or other weight around with you for a while, long enough that you have forgotten what it’s like to live without that weight on your shoulders? I have. I also know the relief and freedom of finally having that burden lifted, realizing what I have lost while carrying it around, and rejoicing in my new freedom. This is what it’s like when the Savior heals you. Sins weigh us down, whether or not we recognize it in the moment. When we repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, those spiritual burdens will be removed; the difference will be stark.

No matter what you’ve done, the Savior is eager to help you repent and heal you. He has satisfied the demands of justice and, if you turn to Him for help, He can apply mercy. And He will heal you.

Day 49: Precious Souls and Redemption

Alma 39:17 and Alma 40-42

“[I]s not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” Alma asks his younger son, Corianton. God provides the Plan of Salvation because we are each precious to Him. Each and every person who has lived, currently lives, and will live on earth is a beloved son or daughter of God. So loved in fact, that our brother Jesus Christ volunteered to suffer and die on our behalf and our Father in Heaven agreed to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son for the purpose of redeeming the entire human race.

The Plan of Salvation, as explained by Alma to his son, provides the opportunity for mankind to overcome the effects of Adam and Eve’s “fall” and become worthy to enter God’s presence after this life on earth is complete. The two debilitating effects of the Fall include: 1. Spiritual death (separation from God by sin); and 2. Temporal death (separation of body and spirit)––both of which prevent us from entering God’s presence and receiving eternal life (Alma 42:6-7, 9).

The Plan of Salvation hinges on the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God Himself coming to earth to experience mortality just like the rest of us but with a clear and heavy purpose (Alma 42:15). Jesus used His mortal ministry to re-establish the essential practices/ordinances of baptism by immersion and bestowing the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He provided the perfect example of how we should live on earth to qualify for eternal life (Alma 42:4, 13). Then He performed the Atonement by which in a miraculous way He accepted the punishment for all our sins. He suffered, bled, and died to complete this crucial transaction, allowing Him to judge and forgive sin (condition 1; Alma 42:22-23). It also provides the gift of Resurrection for every single member of the human race (condition 2; see Alma 40:23).

I love the clear and detailed explanations Alma provides in these chapters about what happens after this life. I love the Savior Jesus Christ for making a glorious life after death possible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NT).

Day 19: Healing the Wounded Soul

Jacob 1-2

And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul. (Jacob 2:8)

How does the word of God heal the wounded soul? On the surface I think the logical explanation is that the word of God is another name for the Gospel of Jesus Christ––faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ literally heals the soul because participating in those steps results in a soul’s redemption and exaltation.

As John writes in his Gospel, Jesus Christ is the literal word of God (see John 1:1, NT). Our souls gain many wounds over a lifetime, whether it is broken hearts, pain for the sins of loved ones, scars from our own sins and transgressions, regret, unkindness, just to name a few. But Jesus Christ, who suffered so much on earth, learning through His mortal experience how best to help each of us with our individual pains, sicknesses, afflictions, sorrows, can heal any wound. One of the miracles of His Atonement is that it gives Him power to understand and apply the perfect treatment.

 

Day 10: Spiritual Strength

2 Nephi 4:17, 27, 30-35

The other day I had a moment of Nephi-like anguish for my mortal-ness. In 2 Nephi 4:17 Nephi exclaims, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” Have you ever felt the duality of your existence in this way? We are each of us parts divine and mortal, an eternal spirit in a mortal body. While our mortal bodies are essential to learning, growth, and preparation for eternal life, sometimes I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Sometimes my spirit desires righteousness and goodness beyond what my mortal half is capable of doing, thinking, or being.

I can’t imagine that Nephi was guilty of any really serious iniquities but I do understand that any thought, deed, or behavior in any way remotely contrary to God’s standard would cause discomfort for a sensitive spirit that had been cultivated in obedience, prophecy, visions from God, angelic ministrations, and righteous deeds. Mortal-ness is a powerful component of each individual. When we spend time engaged in mortal and worldly things, we feed this part of ourselves, making it even stronger. The reverse is true, however, that when we spend time engaged in spiritual activities and pursuits, we feed our spirits and make them stronger. Prayer, scripture study, family home evening, ministering, attending church, teaching the Gospel, worshipping in the temple, bearing testimony, and keeping the commandments all cultivate our spirits and strengthen them. Continuing to strengthen our spirits over our lifetimes is critical to developing the spiritual sensitivity Nephi demonstrates, as well as the strength of spiritual desire necessary to choose righteousness over every other option.

But as Nephi reminds us in verses 30-35, we don’t have to labor against mortal weaknesses alone. The Lord is there waiting to help us. Having experienced this same duality of immortal spirit subject to fleshy mortality, He understands our challenges and knows how to help. Like Nephi, we can put our trust in the Lord as He “makes our paths straight,” “clears the way before us,” “delivers us out of the hands of our enemies,” helps us to lose our taste for sin, encircles us “in the robe of [His] righteousness,” and “redeems our souls.”