I’m grateful for the chance I have to talk today. As I was deciding what to share with you, the topic of growing through adversity kept coming to my mind. The dictionary defines adversity as an instance or state of continued difficulty or serious misfortune. While these are valid definitions, adversity could also be defined as an opportunity from our Heavenly Father for continued growth
Adversity is part of our Heavenly Father's plan. Through adversity we may experience trials, sadness, disappointment, illness, heartbreak, anxiety, depression, and the list goes on, but these experiences can help us grow spiritually as we strive to become more like our Heavenly Father and return to live with Him. In other words, adversity may not be fun, but it is necessary for our spiritual growth here on earth.
Adversity can come from many sources. Sometime it is the result of our own actions. Sometimes it is the result of the actions of others. Often though, it is a learning opportunity provided by our Heavenly Father. We came into this world understanding that we would have adversity in our lives. Why would we be so excited to come to Earth knowing that we would be subject to these difficult experiences? Orson F. Whitney taught, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father in Heaven.” [i]
No one who has lived on this earth has been exempt from adversity. We see wonderful examples in the scriptures of those who faced adversity with power and faith. Nephi is a perfect example. He experienced constant adversity during his life as he was required to leave his home, travel through the wilderness, return for the brass plates, build a ship and sail across the ocean to an unknown land. He faced doubt and criticism from those who traveled with him, including his parents at times. He faced abuse and death threats from Lamen and Lemuel, but through it all, he exhibited strength and faith in our Heavenly Father and he was blessed and lifted through his trials.
We know that adversity is part of our Heavenly Father's plan, but it is a part that can be very difficult to understand and deal with. Trials come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be short, others can last a lifetime. Some can be simply overcome, while others can be life altering. Knowing this, what can we do to help ensure we learn as much as possible from these experiences we have?
In his talk titled “Adversity and You,” Elder Marvin J. Ashton stated, "Adversity will surface in some form in every life. How we prepare for it, how we meet it, makes the difference. We can be broken by adversity, or we can become stronger. The final result is up to the individual." [ii]
So, how can we prepare to meet our own trials and challenges in a way that enables us to learn the most possible from them? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but there are some things we can do to better prepare ourselves to learn from the challenges we will face. I’d like to recommend a few things, beginning with the importance of prayer.
Always remembering to pray to our Heavenly Father is probably the single most important thing we can do as we face adversity.
One of my favorite quotes on prayer comes from the October 2019 General Conference. In his talk titled “Power to Overcome the Adversary,” Elder Peter M. Johnson said, ”…pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus Christ every day, every day, every day. It is through prayer that we can feel the love of God and show our love for Him. Through prayer we express gratitude and ask for the strength and the courage to submit our will to God’s and be guided and directed in all things”. [iii] Through prayer we can feel the love of our Heavenly Father. Often, as we pray in the face of adversity we pray to have our adversity removed, but that is not always the Lord’s plan. Some adversity may be short, but some may last throughout our lives. As Elder Johnson stated, we must pray for the strength and courage to submit to the Lord’s will and to be guided by Him as we strive to learn and grow from our experiences. If we are humble and willing to accept the Lord’s will in all things, there is a peace and strength that can come into our lives that can lift us through even the most challenging of trials. It won’t take away our trial and it may not make it any easier, but through the Atonement we can receive additional strength to help us as we strive to overcome adversity.
A Positive Attitude and Serving Others
These next two items I would like to discuss together; they are having a positive attitude and looking for ways to serve others. In a minute I will use a personal experience to show an example of these principles. In “True to the Faith,” in the section on adversity, it says, “When some people face adversity, they are like Laman and Lemuel. They complain and become bitter. They ask questions like “Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this now? What have I done to deserve this?” But these questions have the power to dominate their thoughts. Such questions can overtake their vision, absorb their energy and deprive them of the experiences the Lord wants them to receive. Rather than responding in this way, you should follow Nephi’s example. Consider asking questions such as, “What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial?” [iv]
When it comes to determining what we will get out of our experiences, our attitude means everything. This is a concept I have personal experience with, and unfortunately, a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Twenty years ago, shortly after getting married, I started experiencing some strange health problems. After many doctor visits and tests, I was informed that I had advanced kidney disease. This was a significant blow when I found out. I wondered, "Why me, and why now?" I had many priesthood blessings, why didn’t they work? I was in shock. I thought, "This is something that happens to other people, not me." Unfortunately, it did happen to me, and the kidney disease progressed quickly. Within a couple of years, I found myself in the position of either needing to start dialysis or get a kidney transplant. I was so frustrated and didn’t know what to expect, so I was scared. I was experiencing symptoms of kidney failure such as muscle cramps, severe fatigue, headaches and I felt sick most of the time. I prayed for help, but it seemed it would never end. It was at this point that I found out my sister had volunteered to donate a kidney so I could have a transplant. I was so grateful. I was able to get the transplant and avoid dialysis. Did all of my trails end there? No, I soon found out my transplant medications had difficult side effects that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life, but while they were not fun, it seemed small compared to the kidney failure. I was thrilled and I thanked my Heavenly Father for this amazing blessing. I still had trials to deal with, but my attitude had changed from one of frustration to one of thankfulness, and it changed how I perceived my issues.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson there and it was all over, but five years later I found myself with another learning opportunity. At this point, I found out I had developed complications with my transplant, and there was nothing the doctors could do. I was going to lose my transplanted kidney. Again, I was shocked and very frustrated. How could this happen to me again? Why me? I started to look at my options but was frustrated to learn that, even if I could find another donor kidney, I would have to do six months of dialysis before I could have another transplant. Well, Heavenly Father blessed me again as my other sister volunteered to donate a kidney. I was set, all I had to do was six months of dialysis and I was good to go. Little did I know I was in for the greatest trial I have faced in my life.
I started dialysis and within the first two visits I developed a staph infection that went straight into my blood stream. I developed stroke-like symptoms and was rushed to the hospital where I started experiencing seizures, my heart stopped and once revived, I went into a coma. Luckily, I came out of the coma, but I needed six days in the hospital to recover. No permanent damage had been done, but I was terrified to go back to dialysis. I had to go back though, and I quickly learned that this was going to be a terrible experience for me. I felt sick, I experienced severe cramps after dialysis treatments, I had no appetite and lost 40 pounds, I couldn’t sleep more than two hours at night and I was not in a good mood. Every time I went to dialysis I felt sad, I felt sick, I missed my family and I was exhausted.
This had been my experience for a several months when I started to notice that one of the other patients, a lady around 60-years old, kept moving around the dialysis unit every time I was there. Most of us used the same chair for each dialysis treatment, but this lady sat in a different place every time. One night while the nurse was connecting me to the dialysis machine, I asked her about this lady. The nurse told me that this lady had requested that she be placed next to a new person each time she came in. I noticed this lady talked to the person next to her for her whole three-hour appointment, she brought games to play and was just really happy. For some reason, the thought of this super happy lady sitting there talking to me all night kind of annoyed me, and I decided if she ever sat next to me I was going to ignore her. Well, that day came a few weeks later and I was not thrilled, however, when she came over and sat down, she was so happy that I found I couldn’t ignore her. We started to talk and she asked if I’d play a game with her. After playing for about an hour, we stopped and just talked. I heard about how much she loved her kids and grandchildren. I found out she had been in dialysis for 14 years and would have to continue doing it for the rest of her life due to issues that made it impossible for her to get a transplant. I found out she asked to sit by a new person each night so she could cheer them up and let them know they had a friend who understood what they were going through. She bore her testimony to them and told them that, even though this was hard, she knew Heavenly Father loved them. She made a difference for everyone she talked to. She told me that when she served others, even if it was just being a friend for three hours, three times a week at dialysis, it made her problems seem so much smaller and more manageable. When she served others, it helped her keep her adversity in perspective. It helped remind her that everyone has trials and somehow that made her trials seem smaller. She also told me that every time she helped someone, she felt Heavenly Father lift her through the Spirit and give her the strength and inspiration she needed to fight through her adversity for another day.
After she left, I sat and thought about her for a while. Of all the people in the dialysis clinic, this woman had more reason than anyone else to be frustrated, resentful and in a bad mood, but she was the one lifting, building and helping others. She did this because when she helped others, it helped her forget her own problems. As I pondered this, I realized I was looking at my life the wrong way. I started trying to be more positive and look for my blessings instead of the problems. My problems didn’t go away, but my attitude started to change and I realized how blessed I was. I was grateful that I had lived through my staph infection. I realized how lucky I was to have a wife who got out of bed almost every night to help me work the cramps out of my legs and feet. I realized that even though I was only getting about two hours of sleep at night, Heavenly Father had blessed me with a clear mind and the energy I needed to get up and go to work every day. I realized how lucky I was to have a staff at work who had picked up the slack where I had struggled, and I realized how blessed I was to have another kidney transplant already scheduled. I also started to talk to the other patients during my dialysis treatments and was surprised to find that not only did it seem to help them, but it also made my appointments go by much faster and they didn’t seem as bad. That night, this woman who had every reason to be unhappy had shown me how to find my blessings even in the midst of major adversity, and she changed my life.
As the prior quote stated, we can become broken by adversity or we can become stronger, the result is up to us. If we choose to move forward with a positive attitude and look for ways to serve others instead of focusing on ourselves and our problems, our minds and hearts can be changed, our loads can be lightened and the Spirit will have greater influence in our lives to help us see the lessons the Lord is trying to teach us.
Having faith is the final item I’d like to discuss. In “True to the Faith,” again in the section on adversity, it states, "Although some of your responses to adversity will vary, one response should be constant —your trust in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The prophet Alma taught, “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” ( Alma 36:3 )” [v] .
Our Heavenly Father knows each of us and loves us very much. Sometimes, when in the midst of our personal trials, it is tempting to tell Heavenly Father it is too much for us to handle or to ask, "Why don’t you love me?" The truth is, He does love us. He loves us enough to let us suffer at times to allow us to grow. He knows that we can handle much more than we realize. Because of this, He provides us with opportunities to grow spiritually and in our abilities and capabilities. He wants us to learn to put our faith in Him. He knows our weaknesses, and because He loves us, He will push us and stretch us to help us become more like Him and to prepare us to return to live with Him one day.
I know that we will all face adversity in this life, but I know that if we will try to remember to pray every day, keep a positive attitude, look for opportunities to serve others and have faith, we can receive the help that we need to press forward, even through our most difficult trials.
I want to share my testimony that I know that our Heavenly Father lives and loves us. I know that our Savior lives and that through His Atonement we can not only return to live with Him and our Heavenly Father again, but we can also find peace even through our most difficult trials.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Teachings of Spencer W Kimball, pg. 16
[ii] Elder Marvin J Ashton, “Adversity and You,” Ensign, Nov. 1980
[iii] Elder Peter M. Johnson, “Power to Overcome the Adversary,” Ensign, Nov 2019
[iv] True to the Faith”, Adversity
[v] True to the Faith”, Adversity