It was Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 and I was watching the Olympics. I remember in particular the women’s 100m hurdles. The winner of the race, and of the gold medal, was Joanna Hayes of the U.S. It was quite a dramatic race; Perdita Felicien, the favorite and the world champion at the time, fell heavily at the first hurdle, leaving Joanna Hayes to carry on leading from start to finish. In the media coverage that followed, much was said about Perdita Felicien and Joanna Hayes. But in that race, there is one hurdler who was hardly mentioned at all, but to me, her race was the most poignant one of all. You see, when Perdita Felicien fell, in an attempt to cushion her fall, she threw out her right arm and caught Irina Shevchenko from Russia, causing her to fall down as well.
When I saw Irina Shevchenko go down, I could only imagine the heartache and mental anguish she would be feeling as the day wore on. Such thoughts as these would be going through her mind:
- This wasn’t my fault.
- I want another chance, this isn’t fair.
- Was all of my effort and preparation up to this point for nothing?
- What do I do now?
- What have I done to deserve this?
Now I’m sure that after hearing questions like these, everyone would love to hear me say that I have answers for all of them, but I do not. These questions and many others are common ones experienced by all of us at various times in our lives as we undergo our own personal trials. When we petition our God for answers to these and other difficult questions, the answers often don’t come immediately, or sometimes not at all. The answers and guidance you do receive will almost always be delivered on a very personal level. But until those answers come, what do we do in the meantime? What can we do to help us endure the trials and tribulations we are in? Here are some principles that I think can help us to make it through our difficult times.
1. Count your blessings
It used to be when I heard someone tell me to ‘count my blessings’ that my first reaction was to feel guilt. I think this is because I conjured up the image of someone responding to our troubles with a comment such as, “Well, it could be worse, at least you didn’t break your arm! You should consider yourself lucky!” However, over time I’ve come to understand the counsel to count your blessings differently. We should look at our blessings as countermeasures against the dark thoughts that would sink us if we dwelt on them. By counting our blessings and focusing on them, they will help minimize the pain of the things that are going wrong in our lives, and will help us to endure them more easily. It helps us to be like those in Mosiah 24:15, “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.”
2. Develop a sense of humor
We must learn to laugh at ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. We would all do well to remember the saying, “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out of it alive.” Having a sense of humor helps us avoid dwelling too much on the problems we face.
Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) stated: “True humour springs not more from the head than from the heart; it is not contempt, its essence is love; it issues not in laughter, but in still smiles, which lie far deeper.” And Abraham Lincoln (1809–65) once said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”
3. Don’t blame yourself
A trial should not automatically be considered punishment for something. In John, 9:1-3 we read.
“1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
We must keep in mind that just because we are striving to do the right things does not mean all problems, challenges, and setbacks will disappear. Columnist Jenkins Lloyd Jones reminded us that life will always have its challenges: “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
It’s okay to have a bad day, just don’t pitch camp there. Don’t beat yourself up and stay there longer than is healthy for you.
4. Learn something
This point is best illustrated by quoting Merlin the magician’s words out of the book, “The once and future king”, by T.H. White:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and
blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.
You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at
night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only
love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or
know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only
one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what
wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust,
never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never
dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a
lot of things there are to learn.”
– T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”
5. Know God loves you
Early in the Book of Mormon, an angel asked Nephi a tough question: “knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered with something he knew and something he didn’t know:
“I know that he loveth his children, nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:16-17).
Sometimes just knowing that God loves you and that he hasn’t forgotten you can make all the difference when enduring a trial.
6. Find something to Celebrate
Ernest Shackleton wanted to be the first to make an overland crossing of the Antarctic Continent. He believed the journey could be completed in 120 days. Through a series of misfortunes they lost their ship to the ice and spent 634 days in the Antarctic before finally getting back home. December 5, 1915, marked one full year since the crew had left civilization. Their ship had been crushed two months earlier, and they had been carving out a harsh existence on the ice. According to the original plan, they would have been heading home by now, so this anniversary might have turned into a terrible reminder of their predicament. Shackleton realized the significance of the day and the potential for disappointment, so he decided to be proactive. Exemplifying the aphorism “If you can’t fix it, feature it,” he declared a holiday to celebrate the anniversary of their departure from South Georgia. What could have been a day of depression turned, instead, into a day of celebration.
In our own families, it is important to find things that our families can look forward to. It helps to get you through difficult times. In our family, we enjoy taking out our boat and finding a calm, clear lake where the quiet is interrupted only by the sound of a board or ski cutting through the water.
7. Have hope
Don’t give up, keep moving forward. At some point we may understand the ‘why’ of things. Until then we must have faith that God is mindful of us. Here is a story to illustrate:
There were two angels sent to earth to walk as men for a time, one as the senior, and trainer . . . and one as the junior, to learn. After a long day they came upon a very nice home where they asked if they might spend the night and rest. The owner, a person of substantial means, finally gave in to the request and let them use the old cellar in the back of the property. It was cold and damp and as they prepared for sleep the older angel caused a minor miracle to be performed in repairing one wall that was degraded to the point of collapse. The younger angel asked “why did you do that for people that are obviously greedy and self indulgent?”. The older simply replied “things are not always as they seem”.
The next evening they came upon a small dwelling in the woods and upon inquiring found the farmer and his wife very accommodating . . . to the point of requiring them to use their bed and share their meager meal as they appeared to be very tired and in need of rest. Upon leaving the next morning they noticed the farmer and his wife in the small side yard grieving over the death of their only cow.
As they walked down the road the younger angel became angry and asked, “How could you allow that to happen? Night before last you do good for a person that would barely lift a finger to help and last night you allow this poor but gentle farmer and his wife to loose something of such value.” The older angel turned to the younger angel and said “the other night I noticed that the old cellar wall was barely holding back the riches of an old vault filled with treasures and gold, so I repaired it knowing that more of such finery for one such greedy person would not help others. Last night while we slept the angel of death came to take the farmer’s wife. I convinced him to take the cow instead.
“Things are not always as they seem.”
When you encounter trials and challenges in your life and it feels like you are just at the beginning of a long, dark night, remember that the darkness will always be followed by the dawning of a new morning. I wish you strength to overcome, and the ability to find happiness even in the midst of your afflictions.