Sunday, April 6, 2014

I See... Dealing with Adversity in the Lord’s Way

The Mormon Third Eye recently completed an exhaustive study on advice offered by ancient and latter-day prophets on dealing with adversity in the Lord’s way.  The results of this study produced ten guidelines to consider in facing adversity and trials. There is no greater joy than being the Lord’s answer to someone else’s prayer, and it is my hope that these guidelines will answer the silent prayer of someone else in need.

Pondering and praying about adversity and trials over the past few weeks, during my gospel study time and long commutes,  has caused me to reflect deeply on the refining role hardship has played in my life.  While I do not deny spending much of my days seeking to avoid pain and sorrow, I must admit that I have been blessed by them, but only long after they have passed and definitely not in ways I expected. 

First: Where can you find divine instruction and advice on dealing with adversity?  Big data analytics involves analyzing large sets of data for frequencies of selected words or phrases, then attaching meaning to the results.  In this case, I analyzed the data set called lds.org, where the church stores electronic copies of all the scriptures, lesson manuals, magazines, conference talks, etc.  My results showed that the book of Psalms in the Old Testament, the entire Book of Mormon, and lesson manuals that cover these books reference adversity and closely related words at least 10 times more than other data sources. Based on this data, I drew the conclusion that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Psalms could offer readers great hope and strength in times of trial.

Second: Trials, adversity, hardship, challenges, pain, sorrows, difficulties, etc, come to us in a myriad of shapes, sizes, forms, intensities, and time periods.  Some last only seconds; others may accompany us our entire lives.  They may be as small as a swollen diaper or as large as a lost spouse; they may result from our own poor decisions, the poor decisions of others thrust upon us , or the uncontrollable vicissitudes of life, but in any case, there is purpose and meaning in all suffering, and our goal should be to understand it, endure it, and learn from it. 

Third:  Every great prophet and apostle has had to endure deep sorrow. From our first father Adam, who was thrust out of the garden of Eden, to President Monson, who daily mourns the recent death of his wife, the love of his life for over 60+ years, and every great man and women in between, it turns out that facing adversity and trial is an essential element of life and living for every outstanding servant of God.  Why should it be any different for us spiritual peons?

Fourth: God did not design our lives to endure suffering alone.  We have friends, family, fellow ward members, the inspired counsel of church leaders, the scriptures, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and even the Savior himself in our silent pleadings and prayers to turn to for comfort and strength.  The Savior himself set the ultimate example. Ironically enough, even as he was bearing the burden our sins and sorrows in the Garden of Gethsemane so he could perfectly empathize with us, he sought strength to endure from our Heavenly Father, the only one who could help him. According to apostle Bruce R. McConkie,

“We know he suffered, both body and spirit, more than it is possible for man to suffer, except it be unto death. We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name. We know that he lay prostrate upon the ground as the pains and agonies of an infinite burden caused him to tremble and would that he might not drink the bitter cup. We know that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen him in his ordeal.”

If even the Savior sought strength from on high for what he was foreordained to endure, how much more important is it for us to seek help from divine sources?  More often than not, pride gets in the way of trusting in the Lord, his word, and his servants in seeking strength to shoulder our challenges.  Nephi in the Book of Mormon tells of dream in which he

“beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood. And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree."

The fruit of the tree represented the love of God; the rod of iron of the word of God; the great mist of darkness was the challenges of the world. Only by gripping tightly to the word of God did concourses of people make through the challenges of the world to feel the love of God, and so it is for us.

Book of Mormon prophet Helaman also counseled his sons to adopt the same strategy of finding strength to endure trial and hardship in the teachings of Jesus Christ:

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

On a more personal note, when my wife and I face particularly perilous problems with seemingly no reasonable solutions, we often resort to the statement “well, the Church is still true.”  This is our powerful admission that despite our most desperate failed efforts to fix all our own problems , the gospel of Jesus Christ will always be there for comfort and strength if we are willing to seek it.

Fifth:  In every major trial I have endured in this life so far, I have been rescued by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to bore or disappoint you with the gory details of my own personal misadventures, but it is clear that I found no strength to endure or relief from suffering until I humbly admitted that I was powerless without the Lord’s help, help that is so graciously offered through the Atonement, regardless of the severity and frequency of our selected sins and sorrows.

I suspect that it is so for others too. My experience of service in the church has brought me into contact with several outstanding men and women who have set an example of enduring trials in the Lord’s way. I learned of a dedicated, righteous mother who, despite her best well-intention efforts, had a teenage daughter who turned her back on the gospel, the church, and all the morals and family traditions she had been raised in. Her bad choices occupied, burdened, and tortured mom’s every waking moment; mom walked through her day as a spiritual zombie, wondering what she had done wrong as a mother, and feeling helpless as her daughter continued to ruin her life.  At her point of deepest despair, when she felt as if her very existence would be forever crushed by this insurmountable, unsolvable problem, she turned to the Lord in prayer and pleaded: “Lord, I can no longer bear this burden. I can not think of it anymore. I am giving it to you. Please take it from me.” She recounted to me that she had to literally picture herself hand this burden over to the Lord, and she did. In that moment a miracle happened; it worked.

Sixth: Striving to be righteous does not mean that our lives will always be pleasant, prosperous, and painless. If we are faithful, the Lord will turn our trials and hardships into blessings, but this will happen on his time schedule not ours. His sure promise to us is that he will always provide us with the strength to endure and learn from our trials if we will turn to him.   In every particularly difficult hardship we face there is a decision point- will we turn to the Savior for comfort and strength, or will we blame him for what has gone wrong and turn away? Will we hold on to the Iron Rod or will we let go? Will we just wait for the storm to pass, or will we learn how to dance in the rain?

Seventh:  Just because we are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean that there can’t be light inside the tunnel. The essence of hope is that although the present is bleak, the future will be better. God does expect us to be happy now about current trials; he only asks us to find joy now in the belief that the future, the light at the end of the tunnel, will be better for us. It is in this hope that we find strength to endure life in tunnel.

One young mom recounted how she found light in the tunnel:

“While we were living in Boston, far away from family, our son was born ten weeks early. He weighed 3½ pounds and needed to stay in the NICU for six weeks. My husband was just getting ready to start his final exams and fly us across the country for a summer internship. We decided that I would stay in Boston to care for our new baby and pack up the apartment, my husband would go start his new job, and our two little girls, ages three and one, would go live with their sweet grandma for a few weeks.

That was one of the hardest tunnels of my life. I would take a city bus to the hospital, hold our son all day, and then come home in the evening to pack up our dishes and lamps, talk to my husband and girls on the phone, and try to get a little bit of sleep before it was time to start all over again.

I didn’t know if my son would be okay. He was tiny. He didn’t know how to nurse or drink from a bottle. He would have spells during the day and the monitors would go crazy. But I decided that the tunnel was going to make me stronger. I sang as I walked to the bus stop, learned the names of the moms and nurses at the hospital, prayed harder than I ever had before, and replaced my self-pity with gratitude that I had the privilege of being a mother.”

Eighth: Enduring adversity and trial in the Lord’s way requires two essential elements: a knowledge that there is a purpose behind our suffering, and knowing that God loves us. Through pondering, study, and prayer, we can know these things in the midst of our trials instead of after them. I frankly admit that this is hard for me, but I’m getting better at it.

Ninth:  What is the worst hardship one could ever experience?  Addiction to destructive substances and behavior like drugs, alcohol, or pornography? Serious illness, disability, death, divorce, or the deep sting of wayward children? Being physically and emotionally scarred by violent crime, or incomprehensible  sexual, emotional, or physical abuse within trusted family circles? Independent psychological studies indicate that for mothers, there is no worse heartbreak than the death of a young child.

I submit, however, that the most terrible trial of all is not knowing that God loves you, that we have a Savior that who atoned for all our sins and sorrows, and that we can turn to him for comfort, strength, and guidance to constructively deal with our challenges. Why? Because having faith in Christ and his love for us is at the root of all other attempts to patiently endure any adversity we face; it is force multiplier.
Tenth:  In most cases, answers to our prayers for help in constructively enduring adversity will come through other people.  What can we do to help others endure their challenges? I propose that it may be as simple as making cookies.  My oldest sister Velein, in her early 30s and a mother to four young kids, contracted a deadly brain tumor and was given less than a year to live. When we visited her during the last months of her life, she shared with us that she missed the simple joy of baking cookies for her boys. Deon made them a batch of cookies and brought great joy into the last moments of her life.

A few years later, Deon and I were visiting a less active single father of two pre-teen boys in our ward. We immediately noticed by their sparse, utilitarian decorating style that they were living poor and without the calming, loving influence of a resident mother. We had a tradition of baking valentine-shaped cookies and personally delivering them to friends on or around Valentine’s Day, and so we brought some to their house. They were extremely grateful for the gift. Brother Jones eventually returned to full activity in the church with his sons, and he later noted in a fast and testimony meeting how much that simple gift of cookies meant to him and his boys.

I frankly admit that although I believe these ten guidelines of dealing with adversity in the Lord’s way to be inspired, I still struggle with living some of them. However, I know I am a better man for knowing more about them, and the exercise of preparing this post has inspired me to put more theory into practice.

Ironically, in the process of preparing this message I had to practice what I am preaching.  Although I spent hours studying, pondering, and praying about enduring adversity in the Lord’s way my busy work schedule did not allow me time to actually write it until yesterday. Friday night I came home with the flu and should have spent the rest of the weekend recuperating in bed. I pleaded with the Lord for strength to endure my headache and chills and aches and pains and rumbly stomach and pull everything together, and he delivered. My headache and chills and aches and pains and rumbly stomach did not go away, but I was able immerse myself for a few hours in research and endure my physical ailments. And for that, I feel blessed.


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