“I understand the hollow, even haunting pain of loneliness,” said Sheri Dew, former Relief Society general presidency counselor, during the annual BYU Church History Symposium on Thursday, March 12. The theme of the symposium is “Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts.”
She continued, “For reasons I don’t yet understand, I have been required to live without a husband, or children, or now grandchildren. But I am not alone in dealing with loneliness.”
No one was more alone than Jesus Christ, and nothing compares with His sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane, she said. Every prophet has experienced loneliness, including Alma the Younger, Moses and Moroni.
“And then there is Joseph Smith, who alone saw the Father and the Son and then endured ridicule for declaring what he had seen,” Dew said. “He alone saw Moroni in his bedroom. He alone allowed Martin Harris to take 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, only to then grieve the decision. He alone bore the burden of organizing the Church anew.”
Mortality in its nature is a “spiritual wilderness,” in being separated from Heavenly Parents. But because of Joseph Smith, “none of us have to stay in the wilderness,” she said.
“Everything he taught and all he revealed can help us deal with the problem of mortal loneliness — meaning physical separation from God — as well as better handle the trials that leave us dealing with situational loneliness at times.”
Setting the tone of her message with a story of the pioneering Church in Cambodia and what the First Vision might mean to them, Dew shared five things Joseph Smith revealed or did that can help Latter-day Saints cope with loneliness.
1. Joseph Smith is living proof that God will answer our prayers.
“Joseph’s inspired question unlocked the heavens and opened the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times,” she said. He continued to receive “revelation upon revelation” as he took additional questions to the Lord.
Joseph didn’t have a handbook of instruction, youth conferences or seminary. He didn’t have a living prophet to follow. He was the prophet.
He did, however, receive guidance from angels and ancient prophets who visited and taught him. His example shows that inspired questions lead to personal revelation.
“Like Joseph, we do not have to suffer in silence or stew alone with our doubts and dilemmas,” she said. “We can ask sincere questions of our Father and expect help, peace and answers.”
And though some of her most personal questions remain unanswered and discouraging days happen, “I try to remember the countless times when answers have come.”
2. Joseph Smith translated the most correct book on earth.
Joseph translated most of the 500 pages in the Book of Mormon in three months. He didn’t have a computer or references to use. He had only one draft.
Speaking as a publisher with 40 years of experience, “I don’t know anyone who could duplicate his feat — a feat that took a miracle. Translating that book required the ‘gift and power of God.’”
The Book of Mormon restored plain and precious truths about the Savior, His Atonement and His gospel and is, as Joseph declared, “the most correct of any book on earth.” And those who ask in faith will receive a personal witness from the Holy Ghost, Dew said.
“The Book of Mormon is the spiritual handbook for our day.”
Years ago, when feeling depressed after a personal loss, she found peace and understanding in the Savior’s Atonement as she read Ether 12:27. “I began to realize for the first time that the Savior had already paid the price for the loneliness that was consuming me.”
She quoted President Russell M. Nelson’s promise to those who feast on the words of Christ: “greater power to resist temptation, increased ability to receive revelation, and greater capacity to deal with the challenges of life.”
3. Joseph Smith was the instrument through which the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored, opening the heavens for all who make covenants with God.
Spiritual blessings from the restoration of the priesthood are “antidotes to the problem of loneliness.”
One spiritual blessing is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which has the power to protect, strengthen and guide. “He will be our personal Liahona if we learn to speak His language — the language of revelation,” she said.
When Latter-day Saints attend the temple, they leave “armed” with God’s power. The temple endowment, another spiritual blessing from the priesthood, teaches “how to cast out Satan and part the veil that separates us from God” and pray with power.
“The restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood keys literally changed the world,” Dew said. “They make the spiritual blessings of the Church operative in the lives of every righteous man and woman. We can know more and have more access to God’s power than any other people in any other age.”
4. Joseph Smith fulfilled his foreordained call as a prophet of God.
As Satan continually works overtime to distract and discourage, he knows “one of the most spiritually deadly decisions anyone can make is to separate themselves from those who have priesthood keys — especially prophetic keys.”
The Book of Mormon warns that those who stone the prophets will “perish.” Even social media these days seems to find new ways to “stone the prophets,” she said.
President Brigham Young said of the Prophet Joseph: “He took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth, brought it up and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God.”
“That is what prophets do,” Dew said. “They lift our sights above this telestial world. Everything Joseph Smith did invited the world to step to a higher plane” as he introduced new scripture, new doctrine and a new Church.
Prophets always invite the Lord’s children to live in “higher, holier ways,” she said, as evidenced by President Nelson’s emphasis on ministering and home-centered Church.
With the help of a living prophet, “we don’t have to make sense of mortality alone.”
5. Joseph Smith expanded our understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Joseph’s prophetic stewardship over the last dispensation — “the only dispensation charged with preparing a people for the Savior’s return” — was the “sum and substance” of his life, Dew said.
He “reestablished the preeminence of the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” which is found in the Book of Mormon. He taught that Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ know “our names, our fears and our longings.”
And he did what prophets always do: “He taught the doctrine of Christ so that we know where to turn for divine healing, comfort and the connections that ward off loneliness.”
Dew concluded her address by asking the audience in reference to the Prophet Joseph and President Nelson, “Will we go with the prophet? … Will we open our hearts to their teachings, and will we act on them?”
An affirmative response brings access to the spiritual blessings of the Church, she said. These blessings don’t promise never feeling alone, but they do promise “extraordinary divine help” in the test of mortality.
“On days when recurring loneliness saps me of emotional strength, or when assignments seem too difficult to handle, I call in the spiritual cavalry,” she continued. “I go again to the temple, look for more guidance in the Book of Mormon, ask for angels to help me, and fast and pray and plead for direction. It’s the only approach I know.
“All of these spiritual privileges are possible because Joseph Smith restored the spiritual powers and gifts that provide the most powerful and enduring answers to the problem of loneliness on this earth.”
Dew’s address can be viewed on the BYU Continuing Education website.