Sunday, November 26, 2017

Life is Pain - But Not Despair

So, I wrote a talk about hope, for Sacrament Meeting. It was meaningful to me for a lot of reasons! I want to share it. I hope it may be helpful.


As I have thought about hope recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is hard, and has to be hard in some ways, and God has given us Hope as a gift to help us through it.

In addition, it is not only nice to have, but we can’t reach our eternal destination without it. God is a Person full of Hope, and we must be too, to achieve our divine destinies.

To start, I wanted to share from my own experience. A couple years ago, before I moved out here, I was going through a hard time. This particular hard time was a complicated break-up. I’ll spare you all the details on what made it complicated, but it was complicated and painful. And I was trying to figure out how to get through it. I had been studying gratitude a lot in the months before all this, and had the sense that I needed to exercise gratitude in order to get through it. And I did my best to show gratitude, when I remembered to.

After expressing my pain to God, my prayers went something like this: “I’m grateful to be feeling pain, because it least it means I am alive and that I care about something or someone, and that I’ve resisted the urge to just be numb instead. I’m grateful to be learning about myself and about life. And I’m grateful that because I’m going through pain now, I can trust that I will have an increased measure of joy in the future.” Some days I felt more sincere about this gratitude than others. But the more I expressed this gratitude, the more I really started to look forward to the future, and feel hope. Hope that is possible, due to Jesus Christ, and all that He chose and chooses to do for us.

For me, it was a break-up, but pain comes from many places, and I think this can apply to just about any pain, whether it be failure, rejection, guilt, shame, abuse, illness, stress, loneliness, or other things that make life hard.

I mentioned that hope makes our hard lives a little easier. I found an interesting thing in the scriptures this week. As I was reading the Book of Mormon this week, I happened to be in Moroni, and all the references to hope popped out at me, since I knew I’d be speaking about hope today. I found that there was another word that was in close proximity to the word hope, in two separate verses:

Moroni 7:3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.

Moroni 9:25 My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.

As a person who very frequently struggles with an overanxious mind, I was drawn to the word “rest”.  I believe there is a connection. When we believe Jesus Christ and His promises and His love, we can finally find rest for our hearts and our minds.

I also learned from the scriptures that the opposite of hope is despair. (Moroni 10:22 And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair.)

In my pondering, I’ve come to this conclusion:

We were meant to feel pain in this life, as a necessary part of God’s plan, but we were not meant to carry around despair.

I believe and testify that this is true! We are probably all currently going through some pain, and that is normal. As a wise person once said, “Life is pain, and anyone who says differently is selling something.” However, if any of you are feeling despair, please take comfort in knowing that despair is not part of God’s plan, and that He will help you overcome it!

How do we overcome despair? Well, I’m not perfect at it, but I have been working on it. And the scriptures have even more helpful words about it than I do.

From my own experience, gratitude helped me to find hope, as I mentioned before. Find something, anything that you are at least a little bit sincerely grateful for, and thank God for it. You could also write it down if you choose, as a reminder to yourself. Gratitude is a muscle that must be exercised. Establish a routine or a practice of gratitude, and I promise you will find more hope than you had. This is testified of in both scriptures and research in the fields of psychology and social science.

The scriptures talk about hope and faith, and how they inextricably tied to together. (Moroni 7:42 - Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.) I believe this means our faith and our hope grow in very similar ways. I’ve been attending a self-reliance class that has been wonderful (and has far exceeded my expectations), and we have talked a lot about faith. Faith is a principle of action. It requires taking a step forward. For anything to change in our lives, we need to change our behavior and take steps forward. This means that in order to have hope, we need to take steps of action.

What might these actions be? They may be different for every person. The first action, or step of faith, may be to seek professional help. If we are feeling despair, it would make perfect sense to seek the help of a counselor or psychologist. There is no shame, and should be no stigma in that. I can testify of its helpfulness, from firsthand experience. It is an act of faith that will be rewarded with guidance and healing, and yes, hope.

Another action may be to seek the help of a bishop or branch president. They can exercise the priesthood to help us overcome our despair, in a variety of ways, such as priesthood blessings, counsel, help with addiction recovery,  a listening ear, opportunities to serve, help with the repentance process, and more.

Another action may be to stop doing something destructive. Or to start doing something constructive. Maybe our action might be to serve. To establish a scripture study program for ourselves. To make healthier choices, regarding sleep or diet. To spend more time with people who care about us, or less time with those who don’t. To confront something we’ve been afraid of confronting. To forgive someone who has hurt us. To pray sincerely. To try something new. There is a nearly infinite number of ways we can take action and exercise our faith. As we do take action, our faith will grow, and right along with it, so will our hope.

As our hope and faith grow, our despair will shrink, as hope and despair are opposites.

To emphasize the fact that faith requires actions, I want to quote Ronald J Hammond, who was an area authority in 2007, and one of my favorite people of all time. He gave a devotional address called “First Person Faith in God” which has stuck with me for over ten years now:

“Brothers and sisters, you will hear faith-promoting stories about others. That will inspire you. You will see the Lord’s hand working wonders in the lives of others. That will encourage you. But, I witness that the saving kind of faith in Christ is a very personal, sweetly private, first-person kind of faith developed only ‘in the process’ of personal involvement in life’s challenges.”

We have to choose for ourselves to take action, to exercise faith.

We also need to remember that growing faith takes time. To quote Elder Hammond again:

“The oil of first-person faith is added to our lamps drop by drop. It is a process not an event, and if you understand and really believe this, then you will move with surprising serenity through life’s experiences that do not turn out as you had planned.”

I love that word: serenity. Going along with this quote, the scriptures give us a clue to know whether we are increasing in hope. From Moroni 7:3, which I mentioned earlier:

3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
4 And now my brethren,I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.

When our hope is sufficient, we will be peaceful people, who do not antagonize others. Who do not feel the need to defend ourselves from others. Or shame others in order to help ourselves feel better. When we have hope and faith, we realize there is not a scarcity of God’s love. We can have a stable calmness that stabilizes us through the bumpy, real, painful, challenges of life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to take away all our pain. As Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, He went through more pain than any of us can possibly imagine. He didn’t deserve that pain, but He experienced it anyway. He did not enjoy that pain in the slightest - He begged for it to be removed, if it was possible - but He did not despair. He knew that if He had to grow through it, He would make it through it. He trusted our Father in Heaven that this pain would eventually lead to joy. Both His joy and ours. He was right, and He was successful, and because of Him, there is a future for each of us brighter than we can comprehend. Or as one of our hymns states, “There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh.”

So we can overcome our despair by trusting in Jesus, who the Apostle Paul described as the “high priest of good things to come.” I’ll now quote from Elder Jeffrey R Holland:

“Because of the life, death, and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can escape the consequences of both sin and stupidity - our own or that of others - in whatever form they may come to us. If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow -- and every day -- is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children! It is a plan predicated on the truth “that all things work together for good to them that love God.” So keep loving. Keep trusting. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”

I know that we can overcome despair. We can make it through our pain. And we can find the stability and rest we need to make it through this life, even amidst the pain, by obtaining a firm hope in Jesus Christ. I testify of Him as a Healer, Friend, and Savior, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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