Reflections: Dealing with Adversity
On my mission our President recommended that we read a particular book in addition to the missionary library. In the second chapter I read a poem that has had a profound influence on me.
- “I bargained with life for a penny
- And life would pay no more,
- However I begged at evening,
- When I counted my scanty store.
- For Life is a just employer,
- It pays you what you ask,
- But once you have set the wages,
- Why, you must bear the task.
- I worked for a menial’s hire,
- Only to learn dismayed,
- That any wage I’d asked of life,
- Life would have willingly paid.”
Life seems to level the field…you generally get out of it what you put into it!
A classic example of art imitating life was in a scene from the 1974 movie “Young Frankenstein”. Dr. Frederick ‘Fronkensteen’ and ‘Igor’ are in the cemetery exhuming a dead criminal:
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “What a filthy Job.”
Igor: “Could be worse.”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “How?”
Igor: “Could be raining.”
[Thunder claps in the background and it immediately begins to pour]
When life gives us lemons the problem always seems more bitter than it should and sugar seems to be in short supply to offset the sour experience.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way: “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”
Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy, shared in the October (2009) general conference, an experience of observing a man in Cusco, Peru. Not a big man physically, he carried an immense load of firewood in a burlap sack on his back. Elder Whitney pondered then and since, how the man could bear such a burden, day in and day out, several trips each day to the marketplace to make a meager income.
Elder Whitney said: “Life presses all kinds of burdens on each of us, some light but others relentless and heavy. People struggle every day under burdens that tax their souls. Many of us struggle under such burdens. They can be emotionally or physically ponderous. They can be worrisome, oppressive, and exhausting. And they can continue for years. “
He continues: “In a general sense, our burdens come from three sources.”
1. “Some burdens are the natural product of the conditions of the world in which we live.”… (illness, natural disasters etc)
2. “Other burdens are imposed on us by the misconduct of others”…. (abuse, addictions, sin, incorrect traditions, repression, crime…even gossip, and unkindness).
3. “Our own mistakes and shortcomings produce many of our problems. “…..
“Burdens provide opportunities to practice virtues that contribute to eventual perfection….Thus burdens become blessings, though often such blessings are well disguised and may require time, effort, and faith to accept and understand.”
There are many ways to deal with adversity. Let me share 6 and then give you an example from my own life:
1. Concentrate on the solutions not the problem. Analyzing, griping about or focusing on the problem only gets you in a bigger pickle. Daily count your blessings and look for the good in people things and situations. You will find a new strength to deal with your adversity. Brigham Young gave this wise counsel: “A lot of ground is lost in slinging mud.” In other words, we lose precious time and resources when our efforts are misdirected.
2. Whenever possible change your circumstance. Continue to seek find and execute ways to succeed regardless of the circumstance. If what you have been doing doesn’t work, stop doing it. The power of choice is a powerful force. Once you make the decision to act in a constructive way it will amaze you how what seemed beyond your control is within your grasp.
3. Don’t frustrate yourself trying to change what you can’t change. Turn your energies to those things you can affect change on. If it can’t be fixed accept that fact and move on.
4. Enhance your resources. Go to the Lord. Also,you will also be surprised how supportive those around you will be when they see you making the effort to solve the problem. Generally, the one thing you don’t want to do is the one thing you need to do…do it first! Fear and doubt makes any issue bigger than it really is.
I’ve asked my son Jordan’s permission to share with you a personal experience in his life where he faced his greatest fear and the failure of fear was certain. It’s not uncommon for us to find that most of our adversities are either not as bad as they seemed or that we are able to deal with them better than we thought we were capable.
In Kindergarten Jordan had noticed a boy that had only one leg. When he asked about it someone told him that a bug had gotten in it and they had to cut it off. Jordan was gripped with fear. He had nightmares about this. He did everything possible to avoid this boy. Somehow, however, this boy befriended Jordan.
Ryan Sauers was two years older than Jordan and had fought cancer from the day he was born. Ryan’s cancer had been in remission for 8 years but came back. Treatments and surgeries became a constant. The times Ryan couldn’t attend school and the boys couldn’t play together became more and more the norm.
Ryan began to soberly make end of life decisions and started sending certain toys home with Jordan.
Jordan didn’t fully grasp what this gesture meant. I talked with Jordan about the reality of the situation and had to frankly tell him that his friend Ryan was most likely not going to live much longer.
Jordan decided to write a letter to tell Ryan what his friendship meant to him. He wrote:
“Ryan is one of my best friends.
He never yells at me.
He lets me borrow his stuff.
Without him people would have teased me in first and second grade to no end!
He taught me never to give up.
We matted and framed this simple hand written note, and visited the Sauers’ home. The boys talked…days later (on Jordan’s birthday) Ryan passed away.A special friendship and important experience in life could have been missed had fear been allowed to stay in the way. ‘Face your greatest fear and the failure of fear is certain’.
5. Always remember: It’s never as good as it seems and it is never as bad as it hurts. In other words, it’s not just a bed of roses for everyone else…they have their own problems and, even though it’s not a comfortable feeling personally, don’t let pride be an obstacle to doing what you know you must do. Your difficulty may be uncomfortable…even emotionally painful, this too shall pass. A starting point to resolving most adversities is when we stop worrying about what others might think, stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and start dealing with the problem.
6. Finally. When you don’t seem to have answers for yourself find a way to help someone else. King Benjamin understood that if you turned outwardly not inwardly there is a refining process as you found yourself in the service of your fellow beings. Elder Cook shared this thought: “When our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, was asked on his birthday this past august what would be the ideal gift that members worldwide could give him, he said without a moments hesitation, ‘Find someone who is having a hard time…and do something for them.’”
Now the personal example:
My wife and I had a great deal of adversity that later proved to be beneficial when we decided to build our first home. To be able to get into our ‘dream home’ we would have to do a lot of sweat equity and use up all of our modest savings.
First the financing: After being almost laughed out of the bank when we made our proposal we were crest fallen. We were new at this and didn’t know that bankers follow rules:
1. The Golden Rule….he who has the gold makes the rules and,
2. If you can prove that you don’t need the bank’s money they will lend it to you.
Not to be deterred, I made a list of all the mortgage lenders, phoned them all and explained what we were trying to do. I ranked them according to who seemed most receptive and called the top one for an appointment. Within days our loan was approved. Had I allowed the first bank’s decision to dictate the outcome we would never have gotten into our first house.
Next building the house: To pull this off we had to commit to do a lot of the work ourselves. Many people assured us they would be there when we needed them. Lee Ann was watching two toddlers at home and teaching piano lessons. I was working full time and carrying a full load at school. To get what we wanted we would have to be spinning a lot of plates at the same time.
Mid-way in the construction I lamented to my general contractor, Jay Holt, that all my help had evaporated. Jay chuckled and responded: “Kim I learned a long time ago that if I want a helping hand the only place I can look is the end of my own arm.” That hurt. I didn’t want to hear it. But it was what I had to hear. The job had to be done to an acceptable standard in a given period of time.
A contractor will tell you that there are well over 50 wrong ways to wire a house…I know them all…but now, I also know how to do it right.
Insulation, Roofing, siding, sheet rock, soffit, fascia, painting, custom railings, caulking, finishing, cleaning, and landscaping. I’m an expert at doing all these jobs the hard way by way of the ‘school of hard knocks’.
We didn’t get much help but somehow whenever I needed instruction in a given area I would seek it and it would be there.
We finished ahead of schedule and when the final inspector told me the only thing to correct was to change the metal screws in the light switch plate in the master bath with Teflon screws I dumbly asked: “Is that all?!?” (I think exhaustion could have clouded my judgment otherwise I would not have asked the question).This was a strain on our family at the time, but as a result, we developed strengths, skills and memories in our relationship that has proved beneficial throughout our years together. Working through that adversity gave us much more than just a place to live. The little house at 1349 West Y-Worry Lane is still standing and we drive by every now and again and it brings back a flood of fond memories.
Think back on when you have struggled and what blessings you have now because you persevered. Adversities truly do carry seeds of equivalent or greater benefits. The bitter becomes sweet.
One of my favorite poems defines this best:
- “The tree that never had to fight,
- For sun and sky and air and light,
- But stood out in the open plain,
- And always got its share of rain,
- Never became a forest king,
- But lived and died a scrubby thing.
- The man who never had to toil,
- To gain and farm his patch of soil,
- Who never had to win his share,
- Of sun and sky and air,
- Never became a manly man,
- But lived and died as he began.
- Good timber does not grow with ease.
- The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
- The farther 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.
- Where thickest lies the forest growth,
- We find the patriarchs of both.
- And they hold counsel with the stars,
- Whose broken branches show the scars,
- Of many winds and of much strife,
- This is the common law of life.
Yes, it could be raining…
May the Lord bless you when it does.
I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s Church.
I bear witness that Joseph Smith received revelation, the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that through the true Gospel of Jesus Christ we can receive the blessings we seek as we embrace the teachings of the living prophets.
Hope, comfort and help is yours I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ.
- Talk given in Sacrament Meeting by Kim Nelson
- Hansen Park Ward
- Kennewick, Washington Stake
- Back to informative article: Adversity