He, Only One
It was November 17th, 1993, and I spent my first night in the Missionary Training Center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My family drove me to Provo, Utah, from up north in Ogden.
We first checked in, then led to a large room that I could tell was usually three classrooms combined, with a stand and a pulpit on one side and many chairs facing it.
The room quickly filled with other new missionaries, like me, accompanied by their families.
A short introduction song and prayer, and the President of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) spoke to us. First, he described a little about what we might experience, and then he played a video of missionaries from around the world singing the LDS hymn Called to Serve.
When the video finished, the MTC President arose and told us it was now to go, directing us missionaries out one door and the families out another.
I confidently walked out of the room and down the hall, hardly thinking about my feelings as I followed the signs toward my next destination, where I would receive more direction, training materials, and a new assignment to another missionary. (Called a companion.)
As I walked, my heart began beating; I felt my lungs tighten. As strange as it may sound, I felt Like I may perish. However, this feeling was brief, and I found somewhere to sit and catch my breath.
With a huge smile, another new missionary put his hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was ok. At that point, I had caught my breath but was worried I was verging into another problem; I might cry.
I looked up at the missionary; told him I was fine but thanked him for his concern. Then, I stood up and went through the rest of the orientation. I didn’t think about what I now know as an anxiety attack until later that evening as I lay in bed, hoping to get some sleep.
As I lay sleepless, I contemplated my feelings and why I felt that way. Whenever I thought about spending the next two years on the other side of the world in Australia, my heart would pound, and my chest would tighten.
I began dreaming about being home; I wished to see my brothers and sister and talk to my parents. When I thought of home, I was calm, yet when I left my memories and returned to the reality that lay before me, my anxiety would return.
The morning came with almost no sleep. Finally, I showered, and we headed off to breakfast and then our first class for the day.
I do not like to show when I feel sad, stressed, or anything else that might cause another to worry. Although inside, torn between the desire and duty to stay and the wish to be home with my family and friends, I somehow maintained an outward facade. A war was brewing inside that by dinner time reached a fever pitch.
I almost walked out several times throughout our afternoon class but decided I would stay until the next morning. I figured that if I said I would quit this late in the day, it would take at least until the morning to go through the rigmarole of telling one leader after another why I wanted to go, convincing them to call my parents to come and get me. And I didn’t have a very coherent answer. I just knew I wanted to leave; this anxiety was more than I could bear.
On our way to dinner, my companion and I stopped by the little bookstore on campus. My companion wanted to get a new missionary tag.
I wandered around the store as we waited for his new tag to be inscribed with his name. I immediately spied the music section and zeroed in on one album with the words “Where can I turn for peace?” on the cover.
I looked at who recorded the album and recognized it as the popular LDS singing group, Afterglow. Not exactly my favorite, but they had a few good songs.
The title drew me in, and as I read the song list, I learned that this was a compilation of hymns, and the title was from one of those hymns. I did not remember ever hearing it before.
It is not surprising, although I was a huge fan of music, a singer, and came from a very musical family, and I had always told myself that I thought most hymns were boring. So, I had probably heard and possibly even sung it multiple times but disregarded it as not worth my time or energy to care.
The title intrigued me, and I purchased the cassette version and shoved it into my pocket for later. Shortly after that, my companion returned with his new tag, and we made our way to dinner and then our nightly classes.
Once we returned to our room, I changed into sweats and a t-shirt. Then, after some obligatory conversation and companionship prayer, I grabbed the new cassette and placed it into the personal cassette player I had brought.
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?
These same questions, or at least some very much like them, had been drifting through my soul.
This new anxiety I was feeling was different than other negative emotions. Something about what I was experiencing seemed entrenched in my heart. Almost as if I had been feeling the equivalent of an emotional root canal. Only without anything to numb the pain.
My efforts to conquer the emotions were only a front; I failed to stop my anxiety. However, the lyrics of the song described what I was experiencing.
The first verse is only questions but no answers; it is not until the end of the second verse that we hear the resolution:
Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.
He, Jesus Christ, is the only one who could calm my anguish or understand when my aching grows.
In the middle of the night, I listened to the hymn repeatedly. Until finally, I arose from my bottom bunk and knelt in prayer. I asked He, only One, for his quiet hand.
The lyrics to Where Can I turn for Peace were penned by Emma Lou Thayne when an assignment came to write something for the closing hymn of a special young women’s conference.
“The words to the hymn came for me out of a troubled time for our family. We had one daughter ill, I was facing a spinal fusion and interruption of teaching mid-quarter at the University of Utah. My husband was about to become bishop of a student ward, and four daughters were under the age of seventeen with two busy lives. ‘Pray at night, plan in the morning’ had been the byword of our family. Now it became ‘Pray all the time.’”
— Emma Lou Thayne, Episode 18, History of Hymns
Jolene G. Meredith, who served with Sister Thayne on the Young Women’s General Board for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, wrote the music.
Sister Thayne first shared the lyrics with Sister Meredith over the phone, and before the conversation ended, they had a rough draft of the hymn.
“We have lovingly spoken of this number as ‘the telephone hymn’ throughout the years… ‘We determined this was a mental illness hymn. Emma Lou Thayne, who wrote the beautiful words to the hymn, was struggling with the mental illness of one of her daughters at the time this was written, and I was struggling myself personally with mental illness. And so, we lovingly call it “The Mental Illness Hymn.”
–Jolene G. Meredith, Episode 18, History of Hymns
Laying in my bunk listening to this hymn, I had no idea of its origins. It would be many years before I learned how and why this song was written. But the Hymn spoke directly to my heart as most music does.
Music has been one of my key methods of unlocking my heart all my life. Music has a unique capacity to reach me, unlike anything else. Even with pain and anxiety clouding my soul, this hymn’s words and music helped me understand where I should be seeking comfort.
As I knelt on the floor next to my bed, my anxiety curtailed, and peace entered my soul. For the first time since embarking on my new journey, I felt the Holy Spirit. The war raging inside ceased, and an armistice reached.
In 1986, shortly after publishing the hymn in the current LDS hymnbook, the lyric writer, Sister Thayne, had an accident. A crowbar came through the windshield of her car, hitting her in the face. (Episode 18, History of Hymns) Sister Thayne had extensive surgery and could not read or even raise her head for seven months. Of this trial, she said:
“In this time, when reading and writing have not been part of my life, I have come to hear some inner music that is often prompted by the very searching that this hymn talks of. I am grateful for the unbelievably timely resurrection of the song that has helped me so much in my own recent resurrection, a resurrection of what I might never have known without the trial and without the granted grace of the impulse to reach.” — Emma Lou Thayne, Episode 18, History of Hymns
The separation anxiety I was experiencing lessened, but it has never wholly left me. Similar anxiety plagued the rest of my mission and beyond. I still experience something like it from time to time. I rarely talk about it, but that only serves to increase it when the anxiety chooses to surface.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.
I have learned that there is only one source for peace, one source for solace; He only One.