Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Adversity comes to everyone at one time or another to test us and to try us. We can avoid some bad things, but we cannot avoid all tests and trials. Understanding why we experience adversity and how to prepare for future bad times can help us to learn and grow from our adversities.
"Diane Ellingson loved gymnastics. She worked hard to develop her talent, and she won national (
) championships while she was in high school and college. She was planning to participate in a national gymnastics tour with several famous gymnasts, but during practice for that tour she came off a vault and landed wrong, breaking her neck. The injury paralyzed her. She would never participate in gymnastics again; she would never even be able to walk again. United States
"Diane spent months in the hospital after her accident. During the first few months, she felt despair and frustration. She received a priesthood blessing, which did not promise her that she would be healed but did bring her great peace. Finally she realized, `I can either give up or get on with my life.' She learned to use a wheelchair and take care of herself again. After she got out of the hospital, she went back to college, graduated, and became an elementary school teacher. She also gives talks to young people to help them overcome discouragement and adversity. Diane says, `People always think, "You're so amazing, you're so incredible,"' but I'm not…. You have to take whatever life gives you and deal with it, even if you might not want to…. You just learn and that's what's so great about time and the healing process. You don't have to be miraculous." (See Kendra Kasl Phair, "A Champion Again," New Era, Nov. 1988, 21-25; see also Renon Klossner Hulet, "Matters of Balance," Ensign, Dec. 1992, 63.)
When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they did not experience any sorrow, pain, sickness or death. They did not worry about work because food grew without any effort from them. After Eve, and then Adam, partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden and came to know a much different kind of life. They had to work very hard in order to have food, clothing, shelter and other necessary items. They also became subject to sorrow, pain, sickness and death.
Our lives are very much like those of Adam and Eve. We too must work very hard for the necessities of life, and we too experience sorrow, pain, sickness, and death. When we used our agency and chose to come to earth to receive a physical body and gain experience, we also chose to face adversity. Every person that has ever lived on earth has had to deal with adversity. Our tests and trials may be different, but we all have them.
Why does adversity have to be a part of our mortal existence? Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints explained: "Trials, disappointments, sadness, and heartache come to us from two basically different sources. Those who transgress the laws of God will always have those challenges. The other reason for adversity is to accomplish the Lord's own purposes in our life that we may receive the refinement that comes from testing…. [Some trials] are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more" (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16).
Elder Scott explained that adversity comes from "two basically different sources" - sin and refinement. We can avoid most if not all of the adversity that comes from disobedience to the commandments of God simply by making good and righteous choices. We can avoid many causes of bad health and addictions merely by obedience to the Word of Wisdom. We can avoid many family problems and quarrels by being loving and unselfish. We can avoid all the problems of guilt and legal punishments by obedience to the laws of the land. These are only a few of the kinds of adversity that we can avoid by making good choices.
If our adversity comes as a result of sin, the only way to get rid of or reduce the adversity is to repent of the sin. There are times when adversity comes into the life of an innocent person because another person exercises his or her agency and chooses to sin. We cannot avoid this kind of adversity because each person is free to choose his or her own actions.
Other kinds of adversity might come into our lives regardless of the choices we make. No one chooses to develop a disease or disability. Most people do their best to avoid injuries. Many financial losses that come through accidents or from weather-related sources cannot be avoided. We have all been disappointed when we didn't receive some blessing or desired opportunity.
Although we cannot choose to avoid many tests and trials, we are still free to choose whether and how we will react to them or whether we will be proactive about them. If we consider our tests and trials as opportunities to learn and grow, adversity can actually become a blessing in our lives.
Jacob, the son of Lehi, suffered many trials and great sorrows because of the "rudeness" of his older brothers. Lehi explained to Jacob why we need opposition.
"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility" (2 Nephi 2:11).
Adversity helps us to appreciate our blessings just as sickness helps us to cherish good health. Dreary, dark and rainy days make us appreciate bright sunshine. Hot, arid weather makes us appreciate the cooling rain. Sub-arctic temperatures help us to better appreciate normal winter weather.
When we are in the midst of adversity, we sometimes forget our blessings. It is difficult for us to remember that tests and trials may be for our own good. It may be helpful to make a list of trials and the lessons learned during those tests. I'll share an example from my own life to show why this exercise could be helpful. I hurt my lower back in February 2011 and received no relief at all until fall. Although my back was slowly recovering, it was not until early January that I truly recognized the difference. I was at Costco pushing a heavily-laden cart across the parking lot when I realized that my back didn't hurt at all. I was so very grateful that I sent a silent "thank you" heaven-ward rather than waiting until I could get on my knees! Another example would be my new-found appreciation for all the snow. I was searching for a reason to appreciate the snow when this thought came to me: The deep snow insulates the ground from the sub-zero temperatures and keeps the frost from going deeper into the ground.
When we face adversity, it is helpful to remember that Heavenly Father loves us and knows what is best for us. While we may not understand how a particular trial or experience can be for our good, Heavenly Father does understand, and He will help us to understand in his own time and way.
Elder Hugh B. Brown, while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told the following story: "I was living up in
. I had purchased a farm…. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm… and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and went after it, and I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying…. I looked at it, and smiled, and said, `What are you crying about?' You know, I thought I heard that currant bush talk, and I thought I heard it say this: `How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down.' … I said, `Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn't intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, "`"Thank you, Mr. Gardener"'." (See "The Currant Bush," New Era, Jan. 1973, 14.) Canada
The gardener showed his concerned for the currant bush by cutting it back so it could reach its full potential as a currant bush. Heavenly Father is the gardener in our lives, and sometimes he cuts us back in order that we can become what He wants us to be.
Elder Brown followed the story about the currant bush with a similar story from his own life. He had been bitterly disappointed when he was denied a military promotion for the simple reason that he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Years later, he looked back, and realized that his life was better than it would have been if he had received that promotion. He was a stronger member of the Church and more the person that Heavenly Father wanted him to be.
I know that Heavenly Father loves us and knows what is best for each of us. If we strive to live righteously and learn as we endure our trials, these adversities will be for our good and help us become the people Heavenly Father wants us to be.
Jesus Christ taught us how to avoid many kinds of adversity: "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:24-27).
Why did one house stand and one house fall when both houses endured the same storms? The difference between the houses was in their foundations. The house that was built on a rock was able to weather the storms, but the house that was built on the sand was without a firm foundation.
Common sense tells us that it is wiser to build our houses on rock than on the sand because strong houses need sure foundations. Lest there be any doubt about the rock described by Christ, an ancient-American prophet named Helaman instructed his sons: "And now my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Helaman 5:12).
When the Savior spoke about building our houses on a rock, He of course was telling us to build our lives on his teachings and on the principles of his gospel. We do not know what kinds of adversity may come our way, but we can prepare and strengthen ourselves and our families to face difficult times.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: "Life never was intended to be easy. Rather, it is a period of proving and growth. It is interwoven with difficulties, challenges, and burdens…. Yet these very forces, if squarely faced, provide opportunity for tremendous personal growth and development. The conquering of adversity produces strength of character, forges self-confidence, engenders self-respect, and assures success in righteous endeavor." (See Ensign, Nov. 1981, 11.)
Everyone will face adversity. We knew before we even came to earth that we would be tested and tried. We can better prepare for and deal with adversity if we realize that we were willing to endure adversity in order to have the mortal experience. The best way to prepare for adversity is to build our house upon the rock of Jesus Christ, meaning to keep his commandments and live according to the doctrines and principles of his gospel.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith cried out to the Lord from the depths of his adversity and afflictions while in the Liberty Jail, the Lord told him: "And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7; italics added.)
Sincere and frequent prayer helps us to endure adversity. We can prepare for adversity by making personal prayer a part of our daily lives. When I find myself in a difficult situation, I remember the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith and keep repeating, "This will give me experience and be for my good!" I also ask myself often, "What can I learn from this experience?" Another good question is, "What is there about this situation that I can be grateful for?"
I know that adversity can help us gain more knowledge, grow stronger, and become better people, and that our experience will be for our good if we handle it positively. Let us treat our tests and trials as opportunities to learn and grow!