I have a very distinct memory of sitting in a car in the parking lot of the Provo Missionary Training Center. Less than 24 hours before, we had been notified that our son would be coming home early from his mission. We were there to pick him up. If someone had walked by our car that morning, they would have seen a man and a woman, clearly grief-stricken, with their heads bowed in prayer. They would not have been able to hear the soft but sincere pleadings from my lips, imploring Father in Heaven to allow our son to stay and fulfill his mission. My prayer was not answered in the way I had hoped, as about one hour later there were three of us in the car, heading back to our home in Washington.
Just a few days ago we met our very first granddaughter, now only a few weeks old. She is precious and perfect. She is the daughter of our son who was part of that long trek home from the MTC. He and his amazing wife met in a remarkable confluence of events that was directly related to his atypical mission experience. If you had passed by my car in the MTC parking lot that morning many years ago, you might have said, “Don’t worry, brother; everything is going to be okay.” I would have looked at you with doubt and skepticism. Today I’d want to find and hug you for having been absolutely correct.
This little bit of history begs the question, “Why did we have to pass through so much difficulty to get where we are now? If the Lord’s will was to have our son meet his wife, marry, and have a child, then why did that have to come only after grief, sorrow, anxiety, and stress?” It is a fair question. One could also make other queries, based on similar logic:
If the Saints were to be driven from Nauvoo and eventually settle in Salt Lake City, why didn’t the Lord simply transport them there and save the grief and death of crossing an untamed prairie?
If Lehi was meant to take the plates of brass with him on his journey, why not have Laban just walk over to his house before Lehi left, and give him the record without incident?
If the Book of Mormon was to come forth as an essential tool for gathering Israel in the latter days, why not just present a bound copy of the English volume to Joseph Smith, instead of having him go through the drama and effort of translating?
In Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families, our family recently studied Paul’s epistle to the Romans. As he reflected on his own sorrows and difficulties, he counseled as follows: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3–5). As a psychologist, I work with people in tribulation on a daily basis. I have seen just about every sort of trial you can imagine: anxiety, divorce, sexual abuse, depression, unemployment, suicidality, domestic violence, homelessness, and so many others. I know Heavenly Father is aware of my clients’ situations. I know He loves them. There have been times where I have specifically felt of His love for them as we have counseled together. Why does He ask them to travel such rough roads? Why does He ask us to do the same? I believe Paul was able to “glory in tribulation” not because of the immediate effects of trials and difficulties, but because of the long-term outcomes for those who faithfully endure challenges. Let’s examine Paul’s rationale a little more closely:
Tribulation Inspires Patience
I was recently shopping for something on Amazon and found the item I wanted at a reasonable price. However, I was quite disappointed to discover that this item was not eligible for two-day shipping. I was going to have to wait four days to receive the package on my doorstep. A few days later I went to visit a 94-year-old man I minister to. He was a youth during the Great Depression and has told me many stories of times when his family had no money, yet remained patient that the Lord would provide. I didn’t dare tell him of my recent trial where I had to endure four-day shipping. Somehow, I think he wouldn’t have reacted the way I did. This man knows tribulation. He knows suffering. As a result, he is one of the most patient people I know. While challenges do not always lead to patience, I believe they can if we view them in the light of God’s wisdom. Trials teach us to rely on our Father in Heaven. Long-term difficulties help us wait on the Lord and for His arm to be revealed. Whereas instant gratification is the thief of patience, personal challenges can be the giver of the same.
Patience Yields Experience
The prophet Joseph Smith was unjustly incarcerated in the Liberty Jail for many months. While he suffered there, the Saints suffered as well. Their leader was jailed, and they grieved without his presence and direction. As Joseph cried to God and asked how long the suffering would continue, God answered and said, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7–8). In other words, “Be patient, this trial will pass, and if you endure it patiently, the outcome will be better than you can possible imagine.” The Lord went on to explain to Joseph how things might even get worse, perhaps even beyond his greatest fears: “And above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 121:7, emphasis added). Joseph only lived about five more years after this period of incarceration, but I’ll bet he had greater strength to manage future trials because of the patient endurance of former difficulties. As we patiently wait on the Lord, we gain experiences that help us improve our perspective and deepen our faith.
Experience Brings Hope
One would think that as a psychologist I’d be very skilled at managing my own mental health issues, but sometimes I feel like a dentist with cavities. For all the counsel I give to others, it can be so hard to follow it in my own life. As an example, I struggle with anxiety. It seems like every unexpected turn throws me for a loop and I start to worry about the next 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days, and 10 years. However, one thing has been helpful throughout the years to mitigate these anxiety reactions: experience. When I start one of my “worry about the future” sessions with myself, the Holy Ghost whispers to me, “David, why are you worrying? Haven’t you been in similar situations before? And haven’t those turned out fine in the end? Will you please trust me that I’ll help you through this, just as I have before, and try to have a little more peace in the moment?” As always, He is correct, and I try to calm my fears. As I have more experiences with the Lord fulfilling His promises, this typically leads to less despair and more hope. At this point, I have had so many experiences where the Lord has helped me bear my burdens, lit the way before me, and softened the hearts of my enemies, it is difficult for me to justify ongoing doubts. I believe as we honestly reflect on the mercies of God currently and in our past, this will help us achieve a greater measure of peace and hope for God’s continued help in the future.
Hope Leads to the Love of God
I can picture us all in the pre-existence, listening to the myriad voices that clamored during the war in heaven. I can hear the detractors claiming Jehovah would fail and we would be fools to trust Him. I can hear the supporters bearing fervent witness that the Savior would do as He had promised. Our choice to follow Jesus Christ and therefore preserve our first estate was founded primarily on the principle of hope. We hoped He would do what He said He would. As He entered mortality, we joyfully sang with angelic choirs to herald His birth. As He was tempted of the devil, we watched with careful attention, trusting that He would not succumb. As His body and spirit were crushed in Gethsemane’s press, we wept for grief at His sorrows. And as He hung on the merciless cross of Calvary, bearing the weight of all sin and suffering on His own, we were at once stricken with horror yet filled with anticipation that the day of our deliverance might finally be at hand. The Sunday morning that followed represented the culmination of our hope, for He had finished His mission. The resurrected Lord emerged from the tomb, victor over death and sin. The place in our hearts that had formerly been occupied with hope for a positive outcome was now overflowing with love for our magnificent Redeemer. That process can play out in our current lives as well. As we patiently endure our trials and hope for good outcomes, we can not only experience the “immediate goodness of God” (Mosiah 25:10) on a daily basis but will ultimately see the day when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). The reward of our hope will be an unending love for all that our Savior has done for us.
Our son eventually returned to the mission field before returning home again and marrying his wife, but it was only after excessive grief, sorrow, anxiety, stress and suffering on the parts of many. Your trials, too, have the potential to lead you to amazing outcomes, which is cause for glory instead of grief. God bless you with the patience, experience, hope, and love of God to see the heavenly wisdom in your challenges and to endure them in faith.