Handling Life’s Unpredictable Situations


It was 1976, and the congregation waited expectantly as Elder Thomas S. Monson rose to announce the details of the formation of the London Ontario Stake. My twenty-month-old son had begun to fuss, so I quietly moved over against the side wall of the ultra-modern high school where the meeting was being held. Just as Elder Monson was about to announce the name of the stake president, a little hand innocently reached over my shoulder and pulled the fire-alarm handle.

Weeks later I received a letter from Elder Monson in response to the letter I had sent him apologizing for the disruption and expressing gratitude that the sprinkler system had not been activated. His response has often been a guide for me over the years. He told me to stop worrying about the incident, that no harm had been done. He reminded me to record in my son’s book of remembrance the story of the day when he “heralded in” the formation of the London Ontario Stake.

What immediate comfort I received from his gracious attitude! But more than that, I learned a valuable lesson about reacting to life’s unpredictable situations.

During times of severe trial—the loss of a dear friend or family member, the breakup of a marriage—we often find inner strength to face our problems. Friends rally around, prayers become more sincere, and everyday blessings, often taken for granted, are put into perspective. Because we have recommitted our lives to gospel principles, we rely more on the Savior for sustenance and as a result can face problems with Christlike qualities and a renewed spirit.

But I have come to understand that it is the little things—the incidents that happen to each of us daily—that let us demonstrate to our Father that we are progressing. The Lord has said, “We will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr. 3:25.) In light of this scripture, life’s little setbacks should be no surprise.

How do you react when … the car refuses to start thirty minutes before your granddaughter’s violin recital … the person in front of you in the supermarket checkout line sorts through endless cents-off coupons as the cashier waits—and waits … after working for days to plan a ward dinner, you also end up washing silverware until the wee hours of the morning because the cleanup crew forgot to show up … your six-year-old tells you, minutes before he leaves for school, that he needs three dozen cookies now … you and your spouse are just getting ready to leave for a date when the bottom of the hot-water tank gives way and deposits forty gallons of water on the utility room floor?

Elder Monson’s post-fire-alarm advice not only provided immediate comfort to me, but has also been a guide in helping me deal with similar unpredictable moments. From this incident, I’ve learned the following principles:

1. What’s done is done. We cannot change the past; we can only learn from it and look forward. How much time has been wasted through the ages by rehashing the past and dwelling on hurt feelings?

2. Guard against critical moments. When we’re inclined to complain, argue, raise our voices, or react in any way not in keeping with gospel teachings, we should stop. Just as we teach our children to stop, look, and listen when they cross the street, we should stop, look, and listen when we cross situations in life that try our patience, test our composure, or challenge our thinking.

Part of our Christmas tradition is to gather on Christmas Eve for a big family dinner. We prefer a fresh rather than a frozen turkey, and on this particular Christmas, my first in a new city, I found that it took some investigating to find out where I could get a fresh twenty-five-pound turkey that I could pick up early Christmas Eve morning. At the store early that morning, there was a little confusion—not uncommon when someone named Smith reserves something—but finally I got the large box and hurried home, which was some distance away.

The turkey had to go into the oven by 10:00 A.M. if it was to be ready for our 6:00 P.M. meal. With the dressing prepared, I opened the box at 9:30 only to discover that the turkey was frozen! I saw red. There was no time to thaw this bird—how could they have done this to me? I had fifteen people coming to dinner in less than nine hours! Anger, frustration, and the desire to blame someone welled up in me, and I picked up the phone and started to dial the store. I wanted to make someone else feel as bad as I did at that moment.

Then I stopped and told myself to calm down and think for a moment. What could the people at the store do about it? Whether or not it was a mistake was not important now. What was important was figuring out how I could feed fifteen hungry people. Even more critical was not to let such a little thing endanger my values and commitment to live a Christlike life. The incident turned out to be a momentary frustration. Even by the next day it didn’t matter. (We ate a delicious turkey dinner at the fashionable hour of 9:00 P.M.)

3. Work hard to find good in every situation. How easy it had been for Elder Monson to see something positive in what I had considered a disaster! Often we are too quick to find the bad in a situation when it would be just as easy to find the good.

Years ago, I had a visiting teaching companion who was also one of my best friends. Then, one day, I was handed a card that gave the name of my new companion. My first reaction? Disappointment. This was going to spoil all of our fun! My friend and I loved to do our visiting teaching together.

I didn’t even know who my new companion was. Then someone pointed her out to me from across the room. She was old—and I was even more disappointed.

My conclusion after several years of visiting teaching with this sister? Heavenly Father sent her into my life to bless me and my family with her wisdom, compassion, experience, and love. The experience has taught me to cherish new relationships, for each new friend can enrich our lives.

4. Strive to put life’s “wrinkles” into celestial perspective. When things don’t go right, test yourself with the question, “Is dwelling on this incident worth jeopardizing my relationship with my Father in Heaven?” We know that one of the major purposes of mortality is to discipline ourselves to keep our Heavenly Father’s commandments. How will we ever be able to live with him if we don’t cultivate the habit of thinking, speaking, acting, and reacting in harmony with him?

Several years ago, a sister who sang in our ward choir was asked to sing a solo in sacrament meeting. She was nervous about the new experience but accepted the assignment and looked upon it as an opportunity to stretch herself and her talents. That morning, when the chapel was particularly full because of visitors attending a local convention, she was even more fearful and restless. Her anxiety grew to fright, then dread. Her rendition was loud and, for the most part, off-key. The sister was devastated and refused to come to church for several months. Only when she could put the incident into perspective as just one of life’s unfortunate experiences could she put it behind her.

Our Father in Heaven has sent us here to have joy. Although he did not say that this life would be easy, he did give us internal resources so that we wouldn’t be bowled over by the normal difficulties, obstacles, and frictions of life. May we endure joyfully both the big challenges and the little disappointments of life so that we, too, may be “heralded in” to His presence.

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus

Terry Smith, a manager of human resource development, is a Gospel Doctrine teacher and Relief Society compassionate service leader in the Montreal Ward, Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake.