92906_000_005How can I help those suffering from loss or lack of companionship to feel accepted?
It was Mother’s Day. Childless, I wanted to run away as the boys from the teachers quorum handed flowers to each of the mothers in our ward. My husband put his arm around me and whispered, “Stand up. You deserve one, too.” Tears welled up in my eyes, and I longed to disappear.
I know I am not the only person who has ever had feelings like these. Over the years I have found that it is not uncommon for individuals to feel occasional alienation and sorrow during Church meetings. I saw it in the fatherless boy who threw spit wads during Primary song practice. As Primary president, I escorted him out, and he glared at me and said, “Why do we have to sing that stupid song anyway? Who cares about dads?” And I found it in the words of a dear friend who, after a painful divorce, told me she wept alone after each sacrament meeting. “Will going to church ever stop hurting?” she asked.
The feelings of these individuals “sunk deep into my heart.” (Enos 1:3.) I wondered what I could do when personal trials made it difficult for me or others to feel the joy of the saints. How could we overcome our sorrow enough to hear and understand the words of eternal life? Single adults, childless couples, widows, and lonely children are only a few of those who may feel this yearning to be completely accepted. What can we do to help others who feel this way? And what can we do to help ourselves when we feel this way?
I worked for years to resolve my own confusion. Personal peace was as difficult for me to grasp as the darting fireflies I had tried to catch as a child. Though I attended church, read the scriptures, fasted, prayed, and attended the temple, my inability to have children caused me to feel uncomfortable, ashamed, and alienated. However, gradually I learned more about the peace the gospel offers. Even though my life has not turned out as I had planned, I have learned that the gospel has immeasurable gifts for me.
The word peace can remind us of some of the elements of peace if we use each letter to begin a new word that modifies or partially explains the process of gaining peace and comfort when life seems especially difficult.
PERSPECTIVE. Let the p in the word peace represent perspective. It sometimes seems to the quilt-making seamstress that the square she is working on is the most important, most difficult, and most time-consuming—at least until she begins the next square. During the time that Church attendance was difficult for me, my own embarrassment and hurt over being unable to have children seemed an Everest that I could not conquer. All else dimmed in the shadow of this mountain of dismay. Yet I learned that even the largest of mountains is small when compared to the breadth of the earth. So it is with each segment of our lives.
I will always remember a conversation I had with a friend in the ward who had recently joined the Church. She told me of growing up with an angry, authoritarian father. She had searched for comfort and found harsh judgment instead. Tears came to my eyes as I sat in her kitchen and listened to her story. As I thought of my own childhood in a home filled with love, I began to realize the temporary nature of my feelings of alienation, and I recognized my lack of gratitude for the blessings I did have. Couldn’t I, who had been given so much by my parents’ example, continue to carry the bright torch of faith by using perspective to look beyond the present moment—even though that moment may seem endless?
ESTEEM. The first e in the word peace points to the esteem we must have for the worth of our own souls. In this world, where people are often placed on ladders of importance and some are esteemed to be of greater worth than others, it is easy to forget that “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one.” (1 Ne. 17:35.) To me this scripture means that the eternal life of any individual soul is worth the sacrifice, the infinite atonement of the Father’s Only Begotten Son. How highly we should esteem the worth of each soul! Yet many of those who are uncomfortable at church are battling for their own self-esteem. Every time I heard someone talk about the importance of motherhood, I felt worthless and as empty as a bleak winter day with no spring in sight.
During this period of my life, two things buoyed my sinking self-esteem: the service I rendered to others and the unconditional kindness shown to me by many ward members. An incident with an eleven-year-old boy I taught in Primary illustrates both of these factors. One bright Sunday morning, he raised his hand after I had borne my testimony to the class. “Sister Gallacher,” he said, his eyes like blue lights, “I’m glad you have time to teach us the way you do. We need you right now.” How this child’s words added peace and purpose to my feelings of self-esteem. Surely if we serve in the Savior’s church and learn of him, we will find that the yoke of service often eases our own personal burdens.
ACCEPTANCE. The a, the balancing point in the word peace, stands for acceptance. I refer to the need to accept oneself at each solitary moment in one’s own life. This kind of acceptance is honest and introspective, with a healing power of its own. In the scriptures we read, “Be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16.) Alma tells us that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21.) Having the faith to accept one’s own life as valid and of infinite worth, even when it unfolds in an unexpected way, is difficult.
This road to acceptance was perhaps the most painful chasm for me to cross. But crossing it was a necessity. It began for me on a bleak day five years ago with a phone call from my doctor. He called to personally tell me that the most recent laboratory tests had been completed. Now, after six years of exhausting infertility treatment, we had an answer. His voice was kind as he told me I would not be able to conceive.
Throughout the day, my husband held my hand or hugged me whenever I wept. But I found that here, at the end of this particular road, the wound to my self-esteem began to heal. Maybe it was because I no longer had any choices to make in this matter. Maybe it was Heavenly Father’s way of helping me to walk by faith, to cross that chasm to acceptance. But that day I decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wishing things were different, yearning for something I could not have. I found I wanted to live fully in the present. I found that even without the one thing I wanted most in the world—my own child—I was still me, the gospel was still the most beautiful truth in existence, and life was still worth living. I found that I could still trust in the Lord’s unerring divinity and love, that where one road ends, another begins.
COURAGE. As the c in peace follows the a, so does courage follow acceptance. What is true courage? I think it is the ability to take whatever life hands us and do the best we can with it. It also seems intertwined with another c word—charity. Without the Savior’s love I could not have found the courage to continue trying to follow the road to spiritual growth. As I read the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, and as I prayed for guidance, I began to learn more about charity. That perfect love, which neither excuses nor condemns us, is difficult to describe, yet it has a feeling as tangible as life itself. I learned that through charity, I had the ability to pick myself up and hang on to both my testimony and my Church activity.
ENDURANCE. Finally, we come to that trailing e on the word peace. It lingers, as silent as it is stubborn. To me it is appropriately the first letter of the word endurance—silent, determined, going onward. I continued onward to sacrament meeting, to Relief Society, and on my visiting teaching routes.
I remember the pain I felt when I went visiting teaching during those days when I so desperately wanted a baby. My companion had a two-year-old, and all three of the sisters we visited had toddlers and were pregnant. I laughed and smiled with them as they spoke of labor pains, receiving blankets, empty bottles, and burps. After each visit, alone once more, I sobbed.
Now, seven years later, I’m glad I was determined enough to keep going visiting teaching to these sisters in spite of my pain. They are dear and priceless friends now, and I realize that friendship is another gift of gospel living, another joy due to Church activity over time.
Faith truly precedes the miracle. There comes a time when we must stop frantically grabbing for that firefly of peace. We must simply wait for it to light upon us, as soft as a poem, as perfectly as the missing piece fits into the puzzle. If we remain active in the Church and live the gospel as well as we can, it will come. We can find the peace the gospel brings. With the Holy Spirit as a guide, we are not left comfortless. “Peace I leave with you,” the Lord tells us, “my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
Sometimes each one of us feels surrounded by darkness and pain, perhaps even during a Church meeting. Now, when I feel this way, I try to remember that the Savior’s resurrection is a living witness that there is light beyond any darkness. We can find that light. And, because of our Lord, the earthly journey toward eternal life is worth every effort of courage and faith.