After writing my last blog post, I think I felt so relieved that I finally got the things I’ve learned recently down on paper because it meant that my brain finally had capacity to absorb more (I’ve got a big head but a small brain). As a result, I’ve been reading a lot.
Over and over again recently I’ve been reminded that life is hard. We’re all dealing with stuff. For some, it’s feeling like they didn’t succeed as parents. For others, it’s struggling with infertility. For me some nights, it’s loneliness. Point being, we’re all dealing with pain in some shape or form and sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair. My pain may be different than your pain. You may struggle to understand mine and I may struggle to understand yours but sometimes I wonder if we would benefit from uniting as people who suffer rather than focusing on our differences and maybe if we could find unity in that, we could also find comfort in understanding the necessity of suffering.
I started studying suffering this week and while it started in a somewhat deep place, it ended with a middle school commencement address. And I felt like it might be worth sharing because maybe you’re feeling some of the same things I’ve been feeling. If not, it’s totally fine. It’s not you, it’s me.
Without getting too deep into LDS doctrine, as Mormons we believe that prior to this life, we chose to come to earth. We were presented two separate plans. One, Satan’s plan was that not a single soul would be lost because we would have no ability to choose. But we chose the Savior’s plan which was that we would come to earth and would be given the opportunity to choose for ourselves. We believe it is as we make choices and overcome opposition that we are able to become more like our Heavenly Father and that this becoming is the point of our existence. As Francine R. Bennion said, “Nobody is manipulating every human decision that would affect every human experience. If God did, we would have the kind of existence now that Lucifer offered permanently.”
We chose agency and as a result, we, in a sense, also chose suffering. We understood prior to coming to earth that in order to become what we were meant to become, we had to make decisions, learn from both the good and the bad, and respond to the decisions of those around us. In short, it’s this agency that makes life so dang good and also so frustrating at times.
Sometimes our own personal decisions make life hard and sometimes it is the decisions of others that make our lives hard but regardless of the cause, suffering is part of this life.
But why? How can a God who loves us bear to watch as his children suffer? Does he not care or is it because God himself has suffered and understands the value found in suffering? I’ve already mentioned Francine Bennion once, but this week, I read a talk she gave in the book, “At The Pulpit” and it absolutely blew my mind. The talk addresses this subject of suffering and while personal experiences sparked this exploration for me, Bennion’s talk fanned the flame. Bennion tells of a conversation she had with a group of BYU students who were discussing Voltaire and “the best of all possible worlds,” when one suggested that heaven will be a place where “everyone will be—happy. There won’t be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.” Bennion then asked, “Oh, are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” To believe this when we hear people take the Lord’s name in vain on a daily basis or when religious beliefs are mocked worldwide is asinine.
No, I think it is because of personal experience that God knows the development that occurs amidst our suffering.
This week, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts spoke at his son’s ninth-grade graduation, and while he spoke from the perspective of a loving earthly father, I couldn’t help but think that his words seem to echo divine truth.
“Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty,” he said. “Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
“And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
Suffering is what we came here to experience. It is through opposition that we discover the true goodness and beauty of life. It is through our own pain that we develop empathy and other Christlike attributes.
Spencer W. Kimball said, “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”
Certainly we will experience heartbreak as we suffer the consequences of other’s decisions but I trust in the promise found in “Preach my Gospel” that “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” We may not be able to understand how it will all play out but it will be made right in a way that we can’t currently comprehend. I have always heard that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite but I don’t think I really understood the significance of this statement until I read the following statement by Bennion, “As I think of the Atonement of Christ, it seems to me that if our sins are to be forgiven, the results of them must be erased. If my mistakes are to be forgiven, other persons must be healed from any effects of them. In the same way, if other persons are to be released by the Atonement, then we must be healed from their mistakes.” This is not scripture but it rang true in my heart. The Atonement of Jesus Christ will make everything right. It will cure all pain. Maybe not in this life but eventually it will. On and on, forever and ever, the Savior’s Atonement will go on healing the suffering that we experience.
So what do we do in the meantime? Maybe we try to love a little better and a little more. Maybe we could try harder to remember that everyone around us is dealing with some pain and God’s heart aches for them. We can show our love for Him by loving His children. In a talk called “Latter-day Saints and the Problem of Pain,” David Holland tells of advice his father once received from Neal Maxwell, a former leader in the LDS Church, who said after reading a draft of a talk Jeffrey R. Holland had written, “Jeff, there is one place in the talk where you have been insufficiently careful of the pain in people’s lives. There are scars that go unnoticed, but you must see them. You must tread with caution on the hallowed ground of another’s suffering.”
I think our becoming will depend not only on our ability to cope amidst our own suffering but will also come as we see the scars that are not visible to the eye, as we seek to relieve the suffering of those around us. I guess ultimately my hope would be the same that Francine Bennion expressed before I was ever born:
“God is love, and our becoming so is what matters. I pray we may gain courage and faith to affirm the choice we made, to remember that we are active and alive and meeting suffering because God knew we could and because we believed we could. ...Let us love each other, mourn with each other, and sacrifice fear for courage. Let us seek reality and truth, forgiving ourselves and each other, learning to help ourselves and each other as we can. Let us become more like our God, who is good.”
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