More often than not, these days on the Bloggernacle there is a narrative among LDS people where pain is the central theme. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s trials or hardships. I also do not want to make light of the legitimate struggles we all have on a daily basis. However, when I see the subject of “pain” come up again and again as a narrative for how to live life, I am troubled. Life is hard and there are painful times, but I don’t think Heavenly Father meant for life to be an unrelenting painful experience.
The Book of Mormon teaches us that we exist and live so that we might have joy, from 2 Nephi 2: 23-25 we read,
“23…wherefore [Adam and Eve] would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”
Joy and pain go hand in hand, and we have to experience pain to understand and know what joy is, but today I want to focus on three ways we can use the Joy to overcome the pain narrative.
Finding Joy Amid Trials
As was just stated, life is meant to be joyful. Elder Richard G. Scott, in his talked called, Finding Joy In Life, said, “Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do.”
In other words, we cannot let our trials consume us to the point that we have nothing left of ourselves and our testimonies. Many times this is not easy, and is what Elder Bruce C. and Sister Marie Hafen termed, “severe mercy” (1). Severe mercy is when the Lord pushes and stretches us so that we can more fully take part in the grace of the atonement. Sister Hafen reminded us, “Reaching deeper into the heart of the Gospel is exactly what we should be doing when the storms are beating us down.” (2)
So, are we reaching into the Gospel when we are in the middle of storm? Or are we turning to facebook groups to complain and commiserate? Are we sharing our problems with people who are critical of the Church and its leaders, or who openly dissent from the doctrines of the Church? Or are our friends building us up, and helping to keep our focus turned on the Gospel and the Lord to find solutions to our problems? Elder M. Russell Ballard taught,
“In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. “(3)
We have to rely on the Lord for the ultimate respite in our trials and the ultimate joy when they have past. Ultimate respite from trials and ultimate joy will never be found in a facebook group, at a protest, or from a podcast. Ultimate respite and joy can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grateful in Any Circumstance
Weathering the painful parts of life is not easy, especially if the trial is long term and resolution seems distant or non-existent. Elder Uchtdorf taught in the April 2014 General Conference,
“Everyone’s situation is different, and the details of each life are unique. Nevertheless, I have learned that there is something that would take away the bitterness that may come into our lives. There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious. We can be grateful! It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.” (4)
I love those words from Elder Uchtdorf! They are so wise and timely. However, we have to choose to be grateful. We have to choose to have joy. We have to choose to move on from situations that might damage our spirits, and which we cannot control. We have to allow the Holy Ghost to work on us and heal us when we are in pain. But it is our choice alone. No matter what, Heavenly Father will not force us to choose joy, or His healing power and help. Thankfully though, He is a patient Father, and waits for us as we move along in this process. He will help us every step of the way.
Applying Grace In Our Lives
At the 2014 BYU Women’s Conference, Sheri Dew spoke on grace. She taught, “Grace is divine power that enables us to handle things we can’t figure out, can’t do, can’t overcome, or can’t manage on our own. We have access to this power because Jesus Christ, who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain.” (5) The Prophet Alma also teaches us in The Book of Mormon, in Alma 7: 11-12,
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
Do you believe this? I do. I know that Christ suffered for everything, and I have felt His love and succor in my time of need. This is grace applied.
We have an excellent example of finding joy amid trials, being grateful, and the application of grace in the People of Alma. These followers of Alma were known to the Lamanites, who enslaved them for the fact that they were Nephites. The burdens that were put upon them were very harsh, even to the point of not being allowed to pray publicly. In Mosiah 24 we read,
12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.”
Alma and his people turned to Lord with their problems, which is what we should be doing. It’s ok to ask for help from other people, and we should call on family, home and visiting teachers, and friends. However, in addition to this we need to be reaching for the scriptures, prayer, fasting, and asking our bishop for council if needed. This is reaching into the Gospel for our solutions.
Alma and his people also “submitted cheerfully” to their burdens. I’m sure that was not easy, just like it is not easy to submit to whatever we are up against. I’d like to share an example from my own life.
Years ago when I was still an older Young Single Adult I was at a cross road in my life. I had just come out of a miserable, failed relationship which had embittered me and convinced me that no one would ever want to marry me. I was frustrated and tired with everything. It was the lowest point of my life to that point. During this time I took a vacation, and while I was sitting on an airplane over the Midwest somewhere, looking out at the patch work of farms below, I was having a wrestle with myself and the Lord. I finally decided that I was going to give everything over to the Lord, and that I was just going to be happy no matter what, that I was going to be active in the Church and content, no matter what. I also resolved that I was going to work hard at my job, and in my family and just love whoever was in my life at the time – even if that was just my parents and siblings. That day, in the air, I felt a burden lifted and the stress and pressure of my problems drain out of my body and away from my soul. From that time on the Lord did strengthen me such that I was happy and content no matter what, and in fact, I was a little happy even to still be single, and to have dodged disaster.
The point, though, is that I had to choose. I had to choose to be happy, to be grateful, and to let the Atonement work in me and on me, to heal me, and it did. I had to choose joy. It was not easy to give up my anger. And over the next few months I would feel that anger bubble up to the surface from time to time. I had to choose to be joyful again. Eventually, I came to a total peace with the situation, which allowed me to move on and find my husband. I could not control what had been done to me, but I could control how I reacted.
Regarding grace, Sister Dew once again said, “We all know what “overwhelmed” feels like. Mortality gives us a visceral experience with the reality that without the Lord, we are nothing. If there are times when you think, “I can’t handle my children, or my checkbook, or my illness, or the urge to eat brownies at midnight, or the lack of a husband, or the lack of a good husband, or a family who doesn’t appreciate me, one more day,” you’re not alone. The Savior’s divine empathy is perfect, so He knows how to help us. He rarely moves the mountains in front of us, but He always helps us climb them.” (6)
Life is not easy much of the time. We are tested, tried, pushed and pulled. We cannot stop others from making bad or incorrect choices, and sadly sometimes we suffer because of the bad actions of others. There will be unanswered prayers, disappointments, heartaches, and things we simply do not understand. We have the chance to counter this by choosing joy, by choosing to be grateful in any circumstance, and by applying grace in our lives. Remember when you are feeling pain or are in the middle of a trial and can’t see your way out to “Reach into the Gospel” for strength and the solutions you seek. Allow the Lord to strengthen you and make your burdens light. He does not want you to be consumed by your trials, but wants to help you in them, and to overcome them, so that you can experience joy and happiness.
From A Well Behaved Mormon Woman:Got Pain? Me, too. Now what?
From Mormon Women Stand: Pain: Embrace Peace or Seek Incomplete Solutions
1. Bruce and Marie Hafen. “Fear Not, I am With Thee: Christ’s Atonement and Our Personal Growth”, BYU Women’s Conference; May 1, 2104. See the address HERE.
2. Hafen, Ibid.
3. M. Russell Ballard, “Equality through Diversity.” October 1993, General Conference.
4. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Grateful in Any Circumstances.” April 2014, General Conference.
5. Sheri Dew, “Sweet Above All That is Sweet.” 2014 BYU Women’s Conference, May 1, 2104. See the addres HERE.
6. Dew, Ibid.