Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Experiencing "The Trial" - June 14, 2009

I am constantly amazed at how much the Lord blesses my family. No matter what happens in our lives, I know that He loves us and is actively involved in everything that happens. That knowledge, alone, is worth more to me than anything else in the world. With that introduction, I have some sobering news. My sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer this week. When Mom called me I was in the car driving from my voice lesson to practice for the musical; after I hung up from talking with her I cried as I sat in traffic. When the tears stopped, I had a strange realization... but explaining it requires some background.

My nuclear family has always seemed insulated from the "difficult" trials in life. We love each other, we don't struggle for money, we are blessed to do well in school, we are athletic, and we have the Gospel in our lives. For a long time, I sincerely thought I simply had the perfect family - that nothing could or would ever go wrong. I realized at some point that having trials wasn't necessarily a bad thing (and was probably necessary for my own eternal progression), so I braced myself for the onslaught of eventual learning experiences (since life had gone so long without much major difficulty). Still, it seemed that my own life went on untouched. The Lord blessed me with most of the things I asked for, encouraged me to change directions when the answer was no, and helped me to achieve amazing feats. And the people around me continued to live harder lives than I did.

For years I've wondered what would happen when "the trial" came - "the trial" being a trial big enough that it would be somehow different from the rest of my day-to-day experiences. Job had major trials, Abraham had trials, Nephi and Laban and Lemuel had trials... and, in every case, the circumstances caused them to turn inward and re-evaluate who they were and their feelings toward the Lord. They were turning points in their lives. These are the major events that can cause you to lose hope, feel overwhelmed, or wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people. Others, when faced with major trials, find solace in turning to God and following His precepts. I've always expected "the trial" to have a similar effect on me. 

Cancer is a pretty big thing, and so I was slightly confused when, after I had finished crying for a few minutes, I didn't feel hopelessness or despair. I didn't struggle with fear or pain. Instead, I had the deep and abiding feeling that God knew my needs and those of my family and was actively taking care of us - as He always had done in the past. He loved me, He loved my sister, and no matter what happened, everything would turn out for the best. I was sort of shocked that I felt the exact same feeling that had come when I had prayed while feeling despondent a few weeks earlier, or when I prayed for guidance in what I should do this summer, or when I turned to Him for help in finishing a manuscript. I knew that He loved me, and that He was actively involved in our lives, and that was enough.

As I have watched the Lord in my own life, I believe that, if we are doing what is right, God only gives us blessings. I'll repeat that, since I believe it so strongly. If we are doing what is right, God only gives us blessings. That means that everything that happens in our lives is a blessing from God in some way. There's a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that emphasizes that: "And 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." This scripture promises that everything that happens to us, if we are doing what is right, is for our own good.

Often, however, we lack the long range vision to see the positive aspects of the experiences in our lives, and so we call them trials or tribulations. Are they painful? Of course they are. But are they necessary for our eternal progression? Absolutely. A loving Father in Heaven knows exactly what experiences we need to undergo in life such that we will become more like Him... and He loves us enough to allow us to feel pain in order to learn the things that we personally could not learn any other way. Sometimes we need to ride the mountains... and sometimes we need to walk in the valleys. We call some experiences blessings, some trials, some tribulations... The real question that is central to our learning is, "What is the good in this experience?" It is obvious to see what is good in the First Vision, when the Prophet Joseph saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. But what was good about his experience in Liberty Jail? When the Prophet Joseph was incarcerated without charges in Liberty Jail, in circumstances worse than I could even imagine, he turned to the Lord in heartfelt prayer. Those "trials" gave him the inner faith to make him into a better man... and a better prophet. Leaving Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph was a new man - the same way that so many people, when faced with difficult situations, become new men and women in Christ. The temporary pain causes them to turn to God and reveals their utter dependence on Him... a dependence that becomes an inner source of strength. 

I'm not sure if this is "the trial" I've been waiting for to cause me to reflect and become a better person... since my conversation with the Lord only took about five minutes. But maybe I've been waiting for the wrong thing. The Lord gives everyone blessings - experiences that will help us grow closer to Him - and those come in different forms for different people. For my sister right now, it's cancer. For me, it's the sum of everything that is happening in my life and the lives of my loved ones. No matter what situations we find in life, it is then our duty to learn from them.

Job, in his physical and emotional pain, turned to the Lord and gained a greater faith in Him. Abraham, when commanded to sacrifice his son, prepared and gained an understanding of the love of God for the world - that He would sacrifice His Only Begotten Son. Each of us in life will probably have painful experiences... but Christ has overcome the world. In Him, we can truly find peace. If any of you are experiencing "the trial" of your faith - an experience so overwhelmingly painful that you realize you can't do it alone - turn to God. We overcome major obstacles in life the same way we overcome minor ones - with the Lord's help. It is probably painful and difficult, but He has always been with us, and He will always be at our side. He will answer you the same way He has always answered me - "I love you," and "I am here, with you, and all these things shall be for thy good."

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