Dr. Gary G. Taylor
Few of us will be called on to suffer in this life more than Joseph Smith did in the Liberty Jail. You will recall that during his long incarceration he was cold, ill fed, and abused. This was cruel and unusual punishment by any reasonable definition. But worse was the emotional and spiritual side to this trial. He was falsely accused, which usually makes forgiving that much more difficult. He also had to sit by while his family and friends suffered greatly, even as they were thrown out of their homes and killed in some instances. These were people he dearly loved; but also people who had followed his directions and advice as their prophet. Perhaps worst of all, the heavens seemed to be closed for a time. “O God, where art thou?” (D&C 121:1) His prayers for relief do not appear to have been immediately answered.
Although not to the extent of the Prophet Joseph’s troubles, a modern day Elder Smith also found himself in a miserable situation. He had just finished a grueling day of contacting in the cold and rain—typical of where he is serving at that time of year. After their grueling effort, he and his companion had gotten exactly zero for their effort. In general, they are teaching very few lessons, they have no promising investigators and it’s been like that for some time. Elder Smith also has a critical companion. No matter what Elder Smith does it doesn’t seem to be good enough. Adding to his misery, he hasn’t been feeling physically well lately, and he is having a hard time sleeping at night. He misses his girlfriend and other friends and family back home and is constantly thinking about them. And the capper: he has 21 months to go before he can get on the plane and go home. So far, his prayers for relief don’t seem to be answered. Following are four things that Joseph was told in answer to his prayer that could also help Elder Smith:
NUMBER ONE: The first two words in God’s answer to Joseph’s prayer were very powerful, “My son” (verse 7). This greeting would have reminded Joseph of who he was in relation to God; and what’s at stake in this life. It would also help Elder Smith if he remembered the he too is God’s son; and that God has promised to give him all that He has. Quoting D & C 84:38, “He that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom: therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him”. Yes, Elder Smith has been promised all that God has; but he must be tested first. Imagine the power of God in the hands of someone who can’t be trusted--someone who might use that power to take advantage of others or to exercise unrighteous control. That’s a horrible and inconceivable possibility. If any of us are ever to be trusted with all that the Father has, we must be tested and must prove to be 100% trustworthy. A missionary on his or her worst day ever, or any of us when things are going horribly wrong, is facing a necessary and critically important opportunity. Yes it’s a challenge and test, but it’s also an opportunity. It’s a great help to remember this perspective at the time of the test. It doesn’t help a lot to know this philosophically; but then during a moment of crisis to be thinking things like “how horrible this is”; or failing to see the purpose in what is happening. On the other hand, remembering this truth at the time of trial gives purpose and meaning to what otherwise would be simple misery. That can make all the difference is dealing with adversity.
NUMBER TWO: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (vs. 7-8). Here is a reminder that our troubles are temporary and that there is a great reward waiting if we endure them faithfully. Elder Smith, of course, knows that what he is going through is temporary. He knows that he will eventually get a new companion and perhaps a more productive area in which to serve. His mission will eventually come to an end. But, as suggested above, it’s not what he thinks generally that matters so much. It’s what he thinks at the moment. At the moment, he may be thinking, “this will never end”. “I can’t stand another day of this”. “I’m wasting my time”. And as is true for all of us, what Elder Smith chooses to think at the moment controls what he will feel at the moment. Elder Smith needs to be thinking. “Hey, this is temporary.” “I can get through this.” “One day at a time.” “It’s bound to get better”. It’s not difficult to predict how he will feel depending on which direction he chooses to go in his thinking.
NUMBER THREE: “Thou art not yet as Job” (v. 10). Joseph was reminded that in spite of how bad things were at the moment, not everything was bad. That was an important reminder and an invitation for Joseph to focus on what was good in his situation; not what was bad. Elder Smith needs to do the same thing. As examples of the positive, Elder Smith has a family and friends who love and support him. God is aware of Elder Smith and his situation; and He will step in when Elder Smith reaches his limit. (This won’t necessarily happen when Elder Smith thinks that he has reached his limit; but rather, when he actually gets there.) Elder Smith has a history of answered prayers and the fullness of the gospel to enjoy and share. These are just a few of the many positives in his current situation. Much is wrong at the moment; but he will feel so much better if he focuses on what is right.
Also in Section 121, God goes on in several verses to remind Joseph that He is in charge and that Joseph need not worry about justice being done; or anything for that matter, not within Joseph’s control. In Elder Smith’s case, he doesn’t have to worry about his companion’s critical nature or try to measure up to whatever impossible standard his companion has for him. Since he is trying his best, Elder Smith doesn’t have to worry about the lack of investigators or progress in the work. As long as he is enduring well, he doesn’t have to feel guilty or worry about the fact that he isn’t enjoying his mission at the moment. In short, as long as he is trying his best, the Lord will be happy with him, no matter the results of his efforts. God is in control and it will all work out for those who keep faithfully trying to be the best disciple they can be. Therefore, no need to worry. And to repeat Number Two, the painful situation is temporary.
NUMBER FOUR: This mostly comes from the next section in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 122); but Joseph was also reminded of what the Savior went through in his behalf. As Elder Smith, or any of us, contemplate on the great gift we have been given and the length the Savor was willing to go in order to redeem us; it’s natural to want to give back. Enduring well whatever it is we are called on to endure in this life is the least we could do for someone who has suffered so personally and so greatly to make everything possible for us. It’s a natural expression of our love for the Lord and the truth.
Remembering these four truths when the going gets rough can go a long way toward helping us stay motivated; and maintain some degree of comfort even in the worst of circumstances.
D & C 121: A Key to Enduring Adversity Well While Serving a Mission