“Messages from the Doctrine and Covenants: Why Adversity?” Liahona, July 2005, 28
It has been said that into every life a little rain must fall. But why does it sometimes seem that it pours? A loving God created this world for our benefit, so why do we often face events that are unpleasant and challenging or that bring us pain, sorrow, and heartache? And it certainly doesn’t seem fair that some people appear to experience much more adversity than others!
What are some causes of adversity in our lives? In addressing the subject of sin, King Benjamin noted, “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them” (Mosiah 4:29). The same could be said of the adversities that attend the human condition. They cannot be numbered. Some result from our own actions; others result from the actions of those around us. Still others result from conditions of mortality or from causes unseen or not yet understood. There is, in fact, no effective way to comprehend or cope with all the difficulties of this life without faith in a loving Heavenly Father and without understanding the plan of salvation and the reality of a premortal and postmortal existence.
Perhaps the simplest way to look at these difficult events in our lives is to separate them into two categories: those that occur because of our personal choices and actions and those that come from all the other events that impact our lives. We are responsible for the first.
During a time of great persecution of the Saints, after they were driven from their homes in Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord said, “I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions” (D&C 101:2). Afflictions and difficulties that come directly as a result of our actions are perhaps the easiest for us to understand. And they have a divine purpose. The Lord explained, “All those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:5).
We have a choice when the Lord chastens us. We can be among those who, when faced with the consequences of our actions, spurn our responsibility and turn from God and His chastening love. Or we can be like those who patiently submit, learn, and grow in righteousness.
The Apostle Paul taught, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Scourging is not a painless process!
“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? …
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:7, 11).
We also face other adversities in life, those that can cause us to think, “What did I do to deserve this?” How we deal with these challenges helps to define who we are and what we may become.
I have a hero. She does not know that I think of her as a hero. I have met her only once, but the impression she left on me was lasting. After meeting her I inquired about her of the missionaries, her stake president, and the mission president, and I found even more reasons to respect her. She is Sister Ye Hui Hua of the Tainan Taiwan Stake. I met her when I was visiting Tainan for a stake conference. She was tending the grounds of the meetinghouse. I was drawn to the obvious happiness that enveloped her as she worked. As we spoke she shared her testimony and her gratitude for her many blessings. I left our only encounter carrying the radiance of her joyful spirit and pondering my relative ingratitude for my blessings. She obviously did not have much in the way of material things, but she was as peaceful and cheerful as anyone I had ever met. When I asked others about her, I found out the rest of her story.
As a young adult she had a great desire to attend university but knew the financial burden would be too heavy for her parents. Instead she worked and gave her income to her father, whom she dearly loved and who was a good and righteous man. After she married and in answer to her prayers, the missionaries visited her and her family and they joined the Church. Her husband, however, suffered from lingering health problems and passed away, leaving Sister Ye with three children and little means of support. Following her husband’s death, Sister Ye had to work several jobs to support her family. She managed to save a little every day so her children could serve missions. All three of her children have now served missions; two served in Taiwan and one in the Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission. After returning from his mission, one of her sons became ill and passed away.
As missionaries spoke with Sister Ye at my request, she commented: “I can’t think of any reason why I would have these trials, but I have faith that it is according to God’s great wisdom. I have come to have a very deep appreciation and understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. I believe that only when we keep God’s commandments can we understand His will for us. I thank God daily for allowing me to be here. When I have trials, I remember the pain of others. If someone is sick or has a need, I pray about what I can do to help, and the Lord leads me to know what I can do.”
The missionaries often see Sister Ye—“Ye Mama,” as they fondly call her—trimming the bushes or cleaning around the meetinghouse. They say that she is every missionary’s “second mother” and that she is as thoughtful of them as if they were her own children.
I will long carry a mental picture of a beaming Sister Ye on the grounds of the Tainan meetinghouse, garden tools in hand, sharing with me her gratitude for her blessings—Sister Ye, who has lost opportunities for education and material benefits, who has suffered the loss of those close to her, and who has repeatedly sacrificed for her children and others. What principles of faith separate Sister Ye from those who, when met with the trials of this life, “curse God, and die” (Job 2:9)?
Important is the assurance that a loving Heavenly Father and an understanding Savior are aware of our individual situations. With Their deeper wisdom and greater vision, They will not allow any trial to afflict our lives that will not be to our eternal good if it is properly dealt with. I take great comfort in the guidance given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. The Lord recites a list of horrific trials, and then come the words of comfort and guidance:
“Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
“Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (D&C 122:7–9).
What wonderful counsel in such short verses! The Lord knows our trials; He has suffered worse and can understand and help us through our adversities and sorrows. Our afflictions can be for our good and cannot exceed the bounds He has set.
The scriptures and the prophets give wise counsel on how we should cope with the challenges and trials that enter our lives. We must meet afflictions with patience and faith. While suffering for months in Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith pleaded with the Lord to alleviate the trials of the Saints. The Lord replied in part,
“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” (D&C 121:7–8).
The Lord also taught the Prophet in a revelation concerning the persecution of the Saints in Missouri: “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16).
Even with faith and patience, is there more to coping with the trials of this mortal existence? I believe there is another key, a key that has allowed Sister Ye in Tainan to not only survive her trials but to find joy in this life. The Savior, as always, is our exemplar. He taught this key on the eve of His great suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, at a time when He knew that within hours He would be facing incomprehensible pain and sorrow. He met with His Apostles in an upper room and taught them sacred ordinances and principles. With His hour of greatest need so imminent, He could have looked to those most dear to Him for comfort and support. Rather, “he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” He then taught: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. … If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them“ (John 13:5, 14–15, 17; emphasis added).
As our Lord approached His hour of greatest trial, He was serving others. I believe that is the secret Sister Ye has found and that all of us can discover for ourselves. Amid our trials, our faith and patience can bring us comfort and peace, and our love and service to others can bring us joy. Let us follow the example of the Savior and know that if we will turn to Him, all our afflictions can be for our good, just as He promised.