This video never fails to bring a few tears to my eyes. I find it so moving.
Today I’m teaching the women of our congregation during the hour of church known as Relief Society. The topic for this lesson is based on a talk entitled More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us. I wanted to take this talk and give it a more practical application, focusing not on why trials happen (something we talk about often in the church), but how we can better help those who are enduring them. I didn’t have time to reformat it from the way it was written, intended to make it easy for me to teach from, so the formatting is unique, but I think there are a lot of thought-provoking points brought up below (not by me, almost everything you see below was compiled from other sources, including kind friends online who volunteered to share their own experiences).
I think one of the most common questions humans face is something along the lines of “Why do we suffer?”. If God really loves us perfectly, why doesn’t he rescue us from hurting?
Though it is a bit of a trivial example, I sometimes think about this when my 16 month old is reaching up to touch a hot pan on the stove. He’s just short enough that he can’t reach it, but give him a few more inches and he’s going to be wrapped in bandages soon if he doesn’t learn. But how can he learn? I can say “HOT! DANGER! NO!” over and over, but he just doesn’t seem to get it. I think there will come a day, when I have to let him get burned, just the tiniest bit, so he can understand why I’m so adamant that he needs to stay away. Often in the church we talk about how trials are there to test us, but I think this is an oversimplification. The beginning of Paul V. Johnson’s talk titled “More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us” has a subtitle that notes:
Trials are not just to test us. They are vitally important to the process of putting on the divine nature.
If I were to let my son burn himself on the stove, it wouldn’t just be to test him to see how he would respond, it would fundamentally change who he is by introducing him to the idea that there are things to avoid in life because they can hurt us. Some might say it is cruel to knowingly let your child be hurt in any way, but I think that a small burn now, when I am standing over him watching, is much better than a larger burn experienced when I am not around. God is all-knowing, and He knows even better than we do that the pain that comes along with rough times is oftentimes necessary to shape who we become in the end. A friend emailed me about some of her experiences and included the following observation:
One of the lessons that resonates the most strongly with me was something a priest said in a sermon, that we need to experience difficulty in life in order to get to know God better. Because if we didn’t struggle with life, we may not be so compelled to seek out God and form a relationship with him. Even though I went through periods where I was really mad at God, in the end my relationship and faith has grown because of these challenges.
From Elder Johnson’s talk:
Recently a nine-year-old boy was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. The doctor explained the diagnosis and the treatment, which included months of chemotherapy and major surgery. He said it would be a very difficult time for the boy and his family but then added, “People ask me, ‘Will I be the same after this is over?’ I tell them, ‘No, you won’t be the same. You will be so much stronger. You will be awesome!’”
Today, I wanted to focus on how we can help those around us who might be experiencing difficult things. Let’s take a few minutes and list different types of trials that are common:
Loss of a baby
Loss of a loved one
How Can We Help Others Experiencing Difficult Trials
Support, patience, and encouragement
1. Pray. Pray for them. Pray for God to help you understand how to best help them.
2. Don’t say “I know how you feel”.
3. Don’t vaguely say “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Offer to do specific things.
4. Don’t worry about sending the perfect card/gift, just knowing that someone is thinking about them will help.
5. Do be forgiving. Realize they might not offer a thank you, whether verbal or written, and there might be large gaps between the times they contact you, or they might even ignore your attempts to contact them.
6. Do open up about your own life as you feel it is appropriate. Don’t make it about you, but look for ways to let them see the commonality in your lives and eliminate any feelings they might be having telling them they are alone.
7. Do be the type of positive, happy, Christ-like person that people enjoy being around. I do want to emphasize though, that this comes from being genuine, not from being perfect. When someone feels like they can’t even get out of bed, it might be hard for them to spend time with someone who seems to be managing everything perfectly.
8. Do emphasize that you would like to spend some time just listening.
9. Do reassure them over and over that they are not a burden.
10. Do offer to pick up groceries, or take the kids out to the playground, or drop a meal by. Though dishes and housework might be very helpful, most people have a hard time exposing such personal areas of their life.
Specific examples from friends:
Marriage Trouble and Divorce
Listening (and commisserating?) is usually enough, unless the person actually asks for advice.
If they do ask for advice, make it REAL advice.
Avoid cliches like “There are plenty of fish in the sea” or “Your time will come”
Death of a family member
I appreciated the people who were available to listen, or who did things for me without asking.
It made it difficult when people – however well-meaning – said they knew what I was going through (nobody knows what anybody else is going through). I was so angry at the time, that just made me angrier.
Do not compare and contrast. “At least you had a good relationship with your mother, more than I can say for me and my dad.”
The people in my life who have held me, sat with me quietly, and made jokes even when they knew they wouldn’t help… that helped a lot.
It’s really hard when people say things like, “Snap out of it!” Or the all-knowing, “Aw, you’ll feel better soon.” Especially when we’re talking about clinical depression, the only people who can truly help on this point are doctors.
On the feel better front, both the time I was most critically ill and when we had our baby, I was incredibly touched by the people we barely knew (parents’ friends, people we see regularly while walking the neighborhood, etc.) who offered cards and gifts. Offerings from friends and family are always appreciated, but there was something really magical about the people we barely knew — like the whole world was out there supporting you. So people should never hesitate to offer true kindness (as opposed to pushy advice or whatever) just because they don’t know someone well.
On the “made it more difficult” front, I find people often respond to my illness with reassurances like “you’re doing SO well” or “you don’t look sick at all!” Completely well-meaning, but the fact that I know them to be untrue actually makes things worse. They’ve done similar studies with depression and found positive mantras didn’t work with depressed people because instead of believing them for inspiration, the depressed people just flat-out rejected them. And then you feel even worse that no one seems to acknowledge your actual suffering.
I wanted to end with a message from a friend who’s had the misfortune of experiencing several difficult things in her life. I wanted to share this because it so beautifully embodies what difficult trials can do for us. We are not just victims, we are survivors.
I know this much about going through hard times. The really hard ones, that try us to our very core and show us what we are made of. You will get angry. You will yell and cry and be mad at God. You will get sad. You will cry so much that you feel raw inside. You will want to crawl under the covers and never come out. You will try to numb the feelings out of self preservation – you will waste hours in front of the tv or surfing the internet or eating large quantities of chocolate, baked goods, ice cream. Every single aspect of daily life will feel like a chore – getting the mail, putting away dishes, taking a shower. You will do things that you regret, that you are ashamed of – you might break things, or yell horrible words at the one you love the most, even though you don’t mean to – it’s just that your insides are splitting apart and your body reacts in strange ways. You don’t even recognize this person. You might withdraw from people, afraid to let anyone see you like this, in such a sorry state. Locked inside your head, alone away from anyone else and mad at God – it’s not a pretty place to be. You don’t know if you will ever like yourself again. You don’t know if you will ever feel anything like normal.
Eventually though… the core you inside will get restless and start to break through the madness. You will reach out, with a text to a friend or a frantic gmail chat. You will toughen up a bit, just out of the sheer effort of enduring the pain for so long. Eventually, when strong enough, you will make a phone call – to a therapist, or a friend, and ask for help. You’ll recognize that you need to take care of yourself, so you struggle through to take the shower, go for a walk, eat a salad. Eventually. You keep going. You keep carrying the burden. But it does get lighter. Eventually you will laugh again. Eventually you will come out of hiding and find your friends again. Eventually you will be able to talk to God again. And as you move through time, you recognize that life has the capability of inflicting intense pain. It’s scary. But you know life can also go on. So you challenge yourself in new ways. You fight the temptation to succumb to the couch and the ice cream. You join a new fitness class or sign up for a race. You explore. You find you have new connections with the close people who helped you through the hard stuff. You see just how beautiful they are, and strong, and amazing to be such good friends. You find yourself as the one who has to help someone else through their own hard time. and inside, you know you have been there, and you know how to reach out and help them when they ask. And you realize just how beautiful life is, despite the pain. You see the beauty in the human spirit. You see the strength that you have inside yourself, that you never knew was there, until it was tested. As your burden lifts and your spirts improve, you feel so incredibly grateful to get yourself back. Only – you realize that you’ve changed. Stronger, more empathetic, more courageous. And you actually like yourself even more.