If my siblings had sold me into slavery, I’m absolutely certain I would feel more than a little angry and a lot betrayed! Yet this didn’t seem to be the case with Joseph of old, whose brothers did sell him into slavery. Much later, when Joseph’s opportunity for revenge arrived, those years of affliction had given him perspective on what mattered most. After Joseph identified himself to his brothers, his sensitivity to their concerns revealed his understanding of the purpose of his affliction: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).
Joseph was a great man partly because he could recognize opportunity in affliction. Few of us have been sold into slavery, but all of us have experienced affliction. Do we recognize opportunities in our affliction?
In 1997 my husband was called to preside over the England London South Mission; we began our missionary service in July. Many things were new to me. Embarking on our first round of zone conferences, I hoped to get to know our missionaries, and I hoped they would get to know me. July 11 found us on the stand in the Maidstone stake center chapel for a conference with 75 missionaries.
As we sang the opening hymn, I was suddenly overcome with nausea and dizziness. I turned to my husband and told him I was sick. My husband, an ear doctor, noticed an abnormal jerking in my eyes. He quickly summoned two missionaries to help me out of the meeting and into a classroom. What an awful introduction! Becoming sicker by the minute, I received a priesthood blessing from my husband and a faithful missionary and was then taken to the mission home. Every bump in the road and motion of the car worsened the queasiness and vertigo I felt. Soon I had completely lost my sense of balance and could no longer hear in one ear. Medical tests indicated a probable inner ear blood clot and the possibility of never regaining my balance or the hearing in my right ear.
I was scared, worried, and angry. While I believed my husband and I had been called of God, I wondered, “How can I assist the Lord in this great work if I cannot hear or even walk?” With no other family members or close friends to turn to for help, I felt completely alone. I needed a miracle. Believing I had done God’s will in accepting callings and trying to do what was right, I pleaded with Him to make me well. I was sure I had sufficient faith for a miracle.
With treatment, my balance gradually improved. But the hearing in my right ear did not return, leaving me deaf in that ear. This made me feel more discouraged. Why me? I was serving a mission for three years! Did I deserve this? Unlike Joseph, I did not view this affliction as an opportunity for good. I was more like Joseph’s brothers who, upon finding their money in their grain sacks and fearing an evil stratagem, wondered, “What is this that God hath done unto us?” (Gen. 42:28).
I had forgotten that the same Lord who can turn water into wine can make our weak things strong (see Ether 12:27), that “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory” (D&C 98:3).
Nine years later, with my own deeper perspective, I realize that countless blessings have come from those afflictions in England. For example, like Joseph of old, I was imprisoned—not by bars but by vertigo—in a land far from the help of my extended family. But just as Joseph found support from friends, I found support from my fellow missionaries. Senior couples whom we had barely met came to the mission home and assisted me with my responsibilities to greet arriving missionaries and bid farewell to those departing.
When you hear with only one ear, understanding others when they speak can be extremely difficult, especially if they are on your bad-ear side. By necessity I have become a better listener as I focus more directly on those speaking to me. Looking directly at them helps me better grasp what they are saying and sense what they are feeling.
Partially losing my hearing has helped me develop patience for others, especially those with disabilities. It has helped me find faith to accept affliction. It has given me clarity to realize that instant, miraculous cures are not always the Lord’s will. In fact, sometimes just the opposite is true.
Would I want to go through this experience again? No. Yet has my soul been stretched and expanded from this and other challenges like it? Absolutely. Of course, while the growth has come, my hearing has not; the residue of affliction often remains. What then?
In February 2002 I was sitting across the desk from President Gordon B. Hinckley. He asked, “Bonnie, how is your health?” I answered that my health was fine, although I could not hear in my right ear because I had lost that hearing in the mission field. He then asked, “How is the hearing in your other ear?” “Fine,” I said. “Well, then,” he replied, “just turn your head.” He then proceeded to issue my current call. President Hinckley understands the principle of doing the best with what we have and making adjustments when we need to compensate.
While afflictions are never easy, all of them can give us experience and can be for our good (see D&C 122:7). To grasp those blessings, we might need to turn our heads, lean a little closer, or listen a little better. Yet in those small, humble efforts, we will find that His grace is sufficient (see Ether 12:27).