When I was 15 years old, my parents were hit by a drunk driver on their way to the Los Angeles California Temple.
When my brothers and I arrived at the hospital, we were informed that my dad had already passed away and that my mom had suffered massive traumatic injuries.
My mom ended up surviving, but her life was nothing like the one she had before. After the accident, she was no longer able to move, speak, eat, or drink. For the next 18 years until her passing, she lay in a hospital bed, staring at the ceiling, or propped up in a wheelchair.
For years, I thought it was my unrighteousness that had caused my parents’ accident. I had the mistaken belief that I had done something wrong to incur the displeasure of a wrathful God upon me. I thought that no matter how hard I tried, God was against me, and I was doomed to a constant state of misery.
That was the story I told myself, and it was extremely destructive. That narrative colored the way I viewed everything in life.
We all have stories we tell ourselves, about how we view both ourselves and the world at large. Many of us are unaware of what a powerful impact these stories have, but they shape our outlook on life and ultimately our destiny.
Consider a scriptural example of people who shared a common experience and yet had vastly different narratives—Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel.
Nephi said, “I, Nephi, … having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God” (1 Nephi 1:1).
He had experienced many afflictions in his life, but he also recognized the goodness of God because he had a knowledge of and faith in Him.
Now think about the perspective of Laman and Lemuel:
“[They believed] that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
“And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance. …
“And [Nephi’s] brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters. …
“And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land. …
“And again, they were wroth … , for they said that [Nephi] robbed them” (Mosiah 10:12–16; emphasis added).
Although Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel had all gone through similar experiences, they had very different narratives. Instead of recognizing God’s goodness in blessing and preserving their lives, Laman and Lemuel felt they had been wronged and robbed, and thus they were angry. Unlike Nephi, who had a knowledge of the Lord, Laman and Lemuel didn’t understand (and didn’t want to understand) the dealings of God.
Like Laman and Lemuel, I also told myself a false narrative for a long time. I believed I had been wronged and robbed, mainly by God. I had sought my whole life to do the right things and felt I was being presented with one trial after another. I too felt angry.
I lived with this perspective until a friend explained to me that we all suffer and said that I should consider how I am labeling my suffering.
My first impression was, How dare he? How could he understand what I had been through?
But then my thoughts slowly changed, and I felt embarrassed at the rage I felt as I pondered.
I wondered: Do I really think Heavenly Father is punishing me? Do I think everything in life is unfair? Do I only focus on my suffering and nothing else? Do I see the world like Laman and Lemuel did?
Hoping to better understand my mindset and the narrative I had been telling myself, I started writing. I wrote and rewrote my life story, exploring different life choices to see what might have happened if the accident that transformed my life hadn’t occurred.
As I looked back on my life and considered alternative paths, I realized that if I had been able to pursue my own interests, I likely would’ve gone down some wrong paths and may not have gained the strong testimony that I have today. As extremely hard as it was to go through the experiences I did, I wouldn’t have gained the strength, courage, and faith in Jesus Christ that those years of hardship had developed.
Due to my parents’ accident, I was forced to make critical, life-altering decisions at a young age that caused me to stay true to Heavenly Father. And though I chose Him over and over again, I was furious about it because I thought He was being unfair and punishing me.
However, after 20 years, when I decided to stop kicking and screaming and told myself a new story, I started viewing myself through the eyes of a loving Heavenly Father. I realized Heavenly Father would guide me in and through tragedy. Knowing this gave me great hope and confidence in Him and how I could live my life. If I was on Heavenly Father’s side, then who could be against me? (see Romans 8:31). With this perspective in mind, I started to make changes, and my life got infinitely better in numerous ways—and with surprising speed:
I began to love, support, and care for myself as a loving parent would.
I made it a daily practice to exercise, journal, and immerse myself in the scriptures.
I sought meaningful relationships that brought connection and community into my life.
I met with a therapist to better understand myself and the consequences of my choices.
I developed my talents and pursued my goals.
I served others and attended the temple often.
I stopped blaming God and others for the circumstances of my life and started taking responsibility for them.
I woke up each morning excited to start the day; life became joyful.
The Lord spoke this truth to Joseph Smith: “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:19; emphasis added).
I’ve realized that being thankful in all things includes the difficult and heartbreaking parts of our lives as well.
If you have experiences that make you feel wronged, robbed, or wroth, I encourage you to ask Heavenly Father to help you create a new narrative. Consider where you may have gone if you had pursued a different path in life. Explore all the possible scenarios to the end. Write until you have exhausted all the outcomes.
Then look back at your life through the lens of gratitude. Notice the blessings that have come through the challenges you’ve had. What lessons have you learned? How have you grown? What relationships have been strengthened or left behind? How has your faith in Jesus Christ increased?
President Russell M. Nelson 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.”1 As you focus on Jesus Christ and write and focus on a new perspective to help you recognize the hand of God, you’ll be able to say, just as Nephi did, “Having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days” (1 Nephi 1:1).
Rewriting the story you tell yourself can alter the way you think about all your experiences. And as your thinking changes, your feelings will change. And as your feelings change, your actions will change. And as your actions change, so too will your life.
I have experienced change firsthand through the actions I’ve taken. As I have relied on the Savior, He has helped bring true joy into my life.