During the past several years, since the chain of events began that led to my divorce, I have experienced more sleepless nights and heartbroken prayers than at any other period of my life. My intensity of purpose was often exhausting.
Why had the one thing I feared most come upon me? How could I put my shattered hopes back together? I remember a cartoon of a small boy giving a book report, saying, “This book taught me more about horses than I ever wanted to learn.” I often told the Lord in my heart, “This experience is teaching me more about emotional maturity than I ever wanted to know.”
One night in particular, I poured out my heart for well over an hour, overwhelmed by what I saw as the failures that had blighted my children’s lives and led to their presence in a home without a father. During that dark hour, it seemed impossible to bear the conviction that I had destroyed something precious and had irreconcilably lost something vitally important to me, and to my children. I spent a restless night following my prayer, awakening about 2:00 A.M. still conversing in my mind about the subject of my earlier prayer.
I knew Christ had died so that we might not bear the weight of our failures and guilt indefinitely; but I could not see how even my repentance and Christ’s atonement could undo what had gone amiss in my own, my former husband’s, and my children’s lives. I thought, “The Lord himself has never injured anyone, as I have, through ignorance, selfishness, and poor judgment. He has never failed. He does not have to bear the incessant burden of knowing that he has damaged a loved one’s life.”
“Neither do you,” came the quiet answer in my mind. I was suddenly flooded with the realization that when I accepted our Savior’s sacrifice for my sins, he had taken them on his shoulders in a more real sense than I had ever before understood. Once I had repented of those sins and made what restitution I could, the matter of who had been at fault became irrelevant; the concern shifted from the past to the future. “Now,” I seemed to hear, “what shall we do to help our children, you and I together?” That deeply impressed me: my children are Heavenly Father’s children, too, and the work of teaching them to love the Lord and live the gospel is as important to him as it is to me.
As soon as I understood that fact, I felt my feelings of failure and inadequacy fall away. I realized that I didn’t need to be perfect before I could be a good mother. By humbly acknowledging my weaknesses and by exerting faith in Christ, I could be taken into partnership by a perfect Being. In rearing my children, I had the right to seek help from a loving Father who desired their welfare (and my own) even more than I could comprehend! That was a comfort beyond description.
During the following weeks, I tried to deepen my understanding of this concept. I found that the scriptures were filled with invitations to share my burden with God. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.” (Ps. 55:22.) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28.) “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36.) “The Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.” (D&C 50:43.) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5–6.)
I pondered the knowledge that no matter what my circumstances, despite past mistakes, I could still, at this moment, choose a way of life that would be pleasing to the Lord and bring me closer to perfection. Line upon line, precept upon precept, our home could gradually conform to the Lord’s celestial pattern.
One night after wondering and thinking intently about my need for extra help as a single parent, I opened the Book of Mormon at random and read the following verses:
“So great were their [the people of Alma’s] afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God. …
“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders. …
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
“And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.” (Mosiah 24:10, 13–16.)
I knew within me that those verses applied as much to me as to those ancient people. I knew that the Lord would indeed make my burdens light as long as I was required to bear them, and that when I had submitted with patience to all the will of the Lord, I would be delivered. I knew, too, that it was a measure of God’s love for me, to strengthen me to meet just that trial that would stretch me the most and turn my heart to him. If my love for God were so great that I would still follow him even during my darkest moments, then at last I could really begin to call upon the full powers of heaven and begin to work in partnership with the Lord.
As members of the Lord’s church, we are blessed with the privilege of being able to turn to him with all our problems, needs, and disappointments. While we cannot be assured that all we have done amiss can or will be undone, at least we can be assured that, insofar as we turn to the Lord in righteousness, Christ will bear our burdens. And somehow the very suffering or failure that first seems unendurable often brings us to the higher degree of humility and faith that we need. This is absolutely essential to bring us into full partnership with the Lord. Only then can we face and overcome the challenges we have thought were beyond our capacity.
The single parent misses the encouragement and appreciation of a loving partner. Many may feel, as I have, that they are isolated and exiled from the body of the Church or that establishing the kind of family life they dreamed of as young people is now beyond hope. But I am convinced that the Lord is mindful of all of us, single and married, and that Christ is indeed a full partner in all that any of us do in righteousness. I believe that, if we accept his partnership, he will crown our efforts with peace and with a fruitfulness often beyond our expectations.
He died for this—that our hearts might not break from grief and guilt and futile longing, but that we might be reborn, renewed constantly in faith and courage and love.