This is a talk I gave in church early in 2013.
I want to begin by telling a story.
I attended Junior High and High School in 4 different buildings and in 2 different states. Throughout these years something that I was told on many occasions was: “you should go out for the wrestling team.” But when I lived near Seattle I was spending the winter snowboarding which conflicted with wrestling season. Then my family moved to Detroit before my Junior year of high school. During that school year I became friends with a couple of guys that were on the wrestling team and they bugged me about joining the team all year up until the week that winter sports were to begin practices, early October I think. I realized that I was out of excuses: it was my senior year of high school, snowboarding in Michigan is non-existent, and the golf course where I had been working was closed for the season. So I wrestled one season in high school in the 2nd to lightest weight class. Though most of my opponents in competition were freshmen or sophomores, I practiced with the upperclassmen since I was the only one on my team in my weight class and thus I was the de facto varsity wrestler at 112 pounds. I can point to that year leading up to when I left on my mission as my absolute pinnacle of athletic condition. I could run longer and faster than ever, I put on quite a bit of muscle, I could swim an entire lap under water, and most importantly, I could *just* about last the three 2 minute periods that constituted a high school wrestling match. By the end of the year my record wasn’t anything too spectacular, my proudest achievement was a 3rd place finish at a regional tournament. At the end of season banquet, my coach was spotlighting the seniors on the team and he put his hands on my shoulders and said: “If someone asked me what a wrestler should *look* like, I’d give them Jason as the mold.”
This is a long story, but I wanted to give a bit of background about my wrestling experience because the hardest thing I had to learn how to do when I was alone on the mat facing off with my opponent was to continue to engage him, looking for an opening to exploit without exposing my lack of experience too badly which would give him an easy chance to score a point. My expectation early in the season was that matches would be somewhat good-natured, give and take. I must have watched too many baseball games where the batter can hold his hand up and step out the batter’s box and size up the situation. I almost cried foul the first time an opponent got me in a hold when I had relaxed for a moment to catch my breath. Most of the time you are in contact with and grappling your opponent, if you are not being aggressive enough the referee will give a warning and then penalize you by giving your opponent an advantageous position. A wrestling match is the longest 6 minutes I’ve experienced, being completely focused on the task at hand and every muscle straining for the entire time which quickly consumes all of the oxygen your body can supply. I would be less winded running sprints. It is a wonderfully physical as well as a mental challenge. Oh, and as my coach loved to point out, there is nowhere to hide, no one to blame, and everyone is watching and can see if you giving it your all or not.
This memory of actively struggling and remaining engaged with your opponent even as the activity is quickly wearing you down and making you want to ask for a timeout, was at the top of my mind as I prepared to speak on this topic. Elder Neil L. Anderson spoke in last October’s General Conference about the “Trial of Your Faith”. I want to present some practical thoughts about dealing with trials and difficulties in life, what we can do for ourselves and others, our personal faith, and how we can endure.
First, let me state my premise: you, or someone near you, might be going through a trial right now. How are you going to get through it? How can we support you? How can you support your neighbor? I’ll get back to some ideas as I continue but let me interject a point of view: you don’t have to enjoy these challenges but in one form or another they are going to happen throughout life. Rather than seeking to avoid difficulties, acknowledge that all of them cannot be missed, so instead figure out how you are going to live with them and maybe learn something. I know that is easier to say than to do.
There was a scene in a recent episode of Downton Abbey where a mother was attempting to console her daughter. The exchange was poignant:
- Mother: “You are being tested. And do you know what they say, my darling? Being tested only makes you stronger.”
- The tearful daughter responded: “I don’t think it’s working with me.”
I am reminded of a newspaper article that President Hinckley liked to quote:
- “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. “[The fact is] 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” (“Big Rock Candy Mountains,” Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).
Elder Anderson observes “By definition, trials will be trying. There may be anguish, confusion, sleepless nights, and pillows wet with tears. But our trials need not be spiritually fatal.”
I would add that you don’t have to smile and pretend everything is ok. Mourning, sorrow, and longing are all found in the scriptures. The psalmist wrote that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” And Alma taught the people that were ready to be baptized at the waters of Mormon what membership in the kingdom meant:
- “and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort…”
Let me now shift and address the topic of faith and give it some context. The ancient apostle Peter wrote a letter to the members of the nascent Christian church saying:
- “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:”
Peter speaks of the “trial of your faith” and that it is “much more precious than [gold]”. One way to understand this verse is that the trial of faith is more precious than gold. A familiar refrain that we hear is for someone to recount that a trial they went through provided teaching and in the end they are better for having been through it. Most would admit that this point of view can be obscured and difficult to see while in the midst of difficulty, but that there is hope for some positive to be gained after the tribulation has passed. Of course, all of this usually assumes that we are referring to trials of limited duration, rather than the broader trial that encompasses the whole of this life with all of its ups and downs, challenge and sweetness, hope and doubt. The old-time rail journey I mentioned before.
Another way that I choose to read this passage is that it is faith itself which is “much more precious than [gold]”. This is important to recognize for a couple of reasons. First, perhaps Peter isn’t extolling the virtues of trials as much as he is promoting the blessing of faith. Secondly (and relatedly), what a great blessing from God faith is. We can read about faith being one of the gifts from God in Moroni 10:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:9.
In the scriptures faith, hope, and charity are frequently mentioned together. It is important to take note that they are 3 distinct principles. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (11:4) contains an explanation that contains two of these words so that we might understand their relationship to one another:
- “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The distinction I make in my mind is that I can hope for many things both in my own life and in aspects of the gospel, but I turn that hope into the action of faith by operating according to that hope and by doing what is likely to bring about the hoped for result. I try to understand faith as an action verb rather than as a descriptive noun. Faith is something you do, more than something you have.
I don’t want to give the impression that I am trying to limit the meaning of the word ‘faith’ in any way, just trying to nail down a meaning for myself that is more concrete than an abstract concept.
Paul continues in the rest of the 11th chapter of Hebrews to provide examples from scriptural history of individuals who acted in a particular way demonstrating their operative faith. Abel offering sacrifice, Noah preparing the ark, Abraham moving to a new land, Moses refusing to remain in Pharaoh’s household, and so on.
There is a common scriptural phrase “to exercise faith” which again points to the active, doing, nature of faith.
- Alma 32:36: “Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.”
- Doctrine and Covenants 44:2: “And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.”
- Alma 34:17: “Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;”
- Moroni 7:25 “Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.”
For me, it was an act of faith (putting my hope and belief into action) to choose to serve a mission. I couldn’t be assured what the experience would be and if the outcome would prove to have been useful in some way, but I chose to go. I had expectations and had prepared in some ways to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, but I could not know exactly what it would be. The challenge of learning a foreign language on top of all of the other aspects of missionary service only increased my uncertainty.
Before I wrap up, let me now address some thoughts about enduring these difficult times and challenges to our faith, that is trials that may deter us from acting on our belief and hope.
- Community support. We are all a member of a community by religious affiliation.
- Ephesians 2:19 “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;”
- 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
- Elder Anderson: “There is always a place for you here. No trial is so large we can’t overcome it together.”
- Peace. Lean on the Lord, seek spiritual support.
- John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Now I shall end back where I began, wrestling. About a year ago I encountered an article that a wrestler named Rick Jepson wrote for Sunstone magazine entitled “Godwrestling: Physicality, Conflict, and Redemption in Mormon Doctrine”. His commentary on Jacob, soon to be Israel, speaks to me:
- Genesis 32: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
- Whether or not the Jacob story is accurate history, I believe we have to read it as such to grasp its depth. We must visualize Jacob grappling all night, much of it with a busted hip, or we’ll miss the meaning. The author wants us to read it literally, and with good reason. Wrestling is hard. You can hardly breathe, your muscles burn, and you ache to give up. It takes soul to stay in the match—an internal drive not to quit.
This perfectly illustrates the point that I couldn’t get out of my head. The struggle, the lack of respite over a long period of time, the exhaustion, and the way that we sometimes have to dig down deep to our core – to our very soul – to find the desire, the will, and the stamina to continue to withstand when we are in the midst of difficulty. I titled this talk: “Wrestling with trials of faith” because I don’t think the topic is simple, and the practice is not without effort.
May we continue the wrestle and take opportunity to not leave others to struggle on the mat alone.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
January 20, 2013