This past month I wouldn’t want to relive—especially for my husband’s sake. He knows firsthand “when it rains, it pours,” having been pelted with kidney stone attacks, an abscessed tooth, root canal, kidney infection (with fever and chills and debilitating weakness), surgery revealing a stricture closing off the opening from the kidney, and now pain and discomfort following the surgery.
Why am I telling you all this like an octogenarian who can’t find anything more interesting to talk about than aches and pains and operations? Because of the amazing principle that surfaced—the realization that filled my mind. It is this: God knew just what He was doing when He placed us in these mortal bodies so prone to pain, and in this environment so likely to thrust us into affliction and trials. I see over and over—most recently through my husband’s ordeal—that the tough times are most likely to disclose life’s meaning and bring us closest to each other and to the Lord.
Before this happened, Doug and I had typically been running ten different directions trying to keep up with daily demands and our own projects. Suddenly our lives were put on pause; as all the stuff we usually thought we had to do faded into the background, we saw more clearly what really matters. Doug and I realized how much we appreciate and depend on each other. We spent a lot of time together, and talked about the importance of valuing the moment—that we never really know how many moments we have left in this life. We felt our dependence on the Lord, and sensed His loving care when a blessing relieved Doug’s unbearable pain. So many silver linings that wouldn’t have come without those pelting rain clouds.
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Many other experiences have taught me similar lessons. A few years ago a car wreck left me bedfast and quite helpless for three months. One day I decided to ponder the 23rd Psalm. I took it line by line and received some surprising insights; verse two especially applies to the subject at hand:
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:”
The Lord surely doesn’t use coercion or force to “make” us do anything. However, life’s circumstances often “make” us lie down. That enforced downtime MADE me lie down in green pastures. Green means growth, and I grew in understanding.
I’m one of those who had not been likely to lie down as long as I could possibly stand upright. Consequently, illness and injury have often had the silver linings of giving me time to rest, read, ponder and pray in ways I just haven’t taken time to do otherwise. They’ve also given me motivation to seek blessings, realign priorities, and accept with gratitude the necessity of the Lord’s help. Silver linings, indeed.
He leadeth me beside the still waters . . . “
I read some time ago that sheep cannot drink from fast-flowing troubled waters. They will die of thirst with water all around unless their shepherd can find them a calm, still pool to drink from. In my case, it is not the water but me that needs to be still. My life has often been too fast-flowing and troubled to seek and drink of living waters. Consequently, I have sometimes thirsted spiritually. The scriptures were always right there, and the Lord never abandoned me, but I was moving too quickly to stop and drink. Whenever we are still and willing to follow Him, the Good Shepherd leads us to drink of still and living waters.
So much living water in the scriptures speaks of rest, such as: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden [With pain? Illness? Worry? Fatigue and weakness?] and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Missing Silver Linings; Refusing Rest
I recently re-read an intriguing book by early Christian writer Hannah Whitall Smith called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Hannah offered a vivid analogy, saying most of us are like the man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him and the driver kindly offered him a ride. He joyfully accepted the offer, seated himself in the wagon, but kept his burden on his shoulders.
“Why don’t you lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. The man replied, “Oh, it seems almost too much to ask you to carry me; I couldn’t think of letting you carry my burdens, too.” 1
Of course no one in real life would be that foolish, insisting on keeping a heavy load on their should when it could easily be laid down; but Hannah Smith suggested that many of us do that very thing symbolically when the Lord offers to carry our burden of trouble, pain, weakness, or sorrow. Our initial response when we hear his offer to carry it is joy. But then we keep our burdens on our shoulders, maybe thinking His offer is too good to be true—or that it is too much to ask Him to actually carry them for us. We refuse rest that is clearly offered.
To return to our original analogy, when we insist on carrying our own burdens, we miss seeing the silver linings in our experiences, so intent are we on the clouds hovering over us. We somehow forget that the sun is always there, behind those big clouds.
Silver Linings Etch Even the Worst Clouds
Years ago I worked on a book with a clinical traumatologist whose job was to help people cope after horrific experiences. I asked him how he could stand hearing about the worst things that happen and how he could be happy in his work. He said it was so satisfying because directly after tragedies and trauma people are the most open to positive change.
I’ve found that to be true. Ruts and routines and former beliefs tend to be shaken up and questioned. False traditions and myths no longer sustain; they are brought up for scrutiny and found wanting. The soul hungers for truth and is willing to face it. Hard times often lead to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:9 we read, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner . . .” Now that’s a silver lining!
Even tragedies that result from evil choices of others have silver linings. Author Hannah Whitall Smith reminds us that God always brings good from evil, turning even the mistakes of mortals into vehicles to bring about His purposes. She says, “The instances of this are numberless. Take Joseph. What could have seemed more apparently on the face of it to be the result of sin, and utterly contrary to the will of God, than the action of his brethren in selling him into slavery? And yet Joseph, in speaking of it said, ‘As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good …. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.’ It was undoubtedly sin in Joseph’s brethren, but by the time it had reached Joseph it had become God’s will for him, and was, in truth, though he did not see it then, the greatest blessing of his whole life.
“And thus we see how God can take even ‘the wrath of man to praise Him,’ and how all things, even the sins of others, ‘shall work together for good to them that love him.’”2
There are always silver linings if we look hard enough for them. Our job is to look, and to choose a faithful response to whatever adversity befalls.
Same Circumstance, Differing Responses
As an object lesson for a long-ago Young Women’s class, I put a saltine cracker, a sugar cube, and a flat sponge into a bowl of water and told the girls to observe what happened. The sponge grew as it absorbed water, the sugar cube dissolved and disappeared, and the soda cracker became a soggy mess.
“And so it is with life,” I said. “We can choose to grow through our losses and develop more substance of character, or we can choose to be diminished by them, or we can choose to become a soggy mess.” Little did I know how difficult it was going to be to choose to be the sponge later on in my life.
Choosing life is choosing hope and growth in spite of pain, choosing to continue to really live—not just be alive.
Yet sometimes, just when I think I am “back in life,” after a hard experience, I find myself knocked flat by either emotional or physical maladies. There are still days that I feel more like the soggy cracker than the sponge.
The truth is that part of our growth, as symbolized by the sponge in this example, is acceptance of reality. It means we keep learning how to deal with a reality that is sometimes vastly revised by hard happenings, and keep making decisions to trust or not trust the Lord with it all.
Grief Is Inevitable: Misery Is Optional
Cloudy days and storms that bring us grief are a given in mortality; they are going to come. We can’t opt out of them, but when the rain pours down we have the choice of how to let it affect us—whether we grow like the sponge or fall apart like the sugar cube, whether we see the silver lining or only the dark clouds.
Some interpret experiences that bring deep grief as solid evidence there is no God—or if He is there that He is totally distant, unconcerned with mortal suffering. They may become bitter and angry, marinating in their misery. Others find grief the very doorway to spiritual evidences of God’s loving care; they open up, become more believing and compassionate. Some rail at God for the loss of loved ones, loss of homes and comforts; others turn to Him with greatly increased realization of their need for spiritual strength and comfort—and find it. They see the silver linings.
The Point Is Who We Become
All that really matters in the end is what kind of person we become because of the way we choose to respond to our trials—whether we turn in and shrivel, or reach up to the Heavens for help. We can choose to “turn and live.” When Alma asked, “Have ye received his image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14,) he did not inquire about what trials we endured or what experiences had motivated us to a mighty change of heart. What matters is the end result. Does it make any difference what trials have brought us to that point as long as we become who God wants us to become? No, what matters is how we respond.
Sorrow so often leads to a closer relationship with the Savior—that is its silver lining. Alma 28:14 reads, “And thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.” Every day when we turn to Him we can renew our hope of the silver lining of His light and love.
1 Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, p. 382 The Christian’s Secret, pp. 152-153