As the Jaredites prepared to cross the ‘great waters’ towards their promised land, God promised that He would protect them, but warned that they would still experience the ‘mountain waves’, winds, and floods; they would be ‘swallowed up in the depths of the sea’ (Ether 2: 24+25). He provided the design of their vessels, light and instructions for the long journey. Once upon the ocean, ‘they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind’ – a ‘furious wind’ caused by the Lord to blow them towards their destination. Yet God did, as He had promised, bring them up again, and their barges were able to withstand everything.
Tempestuous forces, rolling upon us by day and by night, drive us toward our high destiny and do not relent in their commission to deliver us back in the divine presence.
However, their force is neither lesser nor greater than it must be to accomplish the Work. Elder Richard G. Scott explains:
“Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Proverbs 3:11-12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get from where you are to where He wants you requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain…. Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love.” (‘Trust in the Lord’, Conference talk, October 1995)Light in the Wilderness, by Catherine Thomas, Digital Legend Press (2010), p. 4
While I don’t think that God actually gives us all of our trials, or even most of them, He does allow us to experience them. (I think that what might actually happen is that He prevents certain things from happening which we couldn’t endure, but which we don’t know about.) Knowing that what we see and what God sees are very different things can help us understand the meaning of these trials better.
When we’re experiencing something unpleasant, we feel both the injustice of it and its natural consequences. My struggle with insomnia, for example, involves mental and physical fatigue, and all the things which come from that (including easily-triggered frustration and being drained excessively by exertion), and the feelings I have around that – the sense of deep unfairness, sorrow for what cannot be and might have been because of this thing outside my control, and how it feels to have such easily-triggered frustration and be so drained by an excursion. A lot of my praying and pondering has been an incomprehension about why God would keep letting me suffer this way, and not answer my petitions for it to be removed and healed. What was the point? Why not give me the good things instead? He knew I wouldn’t take them for granted! I wasn’t a lazy or unbelieving person who needed to be brought to understand my dependence on God (surely).
God has promised that He will turn all our trials to our good. But that is such cold comfort (none at all, really) when you’re experiencing and feeling these things. I want the experience to be gone! Not to know that it will be good for me in the end. Don’t tell me about what I’ll ‘learn’ as a result of my difficulties. Learning is a far distant good when you’re in the wasteland of affliction. It’s nowhere near enough to help you hold on. You need real, present relief. People and books tell you that the key is perspective – really?!? The way I’m looking at it will change things? The crazy thing is that it’s true. Because what we often cannot change is the circumstances – the thing that’s wrong or its natural consequences. The seemingly nebulous strength of perspective is the fact that we cannot see everything. God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and He sees it all. Changing our perspective brings us to see more of what’s really there. The beauties, the help, the possibility, the others also suffering, and the strength we can actually give each other – because we’re each experiencing pain and difficulty, and so can succour one another.
The only way for everything to ‘turn to our good’ is for us to trust God, in that. Trust, because we can’t see it. Once we do, then we begin to see the light around us, and feel the compassion, hope, and mercy of God, which buoy us up within the still-existing natural consequences. It helps to take away one part of our suffering – the feelings of injustice and sorrow. And that is actually a huge lightener of the burden. When we take our eyes/minds off that light, revealed by our trust in God, we see again the darkness and begin again to fear. But developing with that trust – that God has both the power and the will to turn these things, incomprehensibly, to our good – we move from a struggle with Him about the injustice, the ‘why’, of what we’re dealing with, to a relationship of faith, hope, mercy, and grace. A journey of increasing light to our souls and wisdom to our understandings.
Hard things will happen – and keep happening. There’s no getting around it. I don’t think that there’s anything useful in having insomnia, or any of the other trials I’m experiencing, in themselves. No good comes directly from it, and a lot of bad does. But I have been ‘forced’ to certain realisations and mental/spiritual/emotional places which help me see things differently. I have always believed in God and loved His gospel, but I also have pride and lots of things to learn. Many of those things are subtle, and I think can’t be seen or known with easy experiences going on. They’re realisations and bits of developing wisdom which come through deep, ongoing reflection, struggle and seeking; listening and feeling the gentle influences of the Holy Spirit. I might never ask some questions which I’m moved to ask by the pain of what’s happening – questions I need to ask and find the answers to. Certainly, God does know what we really need; part of our trust in His promise of good things from ‘bad’ is humility about that.
Perhaps it doesn’t even matter so much which trials we experience – whether it’s you or someone else. (But maybe it does; this is more of a thought exercise). The fact is, you are experiencing these things; this is your material. If it were another trial, it would be different material, but still what you have to work with. We’re all going to have material of some kind to work with; why not this? Should we get to choose our trials? Is there something we’re allowed to say we won’t have? In feeling and expressing what I, and another friend who’s experienced insomnia, have, that ‘there’s so much I could do if I didn’t have this; please take it away so I can’ – we are saying, in a sense, ‘why restrict me?’ The reason that you want to do good things is sort of neither here nor there. If you would do good things without this, will you do good things with it? Different ones, probably, because your capacity has changed, but good still. Does it matter that they’re different good things? When we wish another reality for ourselves than the one we’re given – not speaking here in the sense of things we can or should change, but more the things we don’t choose that we have less power over; the messy and hard things – it’s like we’re saying ‘any trial but this, Father’ – why? Why is there something you shouldn’t have to endure? Why should we get to choose that, given that (a) it would be unfair, and (b) we have such a tiny amount of knowledge compared to God, and that He lets us experience something is in the context of infinite, perfect knowledge? Like we’re surprised that this, of all things, has happened to us. Why should I get insomnia when I take care of my body? Why should I miss out on being a mother when I could have been a truly good one, and needed to overwrite the parenting I received with something good? Why should I get to this point in life without marriage, when I so need that relationship for my mental and emotional growth and wellbeing? It’s like we want to pick and choose which hardships we’ll experience – obviously not a logical belief, but one we can have when immersed in our hard things.
Part of the growth that needs to happen through these experiences, it seems, is learning this. Realising and accepting – paradoxically – that submitting to what is allows us to transcend it. That the thing itself doesn’t matter so much – as much as it really does matter, daily, with all the natural consequences coming from it – but the transcendence does. That there’s no way to become sanctified without difficult things. Even the very things you did not want to happen; the most unfair situations. That with God, nothing will be impossible; especially the improbable and miraculous process of you and I becoming whole, pure, transcendent, and full of light and joy, from the place where we are now. From these frustrating, difficult, unfair, painful, heart-rending circumstances.
As we realise these truths, our eyes and understandings are opened to more of what really is. We see, too, the beautiful things happening, even at the same time as the hard ones; things which might not have happened without them. Almost certainly not – because we do tend to see hard things as negative, and easy things as positive. Yet, beauty comes from pain and work, not ease. Our choice – our very difficult choice, because we have to go against the ‘natural man’ in us; everything inside that’s telling us it’s not fair and the pain needs to stop now – to trust God’s firm promise of something we cannot perceive, is the seemingly weak thing that has the power to save us. It’s another one of the wonderful, fascinating paradoxes of the Gospel. The real, present good that we want in the midst of such things (which seem to be all or most of our time here) is the changing of our perspective to enable us to see all of this. To lighten our inner burdens through believing God, accepting the grace He offers – not the removal of the trial we want – and gaining hope and power to act in effective ways.