Hundreds of crises happen every day. We hear of them on the radio, see them on television, and observe them among our friends and neighbors. Resolving the crises may seem easy—especially if they belong to someone else. But when the problems are ours, resolving them becomes much more difficult.
In my own struggles, and when others who are struggling have asked for my counsel, I have found that it is a great help to understand a few specific concepts. Understanding these concepts will not ease our pain or suffering, nor will they make the trials go away, but they can strengthen us.
The first concept we need to understand in order to survive our trials is that the Lord wants us to be happy in this life as well as in the life hereafter. Lehi reminded his children, after years of hardship in the wilderness and on the ocean, that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)
Joseph Smith, who experienced much hardship, wrote that “happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976, pages 255–56.)
Although in this life we will experience sorrow, injustice, and unhappiness, the Lord does not expect us to drift through life passively submitting to conditions that bring us misery. We must understand that the gospel has the power to bring joy into our lives now, not just in the hereafter.
The second concept we need to understand is that trials and tests are an essential part of the plan of salvation. They help prepare us for exaltation in eternity. Just as Joseph of Egypt, Moses, Job, Joseph Smith, and even the Savior himself were tried and tested, we, too, must be tested. Spiritual strength and maturity come from overcoming opposition. (See 2 Ne. 2:11–29.) It is as Orson F. Whitney said:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” (As quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, in Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, page 98.)
While on a lecture tour some time ago, I noticed that one of the other lecturers had attended my discussion on adversity for three consecutive days. After the third lecture, she told me, “I’m concerned that I’ve never had a real trial or test in my life. It’s almost frightening to think about it.”
We talked for a while about the fact that we have no control over when trials come to us, only over how we respond to them. I said that we need not seek trials; over a lifetime, we will have our share of them. And although we have been assured that the Lord will not require more of us than we are capable of handling (see 1 Cor. 10:13), we need to prepare by gaining a good understanding of the Lord’s plan and develop a faith that can carry us through our crises.
Little did this good woman realize how soon she would be faced with a tremendous test. Only a few months later, she and her husband stood at the side of a small coffin containing the body of their only son. As her friends mourned the death of the infant, killed in an unexpected farm accident, this woman was the one who lifted their spirits. She and her husband sorrowed, but they did not blame God or others or react bitterly. Rather, they displayed a quiet strength born of the Spirit.
The third concept we must understand is related to this woman’s experience. We will be able to handle our crises more effectively if we build a strong sure testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel. Elder Marion D. Hanks of the First Quorum of the Seventy has written, “We shall not fully avoid tribulation and trial, separation and sorrow, distress and difficulty. But through faith and understanding and courage we may truly ‘prosper’ in the Spirit of the Lord.” (In Messages of Inspiration, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957, page 319.)
If we have built our testimony on the rock of the gospel, we can have the assurance that our crises will help us more than hinder our growth.
A fourth concept we should understand is that many people suffer needlessly because they have not identified the real reasons for their crises. Some people mistakenly feel that all their problems are the result of sins that have been committed. Others place the blame at God’s feet and turn from him in bitterness. Before we can deal with the tribulation effectively, therefore, we must determine its causes.
Most crises fit into one of five categories: (1) natural disasters, (2) sickness and pain, (3) the mistakes of others, (4) our own sin and wickedness, or (5) tests and trials ordained of God. We cannot always separate or identify the causes of our crises. But recognizing that they may have come to us for reasons beyond our control can relieve us of feelings of guilt and encourage us to turn to God for help.
Many of our crises come to us as a result of living in a world where accidents happen and where physical law operates. It is a terrible mistake to think that all, or even many, of the earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other natural disasters result from the sins of the victims.
Disease, too, afflicts everyone. It is as big a mistake to blame God for all sickness as it is to blame him for all natural disasters. It is true that some diseases can be the result of sinful activities, but most people become ill simply because the mortal body is subject to pain, disease, and death.
At other times, our misery is due to the actions of others. We may be injured by a drunk driver, victimized by a criminal, or abused by the powerful. The Savior taught that the innocent would be offended (see Matt. 18:6–7), but he also taught us not to return the evil (see Matt. 5:38–44). Instead, we need to be like Jacob’s son Joseph. Even though he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he still loved and forgave them. He was willing to accept his situation and move on, and many years later, he understood how the harm done to him had helped to advance the Lord’s purposes. He may also have understood that a bitter, unforgiving heart can eventually harm us more than the original offense.
Although we often suffer for reasons not of our own doing, there still are times when the sorrow we feel is a consequence of our own mistakes and our own sins. If the misery we suffer is because of our sins, there are choices we can make that will restore our happiness. We can repent. Rationalization, self-justification, and rebellion might temporarily give us feelings of relief and success, but they do not provide the cure. That cure is found only in coming to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, seeking forgiveness.
The final concept is perhaps the most important: We need to realize that help is available and we need to seek it. Few, if any of us, are capable of handling a severe crisis without help. When confronted with crises, we need to know that the Lord will strengthen and guide us if we turn to him. This is, after all, one of the basic themes of the scriptures.
I once had an experience that taught me the importance of going to the Lord for help. It was in January 1952, during the Korean conflict. My battalion had been firing our guns for many hours. Eventually, there was a break, and we laid down in our bunker to get some rest. Soon I was fast asleep.
The next thing I knew, a mail clerk stood over me, thrusting a letter from my bishop into my hand. I learned that my father had had surgery, and that his abdomen was filled with cancer. No one expected him to live more than two weeks. The bishop told me that arrangements had been made to fly me home and instructed me to contact the Red Cross.
I took the letter to a Red Cross representative, who verified the seriousness of my father’s condition. But by the time they had made contact, my father had passed away. I was informed that because he had already died, no useful purpose would be served by sending me home.
When I returned to my unit, they were in the middle of another firing mission. I felt angry and bitter and deeply hurt. Feeling desperate, I slipped off to a small grove of trees and dropped to my knees. I pleaded with the Lord to release me from those terrible feelings. Soon my whole bosom filled with the most peaceful feeling I had ever felt. It spread into my whole body, and I felt assured that all was well.
How helpful this experience was for me twenty years later when my wife and I stood outside an emergency room in our home town. We had waited for hours as several doctors examined our sixteen-year-old daughter. She had been in an automobile accident and had been seriously injured. Our bishop and his wife joined us, along with the stake president and his wife.
When a doctor stepped out of the X-ray room, his voice choked as he told us that our daughter’s spinal cord had been severed and that she would never walk again. My sweetheart and I embraced while she wept, “Oh, no, no!” Our friends wept with us.
Later, as we drove home, we wondered how we could break the news to our daughter. We wondered, too, whether it would have been better for our Heavenly Father to have taken her out of this life. A few hours later, we returned to the hospital. As I leaned over to explain to our daughter, I could not contain my tears.
She opened her eyes, thrust out her arms, and exclaimed, “Don’t cry, Daddy. Look, I’ve got my arms, I’ve got my heart, I’ve got my mind, and I have all eternity to run around in.”
What a great blessing to be members of Christ’s church! The scriptures and the gospel provide the insight and help we need to meet our crises. We have leaders who support and bless us emotionally, temporally, and spiritually. Most of all, our Heavenly Father assures and comforts us through the Holy Ghost. It was he who loved us so much that he permitted his Only Begotten Son to suffer unto death for our sins that we might return to him. (See John 3:14–17.) We can trust in God and his Son to help us.