Despite the overwhelming power of the German forces, the British didn't give in or give up, even when they were standing alone. They endured and, with the subsequent help of their allies, were able to turn what appeared to be inevitable destruction into ultimate victory. They were also willing to reach out for and accept support from their allies. A terrible, destructive force that had laid waste to all in its path was defeated by the determination and faith of people who, under great burden and with great sorrow, continued to fight back. Their indomitable spirit was born in the depths of despair.
We see examples of perseverance in our day as well. They may not take place on battlefields or during times of war but rather in the silent battles we fight each day in our homes, schools, and communities. These battles are fought by individuals who want to have better lives as well as the courage to improve themselves, reach out for help, and seek after worthy goals.
Athletics is one area in which we see examples of perseverance and courage. For example, Chris Yergensen played football for the University of Utah. With a Washington State University lead of 31-28, Chris was called in to attempt a twenty-yard field goal in order to tie the game. Chris ran out on to the field and got into position. The ball was snapped and placed upright, and then he kicked it. It went wide to the left. The Utes lost the hard-fought Copper Bowl game.
The coaches and fans were devastated, but none took it harder than Chris. He was so upset by the loss that he avoided his coaches and team members for days. A week later, his coach invited him into his office. He gave Chris two options-he could begin preparing for next year's football season, or he could quit.
Chris resolved to do all he could to prepare for the next season. With the help of supportive coaches, he devoted many hours to refining his skills. The following year, in 1993, he redeemed himself when the Utes went down to Provo to play against their biggest in-state rival-Brigham Young University. Utah had not beaten BYU for many years, and Chris helped make it happen. In the final seconds of the game, he kicked a fifty-five-yard field goal, resulting in the first Ute win over BYU in Provo since 1971.2 Chris Yergensen persevered when the option for quitting was offered him, and he sought the help he needed to improve. That is what makes his story so great!
The will to keep trying and the desire to continue doing our very best, regardless of the difficulties we encounter, can make life meaningful. It's the process of persevering, notwithstanding our personal weaknesses, that enables us to enjoy the small victories along the way. Part of persevering involves seeking the support of others.
We all face challenges that, at times, appear to be insurmountable. It may be abuse, a disability, an addiction, a mental illness, or a combination of these conditions that challenges us. One of my greatest challenges has been working to overcome the consequences of abuse, which included severe anxiety and depression.
My parents struggled to raise a family of eleven children on an educator's salary. They rarely agreed on how to resolve family problems and spent much of their time arguing. My memories of such conflict extend back to my earliest years as a toddler and continued until I was able to leave home at the age of eighteen. My father suffered from bipolar disorder, and my mother suffered the consequences of his illness. She was sick throughout most of our childhood. It seemed that my father was always either angry and depressed or overzealous about one thing or another. His father was an alcoholic who had died at an early age from the effects of his addiction. I believe my father did the best he could, considering his untreated mental illness and the experiences he had as a child.
The scriptures warn us about the "nature and disposition of almost all men." That is, "as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion" (Doctrine and Covenants 121: 39). Such a predisposition, combined with mental illness, creates family conditions that are especially challenging.
Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse was a regular part of our family life. We didn't recognize it as abuse back then; rather, we accepted it as a routine part of our daily existence. As children, we naively assumed that this was how most fathers behaved. It wasn't until our adult years that we recognized it for what it was-abuse. We learned at an early age that our personal welfare was directly related to our willingness to pretend to submit to our father's will, which varied daily depending upon his mood.
I commonly felt sadness, low self-esteem, anxiety, and fear during adolescence, and these feelings carried over to adulthood. I don't doubt they had biological as well as environmental origins. Nevertheless, that was the package I was given. Two generations had now suffered from abuse. I needed to break the generational chain of dysfunction for my future family. It was up to me to make the most of the situation by working with these personal challenges, seeking out support, and striving to find the happiness and joy that seemed to elude me as a child.
When I was twelve years old, the bishop of our ward invited my nine-year-old brother and me to meet with him in his office. In those days it seemed most people knew little about mental illness and abuse. Our bishop, who appeared concerned about our welfare, asked how we were getting along with family members. Neither one of us knew what else to say, so we both said "okay." Even if he had asked how our father treated us, we wouldn't have responded differently. We believed the way we were treated was normal and that most fathers were similarly harsh with their children. Even worse, we believed this was how we deserved to be treated. For all we knew, our bishop engaged in the same behaviors in his home.
In our home, physical aggression, disparaging comments, and verbal threats of divorce and suicide were all part of our normal life. Shame, guilt, and humiliation were used to control our behavior and force us into submission.
Toward the end of our visit with the bishop, he leaned forward from behind his desk, looked into our eyes, and said, "You both look so sad all of the time. You need to try and smile more." I left his office with the commitment to smile more often; however, it didn't change how I felt inside.
Fortunately, in our community there were excellent youth sports programs. Sporting activities were my outlet. I was blessed with athletic ability and excelled in playing basketball, baseball, and football. When playing sports, I forgot about the challenges at home. I enjoyed the praise of teammates, coaches, and spectators. Their praise helped me to feel good about myself. When playing sports, I felt like a whole person. Yet, I could not extend that feeling of wholeness to other aspects of my life.
During adolescence, I struggled with severe anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and became more withdrawn at school. I was a good student but had so little confidence that I was terrified when asked to read aloud. I avoided any opportunity to speak in front of others and tried hard to remain invisible during class time. Isolation wasn't the answer, and my depression increased during this time. However, the desire to participate in sports, combined with fervent prayer, helped me to survive those turbulent years.
In high school, I reached a point where my depression was so intense that I felt I didn't have the emotional strength to continue playing on the school basketball team. I had already quit playing baseball and football due to the anxiety and depression. Basketball was my greatest love, and now I was considering quitting the team.
I remember walking into the locker room my junior year to visit with the basketball coach. I told him I couldn't continue playing. He spoke with me for a while and said he would not let me quit. He asked me to do the best I could for the rest of the season. I hung in and somehow made it through, thanks in part to his support.
The next year, as a senior, I again played on the school team. I continued to struggle with anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, our team enjoyed a successful season and won the region championship. At the end of the season, three trophies were awarded to members of the varsity basketball team-one to the top scorer, one to the top rebounder, and one to the outstanding defensive player-me. The coach said the award was for the player who gave 110 percent on the court. That meant a lot to me, especially since I would have quit playing the year before without his support. The award represented my ability not only to persevere a little longer but also to do my best despite intense personal challenges at home. Thanks to this caring coach, I was beginning to learn that doing your best, regardless of your insecurities, does matter. I learned that when you choose to keep trying and accept support as it's offered, you create opportunities for further success.
Not long after high school, I was called to serve a mission. Still struggling with anxiety and depression, I was fearful of leaving home for two years. On the missionary application form, I indicated my preference to serve in an English-speaking mission, preferably in the United States.
My mission call was to Seoul, Korea. I spent the first few months of my mission struggling to learn the language in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. After arriving in Korea, I quickly recognized that the language I had learned in the MTC didn't resemble the language spoken by the Korean people. For a young man from Utah who had rarely traveled outside the state, living in Korea was a real culture shock. The food, the language, the customs, and the people were very different from life in Utah. It took several months to adjust to the differences.
During the winter, after having lived in Korea for six months, my feelings of worthlessness and desire to withdraw from others intensified. When I felt I could no longer continue, I contacted the mission president and asked that I be sent home immediately. The president listened, seemed to understand, and offered helpful counsel. I felt encouraged after speaking with him.
After offering many fervent prayers for spiritual strength and receiving the support of a loving mission president, I continued to serve the best I could. About a month after my visit with the president, I was transferred to an area called Taejon, south of Seoul, and assigned a missionary companion who was new to the country. It was a challenging experience, but we enjoyed many wonderful opportunities to bless the lives of those we served. After several months as a senior companion, I was transferred to the mission home. I spent the final ten months of my mission serving as personal secretary and assistant to the new mission president in the newly created Seoul-West Mission.
At the close of my mission, it was difficult to leave. I had fallen in love with the people and their culture. I shudder to think, however, that I wouldn't have enjoyed those marvelous experiences had a supportive mission president not encouraged me to keep trying a little longer, and had I not chosen to do so.
One year after returning home from my mission, I married my high school sweetheart. I later obtained a teaching certificate, taught high school, and began attending graduate school. I eventually reached the point in graduate school where it was time to write my doctoral dissertation. With all of the data gathered and preliminary work completed, all that was left to do was write.
This was another defining moment in my life. Still struggling with the effects of depression, facing the challenges of trying to be a good husband and father, working full-time, and fulfilling elders quorum president responsibilities, I was overwhelmed. I was ready to give up on the dissertation and my dream of earning a PhD. It's not uncommon for students to complete their graduate school coursework and never obtain their doctoral degrees because of the challenges associated with completing a dissertation. It's a demanding, time-consuming process. However, once again I was given encouraging counsel and support-this time from my wife-to continue to do my best. With her support and our fervent prayers, I was able to continue and finish the dissertation.
Several years later, I was called to serve as an LDS bishop. The added challenges helped me finally decide to obtain a medical evaluation for severe anxiety and depression. It was the best decision I could have made. I discovered that, with appropriate medical treatment, I could manage my new challenges as bishop and suffer less from depression, anxiety, and the feelings of worthlessness that had plagued me since adolescence.
Over the years, I've come to understand that much of the happiness I enjoy today is built upon the personal triumphs of my past. These small victories were not achieved alone but were the direct result of help from supportive teachers, coaches, priesthood leaders, an inspired counselor, a loving wife, and a Heavenly Father who heard and answered my prayers by directing me to obtain the help I needed. My faith in God has been a tremendous source of strength throughout my life. I now recognize the important role of appropriate counseling and medical treatment in coping with mental health issues and the consequences of abuse.
Our happiness and joy increase as we continue striving, with the support of others, to do our best. We each face opposition, which at times may overwhelm us. We need not struggle alone. The Lord blesses us through the spiritual gifts and talents of others. Such loving support from others can assist us in our efforts to endure the personal challenges we face. The Lord also blesses us with unique strengths that can help us to persevere and grow from our afflictions rather than be destroyed by them.
In July 1830, the Lord said to Joseph Smith, "Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days" (Doctrine and Covenants 24:8). This counsel applies to all of us. The Lord sustains us, especially during times of adversity, as we exercise faith in him through humility, patience, love, and a willingness to submit our will to his. This process enables us to overcome the natural man, but doesn't remove our trials. As we humbly seek the Lord's guidance through sincere prayer, our trials and afflictions will serve to soften-not harden-our hearts.