(Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children.)

 The greatest force in all the world [is] to develop character,

to bring righteousness into the lives of men and women. — Elder Matthew Cowley[1]

What’s in this for me? It is not necessarily a selfish question. Peter asked and was given an answer to this same query. Parents might apply the interchange between Peter and Jesus to themselves: “We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them … Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”[2]


Sacrifices made for the sake of Christ’s work are rewarded “an hundredfold” and with “everlasting life”! Persistently and righteously dealing with a wayward child is counted as a sacrifice in time and selflessness, among other things.

Polishing the Rough Stone

When adversity strikes, we often focus on what it is doing to us rather than what it is doing for us. The process of experiencing adversity is designed to chip away at our rough edges and strengthen muscles of character and spirituality that are essential to becoming gods. Joseph Smith said, “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else … all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.”[3]

Adversity is painful but necessary for spiritual fervency. As long as the brother of Jared was struggling in the wilderness, he offered consistent, urgent prayer, which not only guided him day by day but also opened the windows of heaven to the vast library of celestial truth. But when he experienced a season of calm, he, one of the greatest prophets, became spiritually lax, for which the Lord severely chastised him.[4]

Likewise, because the Lord wants us to keep growing in spirituality and moving toward exaltation, He will give us pressing reasons to pray (praying for a wayward child is an example). The present adversity simply acts as a catalyst to bring us to the Lord.

Adversity’s Blessings

The brother of Jared prayed to overcome the adversity of darkness in his barges and he was brought into the presence of the Lord.[5] Joseph Smith prayed for deliverance from Liberty Jail and was blessed with astounding information about the functions and promises of the priesthood.[6] Abraham prayed for deliverance from the wicked priest of Elkenah and was given an amazing promise of priesthood ministry through which all of God’s children would be blessed.[7]

These prophets received answers to their individual prayers, but the Lord had even more to give them. Adversity got them there. Praying over anything, even wayward children, can unlock the treasury of heaven. Contemplated in this light, then, adversity can be a gift. Humans seem to be naturally incapable of maintaining mighty prayer without the motivator of adversity.

For Our Gain

Remembering Lehi’s exposition on the law of opposites, we learn that adversity is also essential for happiness to exist.[8] We wouldn’t know joy for what it was without pain to compare it to. In addition, happiness is only one of the rewards for enduring adversity in faith; gain is another: God “shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”[9]

Like the examples of the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, and Abraham, compensation that goes beyond the price of our present adversity occurs when God consecrates our afflictions for our gain. Heavenly Father enjoys the perfection of this principle; He deals with the adversity of wayward children all the time and yet describes His life as having a “fulness of joy.”[10] That fact should give us hope as we progress toward godhood; we should remember that our adversity will not always overwhelm us but will actually propel us into a life of complete joy.

Sometimes we may feel exhausted in trying to comprehend all that is required of us to reach this eternal goal. One exasperated father who was struggling with a rebellious son, joked, “The terrestrial kingdom is looking better and better all the time.” We might feel the same way — Is forever dealing with difficult children the definition of heaven? Perhaps understanding the opportunity in adversity might help us set our sites higher.

But our residence is not yet the celestial kingdom. For now the scales are tipped in favor of adversity, not joy. To help us arrive where He is at, be like He is, and experience a fulness of joy, Heavenly Father is not timid about allowing us to confront adversity. Because we desired to become like Him and covenanted do His redeeming work, should we be surprised that He takes our desires and our covenants seriously and therefore hands us redeeming assignments?

The Pain and Joy of the Process of Redemption

The work of redemption can be long-term, excruciating work, but, as missionaries can testify, no work is more satisfying to the soul than that of redemption. Or, as parents can testify, the only joy greater than giving physical life is giving spiritual life — that is, to see their children turn from error and discover the safety and joy of living righteous lives. Likewise, the only pain worse than physical pain is spiritual pain.

A mother in Arizona wrote,

Nothing could have prepared me for the excruciating pain of my first delivery. I had thought that I wanted to have the full experience, so I turned down the epidural. I did fine for the first few hours, and then my water broke. The sudden, blinding pain was more than I could bear, and I was only dilated to three — I had hours to go. When the nurse offered me the epidural, I gladly agreed. In fact, when the doctor was delayed because he was treating another patient, I began to panic. I couldn’t get relief from the pain fast enough. At the time, I thought, Who would knowingly go through pregnancy and delivery again? But for as much pain as I experienced that day, it was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering I experienced when that same, sweet little boy abandoned the Church and broke my heart. And I have felt no [greater] joy and satisfaction than from lovingly and patiently working with him, and finally seeing him return to God and marry in the temple.

God knows something about the work of redemption that we are in the process of discovering. With His eternal perspective, He must find great satisfaction in rearing children through all the stages of their existence and patiently working them through their periodic bouts of waywardness until He finally brings them to the point that they embrace the truth and never again depart from it. To learn the satisfying and eternal work of redemption, we need training, and what better place and time than here and now when the need for redemption is so great and the stakes are so high?

Speaking of the plan of happiness that we first must learn and then teach, Elder Bruce C.

Hafen made the following statement:           

We are away at school, trying to master the lessons of “the great plan of happiness” so we can return home and know what it means to be there. Over and over the Lord tells us why the plan is worth our sacrifice — and His. Eve called it “the joy of our redemption” (Moses 5:11). Jacob called it “that happiness which is prepared for the saints” (2 Ne. 9:43). Of necessity, the plan is full of thorns and tears — His and ours. But because He and we are so totally in this together, our being “at one” with Him in overcoming all opposition will itself bring us “incomprehensible joy.”[11]

To increase our capacity to do the work of redemption, Heavenly Father gives us gifts that would be difficult to develop without the vehicle of adversity. In this week and the next two weeks’ articles, we will discuss a few of these gifts: the gift of weakness, the gifts of experience and redemption, the gift of joy, and the gift of grace.

The Gift of Weakness

A special gift that Heavenly Father gives to each one of us is the gift of weakness. Every specific weakness or weakness in general is designed to draw us quickly and urgently to the Lord for the purpose of experiencing redemption. Remember, to obtain the power of redemption, we must first experience redemption. Therefore God gives us weakness. “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”[12]

To deal with weakness, we need strength beyond our own. According to the preceding verse, humility is how we obtain strength, and weakness gets the ball rolling toward humility. Moreover, humility causes us to become keenly aware of God’s interactions with us, and humility drives away pride. Elder James E. Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.”[13]

One couple in Missouri suffered through their daughter “Shelly’s” overt rebellion, but, as the following account illustrates, they learned the above truth:

Shelly became so obstinate that she would curse and throw things. She was going to drink! She was going to smoke! She was going to have sexual relations, and that was all there was to it! We couldn’t do anything about it. We threatened to send her away, but she beat us to the punch and ran away. When we found her harbored in her boyfriend’s home [pregnant at age fifteen], we attempted to bring her home, and she threatened suicide. She had claimed we were abusing her. Only when we sat down with the boy and his father and explained her lies and the financial implications of a baby did they begin to cooperate. During that time, all our weaknesses surfaced and seemed so visible that they could have been under a spotlight. And then the miracle happened. Not with Shelly; that miracle is yet to come. Our miracle is what happened to us when we became humble. Realizing that our weaknesses were so acute and our ability so limited to deal with this situation, we went to the Lord in urgent, heartfelt prayer. Humbly, we acknowledged our great lack and His great strength. Then a calming peace settled upon us. It was as though a voice whispered to us, “Now I can help you, and I will be with you every step of the way.”

Parents are keenly aware of their weakness when they are trying to deal with a wayward child. But it is their weakness that is their key to strength. If parents will recognize weakness for its intended purpose and allow the weakness to draw out of them humility, this act of faith will signal the beginning of the parents gaining redeeming power.

Great blessings flow from humility. Strength and knowledge are two of them. The Lord said, “And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.”[14]

When we acknowledge our weaknesses before the Lord in prayer, we nourish the powerful attribute of humility. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “How does one get humble? To me, one must constantly be reminded of his dependence. On whom dependent? On the Lord. How [to] remind one’s self? By real, constant, worshipful, grateful prayer.”[15]

Weakness, then, is a gift from God. Weakness is structured to spawn humility, which brings us to God, who turns our weakness into redeeming knowledge and redeeming strength.

Next week we will discuss the gifts of experience and redemption, and the gift of joy.


[1] Matthew Cowley, Matthew Cowley Speaks, 47.

[2] Matthew 19:27–29.

[3] Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304.

[4] See Ether 1–2.

[5] See Ether 2–3.

[6] See D&C 121.

[7] See Abraham 1:15–19.

[8] See 2 Nephi 2:11.

[9] 2 Nephi 2:2.

[10] 3 Nephi 28:10.

[11] Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign, May 2004, 98.

[12] Ether 12:27.

[13] James E. Talmage, Sunday Night Talks, 483.

[14] D&C 1:28.

[15] Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in Edward L. Kimball’s The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 233.