Saturday, September 17, 2011

Difficult Times

In late September of 2008, I found myself in a very difficult time. I was struggling with incredible feelings of bitterness and anger toward someone close to me. I was disappointed with their choices. Whenever we were around one another, it seemed that all we did was fight. I felt that I couldn’t continue my relationship with this person any longer.

On a Saturday near the end of the month, I spent the day painting walls in my house. A recent interaction with this person had left me angry and upset and I was trying to vent my negative feelings in work. As it neared evening, I began to get hungry and I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day. As I began to put together something to eat, I saw a flyer announcing the General Relief Society session of General Conference. It was due to start soon and dinner would be provided afterward. I was wrestling with feelings of frustration and anger. I was sure that it would be of no value to me to attend the meeting. I felt that my personal situation was far too complicated for anyone to understand, let alone provide any words of advice or comfort. Yet, a small thought came into my head, that because of my lack of meals for the day, I had technically been fasting. Perhaps, if I could soften my heart and pray for guidance, the Lord may have a message for me.

I quickly got ready, left the kids with my husband, and headed to the stake center. I was late and felt uncomfortable walking in. I hadn’t had much time to get ready. I felt frumpy and out of place. All around me were lovely sisters dressed in their best, sitting happily with friends. I sat alone in the back with paint caked on my hands and under my fingernails, a hastily donned dress, hair in a ponytail and very little makeup. I wanted to leave, but again came the prompting to stay and pray. I stayed. I struggled with my feelings of unhappiness and despair and prayed forlornly for an answer to my difficult situation. Only occasionally did I hear any of the talks and none of it seemed to touch me.

As the end of the session neared, I began to give up hope that I would hear a message directed to me. Maybe the Lord hadn’t heard my prayers; maybe I was too selfish and insignificant to hope for an answer from the Lord. Perhaps I was hopeless. Why would the Lord care about me? The despair I was feeling seemed insurmountable and I knew I couldn’t overcome it alone. I prayed yet again. Yet, this time my prayers were subtly different. In my despair, I had gained a measure of humility. In my anger toward this person, I also harbored pride. I felt wronged by this person and I was certain that the burden of responsibility to mend our troubles lay entirely upon their shoulders. I wanted the Lord to fix them.

As I thought I was giving up hope, I also began to give up my anger and negative feelings. Without these negative feelings burdening me, I softened my heart and another thought came to me. Maybe I wouldn’t hear a message directed specifically to me. But perhaps, if I were to let go of all the selfish and negative thoughts I was holding onto, I could still hear something of worth.

Near the end of the session, Elder Uchtdorf stood to speak. His talk was entitled, “Happiness, Your Heritage.” Near the beginning of his talk, he spoke of gratitude, “grateful to be here, grateful for your talents, compassion, and service. Most of all, I am grateful for who you are: treasured daughters of our Heavenly Father with infinite worth.”

Still feeling somewhat peevish, my first thought was, “What talents do I have, how could Heavenly Father possibly treasure me?’ Immediately after, the thought came to me, “You can be improve the little things around you, you can be compassionate, you can provide service to others.” And suddenly I knew. This was the talk meant for me. The Lord wasn’t going to tell me how he was going to fix this other person; he was going to tell me what I needed to do. I felt a strong impression that the answer I was looking for in relation to my woes was, “Not right now. Right now, I have work for you.”

Elder Uchtdorf went on to talk about how we could learn to partake of God’s happiness by creating and being compassionate. He pointed out that our creations may not be readily visible or masterpieces destined for a museum. Our creations could be a smile, a laugh, a family memory, and all the actions of our daily life that “improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.” This was something that I could definitely improve in my life.

He went on to talk about the importance of compassion and our responsibility as disciples of Christ to have compassion and to serve those around us. Once again, this was an area I could improve in. I realized that compassion and service are talents and, moreover, talents I needed to improve upon.

“Not right now. Right now, I have work for you.” I realized that I was looking at my situation incorrectly. I wanted justice for the wrongs I felt I had been dealt. I wanted this other person to be punished for the hurt I felt. But, in His infinite compassion, the Lord knew what I needed. I needed to realize that I couldn’t change the other party involved, but I could change myself. I could quit focusing on my indignation and anger and all the other negative feelings I felt so justified in immersing myself. I could let go of that selfishness and use my experiences to feel more compassion for others. I could use all the energy I was spending on my antagonism to serve others.

Two weeks later was the rest of General Conference. I was astounded at how many of the talks seemed to carry a message of overcoming trials. The next summer, I attended Education Week at BYU-Idaho where I attended many classes on doing hard things and overcoming the challenges we face. My ever-loving and omniscient Father understood me far better than I knew myself. He understood my weaknesses and, being aware of the challenges life would bring, needed me to allow Him to make me strong. The Lord gives us a powerful promise in Ether 12:27: “And if men come unto me I will show them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I can’t tell you that I now qualify for sainthood because of my amazing persistence in following through on the things I learned. Obviously the Lord is still endeavoring to teach me! Some of my enduring faults are laziness and fear. More often than I would like, my efforts to be compassionate and of service are hampered by these flaws. However, as I strive to follow the promptings of the Spirit and push past my fear, I have gained a greater happiness and understanding of those around me. With that understanding, I have a greater love. Most of all, I have more peace and harmony in my relationship with this person I was struggling with.

I am so grateful for the challenges the Lord has given me that I might have more empathy and understanding of the challenges we all face. In facing challenges, my first instinct is to focus my energy on the pain and suffering that I am enduring and wallow in self-pity. Surely, my trials are more than I can bear! However, thanks to the guidance of a loving Heavenly Father, in the last few years, I have come to realize how selfish that attitude is. All of us here on Earth struggle with pain, hardships, and trials that oftentimes seem impossible to overcome. The energy I want to spend on self-pity is much better used in empathy and service. And when I increase my talents for compassion and service, my energy is returned to me tenfold in strength. President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “The more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls.”

"Happiness, Your Heritage" can be found here. Other talks I found especially pertinent are here, here, and here.

By: Charlotte Gardner

1 comment:

Patty said...

Great insight. Again, I just love you!!!