Friday, February 21, 2014

TFOT - I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, Pres. Thomas Monson

What is our purpose in this life?

President Monson tells us:
This should be our purpose—to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.

Living brings a variety of obstacles and challenges that prevent us from always seeking our purpose.  The processes by which the Father reaches out to, and hangs onto His children, vary widely. But over all of the digressions of His children there seems to be a protective shield of peace and promise offering a way back and offering the safety that can be found in His kingdom and in His arms, if we are willing.

This month the lessons I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee by Pres. Monson challenges us to overcome our fears and sorrows and all of our other struggles and recognize Lucifer’s seduction through our least desirable emotions and instead realize that the Lord’s encouragements are completely different, in fact they are quiet sweet enticements to repent and turn to Him.  It also calls on us to actively live so that our afflictions do not embitter us and turn us away.   “Our Heavenly Father… knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials which we must pass.

What trials do we face?
(Death, Illness, employment, friendships, self-esteem, divorce, etc.)
President Monson says:
As I have traveled far and wide throughout the world fulfilling the responsibilities of my calling, I have come to know many things—not the least of which is that sadness and suffering are universal. I cannot begin to measure all of the heartache and sorrow I have witnessed as I have visited with those who are dealing with grief, experiencing illness, facing divorce, struggling with a wayward son or daughter, or suffering the consequences of sin. The list could go on and on, for there are countless problems which can befall us.

Reader #1
The history of the Church in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times, is replete with the experiences of those who have struggled and yet who have remained steadfast and of good cheer. The reason? They have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives. This is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head-on, and to emerge victorious.

President Monson opened his talk with gratitude regarding the outpouring of love and support when his wife passed away. 

Reader #2
In my journal tonight, I shall write, “This has been one of the most inspiring sessions of any general conference I’ve attended. Everything has been of the greatest and most spiritual nature.”
Brothers and sisters, six months ago as we met together in our general conference, my sweet wife, Frances, lay in the hospital, having suffered a devastating fall just a few days earlier. In May, after weeks of valiantly struggling to overcome her injuries, she slipped into eternity. Her loss has been profound. She and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple on October 7, 1948. Tomorrow would have been our 65th wedding anniversary. She was the love of my life, my trusted confidant, and my closest friend. To say that I miss her does not begin to convey the depth of my feelings.  This conference marks 50 years since I was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President David O. McKay. Through all these years I have felt nothing but the full and complete support of my sweet companion.


He’s without that support now.  This must be very hard for him.  He went on to talk about the sacrifices she made for him and their family.  His love for her was palpable.  And then he addresses a very human emotion:

Reader #3
When the pathway of life takes a cruel turn, there is the temptation to ask the question “Why me?” At times there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, no sunrise to end the night’s darkness. We feel encompassed by the disappointment of shattered dreams and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone. We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism. We become impatient for a solution to our problems, forgetting that frequently the heavenly virtue of patience is required.  The difficulties which come to us present us with the real test of our ability to endure.


Pres. Monson poses a fundamental question remains to be answered by each of us:
Shall I falter, or shall I finish?

I think this sentence is incredibly profound.  That question “Shall I falter, or shall I finish?” is at the root of every struggle we have in affliction because we have to make a choice whether to continue faithful or not. 
·                      “Why me?” asks whether we will falter when it appears we don’t deserve what happened to us.
·                     “Is there no balm in Gilead?” asks whether we will falter when it appears that we can’t find anything to make the hurt go away.
·                     Feeling there is no light at the end of the tunnel asks whether we will falter when it appears that things won’t get better from here.
·                     Finding our dreams shattered and our hopes vanished and saying “What now?” asks whether we will falter when we don’t get something we really wanted.

Maybe what we can learn from this is to sidetrack all those painful questions in our afflictions and simply go to the root question, “Shall I falter, or shall I finish?”  It may help us see our situation more clearly, from an eternal perspective.

Some do falter as they find themselves unable to rise above their challenges. To finish involves enduring to the very end of life itself.

What does it mean “to rise above one’s challenges”?  
What stories do you think of?  
Some people can persevere and overcome their obstacles by destroying them with sheer grit, like the man who works until he can finally walk again, in spite of his doctor’s opinion that he never would.  Others accept their challenges and work around them, developing into genius the other gifts that have been left to them. 

How can we combat those struggles?

Perhaps one of the most overlooked ways is surrounding us with words and thoughts of our Heavenly Father.  Only the Master knows the depths of our trials, our pain, and our suffering. He alone offers us eternal peace in times of adversity. He alone touches our tortured souls with His comforting words:

Reader #4
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Enduring comes much easier when we have a focus of the gospel in our lives, and an established relationship with our Heavenly Father. 

Just as the Lord assured Joshua, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” in every extremity and in every complexity He will be with us to help us and lift us if we will allow it.  His promise is:
“Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).
Let’s talk about the story of Job: 
We learn by reading - Job, a just and perfect man, is blessed with great riches—Satan obtains permission from the Lord to tempt and try Job—Job’s property and children are destroyed, and yet he praises and blesses the Lord.
Satan obtains permission from the Lord to afflict Job physically—Job is smitten with boils—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to comfort him.
Job curses the circumstances of his birth—He asks, Why died I not from the womb?
Chapter 5 - Eliphaz counsels Job: Man is born unto trouble, seek unto God, and happy is the man whom God corrects. And by chapter 10 Job is weary of life—He reasons with God about his afflictions—He asks, Why hast Thou brought me forth out of the womb?

As we ponder the events that can befall all of us, we can say with Job of old, “Man is born unto trouble.” Job was a “perfect and upright” man who “feared God, and eschewed evil.”3 Pious in his conduct, prosperous in his fortune, Job was to face a test which could have destroyed anyone. Shorn of his possessions, scorned by his friends, afflicted by his suffering, shattered by the loss of his family, he was urged to “curse God, and die.”4He resisted this temptation and declared from the depths of his noble soul:
“Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.”
“I know that my redeemer liveth.”
The lines of Job that President Monson quotes are instructive. “Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high” is from Job 16:19 and in context says, “God sees me and knows all I do as I suffer, and my record is clean.”

The line “I know that my redeemer liveth” from Job 19:25 reminds us that Christ redeems us from sin and will also save our bodies from physical death and limitations, not to mention our loved ones.  Affliction is a useful reminder of our need to be redeemed.

Job kept the faith. Will we do likewise as we face those challenges which will be ours?
Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome.

Reader #5
It may be safely assumed that no person has ever lived entirely free of suffering and sorrow, nor has there ever been a period in human history that did not have its full share of turmoil and misery.  Remembering that other people have experienced the same afflictions is very helpful.  Reading their stories is validating and brings a new depth of understanding, both of their pain and their strength.  It gives hope that we can make it through too.  

I love the verbs President Monson uses:

remained steadfast,
good cheer; 

face them,
meet them head-on,
emerge victorious

When we reach our limits, God sends tender mercies to encourage us, to remind us He sees and cares, and He will help us just enough to renew our strength.  There’s another bit of counsel—make the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of your life.  It pulls us through usually as we cling to the covenants we have made and try to fulfill our side of the terms.  It gives us healthy ways of coping and pushes us toward the change that will make us stronger.

Reader #6
Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass. We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were—better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.
This should be our purpose—to persevere and endure.  President Monson shared a poem that I love:
"Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow."

Trials can humble us when we need it, but it is better to be humble already so we know where to turn first. Being repentant and humble halves the spiritual work we need to do in affliction.

May we ever strive to be close to our Heavenly Father. To do so, we must pray to Him and listen to Him every day. We truly need Him every hour, whether they be hours of sunshine or of rain. May His promise ever be our watchword: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

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