As soon as it happened, I knew it was going to be painful. We had erected the Christmas tree and were just finishing stringing the lights. We have had the twelve-foot tree for umpteen years now and used a ladder to decorate the tree with luminaries. I was moving the contraption to tuck the final strand of lights in place. Just as I reached for the ladder, a sliver caught me by surprise. It happened so quickly! When I inspected my hand, I saw the spot of entry, but it appeared as though the sliver had exited as fast as it entered. The pain was brief, and I hoped that the incident was just a memory.
We finished arranging the lights on the tree, and I went on to doing other things. That’s when my hand started throbbing slightly. I realized I had made a blunder, and my hope that no fragments of the splinter remained embedded in my hand was quickly fading.
I still couldn’t see anything under my skin, but I knew if there, the wound would fester until the object was removed.
The family was planning on going to the Festival of Trees that night and tickets had been purchased and all else arranged. The last thing I wanted was an annoying and painful sore in my hand all evening.
The apostle Paul shared details of his life to the church members in Corinth. He wrote of his “thorn in the flesh” that to me represented a challenge he was called to bear that he never specifically identified.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh . . . (2 Corinthians 12:7)
So what can we learn from this story? I realized that the incident of pain in my hand had many similarities to the way we have to deal with sin. At first it seems harmless—perhaps not even worth mentioning—but soon, if left unattended, the wound festers and the pain increases. As we align ourselves with the Lord’s will and work to keep all our covenants, the wrongdoing becomes more evasive and aggravating, especially when we consider the blessings we are giving up to harbor and protect such an emotion. But Paul teaches the Corinthians that our challenges can instill in us humility.
That’s when I realized this topic I am now addressing and the article began writing itself. Let me explain.
As of late, I have been dealing with an obstacle that many of you handle gracefully every day. My eyesight is failing, and I am juggling the adoption of glasses. Bifocals are the new necessity, and of course I am grateful for the talented health administrators and miracles of today’s medical industry. I work frequently by a computer; focus in the distance and detail are objectives I used to take for granted but now require a great deal more involvement, appliances, and effort.
This too happens in our relationships, and that is no easy job. Today’s relationships include online, long distance, work, and personal—and at times, they all take vigilant navigation.
“Relationships are fostered in humility and stymied by pride” (Gary E. Stevenson, “Spiritual Eclipse,” October 2017).
Seemingly small and insignificant obstacles can amount to insurmountable problems if we focus on the wrong things and allow selfishness, conceit, and ill intent to eclipse our true desires. We hope for what is good and right and work toward its realization.
My wife and I met our daughter and grandson at Yosemite National Park recently. They were coming from western California and had a moderately short drive. We had already been in the park for one day, but we returned to Yosemite Valley to share some of the great adventures, both invigorating and eye-opening, with them. We eagerly showed them the great spots we had seen earlier and relished the fleeting time together. Of course, we were pleased to see their excitement witnessing some of the great monoliths of rock and awe-inspiring, picturesque scenery—but I noticed so much more joy the second time around because in addition to the anticipated destinations, we took time to notice the surrounding beauty. This naturally resulted in dozens of pictures—but each time I looked at the picture I had taken, I thought the image did not do reality justice.
We have all experienced that. Photos don’t capture the complete situation. I realized that in addition to the seemingly unimpressive replication of the visual majesty of what we were seeing, those we share our pictures with do not experience the other senses: audio, smell, touch, motion, and thrill of being there in person. How could they? The water crashed over the rocks in the river and tumbled over cliffs, the wind rustled in the forest. The alpine meadows and sway of the mammoth trees soothed our souls. All this (and much more) added to the experience and became a perpetual picture in our hearts and minds.
In many ways, that’s just like the gospel of Jesus Christ. Detractors typically base their opinions on a focused set of complaints without giving the full range of blessings consideration. How could they without experiencing them?
Just like it is difficult to communicate the beauty and majesty of the Yosemite phenomenon, we often cannot explain the majesty and miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can one put into words the comfort felt with the hope of Savior even in the midst of sorrow or hardship? In a similar way, it is easier to experience than explain. Once a person allows the message of the gospel to change his heart, everything becomes more beautiful and compelling. Purpose in life’s obstacles as well as its joys becomes evident and worthwhile. Valued experiences result from both the good and the bad. The status quo is temporary and less irritating or destructive. A happy, bright, and healthy future is forecast for everyone who is willing to accept the gift that was already won for them. The hardships of life are obstacles we must learn to face momentarily but not destinations we are called to endure perpetually. Because of Jesus Christ, we have hope and assurance of a bright future, even if temporary hardships beset us for a time.
Nowadays, we are apt to hear of depression, low self-confidence, and a lack of self-esteem. But who do those sentiments come from? They certainly do not come from our Heavenly Father. Recognize that it’s the adversary telling you that you cannot make it, are not worth it, and will ultimately fail—but just like his other deceptions, those are lies. Listen to the voice that you can really believe.
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:8).
Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught that all suffering is not punishment:
“A worthwhile attitude for all of us could well be, ‘Help us, O Lord, to remember thy love for us and help us to be fortified by thy strength when our eyes are blurred with tears of sorrow and our vision is limited'” (Marvin J. Ashton, “If Thou Endure It Well,” October 1984).
37 And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be. 1 Nephi 13:37
Living the gospel of Jesus Christ may not be easy, but it is easier and much better than the alternative.
It gives us hope in the midst of hardship and solace amid pain.
“From the depths of my soul, I testify that this is the work of Almighty God. He lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church, restored to accomplish its divine destiny, including the promised gathering of Israel.
You are the hope of Israel, ‘children of the promised day’!” (President Russell M Nelson, “Hope of Israel,” June 2018)
Experiencing the ups and downs of our existence in this world can be challenging, but it is much better doing it His way. Humbly facing our challenges allows the gospel to make something more of us.
The pains of life are not always easy, but they are always worth it.
That is the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.