Liberty Jail was the darkest period of Joseph Smith’s life. In that cramped cellar, he was tormented by Satan and news of the persecuted saints: homes burned, men slaughtered defending their families, and women raped. He cried out to God in a written prayer, a part of which we have recorded in D&C 121 with those famous words “O God, where art thou?” And the Lord responds “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.”
In moments of anguish, I also turn to pen and paper for prayerful solace. Such was my experience as a missionary in Central America — I lamented the wickedness of my leaders and the evils they were encouraging to baptise more people: bribery, deception, and fear tactics. Women were commanded to marry their abusive boyfriends to “repent of their fornication”, couples were bribed with all-expenses-paid marriages, starving families were accused of stealing from God by not paying tithing, and some missionaries preached baptism as guaranteed salvation with no commitments to God or church.
I refused to have any part in these shinanegans, and my righteousness was met with anger. I was hauled before the zone several times and publicly shamed for my lack of performance: “If you’re not baptising, you must not have the spirit. If you don’t have the spirit, you must be engaging in sin. Confess your sins, Elder! You are responsible to God for the souls you are failing to baptise, and you will suffer in Hell with them if you continue this course.”
I didn’t beleive a word they said to me. I knew I was following the spirit. Even so, I felt wounded and the pressure I faced seemed unbearable. My only comfort came from God, who I spoke with through my journal. I wrote several pages a day, pouring out my soul to Him and writing the impressions He sent to my heart. I felt His love with every word, and it gave me strength to press on despite the agony heaped upon me by my peers. Some days I felt I couldn’t take another step, and would rather be struck dead than spend another minute on the earth. Satan is real, and he nearly overpowered me.
Despite being the most miserable period of my life, I grew closer to God in ways I never imagined. I was forced to dig deep inside myself and discover what I was made of, and the kind of man I wanted to be. I had visions of my future and the beautiful relationship I would have with my wife and children; visions of serving my community and helping the needy; visions of receiving God into my home and being sealed to Him. The Lord helped me understand that my trials were preparing me for these blessings. I was in the refiner’s fire to be strengthened for the times ahead.
It’s that lesson I carry with me still — that when I struggle and Satan is fighting to stop my progress, I pray to God and he grants me revelation: I learn who I truly am, and that I have the strength to combat darkness. He grants me an eternal perspective to see my pain as progress, and raises me to a greater understanding. He teaches me His mysteries, and grants me visions. He visits me in dreams and pierces my heart with wisdom.
I trade my darkness and He gives me light.