Conference months can be a bit tricky when constructing a message to share with the women you visit teach. In my experience, most visiting teachers just relay the admonition to read or listen to all of conference. Well, if you can’t tell by now, I am not that kind of girl. I like to think about the messages I am sharing. I like to pray for the sisters I visit teach. I do my best to avoid rattling off a sterile, stock message which would then mean nothing to me or the recipient. Sometimes I put together a series of quotes that I liked best from conference, but most often, I select a talk that strikes me. So, for this month, I have chosen the awkwardly-titled, More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us by Elder Paul V. Johnson.
In this message, Johnson targets those who are going through trials. I am going through a relatively trial-free period in my life (knock on wood), but I am well aware that the appearance of being trial-free is often powerfully wrong. Even President Henry B. Eyring reminded us in 2004 to treat everyone as though they were in serious trouble. So I would like to include Erying’s advice to treat everyone as though they are going through a personal trial. Although the purpose of Visiting Teaching is so that we can get to know and serve others, some trials are so personal that it may take years before people feel they can trust you enough to not judge them with whatever it is they are fighting. Be sensitive to this, and you will be able to serve as an empathetic, listening friend, which is infinitely more valuable than serving as a rote lecturer.
Johnson starts by quoting Elder Orson F. Whitney:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. … 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. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
He then adds:
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!’”
I like this “awesome” resolution in dealing with trials. Are any of us the same after we go through a trial, no matter how big or small? Or course not. For example, my father passed away the first year that I started college. I have an awkward relationship (at best) with my mother, so I found myself completely independent at the age of 18. I literally had no where to go one Christmas (I hid in the dorm) and no where to go if I could not afford to pay rent. I began working full time, and went to school full or part time, as time and coursework allowed. As a result, I had little time to date or socialise. Precious few people could relate to my need to be financially and personally independent, but those who did were invaluable.
In this, I felt that my “real” trial was the lack of empathy from others in regard to my situation. While the Relief Society planned “future homemaker”-type activities, I suggested workshops on how to best prepare for job interviews. I was surprised and hurt when they ignored my suggestions. To me, how to build a resume was life-sustaining and I did not understand how could they not understand this? When they offered craft classes, it was a no-brainer for me to choose between buying craft supplies to make a Halloween Wreath for my shared apartment versus eating for a day. I always chose eating. Suffice to say, I sometimes came across as a gruff (and probably misdirected) person, which further isolated me.
As a result, I was in a very personal, hurtful, long and lonely trial wherein sometimes I literally was not sure where my next meal, drink, ride or job was coming from. But in the end, I was… er… to quote the above, “awesome”. I don’t suggest that I became superior to my peers who had family and financial support, but I made it. And I love the strength and character that I developed during this period. What’s more, I love that I know that I can truly self-reliant. What a great boost of confidence that has been! Go me! I still can’t craft a wreath to save my life, but I am assured of the strength and independence that I maintain within my soul- and no one can ever take than from me. That is sometimes the reward of the trial; it is the person that you develop as a result of the trial.
As Johnson continues:
A pattern in the scriptures and in life shows that many times the darkest, most dangerous tests immediately precede remarkable events and tremendous growth. “After much tribulation come the blessings.” The children of Israel were trapped against the Red Sea before it was parted. Nephi faced danger, anger from his brothers, and multiple failures before he was able to procure the brass plates. Joseph Smith was overcome by an evil power so strong that it seemed he was doomed to utter destruction. When he was almost ready to sink into despair, he exerted himself to call upon God, and at that very moment he was visited by the Father and the Son. Often investigators face opposition and tribulation as they near baptism. Mothers know that the challenges of labor precede the miracle of birth. Time after time we see marvelous blessings on the heels of great trials.
I am a little wary of the promise of “marvellous blessings on the heels of great trials”. I think sometimes the marvellous part is simply because we made it through the challenge and the blessing is that the situation has ended. But in reflecting on the Whitney quote, we are reminded that, if nothing else, we gain education. We gain life experience unlike the experience of others. But how does this help us? Well, maybe it doesn’t help us. Maybe the experience and education is so we can serve others in empathy and compassion.
As the Savior’s mortal ministry came to a close, He experienced the most difficult trial of all time—the incredible suffering in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. This preceded the glorious Resurrection and the promise that all our suffering will someday be done away. His suffering was a prerequisite to the empty tomb that Easter morning and to our future immortality and eternal life…Not one of the trials and tribulations we face is beyond our limits, because we have access to help from the Lord. We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.
However heavy or light our trials may be at the moment, we are all experiencing mortality in our own way. As we develop a personal relationship with Christ, we can be better aware that He is there to direct us through and share the weight of our burdens. As visiting teachers, we know that it is impossible to erase the burdens from the lives of others. But in practicing true charity, we remind ourselves and each other that Christ has a perfect understanding of our emotional, physical and spiritual trials. We express to each other that we have worth. None of us needs to feel we are alone. We can offer a listening ear, a prayer of the heart, a hug and a shoulder to cry on during a trial. We become a source of strength. We become and beget charity. We become a source of “awesome”.
“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”- Robert Southy
Regardless of visiting teaching, I hope that this expresses to you that you are not alone in whatever trial, challenge or situation that you are in at the moment. We all suffer degrees of injustice, loneliness, pain and isolation. But we are promised that Christ will abide with us and that we are of great worth:
Romans 8:16-17: The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.