Loving Those in the Furnace of Affliction

Another telephone call.  Another tragic death.  Another family in tears.

One of the things I have noticed about getting older is that your life becomes touched more often and more deeply by trials of life that you never imagined.  Whether you experience these things directly or watch those close to you endure them, if you stay on the planet long enough, you will feel the sting of suffering.

I suppose there are any number of ways that such experiences might affect us.  For me, the trials of life have given me an appreciation, I daresay even love, for those who face trials similar to my own or to those of people near the center of my life.

I love those who suffer from serious illness.  So many good friends have faced the darkness of life-threatening illness.  Some have lost their battles; others have survived, albeit with battle scars.  I love them for their fears as well as their courage.  I love them for the dark nights and haunted dreams that they face on their own.

I love those who care for those facing such illnesses.  I love them for their frustrations and feelings of helplessness.  I love them for enduring at the side of loved ones who are no longer themselves.  I love them for the burdens they bear that are overshadowed and often forgotten in light of the trials of those in their care.  I love them for their thankless hope.

I love those who endure addictions, who have lost their ability to choose.  I love those who have lost their parents, spouses, or children to addiction and yet still hope beyond hope for things to change.  I love them for their ability to see who someone once was and might be again.

I love those who come back from addictions, and spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder to see whether the beast is creeping up on them.

I love those who suffer the despair of depression.  I love them for the inexplicable and inexpressible darkness through which they walk and their inability to see the light in front of them.  I love them for fighting to keep it together.

I love those who gave up the fight.  I love those that remain behind, bathed in grief, guilt, and confusion.

I love those who live in chronic physical pain.  I love them for trying to find joy in the midst of constant reminders of misery.

I love those who have suffered from abuse at the hands of those in whom they should have been able to trust.

I love the parents who face the unacceptable task of burying their children.

I love those who have been betrayed by infidelity, and the children who deserve better than a broken home.

I love those who have lost their faith, and with it their hope.

I love the survivors of serious accidents and the unexpected upheaval and damage to their lives that they never bargained for.

I love those who suffer invisible burdens and therefore bear them alone.

Each passing day teaches me more of the reality that life is difficult.  With each shocking telephone call, I am reminded that none of us is immune from the storms of mortality.  But those battering winds have softened me, making me less judgmental and more compassionate.  As I gradually learn to mourn with those that mourn, I gain a greater appreciation for the atonement of Christ, and His willingness to experience all of these things so that He might be a perfect Comforter for us.  And I am thankful that through His sacrifice, there is hope that all of these wounds can be healed.



What Manner of Man?

“Therefore what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne: 27:27)

The C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N man:

Compassionate to those in need.

Honors his covenants.

Reaching out to those who are lost.

Immovable and steadfast

Soft-spoken and kind

Trustworthy and true to his commitments

Incorruptible and pure.

Abounding in good works

Noble: A son of God and joint-heir with Christ.

Tell me about someone you know who has reflected these qualities.

Prayer: Once More, With Feeling

At lunch today, a friend confided in me that is struggling in his communications with God. Try as he might, he finds it hard to focus. His mind immediately begins wandering to other things, and pretty soon his body gets up and follows.

I feel for my friend, because I have been there. I believe fervently in the power of prayer; indeed, I believe it has saved my life. That said, I often struggle with my prayers, finding myself too busy, too distracted, or too distanced from God to engage in meaningful prayer. Often I am so busy mumbling about my hardships that I forget to make them a matter of prayer. Other times I am consistent in my prayers, but I feel they are bouncing against the ceiling and floating back to earth like fallen leaves.

Christ was unequivocal in His commandment to pray “always,” and the Book of Mormon cautions us that the Adversary’s agenda is that we not pray. What to do, then, when our prayers come up empty? There are a few things that have helped me through the rough patches of prayer.

First, it is essential that we remember. Remember what? Start by trying to remember times at which your prayers have taken on greater depth and you felt the nurturing, enlightening presence of the Spirit. Bust out a pen and write some of those moments on a pad of paper or in your journal.. Such remembering will enhance your faith as you realize that this process has worked before and therefore can work again.

Remember also that you are a child of God, and that our Father in Heaven wants to communicate with you. Just as mortal parents draw close to those of their children who are in jeopardy, our Heavenly Father listens most closely to His children who are in despair. Remember that He is listening, because that is what He does best.

Second, in is important that we slow down and quiet our minds. Sadly, most of us expressly reject the counsel of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon and stubbornly insist on running faster than we have strength. The Holy Ghost is not likely to engage in a shouting contest to get our attention. The still, small voice requires plenty of attention in order to be heard. This is why I combine my prayers with my meditation practice: If I am going to place a call on a celestial phone, I need to first turn down the terrestrial radio. If we can be still, we will see and feel the reality of God.

Third, we must have patience. Perseverance bears blessings of its own. The struggle to communicate with God forces us to examine our hearts closely, to make sure we are open to answers to our prayers and willing to act on them when they are received. It requires that we develop a deeper trust in God, believing and hoping that He is there in the dark with us. Paradoxically, it makes the weakness of our prayers a matter for prayer.

I believe that our Father in Heaven longs to communicate with us. He does not expect us to struggle in isolation. He has answered my prayers and the prayers of those on my family’s behalf in such a way that to deny the power of prayer would be, for me, absurd. In the moments when praying is difficult for me, and those moments come more often than is to my liking, I trust that past rescues portend answered prayers in the future. I press forward, knowing that even if I cannot see it, His hand is outstretched to me still.

Living After the Manner of Happiness

After describing at length the curses that had come upon his brothers’ families because of their disobedience to God’s commandments, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi contrasts the lives of his own people with one sentence: “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.” (2 Ne. 5:27).

The longer I live, the more I come to realize how perfectly practical God’s commandments are. He does not issue directives to us out of whim or capriciousness. Instead, knowing the pathway to happiness, He provides us with detailed directions as to how to keep our wheels on the road. Contrary to the concept of God propounded by many, His intent is not that we deny ourselves of the good things of life and austerely worship Him. Yes, He expects obedience, but His commandments are designed to bring us joy.

Living “after the manner of happiness” means living in harmony with God, with our fellow man, and with our internal moral compass. It does not suggest a life of comfort, and we should not delude ourselves into believing that if we are faithful we will become immune from hardship. But when such trials inevitably come, our sufferings will not be compounded by feelings of guilt and anxiety, feeling that we have brought such difficulties upon ourselves through disobedience. Nor will we face such hardships alone, because our obedience to the laws of happiness will have led us to the companionship of loving family members and loyal friends who will come to our rescue. Most importantly, we will be blessed with the comforting presence of the Holy Ghost, who will sustain us, ease our pain, and enhance our capacity to endure.

Tears and trials are essential aspects of our earthly existence. We cannot escape them. But even though opposition and discomfort are a part of our Heavenly Father’s plan, He has given us instructions that will help to ensure that our tears are limited to those that are naturally incident to mortality, and that we do not have to learn through direct experience that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10).

So many of life’s hardships are self-inflicted. Lousy behavior leads to a lousy life. Living after the manner of happiness is a matter of deciding that we no longer wish to suffer the consequences of bad decisions. It means trusting that our loving Father in Heaven has our best interests in mind, and that He is pointing the way to a joyful and abundant life.

That path will have its rainy spots, uphill climbs, and mists of darkness. But we are promised that there will be more good days than bad, and that at the end of the journey our happiness will be magnified exponentially when, surrounded by our loved ones, we partake of the of the fruit of the tree of life, “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” (1 Ne. 8:10).