Compiled from Ensign Magazine articles and my own thoughts, originally written on November 29, 2003
When I was a little girl, I had a lot of problems. Physically, I experienced strange ailments, such as boils and sties. I wouldn’t have just one sty on my eye, I would get ten on one eye, and the next week, have eight on the other. I felt the pain of having seventeen boils under one arm and thirteen under the other. Both those would remain in my life for a week or so. Blinking, moving, breathing brought further pain. I had an odd situation w/ my stomach. Doctors were never able to diagnose what was the cause, but I had this gnawing, growling sensation in my stomach. Everyone could hear it and it was quite painful. I have memories of writhing on my bed, doubled over in agony. At the age of eight, I developed psoriasis on my elbows and knees, which made bending those joints quite painful. All of those things were visible or audible to everyone around me. So I suffered emotionally as my peers laughed, made fun, and jeered me continually. If I had tonsillitis once, I had it twenty times. I experienced many of the childhood illnesses, such as mumps and chicken pox. I remember having this recurring wish. I would wish that I could have all my lifetime illnesses, problems, and injuries in one day. I would imagine that I could survive one day of every single thing that would happen to me in my entire lifetime. I just wanted to suffer it all at once, get through it, and never have to experience pain again. It made sense to me. I really thought God would go along with this logical wish. I remember thinking and wishing this for many years, meanwhile any pain, which was new or odd or unique, would surface in my life time and time again.
Now I want to discuss the purpose for my story by first explaining Matthew 11:30 which states, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. What is a yoke? A yoke is a frame or bar that can be placed on one or two people or animals pulling or carrying a heavy load. The yoke balances the burden and makes it easier to manage. Oftentimes yokes for oxen were made with an individual ox in mind. They were measured, their individual bone structures were evaluated and a yoke was made according to those measurements. When the yoke was place upon that animal, it fit perfectly and was less burdensome to that animal. You could not switch yokes between different oxen without causing rubbing sores and pain to that animal.
So what is taking Christ’s yoke upon us? It is to humbly do his will and allow him to guide and direct our lives. Heavenly Father is mindful of each one of us. We are given trials and situations in our lives to mold us, change us into the persons we agreed to become before we came here to earth. He gives each of us just what He knows we can handle. I am not given another person’s trials and they are not given mine. Each trial is meant to teach us or others something that should bring us closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ while we move down the path that leads to Eternal Life.
Adversity, or what we perceive to be adversity, enters into the life of every individual at various times and in various forms. My talk today deals with trials, which come to those who righteously desire and seek earnestly to learn, and strive diligently to do God’s will, yet nevertheless experience adversity. Adversity in the lives of the obedient and faithful may be the consequence of disease, accidental injury, ignorance, or the influence of the adversary. To preserve agency, the Lord also at times permits the righteous to suffer the consequences of evil acts by others. An example of this is found when Nephi suffers at the hands of his brothers.
Laman and Lemuel reacted to their trials with resentment, anger, bitterness, doubt, and fear. Paul’s admonition to us reminds us we have the knowledge and sufficient testimony of the divine plan of salvation to respond with faith, patience, and hope born of that peace which passeth all understanding.
The plan of salvation presented to and accepted by us in the premortal state includes a probationary period on earth, during which we will experience opposites, make choices, learn the consequences of those actions, and prepare to return to the presence of God. Experiencing adversity is an essential part of the process. Knowing all of this, we elected to come into mortality.
Even Christ learned through His trials. In Hebrews 5:8, we read, “Though He were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which He suffered.” Prophets and Apostles, ancient and modern, have struggled with adversity in their own lives. I immediately think of Job in the Old Testament, Paul in the New Testament, and Joseph Smith in the current dispensation.
When I’m inclined to look around me and think “Are they exempt?” and “I don’t see them suffer as I’ve had suffer.” I remember my yoke was made especially for me. My burden has been made lighter when I did not murmur and complain, but accepted my load, bore it was patience and longsuffering, gleaned all the learning out of it I could, and went on with my day. I realize none of us are exempt. Even the most holy and righteous suffer his/her own trials and burdens. We are here to work out our own salvation, through Christ, so I don’t have to worry myself with the next guy and whether or not he is receiving his equal share. What instead I could do with those emotions is to change them to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light”, and in doing so, my burdens become lighter. When we “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” we receive comfort. When we “stand as witnesses of God in all things,” we feel his redeeming love and see our present circumstances more clearly in an eternal perspective. In that way, we are accepting the Savior’s invitation to “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
A very good friend confided in me recently that he had been diagnosed with a debilitating and life-threatening illness. He had been carrying this news around for a couple of weeks. He did not want to burden anyone with it so he had not told a soul. I convinced him to share whatever was bothering him with me and I promised him that I could offer him peace. When he, in tears, finally told me, I assured him that my burden was not made heavier by his news, but his was made lighter. When we share our problems and trials with others who care, our burdens become lighter. It is like the oxen that share the load except that we should not put that load on ourselves, but encourage the bearer of the burden to bring his burden to Christ, and then Christ will give them rest and peace, which peace passeth all understanding. Remind them that Paul teaches us that all things work together for good to them that love God. Joseph Smith taught us through his own trials that all things bring us experience and are for our good.
How should we respond to our adversities and trials? Our responses to suffering and affliction can draw us closer to the Savior, to our Heavenly Father, and to the realization of our own celestial potential. In Alma 17:5 we learn that the sons of Mosiah, during their missionary labors, “had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and mind, such as hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit. Partly because of those experiences, they became “strong in the knowledge of the truth; men of a sound understanding, who searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. They had been given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation.” Through their positive responses to adversity, they grew spiritually.
In Mosiah 23 & 24, we read these the account of Alma’s people who lived the gospel fully, and they were knit together in unity and in love toward one another. These people did not deserve adversity, but they were given the opportunity for further spiritual growth. In verse 21, we read “Nevertheless, the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” In verse 15, we see that the Lord strengthened them “that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” Eventually, because of the faith and patience, they were delivered from their afflictions. They were refined spiritually and learned increased faith, and they gave thanks to God.
Paul again reminds us that “we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” We are to seek his help in the time of need. In Alma 7: 11-12, we learn that because the Savior suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind, taking upon him the pains and sickness of his people, taking upon him their infirmities, he knew according to the flesh how to help his people according to their infirmities. We need to follow the counsel of Amulek, which states, “Let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those around you”.
Now you could say logically say that I did that as a young girl. I was given much to deal with, many very difficult afflictions and circumstances and, believe me, my heart was drawn out in prayer. Heavenly Father could not give me what I prayed for (to suffer everything in one day). I would never be able to learn all I needed to from every trial if I suffered them altogether and quickly. He knew I would never be able to bear it all at once either. He wisely gives me what I need to move that next little bit down the path, which leads to Eternal Life.
I have learned to bear my burdens and trials with more patience and understanding that all these things will be for my experience and be for my good. There are times in the midst of my trials, when I wonder how long that particular burden will be with me, then I remember my faith. I remember that Heavenly Father will not allow me to bear it one minute more than is necessary. When I have learned sufficiently what I needed to learn, or when others around me learned what they needed to learn, then that burden will be lifted. I give thanks for my afflictions. I do not fear. I am comforted. I wait patiently on the Lord, with the assurance that all things I have been and will be afflicted with will work together for my good. Afterward a witness of the Spirit and a manifestation of greater things, even the mysteries of God follow a trial of my faith.
In D & C 88:68, we are instructed to “Sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” The Lord’s own way of preparing us to see him as he his may well include the refining furnace of affliction. Without adversity, we may tend to forget the divine purpose of mortality and live our lives focused on the things of the world. We can and should ask for help in bearing our burdens, but I feel we should use the Savior’s example by always adding “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”.
I do not pray for further affliction and burdens, but I am thankful for those that I have had. I pray that we can become as the people of Alma, knit together in love, keeping our eye single to the glory of God and look to Christ in all our afflictions and trials. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN
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