Enduring Trials of Faith with Patience

Gettysburg, 3 June 2020

Due to COVID-19, my church has suspended meetings. Normally we have members of the congregation give talks every Sunday, so now my local congregation sends out a weekly newsletter with written talks. My bishop asked me to write a talk on “enduring trials of faith with patience.” I’m sharing it here too with the hope that someone finds it helpful.


What is patience? Our Guide to the Scriptures defines patience as “calm endurance; the ability to endure affliction, insult, or injury without complaint or retaliation.” 

What does that look like?

When I think of patience I think of my father. He’s had moments of impatience but he so often responds to inconvenience, insult, and affliction with calmness. Many times I have observed him pause before speaking after someone has hurled defiance, rudeness, or disrespect at him. I witnessed it first hand when I was the one rebelling against him. I couldn’t help it, I knew everything when I was eighteen years old! His loving patience grabbed my attention and pierced my heart in a way I don’t think anything else could have. It made me consider who I was becoming, and who I wanted to be.

One of my favorite examples of patience comes from The Book of Mormon. The scripture in Mosiah chapter 23 says Alma and the Nephites who followed him “fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness” to escape from the armies of King Noah, who wanted to kill them because they had different religious beliefs. Imagine speed hiking for eight days without even a trail to walk on! They stopped when they found “a beautiful and pleasant land,” and they went straight to work: “they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.” These people were tough! More important than their hard work and perseverance was their choice to repent of their sins and follow Christ. Because of that choice the Lord blessed them that “they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land.” They were doing well. They were making the right choices.

After all this, Mormon writes, “nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people, yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.”

A Lamanite army that had gotten lost discovered Alma and his people. They asked for directions (they must have had women with them) and promised Alma they would leave his people alone if he helped them. Alma gave them directions and the Lamanite leader broke his promise, which was almost unheard of even among enemies in those days. The bulk of the Lamanite army followed Alma’s directions home while some remained to stand guard over Alma’s people. Later the wives and children of the Lamanite guards moved in too.

The Lamanite guards, under the direction of a cruel and cunning ex-Nephite named Amulon, “began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.” Amulon wouldn’t even spare children from his cruelty. He then “exercised authority over [Alma’s people], and put tasks on them, and put task-masters over them” (Mosiah 24:8-9). Slave labor. 

“And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.”

Amulon ordered them to stop praying, and “he put guards over them to watch them,” and ordered the guards to kill anyone who prayed to God. Alma and his people “did pour out their hearts to [God]; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.” I love that.

The next part speaks for itself. It’s powerful!

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

Then the Lord kept his promise: 

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.”

The Lord then spoke to Alma to have his people gather everything they needed during the night, “and in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep. And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness.”

Talk about deliverance from trials! They were literally slaves, and the Lord saved them. As powerful a witness as that is, I think perhaps the greater lesson is that the Lord visits his people in their afflictions when we let Him in. He gets into the trenches of it with us! He made their burdens light by carrying their burdens with them, and by strengthening them so that the burdens were easy to bear. He gave them grace in their moment of need.

This account has been meaningful to me on more than one occasion. I often read it when I feel overwhelmed, and it gives me faith to submit to the Lord’s will for me. 

The Book of Mormon holds another account of extreme hardship and bondage. Mormon, who abridged all these records, put it right before the story of Alma’s people. In Mosiah chapter 21 he describes what happened to a group of Christians who complained and murmured about their understandably difficult circumstances. They eventually repented, and the Lord delivered them, but their trial was prolonged because for a time they chose not to submit to the Lord’s will for them. In fact their resistance led to immense additional suffering, sorrow, and even death at the hands of the Lamanites, which of course increased their burdens. A powerful contrast. I’m sad for those people, and sad for me when I see myself mirroring their attitude and choices when faced with painful trials.

We certainly don’t need long to think of a trial right now. The entire world shares a trial of faith and patience because of COVID-19, and it’s just plain hard. Many have lost their jobs or income. Many have missed out on important family events. Many are lonely or afraid. Many have died. Many are in mourning. Most if not all of us already had other trials in full swing before this virus came along, and likely most if not all of us have encountered new ones since.

I’m reminded of a talk I heard in General Conference a few years ago. I say a few years and now as I look it up it was 2008 … It’s happening; I’m getting old. Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge of the First Quorum of the Seventy, one of the primary bodies of leadership and authority in the Lord’s Church, described two ways to go through life: the Lord’s way, or some other way. He taught, “The Lord’s way is not hard. Life is hard, not the gospel. ‘There is an opposition in all things,’ everywhere, for everyone. Life is hard for all of us, but life is also simple. We have only two choices. We can either follow the Lord and be endowed with His power and have peace, light, strength, knowledge, confidence, love, and joy, or we can go some other way, any other way, whatever other way, and go it alone—without His support, without His power, without guidance, in darkness, turmoil, doubt, grief, and despair. And I ask, which way is easier?”

Elder Corbridge continues, “[Christ] said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; … and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it.”

When I lack patience I find I also lack perspective. In the midst of pain and hardship, when I pour out my heart to God in prayer, He gives me the eternal perspective I need. When I am willing to give up my impatience and submit my will to His, He fills me with grace, and I’m able to move forward. I have learned that as I do this one day at a time, eventually I look back and realize He has changed my disposition, and surrendering to life’s trials becomes easier.

We can help each other develop patience, and I don’t mean finding ways to test tempers. Elder Neil A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “So often what people need so much is to be sheltered from the storms of life in the sanctuary of belonging” (Maxwell, “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience” (2007)). Simply being a friend is a powerful gift to one who needs perspective, faith, and patience.

Many of you know I moved to Gettysburg at the start of a divorce. It is the deepest pain I have known, and for a long time I wanted nothing to do with patience. I only wanted the pain to end. I went back and forth between seeking God and pushing Him away. My faith was faltering and frail. I felt lost. Had it not been for the kindness, love, and friendship many of you have given me, I am certain I would still feel lost. I’m still healing and learning from my past, but I am reconnected to my Savior. I testify He has the power to make life easier! I know this because I have experienced it. He can heal all pain and all wounds, including the ones we create ourselves. My healing began when I finally accepted what I cannot change, and sought patient courage to change the things I can.

Surely, Jesus Christ gave us our greatest example of patience:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

He calmly endured insult, physical and emotional injury, betrayal, mocking, abuse of all kinds, and excruciating death. He willingly submitted His will to His Father’s to take upon himself every individual’s pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins (Alma 7:11-13). He did all this without complaint or retaliation. He did it because He loves us and He loves His Father.

Whatever hardship you currently face, Jesus Christ wants to make it lighter for you. He wants to endure it with you. All trials have an end. May we choose to trust our Father’s words, “know thou, my [child], that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7).

There is No Step Zero

Gettysburg, USA, at sunset. Copyright Michael Hargiss.

I had an important realization last night while I was cycling around the outskirts of Gettysburg and listening to Russell Brand’s book on the 12 steps.

I’ve been feeling a growing desire and faith to work the 12 steps again. I’ve also felt discouraged by my acting out. I’ve also realized I don’t feel ready to stop my addiction. I know it’s bad for me, I know it’s caused me nothing but pain and heartache, I know another relapse isn’t going to make me feel better, I know one more “wank” as Brand puts it isn’t going to solve a damn thing. But it sure is an effective distraction “from now, for now.” And I am afraid of going through this divorce without it. I am afraid of not having this powerful distraction. How weird is that? I mean I think it’s understandable and yet it makes zero sense. I am literally afraid to stop doing the crap that got me here. But I need those distractions (or so I think). Truthfully, I need them as long as I’m not working toward resolving the pain from which I need to distract myself. What a terribly destructive catch-22.

So lately as I’ve wanted to work the 12 steps again, I think to myself, “How can I work the 12 steps if I’m not even willing to abstain?” The idea seems dishonest to me. Disingenuous. I am a lot of things but I am also honest, and I feel like a hypocrite at the thought of working the 12 steps to addiction recovery while not being willing to let go of my addiction.

I was pondering all this while cycling along a small paved road outside Gettysburg last night, stone monuments passing by to my right and the sun setting to my left, the orange light warming the skin on my arms. (Yes, I’m a rather romantic exerciser.) In that moment the Holy Spirit whispered a new idea to my mind and heart. “You can work the steps anyway, and working the steps will help you find the willingness and faith to abstain.”

It was so simple and reassuring. I couldn’t help but smile! I can work the steps and I should work the steps. I will never get better until I work the steps.

It’s as though I’m in a deep hole (my addiction) and the Lord has given me a supernatural shovel (the 12 steps) to dig out, and He’s even offering to dig with me! So, what should I do? Start digging, right? No? I should plop down in my muddy pit and despair that I’m still hesitant to let go of my carnal desires and favorite sins? “I want to dig but I also don’t want to, so I shouldn’t dig until I fully want to.” ???

And what is faith if not a hesitant but trusting leap into the unknown? What is trust without doubt? Trust without a reason to doubt isn’t trust. A step of faith without a reason to hesitate isn’t faith. A step of faith with reason to hesitate but stepping forward anyway is faith! Trusting someone while I have a gnawing fear of disappointment but choosing to trust anyway is trust!

I can effectively work the 12 steps while being willing to be willing to forsake my addiction. What a liberating concept! I can exercise faith in my God’s ability to save me in the midst of my fear that I’m not going to function without my addiction.

And you know what really excites me about this? As I was pondering this new truth (new to me), I felt the Lord saying to me, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit as you work these steps and repent. That’s why I gave them to Bill—not as a reward for abstaining but as a means to abstain.”  (Bill is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the first to publish the 12 steps to addiction recovery.)

Isn’t that the point of the 12 steps to addiction recovery? To work through all the heaping, smelly piles of crap I’ve accumulated during and before this addiction? To give me a fighting chance at recovery instead of sitting in a rowboat throwing marbles at a battleship

There is no “Step 0: Abstain from your addiction for three weeks and worthily partake of the sacrament.”  (!!!)  There is no prerequisite to the 12 Steps. There is no prerequisite to faith in Jesus Christ (or whatever name you give your Higher Power) and repentance. Faith in my Higher Power and repentance are the prerequisites to peace. Working the 12 steps are the prerequisites to addiction recovery.

Keeping things simple feels good, and it feels good because it’s empowering to me. As my mission president and his wife frequently testified, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is true because it works.” I’ve worked the 12 steps before and when I did I enjoyed the longest period of sobriety and active recovery I’ve ever had. And I can do this honestly. I can honestly acknowledge the dichotomy inside me. I can honestly be willing to be willing, and I believe my God will change my heart to be willing inasmuch as I thoroughly trust Him.

Step 1 …

Free Food

the_bread_of_life_636x318

I’ve been reading the first five chapters of Mosiah. These words of Christ are pure and simple. They uplift me. They fill my soul with peace. I just can’t get enough!

He freely offers and provides a feast that never ends.

“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. …

“I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?”

It Doesn’t Matter How Strong You Are

I often ponder the Lord’s words,

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

I find immense comfort in this invitation and promise. I think the parable of the widow’s mite provides a beautiful example of what His invitation means. As usual, I think children best explain the most important gospel principles.

(If the video is about baptism, skip ahead to video 7 in the playlist.)

 

 

Herein lies one of my favorite principles in the gospel of Jesus Christ: God doesn’t expect perfection or exceptional results. He simply expects our individual best with our full devotion to Him.

Who can meet this expectation? Anyone and everyone. In my mind, that’s the central miracle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My best isn’t your best. Your best isn’t your neighbor’s best. The expectation depends on the individual. Now that’s an easy yoke and light burden!

God hasn’t prepared heaven for perfect people, nor has He prepared it exclusively for exceptional missionaries, outgoing leaders, spectacular sponsors, or that one person you know who seems to have it all together. No, they don’t set the bar for eternal life.

Rather, the Lord has prepared heaven for the faithful, the loyal, the ones who love Him with all their heart, might, mind, and strength… the ones who give all they have, no matter the amount. This includes the imperfect performers, the clumsy speakers, the high school dropouts, the recovering addicts, and repentant sinners. This includes the honest, humble, fault-filled followers of Christ. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, God has prepared heaven exclusively for these.

This means that when I falter, lose my temper, relapse, or let a repulsive four-letter word escape my lips, I can repent. Praise the Lord, I can repent! And once I receive His forgiveness I can move forward with complete confidence that I have met His expectations.

What a relief! What a source of rest to my soul, indeed.

Of course, the more I keep the commandments of God the more peace and happiness I’ll enjoy. And while I work toward that unending goal, I’ll place my trust in Jesus Christ, my Hope and my Salvation. I invite you to do the same.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

Always

boy-and-landscape

Photograph by iStock/Thinkstock

 

It’s late, but I like to pretend I’m still young, so I’ll share some of my thoughts. :)  I am tired though and I know from experience the consequences of unwisely choosing to begin a work week without adequate rest. I’ll keep this brief.

“I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

Today was a good day. Our bishop gave an incredible talk in church about doubt, faith, weakness, and grace, among other things. I needed to be taught and hear these principles.

On numerous occasions throughout the past few months I’ve had reason to doubt why God would give me these trials. I’ve felt overwhelmed by fear that I would lose my wife to this pregnancy, or that we would lose our new baby, or that I would lose them both.

This kind of trepidation was new to me. Before recent events, I couldn’t fully understand the depth of doubt inherent in simply fearing for a loved one’s life. I know that fear now, and it is powerful! But by the grace of God I have gained a testimony of principles more powerful than fear. I want to share my testimony with you.

Many times in the last few months I have felt moments of distress and even anger. I’ve also felt sudden surges of joy and peace. I have learned that life guarantees the former. Disquietude, fear, uncertainty—these are inevitable, and I anticipate I’ll get more than my fill of them. I think we all will and do.

The moments of comfort and reassurance came too. They came amidst my roller coaster of imperfect faith as I struggled to place my trust in a painful plan. As the trial extended over several weeks, a pattern emerged and the Lord mercifully showed it to me. He showed me something I didn’t expect.

I’ve learned that I shouldn’t feel guilty for experiencing doubt. Undoubtedly, doubt is a good thing to experience. Doubt gives me the chance to exercise my faith. Without doubt, I would have no cause to trust. In fact, without doubt I could never learn to trust.

With that concept in mind, I’ve learned that my faith cannot exist without doubt. Indeed, what is faith but an open admission of doubt coupled with a determination to trust?

Like many principles of the gospel, this one seems a paradox to me. But it is true nonetheless. And just as assuredly as life brings pain and suffering, faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement brings relief, peace, and even joy. It always brings these things!

I know this is true because I am living it! When I place my faith in my Savior, when I share my doubts and fears with my Father in Heaven, They always encourage me. Always!

When I seek guidance and wisdom to know how I can better care for my wife and children, They always give it to me.

When I ask for Their blessing that I will do my job well during these trials so that I can provide for my family, They always give it to me.

When I sincerely plead for forgiveness after losing my temper and patience, They always give it to me.

When my trials scare me and I feel discouraged by my imperfect and weak faith, and I think that choosing to move forward in faith would not make sense… when I pray for faith and help to move forward anyway, They always give it to me.

“Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  – Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 27:29

I am a witness of God’s love for His children because I know He loves me and my family. He teaches me this repeatedly, daily even. I can depend on His every word. The more I choose to trust Him instead of my doubts, the more He shows me just how trustworthy He truly is.

These trials are hard, but they no longer feel impossible because I know the Lord is with me.

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:13 – 14, emphasis added).

 

Babies and Valleys

more_important_than_the_race

 

My wife and I recently learned we’re having another child. I wanted to scream for joy when she told me (which I did after we ended our phone call). I love being a father and I’ve wanted to have another child when the time was right. Apparently the time is right!

My dear wife suffers immensely during pregnancy. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say the doctor has officially diagnosed her with a rare condition. It’s so rare, in fact, that literally 1% of pregnant women experience it. Her suffering pains me. Between the pain, drugs, and dehydration, she’s left bedridden and unable to care for herself in many ways.

As I care for her, I find myself experiencing my own suffering. It pales in comparison to hers, but I understand it’s just as real. I feel lonely. I miss my friend and life companion. I struggle to balance my family’s needs with my own needs, work, and cleaning the house. My daughter needs more attention than I can give. I see her suffering and it pains me. I wish I could do more for her and Jess.

I’ve never felt so much weight on my shoulders. I’ve never felt so stretched. As our family’s trial continues I find myself wanting to turn to my addiction more, and I find myself depending on the Lord more fully and more willingly. I would be lost without Him. I have felt His sustaining hand daily.

I want to be a good husband for Jess and a good father for Isla and I can’t do either without taking care of myself. Making time for my own spiritual, emotional, and physical health has proven essential to my ability to move forward.

These trials have called on my best faith. Trusting the Lord’s plan for my family, trusting that this pain and suffering is for our good if we remain faithful, and trusting when I wake up every morning that He will get me through the day has been a difficult and continual decision.

I fear that I’ll relapse. I fear that I’ll fail in my responsibilities at home and at work. I fear that my failures will exacerbate my family’s suffering and add to their burdens. Most of all I fear that I’ll relapse, and that such an event would trigger an overwhelming avalanche of doubt and pain for my wife and me.

As I seek to trust in God, I am intrigued by the principle of grace. I know grace is real because I’ve felt it. I’ve felt the complete draining of my body and spirit only three hours into a Monday, followed by the encouragement received in that moment upon praying for help, and later the astonishment of reaching the end of the day with the sudden realization that the world is still turning, I didn’t yell at my daughter as much as I did the day before, and I didn’t turn to pornography.

I’ve been studying the ink out of the scriptural accounts of Alma’s people and Limhi’s people in the Book of Mormon. This has been a topic of study for me since my fifth month serving as a missionary, but not so intensely important to me as it is now.

I want to understand why the Lord paved the way for Alma and his people to obtain freedom from suffering and bondage, and why He helped and ultimately delivered King Limhi’s people as well, but noticeably not in the same manner. I need to understand why.

The Lord mercifully continues to teach me and answer my sincere questions despite my impatience and doubts. In some moments I even feel angry with Him. Yet He remains ever ready to comfort and succor me, to run to my aid in the very moment I turn to Him.

I do feel that these trials are for my good and the good of my family inasmuch as we faithfully endure them. I’m trying to take it all one day at a time.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd;

I shall not want.

He maketh me lie down in green pastures.

He leadeth me beside still waters.

He restoreth my soul,

He leadeth me.

He leadeth me;

I shall not want.

 

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd;

I shall not, I shall not want

Thou prepares a table before me

Within presence of mine enemy,

Thou anointest my head;

My cup runneth over, runneth over

I shall not want.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

I will fear no evil For thou art with me;

For thou art with me!

Thou comfortest me; I shall not want.

 

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me all my life,

And I will dwell in the house, the house of Lord,

Forever, forever, forever, forever.

I shall not want. I shall not want, I shall not want.

— “I Shall Not Want,” a song based on Psalm 23