Pain Swallowed up in the Joy of Christ

I was recently reading an article by Erin Ann McBride on Meridian Magazine’s website.  Erin was grappling with the shootings at the movie theater in Colorado.  If you haven’t had a chance to read her article and be uplifted by her insights, I highly recommend the article.

I do not wish to go back and rehash any of the tragedy that occurred.  Instead, I would like to focus in on a quote she included from a conference talk by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom.  In that talk, he says, “We are promised that we will “suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38). Never let an earthly circumstance disable you spiritually.”    I would to share some of my personal experiences with this principle today.

Interestingly, as I prepare to list the “tragedies” in my personal life, I am struck again by how good my life is, and how much better my “trials” and “afflictions” are as compared to what they could be.  I am also humbled that I have been spared some of the horrific tragedies that I have witnessed in the lives of others.   So, even as I begin to “whine about my problems,” I can see how greatly I have been blessed throughout the course of my life.

I am divorced.  It’s a major theme that runs through these entries.  My father died in 2006.  Both of my daughters made very painful decisions that resulted in their going to live with their father.  Over the course of the last two months, I have been brought face-to-face with the realization that I was once given a reprieve from the worst parts of my character, but those parts still exist and may very well always be a part of me.  I have struggled with plantar fasciitis  for a little over a year and have been frustrated by the limitations it has caused.  I am not able to marry my fiance, because I no longer have the financial means to continue the court battle against my ex-husband.  Teaching, the career I chose because of my passion for sharing, has become one of the most despised occupations in the U.S., and the joy is being sucked out of my job.  I am feeling the financial crunch that comes when the economy spins out of control like it has been.

When I look at what I thought I was promised when I joined the church at age 18, none of this is what I expected.  I expected to marry a good man in the temple, stay together forever, raise children in joy, peace, and happiness, and to follow the law of tithing to be blessed spiritually and temporally beyond measure.  Yes, I was quite naive.  Even so, why does the life I have seem to leave so much to be desired?  Why didn’t God stop all this from happening?  Why didn’t He protect me when I was so young and naive?  Why didn’t He protect my children?  Why doesn’t He provide miracles now that will turn my children back to Him and give me some of the “benefits” of being a true and faithful (at least, I hope) Latter-day Saint?

The answer is to go back and look at the reason we were sent here.  When we lived in our pre-mortal existence, we progressed as far as we could.  In order to continue to become like our Father in Heaven, something had to change.  We needed to leave the safety of His presence and begin to exercise our independence.  We needed experience.  So, if life were always easy, if sins immediately brought the attendant consequences, if obedience were always immediately blessed — in short, if there were no faith required, we would miss a vital component of the growth we need to experience.

So, instead of taking away the trials or providing answers to all of the “why” questions, Heavenly Father, in His great love, allows us to stumble, question, hurt, and struggle.  Through our experiences, we growth spiritual muscles that have been lying dormant.  We learn to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise, the thrill of a morning power walk, the exquisite joy in the laughter of a baby.  We learn that we can be grateful for the small things, and that the small things are a big part of life.  We learn that, if we will put our selfish desires and self-righteous ideals aside, life is made up of countless small wonders and miracles.

Time heals wounds, emotional scars become the beauty marks of our character.  We make peace with the things we cannot change.  Children grow and gain mature perspective.  Friendships mend and mature.   We learn to trust God’s promise that, whether here or in the eternities, all will be made perfectly right.

Our pains are swallowed up in the perfect joy of Christ.