Here are two related teachings about where suffering and happiness come from in life. The world’s view and the gospel’s view are very different indeed.
World’s view on suffering and happiness
I recently learned about a formula used in psychology and counseling to help people deal with the pain and suffering in their individual lives. Simply stated, the formula states that “pain x resistance = suffering.” Below is the rationale behind this formula. I promise that this fits in with the title of the article. It is very important that you understand the first part of the article so the second part makes more sense.
Life, all life is filled with pain, either physical, social, emotional, or otherwise. Pain is just one of those universal states of the human condition. It can’t be avoided. No amount of money, power, or social position can prevent anyone from experiencing pain of some sort. We all get old, break something, get sick, lose a job, get divorced, or have some other unpleasant thing happen to us in the course of our lifetime. Pain is just one of those universal constants that every person has to deal with on a regular basis in their life.
Is pain and suffering the same thing? No. We all experience pain, but it doesn’t have to cause us suffering. For example, Sam has a broken leg. He recognizes the broken limb brings with it certain restrictions, and that it will take time to heal. He knows this because he has known many people who have broken bones at some point in their lives. Does his broken leg hurt? Of course. Does it slow him down? Certainly. Does it take time to heal? Yes. But despite all these affirmative points about the pain and inconvenience of his broken leg, Sam is happy, upbeat, and experiences a host of other good emotions, despite his present condition. He is not focusing on what has been imposed upon him by his broken leg, or what has been taken away, like his mobility. Instead, Sam is focusing on getting better and on all the things he can do, and what he will be able to do once his leg is healed.
Jeff also has a broken leg, but he is miserable. His leg hurts. He can’t get around like he wants to. His cast itches and drives him to distraction. Jeff can’t stop talking about how glad he will be when the cast comes off and he can walk again. To talk to Jeff one would think he is the only one in the history of the world who has broken a leg.
Both men have a broken leg, but Sam acknowledges his limited condition and works with it. He recognizes that these things happen to many people, and that this is not a unique situation or an unusual injury to have. Many people have had broken limbs before, and life goes on. Jeff, on the other hand, is fighting his current situation in life. He whines and complains constantly about his broken leg. It hurts (isn’t it supposed to?), he wants special attention, because he is inconvenienced by the itching and discomfort of the leg. He focuses his attention on his current limitations, not on the limited nature of his inconvenience, and he thrives on attention from others because – after all, his break is so much worse than anyone else’s broken leg could possibly have been.
One man accepts his burden of pain and discomfort and still lives his life in relative happiness. The other suffers like the biblical Job, because life feels so unfair that he has been inconvenienced and set back and is unable to do so many things he wanted to do, and all because of that darn leg. He is suffering, because he isn’t able to accept the pain as being something that is natural in that situation. He is fighting what is natural. He believes he is unique in his need to suffer from this condition. Even though he may admit that at least some time in history someone else may have broken their leg, he is pretty sure that his break is especially bad, and worthy of note.
A more personal example of unnecessary suffering is me and my fear of “throwing up.” I had a daughter who called us regularly late at night because each night she had a long drive across the plains of Wyoming to get home after her shift. She was afraid she would fall asleep if she didn’t have someone to talk to until she was safely at home. I can recall several times when I would be on the phone with my daughter, Anna, and in the middle of the conversation she would let me know she needed to pull over so she could throw up. There would be a slight pause in the conversation then she would get back into the car and we would continue the conversation. To her, throwing up was a natural thing that happens to us all. She accepted her need to do it, let it happen then continued on with whatever she was doing at the time.
I, on the other hand, have always had an inordinate fear of throwing up. When I got very sick and needed to throw up, I would fight it. I developed ways of distracting my thinking, I changed by breathing patterns, would hyperventilate, and would save up and spit out my saliva, because I felt like swallowing would cause me to throw up sooner. I would turn green and suffer for hours as I fought off the inevitable act of throwing up. Yet when I finally succumbed and did it, I felt so much better. But the next time I was sick, I went through this same routine all over again, even knowing that just allowing myself to do it would resolve so much of the suffering I was putting myself through. I just wasn’t willing to accept that being sick to my stomach was normal when I had the flu, and I couldn’t bring myself to accept that throwing up was a quick way to take care of much of the discomfort my sick stomach gave me. It was my resistance to the inevitable that caused me to suffer needlessly for hours on end. How often do we cause ourselves more suffering than the current pain requires?
The gospel’s perspective
Studies have shown that those who fight the pain they experience (from whatever source in their life brought the pain) experience suffering far more than those who are able to accept the pain as a normal part of every human life, and move on. It is the resistance that causes the suffering, not necessarily the pain itself. Yes, pain is uncomfortable, but it can be dealt with if we acknowledge it and accept the conditions that surround it. Most, if not all of the pain we experience in this life is going to be of a sort that many others have also experienced. There aren’t so many forms of pain that almost no one has gone through what we are going through. Most, if not all we experience in this life has been felt by millions of others who have come before us, who are currently alive, or who will come after us. In short, when it comes to pain in this life, we are rarely special.
Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13.
13 There hath no temptation you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be above that ye are able; but will with the also make a way to , that ye may be able to it.
There is a temptation for me to feel like what I am experiencing is unique to just me. Surely no one else has ever felt so alone, so uniquely evil, as I do when I give in to my temptations. It is this very process of assuming that I am the only one to be tempted that causes me more guilt than I need to heap on my own head. All of our temptations are common, as is mentioned in the above verse from Corinthians. After billions of God’s children have come to earth and lived out, in many cases, extraordinarily long lives, most every temptation that is available has been experienced by one or by most by now.
Much of my personal suffering for my sins comes from this act of choosing to believe that I have somehow invented a new type of temptation that no one else has ever had to deal with, and I heap loads of guilt on my own head, professing to myself that no one could possibly be as bad or as weak willed as I am. How can God love someone who sins so freely and frequently? (Oh, I can pile on many layers of guilt for even the most frivolous of spiritual infractions of the laws of God. I’ve become quite good at making myself suffer for my own sins.) I think this ability to make ourselves suffer is one of the reasons we have a difficult time accepting Christ’s atoning sacrifice. He is ready and willing to let our sins go. It is we who chain ourselves to our own suffering and refuse to accept Christ’s comfort and release through repentance.
Feeling like we are unique in our suffering is not a new concept. Here is what Nephi said about his own sins in 2 Nephi 4:17-19. And Nephi’s words, or at least his sentiments, are echoed by other prophets about themselves.
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O man that I am! Yea, my heart because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have .
An important point
I am not saying that by acknowledging that others are tempted in the same way I am, or that because someone else has the same kind of sin I do, that this acknowledgement should alleviate all my guilt. I am just saying that sometimes we suffer far more than we need to suffer, and much of our unrequired suffering comes at our own hands (refer to the “throwing up” story above for an example of this).
In life, according to the world, suffering is the unwillingness to acknowledge pain as a universal condition. The more we fight the pain in our lives, the more we suffer because of our unwillingness to accept that pain is what it is, and everyone experiences it. The sooner we stop resisting it, and learn to accept it as one of life’s consistent companions, the happier we will be.
But there is a flip side to this coin of pain, and it is that much of our unhappiness in life is caused because we are unwilling to accept God’s ever-present love for His children. Much of what we experience as pain can be minimized or alleviated if we are just willing to acknowledge that so much of our pain in life is caused by our refusal to accept God’s proffered love.
In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2021 Conference talk entitled, The Greatest Possession, he brought up a principle of the gospel I had never considered before. Here are the paragraphs that sent me down this rabbit hole.
Of course, we are speaking here of the first great commandment given to the human family—to love God wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, that is, with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. This love of God is the first great commandment in the universe. But the first great truth in the universe is that God loves us exactly that way—wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. And when those majestic forces from His heart and ours meet without restraint, there is a veritable explosion of spiritual, moral power. Then, as Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “for [the] second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
It is then, and really only then, that we can effectively keep the second great commandment in ways that are not superficial or trivial. If we love God enough to try to be fully faithful to Him, He will give us the ability, the capacity, the will, and the way to love our neighbor and ourselves. Perhaps then we will be able to say once again, “There could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” [emphasis added]
Even as I read this comment by Elder Holland, my mind goes blank as to how the love of God might make a difference in how much suffering I experience in mortality. I have spent so many years completely unaware of the connection between His love, my willingness to accept it into my life, and how much I have caused myself unnecessary suffering, that I have to keep reminding myself what those differences are.
Simi (pronounced “See-me”) has a good heart, but he has always been shy and easily swayed by the opinions of others. Because of his unwillingness to stand up for himself, people bullied him, teased him, and told him in many ways that he had very little personal value. Like most of the human race, when we are taught wrong things, even though they feel wrong, when we don’t know any better, we accept them as right, Simi began to believe he was worthless as a person. He spent years looking for meaning in life, both in general, and specifically for his own life.
Finally, Simi was introduced to the missionaries and was taught the gospel. As Simi began to embrace the teachings as he understood them, he caught a glimpse at what the gospel teaches us is our potential as children of God. He began to pray, asking God if he really was His child, and was loved as the scriptures said he was. The Spirit bore witness to his soul, and Simi began to see life in a whole new light.
As God’s love began to fill Simi’s heart and soul, his attitude about himself began to change for the better. He thought more highly of himself, and he began to value others around him more and more. People, even total strangers, took on a greater importance to him as he began to view them as children of God and fellow travelers here in mortality. He mourned that those he met who had to live without the gospel were missing the sense of wholeness and completeness he was finding within the gospel of Christ.
Simi discovered that Christ’s mercy was always more abundant than he had imagined it could be. He could repent consistently, and God’s love would fill his soul with greater and greater happiness. As Simi learned to feel he was loved unconditionally by God, he, in turn, learned to love others more unconditionally, and sought to bring them to Christ to experience the same sense of worth he had gained himself by coming to Christ and making covenants with God.
In this story Simi represents all of us who go through life unaware that there is a way to find a kind of happiness that the world has absolutely no knowledge of, nor any way to find. The full measure of this love, the sense of belonging and worth only comes through the process of making and keeping sacred covenants. It all hinges on believing and accepting the love of God that is all around us. We can accept some of God’s love and as a result experience some of the happiness that comes from associating with this celestial person, or we can exercise our faith and open ourselves to the full measure of His love and mercy. Opening ourselves to the full measure of His love and mercy is transformative in its power. It brings with it a sense of belonging, safety, security, and comfort that is available in no other place or way.
Here is a recap of these two related ideas.
In life, according to the world, suffering is our unwillingness to acknowledge pain as a universal condition. The more we fight the pain in our lives, the more we suffer because of our unwillingness to accept that pain is what it is, and everyone experiences it. The sooner we stop resisting it, and learn to accept pain as one of life’s constant companions, the happier we will be.
In life, according to God, suffering is our unwillingness to acknowledge God’s love as an available universal condition. The more we fight the love He is trying to show us and demonstrate to us, the more we suffer, because of our unwillingness to accept that His love is real, universal, and always there for us to receive. The sooner we stop resisting it, and learn to accept it as one of life’s consistent companions, the happier we will be.
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