Overcoming Adversity – What is the purpose of trials?

I’d like you to meet my friend Paul.  When he was ten years old he was paralyzed in a car accident.  Our parents were friends growing up so we heard about the situation immediately.  It was one of the few times I’d seen my older brother cry.  Paul is one of his very best friends.  Our family gathered in the living room and knelt down to say a prayer in behalf of their family.  I was very young and didn’t really understand the repercussions of Paul’s injuries.  I remember being chided by my parents when I made a silly comment when we visited him in the hospital.  Still, one of my fondest memories of Paul is my first youth conference when we did the pioneer trek: three days, and nearly twenty-five miles.  It was intense for everyone, but I remember that Paul did not have any hesitation about joining the rest of us on the trek and was a champion throughout the entire experience.  Today, Paul is an Olympian, a husband and father, an engineer, and has organized a foundation to help others.  Here is his story:

In the current Ensign there is an article that reminds us, “Challenges have always been part of mortality and God’s plan for our growth. Through the power of the Atonement, we can still “be of good cheer” (Be of Good Cheer: Choosing Happiness By Camille Fronk Olson).

It isn’t always easy to see the purpose of our trials, let alone be grateful for or happy about them.  Still, it’s important to have a good attitude and look for ways to improve in spite of trials.  I used to be really good about having “eternal perspective” when it came to trials.  I would tell myself that there is a grander purpose that I will come to understand one day.  That worked really well for me.  I would imagine myself looking back over my life when it is over and thinking, “ah, that’s why” and everything would be ok.

In True to the Faith, we can read about adversity as a part of our existence and why it is important to have a good attitude:

“When some people face adversity, they are like Laman and Lemuel. They complain and become bitter. They ask questions like “Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this now? What have I done to deserve this?” But these questions have the power to dominate their thoughts. Such questions can overtake their vision, absorb their energy, and deprive them of the experiences the Lord wants them to receive. Rather than responding in this way, you should follow Nephi’s example. Consider asking questions such as, “What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial?” (See 1 Nephi 16:15–31.)”

Through some of my recent trials, I sometimes catch myself being more like Laman, and less like Nephi.  Why have I had to struggle to complete my college education?  Why have I always had to experience periods of friendlessness and lonliness?  Why has my husband had such a rough time finding employment?  Why did we have to have a car accident in the midst of trial and depression?  Why is it so hard to find direction or to change our course when we are in a difficult situation?  Like the article says, trials and opposition are a part of mortal existence.  Opposition teach us faith, gratitude, and a myriad of virtues which would otherwise be incomprehensible.  There is a part of me that is beginning to understand that in order to be able to seize control of my situation, I need to learn how to and be capable of giving up that control.

“We mistakenly deduce that we must first prove our worth through our obedience and righteousness before the Lord’s sacrifice will cover us or His grace enable us.

“We may come to believe that we can and should trust in our own efforts rather than humbly acknowledge God. This is self-righteousness…

“Such thinking easily leads to justifying wrongdoing because we think we are in control; we think we know better than others, and sin is not a problem for us. If we can just get control over our world—our addictions in all their varieties, our eating disorders and obsession with thinness, our insistence that our house always be immaculate, our fascination with outward evidence of education and success—then we can finally be cheerful.

“Christ declared, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; emphasis added).

I have to give up the idea that perfection is within my reach because it’s just not.  Only through the Atonement can I even come close to being able to accomplish anything.  I don’t always understand why things have to be so difficult, but I can have faith that there is a Plan and a purpose.  The Atonement makes all things possible.  Through my trials, I can be grateful, and I can have faith that everything will work out for my good, and that I am being refined and prepared somehow.  “Thy will, oh Lord, be done.”

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