|If we were surrounded by loved ones, that would mean no more suffering, right?|
In this post, I would like to address two related points. First, this life includes pain, and living a righteous life will not always shield us from pain and suffering. Part of the test of this life is to see if, like Job in the Old Testament, we are willing and able to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of pain and suffering. Second, part of genuine, Christ-like love is being available and willing to inconvenience ourselves in the service of others. It is being available to suffer for their sake.
Carlfred Broderick once told a story of an experience he had as a stake president. The young women’s organization in his stake put together a fireside. In this fireside, there was a play, patterned after Wizard of Oz, in which an 11-year old girl embarks on her journey through young womanhood on a yellow brick road, assured that if she keeps all the commandments, then happiness, joy, and ease will follow. Following the play, there was a talk presented by a beautiful woman who “enthused over her temple marriage and how wonderful life was with her charming husband and her perfect children and that the young women too could look like her and have a husband like him and children like them if they would stick to the yellow brick road and live in Oz.”
The implied message was that if we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, happiness awaits us in life, and that we won’t suffer or experience pain. Carlfred was then invited to make some closing remarks. He said:
Girls, this has been a beautiful program. I commend the gospel with all of its auxiliaries and the temple to you, but I do not want you to believe for one minute that if you keep all the commandments and live as close to the Lord as you can and do everything right and fight off the entire priests quorum one by one and wait chastely for your missionary to return and pay your tithing and attend your meetings, accept calls from the bishop, and have a temple marriageâ€”I do not want you to believe that bad things will not happen to you.
And when that happens, I do not want you to say that God was not true. … Sad thingsâ€”children who are sick or developmentally handicapped, husbands who are not faithful, illnesses that can cripple, or violence, betrayals, hurts, deaths, lossesâ€”when those things happen, do not say God is not keeping his promises to me. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.
Two Story Endings
I believe that we sometimes overlook the reality of the pain and sorrow that we can and will experience as we develop our relationship with Jesus Christ. I think that this sometimes stems from the emphasis in the church on joy and happiness. We believe that there is joy in gospel service. We believe that there is happiness in living the precepts taught by Jesus Christ. But if God the Father Himself at times weeps with sadness for the sins of the world, it is certain that the path towards our Father’s home is fraught with sorrow as well.
We often tell stories of people who pay tithing, and financial miracles occur so that they don’t have to suffer any severe inconveniences of poverty. We tell stories of people who turn down jobs that require them to work on the Sabbath, only to discover a better-paying job, or that the employer is willing to hire them anyway. We tell stories about young men who serve missions at great sacrifice, only to find the things they thought they had sacrificed still available to them when they return home.
These stories build faith, encourage trust, and are remarkable reminders that God is in the details of our lives. However, are we willing to serve God and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him even when things get tough? Even when we have to suffer the inconveniences of poverty? Even when it means losing the job we love? Even when it means missing out on the scholarship?
I ask these questions of myself more than anyone else. Perhaps we should each take an inventory of our lives, and examine whether we keep our covenants only when it is convenient. We tell the stories of the Mormon pioneers, who were willing to sacrifice life and limb to build the Kingdom of God and prepare the earth for the Second Coming of Christ. They had all the same scriptures and promises we do. And when they faithfully obeyed the voice of God, they lost family members, homes, possessions, employment, comfort, convenience, and in many cases their very lives.
But If Not
I am reminded of a talk given by Dennis Simmons. He describes the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who refused to worship the idols they were ordered to worship by the king, under penalty of death. They said, “”If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand. But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Elder Simmons remarks:
Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. . . . Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not. … He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.
I believe that to serve God and to build His kingdom, we need to learn to love. A friend of mine defined love as “being available to suffer for the sake of the Other.” I believe that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin of truly Christian love. I don’t mean that sorrow is sometimes a side effect of love. I mean that sorrow and suffering is often the form our love can and will take in truly Christian service. We cannot truly love without being available to suffer for the sake of the one we love. This, I believe, is worded into one of the promises we make as we are baptized in the church. We promise to “bear one another’s burdens” and to “mourn with those that mourn.” I would like to include a (somewhat edited) quote by Jeffrey R. Holland:
I am convinced that [building the Kingdom of God] is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that [members of the church] have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. [Members of the church] have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.
Now, please donâ€™t misunderstand. Iâ€™m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that [those who are building the Kingdom of God], to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.
How the Atonement Helps
When we take our covenants with God seriously, and invest time, effort, and money into building the Kingdom of God, we will have occasion to hurt. We will have occasion to suffer. We will sometimes feel compelled to sacrifice convenience and comfort to serve others and to follow God’s instructions. I believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ can be a resource for us in that process in at least three ways:
First, Christ can change our hearts so that we are able and willing to suffer for the sake of the Other. Second, Christ can sanctify our efforts and subsequent sorrows and turn them into sacred experiences. Third, Christ can fulfill the promises He has madeâ€”as we suffer for the sake of the Kingdom and those we love, He can bless our efforts with success. That success may not be immediate. It may not even be witnessed. Abinadi sacrificed his life in God’s service, and never saw the hundreds and thousands of lives his actions blessed. But that’s okâ€”when we love, we suffer for the sake of the Other, not ourselves. That is what love is all about.
I am committed to redoubling my efforts in living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in loving those around me. I believe that in my small stewardship (ward activities committee member and home teacher), there are opportunities to build the kingdom and to serve God. If it means that I must sacrifice other fun activities to prepare a valuable home teaching message, or to neglect my favorite past times to think of ways to involved less-active members in ward activities, I commit to being more available to suffer (although only mildly in my current circumstances) for the sake of the Other. I am convinced that as each and every one of us makes this same commitment, we will see miracles happen in our efforts to build the kingdom of God and prepare the earth for Christ’s return.