It seems like only yesterday that my family consisted of seven individuals: my mom and dad and their five sons. It was devastating for my parents when the brother, just older than I, passed away suddenly at age seven. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents. If that isn’t a rule, then there ought to be such a rule.
My parents were in their nineties when they died and their funerals were happy occasions as we celebrated their long and productive lives. But they are sorely missed by those of us who remain behind. Last year my sister-in-law succumbed to a long illness and my oldest brother unexpectedly followed her to the grave only a few weeks later. And now we are three.
“Earth life includes tests, trials, and tribulations, and some of the trials we face in life can be excruciating,” said Paul V. Johnson. “Whether it be illness, betrayal, temptations, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or some other ordeal, affliction is part of our mortal experience.”
Orson F. Whitney said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted…All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable…It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
“Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges,” said Elder Johnson, “it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses. And no one is exempt.” He went on to say that some may ask, “Why me? I’m trying to be good! Why is the Lord allowing this to happen?” “The furnace of affliction,” said Elder Johnson, “helps purify even the very best of saints by burning away the dross in their lives and leaving behind pure gold.” (Isaiah 48:10)
In the midst of problems, it is nearly impossible to see that the coming blessings far outweigh the pain, humiliation, or heartbreak we may experience at the time. The Apostle Paul taught, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” (2 Cor. 4:17) It is interesting that Paul uses the term “light affliction.” This comes from a person who was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and who experienced many other trials.
Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way. I remember a story about a woman who was attending a piano concert and was awed by the beauty of what she was hearing and the skill of the musician. Not knowing that she was sitting next to the pianist’s mother, she said, “I would give my life to be able to play the piano like that!” The mother leaned over and said, “She has.”
We know that the athlete who resists rigorous training will never become a world-class athlete. We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature. “Not one of the trials and tribulations we face is beyond our limits,” said Elder Johnson. “because we have access to help from the Lord. We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.” (Phil. 4:13)
“As the Savior’s mortal ministry came to a close,” said Elder Johnson, “He experienced the most difficult trial of all time—the incredible suffering in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. This preceded the glorious Resurrection and the promise that all our suffering will someday be done away. His suffering was a prerequisite to the empty tomb that Easter morning and to our future immortality and eternal life.” (Paul V. Johnson, Ensign Magazine, May 2011, pp. 78-80)
Because of His infinite atonement, we will again be seven. Life is short. We must strive to enjoy the journey no matter how rocky or treacherous the road. “My son, peace be unto thy soul; 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.” (D&C 121:7-8)