Jared watched the sun drop lower and lower, until it was just at the treetops. It was the first day of Christmas vacation. “Some vacation!” he muttered. He’d been alone all day with nothing to do. Oh, he’d gone for a walk, but all he’d found were scruffy storefronts and a few little kids with shabby coats playing in piles of dirty snow.
Since his dad had left them, Jared’s life had changed a lot. There wasn’t enough money to live in the house he’d grown up in, and they’d had to move to a big city so his mom could find a job.
His new home was in an old apartment building. From his point of view, everything was awful. They went to church in an old warehouse, with only about thirty other people. Their whole Primary had fifteen kids, and most of them were little. How could you have any fun being a Cub Scout all by yourself? His hometown had been small, but at least it had had a real ward.
School wasn’t any better. The building was as run-down as his apartment. The kids were loud and rough and made a point of avoiding him. He hadn’t found a friend yet, although he’d really tried to be friendly. And he was the only Church member in the whole school.
He leaned his head against the cold window glass, watching for his mom’s little green car, hoping that she’d come soon with something warm and good for dinner. She was always so late and so tired from work that they usually ended up eating canned soup and sandwiches. He’d help her clean up, then they’d read scriptures and have prayer together. He always felt better after that, when he went to bed. Mom was always tired these days, but it was a physical sort of tiredness. In spite of it, she had a kind of peace about her that gave him peace, too.
The trouble was, when he left for school in the mornings, that peace usually slipped away and he felt that there just was nothing to look forward to here. And now, Christmas. Jared hadn’t talked about it, but he was pretty sure that there wouldn’t be one for them. How could they afford anything? Mom had had to spend any extra money on uniforms for work and on tuition for the computer course she was taking two nights a week so that she could get a better job. Jared had decided to keep quiet about Christmas.
When two headlights blazed across the window, Jared threw his arm up to shield his eyes. The lights went out. He heard his mother’s hurried footsteps, then her key in the lock.
“Hi, honey,” she said, reaching to give him a hug. “How was your day? Did you have some fun?”
“Sure, Mom,” he murmured, turning his head so that she wouldn’t see his frown.
“Well, I brought us home a treat!” She was carrying a plastic grocery bag with a box bulging in it. Jared felt a spark of interest.
“What’s in the box?” he asked as she set it on the little table.
“Dessert. It was even free. My boss said I could take the doughnuts we didn’t sell. Since this is Christmas Eve, we can’t sell them even as day-old stock when we open again on Saturday. I just brought a couple for each of us since we’ll be having holiday treats tomorrow. So set the table now, and we’ll get tonight’s feast going.”
Wow! Jared thought, his mouth curling into a sarcastic scowl. Stale doughnuts—yippee! But he didn’t say anything as he set the table. Soup bowls, of course. And the plates for the sandwiches would do for the doughnuts, too. Then they wouldn’t have to wash more dishes.
Mom seemed full of energy tonight, for a change, chatting away about her day. It only made Jared’s dark mood darker. As they finished eating, more headlights swept across the ceiling, and then there was a knock at the door.
“Sister Holdrup, hi.”
There stood Brother Eldridge, their home teacher. What does he want? Jared wondered.
“Some of us are going to sing Christmas carols at a homeless shelter. We need extra voices. Can you join us?”
“That sounds like fun,” Mom said. “Come on, Jared, let’s go. We can wash the dishes later.”
“No,” Jared said. “I don’t want to.” That’s all I need, he thought—singing stupid Christmas carols at a stupid homeless shelter.
“No!” Jared shouted. “I’m not going!” He ran into his room and slammed the door.
As he threw himself down on the bed, he heard his mother apologizing to Brother Eldridge for his behavior.
“It’s OK,” Brother Eldridge told her. “If you change your mind, here’s the address. We’ll be singing in about an hour.”
Jared covered his ears. Can’t she see how awful everything is? Can’t she see that there’s nothing to be happy about, especially Christmas?
There was a soft knock on the door. Jared ignored it.
“Jared, may I come in? I want to talk to you.”
He relented a little, hearing the sorrow in her voice. “OK,” he said, but he put his arm across his eyes.
“Jared, I know things aren’t easy for you. I know how you must miss your friends.”
And the park. And having someplace to ride my bike. And Cub Scout day camp. And … and even Dad. Especially Dad. Then the hot anger came up again, and tears began seeping from his eyes. “Why did Dad have to leave us, Mom? What did I do to make him leave?” Choking sobs stopped Jared’s questions.
Tears flowed from his mother’s eyes, too, as she gathered him into her arms. “I don’t know exactly why he left, Jared, but I do know this: It had nothing to do with you—not who you are or anything you did. He left because of things inside him. He thought he could solve his problems by leaving.”
“Do you think that will work?”
“I don’t know. But I think that when you are very unhappy, like Dad was, it makes it harder when you choose to look for happiness by running away. I think it’s better if you face your troubles and solve them. One thing I’ve learned from moving here is that you have to decide to be happy where you are, no matter what. Then nothing can make you unhappy, because you’re happy from the inside out.”
Jared was still for a long time, while his mom held him tight and rocked him. Then he said, “How do you get happy like that, Mom?”
“Jared, a few nights ago we read something that Mormon wrote to Moroni about what to do when things were awfully bad. Do you remember what he said?”
Jared shook his head. “But I want to know. I really need some help right now, Mom, because everything’s just awful!” He got up and got his Book of Mormon from the shelf.
“It’s in Moroni, chapter 9, verse 25. Can you find it?”
“Here.” He began to read: “‘My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up. …’”
“Do you understand any of that, Jared?”
“A little. Things must have been pretty awful if Mormon was worried that Moroni would feel so bad that he’d die.”
Mom nodded. “What about you, Jared?”
“I’ve thought about running away.”
“I’m glad that you didn’t. But I don’t want you to go on feeling awful. Mormon didn’t want Moroni to suffer, either. What did he tell his son to do?”
“To be faithful in Christ. But what does that mean, exactly?”
“What do you think?”
“Pray every morning and night?” Jared guessed. Mom nodded. “And read the scriptures every day?”
Mom nodded again. “Those are two of the most important things. But Mormon tells Moroni something else. See, here, where he says ‘may Christ lift thee up’? How can Jesus do that for you?”
“I don’t know. Joseph didn’t leave Jesus’ mom, so how can He help me?”
“Well, He understands how you feel, and what to do about it. Alma explains that in Alma, chapter 7, verse 11: ‘And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.’ Jesus Christ took on Himself pains of every kind, Jared—your kind of pains, too.”
“Why did He do that?”
“Let’s read the next verse: ‘And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.’ Do you know what infirmities are?”
“At Cub Scout camp, there was an infirmary. That’s where you went if you got hurt or sick. Is it like that?”
“Yes, it is. And what does it say Jesus can do when we are hurt or sick?”
“It says He knows how to succor us according to our infirmities. Is that sort of to be like a doctor to us?”
“Even better than a doctor. Because He has suffered every pain and every bad thing and has overcome them all, He knows how to comfort us, heal us, and show us how to be happy, no matter what.”
“Then He knows how to help me.” Jared sat up straight. “Mom, Dad didn’t understand this about Jesus, did he? If he had, he wouldn’t have left. He could have stayed and found out how to get happy again.”
“I don’t know, Jared. Maybe so. I just don’t know.”
“I’m sorry for Dad, but maybe we can ask Heavenly Father to help him learn. Can we do that, Mom? Right now?”
“Yes, Jared. That is a very good thing to do, for all of us.”
They knelt beside Jared’s bed, and Jared prayed like he had never prayed before, asking that he and his mom could feel Jesus Christ helping them with their problems, and that his dad could learn how to be happy, too.
“Mom,” Jared asked as they got up, “is it too late to go sing with Brother Eldridge?”
Mom looked at her watch. “No, we have half an hour before they sing.”
“Do we have time to go to your bakery and get all the leftover doughnuts? Are there very many? I bet those people at the shelter don’t get good doughnuts very often.” Excitement was beginning to trickle through him.
His excitement grew as they filled boxes and loaded the car. The singing was beautiful, and Jared felt better than he had since before Dad left.
Brother Eldridge had his arm across Jared’s shoulders as they walked out of the shelter. “Say, Jared,” he said. “I go ice fishing every year between Christmas and New Year’s. Could I talk you into coming with me?”
“Wow!” This time Jared meant it sincerely. “Thanks! I’d really like that.”
On the way home, Jared was quiet.
“Are you OK?” Mom asked.
Jared nodded. “I’m better than OK, Mom. I think Christ has lifted me up and has ‘succored my infirmities.’ I’m happy!”