As a teenager I hoped to understand one day why my mother died at 41. As a young adult I thought there must be a reason my own body seemed to begin falling apart even before it was fully grown. For the first several years of marriage I ached and asked why so many women became pregnant without a thought when my husband and I could not. In each of these circumstances I longed for wisdom, to learn what Father was trying to teach me. I knew that trials are a part of everybody’s life, and that mine are not greater than other people’s, just different, as we are all different. I knew all things are done in the Lord’s wisdom, and that His love is unalterable. I knew also that there are many reasons for the hardships we each endure, that far from being senseless or purposeless, each challenge, each tragedy serves many purposes, and that when we reach a point where we may see these ends for ourselves, they, and the means whereby they were reached will drop us to our knees in praise.
Each hard thing Father allows us to experience, whether brought about by our own foolishness, the wrong choices of others, or “natural causes,” is part of His plan to teach and strengthen us, to humble us and bring us home. As people who have faith in this, we often console each other, offering possible reasons for our trials. You are so sick right now so that we in your family and in your ward can learn to give service by helping you. Or, God let that child be hurt so the monster who did it could receive a righteous judgment for the way he used his agency; or, He lets us go through this so we’ll remember to turn to Him; God gave Him that pain so he could learn patience; She died so young because He really needed her on the other side… All of these, I am sure are perfectly true in some circumstances. And, though I know it is hard to see sometimes, and frustrating to hear, the opportunity to learn from our struggles is a gift. There are so many lessons, so many blessings. “…thou knowest the Greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” (2 Nephi 2:2)It is well-known that even the firmest skeptics may cry out to God in times of urgency and struggle. Our trials do humble us, and will, if we let them, draw us nearer to our Father. Whenever we become closer to Him we grow to love Him more and desire to do his will. I’d like to suggest just one more of the many reasons for our trials—to make us better servants by teaching us empathy.
Jesus Christ, the greatest of all, who served us all, willingly underwent all pain so that he could minister to us. “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12) True empathy is a Christlike characteristic, and charity, the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47), flows from it. In times of pain, sorrow, fear, we may take a breath and know, first, our Savior understands and is, even as we suffer, carrying us through it; and second, this will make us better servants, and someday we may have the opportunity to know what a sister or brother is experiencing, to help her, as Jesus now helps and holds us.
It’s a little funny, I guess—we need to suffer so we may understand how to help others who will suffer, so that they may understand how to help still others who suffer, so that they… I suppose His course is one eternal round. We cannot know all of the reasons and lessons now, and sometimes realizing that we are suffering for someone else’s gain is small comfort. There is another way in which we emulate the Savior as we undergo trials—He “took upon him” affliction. He accepted trials, even up to the ultimate sacrifice. Father sent Him, but did not force Him; he willingly drank from the cup. “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)
We, too had a choice, before ever drawing our first mortal breath. We chose the side of Father and Jesus in the preexistence, and we chose to come to this earth. (Abraham 3) Of course I don’t have any idea how specific our understanding and choices were. I do not know if I chose a particular form of bone degeneration or Asthma, or if I reached into a bag and drew infertility, but I know the Lord does not force us to do anything. We rejoiced when the earth was created, stood with Father in heaven’s war, and accepted mortality and all its harshness. “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Father does understand, in ways we cannot. Our savior too. They are with us, we are not alone. What a gift and blessing to come through the fire and be able to reach back a hand for others still struggling through. To sometimes be the one they send to offer comfort and strength, to exercise that pure love we so need to develop, and in so doing to become one with Him, growing in grace, ensuring that our pain is not without purpose, just as His was not.