Like you, I’m interested in following the prophets. And I have noticed that prophets climb mountains. For example, Enoch climbed Mount Simeon (as recorded in Moses 7:2-4). The brother of Jared climbed Mount Shelem (Ether 3:1-20). Moses ascended Mount Sinai on more than one occasion (Exodus 3, 19). Jesus and Peter, James, and John climbed up the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Luke 9).
My life has been full of mountains. When I was a young man I climbed the highest peaks in Ogden and Utah valleys. While living and teaching in the Near East for a span of fourteen years I hiked up onto hundreds of tells (mounds of ruined, ancient cities) in the Holy Land, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. I have climbed Mount Sinai eighteen times. While living in Guatemala I climbed the most active volcano in Central America, Volcn Pacaya, five times. And now I go up to the Mountain of the Lord’s House, the Holy Temple, and help others come up to the highest ordinances and blessings in the universe.
President Spencer W. Kimball used to say, If there’s a mountain I need to climb, let me have that mountain! 1 We will all get our mountains to climb. We are here on earth to experience good and evil, and joy and pain. They are both an important part of life. We are not here to be comfortable; we are here to be challenged. Trials, ordeals, problems, even painful afflictions are all part of a normal Latter-day Saint life, a normal Christ-like life.
Here are some comments about the trials of life from great people who certainly knew what they were talking about:
President Brigham Young: “It is recorded that Jesus was made perfect through suffering. If he was made perfect through suffering, why should we imagine for one moment that we can be prepared to enter into the kingdom . . . with him and the Father, without passing through similar ordeals?” 2
President John Taylor: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other[s]. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.” 3
President George Q. Cannon: “Every [person] who gains a celestial glory will be tried to the very uttermost. If there is a point in our character that is weak and tender, you may depend upon it that the Lord will reach after that, and we will be tried at that spot for the Lord will test us to the utmost before we can get through and receive that glory and exaltation which He has in store for [us].” 4
Elder Richard L. Evans: “You may search all the ages for [a person who has had no problems] . . . you may look through the . . . streets of heaven, asking each [one] how he came there, and you will look in vain everywhere for a man morally and spiritually strong, whose strength did not come to him in a struggle. . . . Do [not] suppose that [there is any man who] has never wrestled with his own success and happiness. . . . There is no exception anywhere. Every true strength is gained in a struggle.” 5
President Spencer W. Kimball: “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.” 6
Well, that’s a lot heavy stuff to think about! How about a lighter approach: Elder Holland, in his new book For Times of Trouble, quotes a popular writer who said that expecting a trouble-free life because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian! 7
Years ago I learned the following rhyme from President Boyd K. Packer:
The Lord does not expect us to paste a smile on our face and just keep grinning through all the agonizing and painful trials through which we all must pass. Some things really hurt, and tearful sorrowing can be therapeutic. Latter-day Saints do have a healthy perspective on how to deal with the typical distresses of mortality.
Let’s take a little tour through a few of our Church hymns. Pause a moment to think about the lessons taught in the following excerpts from the songs of Zion:
And finally, some emotional words penned by one of the Church’s great poetesses, Emma Lou Thayne, when trying to help her bi-polar and anorexic daughter:
“Where Can I Turn for Peace?” (#129):
So you can see that there are many consoling thoughts in words, and feelings in music, in the hymns we use to worship our Father and our Savior-to help us through the traumatic moments of life.
Again, we all get some tough mountains to climb, and sometimes we just have to
“hang on” or “hang in there,” as we say. Speaking of “hanging in there,” you may have met my son-in-law, Jarem Frye, in the Church’s “I am a Mormon” series. He’s the one who lost his leg from cancer when only fourteen years of age. But he quickly determined that he wasn’t going to miss out on anything interesting, or anything enjoyably challenging, in life. He became an experienced mountain biker, a champion skier, and a renowned mountain climber. In fact, Jarem and two friends last year (2012) climbed to the top of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. That’s the 3,000-foot sheer granite cliff that is a favorite for rock-climbers. It often takes three or four days to climb the rock face, with several nights sleeping while hanging on the cliff face in their hammocks! Many have climbed El Capitan in recent decades, but Jarem and his two friends were the first team of all amputees (each missing an arm or a leg) to negotiate the dangerous climb. They learned what it means to “hang in there,” literally depending on their rope for dear life.
It occurred to me that there’s a lesson for us in their experience. When enduring life’s hardships and trials you may sometime feel you’re near “the end of your rope,” so to speak; that simply means you’re near the top! So don’t quit; don’t give up. Keep going and you’ll make it to the top.
In mortality, it helps to keep perspective. Pain is temporary. For instance, we all have to go to the dentist’s office periodically. To be honest, I admit that I hate drilling in my mouth. I don’t use the word “hate” very often, because it’s such a strong word, but I really do hate drilling in my mouth; and I hate shots in my mouth even more. The last time I was sitting in the dentist’s chair I had a most pleasant thought come over me: “It’s almost over!” Soon, when I’m finished with this mortal life, I won’t ever have to experience physical pain again. With a perfected, resurrected body, I won’t ever have to experience physical pain again. Now that was a pleasant thought!
I am acquainted with at least seven or eight good, righteous women who have suffered profound tragedies in life because of their husbands who have run off after another woman, or indulged in gross pornography, or through mental illnesses have inflicted untold pain on their families. Those women would declare, with considerable anguish, that it isn’t fair. Well, it isn’t fair!
But again, no matter what life throws at us, we just have to hang in there. Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught, “Greatness is best measured by how well an individual responds to the happenings in life that appear to be totally unfair, unreasonable, and undeserved.” 9
If you live right, you can enjoy here and forever all the blessings of the sealing power. In the eternities, all righteous persons will have opportunity to be sealed to a righteous companion.
A friend told me that if the family is of utmost importance in time and in eternity-and it is-then you can be sure that that’s where some of your hardest trials will come (trials and learning opportunities). That same friend, a great leader in the Church, has had to watch one of his children excommunicated from the Church. Another friend, another faithful Latter-day Saint leader has had to visit his son in jail on more than one occasion. And we Ogdens have had a loved one stray and cause immense anxiety, embarrassment, and sorrow as he brought about tragic consequences in others’ lives.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks describes a sad truth: “Burdens carried in the heart can be just as heavy as those pulled in a handcart. And just as some early pioneers struggled for the benefit of others, so [we current Saints may] carry burdens imposed by the transgressions or thoughtlessness of others.” 10
Another of my dear friends is Andrew C. Skinner, and we have written seven books together. I know him to be an eloquent teacher and writer. Dr. Skinner expanded on the remarks of the Prophet Joseph Smith about why we go through such unsettling contradictions in our lives. The following lines are profound, and they are well worth a few minutes of serious pondering:
Gethsemane was the bitterest anguish, the greatest contradiction, the gravest injustice. Irony and contradiction are two of the best descriptors of Gethsemane’s bitter cup, causing thoughtful disciples to reflect on the nature of tests and trials in mortality. By studying the bitter cup, we can see how the bitterest agony for One opened the door to the sweetest ecstasy for all. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the Savior “descended in suffering below that which man can suffer; or, in other words, suffered greater sufferings, and was exposed to more powerful contradictions than any man can be” (Lectures on Faith, 5:2).Perhaps the greatest trials are those that seem the most unfair, but the faithful may take comfort in knowing that there is One who understands with perfect empathy.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said of the Savior: “At the end, meek and lowly Jesus partook of the most bitter cup without becoming the least bitter” (Ensign, May 1989, 63).
Perhaps it was the night of infinite suffering because of infinite contradiction. Though Jesus was the Son of the Highest, in Gethsemane he descended below all things.Though he was sent out of love (John 3:16) and though he was characterized as the embodiment of love (1 Jn. 4:8), in Gethsemane he was surrounded by hate and betrayal. Though he was the light and life of the world, in Gethsemane he was subjected to darkness and spiritual death. Though he was sinless, in Gethsemane he was weighed down by monumental sin . . . . Though he gave no offense in anything (2 Cor. 6:3), in Gethsemane he suffered for the offenses of all. . . .
Because the Savior endured perfectly his staggering contradictions, we will be recompensed for our own faithful endurance of life’s contradictions, injustices, and flat-out unfair circumstances. That is, through the Atonement, all of life’s contradictions, all injustices, and all unfair circumstances will be made up to us; they will all be put right-if we remain faithful to the Savior.
We, like Jesus, suffer contradictions as part of our probation on this earth. It is what we do in the face of those contradictions, how we react, that demonstrates our commitment to God and thus determines our place in eternity. The greater the contradiction, faithfully endured, the greater the blessing enjoyed afterward. 11
Pondering your seeming contradictions, you might hear a still, small voice telling you, “In mine own due time, and in my own way, every promised blessing will come to the valiant.” You will not be denied any blessing. The promises are sure.
I have heard two funny but thought-provoking statements: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” And the second: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Life doesn’t always go the way you expect or hope.
In fact, I have a difficult announcement to make: I have a terminal illness-something that is going to take my life. It’s called mortality. And you have the same illness. But it’s not terminal! Death is not a period, but a comma in the story of life. We will all live forever. You are going to live forever; in fact, you don’t even have a choice. The choice you do have is where you will live forever, and with whom you will live forever. You are deciding that each day by the way you are behaving down here on earth.
We will “hang in there.” We will climb to the top of our mountains. We are “YES” people: We said yes in the pre-mortal life; we said yes at baptism; we say yes in our Temple recommend interviews.
I am comforted by the words of Elder Richard G. Scott: “Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Prov. 3:11-12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit.” 12
So-don’t ever shake your fist at Heaven. Don’t criticize or complain against the Father and the Son. They know what They are doing with your life. Once again: We may not be able to explain the pain, but we can understand the plan.
As I have read back over the experiences of our mission in Santiago de Chile, a particularly poignant journal entry from June 11, 2000, caught my attention, and I realized that the Lord taught us eternally valuable lessons through the most painful trials he “saw fit to inflict upon us” (as Mosiah 3:19 puts it). Here is that entry:
Thus ends the Mission Journal of Daniel Kelly Ogden, with inspired and inspiring excerpts from my valiant companion, Marcia Hammond Ogden. This week the movers come to pack up our possessions, including this computer with its e-mail access, so we bid farewell to all-from the hardest and greatest learning experience of our lives. This has been our Zion’s Camp. Here we have experienced the lowest of trying lows and the highest of sacred highs. The Savior, the Master Teacher, has taught us. We have sat at his feet, and we have knelt at his feet. And our tears have been spilled symbolically on those holy feet. But even in the toughest moments, when we’ve paused long enough to dry our tears and stare incredulously at the wounds in those feet, we realize that our pain has been nothing compared to his. As he burns away the dross from us in the oven of affliction, the burning or cleansing is painful but purifying.
I like the line from the film “Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration”: “Sometimes the Lord has to bring us low before He raises us higher.” I testify that if you are faithful-no matter what comes-He will raise you up. He will reward you with the greatest blessings of eternity.
1Compare Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, 33, and Robert D. Hales, Ensign [Conference Report], Nov. 1981, 19.
2 Young, Brigham. Discourses of Brigham Young. Compiled by John A. Widtsoe. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966, 346.
3Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-86, 24:197.
4Cannon, George Q. Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon. Two volumes in one. Edited by Jerreld L. Newquist. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987, 81.
5Paraphrasing Phillips Brooks, The Sea of Glass Mingled with Fire in The Improvement Era, April 1964, 306.
6Kimball, Spencer W. Faith Precedes the Miracle. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972, 98.
7Holland, Jeffrey R. For Times of Trouble. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012, 3.
8Packer, Boyd K. Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991, 247.
9Ashton, Marvin J. Ensign [Conference Report], Nov. 1984, 20.
10Oaks, Dallin H. Ensign [Conference Report], Nov. 1989, 66.
11Ogden, D. Kelly, and Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Four Gospels. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006, 600-602.
12Scott, Richard G. Ensign [Conference Report], Nov. 1995, 16, emphasis added.