The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the many trials and challenges that God’s children have confronted throughout the history of the world. At the beginning of this year, my beloved family and I lived through some dark days. The pandemic and other causes brought death and pain to our family through the passing of some dear loved ones. Despite medical attention, fasting, and prayer, during the course of five weeks my brother Charly, my sister Susy, and my brother-in-law Jimmy crossed to the other side of the veil.
At times I have wondered why the Savior cried when He saw Mary anguished by the death of her brother, Lazarus, even though He knew that He had the power to raise Lazarus and that very soon He would use this power to rescue His friend from death.1 I am amazed by the Savior’s compassion and empathy for Mary; He understood the indescribable pain that Mary felt at the death of her brother, Lazarus.
We feel that same intense pain when we experience the temporary separation from our loved ones. The Savior has perfect compassion for us. He doesn’t fault us for our shortsightedness nor for being limited in visualizing our eternal journey. Rather, He has compassion for our sadness and suffering.
Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, want us to have joy.2 President Russell M. Nelson has taught: “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, … we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”3
When I was a young missionary, I remember when a marvelous missionary that I had come to admire received some devastating news. His mother and his younger brother had passed away in a tragic accident. The mission president offered this elder the option to return home for the funeral. However, after speaking with his father on the phone, this missionary decided to stay and finish his mission.
A short time later, when we were serving in the same zone, my companion and I received an emergency call; some thieves had stolen the bicycle belonging to this same missionary and had injured him with a knife. He and his companion had to walk to the nearest hospital, where my companion and I met up with them. On the way to the hospital, I was grieving for this missionary. I imagined that his spirits would be low and that surely, after this traumatic experience, he would now want to return home.
However, when we arrived at the hospital, I saw this missionary lying in his bed, waiting to be taken into surgery—and he was smiling. I thought, “How could he be smiling at a time like this?” While he was recuperating in the hospital, he enthusiastically handed out pamphlets and copies of the Book of Mormon to the doctors, nurses, and other patients. Even with these trials, he did not want to go home. Rather, he served until the last day of his mission with faith, energy, strength, and enthusiasm.
At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi states, “Having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days.”4
I think of the many trials that Nephi experienced, many of which are included in his writing. His trials help us understand that we all have our dark days. One of these trials occurred when Nephi was commanded to return to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates that Laban had in his possession. Some of Nephi’s brothers were men of little faith, and they even beat Nephi with a stick. Nephi experienced another trial when he broke his bow and could not obtain food for his family. Later, when Nephi was commanded to build a ship, his brothers mocked him and refused to help him. Despite these and many other trials during the course of his life, Nephi always recognized the goodness of God.
As his family was crossing the ocean on the way to the promised land, some of Nephi’s family “began to make themselves merry,” speak harshly, and forget that it was the Lord’s power that had preserved them. When Nephi chastised them, they became offended and bound him with cords so that he was unable to move. The Book of Mormon states that his brethren “did treat [him] with much harshness”; his wrists and ankles “were much swollen, and great was the soreness.”5 Nephi was grieved with the hardness of his brothers’ hearts and at times felt overcome with sorrow.6 “Nevertheless,” he declared, “I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.”7
My dear brothers and sisters, how do we react to our afflictions? Do we murmur before the Lord because of them? Or, like Nephi and my former missionary friend, do we feel thankful in word, thought, and deed because we are more focused on our blessings than on our problems?
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, gave us the example during His earthly ministry. In moments of difficulty and trial, there are few things that bring us greater peace and satisfaction than serving our fellow man. The book of Matthew recounts what happened when the Savior learned that His cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod to please the daughter of Herodias:
“And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
“When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
“And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
“But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.”8
Jesus Christ showed us that during times of trial and adversity, we can recognize the difficulties of others. Moved with compassion, we can reach out and lift them. And as we do so, we are also lifted by our Christlike service. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.”9
In this, the Church of Jesus Christ, I have had many opportunities to minister and serve my fellow man. It is at those times when I feel that Heavenly Father lightens my burdens. President Russell M. Nelson is the prophet of God on the earth; he is a great example of how we should minister to others during difficult trials. I unite my testimony with those of many other Saints that God is our loving Heavenly Father. I have felt His infinite love during my dark days. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, understands our pains and our afflictions. He wants to ease our burdens and comfort us. We must follow His example by serving and ministering to those with even greater burdens than our own. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.