I have reflected on this topic over the last 6 months as it's the basis of my new book. There is so much to consider when thinking about patience and faith in the Lord. It's astounding. There's just not enough time to cover it all in a Sunday lesson, so I was excited to come home and write about it here.
Elder Hales says, "I have often pondered, Why is it that the Son of God and His holy prophets and all the faithful Saints have trials and tribulations, even when they are trying to do Heavenly Father’s will? Why is it so hard, especially for them? ....I think of our pioneer forebears, driven from Nauvoo and crossing the plains, exercising their agency to follow a prophet even as they suffered sickness, privation, and some even death. Why such terrible tribulation? To what end? For what purpose?"
I searched for thoughts on this from my Great, Great, Great, Grandmother Elizabeth Oakden Whitaker who was a pioneer and crossed the plains. In her biography (speaking about the prophet Brigham Young during the winter of 1854 in Utah) she said, "There was much sickness among the people that winter, including Brigham and his family. Some thought this strange, that he should be ill, being their leader and appointed by God as it were. But he responded: 'All our sufferings in this life are for our good, that we may learn the contrast between good and evil. Jesus descended below all things that He might rise above all things. All men who receive the same glory must abide the same law. Some are alarmed because so many of my family are sick. I have as good a right to be sick as anybody. I do not wish to escape affliction, sickness, pain or sorrow, any more than others wish to escape them; for if we make a right use of them, they will return to us in blessings.'"
How true is that? Great men of God, prophets and leaders from history and the scriptures all suffered pains and afflictions. Moses, Job, Abinadi, Joseph Smith, (to name a few) and the Savior Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, Christ suffered all the sins of the world. So much was His pain and suffering that God sent an angel to help strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). We are told to try our best to be like the Savior from modern day prophets and from the Savior (3 Nephi 27:27). If we want to be like Him then we must experience trials and tribulations, pain and suffering.
So, why do bad things happen to good people? Elder Hales states, "These mortal challenges allow us and our Heavenly Father to see whether we will exercise our agency to follow His Son."
I often think back to a time I don't remember yet the Spirit confirms to me. A time before I came to this earth. I know that we were shown many of the trials and challenges we would have when we came to this world. How could we use our agency to accept this earthly experience if we did understand what it would entail for us? We knew it would not be easy but we understood that it was necessary in order to return to live with our Father and Heaven and to become like Him. In fact, we agreed to many of the trials we would have because we understood how those specific trials would strengthen us in ways that we needed. We did not know how it would feel to experience our challenges with the veil covering our spiritual memory while in mortal bodies but we were anxious to come here nonetheless.
Now that we are here experiencing life's challenges, we have forgotten what we once knew before we came here. It becomes much easier to slip away into despair and hopelessness. Much easier to think, "Why has God abandoned me?" "Why doesn't He answer my prayers?" "Why does He allow me to suffer such pains?" When we search out and ponder through scripture and prayer the eternal perspective of all things, then and only then, it becomes much easier to think, "God has helped me endure this trial - He loves me." "Yes, this is hard, but I feel God's love for me." "These trials are only temporary, as this life is temporary - I will endure."
When I leave this life and am greeted by loved ones on the other side, and the veil is lifted..I know my memory will come back and I will remember accepting those trials and challenges before I came to Earth. I will then understand much better how those trials were supposed to benefit me. I will be sad if there were trials that caused me to give up or lose hope. I will rejoice if I endured them and held onto my faith. I will see and learn how my trials helped others around me that I may not have realized at the time (it gave others opportunities to serve me) and understand how great God truly is. I will also see how angels from Heaven came and helped me in hours when I may have felt alone or overwhelmed. I will see how my prayers were answered - each and every one, even if in this life I may have felt that some were not. My eyes will be opened and I will understand. Because I experienced those challenges in the spirit and the flesh, my understanding will be perfected and my knowledge increased. Thus, becoming more like my Father.
As a parent, I allow my children to experience certain trials and challenges for their good. Though I feel sorrow for them when they suffer, I rejoice when they endure and are strengthened. My children want to be like me and I want them to experience the joys and challenges of parenthood someday. I know in order for them to be great parents and great leaders they must experience trials and challenges to prepare them and strengthen them. As it is with out Father in Heaven. He has been there and he understands. He allows us to experience adversity so that we might understand and appreciate joy. That we may really understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. That we are given opportunities to exercise our agency to follow the Savior or Satan. He must stand back and allow us to utilize our free agency even when it pains Him at the choices we make. He loves us enough to let us choose for ourselves. Do we choose to hold onto faith and endure or to give up? No matter what we choose He will always love us - that's how great He is.
That is what gives me hope and helps me through difficult times in my life. Remembering this eternal perspective. Not only do our trials and sufferings benefit us in the end, they also benefit many around us. How could we be a shoulder to lean on for others if we have not been in their shoes at times and understand what they are going through? Trails help us to reach out to others who are experiencing similar trials and love them and lift them up.
I have to say I must be grateful for adversity in my life because I wouldn't be who I am today without it. If life was free of challenges or trials we would not learn and grow. Heaven will be free of pain and suffering and life will be eternal. When we return to our real home, our Heavenly home, this life will have seemed just like a day at school. We will return home from school greeted by those we love.
Now we must remember that God does not require us to understand the purpose of our trials or His will. This makes sense for greater trials such as the death and suffering of a loved one or the abuse of an innocent child. We might think, "Why did God allow this to happen?" Remember that God would cease to be God if he did not allow all men free agency. Thus, if a man chooses evil, often God will allow those actions to take place so that this man might be held accountable for his actions and evil desires of his heart. He will be judged accordingly by God and all things will be made fair. God's justice is true justice. Sometimes God intervenes and spares a life or a terribly incident from happening. Again, we are not required to understand God's will just to trust it. In the end all things will be made fair and we will understand. If we were abused, our pain will be taken away and we will be perfected in the Savior. Remember, Jesus Christ experienced all of our pain. We can find peace and healing in Him.
I truly believe that when we pass away we are given the opportunity to accept dying. If we truly feel we are not ready to die I don't believe God would force that upon us. However, if it is God's will and once on the other side we have that spiritual ability to understand God's will and how we might be needed by Him on the other side we might choose to accept our passing. It might be that we are able to help our loved ones on Earth better from the other side as we have a better understanding and ability to help them. It also might be that we agreed to a certain task or mission before we came to earth that needed to be fulfilled at that time on the other side.
I also believe that those who do not survive horrific tragedies, are relieved from having to experience the pains of death. I believe that the spirit leaves the body before the pain is felt. Thus, that spirit is greeted by loved ones and feels the warmth of the Savior's love. Their understanding is increased and they are happy where they are. They are home and wait to greet us when it's our turn.
As we go through this life and encounter struggles (as we all will) remember that we are not humans having a spiritual experience we are spirits having a human experience. We must learn patience, humility, love and charity. That is why we are here. We must learn to be like our Savior. It will not be easy but it will be worth it. Again, it may not make sense to us now and sometimes that lack of understanding creates anger and resentment. Don't allow yourself to be angry at God. Trust Him, pray to Him and never cease. He will send angels to help you whether they be earthly angels or from Heaven. If we go to Him, talk to Him, plead unto Him and wait upon Him - we will find peace. We may not get the answer we want or when we want them, but we will find peace.
In the meantime remember that trials bring us to our knees which means they help us become closer to our Father in Heaven.
In regards to things that we have been praying for, for quite some time Elder Hales says, "In my life I have learned that sometimes I do not receive an answer to a prayer because the Lord knows I am not ready. When He does answer, it is often “here a little and there a little" because that is all that I can bear or all I am willing to do...Too often we pray to have patience, but we want it right now!
Our children wait upon us to show patience, love, and understanding toward them. Our parents wait upon us to show gratitude and compassion. Our brothers and sisters wait upon us to be tolerant, merciful, and forgiving. Our spouses wait upon us to love them as the Savior has loved each one of us."I'd like to add that even our Father in Heaven waits upon us. When we become distant from Him or we fall of the straight and narrow path, He still loves us and He patiently waits. We may not always choose things that are pleasing to Him but He never gives up on us. Let's not give up on Him.
To help us be patient, it's always good to take our minds off our own problems and focus on others. By serving others our burdens can be lightened. In addition to that, good music, uplifting books, and positive activities can help us find the strength to keep going and allow opportunities for the Spirit to speak to us and give us answers that we need. Sometimes we pray for answers and then forget to listen for them.
It is my prayer that we will all strive to wait upon the Lord as best we can. That we may never lose hope or faith. I know that by doing so, we will be blessed! I say this in the name of Jesus Christ amen.