The Lord Looketh Upon The Heart
By G. G. Vandagriff
As a 20-year sufferer of clinical depression that has so far been proven untreatable by medication, I can testify that one of its most devastating aspects is a feeling of personal unworthiness, self-contempt, even self-hatred. This, of course, is a part of the disorder that makes it self-perpetuating. As long as I believe I truly am a bad person, I will only become more hopeless and depressed.
Recently, these feelings caused me such distress that I felt unworthy to go to church, even to pray. When I went to church, I was exceedingly anxious, often resulting in panic attacks. When I tried to pray, I was so certain that God despised me, that all I could do was thank him in rote form for the many blessings I know I have and plead with him not to take them away because of my unworthiness. I spent my days reading escape fiction in order to escape from my profound depression and fear. This added to my feelings of worthlessness, but it seemed the only way I could survive from day to day without plunging into the blackness of despair.
One Sunday, after attending Relief Society, I was in particularly bad shape. I was so trapped in my feelings of self-hatred that I was practically frozen. My husband noticed my distress, and worried that it would lead to a full-blown panic attack, he offered to take me home. Knowing that it would only add to my unworthiness, I nevertheless had to accept. I felt I didn’t belong in that setting for one more minute. As we were leaving, we passed an acquaintance in the hall. As often happened, this man took my hand, looked me deeply in the eye and asked me how I was doing. I didn’t know the man except to speak to. His name was Dave Hatton and his wife was a friend, but I didn’t feel I could exactly bear my soul there in the hallway. I just gave a false smile and said I was doing fine. He continued to look at me and murmured, “I hope you are.”
Later that day, after my husband returned to church (having taken me home), he was approached by Brother Hatton who said he really felt that he needed to offer to give me a priesthood blessing. He even had a companion lined up. He was Vic Bunderson, a man I knew even less. When church was over, David came home to find me in bed. He told me of Dave’s offer. I was in the middle of telling him that I was unworthy of a priesthood blessing, when the doorbell rang. My husband answered, to find Brother Hatton and Brother Bunderson on the doorstep. Deciding not to wait for my decision, they had come directly from church to give me a blessing.
I felt somewhat astonished, but in light of their kindness and concern could only accept. Brother Hatton spoke to me for a few moments, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he knew my heart and my worries. I didn’t contribute anything to the conversation. When the blessing proceeded, it soon became miraculously evident why he was sent to me. He told me repeatedly that the Lord loved me.
As I reflected upon the event, I felt like I was the lost sheep. Because I couldn’t come to Him, the Lord had sent his servant, someone I barely knew, so I would have to be convinced it was an event inspired directly by the Spirit. He wanted me back in the fold with the 99 other sheep and had come after me in as personal a way as possible. A way I couldn’t deny. I had to accept that despite my feelings of unworthiness, the Lord felt me worthy enough to rescue, to promote this small miracle in my life. It was clear to me that “my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). My feelings of unworthiness were part of the delusional thinking caused by my illness.
I would like to say that from that time on, I believed I was worthy, but decades of ingrained beliefs are hard to break away from. As I sank into yet another cycle of depression and feelings of unworthiness, my dear friend Sandra was inspired to give me a Guidepost magazine with an article by a woman whose struggle mirrored mine. Like me, she felt unworthy because she isolated herself and couldn’t seem to reach out to others. Her depression was also of long-standing, and while she sought spiritual relief, the scriptures only made her feel less worthy because of all the things she couldn’t feel and do. One day she went for spiritual guidance from a friend. She confided her feelings to him. He said quite bluntly, “Do you think when God created you, he meant to make someone else?” Elaborating, he went on “I saw long ago that solitude is as necessary for you as food and drink. Why not thank God for feeding you this way?” He went on to tell her that she needed to accept who she was, for she was definitely acceptable to God. (Sherrill, Tibby, “The Saddest Feeling”,Guidepost, August 2002, p. 48.)
Like me, Tibby still struggles, but a door has been opened in her soul. She and I both know that our feelings of unworthiness come from years of fighting an illness over which we have no control. They do not come from God. Upon reading this article my mind immediately went to the scripture in 1 Samuel 16:7: “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
My therapist and husband had long been telling me that my heart was pure. That I was worthy. Indeed, if the Lord constructed me this way, He is surely aware of my illness and struggles and that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D& C 122:7). I am acceptable. My struggles are acceptable. My coping mechanisms are acceptable. The Lord knows and loves me, no matter what I think of myself.
Now that that door is opened in my mind, I make a constant effort to throw out of it my feelings of self-contempt. It is an ongoing struggle, but the Lord keeps sending me messages that he “looketh upon the heart”. It is up to me to have faith enough to believe him.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.