23909_000_013Like a slender pine leaning on other trees for support, I had been relying too much on those around me to shore up my self-worth.
I am in my 40s. I was married in the temple to a wonderful man who honors his priesthood and has held a number of Church leadership positions, and we have five healthy children. Reared in an active Latter-day Saint family, I served a full-time mission and have held as many as three callings at a time in my ward. I enjoy good physical health, and our family is blessed with the necessities of life. Outwardly, I seem happy.
As they say, however, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I have experienced emotional problems associated with depression for the past 20 years. About 10 years ago, I reached a stage in which I felt I needed professional help. Through LDS Family Services and my physician, I received counseling and was placed on medication. After six months of treatment, I felt fairly in control again and was taken off the medication.
I managed for a while, but gradually I became caught in the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and experiences again. The simplest of tasks seemed overwhelming, and scarcely a day passed that I did not cry or feel like a total failure. If my children fought or had problems with friends or school, I felt responsible. If my husband had a bad day or was too hard on the kids or did not give me the attention I wanted or needed, I felt it reflected on me. If our needs or wants exceeded our financial resources, I felt hopeless. When I was asked to substitute in Primary, I felt inadequate. As a result, I thought I was a failure as a wife, mother, homemaker, and member of the Church—and therefore a failure as a person. Why weren’t my prayers for help to overcome these weaknesses being answered?
Realizing I was again losing this battle, I contacted my bishop for another referral to LDS Family Services and began receiving counseling again. LDS Family Services therapists have a way of understanding and treating mental and emotional problems, and they are also able to apply spiritual concepts that help in healing. In one session, the therapist asked me to look him in the eye and tell him that I truly knew who I was, that I had a firm testimony of my divine origin and potential, and that I undeniably felt my Father in Heaven’s love. Certainly I could proclaim those things, couldn’t I? Not only had I been raised in the Church, but I had spent 18 months in the mission field teaching investigators those very concepts.
But something was missing—something inside my heart. As I looked at the therapist, I started to cry because I was not able to confidently discuss those things. He then challenged me to obtain a confirmation of who I am and of my worth to my Father in Heaven, the Savior, and myself. Until I acquired that confirmation, he said, I would not begin to heal. To start the process, he suggested I find a time and place to be alone in nature and contemplate God’s creations. While this treatment method does not help all who seek to overcome depression, my therapist was confident it would do me much good. He encouraged me to make prayer a part of my experience, to use caution and wisdom in choosing the place, and to let someone know where I would be.
I don’t think I have ever approached an assignment with such mixed feelings of fear, hope, skepticism, humility, sincere desire, and shaky faith. Praying several times over the next few days that Heavenly Father would help me, I selected a beautiful area in the mountains close to where I live, an area well visited by people yet secluded enough that I could approach my Father in Heaven. I began the morning with prayer and decided to fast as well. As I traveled to the site, however, negative thoughts harassed me: What if I fail? What if I don’t learn any lessons? What if I come home even more depressed?
I spent four or five hours in the mountains that morning, trying to be in tune with what the Spirit might teach and pleading with the Lord for the help I needed.
At a certain point in my walk, as I stood amid the trees, I became aware of several pine trees leaning over at abnormal angles. As I looked, I realized they were leaning on other trees. The leaning trees appeared to be dead or to have minimal growth near their tops, and the only thing that seemed to keep them from crashing to the ground was the strong trees beneath them.
As I contemplated those leaning trees, I came to understand that I had been very much like them. Because I lacked the inner strength that comes from self-respect, I had always leaned on other people for my self-worth by seeking approval from them. I tried to be perfect so they would know I was capable and smart. In my early years, I leaned on schoolteachers and other grown-ups; in later years, I leaned primarily on my husband and children. As a result, I now felt as unhealthy emotionally and spiritually as those leaning trees looked physically.
When people were not there to lend me strength, or when I perceived that they had in some way withdrawn their support, I came crashing down. I came to understand that instead of leaning on my fellow mortals for constant validations of my worth, I should be relying on the foundation of my Father in Heaven and my Savior. They are constant. No matter how imperfect I am, they will always love me and be my source of strength. If I could learn to build my foundation on them, I could be strong and not so easily tossed to and fro like those bare, lifeless, leaning trees.
This lesson in the forest appealed to my mind, but I wasn’t sure it was reaching my heart. I knelt down and pleaded for peace and assurance that all would be well and that I could change my life.
When the time came for me to leave for home, I knelt one last time and prayed that the insights and lessons of the day might penetrate my heart and that I might find what I was lacking. As I started the car, a quiet thought entered my mind: I should ask my bishop for a priesthood blessing. It seemed to be the last thing I needed to do to complete my assignment.
Still fasting, I met with my bishop that evening. He gave me a beautiful blessing. Afterward, he reminded me that I was loved by my family, friends, and ward members—and most of all, by my Father in Heaven. As I felt the quiet assurance of the Spirit, I knew his words were true. Sensing that my prayers had been heard and that I was loved, I began to feel contentment enter my heart. I knew I could be patient for the continued progress I so desired.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long. That weekend we attended our stake conference. The session was about compassionate service and charity. As the speakers delivered their messages and stories, I realized I needed to love my husband and children in a Christlike way. The best way to learn that would be to serve them without expectations that they would validate my worth in return. As I listened and thought, I was filled with a Christlike love for my family, and I felt a peaceful, healing spirit flow over me. I knew my darkest hours were over.
A final witness came as the stake president read a scripture during his closing remarks: “It is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).
As difficult and painful as my learning process has been, I am grateful to a loving Father for teaching me about the Savior’s way and allowing me to feel the power and joy that trying to live a Christlike life can bring.
Finding the Divinity Within
“Each of us … needs to reach down into the innermost recesses of our souls to find the divinity that is deep within us and to earnestly petition the Lord for an endowment of special wisdom and inspiration. Only when we so profoundly reach the depths of our beings can we discover our true identity, our self-worth, and our purpose in life. Only as we seek to be purged of selfishness and of concern for recognition and wealth can we find some sweet relief from the anxieties, hurts, pains, miseries, and concerns of this world.” President James E. Faust, “Heirs to the Kingdom of God,” Ensign, May 1995, 63.
Let’s Talk about It
Invite two family members to stand back-to-back, a few inches apart, and lean backward until they are supporting each other. Ask how they felt about relying on each other. On whom did the author of this article first rely? Why was this not enough? Read the “Leaning Trees” section. On whom do you lean for support? What caused the author to change? Bear testimony that we should always “lean” or rely on the Lord for support (see Hel. 5:12).
As you read this story together, list the important events in the author’s experience. What did she do to combat her negative feelings? What did the Lord and others do to help her? How could her experience help others?