When I anguish over difficulties, the experiences only serve to weigh me down.
But remembering that these trials are part of the great plan of happiness helps me to see them as opportunities to grow and learn. Here on earth, there is a lot of joy, but there are also times of trial, misfortune, and grief.
A common misunderstanding among members of the Church is that if we strive with all our might to live the commandments, nothing bad will happen to us. We may believe if we are married in the temple, our marriage will automatically be heaven on earth, or if we live the Word of Wisdom, we will never get sick.
But the truth is that bad things may happen to the best of people. The consequences of good and bad actions will come, but they do not always come immediately, and they may not even come in this life. Much suffering comes as a direct result of sin. Other trials come as a result of unwise choices. For example, many people are burdened with financial debt because they choose to make purchases on credit rather than delay purchases until they can afford to pay in cash.
Yet other challenges come as a natural result of mortality and the world we live in.
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We are mortals with bodies that will age and may become ill or injured. As mortals, we try to assign fault for every situation. Often, we judge ourselves harshly, concluding that problems occur because of something we did wrong or because we failed to do something to prevent them.
As we consider the degree of our personal fault for the tribulations in our lives, it may be helpful to think of a continuum with sin at one end and adversity at the other.
Our degree of fault is high at the end of the spectrum marked as sin. We should accept responsibility for problems caused by sin by repenting and continually striving to do better. However, as we continue down the spectrum, our fault drops to zero at the end marked by adversity, where we may bear no responsibility at all. These trials may come to us regardless of any conscious action on our part. If we blame ourselves for things that are not our fault, we make a bad situation worse by seeing ourselves as bad people who deserve bad things.
It is difficult to judge our level of responsibility for problems that fall between these two ends of the spectrum.
In these cases, it may be unproductive to try to establish blame because it may cause us to lose focus on the very reason for the trial. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.
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All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire. Trials give us opportunities to show the Lord and ourselves that we will be faithful. We can allow adversity to lead us to drift away from the things that matter most, or we can use it as a stepping-stone to grow closer to things of eternal worth.
Spiritual growth can often be achieved more readily by trials and adversity than by comfort and tranquility. Since adversity will come to us all, consider the following ideas to help face trials and benefit from them. One of the purposes of trials is to help us come to know Christ, understand His teachings in our minds, feel them in our hearts, and live them in our lives.
When we turn to Christ, we will not only find the comfort we seek, but in so doing we will also gain an increased testimony of the reality of the Savior and His Atonement, which can heal all suffering. We often speak of the Atonement in terms of relief from sin and guilt. But the Atonement is more. Those who have seen Legends of the Fall know that, though Brad Pitt may be beautiful and the cinematography grand, Tristan has suffered incredible pain and loss in his life. In other words, he knows what it is to be pursued by wolves, to be constricted with razor wire that draws in upon him at every movement.
He knows what it is and so in a moment of his strength he responds, seeking to be a blessing to one in desperate need. At some times in our lives we, like Tristan Ludlow, experience confidence and strength. At other moments, we experience circumstances in life that affect us like emotional or spiritual barbed wire, and every attempt to struggle free only brings more pain.
We cannot be delivered by our own strength, and we must receive help from outside of ourselves. Remember, we are in good company! Jesus himself experienced both extremes, and he meets us in both extremes. When we are lost, Jesus seeks us to bring us home. When we are strong, he empowers us to become the bearers of his grace to the lost sheep. What an awesome responsibility! It is this of which the scribes and Pharisees wanted no part. It is this that they could not understand.
This is the faith into which I pray we will all live. It is also my prayer that we will ride out to the perimeter of our neighborhoods and this great city and seek those who are lost there, too, just as Tristan Ludlow rode to the very edge of his ranch. Some may over time have wandered from the flock. Others we meet may have never known the grace of a loving God at all. To everyone we meet, I pray we will offer a way home.
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Jesus himself goes with us, because he knows what it is to be lost and alone, just as he knows what it is to be strong. He goes with us. His love can snap any cord. It can heal all wounds. And it seeks us out when we are lost, even to the end of the earth. And for that, thanks be to God. One can almost hear the D.
I still remember the very first time I read this passage. That Jesus, meek and mild, would say such things confused me and brought me to tears. In a world in which hating one another seems ever more acceptable, in which disagreement becomes tantamount to a declaration of war, do we really need Jesus pushing us in that direction?
What does Jesus mean here? If ever a word study in New Testament Greek mattered, it does here. That is not what the word in Luke today means. Let me say that again: That is not what the word in Luke today means. So, what does Jesus mean, and is it important to us today? He has shown grace, love, and mercy when no one else would do so. He has denied custom; he has denied his family when they sought to silence him and bring him home; he has even denied the law whenever these things sought to stifle his words or actions of love and grace.
Ten chapters ago, the people of Nazareth among whom he was raised even attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff and shut him up permanently. At each turn, he must leave behind someone or something he has loved—and still loves—in order to be faithful. Two times. Discipleship—following Jesus—is exponentially more important to Jesus than belief. The Way Jesus proclaims and walks is not a way for him only. It is the Way anyone who claims Jesus is called to walk with him.
Try it sometime. Until Jesus meets them on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, he is a solitary preacher. Forever after, Jesus is rabbi with disciples.
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What would it have been like to be Peter, James, or John? In order to know that, we need to look at a mountain and a garden. On a different, earlier day, Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up that mountain, and on its summit they have a collective epiphany. Jesus is transfigured before them.