Latter-day Saint Life

The reason for trials we don’t talk about enough—but that makes all the difference

Woman looking ahead at dusk
My understanding of why and how trials help us has changed over the years.
Tim Robberts, Getty Images

Ever since I was little, I loved to keep memorabilia from trips. But it hasn’t been until the last year or so that I’ve actually put significant efforts into adding them to memory books. As I’ve done so, I’ve been surprised to find that I can often remember what I was struggling with behind the scenes of any given trip.

Recently, I created a book for a trip that I took while recovering from what, at the time, felt like a devastating breakup. As I looked through pictures and remembered things I had forgotten about from that wonderful but challenging time in my life, I began to reflect on some of the other difficult challenges I had faced since then.

I was surprised to feel a swell of gratitude for these trials that I hadn’t felt before. But not for the reason I was expecting.

The Purpose of Trials

I remember learning that trials are “for our good” and designed to make us stronger. But my understanding of why and how these trials help us has changed over the years.

In the October 2020 general conference—during a worldwide trial—President Eyring beautifully highlighted several reasons for these challenges in his talk, “Tested, Proved, and Polished”:

  1. To allow us to prove that we will be faithful to God and His commandments
  2. To help us grow and learn through agency
  3. To help us become more like Christ

For most of my life, I have focused primarily on the first two ideas. When we think about it, however, the third purpose of becoming more Christlike is the one that actually helps us prove our faithfulness and grow and learn as disciples. As President Eyring taught:

“The Father’s plan of happiness has at its center our becoming ever more like His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. In all things, the Savior’s example is our best guide. He was not exempt from the need to prove Himself. He endured for all of Heavenly Father’s children, paying the price for all our sins. He felt the suffering of all who have and will come into mortality.”

When I study the life of Christ, it is easy to see that charity and empathy are always behind His actions. How many times do we talk about how He is the only one who knows and can relate to all of our pain and suffering? How many times did He reach out to and help others not only because of His compassion but also His empathy?

Even before performing His great gift of the Atonement, He had experienced many of the pains and suffering of those He lived with on earth. He had faced rejection and knew how the countless lepers and outcasts He healed felt. He had experienced the pain of losing someone He loved—His own cousin John the Baptist—and wept with Mary and Martha. He experienced loneliness, pain, cruelty, betrayal, and many of the other trials we still face today.

Of course, we know that because of His infinite Atonement, He also understands the pain and suffering that come with individual trials that He didn’t necessarily experience personally on earth. No matter how we look at it, He is the most empathetic Judge and Comforter.

When we go through challenges on earth, we are able to have a taste of this empathy in a small way as we begin to feel a loving connection to others who have faced similar struggles. While even shared experiences can impact people differently, it is much easier to understand and offer help when you’ve experienced a situation or feeling yourself. The more trials we have, the greater our love, empathy, and sympathy can grow, even for those whose challenges we haven’t experienced.

The Gift of Empathy

As I recently reflected on specific trials from my life, I thought about how these challenges have changed the way I interact with and care for others. These experiences, however difficult they felt at the time, have given me empathy and the ability to minister in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Experiencing loneliness and the challenges of being one of the older members of a young single adult ward gave me the ability to better connect with a single sister I was assigned to minister to years later in a family ward.

Experiencing the difficulty of adapting to lifestyle changes that come with a new food intolerance has made me more aware of others’ food needs and given me a more thoughtful perspective when planning food-related activities or delivering meals.

Experiencing having a premature baby in the NICU opened my eyes to a challenge I had too casually looked past when others experienced it and has allowed me to offer better support and advice and make friendships with other moms my path has crossed with since.

Having a child diagnosed with a serious disease has given me a greater desire to genuinely reach out and offer support to exhausted parents who have, out of necessity, become amateur doctors and nurses while caring for a child’s medical condition.

I consider the increased love I have for others and my now personal knowledge of what spoken or unspoken help might be needed most to be large blessings resulting from my trials—big or small.

Discovering Christlike Connection

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that nobody is ever truly alone in a trial. I think Satan’s greatest tool is to make us feel isolated, alone, and hopeless—feelings that can be countered quite often by knowing that someone else has been through some or all of what you have and understands your own pain on some level. Why else would so many of us turn to online support groups full of people who we feel understand our trial and who we can relate to?

Trials can teach us many things, such as patience, faith, endurance, and diligence. And while these results are often what we notice the most in the scriptures—with stories like Nephi’s mistreatment by his brothers, Abinadi’s dying testimony, and Alma and Amulek’s experiences with the wicked people of Ammonihah—we can also see evidence of Christlike empathy coming from trials.

For instance, think of Alma the Elder, who watched his son begin to walk the same wicked path he had walked as a priest of King Noah. I can’t help but believe that his own experiences added to the great love and concern he had for his son and his choices. And perhaps Ammon’s ability to serve and love King Lamoni and his servants came from his experience of feeling the love of God after he and his brothers spent so many years disobeying the commandments and mistreating those who believed in God.

Though it is always our goal to learn from and appreciate our trials as we are going through them, sometimes it is not until we look back that we recognize the good, just as I did with my scrapbook. It’s like when parents say, “One day, you’ll understand when you have kids of your own...” There are some things we simply cannot understand or relate to unless we have been through them, but once we do, it is like a light bulb of recognition and comprehension lights up, and we understand what others tried to tell us.

So, the next time a trial comes your way and you’re looking for something positive, try to think of how much more Christlike kindness, love, empathy, and wisdom you’ll have to share because of it.

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content