There’s a scripture you’ve probably heard referenced before. It’s in D&C 123:16 and it goes like this, “You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm.” What do you think of when you hear that scripture? Maybe like me, you think of the verse in Alma 37 that says “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” and that would be an appropriate interpretation. It’s true, those small and simple things, the Sunday school answers like taking the sacrament, reading your scriptures, regular temple attendance, and prayer are all small acts that lead to great things (Alma 37:6). Those are all very good things, but if you read the verses that come just before verse 16, Joseph Smith wasn’t talking about the good things. He was talking about the bad stuff. In verses 13-15 he says,
“Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—These should then be attended to with great earnestness. Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.”
When I first read that scripture, really read it for the first time, it blew my mind! It related so much to the advocacy work I do in helping to bring to light the medical errors and dishonest pharmaceutical practices which have injured countless people all over the world, my son and myself included. I have worn myself out educating patients, loved ones, and medical providers about the dangers of certain medications. I’ve shed blood sweat and tears teaching physicians how to safely help their patients wean off these medications and recover from their drug injuries. I’ve dedicated years of my life to reforming legislation, medical education, and media coverage when it comes to this subject. I thought that’s what these verses were talking about, and at the time, they were. But I didn’t truly understand the meaning of that excerpt until I read, really read, the next verse. “You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves” (emphasis added).
To be honest, I didn’t fully understand those last words until I did some research on boats and sailing. Firstly, if you’re like me and thought a helm was a rudder, just know that a ship’s helm is where the steering wheel and devices are on a ship. That should give you an idea of where my nautical knowledge was when I began my inquiry! Next, when you’re in a storm or the waves for whatever reason are getting bigger and bigger, it’s actually safer to steer your ship into the wave, rather than away from it. Although scary at first, if you do it right, this is actually easier on the ship and the person at the helm. Are you aware of the profound symbolism here yet? Just wait. When riding the wave, attempting to steer perfectly on course to your intended destination isn’t always the best option. It’s actually faster and creates less resistance if you’re willing to angle your ship just a bit and ride the face of the wave. This may seem counterintuitive, but you’ll actually have more control that way. It’s when you come to a calm spot that you correct course and head directly toward your goal again. Finally, going downhill from a big wave requires even more caution because, with the wave coming up from behind, the boat has a tendency to turn away from the wave. This puts the boat in a dangerous position. Again, the best course is to ride the wave all the way down until you reach calm waters.
When I learned about sailing in relation to verse 16 I thought about the advice I always give to those who are suffering terribly with mental and physical pain from the drug injuries they’ve acquired. My advice is to accept, accept, accept. I have an entire video dedicated to acceptance. Accept that you’re disabled right now. Accept that you have a brain injury and may need to ask for help doing things like filling out forms and sorting through your mail. Accept that you might need to use one of those electric carts to go grocery shopping. Accept yourself as you are right now. Fighting to try to be the person you used to be when clearly you’re not will only make things harder. Fighting to live life the way you used to will interfere with the healing process. Besides, who knows? Maybe when this is all over your life will never be the same again, and maybe that’s a good thing!
Verse 16 also got me thinking about my son’s diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). After his drug injury, Nathaniel developed severe OCD, to the point where he was afraid to drink water. It wasn’t about germs or handwashing, which is what most people think of when they think about OCD. No, his fear was about the pain he would experience from eating and drinking, and rightly so. My son’s injury left him with an autoimmune condition that can make eating, drinking, running, and playing very painful. While OCD is considered a form of anxiety, the therapy he and the other youth at the OCD clinic received looks very different from standard interventions. With exposure therapy, you rewire your brain by exposing yourself to your fears, over and over until your body learns to remain calm in the face of adversity. One way to do this is called “riding the wave.” When someone with OCD encounters a triggering experience, which can be anything from a loud noise to a rude comment, their instinct is to run away, go somewhere safe, or do something to neutralize the threat like repeating an action over and over. Counterintuitive to their instincts, they learn to go towards the threat, opening themselves up to it and to whatever physical symptoms or emotions they experience as a result. These kids are steering their boats into the waves!
Avoiding the storms and waves of life is what creates OCD. It’s also what led to my drug injury. I was afraid, looking for a way to make the wind and waves disappear. (Ironically, steering your boat away from the storm and sailing in the other direction, is the exact opposite direction of your intended destination!) But Joseph Smith didn’t say that we should waste and wear out our lives in avoiding everything that’s bad in this world. He said we should bring them out into the open and attend to them “with great earnestness.” Since my drug injury, I have discovered many hidden things of darkness that are either a result of my experience or that inevitably led up to it. It’s taken years of prayer, fasting, gospel study, and journaling to acknowledge them. It’s taken courage to change course, accept what wisdom I could learn from those hidden things, and then bring them before my Heavenly Father so he could turn the darkness into light. It’s not all spiritual or emotional stuff either. A lot of my struggle is still physical. But I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ can just as miraculously and instantaneously heal my wounded body as it has my wounded heart.
Now I understand. I will likely continue until the end of my voyage across the vast oceans of mortality, to bring to light the hidden things of darkness of this world. I will not steer my ship away from the wind and waves because I know it’s these powerful forces that propel me toward my destination. I mean, I’ve never seen an ocean without waves . . . have you?
“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, [and sisters] let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).