Hello brothers and sisters. It is good to be with you today,. Although, I’ll admit that never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be giving a devotional talk. And, devotional or not, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would talk about the subject I will be discussing with you today.
When asked to prepare a devotional talk, I was told to speak on something that brings me passion. There’s a lot I’m passionate about: education, my family and dog, naps, Christian rap music. What brings me the most joy, the most passion, and the most meaning, however, is the love our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ have for us.
What I am NOT passionate about is trials. I’m not talking about clinical depression or other forms of mental illness. I’m talking about adversity, confusion, wrongdoing and just plain hard things that are part of this mortal existence. These do not bring me passion, but I could not have learned about or recognized God’s love without going through difficult experiences. Like many of you, I have been through my fair share of struggles. Heart-wrenching, pain-filled, meaningless-at-the-time trials. And during those hard times, I was 100% sure I would NEVER look back and be grateful for them. Not until I sat down to write this talk.
As I’ve reflected on what I’ve learned, let me give some tips that have helped me through the hardships I’ve been given.
First, read the scriptures. When I open the Book of Mormon, I feel the Holy Ghost. Sometimes I don’t understand what I’m reading, but I understand the feeling. That feeling is love. That feeling is enough for me to keep reading.
When I keep reading, I learn very practical tools. Take the story of King Lamoni and Ammon. Ammon, a Nephite, went amongst the Lamanites, became a servant to the King of the Lamanites, Lamoni, and ended up converting Lamoni and his household. Most people think of Ammon and his great strength in cutting off the arms of those that scattered the King’s sheep. We learn of the great missionary, the great service Ammon provided to the King, and the miraculous conversion of Lamoni. Sometimes a story that means one thing at one time in your life can take on a different meaning later. Through re-reading Ammon’s story, instead of focusing on Lamoni’s conversion, I read that Lamoni’s father was angry with Lamoni and blamed Ammon. I focused on how Ammon and Lamoni dealt with that anger, and I learned how to deal with a difficult person; how to work with those that show anger.
Later in the story, I learned about the servant Abish. She secretly was converted unto the Lord, but couldn’t live her religion openly in the workplace. I’ve been in that situation – no pictures of temples allowed, no talk of religion. When the king and queen fainted during their conversion, Abish saw an opportunity for missionary work. She ran from “house to house,” letting people know what had happened. She thought that by “making it known unto the people,” the people would believe in the power of God (Alma 19:17). Her attempt at missionary work didn’t exactly turn out how she had hoped. The people were confused to see the king and queen laying on the floor, and there began to be “sharp” contention among them as to why this had happened (Alma 19:28). When Abish saw this contention, she wept (Alma 19:28). Her testimony didn’t waiver, though. She moved forward with courage and took the queen by the hand to wake her (Alma 19:29). From this story I learned that it’s okay to make mistakes, cry, then move on. God has your back. Reading scriptures like this has gotten me through many, many hardships.
My second tip for dealing with trials is to practice gratitude. Notice I said practice. This one is hard for me, but gratitude can be learned, and learning it is critical to making it through hard times. I remember kneeling by my bed in prayer once and honestly thought I was forcing my heart to do something it didn’t want to do by practicing gratitude. It’s something I have to practice to this day, but it does get easier.
One of my favorite books of all time is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. This book chronicles Corrie’s time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. She tells of her time at the camps with her best friend and sister, Betsie. Together, they go through many harrowing experiences but continually find solace in reading the Bible.
At one particular camp, Corrie and Betsie were placed in barracks that were claustrophobic, smelled sour, and worst of all, were swarming with biting fleas. Betsie reminded Corrie of a scripture they had read in 1 Thessalonians 5 that morning. The scripture reminded them to rejoice, pray without ceasing, and finally, to give thanks “in every thing.” Betsie said, “We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” (Boom, Sherrill, & Sherrill, 2000, p. 194).
“Such as?” Corrie asked.
“Such as being assigned here together,” said Betsie. “Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
[Corrie was holding the Bible.] “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas…”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea,” said Corrie.
“’Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us” (Boom, Sherrill, & Sherrill, 2000, pp. 193-194).
Corrie was sure Betsie was wrong about the fleas.
The sisters carried on with their back-breaking work, starved with their meager meals, but enjoyed no guards in their barracks, giving them freedom to read from the Bible every night with the other women in their room. The Bible was written in Dutch, but Corrie or Betsie would translate it into German as they read. They could then hear the words being filtered throughout the room in French, Polish, Russian and Czech (Boom, Sherrill, & Sherrill, 2000, p. 197).
Months later, Betsie overhead a conversation between guards. She learned that the guards would not step foot into the foul-smelling barracks because of the fleas. Corrie “remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures [Corrie] could see no use for” (Boom, Sherrill, & Sherrill, 2000, p. 204). The fleas gave them the ability to experience the peace of reading God’s word and feeling of His love.
God knows our circumstances. He gives us tender mercies if we look for them. He gives us strength as we acknowledge His blessings.
My final tip for dealing with hardships is to have faith. I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and sang the song of faith. Plant the seed and it will grow. I rehearsed by heart the Articles of Faith. I studied Alma’s sermon on faith in the Book of Mormon. I recited the Young Woman Value of Faith each Sunday, and I knew the Sunday School answer of what faith was. And then I was faced with circumstances that challenged everything I thought I knew.
My husband and I were married for six years before we had kids. We wanted and desperately prayed for children. When we learned that, finally, we were going to have children – three at once, in fact – we were so excited. My pregnancy started out great. I was hardly sick, able to keep working and we joked about how we didn’t care about the gender of the triplets, we just wanted to see 30 fingers, 30 toes and three heads.
Four months before my due date, I went into labor. The doctors gave me medication to slow down the labor, and my husband and I had faith that my contractions would go away. And they did. Over the next four weeks, I went into labor three more times. Each time, we had faith that the labor would stop.
Until it didn’t.
I ended up having three babies three months early. They each weighed just over two pounds. Their eyes were fused shut, their skin was gray and translucent, and only one of them made a noise at birth. They were all whisked away to get hooked up to a wall of machines in hopes that they would survive.
When faced with this situation, I realized that I never had to have true faith before, and then I realized that I had no idea what faith was. Do I have faith that the babies would survive and be okay? Do I have faith that they would survive and not be okay and that was okay? Or do I have faith that if they didn’t survive, I could? How do you have faith in something yet still ask for God’s will? I didn’t want to have faith that they would be okay if God’s will was that they wouldn’t be. I was so confused. When faced with a truly hard time, singing a song about planting a seed and watching it grow didn’t quite cut it.
I’ve had similar experiences since that time with finances, jobs, health. During one particularly hard financial time, I read about the apostle Peter, who once said “that the trial of your faith” is “much more precious than…gold” (1 Peter 1:7). I remember wishing I could just have the gold and skip the trial! Gold is what I thought I needed.
I’m happy to report that my two-pound triplets are now 20-year-old adults, who are smart, capable and so much fun to be around. We never did become homeless, and, as mentioned in my introduction, I am now in my dream job.
Brothers and sisters, I can honestly look back at these experiences and agree with Peter. I never in my life thought I would. Faith is trusting in God. Trusting that He has a plan, and that whatever comes our way, He knows the plan. Ultimately, He is in control. And He loves us. That knowledge – the knowledge that the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe knows you and loves you – is more precious than gold. If I hadn’t felt the depth of pain that I was experiencing, I wouldn’t have recognized the expansiveness of the love, either. That love has carried me through many hard times since then.
There is a lot of talk these days about faith crises. I want you to understand that this is not a new phenomenon. It’s okay to question and wonder and dig deep to determine what you really believe. My recommendation is that you seek the answers from the God of the Universe Himself, with assistance from your Advocate, the Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, whose job it is to testify of them (2 Ne. 11:32). The world is loud. The Holy Ghost is quiet. The world demands answers right now. Our Heavenly Father sometimes makes us wait.
I don’t have all the answers. There are some issues that I still grapple with. It’s enough for me to know that God knows about these issues, and there is a place in His plan of happiness for everybody. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have joy, even with struggles. How did I learn this? From the Savior Himself. When Christ visited the Nephites after his crucifixion, there was a time when He “groaned within himself” and was “troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel” (2 Ne. 17: 14). There have been many times that I’ve groaned within myself - and many times that I’ve groaned out loud! After groaning within himself, Jesus prayed for the multitude that was gathered around Him. He then said, “now behold, my joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20). The house of Israel was still wicked - that hadn’t changed during His prayer. Yet he was still able to have full joy.
We can have full joy, too, despite not having the answers, despite challenges that come our way. My firm belief is that we can overcome all things once we know that God loves us.
This is my ultimate passion - the knowledge that God loves us. When I didn’t understand the anger of my earthly father, I read Lamoni’s story of how he dealt with his angry father. And then the Spirit testified that my Heavenly Father is the perfect father. And He loves me. When I made mistakes like Abish in the workplace or school, I learned that it’s okay to cry, but that Heavenly Father loves me because I tried. When Corrie Ten Boom found gratitude in her earthly trials, she found peace in the word and love of God, which became her Hiding Place. When I faced life or death situations and poverty, I learned that trusting in my perfect Heavenly Father, and knowing that His Son knew what I was going through, was enough to get me through. I have an unshakeable testimony that God and His son Jesus Christ love me. And love you. Knowing of that love, and believing in that love, is the single most important factor in my personal happiness.
What about you, brothers and sisters? What about your happiness? I work in the Enrollment Management Office at LDS Business College. This office touches every single student here at the College. I see your application essays. I see your exception requests. I see your grades! What I also see is your resilience. I see some of you leaving comfort to step out into the unknown in a different state or country. I see some of you leave deprivation and abuse and find comfort in an institution of spiritual learning. I see those of you that just need a job and this is the most affordable place to get trained for one. Whatever your reason for being here, I hope the one thing you learn is that you are loved. Read your scriptures, practice gratitude and have faith and trust in your Heavenly Father, and you will learn that you are loved. That love can carry you through anything. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Maren Lythgoe is currently working in her dream job as the Director of Enrollment Management at LDS Business College. As an advocate for higher education, she believes in the transformative power of learning, strives to make college as accessible as possible and benefits from associating with the amazing students at LDSBC. She feels there is no better place to learn academically, spiritually and emotionally than here at this school.
Maren is married to her college sweetheart and resides in Layton with their three kids and dog. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Utah.