Elizabeth Smart | Faith, Survival, and Resilience, Part 2
Q. So many of us followed your story when you were younger, and would love to hear how life has been for you since! Tell us a little about your life and what you’re up to now?
Elizabeth: Life couldn’t be better! I have the perfect husband for me; we met during our mission to France. We now have a perfect little girl named Chloe and our baby boy, James. I travel across the country speaking and sharing my story not just to give hope but also to change the way society views rape, sexual abuse, human trafficking and other crimes committed against children and women in particular. I’ve also been writing a second book, that fingers crossed I’ll survive, and it will be released in March of 2018.
Q. How did faith impact your thoughts about the future after you returned home?
Elizabeth: Even though the nine months that I was kidnapped were the hardest nine months of my life, they brought me closer to God than anything else I had ever experienced. So, as I moved forward I constantly wanted that feeling of closeness and love. There are times when I forget, but God always reminds me He is there and whatever the future may hold He can turn all experiences into fruitful ones. I don’t want to say positive because that implies whatever trial I’m faced with ends up happy and that’s not always so, but there are always things I learn and things to help me grow so that is why I say fruitful.
Q. After your experience how have you been able to move on and serve a mission for your church, get married, and start your own family?
Elizabeth: When I was rescued and finally brought home I remember feeling like a princess and the luckiest girl in the world! I remember feeling like everything that had been taken from me had been given back. Although things were never the same as before I was kidnapped, I knew I never wanted to miss out on life ever again. I wanted to serve a mission because the gospel had played such a key role in my life, and had helped me so much that I thought surely if it helped me it would help others.
Getting married and starting a family has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and when I was kidnapped I thought that dream had been stolen from me forever, so like I say when I came home I felt like everything had been given back that dream came back to me. At the time I was only 15 so I wasn’t ready to be married, or anywhere near married, and the years in between allowed me time to heal and become ready.
Q. How has your faith helped you move past this experience?
Elizabeth: Believing in the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and knowing that he has felt everything that I have felt, and that he has suffered everything that I have suffered, helps me I know that I don’t have to carry the weight of everything alone. I can give him my burden to carry. This knowledge has helped me more than I probably even realize. But that is what has allowed me to heal and to move forward in life.
The following are reader-submitted questions that Elizabeth has been kind enough to answer.
Reader Q. I've been so moved by your story, and remember praying for you every night while you were gone from your family. We're about the same age and I remember pleading with the Lord on your behalf. My question comes from experience that I'm sure you understand. I was sexually abused as a child, and have gone to therapy and felt like I worked through it all. Recently I've been having flashbacks and PTSD from it, and wondered what you have done to cope with your experience. This may be a heavy hitting question, but I have developed fibromyalgia because of it, and would love to hear your methods. Thank you for being open about your journey and life. Your testimony and example has been one I treasure. So many people are rooting for you!
Elizabeth: I have been so lucky and blessed that I have not experienced PTSD as much as one may think. I have always turned to the things I love when troubling thoughts have crept in unwelcome. I think it’s important to take time to be healthy and know what you can and cannot handle. Set some boundaries for yourself and do not be afraid to say no. Also, don’t just do the things that you find comfort in when you need comfort, but make time for it if not daily then as often as possible.
Reader Q. I would love to know her thoughts on how to block out darkness/negative thoughts when they come. It can be so hard sometimes!
Elizabeth: I know exactly what you mean! I turn to music a lot, whether it’s singing hymns and primary songs in my head, playing the harp, or turning on music that soothes and relaxes me. I also find it helpful to be around other people even if Ii don’t feel like it. Listening to other people and engaging in conversation helps me to move past that stumbling block of a thought by either addressing the thought or having a conversation about something else entirely.
Reader Q. What would be your advice to someone facing a life changing trial? How did you get your feelings out in a productive way? I admire you and your strength so much!
Elizabeth: Well, really, I would share what my Mom shared with me the morning after I was rescued, because really it’s the best advice that I’ve ever been given and helped me get to where I am today. She said, “What these people have done to you is terrible and there aren’t words to describe how wicked and evil they are! You may never feel like justice is truly served, or recompense is ever made but the best punishment you could ever give them is to be happy! Because by feeling sorry for yourself, and holding on to the past is only allowing them to steal more of your life away from you and they don’t deserve that! Not a single second more of your life! So be happy and move forward and do exactly what you want to do!” And that’s really the best advice I can share.
Everybody has a story to share and most of the time nobody deserves the trials and heartaches that life exposes them to, but we can’t allow these trials to define or cripple who we are. We need to remember that we are children of an all-powerful God and we can choose who we are and what we do.
Reader Q. Elizabeth, after knowing the atonement had the power to heal you, how did you fully give your burden over to the Lord? Was it a constant effort?
Elizabeth: I feel like life is a constant journey and I am continually growing and learning. So yes, I try to give all my burdens to the Lord, and prayer is one of the most important ways of doing that in my opinion. Just like we like to talk to our friends and family, and they want to know and help if they can with problems in our lives, well God is our Heavenly Father and He more than anyone wants to hear from us and help us with our problems. I have always found that talking to Him is the best way forward and then trusting in Him to guide me from there.
Reader Q. It seems to me that our emotions and spirit are so connected. I struggled with depression for a few years and during the moments of darkness I would feel like I had lost my faith and testimony as I felt unable to feel God's love or light. The Spirit couldn't be around so much negativity. I still have times here and there (mostly due to lack of sleep and hormones I think) where I am emotionally and mentally unstable and sometimes quite self-deprecating. I try every day to strengthen my faith and keep it deeply rooted but when down or dark days come still sometimes feel like my faith crashes. How can I keep my faith firm and unshakable even when I am feeling emotionally or mentally unsteady?
Elizabeth: Honestly, I think everyone has times when they feel their faith has been shaken or “crashes” as you say. I am definitely not the first one to say this, and I know it has been said many times and certainly by people who know way more than me. But I would say believe even when you don’t believe, and pray even when you don’t feel like praying, and search for the Spirit that you feel you’ve lost.
I know it is hard to do things especially when you feel depressed or unable to, but try saying a simple basic prayer and going out for a walk, or drive. I wish I could answer more. I guess I feel like because we are all different we all have to find our own path what works for one may not work for another. Just like diets some people are gluten intolerant, there are some who are lactose intolerant, some who choose to be vegan, some who choose to follow the paleo lifestyle. So it is the same when it comes to dealing with our feelings and reconnecting to the spirit. For some it might be just saying a prayer or listening to uplifting music, whereas with others it might be more complicated. It doesn’t mean that one person lacks faith more than the other. It just means we’re all different and we all process things differently and that’s okay. That’s the way God created us, and it was on purpose.
Reader Q. How do you teach others the power of God's love, even when he "lets" horrific people do horrific things to innocent people (like in your circumstance)?
Elizabeth: The best way for anyone to know the power of God’s love is to experience it for themselves, and to experience it they need to have a relationship with God. There are all the stories where people make a complete 180-degree change, but those are the exception not the rule. Doing the simple things like praying, reading scriptures, going to church, following Christ’s example will be the best way for all of us to experience God’s love. Then, even when horrific things happen, you will already know you are loved and that you can place your trust in Christ and He will deliver you in whatever form He thinks best.
Reader Q. What are your daily routines (the small things) that strengthen you?
Elizabeth: Prayer definitely plays a big role in my life. How can I expect God to continually answer my prayers when all I ever do is ask for things and nothing in between? So building that relationship with Him strengthens me every day. Then there are less spiritual things like taking the time to do the things that help me face work; being the best wife and mother I can be. Things like running with my dogs, playing the harp, or talking to my Mom.
Reader Q. My daughter is too young yet to read your book. What would you have me instill in her to find the light in the darkest of situations? I'm sure it is a daily message of love and hope through Christ but I wonder about specific songs or scriptures or moments that helped you.
Elizabeth: I would make sure that she always knows how loved she is by Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and you. That there isn’t anything that can ever change that. And that you will always be there for her, and you will always believe her. If anyone ever hurts her she needs to tell you so that you can help her and protect her.
I have always loved A Child’s Prayer because it reminded me that even through my doubts Heavenly Father is there. There are so many more I love! The list would be never ending but to limit myself I’d have to say Joy to the World, If the Savior Stood Beside Me, Families Can Be Together Forever, How Great Thou Art, The Spirit of God, and I Am A Child Of God.
Reader Q. Hi Elizabeth! I'm wondering how you think young girls with LDS/Christian backgrounds (or any religion really) should be better taught about the subject of sex and chastity? How would you want it to be taught in the future and how do you wish you were taught differently?
Elizabeth: I have thought about this topic so much because I know how I felt, and I felt ruined after being raped! I think it is important to be taught chastity, but I also think it’s important to be taught the atonement first and foremost because sexual abuse, rape, and mistakes happen. That is what the atonement is for; to heal our pains, to help make us whole again, and to be forgiven for our mistakes.
Reader Q. Elizabeth, I'm so grateful that you're willing to share your story and be an example! I have a teenage daughter and I work with youth. How would you suggest adults help them best learn to appreciate how much they have and truly be thankful and feel gratitude? I feel like this is a real struggle for so many of our youth.
Elizabeth: I never realized how much I had until it was taken away from me. Fortunately not every child or youth will experience what I experienced so I would say the next best thing would be to educate them about life. This could be through serving others who are in need, sacrificing something of their own, or simply challenging them to dedicate their lives to the Lord and allowing Him to do as He would with their futures. If anyone can teach them it will be the Lord, and even the simple action of making that promise to the Lord I can guarantee will change their lives will change.
We're so grateful for the chance we had to catch up with Elizabeth and for the faith, light and hope she brings to our readers here at The Small Seed, as well as those she reaches out to help throughout the country and world. Elizabeth's new book will be releasing soon—this coming March—and she just appeared on Good Morning America this week. In addition, yesterday Elizabeth was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award.
Elizabeth has recently released a new powerful and inspiring book, Where There's Hope, about what it takes to overcome trauma, find the strength to move on, and reclaim one’s life. It is both an up-close-and-personal glimpse into her healing process and a heartfelt how-to guide for readers to make peace with the past and embrace the future. She attended Brigham Young University, studying music as a harp performance major, and married her husband Matthew in 2012. They now have two beautiful children. You can connect with Elizabeth on Instagram @elizabeth_smart_official or her website at www.elizabethsmart.com.