I loved General Conference. So many outstanding talks have burrowed into my heart. One of them was mentioned in Relief Society, and I found myself having an “Aha!” moment.
It was the one by Sister J. Anette Dennis, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, titled His Yoke Is Easy and His Burden Is Light. You may remember that she mentioned a man’s hunting dog who wouldn’t perform, and who was later discovered to have two injuries– large gashes in her flesh. The dog wouldn’t follow commands because she was hurt.
This time, when I heard that explanation, I applied it to people I know and love, people who are not behaving as they have before. These are people who are acting out of character and out of sorts. I’ve been attributing it to so many things, but not to hurt.
Think of the people you know who seem to be different, in a negative way, from how they were previously. Maybe they’re sullen or angry, short-tempered or suddenly depressed. Of course, there can be many causes, but have you considered that they might be harboring hurt? Just as the hunting dog had serious physical injuries, we can sustain emotional injuries that make it near-impossible to behave normally.
At the very least, it’s worth it to ask. “Is something bothering you?” “Has something happened that I can help with?” “I care deeply about you, and I notice you’ve been behaving differently. Can we talk about it?” We can all find the right time and place to invite that person to share their feelings with us.
Gary E. Stevenson told of a science experiment where two groups of rabbits were fed exactly the same diet. But one of the groups was unexplainably healthier. On closer inspection they discovered that it was because, in this group, one of the researchers was showing them affection– talking to them, cuddling them, and giving them love (Hearts Knit Together). Can it really make a difference to show genuine caring? Yes. A miraculous difference.
Instead of punishing a suddenly misbehaving child, or reprimanding a suddenly failing employee, what if we pulled them aside and tried to find out why things are going sideways? We could be surprised at what’s causing this new behavior. It might even reveal abuse, something President Russell M. Nelson invited us, in this last Conference, to watch for.
Within two weeks, I’ve had two opposite phone calls. One friend has a son who has blamed her for his unhappiness because she didn’t tell him often enough that he should marry and have children. Another friend has a son who has told her his unhappiness is her fault because she kept reminding him to marry and have children and now he’s miserable. Boy, you can’t win for losing, right?
But in both these cases, I think we’re looking at hurt and wounded people. The first son just went through a breakup and he’s trying to find someone else to blame. His mom, who has always been supportive, is someone he can accuse who he knows won’t disown him. Sometimes the best parents get the worst treatment because, deep down, their kids know they’ll still love them.
And the second son has hit a rocky patch in his marriage, wishes he could undo it, and feels his mother was the one who encouraged it. Nobody held a gun to his head, however. Neither of these boys were hog-tied and forced to find misery. But few of us are eager to take responsibility for our actions—it’s much easier to blame someone else than to grow from our mistakes.
Ironically, if either mom had tried to keep their son single or force him to marry, neither would have happened, because both of these men are resistant to advice! They’re both the type that would deliberately sit in a puddle just because you told them not to.
Yet here we are, trying to look past the disrespect and anger, and instead see the hurt and heartache. In fact, anytime someone is worked up and furious, you can usually find hurt at the core of it. And this is what must be addressed if we’re to make progress.
And what of us? What of the times in life when we have been deeply wounded and have struggled to live with betrayal or loss? What of the challenge to forgive and move on? Has hurt changed our behavior, too?
Sometimes a cruel comment can undermine our confidence, or make us question our innate value. We can feel excluded, unwanted, unworthy. These are serious moments when we need to reach to Heavenly Father for reassurance. A thoughtful friend or relative can also help us cope, by showing sincere love and reminding us how God truly feels about us.
In his brilliant talk, A Willingness to Learn from Pain, Elder Bruce C. Hafen talks about how hurts and injuries can teach us. He quotes Anne Morrow Lindburgh, wife of the pilot, Charles Lindbergh. You may recall that they are the parents of the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, which resulted in the baby’s death.
This insightful mother said, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
It’s hard to trust when trust has been broken. It’s hard to befriend when we discover insincerity. And let’s face it—there certainly are times when we must set boundaries and not continue certain relationships. But cutting everybody off for making the exceptional, small mistake all we humans make, is itself a mistake. We can talk through our feelings and find a way to forgive. As Anne Lindburgh said, we must remain open and vulnerable.
Sometimes we need help. The hunting dog can’t dress her own wounds. She needs her master to come to her rescue. And, often, we humans need to summon the courage to reach out for help from our Master, as well. Just withdrawing—or striking out in uncharacteristic anger—will not help us to heal.
Turning to the Savior is finding the ultimate healer. Through prayer and study, we can tap into strength and peace. We can rebuild, we can find solace and love again. How joyous we’ll feel when we can restore our real personality and the behavior that used to bring us such happiness. The solution is to turn to the Lord, and also to allow inspired friends to offer guidance. You may feel prompted to get professional counseling in some cases. And getting back on the Covenant Path is essential. Luckily, it yields swift results, as God is so willing to help us. But it takes humility and faith. If nothing else, just pray for that and you’ll have a good beginning.
Meanwhile, let’s be on the lookout for sadness and anxiety in those we know. It’s possible we can be the light that leads them back into security and hope. With hearts knit together, we can help one another find balance and joy again. Sometimes we simply have to find the hurt and address it.
Hilton teaches Seminary. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.