Marin, I’m Elder Holland, and things are about to go downhill.
We are all intrigued by survival stories. We hear tales of intrepid explorers and ordinary people alike who manage to keep themselves alive against all odds and expectations, and we can’t help but ask ourselves, “Could I have done that?”
I think immediately of British explorer Ernest Shackleton and the crew of his ship HMS Endurance, shipwrecked in Antarctic ice and then stranded on a barren island for nearly two years. Shackleton’s extraordinary leadership and indomitable resolve saved the lives of his men, despite the harshest conditions.
Then I think of the crew of Apollo 13 hurtling through space to land on the moon! But disaster struck when an oxygen tank exploded, and the mission had to be aborted. Short of oxygen, the crew and mission control ingeniously improvised and brought all three astronauts safely back to earth.
I marvel at the astonishing survival of individuals and families victimized by war, imprisoned in camps, and those who become refugees who heroically and courageously keep alive the flame of hope for fellow sufferers, who impart goodness in the face of brutality, and who somehow manage to help others endure just one more day.
Could you or I survive in any one of these extreme circumstances?
Perhaps some of you, however, consider the accounts of survivors, and your soul cries out that you are living a survival story right now as a victim of abuse, neglect, bullying, domestic violence, or any suffering of this kind. You are in the midst of your own desperate attempt to survive a situation that feels very much like a disastrous shipwreck or a promising mission suddenly aborted. Will you ever be rescued; will you make it through your own survival story?
The answer is yes. You can survive. You have in fact already been rescued; you have already been saved—by the One who has suffered the very torment you are suffering and endured the very agony you are enduring.1 Jesus has overcome the abuses of this world2 to give you power to not only survive but one day, through Him, to overcome and even conquer—to completely rise above the pain, the misery, the anguish, and see them replaced by peace.
The Apostle Paul asks:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”3
You will remember when President Russell M. Nelson issued the following invitation in general conference. He said: “As you study your scriptures … , I encourage you to make a list of all that the Lord has promised He will do for covenant Israel. I think you will be astounded!”4
Here are just a few of the powerful and comforting promises our family found. Imagine the Lord speaking these words to you—to you who are surviving—because they are for you:
I know your sorrows, and I have come to deliver you.6
I will not leave you.7
My name is upon you, and my angels have charge over you.8
I will do wonders among you.9
Walk with me; learn of me; I will give you rest.10
I am in your midst.11
You are mine.12
With those assurances very much in mind, I want to speak directly to those who feel as though there is no way out of their own survival story because of the trauma inflicted by the cruel actions of others. If this is your survival story, we weep with you. We yearn for you to overcome the confusion, shame, and fear, and we long for you, through Jesus Christ, to conquer.
If you have experienced any kind of abuse, violence, or oppression, you may be left with the idea that these events were somehow your fault and that you deserve to carry the shame and guilt you feel. You may have had thoughts such as:
I could have prevented this.
God doesn’t love me anymore.
Nobody will ever love me.
I am damaged beyond repair.
The Savior’s Atonement applies to others but not to me.
These erroneous thoughts and feelings may have been a barrier to seeking help from family, friends, leaders, or professionals, and so you have struggled alone. If you have sought help from those you trust, you may still be wrestling with ideas of shame and even self-loathing. The impact of these events can remain for many years. You hope that one day you’ll feel better, but somehow that day has not yet come.
The abuse was not, is not, and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary. When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest, or any other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible.
You are not less worthy or less valuable or less loved as a human being, or as a daughter or son of God, because of what someone else has done to you.
God does not now see, nor has He ever seen, you as someone to be despised. Whatever has happened to you, He is not ashamed of you or disappointed in you. He loves you in a way you have yet to discover. And you will discover it as you trust in His promises and as you learn to believe Him when He says you are “precious in [His] sight.”13
You are not defined by these terrible things that have been done to you. You are, in glorious truth, defined by your eternally existing identity as a son or daughter of God and by your Creator’s perfect, infinite love and invitation to whole and complete healing.
Though it may seem impossible, feel impossible, healing can come through the miracle of the redemptive might of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who is risen “with healing in his wings.”14
Our merciful Savior, victorious over darkness and depravity, has power to right all wrongs, a life-giving truth for those wronged by others.15
Please know that the Savior has descended below all things, even what has happened to you. Because of that, He knows exactly what real terror and shame feel like and how it feels to be abandoned and broken.16 From the depths of His atoning suffering, the Savior imparts hope you thought was lost forever, strength you believed you could never possess, and healing you couldn’t imagine was possible.
There is no place for any kind of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal—in any home, any country, or any culture. Nothing a wife, child, or husband might do or say makes them “deserve” to be beaten. No one, in any country or culture, is ever “asking for” aggression or violence from someone else in authority or by someone who is bigger and stronger.
Those who abuse and who seek to hide their grievous sins may get away with it for a time. But the Lord, who sees all, knows the deeds and the thoughts and intents of the heart.17 He is a God of justice, and His divine justice will be served.18
Miraculously, the Lord is also a God of mercy to the truly repentant. Abusers—including those who were once abused themselves—who confess, forsake their sin, and do all in their power to make recompense and restitution, have access to forgiveness through the miracle of the Atonement of Christ.
For the falsely accused, the unspeakable gravity of these accusations brings its own purgatory. But they too are blessed by the Savior’s vicarious suffering for them and the knowledge that ultimately truth will prevail.
But unrepentant abusers will stand before the Lord to account for their heinous crimes.
The Lord Himself is crystal clear in His condemnation of abuse of any kind: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones … , it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”19
Dear friends who have been so terribly wounded—and for that matter, anyone who has borne the injustices of life—you can have a new beginning and a fresh start. In Gethsemane and on Calvary, Jesus “took upon Himself … all of the anguish and suffering ever experienced by you and me,”20 and He has overcome it all! With arms outstretched, the Savior offers the gift of healing to you. With courage, patience, and faithful focus on Him, before too long you can come to fully accept this gift. You can let go of your pain and leave it at His feet.
Your gentle Savior declared, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that [you] might have life, and that [you] might have it more abundantly.”21 You are a survivor, you can heal, and you can trust that with the power and grace of Jesus Christ, you will overcome and conquer.
Jesus specializes in the seemingly impossible. He came here to make the impossible possible, the irredeemable redeemable, to heal the unhealable, to right the unrightable, to promise the unpromisable.22 And He’s really good at it. In fact, He’s perfect at it. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Healer, amen.
For more information and resources, see “Abuse” in the Life Help section at ChurchofJesusChrist.org and in the Gospel Library app.