Things have been difficult for me and my family recently. We’ve been hit by deaths, cancer, mental health problems, and a lot of other bad news from friends and family we know and love. These situations weigh heavily on the minds of my immediate, extended, and ward family. And then there’s the awful Florida school shooting, rising international tensions, and increasing level of vitriol and hatred from both sides of the political aisle. And we know it will continue to get worse. With all the sad, tragic news around right now, it feels like 2018 is determined to deal us one blow after another.
I know I shouldn’t be complaining. My son, my wife, and I are all happy and healthy and have no serious burden in our lives right now. Kid #2 is on the way and looks great. I graduate in May. There’s a lot of good to be grateful for. But it hurts to see so many around us are passing through extremely difficult situations. And in life, everyone gets a turn to pass through their own difficult trials, tailor-made to suit each individual, so I know it will be my turn to endure some soon enough.
But this week, I’ve come to discover that I’ve been enduring wrong. See, I’ve always understood trials in the Gospel context to be like a really large-scale version of the Stanford marshmallow experiment. If you can just hold on and endure, you get a reward at the end to more than make up for the wait. Every time it gets rough, God tells us, “I know things are really painful right now, but if you wait long enough, it will be all worth it in the end.”
There’s a lot of truth to that idea; everything will be made right in the end. And we will look back on our lives one day and be completely happy with how it all turned out. But it’s also a perspective that really short-changes God, and leaves us feeling more pain than we really need to.
Deliverance from our afflictions versus visiting in our afflictions
The other day, I was reading the account of the people of Alma the Elder. They had escaped the grasp of their wicked tyrant and established a happy, righteous community of believers. Things were looking great. But the Lamanites found them, enslaved them, stripped them of every right they had– even the right to pray vocally. Turned into human cattle, their lives looked pretty bleak. Fortunately, as we know, this did not diminish their faith. They cried even harder to God from the depths of their hearts, and He responded, promising deliverance. Hurray! Mission accomplished. Now all they had to do was survive their miserable situation until God would deliver them, right?
But wait, there’s more!
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort… I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage… that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
60-ish years later, Alma the Younger recounted to his son Helaman, teaching that “[God] did deliver them in their afflictions… I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”
The people of Alma did not need to wait until they were marching past the sleeping Lamanites to the land of Zarahemla order to find relief. God did eventually deliver them from their afflictions, but long before that, He was visiting them in their afflictions. He gave them comfort. He eased their burdens. He gave them the disposition to be cheerful during this trial.
Don’t let deliverance from affliction overshadow visitation in affliction
I think that a lot of our prayers in behalf of ourselves or others are often petitions for God to make certain things happen in a certain way. Bless my companion with a desire to work so we can find people to teach. Bless Bro. Smith to get better. Bless dad to find a better job, etc.
Perhaps we are humble enough to tell God “thy will be done.” We may struggle through the hardship without complaint. We may endure to the end and accept whatever result comes out of it. I suspect the faithful, submissive people of Alma would have done the same. But God takes no pleasure in the pain of His children. I believe He will require us to pass through no more adversity in this life than is absolutely necessary for us to learn the lessons we need to learn and build the character that we need to build. In the last day, He will lift us up. But He will support us in our trials and afflictions today. We can have a marshmallow right now and 15 minutes from now.
In our prayers and in all aspects of our life, let’s make sure that we are not so focused on achieving certain outcomes (deliverance from our afflictions) that we rob ourselves of the opportunity to see how the Lord is visiting us in our afflictions. Bless me to feel charity towards my companion no matter his attitude. Bless the Smith family with peace regardless of the outcome, and help us to cheer their hearts. Bless me to find fulfillment in my current job, etc.
Christ is nearest during our afflictions
The burdens on the people of Alma were eased though they still had to bear them. Angels pushed the pioneers’ handcarts though the pioneers still had to walk. And an angel from on High strengthened the Savior while He drank His/our bitterest cup. So, when we don’t find ourselves delivered from our afflictions, and life seems to difficult to bear, that is when our Savior is nearest. That is when His Father was nearest to Him:
I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering…
Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that He never flees nor fails us.