Read parts one, two, and four of this four-part series in which we look at how the Lord hopes we will learn to look at suffering in this life.
Important Principles on Suffering
1 – The Lord does not expect us to enjoy suffering
Nowhere in the scriptures does anyone say that we are required to like getting hurt, letting people walk all over us, or that we are to find delight in pain and sorrow. We are told, however, that before mortality is through, each of us will have personally gone through the refiner’s fire.
To refine ore into the purest and most useful of metals, intense heat is required to separate out the waste materials or dross from within the ore. The intensity of the heat causes this separation of what is pure and singularly useful and what is worthy of destruction and abandonment. In our lives, only difficulty can bring out those most enduring qualities of our personalities.
In the process of experiencing extreme poverty, powerful enemies, physical pain or prolonged physical suffering, living in the depths of loss, recovering from the betrayal of one whom we loved, emerging from the struggle for freedom from any form of addiction, the recovery of our self-respect from public/private humiliation, whether deserved or imposed upon us, all these things, and many more I haven’t mentioned, will cause humbling and soul-wrenching sorrow. The Lord takes no delight in seeing us go through such experiences. Yet such life lessons are the catalyst for growth. They are the proving ground for loyalties and the classroom for godly virtues.
Time and again, the Lord’s reminder to those who are in the depths of sorrow and sin is to look up from where we are and to see where He is. He has already won the prize. He has already overcome the world and all it can throw at us. There is no such thing as a permanent victory for darkness unless we at last abandon the light. Then and only then does Satan win the day. As long as we look to our Savior and rely on the merits of Him who is mighty to save, our final victory is assured.
This assurance does not make today’s suffering less valid. Pain is pain, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. What it does give us is a reason to look beyond our current state and see that the prize has already been won. We just need to hold on until the Lord sees fit in His wisdom to give us release. In that knowledge—in that vision and understanding of eternity and the plan of happiness God has prepared for us—is where we find the strength in times of sorrow to lift up our heads and rejoice in Christ’s victory. His victory becomes our victory when we remain true and faithful to Him.
2 – Enduring
Enduring is a godly ability we are expected to master, not just learn. Each of the prophets has learned this lesson. When the Lord says we are to endure to the end, He does not mean to keep on partying until we drop. The kind of endurance we are instructed to have is one of steady application of the basic principles of the gospel.
Every day we need to say our prayers, forgive someone for a trespass, ask for our own forgiveness for the unjust things we say, the unrighteous and hasty judgments we pass on others that we need to be forgiven for, the offenses to the Holy Spirit, the fences that need to be mended, and the hearts that need healing because of something we may have unintentionally done.
Enduring is the process by which we wake up each day and go through the routine one more time, hopefully getting it a little more right today than we did yesterday. Each day we try to live the first and second commandments a little better and a little more earnestly than we did the day before. Each day we are granted to stay here in mortality gives us one more chance to get it right and to learn how to be more Christlike. We have one shot at mortality. It is short. It is messy. It is vital to our eternal destiny.
Learning how to endure is not a lesson in torture, but an education in godly love and the virtues that bring eternal happiness. Enduring each day in keeping the commandments gives us the chance to see that joy is not just the absence of pain or the absence of heartache. Joy is achieved despite these things. Joy has the power to swallow pain and overcome any hurt. Joy comes from learning to live as God lives, one moment at a time, in the service of someone else, and always to uplift and help, love and heal. This is where joy comes from.
3 – Faith and cheerfulness are inextricably linked
When we are in the depths of personal torment and the Lord tells us to lift up our heads and rejoice or be glad, I am sure that the last thing on our mind at that moment is gladness. The directive to rejoice, to be glad, or to be of good cheer is a call to remember that all is not lost. We can lift our heads. We do not need to feel shame or despair in our immediate circumstance. The Lord is not ignorant of the immediate need. He is not blind. It is we who become blind.
The call to open our eyes and look up to better things—to see the “end game,” if you will—is a call to rejoice in the part we get to play in the victory Christ has had over the grave. We get to be saviors on Mount Zion in doing work of salvation for others. We are blessed with priesthood power that gives us the gift of the Holy Ghost and access to revelation, and a member of the Godhead who delights in being our personal tutor in godly things. We have the rights, as obedient servants of the Lord, to the ministering of angels. When we begin to count all these eternal blessings, the earthly cares and problems begin to shrink in importance and relevance. We begin to see that there is more to rejoice in than there is to cry about.
As I mentioned before, faith and cheerfulness are linked in intimate ways. Despair drives away and destroys faith. Faith, as a principle of action, requires cheerfulness or optimism to operate. As soon as we lose our optimism, we lose our hope in something better and in our ability to do what needs to be done. Being able to look beyond the problems of today to the hopes and joys of tomorrow is what gives us the strength to get through today and wake up tomorrow.
When the Lord says to be of good cheer, He is not just telling us to ignore what is going on around us and go play. He is teaching us the lesson that cheerfulness, hope, and a joyful countenance is part and parcel of having faith in what He is trying to teach us. The Lord wants us to learn that no matter how things look right now, He is still in control and His will is always accomplished. We are part of that will, and His beloved child. He will never abandon us to despair.
4 – Nobility and dignity are born in adversity
No great trait is developed in ease. All the greatest virtues require tremendous stress on the soul to be generated. Vices are quick and easy to acquire, whereas virtues all take time, practice, and sacrifices to acquire—even in small amounts. Look again at the scriptures found in Hebrews 5:8-9.
8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.
We don’t see any hint in these two verses that the nobility of Christ was gained in a day or that life was easy just because He was smart or good-looking. He had to learn just like we do: one day at a time and by the things that He suffered. Dignity and character, nobility and virtues, are all created over time. Patience, persistence, and dedication to the cause in which we are engaged are all needed to create the attributes we desire. Some of us will have more time on earth to practice these, while others will just be starting and get called home. The important thing is that as long as we are here, we are required to continue our training. The Lord does not give time off for good behavior when it comes to learning the character traits that will bring us the most joy in the long run.
5 – Temples and temple experiences
Elder Holland’s talk, previously mentioned in part two of this series, talks about Liberty Jail and refers to it as a prison-temple. That may sound odd, but think about what happened in Liberty Jail to Joseph Smith. While in the extremity of suffering, he turned to the Lord and was instructed, uplifted, edified, and taught from on high. He was able to see things from that vantage point that were not possible to see from any other point of view. His understanding just had to be taken to that spiritual spot for him to comprehend the lessons to be learned.
We all spend time in prisons—situations where we feel trapped, accused, punished, unable to escape, etc. The question is, do we try to learn from the Lord what He would have us learn in the depths of our sorrows so we come away feeling like we are the conquerors, not the slain or fallen?
I submit that it is only when we turn our prison sentences—our times of sorrow—into time served in a prison-temple that we come back out into the light of day with our vision expanded, our heart’s capacity enlarged, and our sights properly reset on the purposes of the Almighty.
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