When someone is diagnosed with a debilitating disease, fear and despair take over for the moment and life comes to a standstill. Once the shock wears off, possibly life-altering decisions must be made, and what happens next may make or break the future of family relationships.
It’s at such times that families of faith fare significantly better off than those without belief—even if it’s terminal–according to a study on the effects of chronic illness. Kneeling in prayer and humbly asking for comfort and a possible cure creates a resolve to support each other—that the illness is not stronger than you–as you move forward.
Comfort comes through knowing that a loving Father in Heaven is aware of our individual sorrows and has provided a way to find peace. Jesus asked us to give the burden to Him:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
To become submissive to God’s will—to relinquish fear and hand over an illness, problem or sin to Christ—is not easy, but the result is that it releases the stress of dealing with the illness alone. Recognizing that He endured the pain of all mankind—your very own personal pain—as He atoned for the sins and sorrows of the world, helps you know He understands your anguish. He is always there.
Elder Dallin Oaks, an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons or LDS) put it this way:
Like the Good Samaritan in His parable, when He finds us wounded at the wayside, He binds up our wounds and cares for us (see Luke 10:34). Brothers and sisters, the healing power of His Atonement is for you, for us, for all.
Another way that Mormons cope with illness is through fasting and priesthood blessings. In the case of a serious illness, whole wards (congregations) pray and fast for 24-hours in behalf of the sick. In addition, families or individuals often fast for a sick or needy person.
A vital tenet of Mormonism is that the authority of the Holy Priesthood, which Christ established in His original Church, has been restored. Most worthy Mormon men hold some level of priesthood. In many homes, fathers hold the Melchizedek priesthood and are able to bless their own family members. They speak through the power and authority of God, administering the blessing as they are instructed through the Holy Spirit.
Such blessings are given today, just as they were when Christ lived. He gave the apostles the priesthood to “heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” Once they had the priesthood power, they preached the gospel and healed the sick everywhere they went. The Seventy were also given the direction to heal the sick. (Luke 10:9; Acts 8:6-7). Elder Oaks explained:
Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a “healing” cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are “healed” by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us.
The healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ—whether it removes our burdens or strengthens us to endure and live with them like the Apostle Paul—is available for every affliction in mortality.
Elder Oaks illustrated this point when he described a group of people in The Book of Mormon who were persecuted by their wicked king:
The people who followed Alma were in bondage to wicked oppressors. When they prayed for relief, the Lord told them He would deliver them eventually, but in the meantime He would ease their burdens “that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses … that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14). In that case the people did not have their burdens removed, but the Lord strengthened them so that “they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (v. 15).
In the case of a terminal illness, sorrow is inevitable, but Mormon families realize that the separation is only temporary. The belief that families can be together forever reassures and comforts old and young alike. Because of the fervent belief that life began before we came to earth and continues after we leave, family members have confidence that they will be with their loved ones again.
Utilizing these tools of faith to cope with illness not only brings the family closer, they assure that each member will feel strengthened, connected and able to survive, rather than succumbing to the disparate thinking that leads to the disastrous statistics so prevalent in today’s world.
This article was written by Jan Mayer, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.