As a young deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, and Varsity scouts and leaders. 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 like outcasts in a remote location in Arizona. This is an area near the Grand Canyon with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant we spent a lot of time walking through the river. We couldn’t carry enough water to last the extended hike but for two days we enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped or poured from the canyon walls.
Most of our hike kept us within the shelter of narrow canyon walls – walls at times less than 10 feet apart. Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from springs and shade. We hiked through sand, cacti, and heat. We couldn’t rely on spring water and had to purify water from the river. The hike that had been tiring but pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said encouragingly, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses after hiking some hours more, the young man finally blurted out in frustration, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!”
Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to 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 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 couldn’t go up the walls or go back – our cars were at the end of the canyon – so we had to go through. This left us with two options – we could hike grudgingly and be miserable or we could endure with patience and enjoy our time. This is largely true of life. We can go through it grudgingly and be miserable or we can do all we can to make the most of whatever situations we are in – good or bad, happy or sad. We can choose to be strengthened and tutored patiently by the trials we endure or just suffer through them.
Patient endurance is a trait of the righteous. As part of the plan of salvation and gospel of Jesus Christ, enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. As we go through trials it is important to go all the way through them. Press forward until you are past the trial. Don’t give up just because something is hard. You can do hard things. You can even be happy in adversity.
This leads to the age-old question of why God allows us to suffer. If God is good and loves us, why are so many people miserable? Why is there so much sadness, even among the righteous? C. S. Lewis wrote:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).
This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi 28: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin…and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8)
Many think God should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means He allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents prevent children from learning to walk because they might fall? Or how many parents see their children struggling through school or a sport or another activity and decide that any difficulty or anxiety or challenge is harmful and should be avoided. If we avoided everything that causes us discomfort, we wouldn’t learn or grow. Parents are pained when their children hurt or are upset but there is no growth without adversity. Growth comes from enduring adversity and learning from 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 or avoiding the weights. Without following safety procedures and weight limits, however, serious injury can occur. The benefits also do not come from one session. Growth and strengthening take time and patience. Just as weight training can strengthen our muscles, wait – W A I T – training can strengthen our patience.
What is the longest you waited for something you really wanted? Hours? Days? Months? Years? Sometimes the more we want something, the longer it takes to get it. To hopeful children Christmas Eve feels like a year. But what blessings can come after the wait!
We live in a world of instant gratification. We can order enough furniture and other items to fill a house and get it all delivered within two days. We can instantly reach most people in the world through thin rectangular boxes in our pockets or purses. We can see events happen live around the world on those same devices. Sometimes we might feel impatient if a website doesn’t load instantly. Many people feel frustrated or even explosively angry by delays of a few seconds or minutes, especially when driving.
While it is a wonderful blessing to have instant access and near-instant gratification, much of life requires dedicated effort to reach goals. We need to learn how to wait if we want to make it successfully through life. In October, scientists announced a treatment that will cure many diseases and health challenges (Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA.2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854). Among the benefits of this treatment are lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol. This treatment also lowers the risk of many types of cancer; it improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep, and slows weight gain or reduces weight. There are many more benefits. What is this miracle treatment? Exercise.
Occasional exercise isn’t enough. We can’t run a few steps or lift a few weights and see the benefits. These health benefits take consistent and dedicated effort year after year. Those who consistently exercise can add up to seven years to their lives. That’s not just increased quantity but also increased quality. If we regularly exercise we will be healthier and happier than we are without exercise. While any amount of exercise helps, consistency is best.
Exercise has many benefits so why do most people get too little? One of the barriers is that it takes time. There are no instant health benefits; they require dedication and patience. Similar dedication and patience are required in the gospel and in life. Just as the full benefits of physical exercise take years of patient effort to receive, it takes years of dedicated spiritual effort and exercise to receive the full spiritual benefits. We receive many instant blessings from our Eternal Father but the ultimate blessings require faith and patience.
Jesus taught: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19). Joseph Smith read verses on patience as he contemplated the nature of God and which church he should join. In James 1:3-4 we read, as did Joseph: “The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The next verse was the key that inspired Joseph to pray and ask God. We often focus on the immediate answer to Joseph’s prayer but he spent years pondering, studying, and offering silent prayers before his miraculous vision (Source).
Many of us spend years seeking for answers to prayers. What do we do when answers don’t seem to come? Do we give up or do we continue trusting God? Do we only look for the answers that come how we expect or do we open our eyes and hearts to all the others answers God gives? Some of our prayers might be answered how and when we want or they might be answered how we want but not when we want. Some prayers might not be answered at all or maybe those ones are answered in ways we don’t expect.
President Uchtdorf said, “God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways…. I know for sure that the promises of the Lord, if perhaps not always swift, are always certain. Brigham Young taught that when something came up which he could not comprehend fully, he would pray to the Lord, ‘Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.’ And then Brigham would continue to pray until he could comprehend it. We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience. Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Source)
God loves us. Our Savior Jesus Christ loves us. They want us to be happy – not just happy here but happy in eternity. As we develop patience, we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understandings (Proverbs 3:5). As we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6). When we are tired and feel like our destination or an answer or blessing will never be around the next bend, we can patiently wait upon the Lord, doing the best we can. The blessings will come. The Lord “will go before our face. [He] will be on [our] right hand and on [our] left, and [His] Spirit shall be in [our] hearts, and [His] angels round about [us], to bear [us] up.” (D&C 84:88).