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I once heard a man joke that he has stopped praying for patience because he realized it meant he’d have trials that force him to develop it.
He hit upon a truth: We all want to be better people, but we aren’t all ready to embrace the very challenges that will improve us.
You’ve probably noticed that self-improvement is HUGE in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are immersed in talks and lessons about how to overcome temptation, how to be better spouses, how to have more charity and love, and so on. We are constantly striving upward, right?
And this has become such a big message that many have misconstrued the point, and have assumed that constantly pushing ourselves is the purpose of life. Not only has this created anxiety, but depression from comparing ourselves to others, and even the mistaken notion that we have to present a list of checked-off boxes to get into heaven.
In his talk, His Grace is Sufficient, Brad Wilcox said, “We are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven.” We are trying to transform ourselves into beings who will be comfortable in God’s presence. This doesn’t mean we need to anguish over every missed milestone, thinking we’ve failed to collect enough treasure to win the videogame. It’s all about what kind of people we are becoming.
It’s similar to our church’s understanding of repentance. Merely regretting a mistake is not repentance. Getting caught is not repentance. Paying a fine is not repentance. True repentance is transformation and change. It isn’t just giving up a sin; it’s no longer being tempted by that sin. We’ve grown.
And that’s the same process we go through to gain virtues, qualities we’d love to have. Yes, like my friend, we develop some of these virtues through adversity. If you want to be a more forgiving person, you’re going to have to endure some hurts so that you have something to forgive. I think that’s all of us, right?
If you want to feel truly close to your Savior and to your Heavenly Father, it’s reachable. The formula is prayer, humility, scripture study, and loving one’s fellow man. It’s not always easy, but when we devote ourselves to this we make one of life’s most glorious discoveries: We realize what God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are really like. We feel a certainty of their love.
Like working out to build muscle, we grow through resistance. If we want to be kinder to our family members, the price is giving up pride and selfishness. And sometimes we decide the price is too high to pay. Fear jumps in. Resentments simmer. Obstacles pop up. Sometimes we try, fail, and then quit. Only if we persevere against problems do we attain success.
I ran across a quote by John F. Kennedy. He said that when written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters—one means danger and the other opportunity. When I researched this, I learned that this is not quite what that Chinese character says. But even so, I like the concept that every hardship we encounter has two components—the difficult part, and the lesson learned. If, whenever a trial arises, we learn from it, then we’re the victor. It didn’t beat us; it taught us. We came out ahead.
Let’s say someone betrayed your trust. It may have damaged you in any number of ways. And it’s no simple task to deal with the emotional, physical, and financial fallout. But, if in the midst of your suffering you can take a deep breath and ponder it from a spiritual angle, you will learn several things. One is, of course, patience. One is reliance upon your Heavenly Father. One is the opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and remember the things that matter most. One is to resolve never to be like that and hurt another person this way. One is to pull out of the mire of self-pity this presents. One is to continue to trust human beings, even if the occasional one lets you down. And, of course, we come to forgiveness, where we do not wish that person harm. There are so many lessons here.
Of course, none of us hope our lives will be overflowing with such tests of character. But they do crop up. So we may as well use them to develop virtues that bless the rest of our lives, that bless others around us, and which refine us as we go along. That shaping, that molding of our souls, makes us better instruments in God’s hands, and ultimately, more suited to His kingdom in the hereafter.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.