Daily personal challenges are common enough in our culture— things like negativity, doubt, anger, loneliness, jealousy, and selfishness. Despite their commonality, these trials can be the most dangerous and degrading to the soul. They wear us down physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I am not saying that we are to blame for every negative thing we face in life. But I am saying our attitudes and responses to adversity can lead either to intense satisfaction and lasting peace or continual dissatisfaction and discontent.
Don’t let your response to a trial prove to be the biggest trial of all.
There are several prevalent mentalities we see today that can lead to these challenges—things we must be aware of and strive to avoid.
1) Quick Fixes
Our society has become obsessed with the idea of quick fixes. Commercials always stress getting into your dream car, your dream house, and your dream body now—with no wait and nothing down.
This obsession with “today” and “right now” has made us conflate ideas of ease with joy. But there is very little about true, abiding joy that is easy.
Quick fixes cause us to miss the entire point of improving ourselves in the first place and put our focus on the wrong aspects.
For example, in our hurry to skip right to the results of eating healthy and exercising regularly, we forget that the entire purpose is to be physically fit, not to look skinny. Yet, we’ve twisted weight to be the focus of why we work out or eat healthily. As a result, we sometimes even make ourselves unhealthier—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It’s the same with spiritual principles. When we expect quick fixes from God, we miss the entire point of our experiences on earth. We begin to think life has to be easy or perfect to be enjoyed, and begin viewing it as merely another trial to get through. We forget the purpose of trials and challenges is really to create lasting change within us.
Elder Richard G. Scott tells us that “trials, disappointments, sadness, and heartache come to us from two basically different sources. Those who transgress the laws of God will always have those challenges. The other reason for adversity is to accomplish the Lord’s own purposes in our life that we may receive the refinement that comes from testing—they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain.”
Pain, sorrow, and trials are eternal and will exist in the next life. Even God weeps over His children. In Moses 7:28, it says, “And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept.” It’s often true that the source of our greatest pains can also be the source of our greatest joys. Our family can bring us unimaginable happiness and often brings out the best in us, but they can also frustrate us, hurt us, or even leave us. So, when our Heavenly Father weeps over us, it only shows his love for us. His sorrow at our pains only speaks to his incredible capacity for love and reminds us that we are not here to learn how to avoid trials, but to learn how to embrace them and allow them to add to our joy.
2) Blaming Others
Joy and challenges are not antagonistic to one another—in fact, they often build upon one another. An example of this comes from the life of a woman named Mabel Gaye. Mabel has lived through two civil wars in Liberia. One night, when she was fleeing from the sound of gunshots in her village streets, her baby girl tucked under her arm, she stumbled upon her three young cousins cowering under a bush.
Since that time, she has raised those children as her own, facing the hunger of refugee camps and the fear of moving to a new country. Yet, her perspective has allowed these challenges to strengthen her, to bring her peace. “During the war, other people died and God helped me, so I have to say thanks to God for my life,” she says. “I have to be grateful to God. I’ve been through a lot, and He’s taken me all the way.”
In order to become joyful despite our circumstances, like Mable, we must stop putting blame on our Heavenly Father or Satan for trials and temptations which arise in our lives, because that only leads to feelings of bitterness and helplessness.
Instead of turning outwards to blame others, we should turn heavenward to find the divinity, strength, and light we possess and need to face those challenges.
3) Self-Made Mentality
While discontentedness and helplessness can be hindrances to joy and add unnecessary pain, so can contentedness and independence.
Within our society, we sometimes have a dangerous mentality of needing to do everything ourselves.
We glorify the self-made man or woman as the epitome of life, the person we should strive to be. But that image is hollow and fails to acknowledge the relationships and people that make success meaningful, especially God’s hand in our creation and in all the opportunities He provides.
I grew up playing competitive sports, and I know very well the concept of mental strength and pushing yourself to go beyond what you think you can do. But, when you begin reaching your breaking point physically, it is easy to tell because your body gives obvious signs— things like fatigue and pain. Are we as careful to notice the signs when we reach moments of spiritual, mental, and emotional exhaustion?
I love this insight from President Uchtdorf: “Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list . . . Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives . . .The wise . . . resist the temptation to get caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life. They follow the advice ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.’ In short, they focus on the things that matter most.”
As in all things, Christ was the perfect example of this. He, of anyone in heaven or on earth, has a substantial to-do list and could easily say, “I don’t have time for this” when we make mistakes or come to Him pleading for help. But He doesn’t. He never lets us down. He always has time for us. He heals us all, one by one.
In our attempts to control everything, we often create unnecessary stress that keeps us from experiencing the joys in life. However, if we focus on that which is most important—loving and serving our Heavenly Parents and our Savior—everything else will work out.
There will be times in our lives when things are out of our control, but, we can’t let those challenges shape our self-worth.
Just as we shouldn’t blame God for what goes wrong in life, we should stop blaming ourselves. Don’t add that guilt and stress by devaluing yourself and adding more challenges to an already trying time.
Understand that part of why we are all on this earth is to be broken. Even Christ was broken as He prayed in Gethsemane and hung on the cross. While we don’t have to love those moments, we should embrace them. Embrace trials and let them shape and become a part of you—just don’t let them define you.
Allow others, and especially our Heavenly Father, to help during these times. Embrace His grace, His love, and His atonement.
4) Lack of Balance
As Latter-day Saints, we often expect perfection. And that’s a wonderful goal. But in this quest for perfection, we must strive for individual, spiritual perfection, not a cultural ideal of the word. So when you begin to think you aren’t thin enough, strong enough, beautiful or handsome enough, or smart enough, stop it. Stop adding unneeded stress to something which is already hard to do and please understand that worthiness is not the same thing as flawlessness.
It’s true. We are flawed. But, as President Faust noted, “we need to love ourselves—warts and all.” And we need to stop worrying about what others think of us. Instead, we should only worry about what He thinks of us.
As we strive to live between our world’s extreme mentalities of quick fixes and doing everything by ourselves, we will find a balance that allows us to become what many might consider oxymoronic: both self-reliant and confident followers of God. But, if we fail to develop these qualities within ourselves, we risk the chance of living a very dissatisfied and limited life.
Remember, it’s the ephemeral nature of joy which makes it so precious, so exciting. And we can feel that joy by focusing on the basics: loving God, loving yourself, and loving others. Focus on maintaining balance, letting life in, and seeking joy, goodness, light, and truth in all you experience.
And if you are looking for it, believe me, you’ll find it.