All of us on earth go through hard times. Each one of us has a gamut of difficulties that we go through. Some are short lived, some are chronic, and some seem to be permanent. All of them are hopefully teaching us a lesson, but there also happens to be the trials, struggles, difficulties, and pain that just won’t go away (or the continue to reappear) that we just can’t shake no matter what we try. We plead with heavenly father to be free from them or to overcome them, but to no avail – they just linger and we wonder to ourselves why this must be, or why we as individuals are selected to suffer so much. We may even agree to suffer through them but plead for a clear answer why.
Beyond the normal answers like 1) opposition provides us with joy, and 2) struggles bring us strength, there is something that I discovered a few weeks ago that I hadn’t realized before that helped me understand why some of these difficulties seem to never leave (and the Lord may never intend for them to leave) – even after the person suffering has likely learned plenty of great lessons about suffering and/or dealing with trials, exercised much patience, and even submitted fully to the Lord’s will.
Alma 17 is the beginning chapters outlining the missionary service of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites. In verses 10-11 the Lord is speaking to Ammon and his party (on the eve of them splitting up to preach) and “visits them with his spirit” and tells them to “be comforted”. Then the Lord gives Ammon some instruction that I think is fascinating. He says: “ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls”.
For the first time, I understood very clearly that there are people in the world just like Ammon, who are or have been instructed by the Lord to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions” (some of which may not ever be schedule to subside), just so that I can see their good examples of righteousness while they are ‘in the furnace of affliction’. This thought was a light bulb for me, and I began to think of the many people who I have seen deal with trials, hard times, struggles, and a multitude of outside circumstances that aren’t a direct result of poor choices and yet they seem to show forth their good examples of patience and long suffering over the years – and now I am even more inspired when I think that they agreed to this trial and are enduring it well, just so that I can be provided with their example and have my faith strengthened. Unbelievable.
This thought also helped me read through the remaining stories of Ammon and his brethren in a different light. For example; Alma 24, Alma 28, and Alma 30 all contained stories that could be directly tied to how one individual’s faith filled and kind actions (a.k.a patience in long-suffering during a hard time) is what caused the spirit and subsequent conversion of another to take place.
I also started to look at my own life and those around me, and I asked myself the question – are my trials teaching me something? Maybe. But if my trials or hardships are recurring or seemingly unending, does that mean I’m missing the point repeadetly? Not necessarily. It might just mean that the Lord trusts me and expects me to be patient, kind, and good all along the way so that other people may see my example and be inspired. Thus, when we continue to look for the end of a particular struggle, we may be looking for something that will never ever come. Talk about a lesson in patience in long-suffering.
Part of why the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular resonate so strongly with us is that they are filled with stories about people who wrote about their daily and repeated struggles with hardship, and were able to keep the faith and inspire other people all along the way (which happens to inspire us many years later). After all, isn’t that why the Lord places us in families, and wards, and neighborhoods? So that we can watch each other suffer, and be inspired by their examples? I never thought of it that way, but I definitely have been inspired by them.
With that in mind, and the idea that other people’s struggles are in place (partly) for us to be inspired, there is another scripture passage that I would like to share. It comes from Alma 53 where the people of Ammon were almost ready to break their covenant of peace (where they buried their weapons of war) in order to help the Nephite army. Helaman convinces them not do that, and by not breaking their covenant, and by not joining the army, the record indicates that they (the non-fighters) were “compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time”.
These uber-righteous, and faithful saints who just wanted to help their friends were left to watch these Nephites, who had already sacrificed so much on their behalf “wade through their afflictions” during this dangerous circumstance. Imagine with me the mental pain and suffering that these great people endured just by watching their brethren suffer. It is no wonder that their children were then inspired to join Helaman’s army. I don’t know if Helaman knew that helping them to keep their covenant would cause greater suffering, which in turn would cause greater conviction and motivation in those who were watching – but that is how sacrifice works.
One of the blessings of the spirit is that we have the ability to “see things as they really are”. And ‘things as they really are’ include a whole lot of suffering. Every single day and every single week in your neighborhood and in mine there are people (old and young) who are in the absolute throws of suffering. But you and I wouldn’t necessarily know it because maybe we don’t look for it, we misunderstand it for something else, or because of how well they are showing their patience in long-suffering – and they do it because they love the savior, and they trust him, and their faith is so strong. I can promise that if you pay attention, the Lord will bless you with the eyes to see, and the heart to feel the unlimited love that he has for these faithful saints as they continue to come and worship him. You will be inspired by them and their strength, and you will see their example “in him”.
The Lord Jesus Christ went in to the garden of Gethsemane and suffered unspeakable pains and anguish. This left the rest of human history with the opportunity and charge to “behold [our brother] wade through [his] affliction, in [his] dangerous circumstances. From this one event, and his perfect love and unselfish action during his most intense suffering we are inspired, and we feel love, and we feel gratitude. Although his sacrifice satisfied all of the necessary elements (justice, sin, death, etc.) for salvation and for our path home – I imagine that Heavenly Father indicated to him at least once or twice that a large part of his mission here on earth was to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them”. He is the ultimate example of love and sacrifice – and he is the one who can accompany us during our hard times because he has felt them, and he will feel them, and he wants us to know him.
I hope that the next time we are suffering, stressed out, full of grief, or burdened by weights we feel are too heavy, we can look around and think of the people who are looking at us, who are watching us (they are watching), and who – through our faith filled actions – will see the savior and his love overcoming the trials.