Last week my husband and I drove to San Francisco, about two hours from our home. My ongoing cancer journey includes doctor visits there. And, not surprisingly, it took us through an eerie stretch of hills blackened with soot and the charred remnants of the deadly wildfires that have ripped through California. Dozens of blazes have shattered previous records as flames ravaged more than 3 million acres and claimed 27 lives.
Quietly, we stared at the destruction, the twisted tree trunks, the gloomy, lifeless ground. And then I saw it. They were almost imperceptible, but there they were: Tiny shoots of green grass pushing up through the ashes. Barely a sprinkle of life, but life nonetheless.
My heart leapt. Somehow, through complete devastation and ruin, nature finds a way. The Earth yet lives. Grass, shrubs, and wildlife will return. I pictured the many seeds and roots under the desolation, struggling to survive and flourish. Something in the DNA of every creature makes it fight to live on, to fill the measure of its creation. And here were miniscule little seeds, sending forth stems and roots, trying against all odds to make it.
Have you done this? Have you picked yourself up after an overwhelming experience, and vowed to keep going? Everyone has adversities to deal with. Deaths of loved ones are especially wrenching. We hear of prisoners kept for years and years, only to be released when their innocence is proven and their lives are largely over. We know the unspeakable terror of human trafficking and wonder how anyone can recover from such a harrowing ordeal.
The strength of the human spirit is one of the ongoing daily miracles few notice. But it’s there. We all know people who have grown from their trials and are now helping others in similar situations. How do they do it?
One key is not to blame God or feel you’re being punished whenever your life turns difficult. Elder Quentin L. Cook once said, “Adversity should not be viewed as either disfavor from the Lord or a withdrawal of his blessings. Opposition in all things is part of the refiner’s fire to prepare us for an eternal celestial destiny.”
When trials arise, we are wise to see the lesson within, which can shape and mature us, even make us into a stronger person than we ever imagined. As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps to develop a depth of character that comes in no other way.”
Another important way to rise from the ashes is to resist the urge to withdraw from Church activity. Nothing is so embarrassing, so heart-wrenching, that you cannot bring it to those who love you and wish to support you. And we need the power of the cleansing Sacrament, the fellowship of Saints, the calming music, and the peace of keeping our covenants, to see us through. Let’s remember the words of Elder Neil L. Andersen who said, “When you are faced with a test of faith, stay within the safety and security of the household of God. There is always a place for you here. No trial is so large we can’t overcome it together.”
Third, resist the urge to compare your situation with that of someone else. Don’t allow Satan to pull you into Self Pity Self Storage! Believe in your ability to partner with God to get through this. Your attitude has tremendous importance. Decide you will not be beaten, you will not succumb, you will triumph. “What we do with what happens to us is more important that what happens to us. The direction in which we are moving is more important than place or situation. We may have stumbled or been grievously hurt, but we have not fallen if we are willing to get back up.” (Elder Marvin J. Ashton)
Fourth, strive to stay in a place of forgiveness. If your hardship is due to the actions of another, it’s easy to get mired in resentment and even revenge. But then you sustain a double injury—the one inflicted upon you by another, and the harm you cause yourself by becoming bitter. When Nelson Mandela was finally released, he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Last, know that God is keenly aware of your challenge, and wants to help you develop the traits to meet and defeat it. As the ultimate Good Parent, he knows you won’t progress if he simply wipes away all struggles and makes life a permanent party. But, as difficulties mount, he stands beside you ready to help. As we pray, as we exercise faith, we can feel a renewed closeness with Christ and with our Heavenly Father as we demonstrate our commitment, our refusal to let go of the iron rod. I have heard many testimonies born of how someone undergoing severe adversity felt cradled in the hands of God. I am one of those who experienced this very feeling.
Yes, sometimes events seem insurmountable. A fire ravages, a loved one walks away, funds evaporate, health fails. But, like the valiant blades of grass emerging through the rubble and reaching heavenward, we can be indomitable. We can remind ourselves that we’re all in, we’re children of God, and we will do whatever it takes to live with Him again. And that resilience will give hope and inspiration to those observing us as well. You may be the example that gave strength to someone in your family or your ward or workplace. Think of the mountainous trials you’ve already endured. We look back later and marvel that we survived! But we did. And we can keep doing it. We must. This is one of the ways we fit ourselves for the kingdom—quite simply, never give up.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.