Comer: Turning to the Lord provides strength during trials
One of the few times in my life that I have kept a consistent journal was on my two-year mission in Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently, I’ve felt compelled to start reading through those entries. My reaction has been mixed. It’s been neat to revisit experiences and thoughts that I had which I had forgotten, but I’ve also been reminded of my many, let’s just say, opportunities for growth. As I have been reading through these entries, one thing has been crystal clear: I had faith that I was going to be able to learn Mandarin Chinese. It wasn’t because of confidence in my own intelligence or abilities. I was well aware of my academic deficiencies. I also took two years of French in high school and barely remembered anything. My confidence came from turning to the Lord. I knew that the Lord had called me to serve in Taiwan for a reason, and because of that, he must have known I was capable of learning the language. Did I dare call the Lord a liar or say that I knew something about myself that he didn’t know? If I studied as hard as I could and turned to him, I knew I would eventually be successful.
Spoiler alert: I learned the language. Not perfectly, but perfectly enough. Perfectly enough to teach the gospel. Perfectly enough to make friends. One experience in particular stands out even now, all these many years later, because it was one of those clear indications of who was truly in control.
Many missionaries memorized Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision that is contained in “Joseph Smith: History in the Pearl of Great Price.” I gave only a half-hearted effort to memorizing it because I was more concerned with learning vocabulary and discussions. I guess I figured that I could simply read the account, so memorization wasn’t necessary.
One afternoon, my companion and I were riding our bicycles somewhere and all of a sudden, I realized something peculiar: I had the First Vision memorized. It was the oddest thing because, as I said, I hadn’t really given a whole lot of effort to memorizing it.
To be clear, I don’t advocate this as a study method. Giving half-hearted effort to studying and then expecting the Lord to fill your head with the needed knowledge is not a very good method to employ heading into a test. But, in this circumstance, it appeared that the Lord really wanted me to know the First Vision, and so he made sure I knew it. I suppose the hard work that I had put into other areas of my language study probably qualified me for that blessing in some way. I’d like to think the Lord knew I wasn’t being lazy; I just simply wasn’t prioritizing the First Vision memorization in my language study.
What’s even more of a miracle than that? Twenty years later, though I haven’t had cause to recite the account in Mandarin Chinese in all these years, I can still recite it almost perfectly with little review needed. This provides me with a constant reminder that the Lord truly did bless me with an amazing gift to be able to learn Mandarin Chinese. There is no part of me that thinks I learned it on my own to any degree. I had faith, I worked hard and the Lord did the rest.
This is an example of how turning to the Lord benefits people. He is capable of helping us achieve more than we can achieve by ourselves.
Recently, I started studying again the story of the Jaredites being guided to the land of promise as told in the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon. The mysteriously named brother of Jared was commanded by the Lord to build barges in order to cross the water. The brother of Jared followed the instructions, but then he had some concerns. 1) There was no way to breathe inside the barges. 2) There was no way to steer the barges. 3) There was no light inside the barges.
The brother of Jared brought each of these concerns to the Lord and the Lord responded to each concern. Regarding the first concern, the Lord told the brother of Jared to make two holes in the boat so that air could get in. If water got into the boat, then the holes were to be plugged so that the travelers wouldn’t perish in a flood. Regarding the second concern, the Lord said that he would effectively steer the boat himself by way of the wind. He would send winds to push the boat along its necessary course. Regarding the third concern, the Lord turned it back to the brother of Jared, asking him what he would have him do. The Lord said windows wouldn’t work because they would shatter and there couldn’t be fire inside the boat.
From this story, we see three ways that the Lord responds to each of us as we turn to him with our various concerns. Sometimes, he tells us what to do and we are expected to follow through. Sometimes, he simply takes care of the problem himself. We just need to have faith in him. Sometimes, we are expected to search for a solution and then bring it to him for approval and assistance.
As we learn later in the account, the brother of Jared proceeded to molten 16 small stones out of rock, carried them to the top of a mount and cried unto the Lord to touch them with his finger so that they would shine in the darkness.
“And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.” (Ether 3:6)
Although the Lord uses various means in responding to us, the reality is that in each situation, as we turn to him, he responds. He responds in the big challenges of our lives, and he responds in the seemingly small challenges in our lives. I’ve felt that assistance in all kinds of situations.
Although we know that the Lord will respond to us every time we turn to him, that doesn’t mean that he will always respond to us in the way that we think is best. Sometimes what he wants for us is different than what we might desire. That can be a difficult concept for some to accept, but can we truly expect different when it wasn’t that way for Jesus?
Think of the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
“Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44).
Jesus suffered every imaginable pain and suffering, and the torment was so great that he felt compelled to request, if it was possible, the cup be removed from him. But, of course, it wasn’t, because it was all necessary. Nevertheless, Jesus showed us the perfect example by declaring that ultimately his Father’s will needed to be done. Notice what happened next. The cup wasn’t removed, but an angel was sent to strengthen Jesus. In so many instances, this is how the Lord helps us. He may not remove our trial or affliction, but he will provide strength for us to push forward.
This is how it was for Alma and his brethren when Amulon “exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.” (Mosiah 24:9)
The people cried mightily to God because of the greatness of their afflictions, and Amulon responded by putting guards over them to watch them, saying that anyone caught praying would be put to death.
Alma and his people continued to pray in their hearts and the Lord responded, saying:
“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
“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.” (Mosiah 24:14-15)
Alma and his people were later delivered from bondage, but the lesson for me is that when we turn to the Lord, we are given strength to deal with our challenges while they are occurring.
The following words of Elder Donald L. Hallstrom in the April 2010 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resonate strongly with me:
“If you feel you have been wronged, by anyone — a family member, a friend, another member of the church, a church leader, a business associate — or by anything — the death of a loved one, health problems, a financial reversal, abuse, addictions — deal with the matter directly and with all the strength you have. ‘Hold on thy way’ (D&C 122:9); giving up is not an option. And, without delay, turn to the Lord. Exercise all of the faith you have in Him. Let Him share your burden. Allow His grace to lighten your load. We are promised that we will ‘suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.’ (Alma 31:38) Never let an earthly circumstance disable you spiritually.”
I hope we can all remember that no matter what struggle we are facing, the Lord is always there, perfectly able and willing to help us, and that we can access that help if we turn to him.
Contact Ryan Comer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388.