Escaping My Valley of Sorrow

“Escaping My Valley of Sorrow,” Ensign, Mar. 2000, 64–67

Escaping My Valley of Sorrow

My study of Nephi’s writings provided help and insight as I struggled with depression.

The opportunity to live on earth, though a blessing, can be hard on the human spirit. As one who has suffered from severe depression for many years, I have often wondered why, when we have the “good news” of the gospel, many experience the blackness of depression. Where is our hope for peace, for recovery?

Medicine and therapy may be required, but we must also remember that the Lord can give us perspective, comfort, hope, strength, or healing. His words can guide us in our unique situations as we read the scriptures.

To assist me with my struggles, a beloved Church leader encouraged me to read 20 pages of the Book of Mormon each day. Even though I had been reading the Book of Mormon both with my family and privately, it seemed irrelevant to me and my problem, and I continued to feel stranded in a dark chasm where no one could reach me. But because I loved and trusted this leader, I resolved to give her strategy a try. And that’s when I rediscovered lessons from Nephi’s life.

Learning Lessons from Nephi

After speaking with the leader, I opened my Book of Mormon that very night. Immediately my heart was touched as I read: “And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Ne. 11:25).

For six years I had been unable to feel the love of God. My combined mental, emotional, and physical state had resulted in a leadlike shield inside me that no love or spirit seemingly could penetrate. Yet while reading in 1 Nephi that evening, I suddenly found a key. The iron rod, or the word of God, led to the love of God. The scriptures—the very book I held in my hands—contained the answer. As though to witness the truth of this, I felt the love of God begin to filter through my lead shield, and I was filled with wonder that I should have such an experience—that I should feel His love in that dark place where I seemed to dwell.

Reading further I discovered that Nephi had seen people who were surrounded by a type of darkness: “And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men” (1 Ne. 12:17). I too experienced “mists of darkness,” although mine were complicated by an illness. Those who suffer depression’s debilitating effects sometimes sense the adversary taking advantage of their downcast state. President Ezra Taft Benson said: “As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression” (“Do Not Despair,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 2). Would I find help from Nephi to fight back? I continued to read.

Nephi reprimands his brothers, who had not bothered to ask the Lord for an interpretation of their father’s vision of the tree of life and so had not experienced the remarkable revelation that Nephi had. “Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Ne. 15:11). I paused when I read this. Had I asked in faith for enlightenment?

There were many answers the Lord had already offered me through the scriptures, yet I had not had the faith to see them. I had been reading as a duty and had not perceived the truth or spirit of what I read. Now I was hungry for answers, and it seemed I found one on every page. For example, I was struck by Nephi’s sermon to his brothers on the rod of iron: “And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24). Here was a promise I could hold on to. Nephi’s descriptive powers illuminated my own circumstances. Despite my illness and resulting vulnerability to despair, I need not be overcome. How blind I had been to the knowledge and power of God!

Further, I could see that the promise made to Nephi and his family also applied to me: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; … and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led” (1 Ne. 17:13).

Nephi talks much in images the depressed can understand: darkness, wilderness, blindness, hardened hearts (my lead shield). In contrast, he uses images of light, safety, peace, hope, strength, and permanence. My soul had been struggling so long with its burden that it had ceased to know peace. But the physical, mental, and emotional act of reading the scriptures somehow opened my heart and mind to the possibility of peace.

As days passed, the Book of Mormon began to be delicious to me. It was indeed leading me to the fruit of the tree of life. I found myself feeling emotions I had not felt in years: security, hope, happiness.

Pondering the Lessons

As I thought deeply over what I had been reading, I discovered something new about the character of Nephi’s trials. Previously I had wondered why he had to continually endure his brethren’s hard-heartedness. It seemed to me that he was always dealing with exactly the same trial with exactly the same result: his brothers would threaten him, he would chasten and plead with them, the brothers would repent. Then the cycle would begin again. Laman and Lemuel never really changed. But, I realized, Nephi did. He grew in strength by contending with the same trial over and over. In an early conflict, Nephi’s brethren bound him with cords.

“But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.

“And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again” (1 Ne. 7:17–18).

I could identify with Nephi’s predicament. To me, the bonds of my illness seemed very life threatening. I offered a prayer similar to Nephi’s, and my bonds were loosed enough for me to proceed to the next stage of my healing.

Ten chapters later, after repeatedly enduring the abuse of his brethren, Nephi exercised faith to an astonishing degree: “In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him” (1 Ne. 17:48). How I should like such strength of faith in dealing with my burdens and challenges!

Two verses later, he responded with perfect confidence to their ridicule of his intent to build a ship: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done” (1 Ne. 17:50).

Through repeated experience, Nephi learned he could count upon the Lord to deliver him, even from the most dire situations. His continual struggle with adversity had taught him that he could do anything the Lord commanded him to do.

Drawing Personal Strength from Nephi

Nephi’s confidence and testimony shine as a brilliant light amid the darkness. His brothers, doing the bidding of the adversary, continually questioned his revelations, his strength, his sanity, his decisions, his actions, and his intentions. Through it all, Nephi learned to deal with his brothers—and hence the adversity. But those burdens associated with his brothers’ hatred were never completely removed from him. My depression, largely genetic in origin, will likely never be completely taken away from me in mortality. But, like Nephi, though darkness may seem to surround me, I can learn to listen for the voice of God.

This is not as simple as it sounds. My depression results in vulnerable feelings that leave me open to temptation. There are times when I grow weary. And so did Nephi. In 2 Nephi 4, he expressed his struggles:

“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Ne. 4:17). But then he takes hope because of Jesus Christ: “If the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

“… Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (2 Ne. 4:26–27).

In the next verse, he seemed to take a deep breath and reenter the fray: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

“Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

“Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation” (2 Ne. 4:28–30).

This powerful prayer of Nephi resonates to the depths of my soul. We all are given challenges to surmount. No one is immune. But, just as we follow Nephi’s example in dealing with adversity, so may we also share in his deliverance. His parting wisdom tells us how: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20).

The Lord’s balm of hope, peace, and security eluded me for many years. Now, because of Nephi’s faithful record of his dealings with the Lord, I better understand how to turn to the Lord for help in coping with my challenges. And that has made a difference in my life.

  • G. G. Vandagriff is a visiting teacher in the Sherwood Hills Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont North Stake.

Photos by Craig Dimond, posed by model

Background: Photo © Photospin

Nephi Rebuking His Rebellious Brothers, by Arnold Friberg

Center photos © Digital Stock; electronic composition by Charles M. Baird

Painting by Robert T. Barrett