Written with Barbara Keil
On July 2, my 15-year-old grandson, Max, was involved in a serious accident. There was an explosion. Max was burned by the heat of the explosion and he caught on fire. He ran into the house where his family immediately put out the flames and rushed him to the nearest hospital. Following initial treatment, Max was flown to the University of Utah burn center. The doctors there reported that Max had second and third degree burns covering forty percent of his body. They warned his parents that he might not live through the night. If he did live, he would face a lengthy and challenging recovery.
When we learned of the situation, my wife and I wept for our dear Max. And we prayed with all our souls.
We are incredibly grateful that Max did survive. For the first two weeks following the accident, Max was sedated to keep him unconscious because he was in a great deal of pain and to prevent him from pulling out the many tubes that sustained his life.
When the doctors were able to reduce the sedation so that he could return to consciousness, his parents hoped to talk with Max. But he was initially delirious. As he became more conscious, the changing of his dressings was excruciating for him. When the hospital staff changed his dressing, his mother wanted to be with him to comfort him. But Max insisted that his mother leave the room because he did not want her to have to see him in pain.
Since then, Max has continued to progress. He had skin graft surgery. He is less reliant on medications, tubes, and machines. He is learning to eat and to walk again.
Our son, Andy, and his wife, Natalie, live at the hospital watching over Max. They write every day about the miracles they see as he improves. In one communication Andy wrote:
Today was another tough dressing change. This two hour process involves pulling the gauze off of the skin grafts (a very painful process because they often stick together), washing (it gets pretty chilly for Max), cleaning the wounds, pulling out staples, then rewrapping. Today they pulled out over 80 staples. I remembered the Lords promise: I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, my Spirit shall be in your [heart], and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. I just asked Max to say our family prayer tonight. On a day that may have been the toughest of his life, heres what he said: “Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you so much for this wonderful day. I thank Thee for the great time I got to spend with my family today [in the hospital]. I thank Thee for all of my friends and all the wonderful people who are taking care of me while Im sick. I thank Thee for all of the angels, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Max has been suffering terribly. Yet he is growing, learning, loving, and praising God.
Suffering Alongside JoyA Part of the Plan
Painful experiences help us learn a lot about life. In mortality, it is common for terrible tragedies to occur side-by-side with wonderful joys. Sorrow next to happiness. Torment alongside purpose. How do we explain that conundrum?
Wise and inspired Lehi taught us: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11)
In the midst of tragedy we may be tempted to think that God has forgotten us or is ignoring our pain. We may question why He would allow our suffering. Actually, a world in which suffering exists alongside joy is a key part of the plan of salvation. For mortal life to fulfill its developmental purposes, tragedy must be the companion of triumph. This opposition is necessary to create an environment in which we have the opportunity to make difficult choices, develop faith, value our blessings and have the foundation for growth.
[To quote C.S. Lewis,] “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach trivial meaning to the word love.” Too often we confuse Gods love with human kindness. We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heavena senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, a good time was had by all.”
But that is not Gods plan for us. He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to experience the fullness of joy He enjoyseternal joy, not merely temporary contentedness. And He loves us enough that He will do whatever it takes for us to reach that goal, including allowing us to experience things that are difficult and soul-stretching. And He does it not because He doesnt love us, but precisely because He does.
But even when we have to learn things from our extremities in order to fulfill Gods plan for us, His love will be there to sustain us especially when we need His love the most. So let us not sell Gods love short by confusing it with mere human kindness. His love is much deeper than that. (Kevin J. Worthen, “It Was as If a Blanket of Love Was Flowing Over Me”, May 2, 2013, BYU Womens Conference)
We Know to What Source We Must Look
Given that tragedies are a part of our human experience along with times of joy and happiness, how do we prepare for and survive those difficult times that stretch our souls? One scripture verse gives us the formula for flourishing. It provides the keys to triumphing over tragedy.
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
(2 Nephi 2:26)
Let us explore how that counsel applies to times of suffering.
And we talk of Christ
From the beginning of Maxs journey every member of our family has recognized and acknowledged our utter dependence upon the Savior to see us through this event. We have placed our trust and faith in Him. As Natalie said, “Christ is truly our captain and is championing Max through this whole process.”
We rejoice in Christ
A foundational aspect of having agency is that our reaction when faced with challenges and tragedies is our choice. We can choose to sink into a vortex of despair and hopelessness. Or, we can choose to rejoice in Christ and seek faith and hope though Him. We can choose to receive all things with thankfulnesseven trials.
“Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.” (President Dieter R. Uchtdorf, “Grateful in Any Circumstance”, April 2014, General Conference)
A dear friend of ours recently lost her beloved three-year-old son, Ben, to leukemia. After she and her husband received the news that his illness would take his life she rejoiced in her faith which continues to sustain her today.
I DO believe in miracles! Not just in healings but in generosity, in kindness, in humility, in gratitude, in change. All the marks of Christianity that the world scoffs at as foolishness. When I have, in the past, sunk into despair and darkness and depression it has been “realism” that has taken me there. I can honestly proclaim that every time faith has brought me back out. I am not naive. I know that darkness exists for I have been there. When faced with reality I have chosen darkness before. I love how Isaiah says that they who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2)! I choose to see light. I choose faith. I choose hope. I choose to believe in good things to come!
Through Christ, even if the current moment seems very dark, we can choose to trust and rejoice in the goodness to come which provides the path for us to return into the great light.
We preach of Christ
Max has been told he will serve many “missions”. We wonder if one of his opportunities to serve has already begun during this experience as he stands as a witness to others who are suffering that there is a source of comfort and strength even in the face of suffering.
We are to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). As we react to the trials and losses we encounter, others are watching. Our reaction to those events provides us with an opportunity to bear our testimony of Christ and the enabling power of His atonement to see us through any challenge. As others see us draw upon His mercies, they may choose to also seek Him.
We call on Christ
To Nephis rejoicing, we add this phrase: We call on Christ! Andy wrote that in the first hours following the accident as he waited to learn if Max would live or not, he prayed, “Father, we need Thee every hour, and we need Thee this hour. Spare our son. Sweet Jesus, have mercy. Father, we believe. Help thou our unbelief. Let our son live. But if not, we will still believe.”
Since then, uncounted numbers of people have joined us in calling upon Christ on behalf of Max and his family. Friends from all over the world united in fasting for Max. We are deeply grateful.
Max and his parents have felt comfort and strength resulting from those prayers. We absolutely know the power of being able to call upon Him who is our Savior and Redeemer. As Andy and Natalie have said, “He carries us.”
We prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies
On a daily basis Maxs parents record the miracles that have occurred during the day. They want to acknowledge, celebrate and remember each blessing received, every prayer answered. They express profound gratitude for every tender mercy granted and they write of the many miracles hoped for in the future, while proclaiming their continued faith regardless of how the answers to their prayers unfold.
Moroni 10 invites each of us to ponder upon the mercies of the Lord throughout time, down to our individual lives. We can create our own records of those mercies to enable us to see and reflect upon the patterns of His goodness in our lives, even during those times when our souls are being stretched.
That our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins
When they reduced his sedation and Max became conscious, he asked how much longer he had to live. He thought he was going to die. His mother assured him he would live. And she wrote about his response. “My very favorite thing was when Max understood his situation and was just so happy that he would walk, talk, breathe, play, and even swim again. He kept saying, Im whole. Im whole. Im whole.”
We can have our eyes fixed on God and heaven. When we do, our trials are merely an invitation to enlarge our faith and love. They are a call to grow. Rather than resent and resist them, we accept them. We learn from them. They help us remember what is truly important in life.
We come to know that if we look to Christ, we will be made whole regardless of our current circumstances.
Join Brother Goddard at BYU Campus Education Week, August 18-22 for presentations on marriage and parenting.
Enjoy books by Brother Goddard
You may be interested in Brother Goddards newest book, Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth or one of his newly revised books: The Soft-Spoken Parent: 55 Strategies for Preventing Contention with Your Children; or Modern Myths and Latter-day Truths. You might also enjoy his popular Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage or Between Parent and Child. They are available at LDS and online booksellers.
Sign up for free E-mail Series with Helpful Ideas
If you are interested in ideas for personal well-being, strong marriages, or effective parenting, you are invited to sign up for a free resource created at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Navigating Lifes Journey is a weekly e-mail series that offers helpful ideas based on research. To sign up for any or all of these messages, go to https://arfamilies.org/navigating