Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted Anne Morrow Lindbergh as saying, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
In the midst of life’s challenges it is often difficult to understand how our suffering can help us gain wisdom. Sometimes seeing how others respond to challenges in positive ways can be inspiring.
My friend, Millie Mathis, is a great example of choosing to respond positively to life’s challenges. Millie’s ex-husband made a choice to end his life October 18, 2002. Fifteen years later Millie’s 17-year-old son, Tyson Lansberry, ended his own life on October 21, 2017. Millie, who has a degree in marriage and family therapy, explains that Ty’s behavior prior to his death demonstrated no red flags of having suicide ideation. Millie will never know in this life all the reasons behind their choices. President M. Russell Ballard teaches us, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves. . . . Judgements the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men. . . . When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”
Whatever the reasons for their suicides, Millie, who is a wife and mother of four children, knew she did not want to stay stuck in her grief. She knew that focusing on blame, guilt, and pain would not only hurt herself but also those around her. Millie said in an interview for a podcast, “I know I don’t want to live in misery, so I’m not going to choose misery. Some days it’s a tough choice to not let that happen.”
Dr. Lucinda Bateman, Chief Medical Officer of the Bateman Horne Center, offers education to people who suffer from debilitating chronic physical illnesses. Bateman teaches her patients that “emotional resilience can help lead to physical resilience.”[i] Emotional resilience is cultivated when we feel supported and believe we can grow and learn from our experiences. Professor Carol Dweck coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” A person with a growth mindset believes that they can learn and acquire abilities through persistent effort. A person with a fixed mindset believes that they were either born with skills or they were not. Dweck teaches that when struggling with problems in life, we need to remember the word “yet.”[ii] If you haven’t mastered a problem, you just haven’t mastered it yet. Research shows that those who believe in the growth mindset not only learn new skills but also increase brain activity that can further enhance their ability to learn.
Our Savior assures us of our ability to learn as He offers support by saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along… And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (D&C 78: 17-19).[iii]
Millie says if she could bring Ty back, she would in a heartbeat! However, she knows she can’t, so she focuses on being grateful for the lessons she has learned. Millie says it was through trial and error that she found coping skills that helped her heal. Though she admits that not every day has positive outcomes, she knows that every day does help her learn what works for her and what doesn’t. Through this process, Millie learned three main principles that helped her find peace and joy in life.
We need connections with others.
On her darkest days, Millie knows reaching out to someone and connecting with others will help her find hope again. Millie says being alone can be therapeutic sometimes, but when we find ourselves slipping into darkness, connecting with people who love and support us can be the best medicine.
We can only control our choices and our reactions.
Learning to accept that she cannot control the choices of others helped Millie heal from feelings of guilt and regret. Millie knows that her response after the suicide of her ex-husband and son is completely her choice. She also knows that small choices every day can make a big difference. For example, Millie decided to go on daily walks, which she discovered were as important for her emotionally as it was physically, and says, “I never thought walking would be something that helped me, but it does and it’s been amazing!”[iv]
Everyone has someone that loves them!
No matter who you are, no matter what terrible things others might have said about you, and no matter what terrible things you might have done, you are loved! Our Father in Heaven sees us for much more than our mistakes and imperfections. He, who knows us perfectly, loves us perfectly. Not only does God love us but we also have angels on earth and in heaven who know us and are helping us along, as this scripture reminds us: “They that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16).[v] Millie believes that Ty, who was a quiet kid with a few close friends, did not fully understand how many people loved and cared about him. However, at Ty’s funeral Millie was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended and expressed love for her son.
Millie wishes that Ty had understood these three lessons. Less than a year after Ty’s death, Millie started speaking to youth struggling with suicidal ideation and sharing with them the things she learned. Millie also helps people individually by working as a counselor at Sunrise Solutions in Sandy, Utah. Millie said in a recent email to me, “I believe that we all have the ability within us to overcome anything by using the power of the atonement, hard work, and persistence. I feel privileged to help others navigate through the challenges and trials we all face in this life.”[vi] Serving others has helped Millie progress in her healing process. President Henry B. Eyring teaches that by serving others we are walking with our Savior. He explains, "If you walk with the Savior long enough, you will learn to see everyone as a child of God with limitless potential, regardless of what his or her past may have been."[vii] The "everyone" President Eyring refers to includes ourselves, which often can be the hardest person to see “limitless potential” for healing and growth.
As we practice “enduring well” we can expand our understanding by allowing life’s challenges to “pass through us and do so in ways which sanctify these experiences for our good (see D&C 122:7). Thereby, our empathy, too, is enriched and everlasting” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Enduring Well,”Ensign, April 1997).[viii] Millie understands her journey is far from over, but she is learning a lot in the process and is able to empathize with others in a unique way. She is a voice of hope to those that are hopeless. She is sharing light with others who feel that darkness is closing in on them. She shares the love she feels from God to those that feel that all love has passed by them.
President Faust reminds us, “You are responsible for the choices you make…You are a child of God with great strength. You have the ability to choose righteousness and happiness, no matter what your circumstances.” [ix] As we practice making choices that will lead to growth and understanding, we can allow pain and suffering to be a powerful teacher. As we experience the growing pains of life, let’s remember the word “yet.” We may not understand yet, we may not have the skills to be successful yet, we may not see an end to the suffering yet, but with our Savior leading us along, we will!
[iii]Doctrine and Covenants 78: 17-19
[v]2 Kings 6:16
[vi]Email to Kim Yadon dated March 20, 2019
[vii]President Henry B. Eyring, “Walk With Me,” Ensign, May 2017
[viii]Elder Neil A. Maxwell, “Enduring Well,” Ensign, April 1997
[ix]President James E. Faust, “Choices,” Liahona, May 2004
Kim is a nurse and health coach. Kim encourages improving health by being attentive to our fundamental needs to rest, move, nourish, and connect. Kim understands that balancing all our needs is crucial, however, Kim teaches that connection with God and understanding our identity is the foundation for optimal health. To find out more about Kim, her podcasts and programs visit her website at www.kimyadonrn.com.