Why hasn’t my membership in the Church prevented serious emotional problems?

“Why hasn’t my membership in the Church prevented serious emotional problems?” Ensign, Mar. 1984, 41

I am an active member of the Church, but in recent months I’ve had some serious emotional problems. Why hasn’t my membership in the Church prevented these problems?

Garth Allred, institute instructor and marriage and family therapist, St. George, Utah. I have often been asked this question by those I counsel. I recall one middle-aged sister who was experiencing severe anxiety; her priesthood leaders had referred her to my office for counseling. She had a history of drug and alcohol abuse before she joined the Church, but now she recognized that these substances were no longer an option when she needed a calming influence. She sat there before me, desperately trying to gain some composure, her eyes red from hours of weeping.

“Why do I hurt so much?” she asked. “Things are so much better since I joined the Church a year ago, but I still have periods when I am terribly depressed.”

As I visited with this sister, I noted that she had serious misconceptions about what membership in the Church should do for her. In effect, she believed that because she had joined the true church, she should automatically be given the solutions to all her emotional problems. She felt that her depression should have vanished away at the moment she was given the gift of the Holy Ghost.

I gently explained to her that that is not how the Lord works. He helps us to learn and grow line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. (See Isa. 28:9–10.) Spiritual growth and knowledge does not come to us automatically by virtue of membership in the Lord’s church. Furthermore, depression and other emotional problems can be caused by physical and psychological disorders unrelated to our membership in the Church and which can often be improved or resolved by medical treatment or professional counseling. Faith and priesthood blessing can also do much to alleviate such problems.

It is not enough to join the Church and be “active” in it. Baptism alone does not change lives or cure physical problems. What is required is obedience to the principles of the gospel, devotion to God, wisdom in following the counsel of priesthood leaders and the promptings of the Spirit, patience, and professional help when the circumstances warrant it.

Membership in the Church can be seen as a tool—a tool by which we can change our lives to be more in harmony with God’s will. But we must remember that such changes will most likely not happen overnight. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in the King Follett discourse, taught that growth in the gospel is a gradual thing:

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346–47; italics added.)

It is not enough simply to be a member of the Church. True gospel rewards come only when we walk the gospel path. Our membership and activity in the Church should serve as the means to that end; they are not ends in themselves.

Sometimes, though, we need help getting firmly onto the gospel path. Some people have emotional scars so deep that they need special counseling, either with their bishop or with a professional counselor. Others, struggling with depression or related trauma based on physical disorders, may need medical help. Change and resolution of problems is not always easy. But the change can come; the resolution can be achieved. When we take the appropriate steps, when we make covenants and commitments, when we expend the effort required, when we pay the price to bring gospel principles into our daily living—then, and only then, will the gospel become the true power in our lives that it was meant to be.

When we become consistently and patiently involved in gospel work, we will realize great blessings, among them eventual mastery of emotional problems.