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Find light in the darkness: BYU-Hawaii professor shares personal experience with mental illness

Stephen Hancock and his wife didn't think their good times would end.

They had two kids, he had finished a doctorate program and his job provided for their family. His wife, particularly, "was the sort of person about whom the apostle might have been speaking when he said, 'Ye are the children of light.'"

But shortly after the birth of their third child, something inside his wife changed.

"The hope and joy that brought light into her life dimmed," he said. "As the months went on, she found herself in complete darkness. … She often couldn't feel anything, or only sadness and despair when she did, and she certainly couldn't find any light."

Hancock said over time they have both learned an important lesson: "Even when there's darkness, that darkness doesn't have to become the focus of our lives."

BYU-Hawaii Professor Stephen Hancock spoke on finding light in darkness during a devotional on June 19. Though his remarks were framed in the context of his and his wife’s experiences with mental illness, he acknowledged that everyone passes through darkness at some point; he also said people can have hope “without denying the terrible despair that can accompany such times or the challenges those times present.”
BYU-Hawaii Professor Stephen Hancock spoke on finding light in darkness during a devotional on June 19. Though his remarks were framed in the context of his and his wife’s experiences with mental illness, he acknowledged that everyone passes through darkness at some point; he also said people can have hope “without denying the terrible despair that can accompany such times or the challenges those times present.” Photo: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii

Hancock spoke on that theme — finding light in darkness — during a BYU-Hawaii devotional held in the George Q. Cannon Activities Center on June 19. Though his remarks were framed in the context of his and his wife's experiences with mental illness, he acknowledged that everyone passes through darkness at some point; he also said people can have hope "without denying the terrible despair that can accompany such times or the challenges those times present."

He began by citing examples of righteous people feeling alone, from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's struggle with depression as a young husband to Christ Himself on the hill of Golgotha.

"So, if the apostles, prophets and the Savior Himself cannot avoid moments of darkness and separation from God's light, we can assume that no effort on our part, no degree of righteousness, no strength of character or manly fortitude will make us immune to such experiences," he said.

“"Even when there's darkness, that darkness doesn't have to become the focus of our lives."”

Hancock gave three suggestions for facing darkness when it comes.

1. When the lights go out, keep moving. He said simply wandering can be too easy when darkness comes, which can be dangerous both physically and spiritually; however, holding to the iron rod through mists of darkness can lead people on.

For himself, holding to the rod meant teaching even when his heart was numb; fulfilling his duties to his family even when he didn't feel overwhelming love; and reading his scriptures only because he knew it was right.

"The trick is to follow the light we have," Hancock said. "No matter how dark it is, retreating farther into the darkness makes little sense. Indeed, we need to seek the light wherever we can find it, no matter whether that is easy, as it sometimes is, or difficult, as it is at other times."

2. Invite light into life. This doesn't mean a person's life will be totally illuminated, but even flashes of light can guide the way.

He also acknowledged that though the spirit of the Lord can pierce the darkness, that doesn't necessarily drive darkness away permanently; however, reading scriptures, priesthood blessings and other spiritual activities can provide the moments of light needed to navigate the darkness.

"You don't really need to see everything not to run into things," he said. "They don't change that quickly. So open yourself to the light as often as you can, even when it's dark."

3. Invite light into life by doing the Lord's work. This means fulfilling callings, serving in the temple, ministering in relief societies or priesthood quorums, or serving in any other capacity that brings others to Christ.

He also acknowledged the difficulty of attending the temple through depression and other similar conditions, but spoke of how over time, the temple became a place of "true refuge" where the Lord gradually healed him.

"I believe that attending the temple when we can is a way of showing faith that can, when the Lord is ready, produce miracles," he said.

Hancock also spoke on how some trials need special care. Accepting that he needed medication for his condition was difficult because he thought "real faith should get me through it without other help;" however, everyone's emotional needs vary, and "whatever leads us towards the light is right. Let the Lord lead you where He will."

Hancock concluded with the story of the wise man building his house on a rock. Though the house withstood the storm, it was likely an uncomfortable experience that left the wise man cold, wet and battered.

"On the day when you don't want to walk out the door; on the day when you want to stay in bed because it doesn't seem like much good could come from getting out of it; when you have to pick up each foot and put it in front of the other because you can't feel joy in what you are doing but it must be done, remember that the rock of the gospel is the one rug they can't pull out from under you," he said. "You may not be happy today. You may not feel like you can do what they're asking of you, but you can do what the Lord is asking, and if you do, you will have joy. You will win the race. And while that may not make your problems go away right now, it is something."

"Is there darkness? Yes," he continued. "But in that darkness there is light. And if we find that light, it is so ubiquitous, so everywhere, that we may not notice the darkness so much."

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