The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, recently held its semi-annual General Conference. In this conference, Mormon leaders instruct members and other listeners in ways to better live Christ’s teachings.In the April 2011 General Conference, Paul V. Johnson answered the question, “Why is life so hard?” He taught that trials often come to us because Jesus loves us. It might not seem, at first glance to be much of a gift, but when we understand why we came to earth, the reasoning behind this becomes clear.
Mormon beliefs teach that God created our spirits. As spirits—meaning we had no body—we lived with God, getting to know Him and becoming the people we are today. Eventually, of course, every child needs to leave home and so God prepared the earth for us. When we came to earth we would take with us our own personalities but we would forget who we had been and where we had come from. We’d gain bodies and families. Many of us would have opportunities to rediscover God and Jesus Christ and even those who did not would have with them the Light of Christ, which everyone always has. We’d have trials which would serve as a test to see if we could handle them properly.
But trials are not just a test. They are also a gift. When we face trials, we often discover something about ourselves we didn’t know was there. When we handle them badly we learn our weaknesses and can choose to overcome the challenges. When we handle them well, we can grow to be more than we ever imagined we can be. Trials help us become everything God knows we can be.
Elder Johnson’s talk was given in the Sunday morning session of Conference, It was called, “More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us.” The title comes from the Biblical apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 8:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Elder Johnson reminded listeners that no one is exempt from trials. Money can’t prevent them. Obedience to the commandments can’t prevent them. Trials are an essential part of life—even Jesus faced trials and temptations. The trials He faced were an essential part of His own mortal experience and they are also an essential part of our own.
At times it may seem that our trials are focused on areas of our lives and parts of our souls with which we seem least able to cope. Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses.
There are times when we are tempted to tell God we are more than willing to take on our share of trials—just not that particular trial that looms ahead. We think we can’t handle that trial. However, if the trial comes, it is proof to us that God knows we can handle it after all. More importantly, it means there is something He wants us to learn by experiencing it. We learn the most when we are pushed far outside our comfort zones. Trials are painful, but seen from an eternal perspective, they are worth it.
In the Book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, Moses is struggling with his group of whiny Israelites. They were worried about having nothing to eat, so God began providing them with manna. Soon, however, the novelty of the manna wore off and they began to whine for meat, vegetables, and other foods from their past. Moses came pretty close to the breaking point. He even complained to God, asking why he had to deal with these people—they were, after all, God’s children, not his. He suggested, in a clear measure of his frustration, God just kill him. Death seemed preferable to coping with this trial, which he insisted was beyond his ability to bear. Instead, God offered him some help and made him carry on. Over time, Moses became a strengthened leader, better able to handle the trial he faced.
Our trials are personalized to our specific needs. The reason some people have seemingly harder lives than others is often because of the specific lessons that person might need to learn. God knows exactly which trials we need. The person with seemingly easy trials might actually face greater danger than the person with clearly challenging trials. It is often said, for instance, that most people feel certain they would be willing to die for their faith, but that the truth is we are more often called on to live for it. While dying for our faith might seem to be harder and more grievous, in truth living the small, day-to-day challenges to our faith might prove to be far harder. Many of us measure up surprisingly well to the severe trials, but fumble on the smaller ones, some of which don’t really look like trials, and so catch us off-base.
For those who are frustrated over a deep trial, Elder Johnson consoles:
A pattern in the scriptures and in life shows that many times the darkest, most dangerous tests immediately precede remarkable events and tremendous growth. “After much tribulation come the blessings.” The children of Israel were trapped against the Red Sea before it was parted. Nephi faced danger, anger from his brothers, and multiple failures before he was able to procure the brass plates. Joseph Smith was overcome by an evil power so strong that it seemed he was doomed to utter destruction. When he was almost ready to sink into despair, he exerted himself to call upon God, and at that very moment he was visited by the Father and the Son. Often investigators face opposition and tribulation as they near baptism. Mothers know that the challenges of labor precede the miracle of birth. Time after time we see marvelous blessings on the heels of great trials.
Remembering this can help us endure our trials. We can know that if we face our trial with courage, look for the lessons to be learned and the skills to be gained, when it ends we will receive the reward of our efforts. We will be stronger, have increased faith and trust in God, and will be better prepared for the next trial.
Our Heavenly Father loves us, and we “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.” Someday when we get to the other side of the veil, we want more than for someone just to tell us, “Well, you’re done.” Instead, we want the Lord to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Watch the entire talk in speech and sign language: