In the spring of 2015, the neighborhood we lived in experienced a horrible tragedy. A family’s young boy died when his mother backed out of the driveway on her way to a general Relief Society meeting the weekend before general conference. She writes, “The moments, days, and weeks that followed have been some of the most spiritual moments of my life and also some of the darkest moments of my life.” At the time, I did not understand how this beautiful family could make it through such a dark time and still describe it as the time in their lives where they felt closest to God.
Fast forward to July 2016 when my own family lost my niece—our dear Sophie. She was struck by a vehicle while riding her bike. During the moments, days, and weeks that followed our family’s tragedy, I thought of the family in my neighborhood and wondered: “Where can we turn for peace? Where is our solace?” (See Hymns, no. 129).
We prayed like Joseph Smith, “O God, where art thou?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1). I am sure there are many nights where my dear sister and her husband still plead out in grief and pain. Yet in the pit of despair, we felt encircled “in the arms of [God’s] love” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:20). I still reflect on such moments as some of the most spiritual of my life.
We saw God’s hand in our lives as the people around us served us. We were blessed with miracles as we all traveled many miles to be able to be with my sister and her family. My husband and I received the call that our home had been sold to prepare for our move to Canada while driving to the cemetery following my niece's funeral service. Angel friends came with willing hands and hearts to do whatever we needed. Their faces reflected the Savior’s love. We were comforted, buoyed up, and made stronger despite feeling like there was no way to go on. This was one of the sure moments of my life where my belief and understanding of my Saviour Jesus Christ now hinges.
Liberty Jail Experiences
It is easy to read Joseph’s account of Liberty Jail and think that you understand what he must have been going through. But it isn’t until you have your own Liberty Jail experience that you really begin to understand.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland teaches: “You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced. …Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. …These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace” (“Lessons from Liberty Jail,” Brigham Young University Speeches [Sept. 7, 2008]).
One of my Liberty Jail experiences was indeed when my niece died. My neighborhood friend would undoubtedly say something similar through the terrible loss of her son.
To gain a better understanding of what it was like for Joseph Smith to be imprisoned in Liberty Jail, one of the “Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening” in the Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families outline for October 18-24 suggests watching the video Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (ChurchofJesusChrist.org, beginning at 43:00).
After viewing this video, we are invited to reflect on what we learn from Brother Joseph’s example and revelations during his imprisonment (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-10; 122). My study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year has helped me understand that even when mistakes are made, our Heavenly Parents are still with us and can help good come from all things. As Elder Holland concludes, “The lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty” (“Lessons from Liberty Jail”).
When Others Have Liberty Jail Experiences
Because of my Liberty Jail experiences, I have learned that those around me might be experiencing moments like this too. I believe the great power and humbling part of Christ’s Atonement is He suffered so that He can succor and support us in our moments of grief and pain (see Alma 7:11-13). As we strive to become more like the Saviour, we must look for those suffering and act as His hands to help others.
Think of the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have there been people having Liberty Jail experiences? They might look like a family feeling isolated because they don’t feel comfortable with the ease of restrictions in their ward. They could be a friend having questions and feelings dismissed in their faith journey. Perhaps it is an LGBTQ+ person or parent or family member in our wards who are wondering if they belong on the pews of their congregation. Most definitely it would include my brothers and sisters in the Black and Indigenous communities trying to reconcile the atrocious treatment of their ancestors while they continue to experience systemic social discrimination.
As we love and care for the people around us, we turn to the Saviour. At Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith was reminded: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:8). Because we love Jesus, we love all of those around us and want to help them in their Liberty Jail experiences. As the body of Christ, we look for and support those who are suffering.
As we pass through trials we do not understand and may even wonder if God has forsaken us (see Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), I take great comfort in Joseph Smith’s counsel, “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” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).
As Elder Holland explains: “It was the bleakest and darkest times. Yet in these cold, lonely hours, Joseph says let us do all we can and do it cheerfully. And then we can justifiably turn to the Lord, wait upon His mercy, and see His arm revealed in our behalf. What a magnificent attitude to maintain in good times or bad, in sorrow or in joy” (“Lessons from Liberty Jail”).
In my personal Liberty Jail experiences, I have seen the arms of Christ revealed. Yet there are still times I do all that I can, and then I must wait and trust in the Lord. Even though I may endure grief and pain, I do not doubt that my Heavenly Parents are always with me. They sent their Firstborn Son to atone for the sins of all mankind, and they also put others along our paths in life to minister to us. As Elder Holland promises, 'Some blessings come soon, some come late, some don't come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (“An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” Ensign, Nov. 1999).
I sing as the early Saints did “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” knowing that Jesus is the source of all blessings now and to come, and through faith in Him we can pass in glory through our Liberty Jail experiences because Christ is our “mount of … redeeming love.” He has promised, “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8).