Our mortal journey

"The Slough of Despond."

The name alone conjures up images vile and gruesome, unpleasant and unappealing. A swamp of hopeless dejection, discouragement and degradation, it's described in The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan. Published in 1684, the novel is a religious allegory that tells the story of Christian, a pilgrim whose singular aim is to be on the right road to the Celestial City as he flees the City of Destruction.Bunyan's novel is filled with personified virtues that assisted Christian in his progress. Among the virtues were Help, Good Will, Hopeful, Faithful, Evangelist, Knowledge, Experience, Watchful and Sincere. Attempting to turn Christian from his goal were many vices, including Master Worldly Wise, the Giant Despair, Ignorance, Sloth, Presumption and Hypocrisy.

Christian made his way past or through places such as the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of Ease, the River of Death, the Castle of Doubt and a town called Vanity Fair. He eventually reached the Celestial City and rejoiced to see that his wife and children had followed him.

The journey was difficult. In its early part, Christian fell into and wallowed in the Slough of Despond until he was pulled out by Help, who asked, "Why did you not look for the steps?" Christian answered, "Fear followed me so hard, that I fled the next way, and fell in."

Later, Christian told Good Will of his experience at the swamp and of Pliable, a companion who had traveled with him "for a little way." Good Will asked, "But why did he not come through?"

Christian explained that Pliable had become discouraged after he fell into the Slough of Despond, and, upon managing to crawl out, had returned to the City of Destruction.

Good Will then said: "Alas, poor man, is the celestial glory of so small esteem with him that he counteth it not worth running the hazards of a few difficulties to obtain it?"

As did Pliable, many people never achieve lofty goals because they become discouraged and abandon their quests at the first sign of difficulty. And far too many do not feel that certain goals are worth the struggles required to overcome hazards or obstacles that stand in the way.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said: "Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 297.)

At the October 1974 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, said: "We can rise above the enemies of despair, depression, discouragement, and despondency by remembering that God provides righteous alternatives, . . . As it states in the Bible, `There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.' (1 Cor. 10:13.)

"Yes, life is a test; it is a probation; and perhaps being away from our heavenly home we feel sometimes, as holy men in the past have felt, that `they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.' " (See D&C 45:13.)

" . . . To lift our spirit and send us on our way rejoicing, the devil's designs of despair, discouragement, depression, and despondency can be defeated in a dozen ways, namely: repentance, prayer, service, work, health, reading, blessings, fasting, friends, music, endurance, and goals.

"May we use them all in the difficult days ahead so that we Christian pilgrims will have greater happiness here and go on to a fullness of joy in the highest realms of the celestial kingdom. . . ."

We have many problems to sort through, numerous challenges and obstacles to overcome, and countless irritations and annoyances to rise above. If we focus on our fears, we risk falling into traps along the way, of becoming mired in our own "Slough of Despond." Let us remember that the adversary is the author of doubt, despair, discouragement and all the other vices we might encounter on our journey through mortality. By contrast, the Lord is the foundation of faith, hope, encouragement and all the other virtues. If we should find ourselves paying more heed to the vices than the virtues, let us remember the encouraging words of the prophet Ether:

"By faith all things are fulfilled -

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God." (Ether 12:3-4.)

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