While I was growing up, my life was carefree and simple. School and hobbies came easily to me. I didn’t have much to complain about and was generally happy.
But after I turned 19, my life changed.
When I left for my mission in Asuncion, Paraguay, I was excited. I expected things to go smoothly, just like the rest of my life had. After about four months on my mission, however, I found myself back in my hometown due to overwhelming depression and anxiety. In my mind, I’d always been successful—someone who didn’t have weaknesses, as if that were possible. Now I was consumed with fear, guilt, anger, hopelessness, and sadness. All I could think about was how much of a failure I was.
A story in Church history brought me some comfort. On February 24, 1834, Joseph Smith received a revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 103) to organize over 100 men to travel to Jackson County, Missouri, USA, to help the Saints regain the land they had lost when they were expelled from there the previous year. Around 230 men, women, and children joined the expedition, which became known as Zion’s Camp. After preparing, the group left home in May and marched as much as 40 miles a day.1
Not only did Zion’s Camp face the physical aspects of the journey, but a few members of the group also exhibited backbiting, disobedience, and rebellion. Yet many others remained faithful and counted the expedition and the opportunity to be with Joseph as a privilege. With circumstances changing around them, the Prophet sought direction from the Lord and received another revelation in June (Doctrine and Covenants 105) saying that they no longer needed to continue their efforts. Members of the camp returned home without seeming to fulfill their purpose to redeem Zion, though many recognized that it was not a failure because the journey allowed them to grow closer to God and see His hand in their lives.2
When the Saints in Zion’s Camp faced the news that they would be returning home without their expected blessing, they may have wondered why Heavenly Father had asked them to take the journey in the first place. I, too, wondered why I’d been led in a direction that didn’t turn out as I had planned.
After several weeks of feeling more sadness than I’d ever felt before, I realized I didn’t want to continue living with such a negative attitude. I knew I was not sent to earth to live a life consumed with discouragement and pessimism. After all, we are that we “might have joy”! (2 Nephi 2:25). I decided to shift my focus from the “whys” of the past to finding purpose in the midst of affliction.
I reached out to other people, became involved in new hobbies, and went back to school. I also started a daily gratitude journal. What started out as one-line entries turned into full pages as I began to recognize the Lord’s hand in my life more effortlessly. My prayers changed from wish lists to gratitude lists.
Even though my hard days didn’t disappear—they still haven’t—I now know what a difference it makes to focus my perspective on the good in life. Instead of seeing my trials as a bad thing, I decided to view them as an opportunity for growth.
Looking back on how things have turned out since I came home from Paraguay, I can see how Heavenly Father was guiding me and giving me opportunities through my experiences. I met some of my closest friends in those months following my mission, and I was able to immediately start studying at a local university, even though the deadline for enrollment had passed. That program led me to a study abroad in Switzerland, where I got to share the gospel with my host family.
Those years of consciously choosing gratitude have instilled in me a habit of thanking Heavenly Father for all things, which increases my faith in Him.
These words in a priesthood blessing I received during a low week have also helped me understand faith: “I bless you with understanding and knowledge that God … will give you those things that will not only be for your good but … help you become all that He wants you to be. Those will not always be easy blessings, for our struggles and adversity are the things that make us grow.”
I know that Heavenly Father consecrates our efforts, and as President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “The Lord loves effort.”3 God truly does seek our happiness and will forever be by our side.