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I took a fascinating class in high school: Genetics. As an adoptee, I had always wondered about the features and traits I had inherited. Unlike all my friends who could glance around the dinner table and see similarities, I grew up unattached to such comparisons. And it was amazing to discover that many behaviors—not just physical characteristics— are also inherited, and not solely determined by environment.
One intriguing aspect of genetics is the discovery of linked traits. For example, both baldness and red-green color blindness are recessive sex-linked traits. Both are found on the X chromosome, not the Y. But because men have only one X chromosome, they’re more likely to exhibit the colorblindness and baldness than women are.
Scientists have found odd connections in other areas as well, such as ear wax and breast cancer, deformed ears and kidney problems. We see connections in animals, also: An orange tabby is likely to be male, a calico female. And a blue-eyed white cat is more likely to be deaf.
But I have a theory that takes this to the experiential level. I think all of our trials are linked to specific opportunities. So often when hardships strike, we focus on the hardship itself, and fail to open our eyes to the chance for growth that comes with it.
Nobody hopes for trouble or adversity. But, at the same time, we know it’s naïve to hope we’ll make it through life unscathed, untested. So we’re wise to be prepared for the setbacks that naturally occur. And, of course, we hope we won’t commit serious sins or make foolish choices that heap additional suffering onto the pile.
Some of that preparation is “saving for a rainy day.” We’re known for emergency preparedness, for careful planning to avoid disasters. It isn’t pessimism, it’s realism. It’s packing a suitcase when you know you’re going to have a baby. It’s putting on snow tires in one season, and sunscreen in another.
But, despite our most careful attention to keep life running smoothly, it doesn’t. Jobs disappear. Health declines. Children become wayward. Finances reverse. Relationships dissolve. Things we hoped would never happen, happen anyway.
These are the moments of our testing, the times we need to keep a cool head and ask God what he wants us to learn from this challenge. These are the times when we must exercise more faith than ever, more reliance upon our loving Father in Heaven. Now is when we must remember we are in the battle, and choose Heavenly Father as our teammate.
And, sometimes, we can find an incredible connection, a silver lining that explains why our flight was cancelled, our job fell through, or our engagement ended. Just maybe God has something bigger or better in mind for us. Or, he’s hoping we’ll develop the very traits we came to Earth to gain.
I love the story of Ammon, and how he gained the trust of King Lamoni. When Lamanite thieves threatened to scatter the flocks he was tending—truly a disaster that could result in all the herdsmen being put to death—Ammon was thrilled. He saw beyond the current crisis to the opportunity that was linked to this event: By selfless service to the king, he could create the perfect missionary opportunity.
Do we think this way? When a setback occurs at work, do we handle it in such a way that co-workers are saved and an example of integrity is set? Do we step up to rescue, or shrink back? I’ve done both, and I don’t need to tell you which choice brings joy and which one brings shame.
In the Old Testament, when Joseph was cast into prison, he used it as an opportunity to interpret dreams, ultimately leading to his heroic role in saving Egypt from famine.
We all know of incredible people who were able to have an eternal perspective, forgiving those who did them wrong, and inspiring us all to be more generous, more charitable. These remarkable, saintly people not only bless their own lives, but cause others to look into the religion that can create a person like that.
I think of disabled veterans who become motivational speakers, turning setbacks into comebacks, often reaching and lifting more people because of their trial than they ever could have, without it.
I think of the woman whose husband abandoned her with five young children, who found a way to persevere, setting an example of unwavering faith for her children—a lesson every one of them would later need. Her defeat became a triumph.
Think of your trials right now. I recall the anguish of watching my mother decline, break bones, get Alzheimer’s, and require tremendous care. Yes, it’s difficult. But what a missionary opportunity it presented with health workers. What a sorely needed lesson in patience for me. What a better perspective it gave our children. There were gifts of growth all around.
What are your children learning from the way you handle setbacks? Will they take an indomitable spirit of determination into their adult lives, because of how they watched you navigate trials? Will they learn more about prayer and fasting? Will they involve God in their own journey? Every challenge presents a tremendous teaching opportunity.
I really do think our misfortunes come with linked opportunities, both for ourselves and for those around us. We simply need to take a breath when challenges arise, and then look beyond the moment to the impact this event can have, from an eternal perspective. We’re here to grow, and sometimes that only happens with resistance. Maybe this is a time to bear your testimony, to get a blessing, to reach out to others and let them serve. Maybe it’s a warning to get our lives in order, get back to the temple, or mend broken relationships. If we truly believe we’re to make progress whenever a trial arises, we need to look for linked opportunities. They’re always there.