In speaking about his preparation process for preparing for conference messages, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “[Speaking at conference] is an immense responsibility. It’s probably the single greatest worry that I have because I know that there are many people out there who take so very seriously the things that I say, and I’ve just got to be 100 percent sure that what I’m saying is what the Lord wants me to say….
“I begin that process six months in advance, and usually by two to four months ahead of the April or October conference, I know the subject I’m supposed to speak about. It’s indelibly impressed upon my mind…and then I begin writing drafts.”[i]
During the April 2022 general conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson stepped to the podium at the beginning of the Sunday morning session. It seemed to me he too was speaking with a purpose about something that had been impressed upon his mind. It was a message for us in our day.
Elder Christofferson said, “Some misunderstand the promises of God to mean that obedience to Him yields specific outcomes on a fixed schedule. They might think, ‘If I diligently serve a full-time mission, God will bless me with a happy marriage and children’ or ‘If I refrain from doing schoolwork on the Sabbath, God will bless me with good grades’ or ‘If I pay tithing, God will bless me with that job I’ve been wanting.’ If life doesn’t fall out precisely this way or according to an expected timetable, they may feel betrayed by God. But things are not so mechanical in the divine economy. We ought not to think of God’s plan as a cosmic vending machine where we (1) select a desired blessing, (2) insert the required sum of good works, and (3) the order is promptly delivered.”[ii]
Are we apt to falter in our faith if things don’t turn out exactly as we want or expect? In times like ours when we can google answers immediately, order prepared food via Uber, expect medications to quickly restore our health, and have a life filled with conveniences, do we expect God to operate in similar immediate ways? We may all fall into the trap of these misaligned expectations from time to time.
However, our Heavenly Father prepares a way with guidance to help us. Not only in the words of modern-day prophets but also in scripture. In this week’s Come Follow Me lesson we learn lessons from the life and lessons of Job. He learned first-hand how to keep his faith in the midst of extreme trials.
Elder Christofferson said, “God will indeed honor His covenants and promises to each of us…but not every blessing predicated on obedience to law is shaped, designed, and timed according to our expectations. We do our best but must leave to Him the management of blessings, both temporal and spiritual.”
Now, anyone who has suffered understands that amid suffering or pain, it is especially difficult to wait patiently upon the Lord for needed blessings or relief. And anyone who has endured suffering knows that when you don’t feel well and your strength is depleted, it can be a challenge to keep your faith strong.
So how, when you are struggling or suffering, do you keep your faith if blessings don’t arrive quickly? How do we help our children learn how God administers his works and help them develop adequate wait-upon-the-Lord muscles that can sustain them?
Let’s look to Job and his response to suffering for a few of those answers.
In Job chapter 1, we read how Job lost his oxen, his sheep and livestock were stolen or destroyed, his servants were killed, his house was destroyed, and some of his family and friends lost in the process. Through these devastating events, Job kept his faith. His response was, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
When we remember all we have is God’s, we gain strength. He gave us our substance, and our lives and circumstances. They are not ours. This perspective, this view of life, can empower us to deal with loss and rely upon God to restore what he sees fit to restore.
King Benjamin said, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (Mosiah 2:21)”
I know when I face loss, I am apt to counsel the Lord and tell him what needs to be done. I want to lay out a pattern for how he should bless and look after me. But his view is not my view. His view has my eternal life in mind.
Years ago, I was serving on a High Council when a recently returned sister missionary came to our meeting one Sunday morning to give a report of her mission. At the end of her report, the Stake President asked her a question. He asked, “What was the most significant thing you learned on your mission?”
The sister stood up straight, her eyes teared up a bit and she quoted Jacob 4:10, “…seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in mercy, over all his works.” It was a profound message. From her mission, she took away the lesson to trust in the Lord and his wisdom, and his justice and his mercy.
These three things: wisdom, justice and mercy are exactly the characteristics I want God, who watches over me, to possess. We, like Job and this sister, can remember he does possess all wisdom and mercy. He will give and guide in ways that are best for us in our life.
At one point during Job’s trials, he becomes weary of life. Some of you reading this article can relate. You’ve battled cancer, depression, hardships, loss of family members and trials that are beyond what others battle. It is easy to get weary, to feel worn out in the process.
As Job reasons with the Lord and others, he says, “Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. With him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are his.” (Job 12:9-10,16)
With the Lord Jesus Christ, there is strength. Elder David A. Bednar said, “…grace represents that divine assistance or heavenly help each of us will desperately need to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity. In my personal scripture study, I often insert the term enabling power whenever I encounter the word grace.”[iii]
I don’t know all the reasons we experience trials. Perhaps it is to test our faith, a result of poor choices, or simply life’s circumstances. But I do know that the grace of Jesus Christ can strengthen us in those circumstances. It is one of the reasons our Savior came to this earth. Alma 7:11-12 says, “And [Jesus] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
Not only does he have the power to help us, but he knows, by experience, how to best succor and care for us in the midst of those infirmities. What better caregiver could we ask for than one who knows first-hand our suffering?
In Job 13, Job has lost everything: his means, health, friends and the support of those closest to him. Yet, Job declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.” (Job 13:15-16)
Where does Job turn in times of trial? To his testimony. I wonder if it was his testimony that sustained him and gave him strength during his extreme trails. What about our testimony? It seems that I am inclined to share my testimony more during times of trial. It’s then that I fall back on what I know: that Jesus Christ lives and is mindful of me.
Is this the reason we face trials? Is it to remind us of what we truly rely on? Many times in my life, I have prayed seeking relief or a blessing at the hand of the Lord. Most often, I do not get an answer or the immediate relief I am seeking. However, I am often reminded that the Lord loves me and wants the best for me.
If you ever find yourself driving down I-70 between Columbus Ohio and Pittsburg Pennsylvania, you’ll pass Zanesville Ohio right where the road crosses the Muskingum river. Zanesville was named after Ebenezer Zane who served in the revolutionary war. After the war, Colonel Zane petitioned congress for funds to build a road from Washington DC to Kentucky. Congress approved the funding; Zane built the road through Zanesville and the rest is history.
For being such a small town, Zanesville has had its share of famous people—news anchors, athletes, and entertainers. Among that list of entertainers from that small town is Jane.
Jane was born in 1990. With three brothers and sisters, her childhood was filled with church, music and family. She attended a local Christian Academy. The academy’s mission is to train young people to serve the Lord with all their heart, might, mind and strength; prepare them to be good and productive citizens, and to show up for others in need and for good.
Whether it’s for a Saturday to clean up a nearby youth camp, to participate in the school play or for church service and devotionals, there Jane learned to show up. And when she did, good things happened.
As a young woman, she often sang with her family and started to develop her rather unique voice. Throughout college she performed and sang and worked on her song writing. Then in 2014, she married and moved with her new husband to Nashville in hopes of pursuing her music career. But as it is for most musicians in Nashville, success wasn’t overnight.
She got hired to write music for a documentary film, but then life gave her a big blow. In 2017 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She showed up for treatments, prayed and was declared cancer free a year later.
Then, a big break. She was asked to be the opening act for country star Tori Kelly, but that good fortune was short lived when her cancer returned, and she was given six months to live. So, another year of chemo, treatments, and heartache. But again in 2020, just as she was declared cancer free, she went through a divorce which was not her choice.
Here she was, 30-years old, a two-time cancer survivor, divorced, trying to survive in the up and down life of writing music, trying to keep her faith despite life letting her down every time she seemed to rise. Then, in 2020, the worst news yet: Jane was told her cancer had metastasized to her lungs, spine, and liver. The doctors told her she only had a two percent chance to live.
What do you do?
I don’t know about you, but I think we all at times seem to be handed bad news, bad luck and bad circumstances just when, in our opinion, things should be turning out, turning up and turning on in our life. But we all, sooner or later, come to find out that life doesn’t always work that way.
No doubt you, or someone you know, or someone you love is facing one of those unfair and disappointing times in life. What do you do? Well, if that’s you or someone close to you, then take a lesson from Jane.
She kept showing up. She kept her faith. At this brutal time in her life, Jane said, “I am God’s downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broomstick.”
“I’ve been on a really hard journey and a lot of that journey, I walked alone or at least in secret.” “I spent three months propped up against the wall, after treatment. I vomited until I was hollow. The bathroom floor became the place where I could sob and doze off, happy to be asleep, even with my head on the toilet.”
But despite this she showed up. She said, “I show up at God’s door every day. Sometimes with songs. Sometimes apologies, gifts, questions, demands. Sometimes I use my key under the mat to let myself in. Other times, I sulk outside until He opens the door to me Himself.
“I fear sometimes that when I die and meet with God, that He will say I disappointed Him, or offended Him, or failed Him… But one thing I know for sure is this: He can never say that He did not know me.”
Finally in June 2021, amid all this disappointment, Jane tried out for America’s Got Talent. When she walked onto the stage, very few people knew her story. When she was done, millions would come to know it. Before she sang, she said, “It’s important that everyone knows that I am so much more than the bad things that happen to me… You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”[iv]
She didn’t have much hair, but she showed up. She didn’t have long to live but she showed up. And when she showed up, she inspired a lot of people in the process.
The original song she sang, titled, “It’s OK” became the number one song on iTunes shortly thereafter. She was to move on to sing in the AGT competition but in August 2021 before she could, she had to withdraw because she was too weak. Months later she would pass away from cancer.
Before she passed from cancer last year, she explained, “God isn’t a taker, he’s a giver. He didn’t take away my darkness, he added light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings me water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness; he comes near to me.”
I agree with Jane and Job that our Lord and Savior is a giver and will come near to us in times of heartache and trial. Job testified, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)
Jesus Christ will stand on the earth at the latter day. He will bring with him redemption, healing, and restoration. Elder Christofferson, in his April conference talk said, “So, in the midst of this refiner’s fire, rather than get angry with God, get close to God. Call upon the Father in the name of the Son. Walk with them in the Spirit, day by day. Allow them over time to manifest their fidelity to you. Come truly to know them and truly to know yourself.”
I am grateful for the words of Job. His example and declarations can bring us hope and strength in our times of trial. May we all seek to rely more on the Lord and draw closer to him.
[i] Apostles and Church Leaders Share How They Prepare Their Conference Talks + What It’s Like Speaking at Conference, LDS Living, March 27, 2018.
[ii] Elder D. Todd Christofferson, April 2022 General Conference.
[iii] BYU Speeches, Oct 23, 2001.
[iv] Wikipedia, Jane Kristen Marczewski.