Joseph Smith and the Problem of Loneliness

Sheri L. Dew

Sheri Dew is an executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corporation.

In November 2019 I had an unforgettable experience. I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, helping with media coverage for President Russell M. Nelson’s trip to Southeast Asia. This was my second trip to Phnom Penh, the first having been exactly twenty years earlier, in 1999, when Sister Sharon Larsen and I were assigned to visit there as counselors serving in general presidencies—she in the Young Women and I in the Relief Society.

What happened in Cambodia on that first trip has stayed with me ever since. The Church was young. Missionary work had begun just five years earlier.[1] Our first day there, when we met with Young Women, Relief Society, and priesthood leaders, I was struck with how young they were. I distinctly remember watching the twenty-one-year-old district Relief Society president ride away from the meeting on the back of a scooter.

The next day we spoke at a youth and young adult devotional. It was basically the same group we’d met with the day before. Leaders and young adults were one and the same. The pioneering in Cambodia was being led by young adults.

At the beginning of Sister Larsen’s message to the youth, she asked those whose parents were members of the Church to raise their hands. In a group of perhaps 125, only four identified themselves—and two were siblings. So in that gathering of youth, only three homes had parents who were members. Tragically, many homes didn’t have parents at all, which was the result of the disastrous Khmer Rouge.

As we left Cambodia, I couldn’t stop thinking about those young members. How in the world, in a non-Christian country where most were Buddhists, had these precious few come to believe in Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel?

For twenty years I’ve thought about that experience.

So imagine my joy at visiting Cambodia again. On the one hand, twenty years is a long time. It was roughly twenty years from the time Joseph Smith received the plates from the angel Moroni until the Prophet was martyred. A lot can happen in two decades.

On the other hand, twenty years can feel like the blink of an eye. I was happy to read recently that seventy is the new fifty, which means I’m actually in my forties. Twenty years goes by with lightning speed. It felt like only yesterday that I’d been to Cambodia. So I couldn’t believe it when I walked into a large convention hall to find 2,800 Cambodian Saints patiently waiting to hear from the prophet. It was an overwhelming sight.

Later, when President Nelson stood to speak, he began by asking the Saints if they’d like to see what their coming temple was going to look like. At that moment a rendering of the stunning Phnom Penh Temple flashed on large screens, and gasps and an unmistakable rush of the Spirit filled the hall.

In a matter of moments, I couldn’t see through my tears. There may have been thousands of Saints seated around me, but what I could see was a few young adults crowded into a small house learning how to be leaders. From those humble beginnings have come wards and stakes and now the promise of a temple. Those youth of twenty years ago have become the spiritual anchors of the Church in Cambodia.

Back at my hotel later that evening, I found myself reflecting on President Russell M. Nelson’s message at the end of the October 2019 general conference, just six weeks prior. He had designated 2020 as a bicentennial year commemorating the First Vision and urged us to study the Prophet Joseph’s account of that event and to ponder the Restoration in preparation for the April 2020 general conference.[2]

So I asked myself this question: How were the lives of our Cambodian Saints different because Joseph Smith walked into a grove of trees in upstate New York, knelt down, and asked which church he should join?

The answer? Their lives are completely different. My life is completely different. Your life is completely different because of Joseph Smith. “When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God,” Joseph told one of the early Saints. “When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it.”[3] Very simply, because Joseph Smith fulfilled his foreordained calling as the prophet of the Restoration, nothing is the same for true followers of Jesus Christ.

A cursory look at what Joseph Smith revealed and taught is mind-boggling. We have more pages of scripture from him than all of the pages from Moses, Paul, Luke, and Mormon combined.[4] Because of Joseph, we know about the premortal existence, the purpose of life, the plan of salvation, and life eternal. We have the restoration of the priesthood, temples, the endowment, eternal marriage and the sealing of families, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, a vastly enhanced understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and stakes of Zion that provide a “refuge from the storm” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6). The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed us with an array of life-changing connections—eternal connections with each other and divine connections to our Father and His Son.

Today connections may be more important than ever. Though we are more connected technologically than ever before, we may be the loneliest of all peoples. Consider a few recent headlines from Forbes: “Millennials and the Loneliness Epidemic” and “Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely?”; from the New York Times: “Does Technology Make Us More Alone?” and “Why Is America So Depressed?”; and from the American Enterprise Institute: “A Loneliness Epidemic? How Marriage, Religion, and Mobility Explain the Generation Gap in Loneliness.”[5] The American Psychological Association recently reported that “loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone.”[6]

Loneliness—and the fear of being lonely—are grave concerns because they are the root cause of many destructive behaviors. It can be tempting to join the crowd rather than stand alone, or dull the pain of alienation with addictive substances, or look for love in all the wrong places.

Further, the chronically lonely have a 26 percent greater chance of dying than those who don’t struggle with loneliness, a statistic roughly equivalent to the chance of death for someone who smokes fifteen cigarettes a day. Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, says that “our bodies and our brain[s] expect the proximity of others. When we don’t have that proximity, when we feel like we have to face everything on our own, it makes it all so much harder.”[7]

I understand the hollow, even haunting pain of loneliness. For reasons I don’t yet understand, I have been required to live without a husband, or children, or now grandchildren. But I am not alone in dealing with this. Everyone can expect to experience loneliness to some degree.

No one was more alone than Jesus Christ, who was attacked, falsely accused, betrayed, and ultimately crucified. Nothing compares with His wrenching sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane, during which He asked his sleeping disciples, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). And is there any cry as poignant as His when He alone bore the burden of our salvation (see Luke 22:41–44; Alma 7:11–12) and lamented, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Every prophet experiences loneliness. Consider Alma the Younger’s repentance from his grievous sins, Moses’s plight when he returned from Mt. Sinai to find his people worshipping a golden calf, and the sadness of these words from Moroni: “I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. . . . For I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go” (Mormon 8:3, 5).

And then there is Joseph Smith, who alone saw the Father and the Son and then endured ridicule for declaring what he had seen. He alone saw Moroni in his bedroom. He alone allowed Martin Harris to take 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, only to grieve the decision thereafter. He alone bore the burden of organizing the Church anew. Often it was he alone who was thrust into one difficult situation after another during the wrenching process of the Restoration.

Lucy Mack Smith described her son’s reaction after the Three Witnesses saw the golden plates: “When Joseph came in,” she wrote, “he threw himself down beside me. ‘Father! Mother!’ Said he. ‘You do not know how happy I am: the Lord has caused the plates to be shown to [three] more besides me. [They] have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the [truth] of what I have said. . . . I do feel as though I was relieved of a dreadful burden which was almost too much for me to endure, . . . and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.”[8]

This was not to be the end of his troubles, of course. His life was one of constant upheaval. Remember Joseph’s lament from Liberty Jail: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1). Later he would write, “Deep water is what I am wont to swim in” (127:2).

painting of joseph smith praying in liberty jail, by liz lemon swindleOf One Heart, Joseph In Liberty Jail, by Liz Lemon Swindle. All rights reserved.

Yes, Joseph Smith knew loneliness.

But loneliness is actually a far more complex condition than that caused by persecution, or by not having a companion, or by betrayal, or by having to stand alone to defend truth.

Loneliness is central to the human condition. Everyone faces it because mortality is by its nature a spiritual wilderness where we are separated from our Heavenly Parents and the heavenly home where our spirits are most at peace. It is this separation Eliza R. Snow described when she wrote: “Yet ofttimes a secret something / whispered, ‘You’re a stranger here.’ / And I felt that I had wandered / from a more exalted sphere.” [9]

Surely it isn’t coincidence that Mormon’s inspired editing of the small plates places the story of Lehi’s family at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Their journey from Jerusalem to the promised land is a type for our mortal journey. We each have broken-bow moments when all looks lost. And Nephi’s statement that “my father dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 2:15) is a stark reminder that life in the wilderness is neither easy nor comfortable.

By definition, mortality is a spiritual wilderness.

But because of Joseph Smith, none of us have to stay in the wilderness—even while living in this second estate (see Abraham 3:26). Everything he taught and all he revealed can help us deal with the problem of mortal loneliness—meaning physical separation from God—and better handle the circumstances of our lives that leave us dealing with situational loneliness.

Time permits us to explore just five of the many things Joseph Smith revealed or did that can help us deal with the problem of loneliness.

Joseph Smith is living proof that God will answer our prayers.

If the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrates anything, it is that God speaks to His children and that inspired questions lead to answers.

The teenaged Joseph had a question he could not resolve. Concerned about “the welfare of [his] immortal soul,”[10] he considered joining a church. But he was bewildered by a “war of words and tumult of opinions” (Joseph Smith—History 1:10) and the nasty ways those opinions were expressed. James’s invitation to seek an answer directly from God (see James 1:5) was “like a light shining forth in a dark place.”[11]

Joseph’s inspired question unlocked the heavens and opened the dispensation of the fulness of times. Over the next twenty-four years, he would take questions to the Lord again and again, prompting further revelations, visions, and visitations that placed him on a spiritual learning curve of meteoric proportions. He is proof that “if [we shall] ask, [we shall] receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:61; see 1 Nephi 10:19).

We can’t fully appreciate the circumstances in which Joseph found himself. He never had a bishop, never went to seminary, never heard a prophet speak in the flesh. He didn’t have the Book of Mormon until he translated it nor the Doctrine and Covenants until he received the revelations. He was the prophet. He had no precedent, no manuals, no handbook of instructions.

Joseph did, however, have visits from angels and ancient prophets who restored keys and taught him about the dispensation he’d been called to head. The sheer number of revelatory experiences Joseph Smith had is extraordinary, but what he learned from those visions is even more stunning.

About the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph said, “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have, of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive it.”[12] On another occasion he added, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.”[13] Joseph said that he often felt locked up in a peanut shell because the Saints weren’t ready to receive all that he was ready to teach them.[14]

Through Joseph, the Lord declared that He will teach us the “wonders of eternity” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:8) and reveal “all the hidden mysteries of [His] kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come” (76:7), if we are ready.[15] Nephi taught that if we don’t understand the words of Christ, it is because we haven’t asked for understanding; thus, we are “not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark” (2 Nephi 32:4).

President Russell M. Nelson has explained that “the Lord can only teach an inquiring mind.”[16] Like Joseph, we do not have to suffer in silence or stew alone with our doubts and dilemmas. We can ask sincere questions of our Father and expect to receive help, peace, and answers.

I have asked plenty of questions and have received many answers, though some of the questions that matter most to me remain unanswered. On days when I’m discouraged, I try to remember the countless times when answers have come.

For us in this dispensation, the knowledge that the heavens are open began when Joseph Smith had the faith to walk into a grove of trees and ask the question that had been burning in his heart (see Joseph Smith—History 1:18).

Inspired questions lead to personal revelation, which then leads to the spiritual assurance that we do not have to traverse this wilderness alone.

Joseph Smith translated the most correct book on earth.

Since the Book of Mormon was published in March 1830, critics have attacked Joseph Smith’s account of its origin. But, as Hugh Nibley declared, “The Book of Mormon is tough; it thrives on investigation; you may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.”[17]

I have long been fascinated by Joseph’s account of how this book came forth. Speaking as a publisher, I submit that anything other than his account makes no sense whatsoever. Claims that he wrote the book are absurd. For forty years, I have helped publish works from many of the brightest minds in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I don’t know anyone who could duplicate his feat—a feat that took a miracle. Translating that book required the “gift and power of God” (introduction to the Book of Mormon ).

In less than three months,[18] Joseph translated and dictated most of the more than five hundred pages printed in the 1830 edition. He did this without a library or reference works, without a computer, without knowing that there was a wall around Jerusalem (or little else about antiquity), and without revising, polishing, or editing numerous drafts.

His first and only draft was dictated one time through. That is simply unimaginable. No one’s first draft of anything is ready for publication—let alone a large manuscript filled with intricate stories involving hundreds of characters and locations with unusual names, cultural and doctrinal complexities galore, multiple uses of chiasmus, several sophisticated war strategies, mind-numbing geographic details, and numerous passages that just happen to fulfill biblical prophecy.

He did all of this by dictating the text in a stream-of-consciousness fashion while never reviewing previous pages for continuity, repetition, contradiction, or non sequiturs. This translation has had to stand the test of time, including archaeological and other discoveries. To quote Nibley: “There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned [person] alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith.”[19]

All this aside, the most compelling case for this grand book of scripture is the personal witness of the Holy Ghost given to all who ask “with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:4), whether it is indeed the word of God. Millions in this dispensation have received that witness.

Joseph declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth” and that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”[20] It is the most correct book because the Book of Mormon restored the plain and precious truths about Jesus Christ and His gospel that had been lost to the world.

This is the book that teaches us to “continually [hold] fast to the rod of iron” (1 Nephi 8:30; emphasis added) if we hope to partake of the fruit that is “sweet above all that is sweet” (Alma 32:42; see 1 Nephi 8:10).

It is the book that identifies Satan’s strategies and pairs them with the Lord’s counterstrategies. It shatters the notion that happiness can be found in wickedness and teaches us more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ than any other text. It reveals what we can expect to experience prior to the Savior’s Second Coming, and it reaffirms that those who diligently seek to know the things of God can know them (see 1 Nephi 10:19).

The Book of Mormon is the spiritual handbook for our day.

Years ago, it was a verse in the Book of Mormon that began my healing after a devastating personal loss. I was so depressed. One Sunday I drove over to the Jordan River Temple and found the gates to the grounds open, so I parked my car and began to read my scriptures. To say I was lonely would be a great understatement. At that moment life looked bleak.

As I was reading, a familiar verse jumped off the page: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27; emphasis added).

The loss from which I was reeling had humbled me. I was weak and desperate for help. That verse led me to other verses about the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ, and I began to realize for the first time that the Savior had already paid the price for the loneliness that was consuming me. It was a crucial hinge point in my testimony and understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I had always believed in the Savior, but I had only a superficial idea about what He had actually done for me.

I have experimented on the word (see Alma 32:27) many times since then. President Nelson has promised that if we “will feast on the words of Christ” found in the Book of Mormon, we will “have greater power to resist temptation, [an] increased ability to receive revelation, and greater capacity to deal with the challenges of life.”[21]

These promised blessings derived from a sincere study of the Book of Mormon are exceptional remedies for loneliness.

Joseph Smith was the instrument through which the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored, opening the heavens for all who make covenants with God.

On 15 May 1829, in a secluded location near Harmony, Pennsylvania, John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. President Dallin H. Oaks explained the profound impact of this “lesser” priesthood in each of our lives: “Through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels. . . . So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels.”[22] The implications of these privileges are staggering. But the spiritual opportunities and blessings did not end there.

Shortly thereafter, the Apostles Peter, James, and John conferred upon Joseph and Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds “the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:18).[23]

In subsequent revelations, the Lord taught Joseph just how resplendent those spiritual blessings are. They include “receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” having “the heavens opened,” communing with “the general assembly and church of the Firstborn,” and enjoying “the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:19). The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the very “key of the knowledge of God” (84:19).

Joseph Smith subsequently taught that the Melchizedek Priesthood “is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven.”[24] Whenever prophets use the words every and all, it ought to catch our attention.

Thus, when Peter, James, and John returned the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood to the earth, they gave every human soul who is willing to make covenants with God much greater access to His power. These New Testament apostles made it possible for each of us to receive revelation, learn to part the veil between heaven and earth, and make covenants that bind us to God and to each other eternally. As Elder Gary E. Stevenson said: “The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ offsets perilous times with the fulness of times.”[25]

The restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood keys literally changed the world. They make the spiritual blessings of the Church operative in the lives of every righteous man and woman. We can know more and have more access to God’s power than any other people in any other age. This is the dispensation when “nothing shall be withheld,” which is the very definition of the “fulness of times” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:28, 31).

These spiritual blessings are antidotes to the problem of loneliness. Let’s consider how just two of them—the gifts of both the Holy Ghost and the endowment—can help us.

First, how can the gift of the Holy Ghost help us? Joseph declared that “we have a right to revelations, visions, and dreams from God, . . . on all subjects pertaining to our spiritual welfare.”[26]

Joseph knew whereof he spoke. He received revelation in both the best and worst of times. Referring to Joseph’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that “you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, let me say that even a little stronger: You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life.”[27]

Joseph taught that “God hath not revealed anything to [me] but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he [or she] is able to bear them.”[28]

The Holy Ghost has the power to inform, protect, guide, strengthen, comfort, and warn us. He will be our personal Liahona if we learn to speak the language of revelation.

The endowment also facilitates revelation because it is a gift of knowledge and power—God’s power. In Joseph’s dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, he declared that in the temple we are “armed” with God’s power (Doctrine and Covenants 109:22).[29]

In 1841 the Lord promised Joseph that “all things pertaining to this house [the Nauvoo Temple], and the priesthood thereof” would be revealed to him (Doctrine and Covenants 124:42). The following year, on 4 May 1842, with strong presentiments that he would not live to see the temple completed, Joseph gathered a few of his most faithful brethren in the upper room of the Red Brick Store and said, “I must give you, here in this upper room, all those glorious plans and principles whereby men are entitled to the fulness of the priesthood.”[30] And thus began the endowment in this dispensation.

During this same period of time, Joseph organized the Relief Society “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood,”[31] and on six occasions he taught the sisters in preparation for receiving the endowment. Just days before he first gave the endowment, Joseph told the Relief Society that he was about to deliver “the keys of the Priesthood to the Church” so that “the Saints . . . might know how to ask the Lord and receive an answer.”[32]

Making the endowment available to the Saints before their expulsion from Nauvoo was for many a matter of life and death. Speaking later about their journey across the plains, Sarah Rich wrote that if it “had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple . . . , our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark. To start out . . . in the winter as it were and in our state of poverty, it would seem like walking into the jaws of death.”[33]

I don’t pretend to understand the pioneers’ deprivation, but my own Rocky Ridges would have done me in long ago if I had not learned how to draw upon the power of the priesthood with which I have been endowed in the house of the Lord. Among other things, this sublime ordinance teaches us how to cast out Satan and part the veil that separates us from God. It teaches us how to pray with power. The temple is the institution of highest learning. No wonder President Russell M. Nelson has pleaded with us to spend more time there.[34]

Deep connections with others and with God provide relief from loneliness. They are at times the only place where true peace can be found. The gifts of the Holy Ghost and the endowment, along with the ministering of angels, are three of the rich spiritual blessings of the Church that provide the most enduring connections available in mortality.

Joseph Smith fulfilled his foreordained call as a prophet of God.

Not long ago a mission president asked a group of missionaries who were about to return home, “What will be the hardest commandment for you to keep going forward?” Their answers varied, but the law of chastity was mentioned most frequently.

After hearing their answers, the mission president said: “Staying morally clean may challenge you. But the hardest commandment for you to keep in the days ahead will likely be following the prophet. Your testimony of prophets will almost certainly be challenged at some point in your life.”

That’s a wise mission president. Satan is working overtime to seduce, distract, discourage, and cajole as many as possible. He well knows that one of the most spiritually deadly decisions anyone can make is to separate themselves from those who have priesthood keys—especially prophetic keys.

Prophets are one of our Father’s greatest gifts to His children. This dispensation began when Joseph Smith fulfilled his premortal call to be the instrument through which the Lord once again placed prophets on the earth.

Joseph, after all, could have shrunk from his overwhelming assignment. When he was belittled as a teenager and persecuted as an adult, when attacks on his life put his wife and children at risk, when friends betrayed him, when he was imprisoned unjustly yet again, he could have said, “Enough!” But he never did.

Rather, he repeatedly responded as he did after his First Vision: “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; . . . I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).[35]

Joseph’s faith unleashed help from both sides of the veil. John Taylor declared that “the principles which he had, placed him in communications with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; . . . he seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. Why? Because he had to introduce a dispensation which was called the dispensation of the fulness of times.”[36]

The Lord honors His prophets. Referring to Joseph, the Lord said: “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:5). Patience and faith are an interesting choice of words: patience because we may not always like what prophets say and faith because it may take an exercise of faith to follow their counsel.

The Book of Mormon is, in many respects, an account of those who listened to prophets and those who didn’t. We learn from this sacred record that those who “stone” the prophets ultimately “perish” (2 Nephi 26:3). And I’m not just talking about throwing little round hard objects. These days, social media and the press seem to constantly devise new ways to stone prophets. Conversely, the Lord honors and blesses those who honor His prophets.

On the day Joseph Smith was released from Liberty Jail—6 April 1839—Heber C. Kimball recorded in his journal that a series of words had come into his mind, and the Spirit had told him to write them down. In part, Heber wrote: “Thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased for thou art careful to . . . not . . . rebel against my servant Joseph Smith, for thou hast a respect to the words of mine anointed, . . . therefore thy name is written in heaven, no more to be blotted out for ever.”[37]

Prior to meeting the Prophet, Brigham Young had been searching for light and knowledge: “When I saw Joseph Smith,” Brigham said, “he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth, brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission.”[38]

That is what prophets do: They lift our sights above this telestial world. Everything Joseph Smith did invited the world to step to a higher plane. He introduced new scripture, new doctrine, and a new Church to a world steeped in religious beliefs that had denied the power of God for centuries (see Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Following Joseph’s pattern, President Russell M. Nelson introduced ministering and a home-centered, Church-supported curriculum, saying it was time to care for each other and study the gospel in higher, holier ways. Prophets always invite us to live in higher, holier ways.

Does this mean that prophets are infallible?[39] From the moment Joseph shared his experience in the grove, he was hounded for his imperfections. And the hounding has never stopped. Yet we don’t find prophetic perfection anywhere in holy writ. Lehi murmured. Jonah ran. Even larger-than-life Nephi lamented, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, . . . my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Nephi 4:17). Joseph himself declared, “I never told you I was perfect, but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.”[40]

Prophets may not be perfect. But they are perfectly consecrated. No leaders on earth have come closer to perfection in terms of their motives and the counsel they provide for navigating perilous times. Prophets have no other “object save it be the everlasting welfare of [our] souls” (2 Nephi 2:30). Tell me, can you honestly say that about anyone else on earth?

President Henry B. Eyring said: “The Savior has always been the protector of those who would accept His protection. . . . When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. . . . The choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous.”[41]

Brigham Young set the pattern for responding to prophets: “I never did let an opportunity pass of getting with the Prophet Joseph and of hearing him speak in public or in private, so that I might draw understanding from the foundation from which he spoke. This is the secret of [my] success.”[42]

Prophets show us the way. They cut through the confusion and conflict, the marketing and media, the false philosophies and clever campaigns, and the flattery of those with devilish designs (see Jacob 7:2, 4; Mosiah 27:8; Alma 61:4). With the help of prophets, we don’t have to make sense of mortality alone.

Prophets—beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, continuing to President Russell M. Nelson, and anticipating prophets of future days—are a bulwark against spiritual loneliness.

Joseph Smith expanded our understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Elder John Taylor’s announcement of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith declared that “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3).

What a sweeping statement, particularly considering the leadership of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses—remarkable dispensation heads in their own right!

And yet, Joseph Smith stands at the head of the last dispensation, the largest dispensation, and the only dispensation charged with preparing a people for the Savior’s return. Key to that preparation was restoring a correct understanding of Jesus Christ and His doctrine. That prophetic stewardship was the sum and substance of Joseph Smith’s life.

This is the prophet who saw Jesus Christ on multiple occasions. “For we saw him, even on the right hand of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:23), Joseph declared.

This is the prophet who translated the Book of Mormon in which one ancient prophet after another declared that there is “none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 31:21).[43]

This is the prophet who heard a voice from heaven bear record that “this is the gospel, the glad tidings, . . . that he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:40–41).

This is the prophet who heard the Lord declare, “I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth. . . . I am your advocate with the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:4).

This is the prophet who reestablished the preeminence of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. “The fundamental principles of our religion,” Joseph taught, “are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, ‘that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven’; and all other things [which pertain to our religion] are only appendages to these.”[44]

The Book of Mormon teaches plainly that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is a doctrine of divine healing. The Savior will heal us from sin when we repent. He will heal our “wounded soul[s]” (Jacob 2:8), succor us according to our infirmities (see Alma 7:12), and heal our weaknesses, mistakes, and pain.

Joseph taught that the Father and the Son know our names, our fears, and our longings. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught: “We are not alone. We are not without help. Our Heavenly Father and Savior are not simply disinterested observers, curious to see if things will work out for us or not. They are actively involved on our side, providing constant help, guidance, and resources.”[45]

Joseph Smith shattered the distorted philosophies about Jesus Christ and the Godhead that emanated from church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and led to the spiritual darkness of Joseph’s day.

Joseph Smith did what prophets always do. He taught the doctrine of Christ so that we know where to turn to find the divine healing, comfort, and connections that ward off loneliness.

Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone,” taught Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, [and] prophets and apostles. . . . All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are.[46]

That truth is the greatest comfort in this life and is available to us because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


Now I conclude by sharing a testimony I heard last month at the baptism of an Arabic-speaking Coptic Christian from Egypt. As this new convert bore his testimony, he said that some months earlier he had had a dream in which he’d met a man whom he came to know was Joseph Smith. Joseph was dignified and “dressed like someone in authority.” When Joseph could see that this new convert knew who he was, he smiled and touched the convert on his arm, and then the dream ended. This new member concluded, “I knew it was Joseph, and after that it was confirmed to me that the Church is true.”[47]

How interesting that the Spirit sent a witness of Joseph Smith to encourage this young man to investigate the Church.

What difference does Joseph Smith make to you, to me, to this new convert, to the faithful of Phnom Penh and, for that matter, to the entire world? Either Joseph saw what he said he saw in that grove of trees, or he didn’t. If he did, then Joseph makes all the difference because it means that the gospel of Jesus Christ has indeed been restored.

I testify that Joseph Smith did see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in that grove of trees two hundred years ago.

What, then, are you and I to do with this knowledge that catapults us into another realm of understanding God?

Remember when the Lord warned Nephi to take all who would go with him and flee? He wrote, “And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words” (2 Nephi 5:6; emphasis added).

Will we go with the prophet—meaning both the Prophet Joseph Smith and the current living prophet? Will we open our hearts to their counsel, and will we act on that counsel?

When President Russell M. Nelson pleads with us to “increase [our] spiritual capacity to receive revelation,”[48] will we do it?

And will we stand by the Lord’s servant Joseph?

For me, the only answer that makes any sense is yes, because doing so gives us access to the spiritual blessings of the Church. These blessings aren’t magic. They don’t prevent heartache or dry our tears. They don’t promise that we’ll never feel alone. They certainly don’t allow us to escape the test of mortality. But they do help us take that test, because they promise extraordinary divine help in the process.

On days when recurring loneliness saps me of emotional strength, or when assignments seem too difficult to handle, I call in the spiritual cavalry. I go to the temple again, look for more guidance in the Book of Mormon, ask for angels to help me, and fast and pray and plead for direction. It’s the only approach I know.

All of these spiritual privileges are possible because Joseph Smith restored the spiritual power and gifts that provide the most powerful and enduring answers to the problem of loneliness.

Joseph taught the Saints of his day that “in every previous dispensation, Lucifer [has] prevailed and driven the priesthood from the earth. But in this last dispensation the reign of the Son of God and His priesthood [is] firmly established, nevermore to depart; thus all the inhabitants of the world might partake of the gifts and blessings of God.”[49]

These gifts and blessings are the only true answers to loneliness.

Like Brigham Young, I too feel like “shouting Hallelujah”[50] because I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that President Russell M. Nelson is his anointed successor who leads us today under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

I testify that all those who want to know whether Joseph Smith or President Nelson are prophets may gain their own witness if they seek in faith to know, and that knowledge will change their lives.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] See Marissa A. Widdison, “Cambodia—A Land of Developing Peace,” Church Magazines, July 2006, “In 1994 Elder Donald and Sister Scharlene Dobson were transferred from their labors in India to serve as Cambodia’s first missionaries. On March 27 of that year the first Church meeting in Cambodia was held at a hotel, with a total of six members and nine investigators in attendance. On May 9, 1994, Sister Pahl Mao became the first member baptized in Cambodia. Two years later, in May 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited and dedicated Cambodia for the preaching of the gospel while he stood on a hill overlooking the Mekong River.”

[2] See Russell M. Nelson, “Closing Remarks,” Ensign, November 2019, 120–22.

[3] Daniel Tyler, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 15 August 1892, 492; see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 324.

[4] See Neal A. Maxwell, “A Choice Seer,” Brigham Young University devotional, 30 March 1986,

[5] See Neil Howe, “Millennials and the Loneliness Epidemic,” Forbes, 3 May 2019,; Margie Warrell, “Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely?” Leadership, ForbesWomen, Forbes, 24 May 2012,; Michael Gonchar, “Does Technology Make Us More Alone?” Learning Network (blog), New York Times, 14 October 2016,; Nick Bilton, “Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone,” Bits (blog), New York Times, 1 September 2013,; Lee Siegel, “Why Is America So Depressed?” New York Times, 2 January 2020,; Daniel A. Cox, Ryan Streeter, and David Wilde, “A Loneliness Epidemic? How Marriage, Religion, and Mobility Explain the Generation Gap in Loneliness,” Society and Culture (blog), American Enterprise Institute, 26 September 2019,

[6] Amy Novotney, “Social Isolation: It Could Kill You,” Continuing Education, Monitor on Psychology, May 2019, 33, This data is from a 2018 national study.

[7] Lee Benson, “Feeling Lonely in 2020? You’re Not Alone,” Deseret News, 25 October 2020,

[8] Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, p. [11], bk. 8,; capitalization, grammar, and punctuation have been standardized throughout this chapter.

[9] Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father,” in Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 292.

[10] Joseph Smith, History, circa Summer 1832, 1–2,

[11] Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840, p. 4,

[12] Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843], p. 1556,

[13] Joseph Smith, Journal, December 1841–April 1843, in The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, 2:360; Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume D-1, p. 1556,

[14] See Truman G. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s Vision of the Global Church,” Brigham Young–Idaho devotional, 29 January 2005,

[15] In Doctrine and Covenants 76:10, the Lord also promised that “by my Spirit will I enlighten them,” referring to all of us, “and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will.”

[16] Russell M. Nelson, quoted in M. Russell Ballard, “What Came from Kirtland?,” Brigham Young University fireside, 6 November 1994,

[17] Hugh Nibley, “A Twilight World,” in Lehi in the Deseret; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1988), 153.

[18] Those three months were likely between 7 April and the end of June 1829.

[19] Nibley, “Lehi the Winner,” in Lehi in the Desert, 123.

[20] Remarks, 28 November 1841, p. [112],

[21] Russell M. Nelson, in Sarah Jane Weaver, “In Orlando, President Nelson Shares 7 Truths That Have the Power to Change Lives,” Leaders and Ministry, Church News, 9 June 2019,

[22] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, November 1998, 39.

[23] On 15 May 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon when they came upon some passages about baptism and the Holy Ghost. Desiring to know more, they went into the woods near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and “diligently sought for the right of the fathers and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer in the same.” John the Baptist subsequently appeared and conferred upon them the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood. Oliver Cowdery, statement recorded September 1835 in “The Book of Patriarchal Blessings, 1834,” pp. 8–9, Patriarchal Blessings, 1833–2005, Church Archives; see Oliver Cowdery, in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 79–80.

[24] Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842], p. 16 [addenda],; emphasis added.

[25] Gary E. Stevenson, “Deceive Me Not,” Ensign, November 2019, 95; emphasis in the original.

[26] Joseph Smith, letter to Isaac Galland, 22 March 1839, p. 54,; emphasis added.

[27] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lessons from Liberty Jail,” Brigham Young University devotional, 7 September 2008,

[28] Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume C-1, p. 8 [addenda], In December 1939, while Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee were in Washington, DC, seeking help for the Saints who had been expelled from Missouri, they wrote the following to Hyrum Smith: “In our interview with [President Van Buren], he interrogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Brother Joseph said we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume C-1, p. 1000,; Joseph once told John Taylor, “You have been baptized, you have had hands laid upon your head for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and you have been ordained to the holy priesthood. Now, if you will continue to follow the leadings of that spirit, it will always lead you right. Sometimes it might be contrary to your judgment; never mind that, follow its dictates; and if you be true to its whisperings it will in time become in you a principle of revelation so that you will know all things.” John Taylor, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 15 January 1878, 1.

[29] In that same prayer and recorded in that same verse, Joseph also clarified that temple ordinances place the Lord’s name upon us and His glory round about us and that His angels have charge over us.

[30] Joseph Smith, quoted by John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 25:183; emphasis added.

[31] Recorded by Sarah M. Kimball in 1882 in her capacity as general secretary of the Relief Society, quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 12.

[32] Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume D-1, p. 1519,; “Joseph Smith, Discourses to Nauvoo Female Relief Society, March 31 and April 28, 1842, as Revised for ‘History of Joseph Smith,’ September 5 and 19, 1855,” The First Fifty Years of Relief Society,

[33] Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich, “Autobiography 1885–93,” 66, Church History Library; Richard G. Scott, “Temple Worship: The Source of Strength and Power in Times of Need,” Ensign, May 2009, 44–45.

[34] See Russell M. Nelson, “Spiritual Treasures,” Ensign, November 2019, 76–79.

[35] On another occasion Joseph admitted, “If I had not actually got into this work and been called of God, I would back out.” “But,” he added, “I cannot back out: I have no doubt of the truth.” Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843, p. 72, Joseph Smith, Discourse, 6 April 1843–B, as reported by Willard Richards, p. [72],

[36] Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 21:94; President George Q. Cannon added that prior to Joseph receiving the plates, he “was visited constantly by angels. . . . He had vision after vision in order that his mind might be fully saturated with knowledge of the things of God, and that he might comprehend the great and holy calling that God had bestowed upon him.” George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 23:362. In a classic statement, Brigham Young said: “It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon Joseph, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham. . . . He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was fore-ordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation. Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 108.

[37] Heber C. Kimball, in Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City, Kimball Family, 1888), 253.

[38] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 5:332. “The secret feeling of my heart,” Brigham said, “was that I would be willing to crawl around the earth on my hands and knees, to see such a man as was Peter, Jeremiah, Moses, or any man that could tell me anything about God and heaven” (8:228).

[39] As the angel Moroni foresaw, Joseph’s name has been “had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33).

[40] Discourse, 12 May 1844, as Reported by Thomas Bullock, p. 2, Joseph Smith’s journal for 6 November 1835 records: “I was this morning introduced to a man from the east. After hearing my name, he remarked that I was nothing but a man. . . . [H]e had supposed that a person to whom the Lord should see fit to reveal His will, must be something more than a man. He seemed to have forgotten . . . that [Elijah] was a man . . . , yet he had such power with God, that He . . . shut the heavens that they gave no rain . . . . Indeed such is the . . . ignorance of this generation, that they look upon it as incredible that a man should have any [dealings] with his Maker.” Joseph Smith, Journal 1835–1836, 6 November 1835, p. 20,

[41] Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, April 1997, 24–25. President Eyring added: “The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late” (p. 25).

[42] Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:269–70.

[43] “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation,” Joseph declared. “He knew of the fall of Adam, the iniquities of the antediluvians, of the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family, their weakness and strength, their power and glory, apostasies, their crimes, their righteousness and iniquity; He comprehended the fall of man, and his redemption; He knew the plan of salvation and pointed it out; He was acquainted with the situation of all nations and with their destiny; He ordered all things according to the council of His own will; He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption.” Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume C-1, p. 1322,

[44] Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, July 1838, p. 44,; emphasis added.

[45] D. Todd Christofferson, “Choice and Commitment,” worldwide devotional for young adults, 12 January 2020,

[46] Jeffrey R. Holland, “None Were with Him,” Ensign, May 2009, 88.

[47] A Coptic Christian, at his baptism on 8 February 2020 in Salt Lake City.

[48] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018, 96.

[49] Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999), 200.

[50] Discourses of Brigham Young, 458.