Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Having No Joy

I hate the word "trials." We talk about getting through our trials, enduring our trials, or suffering trials, as if they are something that stop. Our tolerance for helping other people "get through their trials" fades over time when those trials just don't go away. And for those of us whose "trials" are permanent, at some point we begin to wonder what we are doing wrong that we cannot find the peace and happiness promised in scripture if we follow the commandments.

When I was 17, I planned to focus on a career and eventually get married if the right man came along. I'd have few kids, no more than two, because I knew that my personality and temperament was not well-suited to child rearing. In my Patriarchal Blessing, I was told that the task the Lord set for me, among others, was to be a mother in Zion. The words of my Patriarchal Blessing rocked me to my knees, and I spent the next four years changing my paradigm. If the Lord wanted me to be a mother, I'd focus all my energy on learning to do it right.

I changed career plans, served a mission, and over the course of the next two or three years, became someone who not only submitted to the will of the Lord as spoken in my blessing, but actually craved it. Which is why, as I realized that I could not succeed in being a good wife to the man I had married, it cut so deeply. I sacrificed to be the kind of person who could be a good wife, and one simple decision—choosing a man who later decided to not choose God—meant that my sacrifices were pointless. It has done more than ended a marriage. It killed my confidence in myself, and broke my hope to become what the Lord wanted of me.

As I have increasingly come to terms with the reality that the family life I'd hoped for may not be possible for me, I've thought long and hard about those types of hardships in life that are not "trials" to prove us, but are simply unchangeable consequences of a mortal life. Things like being unable to find a life companion, or to have children, having a permanent illness or physical handicap. Even losing a child, failing in marriage, feeling alone and abandoned no matter what steps are taken to try to dispel that feeling. Or trying to overcome psychological damage, and any number of other debilitating and permanent mortal problems. There is no way to list them all, and most of us are or will be affected by at least one of these during the course of our lives.

When mortality and the imperfection of this life causes a "trial" that never ends, how can Lehi teach us that mortality is necessary to have joy? What is this joy, the happiness that is promised by the Plan of our Heavenly Father? It must be hiding somewhere in the morass of life!

I have spent many hours parsing out the things that have happened in my past and the qualities I possess that made them happen. How much of it was my fault? What could I change? How much power do I have to make it better, to find peace? How do I cast my burdens on the Lord?

Truthfully, a large part of what I've had to deal with has been coming to terms with knowing that yes, there were some things I could have done MUCH better than I did, but that I still did the best I could at the time. It is one thing being buffeted by the sins of others, but another when you believe it was your own dumb choices which caused your suffering. And worse, that you don't know what you can do to make sure you never make the same mistakes again.

How can God forgive someone of something they can't change?

In the surprisingly perceptive Pixar movie "Inside Out," the character Joy spends most of her time fighting the inevitable creep of the effects of Sadness. Joy discovers in the course of the movie that Sadness, her pathetic arch-nemesis, is actually intricately entwined with her own experiences and memories of joy. In fact, she finds that without Sadness, there is no joy.

I believe that if my life had gone the way I planned at 17, or even the way I dreamed at 21, I would never have understood the principles of the Gospel the way I do now. Having failed at meeting the Lord's expectations so spectacularly and irrevocably has taught me to rely on Him in ways I never would have thought necessary.

I have, ironically, become a better mother by failing to be a good wife. I have been able to become SOME of the things the Lord needed me to be—less selfish, a safe haven for those He loves—because I could not be the mother in Zion He tasked me to be.

Eve, the mother of all living, is recorded as rejoicing, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (emphasis added)

Perhaps being a mother in Zion is much more about recognizing that all joy is born from sorrow. Perhaps Eve's curse is less of a curse and more of a symbol of her wisdom. We cannot know what it is to experience happiness if we have never tasted misery. We cannot know the joy of the Atonement without ever needing redemption. We cannot be like Christ without experiencing our own small version of Gethsemane. As Elder Holland has stated, "the path of salvation has always led one way or another through Gethsemane."

Gethsemane is a place of sorrow, but it is also the birthplace of joy. Mortality is replete with mistakes and anguish, some justified and most not. But there is no light without darkness. And there is no salvation without Jesus Christ, who demonstrated in Himself what it means to find joy.

*Christ painting by Lucy Dickens. Amazing artwork which creates beauty using light...and dark.

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