Latter-day Saint psychologist: A scriptural recipe for enduring trials

I used to believe that a life free of trials was the most desirable. I figured that if I were just righteous enough, I would be spared the difficulties and challenges experienced by others. As my understanding of the Father’s plan has increased, I’ve realized I’m wrong on both counts. A life free of trials is the least desirable mortal experience because it would lead to such little growth. And righteous behavior definitely does not exempt us from difficulties and challenges.

I have since come to understand that trials and challenges are not always aberrations or missteps along the straight and narrow path. Most often, they are growth opportunities. Even so, trials must be endured. Simply viewing them as normal, or even heaven-sent does not usually make them easier to manage. But there are things we can do to endure our trials well, and even become stronger as a result. Mormon taught about the principle of charity. It is the pure love of Christ and one of the Savior’s defining characteristics. In fact, Mormon taught that as we develop charity, we truly become like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48). His beautiful description of this amazing trait makes it all the more desirable. “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45; emphasis added). I believe these principles are a roadmap to help us become stronger and more resilient. Let’s look at some of these descriptors to determine how they can help us better manage the burdens we carry.

Beareth All Things

In my work as a psychologist, there are times when my clients are distressed when they become aware of their emotional issues. This creates additional pain, as they not only wrestle with their mental health challenges but also with the mistaken belief they shouldn’t feel as they do. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often fall into a similar pattern. Sometimes we believe that our trials are excessive, or that due to our obedience, we deserve a smoother path. I believe part of effectively managing our challenges is learning to accept them first. King Benjamin taught that part of the process of transforming our fallen natures into Christlike beings is being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon” us (Mosiah 3:19). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that God could deliver them from the looming burden of a fiery furnace, but also acknowledged that “but if not,” they would remain faithful (see Daniel 3:18). Even our prime example, our Beloved Savior, showed the way of how to humbly accept a difficult path. “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

If we are unwilling to accept life’s trials, we will be less equipped to deal with them. Each day, we only have so much emotional energy to spend. Similar to financial resources, what you spend on one thing cannot be spent on something else. If we allocate excessive emotional strength to complaining about trials, wondering “why me,” or believing we deserve better, that leaves less emotional strength we can utilize to manage the challenge. Bearing all things means to humbly accept our circumstances and strive to improve. As we do this, it lightens the load somewhat and enables us to go forward with greater strength.

Believeth All Things

Amid difficulties, it can be challenging to continue to believe some of the truths we’ve previously learned. One morning I was on a walk shortly after sunrise. It was a beautiful, clear day and the sun shone brightly. As I looked in the sun’s direction, the rays were too powerful for me to fix my gaze on its brilliance. Anyone who was there would have absolutely agreed that the sun existed. The next day I walked the same path, at the same time of day. There was a haze from wildfire smoke that clouded the skies. I could still see the sun, but instead of it overpowering my sight, it was a pink orb. Unlike the day before, I could look directly at it. Its brilliance was diminished by the smoke, but the sun was still clearly visible. The following morning, I did the same walk again, but that day was cloudy. I looked in the direction of where the sun should be. I couldn’t see it at all. Except for my knowledge that the sun actually existed, you couldn’t have convinced me it was there. It was completed obscured.

Sometimes our trials provide a similar experience. When things are good and roads are smooth, it’s easy to believe the Lord loves and will sustain us. As challenges increase, it can become more and more difficult to believe those truths. When it feels like His supportive influence is waning or absent, doubts creep in. Did He really mean what He said before? Do we feel to cry as the prophet Joseph Smith, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1). But as in the lesson taught in my morning walks, we need to remember that the sun exists even when we can’t see it. The Lord will watch over us even when His gaze seems distant. He will always fulfill His promises, no matter what. Satan would have us lose faith during times of trial, but such times are when it is most important to galvanize our beliefs and hold fast to the truths we have known.

Hopeth All Things

Hope is an interesting concept. I believe Mormon’s counsel to bear, believe, hope, and endure is a stepwise process. Each quality builds upon the other and is a strengthening step to reach the next level. Once we have accepted our trials and recommitted to our belief that God will sustain us, then comes hope. Hope is similar to belief, but with an added measure of personal investment. The Savior is described as the “hope of his people” (Joel 3:16). Prior to His coming, people believed in His pending advent. But to hope for His coming was more than just a knowledge of and agreement with the prophecies. Hoping for the Savior to come, to redeem them, was not just belief but also longing, anticipation, and joyful expectation of His mission.

Adding hope to belief creates a stronger foundation to deal with difficulties. Moroni taught, “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4; emphasis added). Hope makes an anchor. Anchors keep us grounded and steadfast, despite the swirling storms. During trials, we hope for better times. We look forward with an eye of faith, our hearts filled with hope, and trust the Lord will sustain us through the wintry days. Hope is a powerful tool to better cope with challenges.

Endureth All Things

Armed with willingness, faith, and hope, now comes the final weapon in our arsenal to overcome challenges: endurance. Endurance is the long road. It is striving, every day, to become better. It’s facing the wind and pressing forward, especially when we want to give up. How far you move forward each day is inconsequential. You are not being judged against others, and the Lord simply wants you to make small progress as frequently as you can.

The Lord counseled the early Saints, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). In other words, don’t give up. Keep moving forward. Recognize that each small step will eventually lead to the completion of a tremendous journey. Satan would have us believe that small efforts are worthless because they produce such little change in and of themselves. That’s like believing that providing sunlight and water every day to a planted seed is pointless. After all, you cared for the seed yesterday and didn’t see any changes. In fact, you’ll probably go weeks with consistent care before that seed will sprout. Yet with the regular nurture of that small seed, you could end up with a beautiful plant that is resilient and strong.

Your spiritual and emotional progress is no different. Do what is right. Nurture your mind and spirit with truth. Just like growing a plant, in time, you will find yourself becoming stronger and better able to manage difficulties. Alma teaches that those who care for the seeds of truth are ultimately able to partake of the glorious fruit that perpetually satisfies spiritual hunger and thirst. “Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you” (Alma 32:43). As we increase our ability to bear with difficulty, increase faith, hold to hope, and endure to the end, we will also reap the reward of faith and taste the ever-satisfying fruit of spiritual growth.  

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