By Hyrum W. Smith with Gerreld L. Pulsipher
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
A Noble Endeavor
Although Hyrum W. Smith is not looking for a thank-you or a pat on the back, I have to acknowledge the heartfelt effort, emotion and risk he took as a writer to publicly share his personal story of pain, misery, renewal and redemption. Each emotion is dependently bound up in an appreciative pointing to the atonement of Jesus Christ. As a reader, I am glad Sheri Dew kept after Smith to put his thoughts in writing. He needn’t wonder if anything he wrote was of value to others – it most definitely was.
Hyrum W. Smith and Gerreld L. Pulsipher have co-authored this most captivating book, Pain is Inevitable, Misery is Optional. The title alone causes us to evaluate the challenges we are facing. It seems as if everyone is experiencing pain of some kind, in some form. What of misery? Are we unnecessarily giving place for this depressing companion because of poor judgments or misguided choices?
Smith and Pulsipher examine these questions in grasping detail, teaching the doctrine of repentance with clarity and realism. Smith is widely known within the business world for founding the Galileo Initiative – a team of business consulting and communication professionals. He also helped create Franklin Quest (now Franklin Covey) and has authored several nationally published books. Pulsipher has assisted Smith in writing and editing his works and was a former managing editor for the Millenial Star magazine.
I have never known a book to include the author’s sharing of his or her own excommunication, withdrawal of the Holy Ghost, followed by complete renewal through repentance, forgiveness and a second baptism. Most of the time LDS authors write about someone else – a nameless individual that we do not know. A heavy topic like this is usually hush-hush, something of a whisper with hopes of being forgotten. For this reason, I found it extremely noble and gracious that Smith was willing to share with us his arduous journey, including the self-deception he experienced. He does this with a hope that others might avoid a similar snare, that all might better understand the reason for pain and suffering in mortality.
Smith wisely chooses not to disclose the action that caused him to lose his membership in the Church. We know that such a detail is unimportant. He does, however, explain the feelings he experienced and the defining moments that spurred him forward. “There was a defining moment, as I listened to a general conference address in October 1998, when I knew that I had been living a lie for several years, that I could no longer hide from the Lord, and that I could not go on living that way. At that time, it became clear that the only thing that really mattered was to make sure my relationship with my Savior was right” (3).
Reflecting upon that time, he writes, “I remembered the pain and anguish of people who loved and respected me and expected better of me. I remembered the look in the eyes of my children as I explained to them what their father had done.” Smith states that not all his memories are painful. He recalls the time when the “incessant tide of pain began to subside, when I finally felt that I was able to communicate again with my Father in Heaven…the moment when I knew that the Lord had forgiven me. I will never forget that moment – the relief from the anguish and the peace that came with it” (4)
I was most touched by the conversation Smith had with his grandson the day he was re-baptized. “On the day of my rebaptism, I was in the stake center with my family. We were all there. I was dressed in white, and my son Joseph was dressed in white sitting next to me…I was also sitting next to my three-year-old grandson, Sawyer…Sawyer looked up at me and in a beautiful way said, Grampy, why do you have to be baptized?'” (25)
Smith’s shares with us his answer, “‘Sawyer, your grandfather made some mistakes. And because of those mistakes, I had to lose my membership in the Church. But Father in Heaven has allowed me to make those things right so I can be baptized again, have those sins forgiven and come back into the Church and start again on the road back to Heavenly Father.’ It took me about fifteen seconds to teach him the basic premise underlying [God’s] plan. Sawyer looked at me, smiled and said, Oh,’ and the conversation was over. I found myself getting very emotional at that point…As I went into the waters of baptism that day, as my son Joseph baptized me, as I realized what was happening, I sensed the profound meaning of the plan much more clearly than I had when I was eight years old. It was one of the sweetest and most beautiful experiences of my life.” (37).
Years ago, while serving as a young missionary in England, it was Elder Marion D. Hanks who taught Smith the truth that now resonates as the title of this book. “Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” Smith teaches that we cannot avoid pain in our lives, but we can control how we respond to that pain. There are two kinds of pain: pain that the world inflicts upon us as an inherent part of our mortal experience and pain that we inflict upon ourselves through mistakes and misjudgments.
Simply put, “Understanding the role of pain in the eternal plan, and some of the ways we learn and grow from it, while not being diverted or destroyed by it, is the subject of this book” (8-9).
Smith and Pulsipher share other painful experiences – the untimely deaths of close family members and visiting Ground Zero one month after September 11th to speak to the victims’ family members. Smith shares these words about speaking in New York City, “I approached the front of the room, and before I reached the podium, a fireman, in uniform, about halfway back stood up and yelled, Mr. Smith, are you gonna tell us how to get up every morning when we just don’t give a damn anymore?’ That’s how it started. It turned out to be one of the toughest yet ultimately most rewarding speaking experiences I’ve ever had. Then these words flashed through my mind, and I said them out loud to that audience and to that fireman…’Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.’ And this fireman seemed a little stunned, but he sat down and listened as I tried to help ease the pain…the fact is, bad things do happen to good people. They just do…but how we choose to deal with the pain is ultimately a measure of who we are and a measure of our testimony of the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (13-14).
Pain that Comes from Self-Deception
The chapters that are likely of greatest worth to active members of the Church are the chapters that address Satan’s tactic of self-deception. Smith teaches that our perceptions are not always reality. They are our perceived reality. All of us have a set of beliefs and opinions we have come to hold as true because of our life experience. We make decisions upon these beliefs but they are not always reality. Smith has taught this principle for years through the idea of a “belief window” – a belief system through which we see the world.
Smith knows from experience that we are capable of rationalizing almost any kind of behavior. “Satan…does make inroads into our souls by tempting us with subtly crafted counterfeits of things that appear to be good or at least not all that bad. And, over time, he can lead us to believe that right is wrong and wrong is right. Believe me, I know.” The adversary wants us to think, “I’m a special case. It’s OK for me to do this even when the scriptures say otherwise” (88).
I’ve often thought there is no way a faithful member of the church could be lulled into such deceit. But Smith is here to tell us, it can happen, even to the very best of us. He encourages us to examine our belief windows often, work to keep them clean and realistic, and always take the Holy Spirit as our guide.
That They Might Not Suffer
In the final chapters of the book, Smith’s intimacy with the Savior and his appreciation for the Lord’s atonement is tenderly evident. We are convinced that he knows his Redeemer. Smith points out that we often gloss over the “quiet depictions of Christ in the garden” and think more about the humiliation and pain he endured during the crucifixion. I’m not sure I agree with this statement, but I do agree with Smith’s reasoning. He argues, “Maybe we do that because we don’t want to consider what we did to him but would rather focus on what they did to him” (128).
Feel the emotion with which Smith urges us to reflect upon our need for a Savior and the gift of repentance. “I think if we were not to repent, that would be the greatest of insults to our Savior. For us to be willing to accept and ask of Jesus Christ that he do this act for us and then to disregard it, to treat it as if it were of no worth or importance, literally means that the pain he suffered for you and for me was in vain. How could we put him through that? The love he has for us is so complete that he will do everything in his power to help us cleanse our lives so we don’t have to experience what he experienced” (137).
Smith believes there is one other important step in the process of repentance. “I believe that each of us, in his or her own way, must make our own journey in spirit back to that sacred garden – we must go alone to Gethsemane to be with the Savior there, to watch with him, and to witness through the Holy Spirit that portion of his agony he suffered for us personally” (135-136). Such is the testimony and fierce love of a man who knows Christ – a man who has acknowledged his faults before God while clinging to the promise of complete forgiveness through a Savior.
A Tender Discourse
Readers will be humbled by this tender discourse on the pains of mortality and the misery of sin. It will bring hope to those who feel they have walked too far into the darkness and become so lost that there is no possible way back. The rugged beauty of this tale is in its glorious resolve – that through Christ, there is a way back. Smith and Pulsipher should be thanked for sharing their most intimate feelings about the comfort and peace that comes through Christ’s redemptive plan of mercy.
Pain is Inevitable, Misery is Optional could be considered an afternoon read – a short sit-down, if you wish. But I encourage readers to peruse slowly the wisdom they will find. It is unique, born out of raw human experience with potential to clarify the windows through which we see the world and aid us in the daily choices we must make.