Sheri Dew: ‘We’re not alone’

In the October 1983 general women’s meeting, Michael McLean’s classic song “You’re Not Alone” was heard for the first time by a worldwide audience, and the response was instant. The following Monday, Deseret Book’s phone rang off the hook with women clamoring for a copy.

The tune was memorable, but it was the lyrics that ignited the frenzy: “You’re not alone, even when you’re feeling on your own, you are loved in ways that can’t be shown; your needs are known; you’re not alone.”

Who doesn’t relate to that? Everyone experiences loneliness. Ironically, though we are more connected technologically than ever, current studies suggest we may be the loneliest of all peoples. The American Psychological Association recently reported that “loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of … U.S. adults reporting that they sometimes or always feel alone.” In another survey, 70% of young adults reported sometimes or always feeling alone.

Loneliness is actually a matter of life or death. The chronically lonely have a 26% greater chance of dying, which is roughly the equivalent of someone who smokes 15 cigarettes a day.

And that was before COVID-19 hit and introduced a whole new wave of isolation. In the past, we may not have realized just how life-sustaining smiles, hugs, handshakes and moments with friends are.

BYU professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad says “Our bodies and our brains expect the proximity of others. When we don’t have that proximity, when we feel like we have to face everything on our own, it makes it all so much harder.”

Surely one thing we’ve learned this year is that we need each other.

But there is an additional kind of loneliness central to the human condition that we all experience. Mortality is a spiritual wilderness where we are separated from our Heavenly Parents and the heavenly home where our spirits are most at peace. Eliza R. Snow described this separation when she penned: “Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered, ‘You’re a stranger here.’ And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.”

The pain of separation from others is exceeded only by the haunting vacuum created when we separate ourselves from God.

When Elder Gordon B. Hinckley inaugurated missionary work in the Philippines in 1961, he did so by holding a poignant sunrise service at the beautiful American Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila. At the time, there was one known Filipino member of the Church.

Soon thereafter, Elder Hinckley returned to Manila with four missionaries in tow whom he had transferred from Hong Kong. Sister Marjorie Hinckley accompanied her husband, and as they prepared to leave the young men in that bustling metro area where there was not yet a Church infrastructure to support them, her motherly instincts took over. “How can you leave these boys here alone?” she pressed her husband. Elder Hinckley responded simply, “They are not alone. The Lord will be with them.” And with that, the Hinckleys got on a plane and left.

His statement proved prophetic. I was in Manila 35 years later when, on May 29, 1996, President Hinckley returned to the Philippines, which then boasted nearly 400,000 members.

On the day he was to speak at an evening devotional in Manila, by midafternoon the Araneta Coliseum was filled beyond capacity. Some 35,000 members had stuffed themselves into 25,000 seats. The aisles and concourses were wall-to-wall people.

When President Hinckley entered the coliseum, the congregation leaped to their feet and began to applaud as they sang three emotional verses of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” That large hall was filled with spiritual electricity. In the moment, I couldn’t help but think about those first four elders who, as promised, had never been alone.

The truth embedded in Michael McLean’s song and President Hinckley’s promise can anchor each of us, if we allow it to. As earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, civil unrest, political storms and even a pandemic rage, the majesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ contains the most enduring antidotes to loneliness.

Said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path — the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, [and] prophets and apostles. … Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone or unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are.”

Jesus Christ atoned for every member of the human family. And because He did, we are never truly alone.

— Sheri Dew is executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation and CEO of Deseret Book Company. She served in the Relief Society general presidency from 1997-2002.