I once heard that we could endure most anything if our purpose was greater than our pain. Maybe that includes a recognition that there is purpose IN our pain. To me, one of the great messages of the gospel is that, as the Lord told Joseph Smith, “all these things shall give thee experience and be for your good” (D&C 122:7).
One of the most poignant stories I’ve heard to illustrate this principle is from Patricia Pott’s book My Journey from Darkness to Light. Patricia is bipoloar, and knows what suicidal depression is all about. The first time she experienced it, she was pregnant with her third child. As the darkness descended, she literally couldn’t function and her husband Dan arranged for others to care for their two children and take over her other household duties. When she showed signs of improvement, Dan suggested that she resume her roles, thinking it might help her. The very idea overwhelmed her to the point of despair. She tells the following story:
If it hadn’t been for my pregnancy, I think I would have headed straight to the medicine cupboard and ended the story right here, but I just wouldn’t ever take another life in the process. Instead, I stumbled to the beanbag chair in the corner of our bedroom and pled with God for mercy and intervention.
Dan knelt at my side, shocked and noticeably pained at my reaction, as violent shaking took over my body. “I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “I had no idea you would react this way. I really thought you could take over, but now I can see you’re not ready. I can be patient. I’m sorry.”
Although his words seemed to ease some of my fears, the shaking, the pain and the feeling of despair continued to vibrate the room as we held to one another. Then, through my tears, I begged Dan, “Please, can you give me a blessing?”
At first, Dan was reluctant. It was late in the night and the events of the day as well as the last hour had been extremely exhausting. Dan didn’t exactly feel like giving me a blessing right then, but the wild look in my eyes and the tangible feeling of fear in the room led us both to the choice of seeking divine intervention.
Dan prayed for guidance and then through the power of the Priesthood of God his words began their work of blessing me. They permeated our quiet room and my trembling ebbed as God’s message entered my heart. I felt the Lord’s love for me through that blessing. As he continued I was told that I had agreed to this depression before I entered into mortal life and that the day would come when it would be a blessing to myself, my family and all those around me.
As I knelt on the floor with my eyes closed and arms folded, I imagined myself with God and felt a great love for Him and an immense respect. I could visualize my Heavenly Father saying that I would have experiences on earth that I would need in order to return to Him again. Among the experiences He named was that of depression. When I opened my eyes after the blessing was finished, I continued to feel warmth and love as I contemplated the realization that I had agreed to go through this depression I was now facing.
Dan and I embraced each other and wept. Although I couldn’t tell just how this hellish experience with depression could ever be a blessing, at least now I knew that it wasn’t just a lack of character, a fatal flaw or a terrible imperfection.. It was part of my life’s experience that God somehow meant to use to benefit myself and others.
That blessing helped me in my recovery and gave life more meaning, making me want to live again. Believing that my depression was something I had agreed to experience helped me to overcome part of my guilt. Although it didn’t by any means solve all the questions and problems that were swimming around in my confused head, it did provide hope. 1
Elder Neal Maxwell validated some of the principles Patricia was taught in her blessing when he said: “The truth about foreordination also helps us to partake of the wisdom of Alma , when he said we ought to be content with things that God has allotted to each of us. ( Alma 29:3-4). If, indeed, the things allotted to each were divinely customized according to our ability and capacity, then for us to seek to wrench ourselves free of every schooling circumstance in mortality is to tear ourselves away from matched opportunities. It is to go against divine wisdom, wisdom in which we may once have concurred before we came here and to which we once gave assent.” 2
I have personally witnessed the fulfillment of the promise given to Patricia in her blessing. She has used the pain of her experiences to become a great blessing to many, including me. Last year her book My Journey from Darkness to Light became a tangible witness to what she has learned. Her subtitle is: How to Overcome Depression and Bi-Polar Illness One Step at a Time.
From her Preface we read:
“You’ve just got to listen to what Patricia has to say, she’s so experienced at depression!”, my friend Joann declared.
. . . if degrees were awarded for life experiences, I guess I may have earned some kind of “experience” degree in depression. I’ve lived through three major depressions and countless minor ones. My first dysfunctional depression was in 1981, the second in 1987 and the third in 1998. I guess I must have been a slow learner because it wasn’t till the third one, when once again, I was down for the count, that I “got it.” Although I still have my ups and downs and I have to work to maintain a balance, I do take my medicine and use tools contained in this book help me stay in recovery from depression. In between bouts, public speaking and teaching became my way of solidifying my lessons and giving value to the nightmare I had lived through. It also allowed me a chance to help others so that their tunnel of darkness didn’t have to be as long as mine. 3
There Is Power in Surrender
One of the great lessons Patricia has taught me is what it means to surrender to God’s will. Surrender was part of her recovery from her first depression. She wrote: “On a day-in and day-out basis could I put what He wanted ahead of what others wanted? . . . I faced the ultimate consequences of the two choices. The echoes of my heart now whispered that if I was ever to be free of the bands that held me down, I must choose the example of my Savior and follow His example when He said, ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done’ (Luke 22:42). . . Yes, I replied, ‘I will listen to Thee; I will seek to follow Thee and listen to Thy voice above others.
” My willingness to obey . . . gave me the ‘new heart’ I needed to move forward and onto my next step of recovery.” (58-59)
A few years later Patricia suffered serious health challenges that left her so weak and shaky that she couldn’t walk. She was bedfast a good share of the time and had to be taken in a wheelchair when she went anywhere.
Doctors were mystified and suspected a psychological connection. Her frustrations grew; inability to function was a great trial—she had a deep desire to serve her growing family—and others. She told me about her turning point: “One day as I looked at my picture of Mary and the Angel Gabriel, I finally let go and surrendered it all to the Lord saying, ‘Be it unto me according to Thy will.’ I told the Lord that if it was His will for my condition to stay the same, I would accept it—no matter how much I wanted it to be different. My surrender was complete: I knew that even if my mission was nearly over, I could accept it. After that experience I could finally completely relax–and I began sleeping better than I had for years.” She began to get better, and within a few months of continued prayer, surrender, and hypnotherapy she was functioning normally. She has no illusion that letting go is a cure-all, but in her case, it was a major part of the puzzle.
Pride tells us we should be in control—of our health, life, situation, even of others. Humility tells us that the only things we can righteously control are our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The rest we need to let go of and let God handle. With loved ones, my friend Patricia does this by way of what she calls “triangle prayers.” Recognizing the fundamental place of agency, she takes her concerns with family members to God, appealing to His superior wisdom to influence and guide that person to what would be best for them. She says something like, “Lord, I can’t control this. I give it to you. I know I can trust You to send the influences into my life and the lives of my family members that will be best for our progress.”
Power in Service
Patricia has a long-long history of turning painful experiences into ways to serve and help others. When one of their daughters became addicted to drugs Patricia began attending LDS Twelve-Step meetings. She knew I had a son who had addiction problems and introduced me to the program by asking me to take her to a meeting because she was in a wheelchair. Later she became a facilitator for the program–and served for seven years in that capacity. Occasionally I attended one of the meetings she led; her love for the participants was exceptional. Patricia also worked on-call at the VOA Women’s Detox for three years, which gave her great insights. Patricia is a speaker and singer (and she accompanies herself on the guitar.) She frequently shares messages of hope in many church and community locations.
The Power of Light-Filled Thoughts
Patricia’s life is one of the best examples I’ve seen of the principle that filling our minds with thoughts of truth and testimony is like filling the room with light. Darkness flees. Doubt flies away, and we know again that the Lord will keep His promises to us personally. Patricia does this on a consistent basis. She has made it a habit in her life to focus her mind on spiritual truth. She has even created a little three-part book called First Aid for Feelings, which is a compilation of scriptures, quotes, and her own writing—gems that have helped her most. Section One: “Help when I am feeling prideful, hardhearted, judgmental, angry, frustrated, like life’s not fair.” Section Two: “For help when I am feeling doubtful, hurt, guilt fearful, undecided, worried, out of control.” Section three: “Help when I am feeling defeated, discouraged, overwhelmed, weary, depressed, like my burdens are too heavy.” 4 The book reflects a lifetime of focus on truth and light. No matter how great the trials (and hers have included a brain tumor, and the suicide of a family member) she keeps clinging to the iron rod.
Over and over I see her turn to the light, take the scriptures and God’s promises personally, find purpose in pain, and triumph against all odds. She lives as a personal example of trust in the Lord no matter what. She knows God cannot lie, that His promises are sure.
Integrity of Heart
In D&C 124:15 The Lord said of Hyrum Smith, “I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me.” I think the Lord would say the exact same words about Patricia. I have known her for more than 30 years. I’ve seen repeatedly that the driving force of her life–the thing that keeps her going–is a desire to do what is right before the Lord.
With Purpose We Can Begin to Transcend Pain
Patricia would be the first to admit there is no “arriving.” The challenges continue and the need to find purpose in pain is a constant in mortality. She continues to struggle with severe headaches and other health challenges. But knowing there is purpose in her trials and knowing she can use them to serve others through her writing, speaking, blogs etc. helps her endure the present pain. When pain hits it is real and it’s hard to think of anything else, but in the end H er purpose does supercede her pain. 5
There is great comfort to be found in knowing that, not only does every experience of our lives have purpose, but there is a high probability that God tailor-made our trials to our best good and that we agreed with His plan for us. We too can find silver linings and blessings in the hard things in our lives. And best of all, we can learn, as Patricia has, to not only see the purpose in our pain but to find ways to use it to bless the lives of others.
1 Patricia Tew Potts, My Journey from Darkness to Light: How to Overcome Depression and Bi-Polar Illness One Step at a Time , Amazon.com, 2008, 38-40.
2 Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are , Deseret Book, Salt Lake City , 31
3 Journey , 13
4 Patricia Tew Potts, First Aid for Feelings: A Grab and Go Handbook, Windhaven Publishing & Productions, Hyrum, Ut, 2007 (Now available on Amazon.com)
5 To learn more about Patricia and her books First Aid for Feelings and Journey from Darkness to Light or read some of her blogs about overcoming trials, visit her at: patriciapotts.com