This is an edited version of a talk delivered at Brigham Young University on 7 June 1987.
No Joy without the Struggle03227_000_034
Each day as I read the newspaper or hear or see the news on radio or television, I am impressed with the many problems in the world—crime, accidents, sickness, natural and man-made disasters, hunger, poverty. All these problems may lead us to believe that nothing good occurs.
Of course, that isn’t true. Every day great events happen all around us—acts of heroism, courage, faith, determination, and commitment—things that may not seem newsworthy but that are significant nonetheless. How wonderful it is that people can overcome discouragement, rise above personal loss, and move forward, gaining a victory when defeat had appeared to be certain!
It is normal for each of us to become discouraged at times. But we need to recognize that we are not the only ones who have problems and to learn to support one another.
It is easy to look at others and think their lives are serene and trouble-free and to feel sorry for ourselves. When I worked with the Lambda Delta Sigma sorority several years ago, one of our national officers was a young woman named Diane. Another young woman who was struggling with a lot of problems expressed her feelings to me: “None of you has any problems. Look at Diane. Diane is perfect; she has everything going for her.”
As she said those words, I inwardly reflected on Diane’s life. She had lost her sister to cancer—the sister who, with her children, had been Diane’s only living relatives. Diane’s mother had preceded Diane’s sister in death just a couple of years earlier, and Diane’s father had died while Diane was a child. Since her sister’s two children were motherless, Diane had quit her job at the Church Office Building to take care of those preschool children full-time. She lost all of her benefits—retirement, seniority, everything—in order to care for them. She cared for those children for a year and a half until her brother-in-law remarried and could again provide nurturing care for them at home.
I thought, “This young woman does not see at all what Diane has gone through.” Sometimes we need to recognize that others have problems, the same as we do, and that the purpose of this life is to be tested and to experience both joy and sorrow.
In anguish of soul, at one of the most difficult periods of his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith cried to the Lord from Liberty Jail, and received this answer:
“If thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? …
“Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:7–9.)
Few of us will ever pass through such adversity, but we all need our Father’s comfort and counsel many times in our lives. I remember one particular day I needed it, when I was living in the San Diego mission home as companion to my mission president husband.
It was time to bid one group of missionaries good-bye and to welcome and train new ones. Food needed to be prepared, linens needed to be changed, and laundry needed to be done. The home was crowded—full to overflowing. I was supposed to give the missionaries an encouraging, inspirational talk, but I felt pressured, even desperate.
I found a quiet corner and prayed almost out loud to Heavenly Father, asking what I should do about all these responsibilities. “There is no time to prepare,” I said. “Please help me.”
I suppose I expected sympathetic words. Instead, I received the message, “This is not your time, but my time.” I knew then that I should rely on the Lord and I would receive help from him.
Thereafter, I began my scripture study in earnest, making it my first priority. I am so grateful now for that inspiration. I received great solace and comfort as I read the Book of Mormon. I found guidance in Alma 37:35–37:
“Learn wisdom … to keep the commandments of God.
“Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep, and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
I have put these verses to the test and bear witness that they are true. If we rely on the Lord, live his gospel, converse with him daily, and are obedient to his teachings, he will provide the way for us to accomplish his work. This lesson continues to bless me and to bear me up.
Our Heavenly Father is our Father, and he is watching over us, looking after us, guiding and directing us. He will be there to help us if we have questions, problems, and trials. We need but go to him.
The gospel helps us put things in their proper perspective—to see the eternal nature of things and, through faith, to overcome our problems and recognize that many of them are blessings in disguise. Sometimes those who have suffered the greatest tragedies in life come to recognize that even those tragedies have brought them great growth and development.
What we need in our trials is faith to overcome. A number of years ago, a man in our community impressed me with his testimony. He was a convert from Ireland who had joined the Church against his family’s wishes. They had disowned him and had never spoken to him again.
Tragedy seemed to follow him. His first child developed a serious illness that left him five thousand dollars in debt—a huge sum at that time. Not long after this, the man’s bishop met with him and sixty other faithful members of the ward to tell them that they needed to raise thirty thousand dollars immediately. When the bishop asked which of them could contribute substantially, the man’s faith wavered momentarily, but his wife quickly held up his hand. They made their contribution, and the windows of heaven were opened. Somehow he was able to pay his debts as well. He recounted to me that great blessings had come to him because he was faithful.
My friend Barbara Richards is an example of faithfulness in tribulation. When she was a student at Brigham Young University, she was involved in an automobile accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Let me share her story with you in her own words:
“Once I might have thought of paralysis only as a terrible tragedy, but after it became a part of my life I discovered it could also bring blessings. My paralysis introduced me to a whole new way of living, to many wonderful people, to a new assemblage of problems, adjustments, frustrations, tears, laughter, and joy. [It has taught me] an appreciation for myself as a person and as a child of God, appreciation for other people, and especially a love and appreciation for my Father in heaven. …
“I used to feel self-conscious wearing glasses. … I used to be embarrassed if I did a clumsy, awkward thing in public; and now clumsy was my middle name. … I had to learn to laugh so that others would feel at ease around me and I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. …
“I used to take so many things for granted, things like showering, kneeling to say prayers, dressing in a minute, getting places quickly. Now it is a challenge to do these once-simple things. …
“It took losing the use of my legs to make me start appreciating the physical body that I have. Now I became very grateful for a clear mind with which to think, ears to hear, eyes to see God’s beautiful world, hands that could do so many things.
“Although I can’t dance, hike, play volleyball or basketball anymore, I have found there are still many things I can do from a wheelchair. I can drive a car, swim better than before, play doubles in tennis, bowl, play catch in softball (nobody dares try to slide home), cook, sew … and do many other enjoyable things. …
“How grateful I have become for a family who loves me—for parents who have stood by without a complaint, without a moment’s hesitation, willing to give unselfishly of their time, money, and love. …
“Going back to Brigham Young University put me in a position where I had to rely on people to pull me up stairs, open doors, reach books, push me through the snow, etc. I became indebted to my understanding, patient, helpful, loving roommates and friends. … I was also fortunate to have instructors and professors who [helped] me when the physical facilities there limited my accomplishments. These instructors encouraged me when I was discouraged, helped me achieve in my studies, and were especially supportive while I worked to earn my degrees and my teaching certificate.” (Instructor, July 1970, pp. 244–45.)
Barbara became a physical education teacher. “I proved to myself and others that I could do a useful and productive job in society,” she said. “Because so many have done so much for me, I have learned how important it is to serve anyone in any way I can.
“Perhaps the greatest blessing which came from my ‘tragedy,’” she continues, “was the love and appreciation I developed for my Father in Heaven. … After my accident I had to depend completely on the Lord for the first time in my life. He became a real person with whom I could talk and who would help me solve the problems and make the adjustments that were to come. Without my understanding of God as my spiritual, loving, concerned Father, I would be in the same rut that I have seen so many others in—that of blaming God for my misfortune.
“If I had to choose one thing that helped me most in my adjustment it would be what Elder Harold B. Lee said in a blessing he gave me one Sunday in the hospital. ‘Barbara, the Lord loves you,’ he said. With this knowledge what more did I need (what more does anyone need!) to keep trying, to face the many adjustments that were to arise, to find reason and purpose in my life, to be happy, joyful and grateful for life, even in a wheelchair!” (Ibid.)
Barbara has been an influence for good in the lives of hundreds of young women. She has continued to set goals. She wanted to get a Ph.D.; and she achieved it. Being in a wheelchair presented weight problems. She set a goal to lose weight, and she did.
She now teaches at the University of Utah. When she talks about being self-conscious, I think about how I felt when I was growing up. We all have similar concerns about our appearance and about being appealing to those around us. But through this hard experience, Barbara learned something of the deeper and more meaningful values in life.
Jesus told us not to worry so much about ourselves. He said: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
“And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field. …
“And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field … shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? …
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:27–33.)
I am impressed that Barbara recognizes all the good things done for her by her friends and relatives—and particularly by her Father in Heaven. She realizes that she must reciprocate and give service to those about her. She has also learned the importance of having a testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love.
The Lord loves all of us and will help and guide us, if we will let him. How reassuring that knowledge is, and how helpful when our lives seem difficult!
I have another good friend named Geneva Brown. She has been a great inspiration to me. A number of years ago she became afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Her health steadily deteriorated, confining her to a wheelchair. It would have been easy for her to give up, but that is not her nature. Despite her illness, she has shown more determination than ever to keep busy.
How easy it would have been for her to refuse a calling in the Church—even to be a visiting teacher. Certainly, she had an excuse. But it was not her nature to quit. She learned to drive a car with special controls, and she and her companion would go visiting teaching. When she arrived at the home of the sister to be visited, a beep of the horn would bring the sister out of her home, to sit in the backseat and be taught. Neighbors, seeing the fun, would come out of their homes and join them until there was a carful! Many have been lifted by this wonderful woman who is willing to go the extra mile.
We might ask, “If God is a kind, loving Father, why does he allow his children to suffer?” We must remember that he does not bring hardships upon us, but that this life is our test and all of such things “shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.” (See D&C 122:7.)
We grow and develop spiritually by what we experience. If there were no sadness, we would not know joy; without bitterness, we would not recognize sweetness. We need opposition in order to progress. If all our prayers were answered to our satisfaction, there would never be any sickness, untimely deaths, unpleasant events, or poverty. But there would be no growth, either; the purpose of our creation would be frustrated. It is in the furnace of trial and adversity that we forge celestial character and find true joy.
A couple of summers ago, my husband and I went on a trip down the Danube River and across the Black Sea to Istanbul. Each day there were excursions into various eastern European countries. Some of the excursions were quite taxing and required a lot of walking. A number of the tourists grumbled constantly. It was too hot, or it was too cold, or there was too much walking. There was too much time between meals, they complained, or they thought the meals weren’t very good, and so on.
But we were impressed by the cheerful disposition of one particular woman on the ship. We never heard her complain about anything, and she was always smiling. Each day as we watched her, we would hear her exclaim happily over things that delighted her. She was a joy to be around, lifting the spirits of all who associated with her.
What was even more impressive was that she walked with difficulty and with a cane. In visiting with her, we learned that, some time ago, she had been in an accident requiring the amputation of a leg. One of her legs was artificial.
Certainly she must have gone through many agonizing moments wondering why such a calamity had befallen her. Undoubtedly, at some point, she had realized that a person can be as happy as she wants to be.
Life is full of frustrations and challenges, and often we feel inadequate to deal with them. It is important that we recognize where help lies. A courageous divorced sister with the responsibility of raising six children wrote, “Gradually I am coming to realize that God is as close or closer to us when we don’t feel good as when we do. … He relates to each of us intimately, personally, and with unvarying attention. We only need to ask. He is unchanging, eternal, and immovable in His tenderness, His forgiveness, His absolute love. … We can call on Him for guidance, comfort, and support. We can feel His arms about us, His smiling eyes encouraging us, at any moment, no matter how stupid or inept or impatient or selfish we may have been.” (Frances Warden, Single Sheet, Utah Valley Single Adults, Jan. 1987.) He will be there.
When we are in the midst of the gale, we need to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news and that we are blessed to have a knowledge of it. We need to count our blessings constantly. We have food, clothing, and shelter. We have opportunities to learn, develop our talents, and progress. We have friends and associates whom we love and who love and care about us. We have the knowledge of God’s plan for us. What more could we ask?
On this subject, I’d like to share with you a poem that was written by Leila Grace Bassford, called “The Prerequisite.”
(Single Sheet, Utah Valley Single Adults, Jan. 1987.)
The Apostle Paul knew the importance of pressing on in the face of adversity. He wrote, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 3:13–14.) We can find joy in any struggle as we exercise faith in Christ and press toward the mark.
Our Heavenly Father loves us! Jesus Christ is our hope. As we lose ourselves in their service, they will help us overcome our difficulties and obtain eternal life.