Healing = Courage + Action + Grace | Jonathan G. Sandberg

Healing = Courage + Action + Grace | Jonathan G. Sandberg


I should start by confessing I will likely
cry. I am a therapist. I can’t help it; emotion is what I do. But in my defense, I
bet no one on this campus looks more like Bronco Mendenhall than I do, and we all know
he is very manly. Wait for the hat and the super-serious stare. Do you see what I mean?
When we first moved to Utah, two of our children were walking around campus, and they saw Bronco.
Our then thirteen-year-old daughter said, “Dad, you do look just like him—minus
the muscles.” Notwithstanding my emotional or physical condition
during this talk, please remember as I speak today that it is never about the messenger;
it is about the message. I pray I can remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said to himself
before his first speech at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church: “Keep Martin Luther King
in the background and God in the foreground and everything will be all right. Remember
you are a channel of the gospel and not the source.” On that note, I want you to know how much
I am humbled by this opportunity. I have tremendous respect for the BYU devotional experience.
I have for years read, listened to, and benefited from BYU devotionals. I keep a long list of
talks in a file that I give out to clients, family members, friends, and young adults
like you. I have seen many times that healing, hope, and peace can come through the word
of God, or, as Jacob said, “the pleasing word of God, . . . which healeth the wounded
soul.” For that reason I felt perhaps the most helpful
thing I can do is simply provide a list of resources in the endnotes of this talk. I
hope these references will help you, your family, your friends, bishops, and therapists
as we all try to deal with the adversities of life and find healing. I have organized
the references by topic (for example, adversity, depression, anxiety, pornography, and same-gender
attraction) and have listed the talks (most often BYU devotionals) that might be helpful
to some reader in the future. Throughout this talk I will reference many different authors
and highlight additional reading that may be helpful for those who are interested. Please
take the time to read through the endnotes. I know that healing can be found as we listen
to and read words of wisdom and apply the true principles found therein. That brings me to today’s topic: healing.
We all need healing. For some of us that need is great today. There are likely among us
those who are brokenhearted because a relationship has ended badly. Others are in pain because
their parents have decided to divorce or a loved one has renounced the Church. Some have
learned recently that they have a chronic illness, and others have just relapsed into
addictive behavior for what seems like the hundredth time. I would guess that there are
some today who have wondered if depression or anxiety will always be a suffocating influence
in their lives, while other students are going through a loss that seems both unfair and
unrelenting. Others are drowning in loneliness and isolation while still others are constantly
placed on the margins, even here at BYU. Perhaps these folks look or talk or feel different
from what may be considered “the norm.” This group is broader than we may think and
often includes new converts; those who experience same-gender attraction; those who are fortunate
enough to have diversity in their ethnic, racial, or cultural background; or those who
do not like to sing songs about eternal and happy families because that has not been their
experience. Even the greatest among us, Jesus Christ, experienced betrayal, mocking, abandonment,
loss of loved ones, and physical pain as part of His mortal experience. My hope today is to encourage you that healing
is possible if you apply the principles that lead to healing. I will try to explain clearly—and
I ask for your prayers that we can understand one another by the Spirit—three principles
that can lead to healing and to knowing that all healing is a gift from Jesus Christ, for,
as Isaiah said, “with his stripes we are healed.” My talk is entitled “Healing=Courage +
Action + Grace.” And in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who was recently listed in
Ted Stewart’s The Mark of a Giant as one of seven people who changed the world, I start
with an example from his life that so clearly highlights these principles. Look for courage,
action, and grace as I read his words: Almost immediately after the [bus boycott] started
we had begun to receive threatening telephone calls and letters. They increased as time
went on. . . . One night . . . I couldn’t sleep. It seemed
that all of my fears had come down on me at once. . . . . . . I had heard these things before, but
for some reason that night it got to me. . . . I went to the kitchen and . . . I sat there
and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. . . . I started thinking
about a dedicated and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken
from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take
it any longer. . . . With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed
aloud . . . : “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right.
I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m
weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. . . . I have nothing
left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” It seemed as though I could hear the quiet
assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand
up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of
the world.” I tell you . . . I heard the voice of Jesus
saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced
the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my
fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. Can you see in this example the pathway to
healing? Courage to face a difficult situation and stand for truth, acting in faith by turning
to God in prayer, and peace and strength from the Lord through His grace—courage, action,
grace. What then is healing, and why should we seek
it? My favorite talk on the subject of healing is a BYU devotional given by Elaine S. Marshall
in 2002 entitled “Learning the Healer’s Art.” I strongly recommend you study it.
I assign it in every class I teach, from undergraduate to doctoral level. I suggest you read it more
than once. Listen closely to her definition of healing: On [my] first day as a nurse, I assumed
cure, care, and healing to be synonymous. I have learned they are not the same. Healing
is not cure. Cure is clean, quick, and done—often under anesthesia. . . . Healing, however,
is often a lifelong process of recovery and growth in spite of, maybe because of, enduring
physical, emotional, or spiritual assault. It requires time. . . . . . . It requires all the energy of your entire
being. You have to be there, fully awake, aware, and participating when it happens. Healing is much more than “getting better”
or “having our problems go away.” Healing is growth, development, and maturation. In
a word, healing is change. It takes time and energy and struggle, but healing teaches us.
As Marshall said: Healing can help us to become more sensitive
and more awake to life. . . . Healing invites gifts of humility and faith. It opens our
hearts to . . . truth, beauty, . . . and grace. But remember, even with all that beauty and
growth and grace, healing does hurt. Some people I have had the privilege of working
with over the years have had a hard time reconciling the fact that healing requires suffering and
yet is a gift from our Savior. How is it that a loving God would allow us to suffer? I have
come to realize that my Savior cares more about my growth than He does about my comfort.
One evidence of His love is that He does not spare me from the suffering I need for my
development and progression, even when I get mad at Him. As a client once told me, “I
used to feel guilty for getting mad at God. Then I realized He can handle it.” And, unlike other humans, He does not punish
me when I am mad or hold a grudge or remind me of it the next time my heart is right and
I ask for His help. I love how Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member
of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, described healing: Healing blessings come in many ways, each
suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a “healing”
. . . lifts our burden. But sometimes we are “healed” by being given strength or understanding
or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us. As we consider the key components for healing,
let us remember that, in the end, healing is a gift from our Savior that will likely
require effort and suffering on our part so that we can grow and develop through our struggles.
The gift is often the refinement we experience in the process. Let me give you one example from one of my
heroes. When the relatively young Nelson Mandela first entered prison, he was described by
his peers as too “emotional” (meaning he lacked self-control), “passionate”
(meaning he had a temper), and “quickly stung” (easily offended), but when he left
prison twenty-seven years later, the words he would use to describe himself were “balanced,”
“measured,” and “controlled.” As Richard Stengel noted in his excellent book
on lessons learned from Mandela, “Nelson Mandela had many teachers in his life, but
the greatest of them all was prison.” When he was pestered about how prison had changed
him, Mandela simply said, “I came out mature.” Was prison a healing experience for Mandela?
It depends on how you describe healing. As described in Elder Oaks’ words, Mandela
developed in prison the strength, understanding, and patience necessary to bear the burdens
that were placed on him. What were those burdens? In the midst of decades of violent and hate-filled
conflict, Mandela left prison to lead two groups into the miraculously peaceful development
of a democracy, preventing the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in a bloody civil war.
Is that healing? I would say yes. Mandela’s personal healing fostered nationwide healing.
His life is an example of how courage, action, and grace lead to healing. Let’s shift our focus for a moment to courage.
Simply defined, true “courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action
in spite of fear.” In order for healing to occur, we have to be courageous enough
to move forward when we are afraid. I have chosen three examples in which courage is
needed for healing to occur. First, we have to be courageous to face the
truth regarding what needs to change in our lives. This type of intense introspection
requires tremendous honesty with ourselves. As Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free,” but that is usually only after it hurts us first. Most
of what I know about the courage to heal I have learned from clients. I have noticed
among those who do find healing a real commitment to learning the truth about themselves, which
is never easy. I once asked a client if he really wanted
to change—if he wanted to change badly enough to hear the truth about his role in his marriage.
He said yes, so I told him I thought he was a diva who interacted with his wife from a
selfish and entitled place. I was impressed with his response to me. After a chuckle he
said, “You are probably right, and I do not want to be a diva anymore. I want someone
to call me out on my stuff, and I want to change.” He was back the next week ready
to work. I appreciated his courage. It takes courage to be honest with ourselves. Second, it takes tremendous courage to be
congruent—to live a life in which our public and private priorities are in sync and in
which what we experience on the inside is consistent with what we show on the outside.
I like what marriage and family therapist William J. Doherty said about integrity. He
stated, “Integrity is harmony between our moral beliefs and our actions.” I learned this lesson the hard way when a
colleague at Syracuse University gave me some pointed and painful feedback. After one faculty
meeting he said to me, “It must be exhausting being you, living a two-faced life.” When I asked him what he meant, he explained,
“I cannot believe that the guy I see at work, who seems to say anything that will
help him fit into the group he is with, is the same guy who attends church on Sunday.” A little context may help with this story.
I was hired at Syracuse as a twenty-eight-year-old recent graduate who was a white male conservative
Christian working in a liberal, social activist program. Unfortunately my colleague was correct. I
desperately wanted to fit in and was unsure about what I really thought and felt regarding
socially and politically intense topics like same-gender marriage. I was posing and pretending
to try to fit in. As James in the New Testament said, “A double minded man is unstable in
all his ways.” My colleague’s feedback became more personal,
for both him and for me, as he went on to say, “Look, as a black man, if the Ku Klux
Klan came to town, I know you would hide me in your basement, but as soon as they came
to your door, you would turn me over to save yourself.” In essence, my colleague was saying, “I
do not trust you because you do not have the courage to be congruent in all settings.” It took time to internalize that feedback
and realize he was right. I had to figure out what I believed—not what my parents
had said was right or the Church or my employer, but what I believed was right. I had to get
right between God and me. Then I had to learn to live congruently so that my actions were
in harmony with my moral beliefs—which took courage. But oh, how refreshing it is to live a life
of integrity! Healing requires the courage to find out that what we believe is true and
live according to that truth. As the therapist Brené Brown has astutely observed: Trying to co-opt or win over someone . . . is
always a mistake, because it means trading in your authenticity for approval. You stop
believing in your worthiness and start hustling for it. I have learned over the years that posturing,
posing, peacocking, and pretending are exhausting and bring unhappiness. Having the courage
to be congruent brings a settled and peaceful feeling. I like what Elijah in the Old Testament
said about congruence: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God,
follow him.” Third, we have to develop the courage to live
counter to the world’s dominant culture. You know what I am talking about—the culture
in which money, sex, material possessions, fame, violent behavior, and carnal exploits
are the currency for success. We live in a world in which appearance and approval are
the keys to social status and power. In order to find healing, we have to develop the courage
to say no to this dominant culture. I love what Morrie Schwartz said to Mitch Albom about
living counter to the culture in the book Tuesdays with Morrie: The culture we have does not make people feel
good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough
to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. A number of wonderful BYU devotionals have
described the unhealthy culture of perceived perfectionism and how we have to fight against
it. In two devotionals given last year, both Tyler J. Jarvis and Kristin L. Matthews encouraged
us to be more accepting of our imperfections and to be more pleased with our best approximations,
our bodies, our gifts, and our differences. I encourage you to reread their talks. Listen to what President Thomas S. Monson
said about having the courage to live by truth and to avoid the unhealthy dominant culture: Let us have the courage to defy the consensus,
the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s
approval. . . . A moral coward is one who is afraid to do what he thinks is right because
others will disapprove or laugh. In her delightful way, author and devoted
mother and grandmother Marjorie Pay Hinckley described the peace that comes when we refuse
to compare and despair, as the dominant culture teaches: Fifty was my favorite age. It takes about
that long to learn to quit competing—to be yourself and settle down to living. It
is the age I would like to be through all eternity! In order to find healing, we have to develop
the courage to avoid the culture that says there is only one acceptable way (i.e., a
specific size, hair color, or ACT score) to be a good person or even a good Christian.
There are many, many ways to be a righteous, positive influence in the world. If enough
of us say no to the dominant culture, it will lose its power. This brings us to the next part of the equation
of courage + action + grace=healing. Action is essential to healing. To act instead
of merely being acted upon was a key issue in the War in Heaven before we came to this
earth. According to the scriptures, “God gave unto man [and woman] that [they] should
act for [themselves],” but Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man.” When pondering
these scriptures, I realized that when I choose to be inactive or place myself in a state
of being acted upon, I give Satan greater power in my life. A number of scriptures describe clearly the
need to act and not be acted upon, but how is action related to healing? I have come
to see that action is the point at which belief turns into faith. When we act in faith, moving
ahead on a good path, we open the door to grace. Having the courage to act opens the
door to grace, which is the key to healing. Learning to act in faith is one of the great
challenges of mortality. What then are the major roadblocks to acting
in faith? I would suggest that procrastination and fear are two of Satan’s greatest tools
to keep us in the “acted upon” position. If Satan can convince us that our fear is
too great to be able to act or that to act is a great idea but we should do it later,
he can prevent us from opening the door to grace. Think about how he does this. Maybe you tell
yourself, “I totally plan on getting married. It is a great idea and I am pro-marriage,
but I have to do these other things first.” Or, “My life is in a holding pattern right
now. I am not sure where I should go or what I should do until I get married. I am stuck.” Or, “I know this problem I have [insert
pornography, eating patterns, or anxiety] needs to be fixed, but I have too much to
do right now to put the time and energy into addressing it.” Or, “I cannot go to my bishop to resolve
this sin because I am afraid he will see how far I have fallen and he will not want or
will not be able to help me.” Can you see how effective procrastination
and fear are in meeting Satan’s objectives in our lives? Remember, the longer we remain in an inactive
state, the farther we drift from the Lord and His Spirit. As C. S. Lewis astutely described,
“The more often [a person] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act,
and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” How then can we overcome the tendency to procrastinate
or shut down in fear? Let me propose that prayer is the simplest form of action. Remember
the truth in this hymn: “Prayer will change the night to day. So, when life gets dark
and dreary, Don’t forget to pray.” When you pray, you act in faith and open the
door to “blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on
our asking for them.” In your prayers, be sure to speak openly,
sincerely, and directly to Him who is your loving Father. Sometimes I fear our prayers
are too vague and too passive to bring about the spiritual support we need. We need to learn how to offer mighty prayer.
For example, you might fervently plead, “Heavenly Father, I am procrastinating again. I am getting
stuck in that old pattern. Please help me to break free. Please give me the strength
to just get started and then the stamina to stick with the task.” Or, “Heavenly Father, I am totally shut
down in fear. I need to move forward and act, but this prayer is all I can muster up right
now. Please help me find the courage to act.” I promise those prayers will be heard and
help will come. We call that help grace. And remember, you can still act, even if you
are afraid or feel like procrastinating. My favorite example of this type of action is
Mother Teresa. I love this quote about her from writer Marcus Goodyear: Mother Teresa doubted. Her spirit wavered.
. . . Some days she questioned herself. Some days she questioned God. And this is the biggest encouragement of all.
Even Mother Teresa had doubts. . . . Her doubt gives me hope; not that my own doubt will
go away but that feelings of doubt are not as powerful as a faithful decision to act. I may doubt, but I still pray. I still go
to church. I still worship. . . . Doubt is a feeling, but faith chooses to act
no matter our feelings. Another great example of acting in the face
of understandable fear is Rosa Parks. Over the last three years I have had the privilege
of coteaching a civil rights course and visiting historical sites central to the civil rights
movement. One of my favorite sites to visit is the Rosa Parks Museum. Mrs. Parks is known
for her courageous stand on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, when she refused to give up her seat.
Until visiting her museum and reading more about her life, I did not realize that numerous
African Americans had been beaten, arrested, raped, or shot in Montgomery during the decade
before her refusal to give up her seat—all for taking a similar stance to Mrs. Parks’
action. In my study of her, I have learned that Mrs.
Parks was courageously acting long before that winter day in 1955. For example, she
served as secretary in the local chapter of the NAACP and was a vigorous advocate for
justice for black women who had been brutally raped in the South. However, as will be our
experience, most of her courageous acts were unknown and unheralded. In the case of the
bus boycott, she was in the right place at the right time, willing to do the right thing,
which helped bring needed change to our country. I have since asked myself, “Am I in the
right place doing the right thing, willing to act as God prompts so I can do the work
He has given me?” Listen to how one biographer described Mrs. Parks’ courage to act: “Parks
made an active choice in that instance. . . . In a moment designed to frighten and degrade,
she was able to see herself as an agent and claim a space of choice.”  I love that
phrase “see herself as an agent and claim a space of choice.” When we have the courage
to act, we open the door to healing. Mrs. Parks’ courageous act opened the door to
the civil rights movement, a movement that brought a large measure of needed healing
to this country. That brings us to the final part of the equation—healing
=courage + action + grace. What is grace? I love the definition provided by David A.
Bednar in a devotional given while he was president of BYU–Idaho. He quoted the Bible
Dictionary, which states that grace can be defined as divine means of help or strength, given through
the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. . . . It is likewise through the grace of
the Lord that individuals . . . receive strength and assistance to do good works that they
otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an
enabling power. After reading this definition, President Bednar
then added, “Thus the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be
good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.” The scriptures are full of examples of the
grace of Jesus Christ as He ministered to people struggling to do and be good but coming
up short. The scriptures teach of Him reaching out to His people at their breaking point
and providing strength, patience, joy, comfort, assurances, peace, faith, hope, courage, and
determination and even wiping away the tears from their eyes. The grace of Jesus Christ,
His bounteous mercy and love, is available to us if we but have the courage to reach
out to Him. Sometimes that grace comes directly through
the Holy Ghost, and we can feel His clear and specific love for us. Sometimes that grace
comes as Christ touches another person’s heart and prompts her or him to share, bless,
and uplift another. In other words, grace is often made manifest through the courage
and action of a person who reaches out to serve another. Let me give you an example
of the principle of reaching out from the childhood of Thomas S. Monson, the president
of the Church: Again Christmastime had come. We were preparing
for the oven a gigantic turkey and anticipating the savory feast that awaited. A neighborhood
pal of mine asked a startling question: “What does turkey taste like?” I responded, “Oh, about like chicken tastes.” Again a question: “What does chicken taste
like?” It was then that I realized my friend had
never eaten chicken or turkey. I asked what his family was going to have for Christmas
dinner. There was no prompt response, just a downcast glance and the comment, “I dunno.
There’s nothing in the house.” I pondered a solution. There was none. I had
no turkeys, no chickens, no money. Then I remembered I did have two pet rabbits. Immediately
I took them to my friend and handed the box to him with the comment, “Here, take these
two rabbits. They’re good to eat—just like chicken.” He took the box, climbed the fence, and headed
for home—a Christmas dinner safely assured. Tears came easily to me as I closed the door
to the empty rabbit hutch. But I was not sad. A warmth, a feeling of indescribable joy,
filled my heart. It was a memorable Christmas. President Monson was a minister of grace,
and we can be one too. Grace is the power by which healing occurs.
In every aspect of His mortal and postmortal ministry, Christ went about healing all manner
of afflictions. His part is to be our atoning Savior, and our part is to be courageous enough
to act. He then provides the grace and healing. However, sometimes we may not appreciate the
manifestations of His grace because healing blessings do not always come in the form we
ask. Sometimes His grace is made manifest by letting us sit and struggle with an issue. Again,
our Heavenly Father and Savior are more interested in our growth and progression than in our
comfort and convenience. Moments of struggle often bring the greatest growth. Permit me to illustrate this point with an
example from the life of my sweetheart and best friend, Sharon. In April 2002, Sharon’s
fifty-six-year-old father, Mike, suffered a major heart attack one day at work. As a
result of a lack of oxygen to the brain, he was in a coma for a week. Many friends and
family members prayed and fasted, he received multiple blessings, and his name was placed
on the prayer roll at multiple temples, but, regardless of these efforts, it was his time
to die. As the months passed, we came to some measure of peace regarding his early and unexpected
death. At the time, Sharon was working with the young
children at church as the Primary president. It was her turn to teach the children, and
the topic was “God Hears and Answers My Prayers.” We talked a lot about that lesson
and the dilemma it presented for her. My wife said, “I know God hears and answers
our prayers, but if in the end He is going to do what is His will, why should I pray
for what I want and need? My dad died anyway because it was God’s will. My prayers have
not been the same since he died.” If you have not yet experienced that kind
of despair in your prayers, you likely will. For some of you that moment is now. So what did Sharon teach the children? Up
until the night before she was not sure what to say. When the day came, she simply taught,
through her tears, “I know that God hears and answers every prayer. He does not always
give us the answer we want, and that really hurts. But I believe you will do better in
your life by praying than by not praying. That is why I pray every day.” Acting on true principles, even when your
heart says otherwise, takes true courage. And as a result, Sharon received a measure
of healing that day through the grace of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite parts about being
married to Sharon—and there are many—is to listen to her pray in faith for our children,
extended family, and others in need. She knows how to talk to Heavenly Father. As my friend Ty Mansfield has described in
one of the stories profiled on the Church’s website mormonsandgays.org, if we can just
stay with God, trust Him, and keep doing the things that bring the Spirit into our lives,
then light and healing can enter, even though at the moment things look dark and gloomy. Whether
the struggle is same-gender attraction, a crisis of faith, an addiction, or a deep sense
of loneliness, just stay with God. Trust Him. There is light and love ahead.  Again, if
we can muster up the courage and take action, Christ provides the grace: courage + action
+ grace=healing. By way of conclusion and testimony, I know
that Jesus Christ is the great Healer. Over many years, in numerous settings, I have seen
wounds of horrific abuse, long-standing addiction, loss that has shattered the soul, and heartache
beyond description be addressed, overcome, and resolved through the Atonement of Jesus
Christ. I know He is a real, living, loving God. I love and honor Him. I know His grace
is sufficient—meaning big or powerful enough—to help us with all our problems. I know His
promises to us are real and true. He can and will cleanse and heal us as He has said. In
the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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