The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) convenes a General Conference twice a year. The Conference is normally held during the first weekend in April, and then again during the first weekend in October. It is broadcast to members of the Church worldwide and consists of uplifting and inspiring messages from the First Presidency of the Church and other General Authorities and auxiliary leaders.
As a person prayerfully listens to the messages that are delivered, as well as the beautiful music that is sung, he may begin to reflect on his own personal life, and how a particular message, or messages, may apply directly to his station in life at that particular moment in time. Such was the case as I listened to the discourses that were delivered during the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was held in April 2013.
Having Faith for the Journey
There is no doubt that this life is a test. It is a test of our obedience and our faithfulness to endure to the end. On our life’s journey we will travel down some roads that are as smooth as glass, but there will also be other roads that are filled with potholes and other obstructions which we must, by faith, learn to maneuver around in order to continue to press forward. But, what is faith?
In Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews we learn, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1.) And, in the Book of Mormon, which Latter-day Saints testify is Another Testament of Jesus Christ, recorded in Ether 12:6 are these words, “And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” [Emphasis added]
Therefore, we must never allow the obstacles that we face to deter us from reaching the finishing line – enduring to the end. Said J.R.R. Tolkein, an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the highly acclaimed classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
Life Consists of Mountain Top and Valley Experiences
When I think of faith, and how having faith has strengthened my own life, I often reflect on the blessings of the mountain top experiences that I have had in my young life, as well as, what I call, the down in the valley experiences that I have endured. Life consists of both. I believe that it is quite natural to want to spend our lives atop the high and lofty mountains, but when the winds of adversity begin to blow, and we find ourselves in the depths of the valley, we oftentimes find ourselves crying out in desperation, “Why is this happening to me?” As Dr. Seuss, the famous author of such classic children’s book as Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat once said concerning life, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
If I encounter a person who has been blessed to only experience thus far the mountain top experiences, I would say to him, just keep living. None of us were ever promised a ride through life on a bed of roses. Those roses come from bushes that have thorns, and those thorns tend to prick us from time to time.
On the other hand, when I encounter a person that feels that his life is full of down in the valley experiences, I would say to him, never give up hope. Never give up trusting and believing in God. I testify that God will never let us down, but rather it is we who so often let Him down. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Therefore, none of us are ever truly alone on our journey through life.
I believe that God, our Heavenly Father, gives us certain mountain top experiences in our lives in response to our faithfulness and obedience. However, it is those experiences that should keep us ever reaching for what the Apostle Paul described as “the prize of the high calling.” Although we may reach the pinnacle of a mountain, Our Heavenly Father gently reminds us that we need not become boastful nor proud of our accomplishment. Instead we should humbly thank Him in awe and reverence for allowing us to have such experiences, realizing that He may need us to go even higher. Therefore, reaching the top of a mountain in our life is not the time to relax and put our faith on hold, for it may only be a beginning, but not necessarily an end. There may be even more mountains in life yet to conquer.
Likewise, I believe that God, our Heavenly Father, gives us down in the valley experiences, not to punish us per se, but to teach us humility. It is often when a man is at his lowest point or lying flat on his back that he tends to look up the most. Knowing this, our Heavenly Father often places us in situations that help us to return our focus upon the One from whence truly comes our help – He whom the Psalmist declares is a “very present help in time of trouble.” As we look up from the depths of the valley we may be able to gain a magnificent glimpse of the splendor of the mountains above, and perhaps just a small glimpse of what being on top of those mountains would be like. Therefore, being in the bowels of the valley is not necessarily an end to all things, but rather a beginning of new things that are yet to come.
The Lord never promised any of us that we would journey through this life riding upon a bed of comfort. However, He did promise us that if we will be faithful and endure until the end of the journey, it will be worth it all.
Regardless of the size of the mountains we must conquer in this life, or the depths of the valleys that we may sometimes find ourselves having to endure, it is our measure of faith that will allow us to overcome every obstacle that we face. For we are told that if we have faith, even as the grain of a mustard seed, we will be able to say unto the mountain before us, “Be thou removed and cast into the sea” and it shall be moved.
Until After the Trial of Your Faith
I know that the things that I have shared thus far are true from personal experiences that I have had. I will share just one example to help emphasize what has been said to this point.
My mother passed away at the young age of 59 years after a battle with breast cancer in June 1997. In July 2004, my father remarried. I will only say that things did not go well from the start. As his son, I was left to continually pray and have faith that things would work out for him. I must also admit that there were times when my heart was filled with fear for him, and sometimes I would find myself even doubting my own faith and thinking about what his end would be if things did not take a turn for the better. On 20 November 2006, those fears became a reality when I received a telephone call at work from the older of my two sisters informing me that our father had not come home the night before, and that a missing person’s report had been filed. I earnestly prayed, and wanted more than anything for this to just be a bad dream, but by 6:00 PM that evening, I had received another telephone call and now found myself talking with a detective who informed me that my father had been found dead in a landfill area. My father was only 71 years of age.
In the days following my father’s death, I would say for almost a year afterwards, I literally became consumed with wanting to have some answers to what might have happened. I desperately tried to have faith to know that whatever happened God knew all about it, but I admit that there were times when just having faith seemed to not be enough. I spent many nights trying to sleep, and wetting my pillow with tears just wanting answers that never came. As a result of worrying so much over the matter, I began to have constant headaches, feel sick, and even had a few anxiety attacks.
Now, I ask that you, the reader, not be too critical or judgmental of me. I humbly submit that it is extremely easy to give counsel to someone who is going through a difficult time in their life and to say things like, “Hang in there!”, “Stay Strong”, or “Keep the faith.” I submit that it is easy to do that when we are not the ones walking in their shoes at that time, or the ones feeling the hurt, the pain, the grief, the sorrow, and even often times, the anguish that gets mixed in with all of that. It is real easy to make rash judgments about a person when we are the ones on the outside looking in.
May I offer a word of counsel to each of us? Instead of ever being critical or judgmental of a person who is going through a tough time, let us learn to be more patient, more loving, kinder, and more understanding, just as our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself would be. I also humbly submit that during those difficult moments that a person is experiencing, he does not necessarily need to hear one more sermon. What he does need is for someone to be his friend. What he does not necessarily need is someone who knows how to use their voice, but rather what he does need is someone who has ears that will listen, and a heart that is full of compassion.
For approximately a year I found myself on a real emotional rollercoaster ride. At times I kept myself purposefully busy in order to be able to focus on other things. It was not until one night alone in my apartment as I cried out to my Father in Heaven once again for peace that I received the answer that the reason that I had not been at peace the entire time was because of my own worry and my own anxiety that got in the way of receiving the peace that had already been given. It was not until then, there alone in my apartment, in the lowest depths of the valley that I finally came to terms with the matter. It was then that I decided to put it all in the hands of the Lord and leave it there. I did have faith all along, but it was my refusal to “let go” that was standing in the way of my faith. I was doing exactly what Moroni warned us not to do. I was disputing the entire matter simply because I did not have anything tangible that I could hold on to that would reasonably explain my father’s death. It was only when I finally decided to let go; only after the trial of my faith, did the witness of true and lasting peace return to my life.
I boldly testify that although there may be seemingly insurmountable mountains that we must climb, or down in the valley experiences that we must endure in this life, the Lord also understands that there must be a period of rest from our journeying. It is during those times that He safely leads us beside the still waters and causes us to lay down in green pastures as He restores our souls, thus giving us the necessary strength to press forward and endure to the end of our journey.
Life is full of tests and trials with many obstacles which we will face along the way. But, let us take heart that at no time on our journey are we ever alone. He is always right there beside us. Our part is to remain faithful and obedient to His will, and endure to the end. I testify that I do not know about tomorrow, but I do KNOW the One who holds all of my tomorrows in the palms of His hands, and I am determined to continue to press forward by faith.
I leave you that witness and testimony in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.