Viewpoint: Stare Down Defeat through Christ

Contributed By Church News

  • 9 July 2017

All must endure hardship and trouble—but victory is assured when we exercise Christ-inspired hope and resilience.

“Find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family. One day each of us will run out of tomorrows.” —President Thomas S. Monson

Did you read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in high school or college?

If so, then you likely remember the book’s high seas tale of the aging fisherman Santiago and his fight against time, the elements, and plenty of hungry sharks as he tries to reel in a majestic marlin.

It's a great adventure—the sort of book that even kids who don’t really want to be in English class will likely read from beginning to end.

But like all great works of literature (including the scriptures), The Old Man and the Sea evolves even as its reader matures. A particular line of, say, character dialogue might seem meaningless to a 17-year-old reader, but that same passage becomes defining and essential when encountered by the same reader decades later.

A classic tale with a relevant lesson

A brief summary of the novel:

Santiago’s luck has turned cold. He’s gone months without catching a fish. But he remains undaunted and confident he will soon land the big one. He is old, tired, and lonesome—but at night he still dreams of the powerful lions he witnessed as a young man when his life knew no limits.

One day Santiago ventures far out to sea and utilizes his time-honed skills to hook a marlin. He lands the great fish following an exhausting battle. His luck has changed. But as he makes the voyage home a seemingly endless wave of sharks devour his prize catch.

When Santiago finally reaches the shore his once glorious marlin has been reduced to bones. He is left to stumble back to his home, alone and seemingly defeated.

A ray of hope

If Hemingway had ended The Old Man and the Sea at that moment, it would be a bitter read. But instead the author offers a nugget of hope. In the book’s final passages, Santiago promises a young friend that they will soon fish together. He then falls asleep and once again visits the lions of his youth.

Santiago may be an unlucky fisherman, but for older readers in particular he is a hero of resilience, rejuvenation, and hope.

“But man is not made for defeat,” says Santiago at one point. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Resilience in the face of trials

Disciples of Christ are not promised trouble-free lives. Even the most devout follower will know obstacles and trials. Some will face health or financial challenges. Others will know the pain of watching loved ones make dangerous choices.

But a follower of Christ is assured victory if, in Santiago-like fashion, he or she remains hopeful and resilient.

As Paul exhorted his beloved friend Timothy: “Therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).

The New Testament Apostle promises that rewards await those who serve the Lord, even amid trouble. “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

A shining example of perseverance

President Thomas S. Monson became an Apostle more than a half-century ago. In those years he has witnessed joyous and victorious moments. But he has not escaped personal trials. He has known health challenges and pain. He knows loneliness. Four years ago, President Monson lost his beloved wife and partner, Sister Frances J. Monson.

Today, age and illness prevent the Church’s 16th President from serving with the level of vigor that has defined his ministry. But his prophetic words about facing down defeat remain relevant and clear.

In his talk titled “Finding Joy in the Journey” at the October 2008 general conference, President Monson challenged Latter-day Saints to “relish life” even during life’s struggles.

“Find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family. One day each of us will run out of tomorrows.”

He reflected on the passages of his own life as he and Sister Monson watched their three children grow, leave home, and then have children and grandchildren of their own.

“Day by day, minute by minute, second by second we went from where we were to where we are now. The lives of all of us, of course, go through similar alterations and changes. The difference between the changes in my life and the changes in yours is only in the details. Time never stands still; it must steadily march on, and with the marching come the changes.

“This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.”

Pushing through difficulty

Gratitude in Christ and His atoning love, he added, offer a sustaining path to victory.

“I pray that all of us will reflect gratitude for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His glorious gospel provides answers to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where does my spirit go when I die?

”He taught us how to pray. He taught us how to serve. He taught us how to live. His life is a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved.

“The time came when He stood alone. Some Apostles doubted; one betrayed Him. The Roman soldiers pierced His side. The angry mob took His life. There yet rings from Golgotha’s hill His compassionate words, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’”

Yes, we can follow Christ and stare back defeat.

“Let us emulate His example,” concluded President Monson. “Let us obey His word. By so doing, we give to Him the divine gift of gratitude.”