‘If Thou Endure It Well’ — thoughts about wayward children and other challenges
Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve, delivered at the October 1984 General Conference of the Church
When tragedy, disappointment, and heartache surface in our lives, it is not unusual for many of us to become self-condemning and resentful. In the stress of the situation we declare, “What have we done to deserve this? Why does the Lord allow this to happen to us?” With heavy hearts and broken spirits the parents of a wayward child were recently heard to say, “Where did we go wrong? What have we done to displease the Lord? What is the Lord trying to tell us? Is this the reward for trying to be good parents? Why us?”
These were among a flood of questions that came as they agonized over the serious misconduct of their child. Their comments and attitude reflected a frightening blend of resentment, frustration, and self-condemnation. It was evident that this distraught couple was not to be calmed or reassured by scriptures or personal observations. Because the child had transgressed, they were adamant in their feelings that God was displeased with them. Their attitude reflected bitterness and loss of self-respect. Momentarily they were letting themselves be consumed and destroyed by the trying circumstances.
In their present tragedy they were not seeking counsel or comfort; rather, it appeared, they were looking for someone who would suffer with them and join in the chorus of “If there is a merciful God, why does He allow this to happen?” We must remember that all suffering is not punishment. It is imperative that we do not allow ourselves to be destroyed by the conduct of others. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to determine what we did wrong in the past to deserve the unpleasant happenings of the moment that we fail to resolve the challenges of the present. Og Mandino wrote in his book The Greatest Miracle in the World, “If we lock ourselves in a prison of failure and self-pity, we are the only jailers … we have the only key to our freedom.” (New York: Frederick Fell Publishers, 1975, p. 61.)
We can let ourselves out of such a prison by turning to the Lord for strength. With His help we can use our trials as stepping-stones. The keys are in our hands. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10.) If we are offended and resentful, can we believe that He is bound to help us in our tragedies and disappointments? This scripture does not tell us how or when this commitment will be effective or realized, but His promise is real and binding. Our challenge is to endure. There will always be testings and trials along life’s paths. Heartaches and tragedies need not defeat us if we remember God’s promise.
A worthwhile attitude for all of us could well be, “Help us, O Lord, to remember thy love for us and help us to be fortified by thy strength when our eyes are blurred with tears of sorrow and our vision is limited.” It is expedient for all of us, particularly those who may be weighed down by grief because of acts of misconduct or misfortune, to recall that even the Prophet Joseph Smith had hours of despair because of his very trying experiences in the Liberty Jail. Perhaps he too was entitled to question, “What did I do wrong? What have I done to displease Thee, O Lord? Where have I failed? Why are the answers to my prayers and pleas withheld?” In response to the feelings of his heart and mind he cried out: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1.) The reassuring response came: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7–8.)
The promise God gave to Joseph Smith is a promise for all of us: “If thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes,” and also over heartaches caused by misconduct of loved ones. As we are called upon to suffer we need to ask ourselves the question: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.)
When I think of the Savior’s admonition to do cheerfully all things that lie in our power, I think of the father of the prodigal son. The father was heartbroken by the loss and conduct of his wayward son. Yet we have no mention of his lamenting, “Where did I go wrong?” “What have I done to deserve this?” Or, “Where did I fail?” Instead he seemed to have endured without bitterness his son’s misconduct and welcomed him back with love. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:24.)
When family members disappoint us, we especially need to learn endurance. As long as we exercise love, patience, and understanding, even when no progress is apparent, we are not failing. We must keep trying. As we viewed on television some of the Olympic games held this summer in Los Angeles, we thrilled at the abilities of these fine young athletes from all over the world. One might easily compare these races and contests of the Olympics with the great race in which we are all involved—the race for eternal life. One gold-medal winner said his success was achieved by being able to endure the pain of commitment and self-discipline.
The Apostle Paul likened life to a great race when he declared: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain.” (1 Cor. 9:24.) And before the words of Paul fell upon the ears of his listeners, the counsel of the Preacher, the son of David, cautioned: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (See Eccl. 9:11; Matt. 10:22; Mark 13:13.) What does it take to endure in the race for eternal life, to become a champion? To become a winner in the race for eternal life requires effort—constant work, striving, and enduring well with God’s help. But the key is that we must take it just one step at a time. The ingredient that is essential in learning to endure is consistent effort. In our race for eternal life, pain and obstacles will confront all of us. We may experience heartaches, sorrow, death, sins, weakness, disasters, physical illness, pain, mental anguish, unjust criticism, loneliness, or rejection. How we handle these challenges determines whether they become stumbling stones or building blocks. To the valiant these challenges make progress and development possible.
I am acquainted with a young woman who has just moved here from the eastern part of the United States after having gone through a painful divorce. She is in the process of looking for a job. One day an interviewer asked her what her goals were—where did she think she would be five years from now? She said to him, “I can’t think that far ahead. For right now I have to just take it one day at a time.” This is what we must do when faced with trials and setbacks in our lives. Enduring well is accomplished by personal discipline hour by hour and day by day, not by public declaration.
There are many types of disappointments and sorrows with which we may be faced. We have already discussed the pain of sin in our lives and in the lives of our family members. Let me share with you other types of happenings that we may be called upon to endure.
Let me take a few minutes to tell you about a beautiful young lady of whom we are all very proud. I will identify her as Diane because that is her real name. Diane was captain of the University of Utah’s first national women’s championship gymnastics team. In Miami, Florida, for the first-ever American professional tour, she over-rotated on a practice vault, landed on her neck, and damaged her spinal cord. Her slender, delicate body, which had endured hundreds of hours of demanding routines and the accompanying torturous training, was broken. The gal with the dazzling smile who was recognized as the heart of the team was now faced with the challenge of accepting sympathy as her reward or getting on with her life. Early in her gymnastics career when someone asked her, “Aren’t you afraid of getting hurt?” she replied, “No, you take the glory and you take the knocks. I’ll just take whatever comes.” Diane’s capacity to cope and get on with her life is best measured by her graduating from college two and one-half years after being paralyzed from the chest down. Wheelchair- bound, she seldom missed a class, was a good student, and was popular with classmates and instructors. Just a few weeks ago Diane wheeled herself into a third-grade classroom in a Salt Lake area elementary school, swallowed hard, and faced the curious students as their nervous teacher. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she says with conviction. “I can’t think of anything I’d want to do more.” “How about performing in the Olympics?” she was asked. “Yes,” she responds wistfully, “I wanted that a lot, too.” How refreshing is her enduring attitude: “I always got around fairly well on campus in my wheelchair alone, but when I came to steep hills I made friends in a hurry.” Diane has taken the knocks and the glory. She cares and she shares. She finds fun where others may not see it: “I’m genuinely happy and content with my life. I’m not bitter or angry. In a way I’m just as athletic as I ever was.” With her superb attitude and self-discipline, and with the help of a loving family, friends, and students, she continues to “go for the gold.” Diane, thank you for teaching us what enduring is all about.
In whatever circumstance we may find ourselves, whether in the midst of tragedy, the pain of misconduct, or merely the daily struggle to live the life of a faithful Latter-day Saint, we must remember “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Sometimes as children we were told everything would be all right. But life is not like that. No matter who you are, you will have problems. Tragedy and frustration are the unexpected intruders on life’s plans. Someone has said, “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” It is important that we not look upon our afflictions as a punishment from God. True, our own actions may cause some of our problems, but often there is no evident misconduct that has caused our trials. Just the normal journey through life teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Sometimes the most challenging form of endurance is found in trying to stay with our priorities, commitments, and assignments. How easy it is for some of us to lose our way when the unexpected, and seemingly undeserved, surface in our lives. Greatness is best measured by how well an individual responds to the happenings in life that appear to be totally unfair, unreasonable, and undeserved. Sometimes we are inclined to put up with a situation rather than endure. To endure is to bear up under, to stand firm against, to suffer without yielding, to continue to be, or to exhibit the state or power of lasting.
Day by day we can make the effort to gain the power to last and to suffer without yielding. Inspiration and motivation are found in many places—from the cases I have cited and from many other examples to be seen on every hand. We can also receive strength from studying the scriptures and praying constantly. Friends and loved ones often offer strength and support when our own resolve is weak. In turn, our own strength and capacity will be doubled when we help others endure.
I pray that God will help us to endure well, with purpose and power. When we so do, the meaningful declaration in 2 Tim. 4:7 will take on a new dimension: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” When heartaches, tragedies, disappointments, injury, unusual attention, fame, or excessive prosperity become part of our lives, our challenges and responsibilities will be to endure them well. God will assist us in our quest to conquer, triumph, and continue if we humbly rededicate ourselves to the meaningful declaration “We have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.” (A of F 1:13.)
God does live. Jesus is the Christ. One of His marks of greatness, His endurance, stands as a constant beacon for us to emulate. During His earthly sojourn He endured well as He suffered agony and rejection in their deepest forms. I bear my witness that God will help us to endure as we put forth the effort to live His teachings, seek His guidance, and keep His commandments. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.