*This is the talk I gave at church today. Because I post these things, as one does (when one is me).*
I’m going to talk about mortality. And winter.
Jeff has been reminding me, daily, that when it comes to winter, he is over it. Probably because he is the scraper of the walks before the bus shows up in the morning to collect our boys. The snow, the cold, the grey dreariness. He’s over it.
We have a son whose main hobby is going for rides in the car. If he had an Instagram account, his profile would say “What up. I have chauffeurs.” We do a lot of driving around simply for the sake of keeping Jack happy.
All of this winter driving has me pondering seasons. Why do we have winter? Why do we have really long seasons of cold. Why does it get dark at 5:00 pm? Why can’t it be May or October all the time?
Also, why does life have to be hard?
Winter happens when our part of the earth tilts away from sun, the source of warmth and light. But that’s just the literal definition of winter. I’m thinking of winter as a symbol for emotional, physical, and spiritual struggle.
Ecclesiastes 3 discusses the concept of seasons of plenty and seasons of want.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
I literally cannot read this passage without singing in my head, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds. Tangentially, I feel that if more pop songs used passages of scripture as lyrics, the rising generations would better versed (ba-dum-ching!) in the Bible.
But, back to the King James’ Version. Not all of these times or seasons are positive and happy. We learn from this passage that there is a time to kill. There is a time to hate. There is a time to lose, to rend, to tear down. There is a time of war. These aren’t the only seasons, but they have their turn.
Why would God design the world to be sometimes full of laughter, embracing, and dancing, but oftentimes full of weeping, mourning, and hate? How is there a purpose under heaven for suffering? The scriptures basically ask this very question, in verse 9 of Ecclesiastes 3. “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” What good do we see from our struggles?
It continues, with this explanation. “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.”
According to this verse, the earth is our gymnasium, so to speak, and we are here to be exercised in it—to sweat and struggle. I am not personally in love with exercise. Sometimes I wonder if In heaven, I didn’t get in the Enjoys Exercise line because I got distracted by the Enjoys Books line.
Recently I’ve been doing physical therapy for an issue with my back and hip. I assume this is one of those celebratory milestones of approaching a certain landmark birthday this year. It’s an early birthday gift, really, throwing out your back. The physical therapist and I have these conversations when I’m learning the exercises and stretches to target my core muscles. As a bit of backstory, my core muscles liquefied some years ago. I blame my children, not that I’m bitter. But the truth is, a weak core can lead to pain like I’ve been having.
So the physical therapist will tell me to, say, do a side plank. I’ll tell him that planking is hard, and I don’t have any core muscles. He assures me that I do have core muscles. They just aren’t as strong now as they will be after I exercise them more. So twice a day, like clockwork, I do these exercises. And it’s hard. Because of the liquefied core. And as soon as I master something, they ratchet it up to a higher level. This is how muscles go from weak to strong—with regular, repeated resistance. And it really works. My core muscles promise you that it works.
Muscles grow stronger with resistance, and so do our spirits.
We are eternal beings who have been placed on earth to travail, or toil. The scriptures tell us that this is intentional, to provide us the resistance we need so we can progress.
Continuing in Ecclesiastes, we read that God “hath made every thing beautiful in his time.” This tells me that what doesn’t feel glorious or beautiful now, will feel that way eventually. In his time. It’s a hopeful promise. But first, we have to grow by passing through it and learning from it.
The Savior’s atonement is a demonstration of this concept. First, Jesus was denied by his own disciples. He was tried and condemned. He suffered scourging and humiliation. He was hung by his hands and feet from a cross to die. If there is a time to every purpose under heaven, then this was a time of mourning, rending, weeping, and silence.
Jesus was perfect and sinless. He didn’t have to suffer and die, and yet there was a reason for his voluntary sacrifice. It was purposeful. He did it because He loves us and wants to save us from mortality so we can return to wholeness with our Heavenly Parents.
As He consistently is, Jesus is an example to us, including through His Crucifixion and resurrection. Through the Atonement, He helps us to see how we can weather our own inevitable seasons of hardship. Jesus didn’t want to pass through sorrow. He pled with his Father, saying in Matthew 26, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
He didn’t ask to suffer, but when it was the Father’s will, He did it anyway.
Jeffrey R. Holland’s seminal talk on mental illness titled, “Like a Broken Vessel,” touched on this idea of looking to Jesus’ suffering as a model for how to face our own times of depression and anguish. “Believe in miracles,” Elder Holland said. “I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.”
When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, she was astonished and exultant. In just two days time His disciples and followers had experienced the deepest sorrow and devastation, and then, paradoxically, unspeakable joy. If He hadn’t suffered and died, there would have been no Atonement and no gift of everlasting hope. It was only after the trial and the suffering that redemption and forgiveness for humanity were possible.
The seasons of my life have shown me that this is the pattern of life. Our Heavenly Father has designed a world wherein we face resistance so we can grow. I have faced some dark times with my children. Sometimes they go on for long periods, but they have always eventually lifted, easing the burden for a time. Just in the last month, we were again facing more and more violent and aggressive behaviors again from Jack. These behaviors are a daily part of our life during all seasons, but this winter they were once again increasing. Jack was smashing things in our house, and punching people when he was frustrated, which really takes a toll on the people living with him.
This went on for some time, with medication and behavior therapy helping but not relieving the issue. So a couple of weeks ago, we called Ray. Our home teacher. He is in the middle of his own season of difficulty being a caregiver to some family members who need a great deal of support. But, he came. He showed up willingly and helped Jeff give Jack a healing blessing. What were we hoping to heal? Autism, developmental delay, Macrocephaly-Capillary Malformation Syndrome? Violence, aggression, destruction? Yeah, sure. Any and all of the above. Just healing.
Jack, who is the size of a small horse, sat on my lap during the blessing so I could try to keep him from getting up and prancing around the room. He did sit, with a fair amount of wiggling. He was pleased with the blessing and laughed when it was over. The next day, Jack wasn’t aggressive. He got mad a few times, but never actually hit anyone or broke anything. The rest of the week, he was calmer and happier than we had seen him in quite awhile. We still have regular episodes of anger, but not to the degree we saw earlier this month.
I do think the improvement was because of the blessing. I don’t think it will last forever. But I’m heartened to know that when we pled with God for a measure of healing in this season of bleakness, He said, “Okay.”
To be like Jesus, we can submit to the disasters that shake us, and the storms that wail through our lives. We can do what He did, by accepting the challenges that God asks us to face. We can see them not as mistakes or unfair wrongs that are standing between us and the less-painful life we likely imagined for ourselves.
We can see hardship as mortality exercising us to make us humbler and stronger. We can see challenging times as divinely-appointed seasons with the gentle purpose of leading us closer to our Heavenly Parents.
There have been slivers of time in my life where I have been able to access a sense of perfect rightness about the way my life is unfolding. Not perfection in the daily trauma, but a sense that everything I experience is playing out the way God knew I needed it to, in order for me to successfully change. I don’t always see my hardships with this kind of clarity, but sometimes I can.
Occasionally, people will ask me why we had more children after Jack was diagnosed with his profound disabilities. Honestly, it’s not my favorite question. If you do find yourself asking me this, please know that I will give you side-eye. Then I may stare at you until the silence grows awkward. But because I am an extremely forgiving person, I will answer you.
I have responded to this question before by saying that we didn’t know if our younger children would have disabilities, but we had them on faith because we felt strongly prompted to bring them into our family.
But. I think I have an even better response now.
I had an epiphany recently where I fully understood that I needed my two youngest boys and their difficult entry into our family to level my pride. And leveled it was, my friends.
Parenting Jack as a young child was hard, but in those days, I was still trying to do it by myself. I thought I was handling things pretty well.
It took a much bigger wave to roll me. I needed to have the wind knocked right out of me. I needed life to pin me to the ground before I could really listen.
I wasn’t ready to rely on Jesus for healing and strength until I had four children, and three of them had special needs.
It wasn’t until I couldn’t do it alone that I truly understood that I needed my Savior. I needed all of it—the deeply painful experiences that God has given me so I could see Him in my life and I could reach out to grasp my Savior’s hand.
To everything there is a season and a purpose. When we experience seasons of sadness or struggle or gloom, it doesn’t mean we are failing.
We need the strenuous seasons of mortality to teach us and refine us, which was God’s purpose in sending us here. It’s why we chose this life.
Orson F. Whitney famously said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”
We chose mortality, because it would be hard. We knew the trials would transform us.