This essay is part of the Peculiar Minds series at Real Intent.
One of the most common misconceptions among latter-day saints is the idea that if we were spiritual enough we would be able to overcome mental and emotional issues. I think this arises out of proximity: the Lord speaks to us in our minds and in our hearts, and for many, spirituality is indistinguishable from their mental and emotional health (or health issues). Indeed, the relationship between our thoughts and feelings with and without the Holy Ghost is certainly complex, and that creates a lot of angst for troubled but trying members.
As with any concern, we are here to learn to exercise discernment about how serious the issues we face are, and we have to struggle to come to the best solutions for us, for that is our heritage as human beings and our agency opportunity. For one person, a diagnosis of cancer leads him or her through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and followup medication, sometimes for life. For another, that same diagnosis may lead to trips around the world visiting alternative practitioners, alteration of diet, meditation, and ritual cleansing, sometimes for life. Each may achieve remission. Both usually make discoveries about themselves and the world in the process. Neither treatment is morally superior.
The particular path of healing chosen by one individual often creates surprising rifts in families and friendships. We invest a lot of moral certitude in the way things should be done, as if one form of doctoring almost becomes a principle of the gospel. Whether we are attacked by those who disagree with our approach to our own healing, or whether one who has had success attacks others who approach healing differently, the reactions can be surprisingly judgmental.
In all of this one way or another, I feel that while we don’t expect our relationship with God to fix everything, sometimes we fail to go to him about any of it at all.
Shortly into Jesus’ ministry, a crowd followed him into the desert. Jesus, seeing this, had compassion on them and healed their sick. When the evening came, the disciples wanted him to send the crowd away to the towns so that the people could buy food for themselves. It was obvious to these disciples that the people couldn’t learn spiritually if they were hungry, a wise and mature observation. But Jesus replied:
They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
The disciples were willing, but had insufficient to feed such a crowd, as Jesus well knew when he made the outrageous suggestion. He had a lesson to teach. He asked them to bring the loaves and fishes, and told them to have the crowd sit down (why not tell them himself? because he was teaching his disciples to manage the kingdom.) He gave thanks, blessed, and divided the small offering, and then gave to his disciples to take to the multitudes.
They must have walked with their little offerings and wondered how it could be enough. But it was enough, and there is a great pattern hidden within these verses. It was significant enough that a short time later (we assume, since Matthew tells us the next story within the same chapter) that he walked to the disciples on the water, and Peter was inspired with sufficient faith to walk on the water to him. One miracle very soon beget another miracle.
That pattern was referenced by our prophet in his Oct. 2010 conference talk on gratitude using this very incident. He said: “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.” In pondering, I realized the Savior laid out a process for obtaining miracles.
1. Acknowledge the problem. We often run from the things that are troubling us, wanting to send whoever it is away to take care of their own problems. The Savior refused to do so. He looked at the problem squarely and took responsibility for what he could do about it.
2. Take stock of resources. We often assume that the problem is beyond us, and it usually is. We forget to look at what we do have to take care of the issue. Five loaves (or seven) and a two small fishes is obviously insufficient, but it is what it is, and we need to acknowledge what we do have.
3. Give thanks. How often do we go to the Lord, when we are outgunned and outnumbered and overwhelmed, and thank him for the pitiful defense we have? Our thoughts are almost wholly on what we lack. The Savior demonstrated that a vital step in the process of miracles is to first give thanks, and then the miracle would come.
4. Ask for the blessing. It seems so obvious, but do we ever ask? Or do we “(take) no thought save it was to ask” him (sort of throwing our request at heaven)? It seems our tack is either one or the other: either assume we’re on our own or toss a request for the whole thing to be handled. Do we hang around and expect to do this together with God? Could he really multiply the little we have and make it sufficient?
5. Go forward, expecting a miracle. The disciples walked into the crowd with insufficient. They had to move their feet. The baskets never overflow; there is simply enough. You have enough to cover your bills, but your checking account is never overflowing. It isn’t God’s way to waste. We have enough, but we’re seldom going to see that before we move our feet.
Every mental and emotional difficulty doesn’t bend before the power of our faith. Some thorns are not removed. Some issues require a combination of strategies. But we were given the power to discern, and it is within our grasp to decide what we will do. When we approach the Lord in humble prayer, even compromised by our mental and emotional burdens, we can feel the spirit indicate sources of help most beneficial for us.
Those sources may be individuals who provide therapy, and they may be self-help programs that retrain our thinking; they may be investigation of food allergies or they may be fasting and priesthood blessings or something else entirely. I was blessed with a mild form of Bipolar II that is manageable without medication through prayer, years of thought training, and behavior modification, but more importantly I was inspired that I was not to remove my thorn, but to let it stimulate gifts within. I accomplish a great deal in both my mania and depressive phases because I’ve learned to harness their power for me, to work with the cycle instead of against it. That was my answer, a gift by the spirit of revelation.
We can all receive revelation, even when we are not at what feels like our best, and we probably are receiving revelation when we embark on therapies that are working for us. Recognizing this, we can work with God, as well as with whatever form of help we choose, and receive miracles.
How do we walk on water?
- Face your problem. Define it. Acknowledge it.
- Take stock of your resources: friends, knowledge, skills, family, access to care.
- Give thanks. Real, genuine thanks.
- Ask for it to be enough. Figure out what that enough even looks like.
- Go forth with faith, expecting it to work.
When you choose your path to healing, I would suggest, make sure you’ve really thought about it. There’s not just one way; there’s not just one picture of normal; and you really do have access to the Creator of your broken brain. Even though revelation feels like it’s the furthest thing from a possibility, you can receive revelation, even if it’s the tiniest glimmer of an idea or a hope in the darkness, and you probably are receiving promptings even when you don’t think you are. Trust your gut, even when you feel you can’t trust your mind.
He had a plan with this. Ask him about it. I did, when I was rolled up in a ball on my couch afraid to look at pictures because I thought they would begin talking to me. I had three major episodes in my twenties and I prayed and the Lord answered me. It was not easy. It was not quick. But the path he showed me eventually brought me peace, stability, and strength of the kind that is wholly unique to me. He can and will speak to you as well, encouraging you in a path that may only ever work for you.
Own that miracle and walk on water, once your bread and fishes have been multiplied.