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I’ve always marveled at the Pioneer’s ability to sing “all is well” in the midst of unbelievable adversity. Is there any way we can do the same amidst the turmoil, natural disasters, and the tsunami of evil that is sweeping the earth? Can we develop an unwavering trust in God and His plan and accept that “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things”? (2 Nephi 2:1) Is it possible to know that all is happening for a benevolent and loving reason no matter how terrible it looks from our present perspective? Can we stand back far enough to recognize that evil and adversity are part of God’s plan—that God allows it to be, so that each of us might have the opportunity to learn by our own experience the good from the evil, the bitter from the sweet, the light from the darkness? Most of us answer those questions in the affirmative only as we experience the love of God comforting and strengthening us through our adversities.
The Reality of Limitations and God’s Help
Through their adversities, the Pioneers became sorely aware of their own limitations and constant need for the Lord’s help. Stories of the hardships they suffered abound. Many of them knew they had survived only because of help from the Other Side. I’ll never forget the words of Francis Webster, a man who came across the plains in the Martin Handcart company. “Every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.” (quoted by David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” Relief Society Magazine, January 1948, p.8). Even as death stalked their company, they knew that angels were near. I can imagine them softly singing through their tears over shallow graves of loved ones, “And should we die before our journey’s through. Happy day. All is well. We then are free from toil and sorrow too. With the just we shall dwell.” (“Come, Come Ye Saints,” Hymn 30) It is possible to apply the great lessons they learned to our current adversities.
The Value of Trek
Although life itself usually provides us with ample adversities from which to learn, sometimes there is benefit in contriving experiences for youth especially, to help them learn more quickly. One example is Trek.
This past summer five of my grandchildren and many other youth in our stake had a real Pioneer adventure. My son and daughter-in-law were among the adult leaders on that rigorous handcart trek on part of the real Mormon Trail in Wyoming. With seven family members participating, my interest was intense. I knew some Trek groups receive only half a muffin for breakfast to give them a glimpse of what it was like to keep moving no matter how hungry they were. And I knew that all trekkers faced many discomforts, such as dirt and sand (or rain!) blowing in their faces.
The stake sponsors this activity every four years. It was comforting to me to remember youth reports from the last trek. For example, when they crossed the Sweetwater River, some said the biting cold of the water felt refreshing on that hot summer day, but they realized how frigid and frightening it would have been for the Pioneers who were crossing in the cold and snow. One of the boys told of carrying people across, thinking all the while of those brave young men who carried so many weak, elderly, and frost-bitten Pioneer Saints who never could have made it on their own across that icy river.
The bishop had told about the men being marched away—like they were for the Mormon Battalion. They had to stand at a distance and watch the women struggle alone to get the handcarts up a hill. He said many of the young men felt a fierce desire to break ranks and go help the women as they struggled, pushed, and even cried. The happy part of that story is that the young women on Trek always make it up the hill! Their sense of triumph must be tremendous. And the happy part of my story about my family participants is that they all had nothing but positive reports. They were all glad they had gone and were, in effect, saying, “All is well”!
The Value of Doing Hard Things
Earlier in my life I believed it was my job to protect my children, as much as possible, from adversity. I questioned the value of having young people do such hard things. For example, when I was a Stake Young Women leader years ago I accompanied the girls to Oakcrest Girl’s Camp. I actually asked why “Ropes Training” was a big part of the camp because it was so hard! Challenges, such as obstacle courses were set up to necessitate teamwork and tremendous effort. For example, one of the tasks of the Ropes Training I participated in was to make it over a 20 foot wall with no ladders, no ropes, no help except each other.
However, I learned an important lesson from that experience: something. Finding out they could accomplish hard (seemingly impossible!) things together, I saw girls stand a little taller, smile a little broader. Their feelings about themselves had changed because they proved to themselves that they had it in them to persevere and triumph in difficult situations.
I can’t help but think that the Pioneers felt an even greater triumph at every difficult but successful mountain or river crossing. Each time they survived encounters with buffaloes, prairie fires, food shortages, or Indian attacks by pulling together and helping each other, something surely changed inside them. Surely most of them must have developed a stable, strong confidence in themselves and the Lord from repeated triumph over difficulty.
I understand now that doing hard things is a valuable way to find out what’s in us. The Lord already knows—but we don’t! Especially if life has been relatively easy, we may have no concept of what we are capable of. In our modern “easy” life, sometimes doing hard things like Trek or Ropes Training can be invaluable as they face adversities later in life.
Recognizing the Strength of Youth
Many adult leaders on Trek become more aware of the strength of the youth. One said, “These young people are built to pull. They can do more. They can pull harder when it is necessary. We under-rate them and sometimes ask too little of them. When the circumstances require, they will come through. Raising the bar for them has been realistic. Our high expectations of them are not wrong.”
I was moved by these words thinking of my own grandchildren. These modern-day youth so often withstand evil blasted at them from the media day and night as well as the attacks from the adversary in their minds every minute and still emerge strong and clean and determined to do what is right. God bless them! They are truly modern-day Pioneers—as each of us can be by putting our all on the altar to build God’s kingdom here on earth.
In the Midst of Hurricanes, Wars, and Tragedies All is Still Well
When the Pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, it was a wilderness; their very survival was constantly threatened. The thriving metropolis here today was built from the faith of a people who came with only what they could carry in their wagons or handcarts. The Pioneers faced hunger, privation, snakebite, Indian attacks, illness and injury with no medical help available—yet still sang with strong voices, “All is well, all is well.” Perhaps the best thing we can learn, from them and from any person who has survived hard times, is that whatever comes—even death of loved ones—with the Lord’s help we can handle it with faith and still persevere.
In our day we are facing natural disasters, whirlwinds of evil, wars and rumors of wars and trials of the spirit and soul of every sort. Can we still sing with the faith of our fathers “All is well. All is well?” We can apply “All is well” to our own adversities if we take to heart the words in D&C 100:15: “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted; for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly.” But how can we believe that about experiences that break our hearts and seem to bring us to the very limits of our endurance?
Kevin J Worthen, BYU President and Area Seventy, offered some answers to that question in a devotional address. I find much in this message to ponder and want to share part of it with you.
In the book of Abraham the plan we all accepted in the grand premortal council is described as follows: “We will go down . . . , and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them. (Abraham 3:25)
This earth, the setting for our mortal existence, was created so that we could “prove” ourselves. But I believe we may not appreciate the full meaning of the word prove in that scripture. In everyday usage the word prove means to demonstrate something that already exists. Thus we take final exams to prove what we already know about the material we have been studying that semester. But the Oxford English Dictionary provides an additional meaning for the word prove. It indicates that prove also means “to find out, learn, or know by experience.”
. . . God formed this earth and gave us this mortal existence so that we could “prove” ourselves in the other sense of that word—so that we could “find out, learn, or know by experience” truths that we did not already know and that we could not learn in any other way.
I believe there are certain things, some of them essential to our exaltation, that we can learn only through experience. We could not have remained in our premortal condition, memorized all the attributes of godhood, and then, after passing a written exam, become like our heavenly parents. We came to earth to “prove” ourselves, to learn from our own experiences how to know good from evil and other important lessons we could learn only by our own experience. (Kevin J Worthen, “Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection” 6 January 2015)
D&C 122:7 puts this “learning from experience” principle into perspective in a way that helps us understand the “why” of the most difficult experiences in mortality:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.
Believing God’s words that “all these things”—even the most painful, most difficult, most heart-wrenching, can give us experience and be for our good can truly give us the fortitude and faith to sing “all is well” in the midst of it all. I like the idea that the point is not so much in “passing a test” as it is to gain the experience that can keep us on the path to eternal life. And perhaps this discussion would not be complete without including Orson F. Whitney’s oft-quoted words:
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God. . . . And it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. [Orson F. Whitney quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Tragedy or Destiny, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (6 December 1955), 6]
An email friend from Switzerland, Marcus Gappmaier, said of this quote, “Suggested by this powerful statement, and supported by many scriptures, our hardships are all about our education, our development, our being built up, our growth, our preparation, our learning and our becoming more like our heavenly parents.”
Some Church leaders have intimated that 21st century temptations and challenges may be more intense in their own way, require more inner strength, more determination to do what is right, more trust in the Lord, than the challenges the Pioneers faced. We wonder if we could have stood up under the kinds of adversity they faced. They may be wondering from the Other Side if they could have weathered the storms of our day. Whose adversity is greatest can’t be measures and isn’t relevant. The only pertinent fact is that we each receive the experiences we most need to learn what we need to learn while we are on this earth. And we each need the help, support, and strengthening influence of the Lord constantly to help us keep perspective and keep learning, and keep believing that “all is well.”
Not only the “all is well” words of William Clayton’s hymn speak to our hearts and give us motivation to continue our journey, but all the words in that haunting and inspiring hymn, such as:
“Come, Come Ye Saints. No toil nor labor fear. But with joy wend your way. Though hard to you this journey shall appear Grace shall be as your day.” (“Come, Come Ye Saints,” Hymn 30)
It is surely the grace of Christ that can keep us going through our hardest times. Each verse of Brother Clayton’s inspired song is like a rally cry, a reminder that no matter what we face, “All is well” as long as we remember that “all these things shall give thee experience and be for thy good.” All is well, as long as we keep trudging along on our journey firmly holding onto His hand, trusting in His grace, His guidance, and His tender care.