Thursday, September 3, 2015

Farewell Talk

This talk was given to my church congregation of the Meridian Park Ward of the Tualatin Stake on Sunday, August 30th. The topic was faith and adversity.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great 
many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

We all face various forms of adversity in our lives, whether big or small. It’s part of us being put on this earth that we are tested and face trials that try our will each and every day. Not everything will go our way. We all feel pain, we all get upset, and we all will shed tears.
In an address giving in Ogden, Utah by President Dieter F Uchtdorf on Pioneer Day, which was also featured in the Ensign, he adresses the pioneers crossing the plans joyfully singing the hymn “Come come ye saints” stating,  

“When I think of the lyrics of that hymn and the context in which it was sung, it brings tears to my eyes. I am very much aware that all was not well with these Saints. All they had to do was to look around and see how it really was. They were plagued by sickness, heat, fatigue, cold, fear, hunger, pain, doubt, and even death.
But in spite of having every reason to shout, “All is not well,” they cultivated an attitude that we cannot help admiring today. They looked beyond their troubles to eternal blessings. They were grateful in their circumstances. I am in awe of those wonderful souls who, despite every evidence to the contrary, sang with all the conviction of their souls: “All is well.””

Like President Uchtdorf, I too am in awe of the pioneers and there never ceasing faith and optimism as they cross the plains. Even in the face of death and sorrow, they put their shoulder to the wheel and truly felt that through their faith in God that all would be well. In our day and age we face completely different challenges as the pioneers day, but we still face the same choice as they did hundreds of years ago; the same choice of waking up every morning and deciding if we are going to sit back and wallow in our pain and affliction, or if we’re going to put our trust in God, just as the pioneers did, and be optimistic about what our future holds and what He has planned for us as we remain faithful to Him and His commandments.

“It isn't as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don't worry. I say that to myself every morning. It all works out in the end. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.” ― Gordon B. Hinckley

Being content and optimistic has become the most important attribute to me in my everyday life, and it all starts with a choice. We weren’t born to be depressed. Yes we were born to face adversity, but if we chose to be grateful for these challenges and know that in time it will all work out as we trust God, these troubles don’t seem so troubling after all. God isn’t going to put us in a situation that he knows we cannot handle. In Ether 12:27 it states;

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto 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, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

This is where the cliché, “what doesn’t kill you make you stronger” quote comes into play, but it actually has a bit of gospel doctrine built into it. God shows us our weaknesses so that we can grow and be humble and faithful so that we may grow stronger and more able to stand in the face of adversity and not fear what lies ahead. Even Walt Disney once said, “All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” 

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, that these challenges face in our everyday lives have a purpose that might not yet be known unto us yet. The Lord knows what he’s doing and he’s not going to put us in a situation he knows we cannot handle. This is why it saddens me when I see people so willingly give up at the first sign of trouble. The adversity we face could also be God’s way of making sure we stay on the right path so that somewhere, someday, we are exactly where we need to be at that time. As said in Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will guide thy paths.” All it takes is a little faith, and it is through that faith that God will guide us and direct us. He knows what we need to keep us on the right path, even if it’s a kick in the teeth to keep us humble and grounded at times.

However, overcoming adversity can be draining physically, mentally, and spiritually as we try to find answers as to why these things happen and why we are put in these situations. Sometimes, days/months/years go by, countless prayers are said, and sometimes we feel like we aren’t finding an answer and are lonely and feel abandoned. We’ve tried having faith and try to keep a smile on our face but it’s exhausting at times when you don’t feel the love reciprocated. These moments test our faith and thoughts begin to plague our mind of God’s intentions and whether he really love and cares for us. However, this is just the advisary just filling your thoughts with doubt in hope of pulling you away from the rod of iron.

 This poem was shared a few weeks ago but I want to read it again as it powerfully projects God’s love for us. I first heard this poem at EFY and it really hit me hard and has stuck with me ever since.

 “Footsteps in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson:

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.
 This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?"
 The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you."

It’s easy to put ourselves first before God, It’s easy to put blame and question our Faith when thing get tough and we feel like we are walking alone.  Even when there’s only one set of footprints in the sand, we are never alone. We weren’t put on Earth to walk alone in fear. This is why it is important to stay optimistic and stay faithful to God and all that he has given us. Because the weight of life we feel, Christ also feels when he carries us, and it’s the same weight that he carried and suffered again for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He doesn’t want to see us give up and fail. We need to look deep within ourselves and doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith as President Uchtdorf would say. We shouldn’t be trying to answer the question “Why is this happening to me?” but rather seek out the answer to the questions “What can I learn from this?” and “How would the Lord want me to handle this situation?”

Im not going to lie, yes it is hard and yes sometimes we want to admit that we don’t have strength in us to overcome all that life outs in front of us. But we as human beings are defined most by the adversity we overcome, rather than by the adversity we try avoid.

The thought of Helaman and the 2000 stripling warriors comes to mind. The Nephites on the verge of attack from the lamanites with the people of Ammon eager to assist the Nephites, who had kept them safe in the land of Zarahemla. As the Ammonites had taken up and oath to not take up arms and shed the blood of others, the sons of the Ammonites, who had not entered into this oath themselves, were charged with the tasked with protecting their families and the liberty of their people.

20 And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
21 Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.

Skipping a few chapters…

47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

If they did not doubt, God would deliver them. Here are 2000 young men, the very same age as the young men in this room, charged with taking down the invading Lamanite armies and they were promised that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

55 And now it came to pass that when they had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold, I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain.
56 But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war.

Just as the stripling warrior didn’t doubt there deliverance from the lamanites, we likewise can be delivered from our adversity if we too do not doubt God and keep the covenants we have made with Him. We need to have faith as the stripling warriors did and gird up our loins in the face of misfortune and know that in time, this too shall pass.

What brings all this together though is the power of faith and the affect it has in our lives. Faith is what led the pioneers across the planes with such enthusiasm to cheer “All Is Well” and faith in the power of God and the teachings of their parents is what the stripling warriors relied upon to help them overcome doubt. It is through faith that is the root of overcoming all adversity in our life. Faith gives us perspective in our lives, that there is more to life then struggle and fear.

But just as I’ve said before, it all comes down to a choice. God has given us our morally agency that we can choice whether to be faithful to his words and his commandments. It is our choice whether we want to reap the blessings of being faithful and have the strength to overcome adversity on our own. Faith is like a mustard seed, it takes nurturing and care for it to grow and we make the conscious choice every day to do things to strengthen our faith and testimony; things like saying our prayers and reading our scriptures. I promise that as we remain faithful to our Father in Heaven that we will see a joy in our lives like none other and with these blessing and with our joy we will have the power to overcome all adversity and become stronger in our battles each and every day.

I’m not going to lie. The idea of a mission is a scary thought. Leaving behind my family and friends for 2 years to go off to a foreign country whose language I can’t speak to save my life! I have had my share of doubts and fears. Last week I sat in the Spanish Branch and listened to the speakers and the blessing of the sacrament all in Spanish and I did not understand a thing that was being said. I felt like I was starting to break down and began to wonder what I was getting into just 17 days before I leave. I came across the scripture later that day though in Acts:

16 And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Peter and John had healed a man of his lameness that has afflicted him since birth because of his faith. It is through faith that all men and women can become strong again. And if I remain diligent to the covenants I made and follow things such as the mission rules that I can become strong and given perfect soundness and my faith in God will be my biggest tool in overcoming fear as I get ready to leave as well as out in the mission field. And it is through faith that each and every person in this room can find peace and become strong.

Our Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us and he doesn’t want to watch us suffer. He wants to see us become stronger and more faithful. Each and every one of us, even if it means getting kicked in the teeth every once in a while. Even Jesus Christ, the only perfect man to walk the face of the Earth faced adversity as he suffered for every single pain, sin, and affliction that each and every one of us has faced in our lives in the garden and as he suffered on the cross.

We all make mistakes, we are all not perfect, we will face adversity and we will stumble and fall. But what is most important to our Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ is how we go about getting back up through faith. There is nothing that will put a bigger smile on our Heavenly Fathers face then trotting through life’s pains with a smile on our face singing, All is Well

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