The Third Day
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The Third Day

Turning to “a Man of Suffering, Acquainted With Grief” to Heal Us

Of all the things that can go wrong, or be frustrating in just an average day with schooling, work, family, and other responsibilities, it can be easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed. If life wasn’t hard enough, for many of us, that is only the beginning. Add in a persistent depressed mood, or anxiety, or mistreatment. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or don’t have enough working hours to pay your bills. Maybe you’ve lost someone you love or are watching someone you love fade away in physical, cognitive, or spiritual decline.

Perhaps you are lonely or seeking an as yet, unknown loving companion. Maybe the marriage you have is not as comfortable as it used to be or is fraught with contention or abuse. Maybe the relationship you had has crumbled to bitter pieces. Perhaps you suffer from chronic pain, or disability. Maybe you have a child who is struggling in school or in their faith. Maybe are struggling in school, or with faith. Maybe past or present trauma or abuse has left your life in seemingly tattered, terrible, and yet invisible pieces. Maybe you struggle under the weight of sin, in any of its many forms.

Any most likely, you have any number of the foregoing and are also treading against the tide among worldwide pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and racial contention, and general uncertainty about the future. The truth is that among life’s troubles all of us either have, do, or will feel, at best, like life is just not working out the way we hoped it would. Or at worst, like life is just not worth living at all. There is too much and not enough.

The holy scriptures are filled with stories and verses that teach about suffering and I will share an attempt at reviewing some of these at a later date. At present I will focus predominantly on teachings and statements provided by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it is no small thing that despite the level of optimistic realism, miraculous faith, and surprising humility manifest by the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many (if not all) of them have expressed what I consider to be a profound awareness of suffering and affliction, as well as indications of intense personal struggles.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “When crises come in our lives- and they will-the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do.” (We need the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Only by going to Him on our knees in fervent prayer may we be guided and comforted by the Divine. Elder Dallin H. Oaks teaches:

Sometimes we might think that something is wrong- either with us or with the “Plan of Happiness” (Alma 42:8,16) when we are facing pain, sorrow, fear, loneliness, or other tribulations.

I would like to share a bit about some of the potential purposes of suffering, and then outline some ways to effectively cope with or reduce suffering. The first of these is explained by Elder Holland. In this context he is speaking to missionaries about missionary work, but as you will read, it has application to all of us.

There is something about mortality, something about reaching for eternal glory that requires us to experience even in an infinitesimal way, how it feels to suffer along our own path through our own Gethsemane. We come to know him better and thus become just a little more like him. Another reason why we suffer builds upon the first. This is from Elder James E. Faust:

Elder Faust then quotes a fellow former apostle:

Elder Faust continues…

If we would view suffering as an opportunity to pay the price to become acquainted with God and to become more like him, with greater capacity to strengthen others in distress, I think we would bear our trials with a least a little more patience and greater faith.

I want to share some strategies for how we can use gospel principles to effectively cope with, or reduce suffering. There are literally dozens of things I could share here but I will only outline a few. The first has to do with what and how we think, as well as what we say. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7) is a familiar saying, and it is true. Before I go any further, I believe it’s important to draw a distinction between our heart (our deeper self, our spirit) and our mind (our cognition, brain thoughts), although there is a correlation between the two. This distinction is an article by itself but just log that away as something to be aware of. At present I’m focusing on brain thoughts more than heart thoughts.

How many times have you heard from well-meaning but non-depressed people to:

The problem is that it’s not quick or easy to change what we think. So when we try to think positively or push negative or otherwise unhealthy thoughts away, more often than not, those “bad” thoughts come right back. And eventually we start to feel like there’s no way to escape them. We learn to cringe and bristle when people say similar things to us or others, and we dismiss the counsel outright. we say. And we’re right. And wrong.

How does one become a skilled baker, a proficient teacher, a truly capable caregiver, a quality musician, an impressive athlete? There is a certain degree of deliberate repetition (practice) that is necessary before one becomes skilled at any craft or trade. One does not become a master at anything until many thousands of hours has been expended in consistent quality effort. In time what felt effortful, forced, memorized; becomes fluid, natural, inherent. We become something more. Something new. Should we expect the mind to be any different? Would we expect the reward to be any less?

If we are persistent and seek to not only to keep negative thoughts out, but to bring positive thoughts in, the quality of our thoughts will begin to change. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles gave wise advice regarding what we should say, and I believe it can be directly applied to what we think. He said,

As you undoubtedly have learned, the ability to consistently change our way of thinking is no trivial or quick task. How does one complete a marathon? Shear will power alone? Constantly engaging in antagonist or negative self-talk? A wise runner engages in a variety of habits, consistently, over an extended period of time. A wise runner seeks advice and direction, sets realist goals, is patient with set-backs and never gives up trying. A wise runner understands that training is a lifestyle one adopts in order to achieve a goal, and completion of that goal does not bring an end to all training. So it is with the mind.

Even though our “natural” mind or body (See Mosiah 3:19) may dispose us to a host of mortal ailments (including negative thinking), our spirit must strive to practice self-mastery, to keep our thoughts where we want them to be. The spirit and the body are often at odds with each other, and part of our purpose here in mortality is to overcome the flesh, or as President Lorenzo Snow said, engage in “warfare with the flesh.” The following quote from him contains themes of having a disciplined mind, and overcoming weaknesses of the flesh, which certainly could include dwelling too much on depressing things:

The power and application of hymns is another excellent tool to combat tribulation and sorrow. Before I started looking/noticing, I never realized how rich the Hymns are with references to sorrow or pain, and more importantly the healing that comes from the Savior. Often in times of great distress, when we feel alone, a sacred Hymn, “a prayer unto [the Lord]” (D&C 25:12) can serve as immense source of comfort. Here are just two of many possible examples in the hymnbook of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although these are not exclusive to that church:

Take the time to read Hymns as well as sing them. Ponder on them as messages from you to God and from God to you and they will become powerful supports during your times of distress and darkness.

The next thing we can do is to serve others. This is from David S. Baxter of the Quorum of the Seventy.

Christ’s greatest act was not for himself, or for his own glory, or benefit. The Atonement was for others- for us, a willing and voluntary sacrifice made for all the children of God. As hard as it might be, turn your cognitive eyes away from your own suffering, and look about you. Find very small and simple ways of showing kindness, love, or service to others. Even if it’s only a smile, or a brief text message you will find that your burden is just a little lighter than before. Then keep doing it.

Christ’s life was filled with service to others even when he was suffering. It is only fitting that he would expect that we, even in our times of distress and depression, seek to do the same. He will bless those we serve, and he will bless us in our efforts to look beyond our own pain and alleviate the suffering of those around us. This is one of the many paradoxes of the Gospel:

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matt. 16: 25

In 2009 Dr. Martin Seligman, a very prominent researcher on positive psychology spoke at a forum at Brigham Young University. One of the things he encouraged students to do everyday was write down three things that went well for you and why. Research has shown that by doing that consistently, your mood and your outlook changes for the better.

In general Conference President Henry B. Eyring shared how he was inspired to keep a journal, or a record of events in his life. Quoting from his talk:

By doing this simple daily task of writing down something that went well for you, or evidence of the hand of the Lord in your life, gratitude and faith will increase, dispelling feelings of despair or negativity. “Count your many blessings” is a hymn that encourages this very thing.

Now I don’t have enough faith to have experienced the “every doubt will fly” part, but the principle is still sound. When we bring to our full attention the good things in our lives, and feel gratitude for what we have, we are better off.

As a recovering pessimist (or rather, aspiring optimist) I can hear you now:

These reactions and any number of their variations are common.

I understand those sentiments.

I’m not saying that by themselves, following the above counsel will solve all your problems. But I can tell that just as we nurture a thriving garden, career, or relationship; just as we build a home, write a book, or hone a skill; good things take ongoing wise effort.

Do we give up chasing our passion because the market is too competitive? Do we give up the dream of a family because things aren’t working out? Do we stop trying because we’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness? If we do, it’s not because we wanted to quit, but because our negative mindset has taken hold. We listened to the wrong voices for too long.

Thinking and writing positively, finding solace in sacred music, and turning to the Lord are key components to the unfolding puzzle of physical and social health. And so it is we arrive at my concluding point: God WANTS to walk with you on your journey and he has already gifted you power and healing beyond comprehension.

Regardless of the depth and breadth of medicinal, emotional, behavioral, or religious practices you may employ to overcome adversity, we will find our truest healing and deepest peace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. His Atonement is for sinners and for aspiring saints. For all those who are broken or breaking or healing in any way.

We generally think or assume that the broader the scope, or wider the influence, the more impersonal the application. That is not the case with things of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is eternally universal in its power and its influence, yet it is miraculously personal, individual, and intimate. Remember the Savior and his suffering when you suffer. And don’t forget that progress takes time.

Just as we cannot expect meaningful or lasting change when we have random and solitary cram sessions in order to learn a new language, we cannot expect to bring about cognitive or spiritual change through sporadic bursts of effort by ourselves.

Here’s another two quotes from Elder Holland. They’re a little long but definitely worth the time.

God the Father and His faithful Son Jesus Christ will be there for us. And it is through Christ’s Atonement that we can gain comfort and strength in our trials.

If we are overwhelmed, pessimistic, anxious, depressed, or facing any other degree of suffering and seeking the healing and sustaining power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we are in fact placing ourselves in a position that will postpone healing. Eventually, if we reject his outstretched hands, we will only find deeper despair and crippled faith.

Please note, that I am not saying that if you are experiencing trials and tribulations of various sorts, that you are somehow lacking in faith or spirituality, but rather that if we fail to include the Atonement at the top of our list of healing sources, (which list could certainly include professional earthly help) we are missing a fundamental principle of redemption and exaltation. And that principle is that without reliance on, and faith in, the redeeming, healing, sustaining, comforting power of Jesus the Christ, we cannot find peace in this life nor in the life to come.

I can promise you that regardless of your past or present (or future) trials, as harrowing or maddening as they may be, Jesus Christ knows them, and knows . And he knows exactly how to heal you.

No matter what your trial, no matter how deep or intense or hidden your sorrows, pains, or fears. Whether your suffering be big or small, brought about by sin or not, I promise you that Jesus the Christ has the power to help and to heal and to save.

He knows your individual personal pain in a very real and literal way. He loves you. And he so desperately wants you to return home to Him and your heavenly parents.

I testify in humility and conviction that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of Israel, the Lamb and the Son of God. I am absolutely certain that he knows who you are. He knows your name, he knows your story. He knows exactly how you feel- . And mine. I testify that the cleansing and healing power of His Atonement is real- it works- and it is wonderful. Christ knows who you are and will not leave you comfortless.

May I suggest one last thing we can do to help us along our path toward overcoming suffering, and reaching eternal peace. No matter how much you think you might understand about Christ’s Atonement and its implications, His prophets make it very clear that there is much we can learn and far more that we simply cannot comprehend. By studying the Atonement, our minds will be drawn to the Savior and his loving, infinite mercy and justice. The more we reflect upon the Son of God, and integrate principles and doctrines of the Atonement into our lives, the happier we will be. As the book True to the Faith states regarding partaking of the sacrament in remembrance of His Atonement, “the more we ponder its significance, the more sacred it becomes to us.” (p.147)

If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed. Thanks for sticking it out. I would like to conclude with quotes from Elder James E. Faust from a 1999 Ensign Article and the Special Witnesses of Christ video produced in April 2000. While giving him the credit, I share this as if it were my own testimony, and do so as final means of illustrating that despite sorrow, there is also spiritual strength:

Special Witnesses of Christ, Ensign, April 2001



Seeking and sharing light and truth as a believer in Jesus Christ

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