Most of us have heard dozens of “triumph over adversity” stories where the point seems to be that if the stars in the stories triumphed over huge adversities, surely you can triumph over lesser ones. I propose, however, that the most valuable “triumph” stories are those whose heroes triumph by turning to the Lord, submiting to His will, and even learning to thank Him in all things.
Such stories can build our faith and our trust in the Lord, and consequently help us through our own Gethsemanes. Joseph Smith, in his second Lecture on Faith explains how faith and testimony has been carried on through the generations by the words of faithful people. Doesn’t that mean that faith is sharable? “Faith-promoting” stories can literally increase the level of our faith. By passing the light of faith-filled words from person to person, we can improve our perspective and begin to recognize the Lord’s purposes in all things. As we grow in our ability to thank Him in all things, our light within will be given the “faith-fuel” it needs to burn more brightly.
Our Lives are Under Construction
Much like a road construction project, our lives often must be torn up before they can be improved, widened, made more serviceable. The minute we determine to travel the path of spiritual progress, we are likely to find barricades, detours, or the very entrance to a freeway we had most hoped to travel closed for reconstruction.
How do we respond? Can we use our trials of faith as motivation to seek the Lord with greater intensity, and in retrospect recognize His purposes? Brigham Young said, “There is not a single condition of life or one hour’s experience but what is beneficial to all those who make it their study, and aim to improve upon the experience they gain.”
Trials of faith
I think of the difficult experiences my mother and father encountered at the first of their mission. They were originally sent to North Carolina. They arrived in the mission field full of the spirit of the MTC, thrilled with the opportunity to serve.
It promptly began to rain. When it rains in North Carolina, it doesn’t clear up in an hour as it often does in Utah. It rained nonstop for weeks and the humidity skyrocketed.
Two days into this deluge my father was taken to the hospital and put on oxygen. He was in the early stages of undiagnosed emphysema. He didn’t get better, but became weaker and weaker. Mother carried on as best she could, her situation bearable because of the kindness of the members and the comfort of the Lord’s Spirit. She was far from home and Dad’s life was hanging in the balance and we were all faced with a huge trial of faith. Mom and Dad prayed constantly to know what to do and why the Lord had sent them to a place where Dad could not function. All of us at home prayed for them. Soon the doctor strongly suggested my father was not going to get well in North Carolina–that he must be moved to a dryer climate.
So it was that less than a month into their mission, Dad–too weak to stand–was carried from the hospital, carried onto an airplane and transported to Mesa, Arizona. He and Mom were reassigned to be missionaries at the visitor’s center at the Mesa Temple and were welcomed into the home of a wonderful couple until Dad was better. His health improved rapidly, miraculously. They thanked the Lord, and found an apartment. No sooner had they moved in than my mother became very ill. By now it was Christmastime, and Mom spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the hospital so sick she couldn’t hold down water. When she improved and was sent back home, she became deathly ill again. And now Dad shared her symptoms–headache, nausea, terrible weakness.
Another great trial of faith, another turning to the Lord with their whole hearts. What was happening here? Why were their heartfelt desires to serve being thwarted? At home the whole family fasted and prayed for them; the next day a visitor smelled gas and called the natural gas man. They learned there was a serious gas leak in the apartment; they were being poisoned by carbon monoxide! They moved immediately, recovered their strength within the week, and served a glorious 18-month mission without missing another day for illness. They became convinced the adversary had been trying to stop them because of the good they were capable of doing on their mission.
It occurs to me that the Lord honors the adversary’s agency as he does ours. He doesn’t stop him from throwing obstacles in our way. Still, the Lord keeps his promise that “all things shall work together for good.” Because my mom and dad had faith in the Lord and turned TO Him, not away from him in the midst of their adversity, they emerged stronger, wiser, and with greater trust that the Lord’s power can always triumph over the designs of the evil one. Many others benefitted from their experiences–in fact all who knew them were strengthened by their great faith. We all rejoiced in the blessings and joy that came after their trial of faith.
The Lord’s love comes in varied packages
The inexperienced have not learned what Linda Richman expresses so well in her book on dealing with loss I’d Rather Laugh; How to Be Happy Even When Life Has Other Plans for You: “I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. No matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are distinct possibilities for tomorrow or if not tomorrow, the day after that.”
I believe that trust in the Lord gained from the perspective that He is at the helm, loves us unconditionally, and has tailor-made our trials for our education and growth is the best “life insurance policy.” Yet how many times we lose perspective and go about our lives busily judging and labeling every happening. Too often we are inclined to thank the Lord only for the things we label “good.”
There is great futility in attaching positive or negative labels on events or people. Such labeling is the source of much unhappiness and fretting. Have you heard the story of the wise man who reserved judgment when the townspeople labeled events in his life good or bad saying “Maybe so, maybe not?” At the end of the story his son’s broken leg, labeled as such a misfortune by the townspeople, kept the boy from being conscripted into the army and probably saved his life. How many times do the very “worst” happenings in our lives carry with them the seeds of the greatest blessings?
Tribulations are often the catalyst for the humility that turns people to the Lord. And the very event that seems so terrible at the time can later turn to our good in ways we cannot possibly foresee. The story of Douglas Bader a British pilot (quoted from the book Sudden Trauma) is an amazing example.
Trials, Determination, and Silver Linings
Prior to World War II, Bader had been an outstanding young aviator with an almost unlimited future.
However, tragedy struck when he was involved in a flying accident that resulted in the amputation of both legs. He was nursed back to physical and emotional health through the caring of a young nurse who became his wife.
He faced a flyer’s worst nightmare, especially since he had only one dream– to serve his country in the Royal Air Force. He could easily have given up hope of ever flying again, indeed many encouraged him to do just that. However, through his own undaunted faith, together with the faith of his wife, he qualified to fly again. He was initially restricted to relatively simple aircraft, but he was not satisfied with the restricted flight certification. He had his sights set on something greater– to fly high performance fighters. He knew what it took to fly the “new” Hurricane fighter, a complicated and demanding aircraft, and was certain he could master the controls, even with two artificial legs.
As World War II broke out and the skies above the British Isles were filled with enemy aircraft, he became even more determined to fly as a fighter pilot. After months of repeated rejections by the Air Ministry, he was given a chance to demonstrate his ability to fly the Hurricane. Reluctantly they returned him to operational flight status in time for him to participate in and become a hero of the “Battle of Britain,” the single most important aerial battle of the war. He was not just competent but outstanding in his performance without regard to his “disability.” He became a triple ace, and his artificial legs actually saved his life. When his plane was hit by enemy cannon fire, the badly damaged cockpit trapped his legs. Only Bader could have unstrapped his legs, left them behind, and bailed out to safety!
The analogy is clear: the very things we see as our greatest trials can, in reality, be our greatest gifts. In his time of greatest peril, Bader’s previous “tragedy” saved his life.
Up from the Ashes
Clinical Traumatologists document the fact that the most probable time for positive growth and change is in the aftermath of trauma.
A woman I will call Linda exemplifies that principle. When I first met her she was unrefined and spiritually unsure, yet obvious determined in her new decision to come back into activity in the Church. She came from a troubled family, was divorced, financially distressed, and down on life when her house burned to the ground. She lost everything she owned.
“I’ve often felt that the day my house burned down was the beginning of a new life for me,” she said one Sunday in testimony meeting. “I had two children who needed a home, my job was barely adequate for daily needs. I had no emergency fund. My home, not well maintained, was falling apart. My appliances were failing. My insurance rebuilt my home and replaced many of my worn-out things with new. Everyone in the ward reached out to us and the fire humbled me enough that I returned to the Church, began listening to my priesthood leaders and praying like I’d never prayed before. I knew the Lord was giving me a second chance.”
Over the years I’ve watched this fine sister’s spiritual quest and marveled at her growth. Recently I heard her give a lesson on Sister Dew’s talk about Christ. She is not the same person as the one I met two decades ago. She glows with the Spirit, and bears testimony of the blessings of regular temple attendance and the joy of doing work for her ancestors. I sense the incredible strength of her spirit and how she has positively affected ward members. I don’t believe that the Lord personally started the fire that burned down Linda’s house, but allowed natural law to operate, and used the fire to rekindle the spiritual fire in Linda’s heart.
Evidence of the Lord’s love can be found in every adversity
Some of the hardest situations I ever lived through have created the most spiritual reaching for me and have resulted in the greatest increase in my trust in the Lord. Let me go back to the time one of my sons chose to absent himself from the family for a period of nearly five years. I did everything I could think of to reach out to him, entice him to participate in family gatherings, to no avail. For some time he did not return phone calls, did not answer mail, did not acknowledge gifts.
Desperate to know he was all right, I began making visits to his apartment, taking him hot bread, etc. but did not catch him home. Finally I arrived just as he was walking from his car into his house. I ran over, eager to greet him, embrace him. He looked at me coldly, said, “You’d better leave,” and he shut the door in my face! I can’t even write about this without reliving the shock and utter amazement I experienced. I knocked and called to him, but he wouldn’t respond. I sat on his cold cement porch for a long time praying to know what to do. I was numb, incredulous, hurting like I had never hurt before. Who could imagine that a dearly loved child of mine would ever refuse to see me? I finally dragged myself wearily to my car and drove home. Later, my husband held me as I sobbed out the story. He too was incredulous.
I could never count the tears I shed for this son, the prayers I said in his behalf. I have to admit some of my prayers were angry ones. I had never been abusive to him, always tried my best. I didn’t deserve such treatment! But over a period of months, with the Spirit as my guide, my prayers changed to expressions of trust and patience, and the thoughts I sent to my son were filled with deep love, not anger. I became aware that what the Lord expected of me was to trust Him in all things. The Spirit taught me that my son was on his own journey and had, in his own mind, good reasons for what he was doing.
I found dozens of scriptures that kept me not only sane, but peaceful. I pictured my son’s name written in the palm of the Savior’s hand, thought of my son as the little lost sheep that the Savior was daily seeking. I immersed myself in scriptures such as D&C 98:1-3 “Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament–the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted. Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my names’ glory, saith the Lord.” D&C 68:6 “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.
” and D&C 11:5 “Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock if shall be opened unto you.”
I wanted the door to be opened NOW. I wanted my prayers for my son answered in my way and on my timetable, but learned to submit to the will of the Lord until I could truly say, “Heavenly Father, I don’t know what is best for my son, but You do. I don’t know when or how you can reach out to him and bring him back to the family, but I know you will and I will pray for him with all my heart every day with absolute faith until it happens–even if it takes the rest of my life.” And I meant it. I will be everlastingly grateful that it did not take the rest of my life. One morning less than a year from the day my son shut the door in my face, I answered the phone. How can I describe my feelings when I recognized my lost son’s voice? I was instantly choked up and could hardly speak to reply when he apologized for what he had done and invited me to come over. Soon I was on that same cold cement front porch, but this time my son flung the door open and returned my embrace. We cried together, and as he talked, I began to understand what he had been going through.
Did that whole experience “work together for my good?” Oh, yes! I frequently think of all I learned about patience and the Lord’s timetable. I’m grateful that I learned the importance of continuing as long as it takes in faith-filled prayers. This same son is the one who has since chosen to leave this mortal sphere, and I’m so grateful that our family had the chance to get to know him as an adult before he died. This earlier experience prepared me to submit to the Lord’s plan of agency even in dire circumstances. This process of waiting and seeking and praying, and in the meantime being humbled by our limitations and weaknesses is part of the process of developing a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It can also help us recognize the adversary’s voice when he is attempting to use adversity to break our spirits and discourage us.
How to View the Adversary’s Attacks
President Spencer W. Kimball gives us guidelines for assessing spiritual progress that are thought provoking. He said: “We can also tell that we are making progress by the attention we get from the adversary. This has been the lot of the Lord’s people from the beginning, and it will be no different in our time . . . The prophet Joseph Smith received the counsel that ‘all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.’ “There is the reason. It is for our development, our growth, our education and advancement, that we buffet the fierce waves of sorrow and misfortune: and we shall be all the stronger and better when we have swum the flood and stand upon the farther shore:” (See “Tragedy or Destiny?”Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972., pp.95-106
There is good reason for the Lord’s asking of us the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit in this dispensation. A broken heart lets go of the cares of the world like a broken vase relinquishes the water that filled it. When our heart is broken we relinquish distractions, worries, mental distress, and confusion and focus on listening to His voice. We let go by trusting the Lord that we will be taken care of and that we will be able to do the one thing that is needful. We develop the ability to thank the Lord in all things and to feel his watchful care in every situation, every adversity. What greater blessings could we ask for?
Note: Darla has been a professional writer and editor for nearly four decades and has been a regular columnist for Meridian since 2002.
To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com
Important Announcement: After My Son’s Suicide is now available as an e-book on Barnes and Noble Nook Books.