BYU Women’s Conference
Navigating Trials with Faith and Optimism


Navigating Trials with Faith and Optimism

2021 BYU Women’s Conference

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Introduction

I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in this BYU Women’s Conference. Thank you for who you are and for your legacy of faith. You are such a blessing to the entire Church. I pray that the Holy Ghost will be with us—that He will lift you and inspire you and confirm to your hearts and minds truths spoken and unspoken.

I have been praying for you and asking the Lord to bless you as you participate in this session. I don’t know all of the burdens and trials you may face, but I know you face them! They are an essential part of this mortal experience.

On several occasions, President Henry B. Eyring has taught, “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” That statement makes us smile because we recognize how true it is. Some of our trials are known to people around us. Others are known only to the Lord. I pray that He will fill your souls with peace, ministering to you as only He can, as together we learn more about navigating trials with faith and optimism.

As I have prayerfully contemplated this topic, the Lord has enlightened my understanding line upon line and precept upon precept. He has taught me two fundamental principles that I have felt inspired to share with you today:

  1. Heavenly Father’s plan for this mortal life includes trials, challenges, sickness, and opposition. They are part of the plan for our individual spiritual growth.

  2. Jesus Christ, through His atoning sacrifice in our behalf, has felt and overcome every trial, every challenge, every sickness, and every heartache that we will ever encounter. He has overcome the world. He will walk with us. We are not alone.

The more deeply we understand and believe these two basic truths, the more successfully we can navigate life’s trials.

Let us discuss these two principles in further detail.

The Father’s Plan for This Mortal Life

In the Pearl of Great Price we receive this expansive view of our Father in Heaven’s plan through Abraham’s vision of the spirits “that were organized before the world was”:

“There stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

“And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; … and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”

The phrase “we will prove them” implies a “testing” or a “verification” of who we really are. This life, then, is a test. That is the plan.

It would not be much of a test without challenges or opposition of some kind. As Lehi taught his son Jacob:

“It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”

Righteousness is brought to pass as we use our agency to make righteous decisions—to choose righteousness while rejecting its opposite. Without opposition that choice is meaningless. Opposition gives our choices the traction that moves us forward along the covenant path.

In our premortal life, we accepted our Father’s plan for mortal life. We realized that we would be tested. We realized that there would be “opposition in all things.”

All of us are currently experiencing this opposition. We need not be surprised. Our challenges can strengthen our resolve to walk in faithfulness along the covenant path. What a wonderful plan our Father created—a mortal experience, custom crafted for each of us.

The Father Sent His Son, Jesus Christ

Heavenly Father is aware of our trials and temptations, and He has not left us to face them alone. Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to help us.

The prophet Alma provides an inspiring understanding of all that the Savior did and does for us by means of His atoning sacrifice:

“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.”

Notice what Jesus Christ took upon Himself and why He did it:

  • He took upon Himself death in order to “loose the bands of death.”

  • He took upon Himself our sins so that He could blot them out.

  • And He took upon Himself our “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,” even our sicknesses and infirmities, so that He would know how to succor us when we face these challenges.

The word succor means “go to the aid of” or “relieve.” The Savior did not want us to face our trials alone. He has “trodden the wine-press alone” so that we do not have to. Whatever we face, the Savior will support and sustain us. We can emerge victorious over the challenges and trials and heartaches of this mortal life.

With great devotion and gratitude for Jesus Christ we sing “how great thou art!”

These two truths—that trials are part of God’s plan and that God sent His Son to help us—are so basic to our beliefs that it can be easy to underestimate their power. But consider how these truths can affect the way we think and feel about adversity. Because we understand the purpose of God’s plan, we know that our adversity is not a sign that we are failing or that the plan is failing. It means we are progressing. And because we understand the scope of Jesus Christ’s Atonement, we know that we never have to face our trials alone. The Savior understands even our most intimate and personal struggles, and He knows exactly how to help us get through them.

“God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”

Perhaps I can illustrate how understanding the Father’s plan and the Savior’s divine mission empowers us to face life’s challenges.

All Things Shall Work Together for Your Good

I would like to introduce you to our family. Anne Marie and I have been blessed with seven wonderful children. They and their spouses honor us with the goodness of their lives. We have 21 grandchildren. I know all their names, and they are a delight in every way.

The other day, Anne Marie and I were looking at this picture that hangs on the wall in our home. As we did so, I realized that each family in this photo has its share of challenges—every single family. There are no exceptions. Their challenges vary widely, but each family has some. They work, they pray, and they press forward in faith. Sometimes they cry and sorrow. But they understand the plan of salvation. They realize that opposition is part of the plan. And they understand the Savior’s Atonement. They know they can turn to Jesus Christ for help.

Last summer, I started feeling pain in my left shoulder, and I could not figure out why. The pain wouldn’t go away, so finally, in late October, I visited with a doctor. He looked at an x-ray and suggested a CT scan. The next evening, the doctor called me at home—likely not a good sign—and told me that the CT scan had identified metastatic disease in my shoulder. In other words, he said I had cancer. He also said it appeared to have traveled to my shoulder from somewhere else in my body.

I got up from my chair, walked into the other room, and told Anne Marie I had cancer. That evening, our lives changed. Everything seemed to change.

I reached out to my father and asked if he would give me a blessing. He is 95 years old. We gathered as a family at my parents’ home. All our children joined us. It was a miracle that they were all in town. We were careful to wear our masks, except for in this picture. (My dad looked at this picture and asked how he got to be so short!)

I had hoped that, in the blessing, my father would strike the spot and command the cancer to be gone. But that is not the blessing he provided. He blessed me that the cancer would be identified, that there would be a course of treatment, that I would follow the course of treatment, and that I would be made whole.

From the moment he and my sons took their hands off my head, a feeling of peace settled on me. I knew that peaceful feeling came by the influence of the Holy Ghost.

For the next month, medically speaking, I could not see past the end of my feet. I knew I had cancer in my shoulder and in at least one other place in my body. I did not know what kind of cancer it was or how pervasive it was. I just did not know very much at all.

But this I did know: my father, accompanied by my four sons, had pronounced a blessing upon me by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood. I had great faith in the power of that blessing. I also had faith that the blessing was in keeping with the Lord’s will.

Throughout the month of November, the medical tests continued. As we waited for the results, Anne Marie and I talked a lot about the future and our faith in our Heavenly Father’s plan. We discussed the possibility that perhaps my stay in mortality would be a bit shorter than anticipated. But regardless of which side of the veil I would be on, it did not change our love for each other or our marriage or our family. It did not change our gratitude to Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and for the blessing of participating in this wonderful mortal experience.

In our prayers as a couple, we prayed that my life would be spared. But if the plan was that I be called home at this time, we would accept that as well. I also prayed that I could learn what the Lord wanted me to learn from this experience. I remembered Elder Neal A. Maxwell saying on one occasion that the Lord gave him cancer so he could teach the people with authenticity. I continue to ponder that.

As we waited for the diagnosis, I continued to feel at peace. I was very grateful for my father’s blessing. He did strike the spot and make me whole. He healed me spiritually.

During all this, I felt the faith and prayers of friends, family, and loved ones. It is quite something to realize that your children, their spouses, and your grandchildren are praying for you with great faith. The missionaries and the Saints with whom we served in the Spain Barcelona Mission are also exercising their faith and prayers in my behalf. What greater blessings could there be? These prayers of faith and support from so many have created a giant tsunami of love that has been overwhelming to me.

At last, the diagnosis came. I have cancer in my right kidney, which has metastasized to my left shoulder. The cancer has been in my shoulder for a year or so and therefore even longer in my kidney. For some reason, unknown to me, there is no cancer in my brain or lungs. The Lord is very kind. There is a course of treatment, I am following it, and I trust that in a year or so I will be made whole. “But if not,” I am willing to accept the Lord’s will for me.

Now, I am not the only one in this audience with health challenges or worries or heartaches of different kinds. Like you, I have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like you, I have faith in Heavenly Father’s plan. And like you, I have faith that “all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another.”

Our faith does not necessarily remove our trials. But it does give us the power and perspective to navigate those trials successfully.

Latter-Day Prophetic Teachings

Considering how much the Lord loves us, it should come as no surprise that He often inspires His apostles and prophets to testify of the heavenly help available as we face life’s challenges. Here are just a few examples of the guidance and inspired perspective He has given us through His servants.

Elder Orson F. Whitney taught: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell asked these insightful questions: “How could there be refining fires without enduring some heat? Or greater patience without enduring some instructive waiting? Or more empathy without bearing one another’s burdens—not only that others’ burdens may be lightened, but that we may be enlightened through greater empathy? How can there be later magnification without enduring some present deprivation?”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently expressed: “Faith means trusting God in good times and bad, even if that includes some suffering until we see His arm revealed in our behalf. That can be difficult in our modern world when many have come to believe that the highest good in life is to avoid all suffering, that no one should ever anguish over anything. But that belief will never lead us to ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ [Ephesians 4:13].”

From President Dallin H. Oaks we learn: “All of us experience various kinds of opposition that test us. Some of these tests are temptations to sin. Some are mortal challenges apart from personal sin. Some are very great. Some are minor. Some are continuous, and some are mere episodes. None of us is exempt. Opposition permits us to grow toward what our Heavenly Father would have us become.”

President Russell M. Nelson has taught: “You who may be momentarily disheartened, remember, life is not meant to be easy. Trials must be borne and grief endured along the way. As you remember that ‘with God nothing shall be impossible’ [Luke 1:37], know that He is your Father. You are a son or daughter created in His image, entitled through your worthiness to receive revelation to help with your righteous endeavors.”

The Example of Alma: Patience and Faith

In addition to these powerful statements from modern Apostles, the scriptures provide many inspiring examples of people who navigated trials with faith and optimism. From them we can see how disciples of Jesus Christ deal with all sorts of challenges and remain faithful and true through it all.

The Book of Mosiah tells the inspiring story of Alma and his people. As you recall, Alma had been one of the priests of King Noah. He was present when Abinadi taught and testified of Jesus Christ. Unlike the other priests, Alma believed the words of Abinadi and pleaded with King Noah to release Abinadi. King Noah was angry with Alma and sent his servants to kill him. Alma fled, hid himself, and wrote the words of Abinadi. What a blessing his record is for us today.

Alma secretly preached Abinadi’s words to the people. Many accepted the gospel and were baptized in the Waters of Mormon, which became a sacred place for those courageous believers.

Soon, however, the king found out where Alma and his people were hiding and sent his army to destroy them. Fearing for their lives, they took their families and departed into the wilderness.

They traveled for eight days until they came to a safe and peaceful place, which they called the land of Helam. They were industrious and established a happy and prosperous community. These were faithful people who chose to follow the Savior at the peril of their lives. They deserved some peace and prosperity, right?

“Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people [even His faithful people]; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.

“Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.

Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Alma’s people were captured by the Lamanites and placed under the rule of Amulon, another one of King Noah’s former priests. Amulon remembered Alma, and he took advantage of his position of authority to persecute Alma’s people and place heavy burdens on them. When the people of Alma cried “mightily to God” for relief, Amulon put guards over them and commanded that “whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.” Alma and his people stopped praying out loud, but Amulon couldn’t stop them from pouring out their hearts to the Lord.

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

“And I will … ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

Can you see yourself in this story? Have you noticed that the Lord does not always remove our burdens, though He does make them feel lighter by giving us added strength, so that we can be cheerful “even while [we] are in bondage”? And why does He do it this way? To try our patience and faith. Remember, this life is a test.

Even so, the Lord always remembers His covenants with us, and He will deliver us in His own due time. Thus it was with Alma’s people:

“So great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.”

With that promise, but without much detail about how it would happen, the people prepared all night, gathering their flocks together. In the morning, after the people had exercised their faith, “the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites,” and the people of Alma literally walked away from bondage. They traveled to the land of Zarahemla, where Alma and his people were able to “stand as witnesses”—firsthand witnesses—that the Lord truly does “visit [His] people in their afflictions.”

Of course, the story didn’t end there and neither did Alma’s test. As long as we’re in mortality, the test continues. Alma later faced a trial that many of us are familiar with: he had a son who became disaffected with the faith. Alma the Younger, along with the sons of King Mosiah, even “became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people.”

Can you imagine Alma’s anguish? I’m sure some of you can. We don’t know everything that Alma did to help his son, but we do know that he prayed with great faith.

You are familiar with the story. An angel of God appeared to Alma the Younger and the sons of King Mosiah. Note his words to Alma:

“Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.”

Sometimes all we can do is pray with all the faith we can muster. I believe the Lord hears and answers the prayers of parents who pray with great faith for the welfare of their children. Though His answers to these prayers may not always come at the time or in the way we desire, the answers will always come according to His perfect knowledge and timing.

Alma the Younger repented and turned his heart to Christ. His life became one of great devotion and service to the Lord and His Church. The legacy of faith continued from Alma to Alma the Younger and on and on through the generations. As a result, it is interesting to consider that it was a great-great-great-grandson of Alma who was present when the resurrected Savior appeared and who “bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.”

Alma’s faith and devotion did not spare him from life’s challenges and difficulties. But they did help him turn to the Lord when those challenges came. He trusted the Lord, and he trusted His timing. The resulting blessings were rich and multigenerational.

The Example of Joseph Smith: Enduring It Well

We can be further inspired by the example of the Prophet Joseph Smith. When he was only 24 years old, the Lord gave him this foreboding yet reassuring counsel:

“Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.”

From the time of the First Vision until his martyrdom, Joseph Smith did suffer many afflictions, and the Lord was with him throughout all of them, even unto the end.

A good example is the Prophet’s experience in Liberty Jail, where he cried out:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

“How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

“Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?”

In response, the Lord blessed him—and all of us—with this inspired counsel:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith learned that even when it seems that God is far away, He is very near, especially during our trials. And because the prophet endured it all so well, he was able to bless us with revelations, restored doctrine, latter-day scripture, and priesthood ordinances—all of this despite facing almost constant opposition.

The Example of the Savior: Not My Will, But Thine

Our Savior, who is our example in all things, has taught us how to endure adversity faithfully. Most poignant is His experience in Gethsemane:

“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

“Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”

As we have seen in the many examples we’ve explored today, the Father didn’t remove this cup of suffering, but He also didn’t forsake His Beloved Son. He sent an angel to strengthen Him, and with that strength the Savior was able to carry out the infinite Atonement.

Likewise, when we face challenges, the Father does not always remove the burden, but when we submit to His will, we can count on Him to give us strength equal to the challenge.

Peace

The Savior taught this comforting doctrine:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

I testify of Jesus Christ, the true source of lasting peace. Because He overcame the world, He provides the strength for us to meet every trial the world can give us. He provides eternal perspective through His restored gospel and comfort through the influence of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to every issue we face in life.

“Peace I leave with you,” the Savior said, “my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.