Editor's note: This article is part of a new LDS Living series, “This may be one of the best talks you've never heard,” highlighting talks you may have missed through the years.
One evening I sat on my bed casually reading through material in the Gospel Library app. The day was nearly over, and I was in the mood for calming, pretty verses about love or hope. Somehow in my scrolling, I stumbled on a talk Elder Lawrence C. Corbridge gave at a Pioneer Day devotional in July 2019 in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The timing was random—it was nowhere near Pioneer Day—but I started reading anyway. About midway through the talk, one sentence seemed to dart out from nowhere and hit me right between the eyes.
The line was simply, “Another thinks her life should be happier and better because of her righteousness.”
Elder Corbridge's use of female pronouns in that particular sentence added to the feeling that a secret sniper was calling me to repentance. So, I stopped casually scrolling and went back to read the talk more closely. As I did, I realized this wasn’t any sort of attack, but a gentle invitation to learn something that would soften my heart toward God and deepen my faith in Him.
And after a year of setbacks and adjustments, I don’t think I’m alone in needing some clarification on what faithfulness looks like. Here is the humbling definition I found from Elder Corbridge:
“The question is not whether we will be faithful when things go well; rather, will we be faithful when they don’t? Faith is faithfulness in uncertainty and disappointment, faithfulness not to get one’s way, faithfulness regardless of the outcome.”
After studying more of the talk, I realized I may have been slipping into the dangerous trap of believing my life should be better and happier because of the righteous choices I was trying to make. Elder Corbridge opened my eyes to the true nature of faith by going back into Church history.
“Where is God?”
If anyone has made difficult, life-altering choices to live righteously, it was the early Saints who followed the prophet’s call to move West. Elder Corbridge asked of their decision, “Why not accept the ordinances and the scriptures and live a good life without extraordinary sacrifice? Why not simply embrace a new religion and remain in place? Why uproot everything and everyone?”
In response to those questions, Elder Corbridge lists what some critics would claim was the pioneers’ motivation: religious fanaticism, the charisma of Joseph Smith, a strong sense of community, or even the pull of a cult. But Elder Corbridge refutes those claims by looking at the scale of what so many people gave up. He then shared a quote from one of the tens of thousands who came, Jane Charters Robison, a convert from the Isle of Man, on her reasons for leaving home to go to Zion:
I believed in the principle of the gathering and felt it my duty to go, although it was a severe trial to me in my feelings to leave my native land and the pleasing associations that I had formed there, but my heart was fixed. I knew in whom I had trusted, and with the fire of Israel’s God burning in my bosom, I forsook my home, but not to gather wealth or the perishable things of this world.
From Robison’s sentiment we learn that many of the Saints came West with the purest of intentions: they wanted to follow God’s commandments and show their trust in Him. They were choosing to live faithfully.
So, since the early pioneers were following God’s commandments, that meant life across the plains and then in the Salt Lake Valley would be blessed and successful. . . right? Their lives would be blessed, but maybe not in the way Robison and others imagined. Here is what Elder Corbridge taught:
Some say that nothing breeds success like success. If that is the formula for success, then the story of Joseph Smith, the Restoration, the pioneers, and the early Saints should have been a very different story because it is a story of repeated failure and unrelenting opposition. It is the story of ultimate success arising out of the ashes of repeated failure.
During the trek across the western plains, hundreds, if not thousands, would die along the trail. Once the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, homes, farms, and communities had to be carved out of the wilderness. Surely some, if not many, questioned, “If this is God’s work, where is He?”
And then here comes the line that brought Elder Corbridge’s remarks from the pioneer trail and into my heart:
People ask a similar question today. Some lose faith because of hardship. A daughter dies and, in their grief, parents question their faith in God. Another thinks her life should be happier and better because of her righteousness. But it is more than “Why me?” Rather, it is “Where is God? Why would He allow this to happen despite my faithfulness?”
Do you see why those questions could hurt our relationship with God? We may begin to think that God is purposefully neglecting us or that His commandments are unfounded. But what we might really need in difficult situations is a change in perspective. Elder Corbridge invites us to remember what we learn of God’s purpose for our life on earth in Abraham 3:25: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”
Now I better understand that true faith is not based on outcomes. Sometimes God is going to let us experience what we perceive as a lack of blessings so that we can come to understand that the Lord never really leaves us alone. Elder Corbridge ends his message with this blunt, yet comforting, advice:
“Bad things happen, but as did the early Saints, we must accept life’s realities, even the harsh ones, and trust that with the Lord’s help we may endure well and that all things, both good and bad, will ultimately work together for our good.”
Read more of Elder Corbridge’s remarks, including the difference between surviving and thriving in adversity, here.