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Long ago I heard the phrase, “pain in every pew,” and glanced around the next Sunday during Sacrament Meeting, to see if it were true. And it was. But it was in more than every bench; there were struggles in every single family, every single person.
As Relief Society President, I may have known some private matters not known to the general congregation, but every person I actually knew was facing adversity of some kind. It could be grief over the loss of a loved one, agony over children gone astray, frustration with a spouse, worry over finances, suffering due to poor health, self-pity, shame, persecution, a wavering testimony, loneliness, personal battles with weaknesses including addiction–—we could make quite a list. In fact, one or more of those sorrows may have resonated with you just now, as you were reading.
And no one is exempt from trials in this life. That’s very much by design, of course. I’ve joked that if you don’t have any problems, you must be doing something wrong. This life is supposed to present challenges. We’re here to learn how to conquer the natural man, keep the commandments, and help one another. We’re to rely upon God for help, and see His hand as we triumph over adversity. We must learn how to hear promptings from the Holy Ghost. We’re to develop Christlike traits as we exercise patience, faith, long suffering, and even selflessness as we put others’ needs before our own. This sojourn in mortality has been called a field trip and it’s very much like that—a place of learning before we return home again.
But sometimes it hurts deeply. Even when we know we have strengths to develop and lessons to learn, it hurts. Tears, sleeplessness, diminished physical health from worry—these become constant companions for many. Is there no relief? Are we forever to be the walking wounded, those who weep without ceasing?
I would like us to work on being known for Joy in Every Pew. Yes, life will bring pain into our lives. But if we embrace Christ’s atonement, we will see more clearly the love God has for each of us. Despite agonizing losses, we’ll be able to keep our focus upon God’s infinite promises. Right now, among your own friends and associates, you can think of someone who remains unbeatable, despite terrible misfortune. We all know people who keep shining with the light of Christ, refusing to give in to Satan’s temptations to give up and sink into despondency. They might even have more problems than anyone else you can think of, yet they persevere and serve cheerfully. How can we be like this?
First, we need to look at the causes of our suffering. Sometimes it results from our sins and poor choices. In Alma 4, the people of Nephi grieved over terrible losses they felt, and knew these resulted from God’s judgment of their wickedness. In Verse 3 we read, “And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn…” This realization awakened them to repent, and if our pain is self-inflicted, we have the power to remedy the situation, repent, and be forgiven of God.
Often our trials are not the result of grievous sin, but of errors of judgment common to all. We can get counseling to address marital trouble. We can rebuild broken relationships. We can better keep commandments that will ensure safety and health. We can set up a budget and get out of debt.
But what if your heartache exists through no fault of your own? Calamities—and rain—fall upon the just and the unjust equally. Loved ones die. Acts of nature level an entire town. People treat us unkindly. Children of good parents go astray. In cases where we must simply turn to God for strength, we can rely upon Christ’s atonement to heal our wounds. Priesthood blessings, prayer, and temple attendance can all help us gain personal revelation about how to cope with unexpected setbacks. We can even use these trials to bring strength to others, when they endure similar difficulties.
Elder David A. Bednar gave a BYU devotional in 2001, titled, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality.” In it, he observes that most of us understand the atonement helping us with repentance so we can return when we die. Most of us know he paid for our sins. “I am not so sure, however,” he said, “ that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. We may mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”
In fact, Christ’s atonement is for the here and now as well, to help us as we struggle through this life. His atonement helps us with emotional anguish, physical sickness, every affliction known to man. Just as the Lord made burdens light for Alma and his brethren in Mosiah 24, so he can help us endure the unavoidable hurts and injustices of mortality. The burdens do not necessarily change, but our ability to endure them does. Elder Bednar describes this as “Christ’s enabling power,” his grace.
Heavenly Father has stated his purpose: “For behold, this is my work and my glory– to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) He wants us to be happy, one with him and with our Savior. He has indescribable joy in store for all of us. And he doesn’t want us slogging through life in a cloud of discouragement, but to lift our eyes up to the Redeemer, and allow him to heal our broken hearts in this life as well. Moreover, we’ve been told to follow Christ’s example and do that for one another.
So, yes, there is pain in every pew. But there can also be hope, charity towards others, forgiveness, obedience, humility, determination, faith, trust in the future, commitment to serve, and the genuine joy that comes through reaching out to Christ. All of these are accessible to us, even amidst life’s most overwhelming pains, because of his infinite atonement.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.