January 19, 2013

Faith and Adversity

(This is one of my favorite paintings, by Greg Olsen, titled "Be not afraid".
 It reminds me how God is there to help us through rough places in our lives.)

Last Sunday I gave a talk at church.  The topic was Adversity.  The funny thing is that in the last year, I have given 3 church talks to 3 different congregations and each time I was asked to speak about this topic.  It has made it easy to prepare, but I’m also wondering if there’s just something I’m still not getting. 

Last Monday, we found out that the sale of our house fell through for a second time.  We have been trying to sell our house to the same family for the last 4 months, and their house buyers keep falling through so they can’t buy ours.  It’s been a bit frustrating, but if paying 2 mortgages for an extended period of time is our trial at this point, so be it.  

I have had trials in my life, and I’m sure you’ve had them in yours as well.  I thought I would share the text of my talk here on my blog since I’ve spent a lot of time working on it over the past year.  It’s long, and I don’t expect many to actually read through the whole thing, but maybe there’s someone who would feel uplifted by reading it, so here it goes. 

(And as a side note, to those of you who don't belong to my church, the people I reference who's names you probably do not recognize are leaders of our church; men whom we believe to be apostles and prophets of the Lord in these days.  Even if you don't believe as I do, I think you will recognize wisdom in their words.)

We have been told that this life is a test. It is not a test of our ability to be faithful to God in the best of times. It is a test to see if we will be faithful to God and our covenants in all times, all situations, whether good or bad.

Adversity will come to each of us in our lives, in different ways - physical, emotional, or mental. There is no way to avoid it. But adversity is important for us. It is important in our eternal development, and if we rely on our Savior to help us through our trials, we will safely arrive back home to live with our Heavenly Father.

Today I'd like to talk about what we can do endure the adversity which will come into our lives.

One of my favorite hymns says, as if quoting the Savior,

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee oerflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
Ill never, no never, no never forsake!
(from How Firm a Foundation)

God has told us that he will be with us in our trials and temptations.

1 Corinthians 10:13
There hath no temptation taken you but such is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

So the question is then "do we believe God?" Do we believe Him when he tells us He is with us, and do we cry to Him for help? It seems that having faith in God, continually striving to increase our faith, and using that faith, are necessary for enduring the adversity in our lives.

First lets talk about what faith is.  We have often heard this scripture from the Book of Mormon describing it.
  Ether 12:6 "And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith."
Faith is knowing something to be true without necessarily understanding all the how's and whys. For example, I believe, or have faith, that I can pick up a cell phone, press some buttons, and talk to my mom in California. It is my belief, my faith, that leads me to pick it up and press the buttons, and hearing her voice is my witness that it works. But I can't hear her voice, or have that witness, before I follow the steps that make it work.
 Someone who had never seen a cell phone before might think I was crazy, to say that I can speak to someone a thousand miles away using that little thing. The prideful might not want to try it, saying its nonsense and I must be fooling myself to think I can hear her voice.  Others might be curious and want to know how it works, so I would teach them and following my instructions they would find for themselves that it works.  I don't know how it works. I certainly can't explain how it works to anyone, but it does. 
Likewise, using a much more advanced technology,  I can kneel down, fold my arms, close my eyes and talk to my Father in Heaven. Feeling the spirit around me as I pray tells me that my Father hears me, and confirms my faith. Some people will call me a fool for saying it works and will never try it themselves, and others will want to know how to pray on their own.  Again, I cant explain how it works to anyone, but I know it does.
When we have faith in our Savior, we believe that if we follow the steps He has outlined for us, we will be able to have peace and ultimately joy with Him and our Father in His kingdom.  Those of us who act on that belief will receive a witness that He truly lives and His path is the path to happiness.  Having faith in Jesus Christ means relying completely on Himtrusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love. It includes believing His teachings. It means believing that even though we do not understand all things, He does. Because He has experienced all our pains, afflictions, and infirmities, He knows how to help us rise above our daily difficulties. 
It's important for us to build our faith and trust in God to help us arrive safely back home with our father in heaven.
In his April 2012 General Conference talk Mountains to Climb, President Eyring teaches us that blessings can come from adversity, but we must have the faith to endure them.  He encourages us to build a solid foundation of faith. He says, If we have faith in Jesus Christ, the hardest as well as the easiest times in life can be a blessing. In all conditions, we can choose the right with the guidance of the Spirit.
How can we build our faith?  President Eyring likened building faith to building a house.  He said the first thing we need to do is prepare the ground.   He says: the ground must be carefully prepared for our foundation of faith to withstand the storms that will come into every life.  That solid basis for a foundation of faith is personal integrity. He then teaches us that once we have a solid ground prepared through our personal integrity,  the substance of our faith is poured around a metal framework which makes it stronger, the metal framework being the gospel of Jesus Christ with all its covenants, ordinances, and principles.  These things help keep our faith strong.
 Integrity is the first step.  We must live our lives with integrity.  Without personal integrity, our faith is on shaky ground.  Integrity is the quality or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, and undivided.
We all know we should be honest and always tell the truth, but integrity is a bit more than that.  Its being whole and sound, being true to the light and knowledge we have been given.  In addition to not lying to others, we must not lie to ourselves.  We shouldnt justify doing things we know are wrong or not doing the things we know are good.  When we excuse ourselves from reading the scriptures daily because were just too busy, watch shows that glorify evil because we tell ourselves it doesnt effect us, listen to music that is inappropriate because we like the beat, and indulge in other forms of self-deception, we compromise our integrity. If something is not virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy then we should avoid it.  Weve been taught this from our youth and following this counsel will allow the spirit to be with us more abundantly, preserve our integrity, and strengthen our faith.   
Often I fail at this - at doing everything I know I should do, and I get down on myself for my lack of willpower.  Maybe some of you do too.  I found comfort in reading the following from Elder Bednar: Remember that becoming people of integrity and honesty is not simply a matter of more personal determination, more grit, and more willpower; rather, it is accomplished through the enabling power of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I love that reminder.  We must pray and ask for help through the atonement. 

Elder Richard G. Scott has also taught us some principles that will keep our faith strong. He says we must:
"1.     Trust in God and in His willingness to provide help when needed, no matter how challenging the circumstance.
2.     Obey His commandments and live to demonstrate that He can trust you.
3.     Be sensitive to the quiet prompting of the Spirit.
4.     Act courageously on that prompting.
5.     Be patient and understanding when God lets you struggle to grow and answers come a piece at a time over an extended period."
I love that last one. Read it again. Sometimes it does seem that even though we are doing all the right things, we are still struggling, and we wonder why. It seems to us that if we are doing everything right, then the result should be that our trial should be over quickly, but it doesn't always happen that way.

There is a childrens picture book called The Empty Pot written by Demi.  Its a favorite of mine and Id like to share a summary of the story with you, as I think it teaches some important things about integrity and adversity.  
Long ago in China there was a boy named Ping who loved to grow flowers, and he was very good at it.  The Emperor also loved flowers, and since he was getting old and had no one to pass the kingdom on to, he decided to have a contest to see who would get to be emperor next.  All the children in the kingdom were given a seed, and they were told by the emperor Whoever can show me their best in a years time will succeed me to the throne.  Ping was sure he could grow the best flower and was very excited. He took his seed home and planted it and watered it and waited, but nothing grew.  Then he put in a bigger pot with better soil, thinking that would help, but still nothing happened. He did his best to take care of the seed and help it grow but after the year had passed all he had was an empty pot.  When it came time to show the flowers to the emperor, Pings friends were teasing him that he had an empty pot while they all had big beautiful flowers.  Ping didnt want to go show the emperor, but Pings father encouraged him to go and said You did your best, and your best is good enough to present to the emperor. At the palace, the emperor examined the flowers with a frown on his face.  When he got to Ping, he asked him why he had come with an empty pot.  Ping told him all he had done to try to take care of the seed and help the flower to grow, but nothing worked, so he had to come with an empty pot because it was the best he could do.  The emperor smiled and pronounced that he had found the one boy worthy of being emperor.  He told the crowd that he had cooked all of the seeds so that it was impossible for any of them to grow and praised Ping for his integrity. 
Ping was honest, even when he saw all of the other childrens beautiful flowers.  He tried his best, doing everything he could think of with what he was given, and in the end he was rewarded. This story teaches me several thing.  First, it reminds me to always be true.  Second, it reminds me to be wary of comparing myself with others. And last, it makes me wonder if some of the trials in my life are cooked seeds, and its my job to do my best regardless of the results, trusting that God will accept my best efforts.
As we do these things - live with integrity, keep our covenants, pray -  and exercise our faith, we will grow in confidence that the Lord does hear and answer our prayers. It's important for us to remember the times He has answered our prayers. In the scriptures, the prophets are constantly telling the people to remember the great things the Lord had done for them, because then they will put more trust in the Lord.  It's the same with us. When we remember the things God has already done for us, we can then pray with more faith, knowing He will hear our prayers again.   When we meet with another trial, we will remember the past times the Lord has answered our prayers, and we will be more confident that He will help us again, as He did last time. Elder Nelson has said "Unfailing faith is fortified through prayer."
As Alma tells his son in Alma 36:3: "And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day."
We will have trials in our lives, and if we rely on God, we will ultimately arrive safely at our destination, which is to live in his presence in the celestial kingdom.
Elder Scott said "Sincere faith gives understanding and strength to accept the will of our Heavenly Father when it differs from our own. We can accept His will with peace and assurance, confident that His infinite wisdom surpasses our own ability to comprehend fully His plan as it unfolds a piece at a time.   No matter what occurs, no matter how topsy-turvy the world becomes, you can always have the sustaining power of faith. That will never change. The perfect love of your Father in Heaven will never change."
God loves us so much. more than we can understand. When we remember how much God loves us and we feel His love for us, it is easier to put our trust in Him.  He has good things in store for us if we will trust Him.  Satan does not love us and only seeks our misery.  Satan makes his way seem more desirable, and easier. It is easier to not pay tithing. It is easier to hold grudges and blame others. It is easier to give into temptation rather then discipline ourselves and develop self control. But Satan's path does not lead us ultimately to joy.  God gives us commandments not because He wants to control us, but because He loves us, and He knows doing as He asks will make us happy.  He has told us in DandC 90:24 "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another."
In closing, I'd like to read some verses from another hymn called The Time is Far Spent:

Shrink not from your duty, however unpleasant,
But follow the Savior, your pattern and friend.
Our little afflictions, tho painful at present,
Ere long, with the righteous, in glory will end,

Be fixed in your purpose, for Satan will try you;
The weight of your calling he perfectly knows.
Your path may be thorny, but Jesus is nigh you;
His arm is sufficient, tho demons oppose.

Our Savior knows our struggles. Isaiah called him a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."  He understands our pain and frustration. He understands our insecurities and fears. He understands our grief and sorrow. When we pray we can feel of His infinite love for us and know He will take care of us through the trials of our lives. 


  1. This was just beautiful and something I really needed to hear right now. Thanks for having the courage to share it.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this, Erin! How Firm A Foundation was our opening hymn at sacrament meeting today and actually provided for me answers to prayer, but we didn't get to sing the verses you posted, which served as more answer to prayer for me now! The rest of your talk was very timely and meaningful to me as well, so I thank you.

  3. So sorry to hear about your house Erin! I feel your pain!

  4. I finally got a quiet moment to sit down and read this. I very much enjoyed it; thanks for posting. Three different wards, same topic every time? That IS a sign :).

  5. Thanks everyone for your nice comments! I appreciate the support.


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