“Chapter 4: Living Joyfully in Troubled Times,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (2014), 68–75
“Chapter 4,” Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 68–75
One of President Ezra Taft Benson’s early assignments as an Apostle was to help bring relief to the Saints in Europe after World War II. While traveling in Germany, he met faithful people who were able to rise above the devastation all around them. He recorded in his journal:
“The worst destruction I have witnessed was seen today. … As I rode through the streets [of Berlin] and walked through some impassable by auto, I … saw half-starved women paying exorbitant prices anxiously for potato peelings. … I saw old men and women with small hatchets eagerly digging at tree stumps and roots in an effort to get scraps of fuel and then pulling those home for miles on anything that would roll—from two little wheels of a once baby carriage to small wagons—as beasts of burden.
“Later I faced in a cold half-wrecked third floor auditorium off a bombed street 480 cold half-starved but faithful Latter-day Saints in a conference meeting. It was an inspiration to see the light of faith. … There was no bitterness or anger but a sweet reciprocation and expression of faith in the gospel.”1
“Not a single member registered any complaint about their circumstances in spite of the fact that some were in the last stages of starvation right before our very eyes.
“… Our Saints … are full of hope, courage, and faith, and everywhere they look cheerfully forward with expressions of deepest faith for the gospel and for their membership in the Church. It was one of the greatest demonstrations we have ever seen of the real fruits of the gospel in the lives of men and women.”2
President Benson also saw examples of hope and optimism close to home, where many of his fellow farmers remained cheerful even when they faced severe difficulties. He said:
“I remember attending a meeting near Bancroft, Idaho. … We’d had a wonderful meeting, and after it was over, I was greeting some of the wonderful farmers who were there, and among them was a man by the name of Brother Yost, and I said, ‘Brother Yost, how are things out on the farm?’ Brother Yost said, ‘Oh, things are fine, Brother Benson, but I’m about 20 thousand dollars worse off than I was three days ago.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter—another frost?’ He said, ‘Yes, it hit the wheat just in the dough stage, and you know what that means.’ He said, ‘We’re starting the mowing machines in the morning, but everything’s all right. We’ve still got a little wheat in the bin, and we’ve got at least part of our year’s supply laid away. We’re not going to starve, and there’ll be another crop.’ As we left him, I said to my wife, ‘What a wonderful spirit.’
“We drove on down to Logan [a city in Utah, about 80 miles, or 130 kilometers, from Bancroft]. We had our children with us, and we stopped on Main Street to go into a grocery store to pick up a few cookies for the kiddies. And who should I meet on the sidewalk but Brother Yost. I said, ‘Well, what are you doing way down here?’ He said, ‘Brother Benson, it’s our day to go to the temple.’ And I said, ‘Well, reverses don’t dampen your spirits any, do they?’ Then he taught me a lesson. He said, ‘Brother Benson, when reverses come we need the temple all the more.’”3
President Benson’s own responses to adversity lifted those who knew him, just as the example of other Saints strengthened him. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described President Benson as a “careful watcher of events, [who] maintains a certain buoyancy and cheerfulness we would do well to watch. Such buoyancy,” Elder Maxwell said, “comes not from ignoring enveloping events, but from noticing these and yet looking beyond them to promises having to do with how the kingdom will finally prevail.”4
We will all have disappointments and discouragements—that is part of life. But if we will have faith, our setbacks will be but a moment and success will come out of our seeming failures. Our Heavenly Father can accomplish miracles through each of us if we will but place our confidence and trust in Him.5
It is a great blessing to have an inner peace, to have an assurance, to have a spirit of serenity and inward calm during times of strife and struggle, during times of sorrow and reverses. It is soul-satisfying to know that God is at the helm, that He is mindful of His children, and that we can with full confidence place our trust in Him.6
Prayer—persistent prayer—can put us in touch with God, our greatest source of comfort and counsel. “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror.” (D&C 10:5.) “Exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me” is how the young Joseph Smith describes the method that he used in the Sacred Grove to keep the adversary from destroying him. (JS—H 1:16.)7
Without faith in our Heavenly Father, we cannot be successful. Faith gives us vision of what may happen, hope for the future, and optimism in our present tasks. Where faith is, we do not doubt the ultimate success of the work.8
Of all people, we as Latter-day Saints should be the most optimistic and the least pessimistic. For while we know that “peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion,” we are also assured that “the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.” (D&C 1:35–36.)
With the assurance that the Church shall remain intact with God directing it through the troubled times ahead, it then becomes our individual responsibility to see that each of us remains faithful to the Church and its teachings. “He that remaineth steadfast and is not overcome, the same shall be saved.” (JS—M 1:11.)9
We have no cause to really worry. Live the gospel, keep the commandments. Attend to your prayers night and morning in your home. Maintain the standards of the Church. Try and live calmly and cheerfully. … Happiness must be earned from day to day. But it is worth the effort.10
When George A. Smith was very ill, he was visited by his cousin, the Prophet Joseph Smith. The afflicted man reported: “He [the Prophet] told me I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties might surround me. If I were sunk into the lowest pit of Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged, but hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I should come out on the top of the heap.” …
There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you. As the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.” (D&C 121:7–8.)
Pressing on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine. Even our master Jesus the Christ, while facing that supreme test of being temporarily left alone by our Father during the crucifixion, continued performing his labors for the children of men, and then shortly thereafter he was glorified and received a fulness of joy. While you are going through your trial, you can recall your past victories and count the blessings that you do have with a sure hope of greater ones to follow if you are faithful. And you can have that certain knowledge that in due time God will wipe away all tears and that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9.)11
Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily. Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in gloom and melancholy, but in light and love.12
“Men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy. He expects us to be happy. But there is no happiness in a letting down of standards. There is no happiness when you fail to live according to your convictions, according to that which you know to be right. It is so easy to form the habit of taking it just a little easy on certain things. It is so easy to form the habit of faultfinding, or criticizing, of carrying in our hearts reservations regarding certain things in the Church. It is so easy for us to become a bit bitter, and then dwell on that, to become sad and carry a sad face with us. A sad face never won a battle in war or love.13
Do we realize that happiness here and now consists in freely, lovingly, joyfully acknowledging God’s will for us—and doing it in all ways and all affairs big and small? To live perfectly is to live happily. To live happily is to grow in spiritual strength toward perfection. Every action performed in accord with God’s will is part of that growth. Let us not partition our lives. Let us unify our lives, being contemptuous of fictitious honors and glories that do not come with God’s approval. Let us remember that the real source of our strength and happiness is beyond the reach of men and circumstances.14
We must learn and learn again that only through accepting and living the gospel of love as taught by the Master and only through doing His will can we break the bonds of ignorance and doubt that bind us. We must learn this simple, glorious truth so that we can experience the sweet joys of the Spirit now and eternally. We must lose ourselves in doing His will. We must place Him first in our lives. Yes, our blessings multiply as we share His love with our neighbor.15
“Brethren,” said Paul, “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 3:13–14.)
Let your minds be filled with the goal of being like the Lord, and you will crowd out depressing thoughts as you anxiously seek to know him and do his will. “Let this mind be in you,” said Paul. (Philip. 2:5.) “Look unto me in every thought,” said Jesus. (D&C 6:36.) And what will follow if we do? “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isa. 26:3.)16
We will never be alone if we live as we should, because our Father will always be with us to bless us. He wants us to be successful. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to achieve the good goals we set. He will do His part if we do our part.17
Why do you think faith in God gives us “hope for the future, and optimism in our present tasks”? Which words of counsel from section 1 might you share with someone who yearns for inner peace? Why would you choose those words?
As you review section 2, reflect on a time when you needed to “righteously hang on” during adversity. Consider what you have gained from that experience. In what ways does the Lord help us when we are willing to endure trials faithfully?
What are some experiences that have helped you know that Heavenly Father wants you to be happy and successful? Why do you think “happiness here and now consists in … acknowledging God’s will for us”? (See section 3.)
“Get an overview, either by reading the book, chapter, or passage quickly or by reviewing headings. Seek to understand the context and background” (Preach My Gospel , 23). Consider reading a chapter or passage more than once so you can understand it more deeply. As you do so, you may uncover profound insights.