Episode #211 - Why Don't I Feel Forgiveness

January 07, 2024 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 211
Episode #211 - Why Don't I Feel Forgiveness
Show Notes Transcript

When we suffer from mental health problems, it can be very difficult to feel forgiven.  That is the nature of the illness.  Depression and Anxiety are going to feel similar to sin.  Yet there are ways we can work through this problem with the help of the Lord.

ode #211 – Why Don’t I Feel Forgiveness?  I am your host, Damon Socha.  Several years ago I was talking to an friend and the conversation turned to our similar mental health problems.  During the discussion, my friend turned to me and said, “I don’t get it.  I am trying to do what I am asked. I really am.  But I never know if I am on track.  I can’t tell if I am forgiven or not.  I can’t really tell when I am doing the right thing.  Most of the time I am just confused.  There are times when I feel like I have sinned and I can’t shake the feeling.  I repent and ask for forgiveness and just don’t feel forgiven.  I repent of things over and over again and I still don’t know if the Lord accepts it. I constantly feel like I am never doing enough.”  I could feel the pain in my friend’s statement and the anguish.  I had been there many times myself.  We talked about this for several minutes and many times during our friendship.  It is a constant theme of mental illness.

The heart of the matter as a member of the church, when you suffer from anxiety in all its forms, depression, mania and a combination of all three, is that to possess a testimony and feel the reality of the gospel you need to be able to feel it.  And you can’t just feel it once, you must feel it regularly, daily and have access to your testimony of experiences and feelings all the time.  One can certainly understand the gospel from a practical, rational perspective and live it to an extend from those points of view.  But to truly live the gospel, one must feel it.  To have a deep and abiding testimony it can’t be just in your mind, it has to be written in your heart.  The problem is that our illness impedes access to those feelings we need to live the gospel in a normal way.

I personally have struggled with this part of my illness most of my life.  Until the last few years, I like my friend struggled to tell when I had sinned.  I struggled to feel my standing with the Lord.  I deeply struggled to feel my testimony regularly.  I don’t remember a time in my life until recently when I didn’t feel the sweet peace of forgiveness.  And don’t get me wrong, I still have depression at times and I can still lose access to those needed feelings.  But I am doing much better mostly due to a much better understanding of the Lord and my illness.  Today I will share what I have learned over the years, in hopes it might help you in your personal journey.  And provide some understanding and peace.

What I have found is that the feelings of sin are mimicked by depression and anxiety.  Mania has its own problems and I will talk about mania after I discuss the other two.  Even though I have been afflicted with depression and anxiety for much of my life, I admit that I cannot tell the difference at times between the feelings of sin and the feelings generated by my illness.  Even today I continue to fight with it.  I am not sure that a significant difference exists or any difference exists for that matter.  If you have depression, anxiety or both which is actually quite common, you will fully understand what I am saying.  Even if you don’t you could imagine the problem someone faces when their illness mimics the same feelings as sin.

If your illness causes sinful feelings, how would you know when you have done something wrong?  How would you be able to feel promptings to act for the Lord?  How would you access your spiritual reservoir of testimony and knowledge?  The answer is that sometimes you simply don’t.

For me, I have found a few helpful methods to provide at least some understanding and comfort when those feelings hover all around me.  The first of these methods is quite simple but it aids me in differentiating between what is my illness and the promptings of the Spirit.  When those feelings of sin come upon my mind and they remain, I ask myself a question every time.  This is the question, “Is this my illness causing me to feel this way?”  I would say for me almost 100 percent of the time, it is my illness.  What I have found is that as I ask this question, I help my mind and my soul to understand the cause of my feelings.  This tends to alleviate that constant nagging and dragging feeling that I have done something wrong.  Once I decide that it is my illness and I attribute the feelings to an illness, my mind often relaxes.  It has an answer to its problem of identification.  You have to remember that the mind abhors pain and suffering and it must find a cause.  Giving it that cause can help it to better adjust to those feelings.  Don’t get me wrong, the mind still attempts to find a resolution to the pain.  But rather than review all of my past sins and feel as though I have never been forgiven in my life, I can say that what I feel is not real in the sense of the gospel.  It is very real in the sense of my illness.  Separating the illness from the promptings of the spirit has helped me to better work through my emotional problems.

Now you are going to say, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of the painful emotions or understanding when it really is sin.  I don’t disagree.  However, understanding that the majority of your feelings are likely to be your illness actually provides an opportunity to attack the problem with the right solution.  If you are trying to remove sinful feelings caused by your illness through repentance, you will never succeed.  You can’t repent your way out of a mental health problem.  You need a mental health solution.  Attributing your feelings to the right problem has significant benefits.

Second, I have found that the gospel really does lend itself to a rational approach at least in one sense.  We generally know when we have committed sin from a rational perspective.  For the most part, we know when we have hurt someone, committed a violation of the Word of Wisdom, not paid our tithing and so forth.  If we have gone through the steps of repentance as best we know how, understand that the Lord accepts of our offering.  We will be forgiven and we really shouldn’t worry about it.  Remember the woman taken in adultery as cast before his feet.  Adultery is by far one of the worst sins a person can commit.  Once her persecutors had left, what were his words to her.  Where are thine accusers?  Go and sin no more.  Do you see how quickly the Lord desires to forgive.  When I served as a bishop the one thing I marveled at regularly when it came to helping individuals with the struggles of sin is just how quickly the Lord was willing to forgive.  I found in nearly every case the Lord was far more willing to forgive forget and move on than the person was who had struggled.  Even when that sin was something that was a regular problem such as an addiction.  If we have done our best we should never worry that the Lord has forgiven us.  I promise you he has.

Third, sometimes I personally go through life forgetting that the Lord fully understands my personal mental health issues.  He is not expecting me to somehow delineate sin from my anxiety or my depression when he knows that it is near impossible.  He is not trying to make living the gospel difficult for me.  He understands that I struggle to hear his voice through the deafening noise that is depression and anxiety.  He understands that I need something more to fully know what he is prompting me to do.  The key is that the Lord understands your illness.  He knows what you need and he is not going to cause you to feel sinful in the same manner that your illness causes it.  He knows that is not helpful to you.  He will prompt you in different ways so that you know it is him.  He will forgive you quickly when he prompts you but you are confused as to what to do.  The Lord is merciful when you are trying, working and enduring.  He is far more merciful that I tend to give him credit.  I have felt that time and time again.

This doesn’t alleviate the problem we face when the illness takes over and the days are long and difficult.  The Lord knows how difficult it will be to feel anything and he certainly is not trying to make listening to him difficult.  When we struggle he just asks us to do our best with what energy, knowledge and desire we have.  I simply try to do one good thing for someone and that something might be small and insignificant to us and the other person but it is not for the Lord.  When we have every once of our desire, light and love drained from our souls and we take that moment to through two mites into a pile of good deals so that ours goes very much unnoticed.  Like the woman who gave her two mites, the Lord notices and commends us saying we have done more than they all.  We are not expected to be someone we are not in the sense of what weaknesses we have.  The Lord does expect us to work on our weaknesses and to petition his help but we may not improve much during our life but our effort makes all the difference to the Lord and our gift will be what he promised.  He will make our weaknesses strong.  Those small effort will lead to a great blessing.

It is also important to understand that the spirit of the Lord is with you whether you feel it or not.  When you are worthy it is constantly at your side.  I have noticed that even when I suffer, the spirit does at times clear away the feelings of doubt and despair and I feel it and know that I do.   This doesn’t mean that the depression and anxiety doesn’t return, because they do but the Spirit can speak to us during our episodes and he does speak to us.  Yes the spirit is far more difficult to feel and often we lack the fortitude to act due to the physical symptoms of our illness.  But I promise that the spirit remains with you during your episodes and it is providing comfort and counsel even though you may not feel it as deeply as you would like.  Sometimes I believe we don’t understand what our life would be without the influence of the spirit.  If the spirit were entirely removed during our episodes and symptoms I believe that we would be shocked as just how much he is helping us during our trials.  Because he works in small and simple ways it is easy to overlook his power and the help we receive.

Now back to the question of my friend, why don’t we feel forgiven, because our illness is telling us lies.  That is the truth.  There is no way a loving god would cast us into a pit of despair for weeks on end because we committed a sin.  That is not the way he works.  Yes he may tell us where we have errored but in my experience he has been far more loving and kind.  When we are working on our weaknesses, working to live the gospel with the capacity that we have, he accepts the offering, even when our illness tells us otherwise.  We may not feel forgiveness but we are forgiven.

Now to discuss the other side of this difficult equation as I noted I would.  Mania causes a distinct problem far different from depression and anxiety.  Mania causes good feelings all the time.  Boundless energy and a bulletproof feeling for life.  The problem with mania is nothing feels wrong.  Often we don’t even ask the question about sin because we simply don’t feel it.  Now those who suffer with depression might say, I could use a little of that mania.  Yeah it is good for a time but ultimately it is a false emotional state and provides significant problems in different ways.  It is far easier to sin and not feel it until the exuberance and energy is removed and you are headed towards the darkness or anxiety and depression.  In between that state of mania and the eventual state of darkness one does feel the sting of sin and the remorse of conscience.  And then the night of darkness descends along with your feelings of guilty.  Mania makes depression so much worse than depression alone.  And it is probably why of the various mental illnesses it has the highest of the suicide rates.  When we suffer with mania, we must be watchful like we are in depression.  We must use rational thought and consideration of our actions.  Similar as to when we are in depression, the adversary seems to have greater access and ability to affect our thoughts, emotions and our lives.  However, I have personally found that the spirit finds ways to teach even when we are in the tight grasp of our troubles.  Those moments will come differently for each person but they do come.  The Lord also provides bounteous mercy as we work through our trials.  He fully understands our problems and the nature of our difficulties.  The Lord always brings us mercy and light.  Anything else comes from Lucifer and his minions.  He knows how to provide for our spiritual needs as we struggle to find even a glimmer of light and hope.  The one thing I hope that you do understand is that mental illness does not stunt our spiritual growth.  While I admit from the mortal perspective, mental illness does not appear to provide any significant value or spiritual growth.  I have seen that growth in myself and know that when we get to the other side of the veil we will be grateful for our trials.  Yes I said grateful because we will see how we have grown and developed spiritually and we will fall down at the feel of the Savior grateful that he allowed those painful moments to pass upon us.  May the Lord bless you in your trials and troubles this week.  Until next week do your part so that the Lord can do his.