23 September 2012

Faith and Optimism

The posts on this blog are absolutely no reflection of the amount of times I think "I should blog about that." Rather, it is a reflection of how busy I am, since the only times I have to sit and write are times when it seems like a much better idea to be sleeping. Every time I finish a project, I think I will have so much time to do other things. I thought this fall would be a breeze compared to the summer of long property management hours, teaching summer school, moving out of my apartment, and family events. Apparently nature DOES abhor a vacuum, because my days continue to be filled with Things That Must Be Done. So, the following is a talk I was asked to give two weeks ago. People have asked for copies, so I figured there might be something worth sharing. 
I was asked to speak on faith and optimism today. I feel that I both needed to prepare this talk and that I have been preparing for this talk for quite some time. To be utterly clear, I feel I should describe exactly what I mean when I use the words ‘faith’ and ‘optimism’. First, faith. Faith is a principle of the Gospel. It is the belief in things that are not seen, but are true. It is a principle of action, not a passive feeling. True faith is centered in and founded on Jesus Christ. It is in Him, our Savior and Redeemer, that we have hope. 

Second, optimism. Optimism is the conscious choice to look forward with hope. Or, as the Monty Python boys say, to look on the bright side of life. Optimism does NOT mean that one denies that there is a not-so-bright side of life, but rather that one acknowledges it, but chooses not to dwell in it or on it. Optimism is a choice. In a 1992 First Presidency Message, President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote 
“Of course there are times of sorrow. Of course there are hours of concern and anxiety. We all worry. But the Lord has told us to lift our hearts and rejoice. I see so many people . . . who seem never to see the sunshine, but who constantly walk with storms under cloudy skies. Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism.”
Looking on the bright side, looking forward with hope that things will work out, that problems will be overcome, and that sorrows will be turned into joy is a choice. 

The Lord himself has commanded us to look forward with hope. In Doctrine & Covenants 68:6 He commanded the Saints of the Restoration “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you;” At the Last Supper, He prepared His Apostles for what was to come, saying “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” In both these, the Lord acknowledges that His followers are in rough waters of tribulation, however, He states that they should be cheerful or optimistic despite their circumstances. 

I was given this topic last Sunday, shortly before I was to teach a Primary lesson about the Nephites at the time the signs of Christ’s birth were given. As I taught the lesson, I was struck with the faith and optimism of those faithful Nephites and Lamanites who watched for the sign of the day and the night and the day without darkness in spite of those unbelievers who had promised to kill them should the sign not be given. What kind of faith and optimism must it take to stand outside watching the sun set while those who would take your life stand nearby? And how strengthening to that faith when the skies stayed light as the sun set? 

I also thought of the people of Alma. After their conversion, they were forced to flee the armies of wicked King Noah and find a new place to live. After a short time, they were conquered by the Lamanites and enslaved. Despite their situation they had faith that the Lord was mindful of them. Their faith and optimism was rewarded, not with immediate freedom, but with a lightening of their burdens and an easing of their bondage. Their freedom came later, also by miraculous means, but their faith did not waiver, nor did their optimism. 

Esther standing at the king’s door, Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at the door of the fiery furnace, Daniel at the mouth of the lion’s den, Martha and Mary at the tomb of their brother Lazarus, all show an example of faith and optimism in the face of sorrows, tribulations, and adversity. The scriptures are full of examples of individuals or groups of people confronting impossible, tragic, or terrifying situations with faith and optimism 

So, the big question is: How do we develop the faith and optimism like the Nephites, the people of Alma, like Martha and Mary, Esther and Ruth? First, we must understand exactly in whom and in what we have faith. We have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Atonement, and in the love, mercy, and goodness of our gracious Heavenly Father. We have faith that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can be saved, that we can have eternal life. We have faith that our loving Heavenly Father has a plan for our lives and that that plan will bring far greater joy and rejoicing than any plan we could create for our lives. Our faith does not include the expectation that life should be easy, but rather that the difficult moments, days, weeks, months, and years can be swallowed up in the joy of the Gospel. We can receive comfort in the moment and look forward to the joys of eternity. Isaiah 51:3 promises 
“For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
We are not alone in our struggles. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not alone in the fiery furnace and Daniel was not alone in the lion’s den, we have the promise of the Holy Ghost as a comforter to bring us peace, guidance, and inspiration in difficult times. We have the promise of consolation and compensation. In his October 2008 conference address, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke on the principle of compensation, stating: 
“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. . . . Because Heavenly Father is merciful, a principle of compensation prevails.”
President Thomas S. Monson gave a talk in the April 2009 General Conference entitled “Be of Good Cheer.” In the talk he told stories of those who had been examples of faith and finding joy in the gospel in the face of debilitating trials. The individual stories are heartbreaking and I can’t even think of them without tearing up, so I won’t tell them. However, President Monson concluded his message, saying: 
“I testify to you that our promised blessings are beyond measure. Though the storm clouds may gather, though the rains may pour down upon us, our knowledge of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior will comfort and sustain us and bring joy to our hearts as we walk uprightly and keep the commandments. There will be nothing in this world that can defeat us.”
We have the Lord on our side. We can face whatever life has in store for us with the knowledge that He will be with us. 

So, how do we put this into practice? Nearly a year ago, while I was sitting in sacrament meeting listening to a very lovely talk, I was constantly distracted by thoughts about finding joy and maintaining faith in Jesus Christ during difficult times. This was not the topic on which the speaker was speaking, but the thoughts were so concrete, so organized, and so forceful that I finally realized that it probably wasn’t just my mind wandering and I should probably write it down. So I did. And until I was asked to give this talk, I haven’t really shared or revisited what I wrote. However, these are practical, everyday things that I have learned we can do to shore up our faith and find joy in spite of adversity. 

First, admit and acknowledge to yourself, to others, and to the Lord that the trial, adversity, or situation is difficult. It is no good to your mental health, no use to others, and a significant detriment to your relationship with your Savior and your Heavenly Father to go about pretending that everything is perfectly fine. Being optimistic does not mean, as Elder Wirthlin pointed out “that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain . . .” or “smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness.” To truly exercise faith we need to be honest about the difficulty of our struggles without wallowing in them. 

Second, in order to avoid wallowing in our trials or the self-pity they may engender, we need to pray to our Heavenly Father. We need to pray for consolation and hope. Ask for the strength needed to make it through the trial. Sometimes that means praying for the strength to get out of bed, the strength to answer one more phone call, the strength to read the same picture book for the 600th time, or the strength to make a new friend. But most of all we need to pray for the strength to look forward with hope. We also need to pray to be able to maintain an eternal perspective. We need to pray to be reminded that this life is but a moment, that, as the Lord told Joseph Smith in Doctrine & Covenants section 121:7 that “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a moment.;” and in 122:7 that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” 

Third, we need to forget ourselves and get to work. Do what it is that you can to improve a situation then turn it over to the Lord. Once you have done all you can for yourself, look around you and start serving others. Isaiah 58:10 states: “And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday;” When we serve others we forget our problems, our burdens are lightened, and the guidance and enlightenment of the Holy Ghost more widely and deeply felt. 

Fourth, Be grateful. It is easy in the midst of trial to focus so intently on the difficulty and what is lacking that we forget how truly blessed we are. We need to be grateful for the gospel, for our knowledge of and access to the Atonement, and for all the Lord has given us. Just as it is easy to continue listing the hardships and deficiencies in life once you get started, it is equally easy to continue listing all the blessings and beauties of life once you get started. A grateful heart is a light and unburdened heart.
 I’m sure we all have or shortly will have reasons to put these things into practice in our lives. But, we can look forward in faith, with optimism, that everything is going to work out. As President Monson said in his 2009 conference talk “My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.”
Talks referenced: President Gordon B. Hinckley, "If Thou Art Faithful"; Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Come What May and Love It"; President Thomas S. Monson, "Be of Good Cheer"


WalkConkies said...

Beautiful. I think I need to read this every day! Thanks for sharing!

Krystal Baker said...

Great post.