As Sunday Schools around the world approach Alma 32, I find my excitement growing. This is one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon but not for the analogy of the seed. Rather, this chapter explains why we have trials!
In this chapter we read of Alma’s efforts to reclaim the apostate Zoramites. There he began to have "success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel” (vs 2).
“They were esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to the things of the world; and also they were poor in heart” (vs 3).
This group of people--judged by their appearance, their possessesions, their LACK--found their hearts breaking. They were "despised of all men” (vs 4).
In the poverty and despair of their hearts they came searching for Alma.
Upon hearing of their circumstances, Alma felt "great joy", not because of their trials but, rather, "for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in preparation to hear the word” (vs 6). Their trials had moved them into a position of willingness. They were willing to listen to the words of the Lord and learn from them!
When we struggle with trials, especially those which are long-term or extremely difficult, there comes a point in our lives when we are out of our own ideas and out of hope. In those moments there is nothing left to do but listen to Him. Trials can help us listen to God.
While pursuing his education, my husband struggled with some decisions related to his degree. For a long time he tried to 'counsel the Lord' rather than take 'counsel from His hand' (Jacob 4:10). Nightly he told the Lord of all his concerns as to why he couldn't follow that path. Finally, tired of the never-ending struggle, my husband could say no more. He was out of ideas and hope. At that time, the Lord was able to speak and the counsel He gave was wise and righteous. My husband heard the Lord's whispered comforts instead of his own worldly concerns and took the path the Lord wanted.
Trials also bring us to repentance, as Alma clearly saw. “Because of your exceeding poverty,…ye are brought to a lowliness of heart…And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance” (vs 12-13)
Trials often fall upon us to bring us to repentance. There may be sins, large or small, that are causing our pain. Tension in the home may be caused by our impatience or harsh words. Repenting of our weakenesses can help the Spirit return to our side.
But repentance doesn’t just mean seeking forgiveness. It also means changing our lives, our ways. We may need to find ways to speak kind words or be more patient. If we struggle financially we may need to change how we are handling our financial lives. We may need to change our use of credit cards or our spending habits. You cannot truly repent without changing and some trials enter our lives to force us to repent and change.
But then Alma says something very wise in verse 25. “For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.”
Alma knew this truth: some people suffer from trials through no fault of their own. They do not need a trial to repent and stay close to the Lord. Like Job of old, they are righteous no matter what their circumstances are in life.
So, if you struggle with trials but you have always listened to the Lord, kept his commandments and practiced sincere and timely repentance, why are you still struggling?
Alma tells us..."that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom.”
Some trials come into our lives to teach us the deeper things of the kingdom, to give us wisdom! Trials teach us spiritual patience, perseverance, empathy, forgiveness, kindness, resolve, they strengthen our testimonies, soften our hearts in appreciation, allow us to see miracles…and the personal list goes on.
Many of the lessons we learn are for our own silent progress and benefit. However, sometimes the lessons we learn will help us aid another of His beloved sons or daughters. Our trials grant us the ability to give loving and gentle counsel; an understanding shoulder; and a deep and firm friendship born out of common ground.
So, when trials fall upon us, we can turn to Alma 32 and draw great comfort from the words found there. Trials are for our benefit, in all ways; whether they bring us to hear the words of the Lord, cause us to repent and change or help us gain wisdom all these things truly are for our good and will give us experience (see D&C 122).