Endurance

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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. They spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea.

“Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.'” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost.

Do we face life with the same determination? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation.

Enduring means that we cannot take half measures in life. Choosing to follow half the commandments is like firefighters choosing to only put out half a fire or an airplane maker choosing to build half a plane. Half a plane won’t get anyone anywhere quickly. Sometimes enduring requires hard work, sometimes it simply requires patience. We read in James: “Take, my brethren [and sisters], the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11).

In the cramped, freezing, ironically named Liberty Jail, a place of suffering that became a temple of learning to the incarcerated prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord comforted with these words: “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…. And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).

Are we greater than Christ? He descended below the depths of our sufferings. Jesus provided the perfect example of endurance. Joseph Smith was an example of endurance. All things that we pass through shall give us experience and be for our good as we are faithful. Have patience, have hope. Be believing and carry on.

When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river because the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts we did what any reasonable person would do – we played in the quicksand. [The greatest danger with this patch of quicksand was maybe losing a shoe]. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith wavered, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. When we are called to pass through challenges and suffering it’s best to do just that – pass through them. Giving up part way through might at the time seem easier but then we’ll be stuck in the trial longer. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. As we endure we are hardened – this is not the hardening of hearts, it is the strengthening that comes from choosing the right, which strengthening provides armor against the temptations of Satan that would lead us to misery and eternal separation from God. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence and weekly willingness.

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

“And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], after ye have gotten into [the] strait and narrow path [to Christ], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

If we don’t endure to the end we cannot endure the presence of God: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24) We are asked to endure hardships so that we might return with honor to God’s presence and endure His eternal love.

Pres. Monson stated recently: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel ‘weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We must persevere, we must endure as Shackleton and strive to lose not one life spiritually – not our own and not those for whom we hold stewardship. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things become strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to return to God and enter His eternal embrace. “And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26).

Note: Image of the frozen in Endurance ship. Image in public domain.

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