Latter-day Saint Life

Lessons from Abraham and Sarah: How suffering can help us be happy


We all have difficult, challenging, painful experiences in life. Though never pleasant, these experiences can teach us perspective, love, humility, endurance, patience, and ultimately how to be more like God.

Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah. These two faithful individuals endured what seemed like never-ending setbacks and suffering. God sent Abraham away from his homeland to a new promised land. What was the result? Abraham and Sarah discovered a land languishing in famine. Abraham and Sarah moved on to Egypt, only to have Sarah kidnapped. In the very chapter (Genesis 12) where God had promised Abraham and Sarah land and posterity, they seemed to lose both their promised land and their promised posterity. Why would God challenge and test Abraham and Sarah like this, especially when they had done their best to show diligent obedience to God?

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The answer might simply be because they become more Godlike in the striving, in the hoping, in the expecting, in the acting, and ultimately in the receiving of God’s good gifts as He fulfills His promises to them after they faithfully endured suffering and trials.

For some perspective let’s consider the origin of several words. The Latin root word sub means “under.” The Latin word fer means “to carry” (think of words like “ferry” or even “Christofer/Christopher” which means “bearer of Christ”). Thus, the word “suffer” means to be “carried under.”

This makes a lot of sense, considering that suffering can metaphorically feel like drowning in difficulty.

The beautiful part of this definition of suffering, however, comes in the antidote: succoring. We read in Alma 7:11-12, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (emphasis added).

This antidote becomes a powerful message of hope and symbol of love when we learn that succor means “to run underneath” or to “flow underneath.”

In other words, no matter how far you have been carried under, Jesus has descended below all and He flows under you to support you. At all times. In all places.

God will always be there. Will there be pain? Yes. And sometimes it may seem that each ounce of suffering is another painfully deep scoop from your soul. But it is this depth that allows us to experience a greater depth of Christ’s Atonement.

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God's love is infinite. He will fill you to fullness. The deeper you've been carved by suffering, the deeper and more profound your love and joy can be. This does not mean we seek out suffering, pain, difficult experiences, or that somehow the pain of suffering is not real because we know that we are gaining God-like depth, but it does mean that we may not be aware of how much depth we are capable of surviving with God. The stunning reality is that ultimately it is our choice, our radical agency, that determines whether our pain and suffering invite deeper love or hardened bitterness.

When we remember that no matter how far under we’ve been pulled in our drowning suffering, Jesus has descended even further so that He can flow underneath us, run below us, and support us every step of the way as we are carved into the spiritual image of God.

Looking for more on this topic? Try For Times of Trouble by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

For Times of Trouble

In this tender book, For Times of Trouble, Elder Holland explores dozens of scriptural passages from the psalms, offering personal ideas and insights and sharing his testimony that "no matter what the trouble and trial of the day may be, we start and finish with the eternal truth that God is for us." Elder Holland's reflections on the psalms provide a powerful witness of that comforting truth.

This article was originally published by LDS Living in January 2018.

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