After a rough few weeks as a brand-new missionary in Australia, I was starting to think that being a missionary wasn’t for me and that I needed to go home. I expressed my feelings of anxiousness to my mission president, and after much thought and prayer, he transferred me to a new area with a new companion. This companion and I immediately clicked, and my previous feelings of anxiety and depression started to fade. But with only four months of missionary service, I still felt like it was all going to be uphill from here on out.
One day, at the close of a district meeting, we got a surprise visit from our mission president. He handed me his phone and said it was my mom. My heart instantly dropped and I knew something was wrong. Tears flooded my eyes before she could even tell me that my little brother, Elliot, had been diagnosed with cancer. My heart instantly broke, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be with my family. But as my mom comforted me, she told me that my faith and my prayers would do more good in Australia than back home.
I was able to call Elliot and tell him how much I loved him. Elliot had been there for me so much throughout my life, and I wished so badly that I could be there by his side. I ended our conversation by praying for him in Samoan and promising that I would teach him our family’s native language when I got back.
Later that night as I was praying, I cried to Heavenly Father. I asked one question: “Why?” “Why Elliot?” “Why our family—again?” We had already seen and felt the pain of cancer and the awful effects of chemotherapy, and my mind was filled with flashbacks of my dad’s long battle with cancer and the pain he went through. “Why is this happening again?” I wanted to know. I was being faced with similar questions that people were always asking me as a missionary, but even the basic gospel answers I always gave them were not good enough for me.
As I knelt in prayer with pain and confusion in my heart, I felt a peaceful feeling come over me. I decided to pray again. This time I asked Heavenly Father, “How?” instead of “Why?” “How can I let this trial strengthen me and my faith?” “How is this trial going to affect Elliot and the rest of my family?” “How can this challenge help me become a better and more effective missionary?” “How can I use this difficult time to help bring peace to those who don’t know about the gospel or the Atonement of Jesus Christ?”
Focusing on “How?” instead of “Why?” helped me to see things through a lens of faith. This change in focus also renewed my appreciation for the basic answers of the gospel, which really are eternal truths. Heavenly Father does love us. Trials, pain, and cancer are not a punishment. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Cherish your spiritual [and physical] burdens because God will converse with you through them and will use you to do His work if you will carry them well” (“The Inconvenient Messiah,” Ensign, Feb. 1984, 70).
I felt so much peace and comfort in Jesus Christ during this difficult time. I knew that He had already felt the despair I was feeling, along with everything that Elliot was going to be feeling and suffering in the months to come. I also found great comfort from the scriptures, conference talks, and my sweet mission president and companions. I’m not sure how I would have taken that news without knowing the bigger picture and Heavenly Father’s eternal plan for our family.
Sometimes it may seem easier to ask, “why?” and blame Heavenly Father for the trials that come our way. But through this experience and others that have followed, I know that we will always be blessed and supported in our trials if we trust in His unwavering love and infinite wisdom (see Alma 36:3).
After months of chemotherapy for Elliot and long after returning home from my mission, I still reflect on this experience whenever trials come my way. I probably won’t ever know why my brother had to endure that trial, but I do know that one day we will have the answers to all of our questions. I know that in that moment when I changed my question to Heavenly Father from “why?” to “how?” I was able to lean on Jesus Christ and allow this trial to help me become more like Him.