What a beacon of light this general conference was! It seemed that every moment was filled with hope. Indeed, nothing is more hopeful than discussions of God and His love, of Christ and His saving mission, of the Restoration and eternal opportunity. We would do well to study the words spoken often, for that is how the hope they bring can be embedded into our souls.
Hope is the natural combatant to the evils we face in our day — oftentimes, it is all that we have to defend against the onslaught of darkness thrown our way. It is a sad reality then that talking of hope is much easier when things are good, and much more difficult when times are hard. We can so easily say “joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5) when it is already midday, but we often cannot fathom that reality when darkness is all around us.
It is in these moments of hopelessness that we experience a difficult emotion to master — disappointment. Disappointment is tough because it can twist our thinking in ways that are not optimistic or righteous. Let me explain through an experience from my earlier years.
During my senior year of high school, I was determined to ask a certain girl to senior prom. All of our friends knew of my intentions and were excited for me. As the allotted time for boys to start asking the girls grew closer, I began preparing, imagining how fun prom would be with this girl. And then, the very day before I was going to ask, the unthinkable happened – another guy asked her to the dance. And she agreed to go with him. I was crushed! In a moment my high school dreams were shattered, and all my preparation was wasted.
Yes, you could say I was quite disappointed.
That disappointment led to a few poisonous thoughts such as “I’m worthless,” “I feel betrayed and want revenge,” and “How could God allow this to happen?” Those thoughts, which you could say are “natural” in a seemingly unjust situation, did nothing for my Christlike progression and only brought me into anger and bitterness. No, I did not become wicked — but I certainly felt little peace. Bitter disappointment acted as a barrier to heavenly comfort.
Those feelings didn’t last forever. Through prayer I was able to forgive and largely forget, and I asked another wonderful girl to prom and we had a great time. But the lessons I learned from that experience are real. I certainly wasn’t grateful for it at the time, but looking back, I’m happy to have learned those lessons while still young.
Disappointment comes when we find that our dreams and desires are not achieved. In essence, we are disappointed when we don’t get what we want or feel we deserve. There is nothing unnatural or unhealthy about feeling disappointment — it shows us that we cared about something, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s perfectly okay to feel disappointed when we lose the championship basketball game or do poorly on a test we thought we were prepared for.
And how about when a pandemic hits, stopping all of our forward progress, cancelling all of the events we looked forward to and forcing us to wait indoors with nothing we can do about it? Talk about disappointing! I believe it’s highly unlikely that anyone wanted this to happen, thus it can be quite a disappointment, because that’s what disappointment is — not getting what we want.
So what if we change our outlook just a bit?
What if we focus not on what we missed out on or on what DIDN’T happen, and choose rather to trust He who in His wisdom “knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24)? Do we think God didn’t know this pandemic would happen? Do we think God didn’t know that all of our events would be cancelled? Do we think God didn’t know that we would be disappointed?
Yet I believe that God allows us to be disappointed for us to learn and to trust Him.
Whenever I am disappointed, I am humbled when I look at the lives of righteous saints who have lived before me. I imagine the disappointment on Moses’s face when he saw his people reduced to idolatry. I picture the daily disappointment faced by Lehi as he tried in vain to teach Laman and Lemuel the ways of righteousness. I envision the fierce disappointment faced by Joseph and his companions, stuck in a rotten prison for five months while their families are beaten and driven out of their control.
What bitter disappointment! Yet how did they react? With continued faith in God. Their will was swallowed up in His will. They chose not to dwell on what things could’ve been, but rather they focused their energy on what was and enduring it well. And because of that, they were blessed exceedingly — blessings which I am sure were never fully realized in this life but await them in celestial glory. They saw the promises afar off (Hebrews 11:13), not receiving them yet but knowing that they would someday.
And so too should we face disappointment. Yes, the pandemic is still sweeping the earth and we don’t know when it will end. But rather than sulking in disappointed despair, why don’t we take this time to refocus our lives on what matters, build stronger relationships with God and with family, and gear up for what will come after? Rather than focusing on how hard things are now, why not trust that God has purpose in it all.
My mission president’s wife, Sister Runia, taught me a valuable lesson that we can all benefit from now. She shared this scripture with us:
“Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:3).
She called this principle “spiritual alchemy” — seemingly bad things in our lives somehow work for our good. I know this is true because I look back at my mission, an immensely difficult two years, and cannot possibly enumerate its immense effect for good on my life.
I also know it is true when I watch President Oaks give a talk about opposition with a smile on his face! All of the Brethren have been through so much difficulty in their lives, and their current callings are very hard to bear at times, yet they can speak of their trials with a smile. How? They must trust in God’s ability to transform their hard times into invaluable lessons and growth impossible in any other way. Amazing.
C.S. Lewis summarized spiritual alchemy in a way far better than I ever could. In his book The Great Divorce, he said this:
“‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
If we believe this, then we know that if we respond to disappointment righteously, a time will come when we forget all disappointment and remember only growth and joy. That time may not be here now, but soon, if we endure well, the day will come.
Adam Simpson is a man of many unique talents, from dancing to ultimate frisbee, from drumming to writing. He was born and raised in Layton, Utah, the middle child surrounded by two sisters. He served a mission in Sydney, Australia, and now attends school at BYU. His love for writing comes from a love of philosophy and a love for God.