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My husband, Bob, and I were out with another couple recently, when the other husband told us that an associate had approached him for advice. The associate was despairing about his bleak predicament, almost hopeless about the way his life had become.  And our friend, successful attorney Fred Penney, had given him the key to his own success. He said, “There’s only one thing you can do. Move forward.”

The wisdom of this counsel, on so many levels, really struck me. I don’t know anyone who has lived a life free of snags, temptations, setbacks, and confusion. Yet if we can take a breath during those trials and look for a way to move forward, we will not become permanently mired in discouragement. 

From a child frustrated with a situation at school, to a missionary struggling with hardships on a mission, to spouses dealing with disagreements, to those grappling with workplace adversity, this formula works.

So often we stare at our problems and wish a total solution would present itself. We pray for rescue. We ask others for their input. But the simple prescription of moving forward is often the best course of action. It may not even be a gigantic leap, but a baby step in the right direction.  And we all know which direction is forward, and which is backward.  Now we just have to take one small bit of action.  Even when we’re presenting a plan to Heavenly Father, it helps to take that small step.  And if we’re on the wrong track, we’ll get that cloudy feeling of consternation. If we’re on the right track, we’ll feel a warmth of approval, and a motivation to proceed.

“Move forward” also implies shaking off the past and not letting it grab you by the ankles anymore. It can include forgiveness, since that keeps us from moving forward. When we’re always looking back at something unfair, we ruminate. We stop progress. Sometimes it’s ourselves we need to forgive, to move forward. Constantly anguishing in regret does nothing to turn back the clock and re-do things. We must accept our imperfections and our mortality, repent, then move forward having learned a lesson. But we cannot let the past rob us of a future.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once said, “The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.” 

Sometimes tragedy strikes and it’s appropriate to grieve and to process what’s happened. That’s healthy, and it’s a necessary pause. But, as Elder Holland says, it shouldn’t become a permanent stop. 

Let’s look at the examples I mentioned above. Maybe a child is frustrated with a teacher’s difficult assignment. Does it help to moan and whine? Does it help to be defiant and refuse to accept classwork? Whom does that actually hurt?  Maybe the way to move forward is to ask for help or tutoring to meet the task. Maybe a conference with the teacher can modify the assignment so the child can actually succeed. Maybe it’s simply a matter of accepting the fact that some teachers are harder than others. So are some bosses, so are some neighbors.  A moment like this can teach a child to roll up their sleeves, hunker down, and get the job done. But moving forward is still the answer.

Missionaries are in the rare and wonderful position not only to share the gospel and bring people to Jesus Christ, but to live in a concentrated maturation chamber. By adapting to a new culture, a new language, new food, new daily schedule, and a new companion every couple of months, they have no choice but to solve problems, get creative, amp up their work ethic, develop a closer relationship with the Lord, grow up, and move forward.  Despairing over any aspect of their new life will only become a roadblock. Even realizing when your teaching efforts are not accepted is a moment of moving on. It’s leaving behind what didn’t work, and newly investing your time and energy where it can actually yield success.       

Married couples often stagnate because they focus on minutiae that are unimportant in the grand scheme. They forget where forward is, quarreling over trivia that older couples have long since swept into the dust bin. Again, the solution is to remember the ultimate goal of exaltation. This means forgiveness and love, it means making and keeping sacred covenants, it means joining hands and remembering your destination– to return to Heavenly Father. Taking any step at all in the right direction will yield peace, and even romance.  Going to the temple, praying for one another, refusing to criticize, expressing genuine love, lifting burdens for one another—each of these choices is moving forward.

All members, married or not, face the temptation to succumb to hopelessness. But President Thomas S. Monson said, “Self-pity, personal withdrawal, or deep despair will not bring the peace, the assurance, or help which are needed. Rather, we must go forward, look upward, move onward, and rise heavenward.” When we feel ourselves sinking, we can pray to God for the help we need. We were never expected to do all this without his aid!

People in the workplace—or in church callings—encounter adversities as well, some daily. But again, remembering righteous goals and inching toward them will make an immediate difference. This perspective will help you see the challenges that are worth fighting for, and the ones that are annoying but can be ignored. Someone is being the target of unfair gossip? That’s one you can speak up about, and know that you are doing right.  Getting stymied because you’re uncertain of your talents can be remedied by getting some training and then jumping in and doing the task. Again, moving forward.

Every one of us will find ourselves surrounded by discouraging prospects from time to time, just as our friend’s associate did. But the choices of collapsing, becoming bitter, running away, or getting revenge, will not bring us happiness or personal growth. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf knows the same secret formula and said it well when he said, “Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.”

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle.  All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website.  She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.