Sometimes things just don’t work right. When that happens, we have choices, right? We can roll with it, learn from it, and build on it. Or we can wig out, back down, and cave in.

The way I choose to react to life’s challenges can make me or break me. And interestingly enough, this mortal life seems to hinge on how flexible we can be while holding tightly to eternal truths.

In Alma 42, we read about the Plan of Happiness. Sometimes, it may be hard to figure out what all the shouting was about – this mortal life stuff is hard.  We make it harder when we erroneously determine that if we live right,’ follow the commandments, and fill our daily life with the best things and people that we can, all will be well – we’ll escape Hard Things.

That is not the way of that Plan of Happiness. When things don’t work right, it gives us opportunity to learn through opposition, or ourselves, the difference between artificial pleasantries and genuine joy. We understand true happiness and peace be passing through periods of bitter trial.

As we’ve heard and read hundreds of times, choice is key.  Do we choose to place blame, or solve a problem? Do we choose to judge harshly -ourselves or others – or gain understanding as we view life [and our fellow mortal beings] through a wider, wiser lens?

Some things that go awry, we deserve. When we choose something foolish, we pretty much know what’s coming down the pike. But some things blindside us. We aren’t ready for them.

Wait – we’re never truly ready for Hard Things. So forget I wrote that.

Simplicity being key to my own mortal path, here are a few ideas that have helped me focus keeping myself right-side up when life tries to turn me upside down:

1.  Keep Believing in Goodness

When awful things occur, or people hurt us greatly, will we let it break us or will we remember that goodness is always present, even when bad things happen?

It seems as though, despite the headlines full of horrid goings-on and evil choices that some make, most folks still believe in goodness. I love challenge given us in Doctrine & Covenants 115:5: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations.” That light that radiates from us will, according to President James E Faust, “bless us as well as many others.” [General Conference, April 2006.]

How? By our desires to do something good. It can be as tiny as offering a smile or handshake. As seemingly insignificant as noticing someone who seems down. This goodness seems to shine even more brightly after a catastrophe has hit. People shine like lighthouses in a storm, offering heartfelt assistance. It adds so much goodness to this world. More importantly, it adds a drop of needed goodness and hope to a struggling individual or family. That’s priceless. And it’s the gospel in action.

This Christmas, I answered the door bell to find a stack of goodies at the door stoop. No one was anywhere in sight. I needed help to bring in the haul [!] and we all exclaimed [we were in the middle of a family gathering] over the treats and the good gifts left for us. There was a card signed like this:

Merry Christmas! Love, Santa’s Elves 

See? I knew there was a Santa! His elves- any of those good folks who go about bringing joy and peace, in any number of ways, bring more light and goodness. Sometimes it comes when things are going well in our lives. Sometimes it’s a lifeline at times that are hard and dark and heavy. Goodness is there. After a dark night, or many dark nights, a sunrise will come.

2.  Jump into Life with Conviction – and Stay There

I just can’t believe we came here to sit on the sidelines and observe. This is a full-activity mission we’re on. When things are joyous or miserable, the more we involve ourselves in the process of living life [not getting run over by it or chased away from the work of it] the better our comprehension will be of Important Things.

Here’s a short story by Anthony de Mello that seems to teach this lesson well:

Before the young man began his studies he wanted assurance from the Master.

Can you teach me the goal of human life?

I cannot, replied the Master.

Or at least it’s meaning?

I cannot.

Can you indicate to me the nature of death or of life beyond the grave?

I cannot.

The young man walked away in scorn. The disciples were dismayed that their master had been shown in a poor light.

Said the Master soothingly:

Of what is it to comprehend life’s nature and its meaning if you have never tasted it?  I’d rather you ate your pudding than speculated on it.

Yes, I need to eat my pudding. Life offers more when I do, because I don’t know enough to speculate on much of anything.  The “doing” of life and the being part of it offers me a bridge to understanding.

3.  Be Willing to Grow Hope

I remember teaching at a university campus one summer when a lady came up to me after one of my classes. She told me without whining, self-deprecation, or complaint that earlier that year their house had burned down. Every single thing they had was lost. But every single person was safe.  She expressed gratitude for my class – on hope, as it turned out – and went her way.

I’ve thought of her many times. Her air of certainty and grace. Her solid faith. Her understanding that things don’t matter, but people and principles do. Little does she know how much hope she grew in me, that day. Dealing with my own quiet illness, and there by grace and priesthood blessing, she helped renew my strength:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings of eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.  [Isaiah 40:31]

She was an example and bright light of goodness, steadfastness and hope.

P.S. – her son had passed away. She had an incurable illness, and it wasn’t the first time their house had burned to the ground. But she didn’t give up hope, and the peace in that woman has been a genuine beacon of an example to me, as I’ve continued to have my own times of trial.

When things don’t work out right – and they often don’t – we can still believe in goodness. We can remember that we’re here to learn who we are, and what we should be about. We’re here to hear and to see with greater light and understanding while we live with a greater conviction and commitment to goodness that reaches far beyond this mortal realm.

Our actions and reactions really are key to our successful mortal journey.

  Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “the Lord is intent on [our] personal growth and development. Progress is accelerated when [we] willingly allow Him to lead [us] through every growth experience [we] encounter. … If [we] question [every unpleasant challenge], … [we] make it harder for the Lord to bless [us].”

On the other hand, as willing students and with open hearts and eager minds, we may gain a great deal more peace as we understand the Healer’s Art.  With implementation of a few principles, and with Christ as our focus, we can – really – remain right-side up when life tries to flip us upside down!