I have struggled with eczema and psoriasis since I was a baby. The folds in my skin and my scalp behind my left ear are almost always burning if I don’t medicate them. I get that gene from my Grandpa Bill. Any discomfort I experience, he experienced, and to a much greater degree. None of the remedies I use now were available to him growing up, and by the time he was old, his skin was like tissue paper from various steroid creams. When I lost my Papa, I started to cherish my itchy skin because it came from him. Instead of grumbling as I apply my clobetasol or exfoliate for the millionth time, I think of my discomfort as a tie to and reminder of him and all the love and good he brought into my life. It’s kind of crazy, but I recently realized that I truly do not resent my skin issues anymore. If I’m having an especially itchy or burny day, it just makes me think of Grandpa, which is a happy thing. I realized that this is a parable to teach me about and to improve my relationship with Our Savior.
I think of the scripture where the great missionary apostle Paul rejoiced in his weaknesses and trials as they humbled him and made the glory of God manifest in His life. He said:
“And lest I should be exalted…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh…For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, ‘my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
I used to think this was positive thinking at best, self-delusion at worst, and wondered how and if I would ever feel such a thing. I mean, I have felt grateful for my trials in hindsight, AFTER I see the blessings and growth that came from my trials, but to appreciate my challenges IN my suffering—WHILE I am still going through them? Well, that just seemed super-human and definitely outside of my soul’s capabilities. Then in general conference, I heard a modern-day apostle elaborate on Paul’s attitude:
“We can choose to be grateful, no matter what. This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.
“When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.
This idea took deeper root in my heart just a couple of months after Elder Uchtdorf gave his talk when we visited my mother and father-in-law on their mission at Liberty Jail. Grandpa talked to our children and shared with them the things he had learned about what Joseph Smith and his companions endured in the jail, and how he was able to record a wonderful revelation that brought him personal comfort and has blessed its readers ever since.
“If thou art called to endure tribulation…know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”
(D&C 122: 5, 7, 8).
Two phrases in that scripture serve as mantras for me as I sort through my trials and try to find the lessons. First, “all these things shall give the experience and shall be for thy good.” I’ve written before (HERE) about how the Spirit witnessed to me that none of our pain is ever wasted. I have come to trust that the sooner I can humbly submit to the experience and find the lesson, the sooner it will pass and I can have faith in the process, knowing that God will sustain me and is going to use my experience for good. I have faith that I will come out of it more like Him. Paul also testified of this principle to the Romans, in chapter 8 (the whole chapter is beautiful): “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). Two witnesses…mic drop.
The second mantra from Liberty Jail is, “Art thou greater than he?” Speaking of mic drops…if this question doesn’t shut my whining right up, nothing will. This reminds me of the way God talks to me in my dreams. If I whine, he asks me a stinging question like this one—He meets my sass with sass, so to speak. I love the whole passage preceding this question. God goes on for a whole paragraph, saying ‘You might have to go through this or that, or your worst nightmare, you name it—but the Son of Man had to do all of that, times a zillion. Are you telling me that you don’t DESERVE to suffer, but HE DID?” It is a VERY humbling thought and it usually shuts me right up. Of course, in a dream I might argue back, “But He was half divine, he had special powers I don’t have,” yadda, yadda. And Heavenly Father would reply, “Yeah, and I had to WITHDRAW FROM HIM. I had to leave Him alone to do His work. He had nothing. You have Me, and Him, and the Holy Ghost, all cheering you on and sending you a constant barrage of comfort and encouragement…you just have to choose to receive it. You just have to decide that We are enough. That the prize is worth the fight.” Yep. It always comes down to our choice. We can always CHOOSE how to view our struggles. And remembering that our perfect, sinless Savior was required to suffer WAY more trial and humiliation (even before and after Gethsemane) than we will ever encounter should always help us to put our struggles in perspective.
My sweet missionary niece, Brittany, shared a lovely poem in her New Year’s letter. It reminded me of these lessons on suffering that I have been learning. Here is part of the poem:
And in a moment, I understand
Just a moment of
Something beyond me, a truth:
That Jesus Christ chose to understand me.
When he went to that garden,
When he bowed on the cross,
Beyond my deserving,
Whatever the cost--
He chose to understand me.
He chose to live what I live.
And I don't know how, but the why was love
And so I, too, must give.
If the Savior thought I was so important
To trace the details of my life
To give his empathy, his love
In sickness, gladness, pain or strife--
Why would I not try as well
To live some of His life?
I know that I'm not perfect
My steps won't match his own
But even with some crooked steps
That path can lead me home.
I'll follow him, and when I see
The pain of captured souls in grief
I'll sit a while to be with them
To give them some relief.
I love the idea of this verse—He walked a few miles in my shoes, now it’s my turn to try to walk in His. We are yoked together. We are a team. It is a joyful path, but it’s not an easy one. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught us: “There is no greater calling, no greater challenge, and no greater source of joy—both proximate joy and ultimate joy—than is found in the process of discipleship. This process brings its own joys and reassurances. Don’t, however, expect the world to understand or to value your discipleship. They will not. In a way, they may admire you from afar, but they will be puzzled about the priorities resulting from your devotion.” It still stings a little when I am criticized, demeaned, or just left out for putting my covenants with him first, but the sting is fading away faster. And the other kinds of trials—the ones I bring on myself or that come from being mortal—those don’t really hurt anymore, either. Sure I get worn out, but I embrace my thorn in the flesh—my auto immune disorders, programmed deep in the genes passed down to me through my mama from my Grandpa, and allowed to manifest in my otherwise healthy body by my Creator to teach me to rely on Him and Him alone (see more HERE). To teach me to be humble and remind me that the boundless energy, motivation, and health I used to enjoy was not because of anything I did, but a gift from Him. I am grateful for the relatively healthy season I now enjoy and I understand that He has given me enough energy to do good things, but not enough to waste time. And when I am asked to do good things that would otherwise exhaust me, He sustains me through it and I am quickened by the Spirit. My faith in Him and in this process is a tiny sprout, but it’s bigger than a desire or a seed or a seedling, and I know it will continue to grow as I continue to trust and obey. It’s such a cool experience!
So I close my thoughts, coming full-circle, with another bright testimony from Paul: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time not worthy with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). I reckon that, too. I’m pretty sure our minds would be blown if we could see ourselves as God sees us, in all our divine potential, and all He has in store for us if we choose it. For now, I trust in Paul’s testimony, and in the testimony of all the prophets, that “eye hath not seen, nor ear head, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9—another awesome chapter about how the world just doesn’t get the things of the Spirit), and I will do what it takes to become like Him.