I spend much of my time working with people who are dealing with end of life issues. While not generally in the acute stages of end-of-life,many of the people I interact with are struggling with major medical challenges, neurodegenerative diseases, and loss of independent function. These are challenges for them and challenges for their family and friends. At times there is unspoken grief and pain. At other times the grief flows freely. I see fear and fatigue and failure. But I also see joy, gladness, love, resolve, and faith. Some people face the future with considerable fear. They see the unknown of a dementia or other irreversible process and are afraid. Others face the same challenges with a resolve of strength. They want to celebrate what time they have left and be grateful for what they have.
Facing an unknown future or heavy trials with such strength reminds me of the verse in Alma where Alma expresses many great desires of his heart but then takes a moment to temper his grand desires: “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). Do we face the trials in our lives with contentment and with gratitude towards God for the blessings He has given us? Or do we face our trials with fear and loathing; do we curse God and die?
There can be goodness, help, hope, and happiness in the midst of the severest trials. We are promised that as we bear our trials we will be blessed – in this life and in the next. “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…that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that all our sufferings will be for our good? How can chronic pain or debilitating disease or psychological suffering be for our good? It depends on how we define good and if we understand God’s plans for us. Those who can find meaning in suffering can bear any suffering. Those who know that God will eventually bless us for our sufferings in this life, have caught a glimpse of God’s plan and goodness. None of this minimizes the intensity of trials and suffering to those in the midst of it but each tear of sorrow and heartache and pain we shed in this life can be matched with many tears of joy in the life to come.