Have you ever wondered if there is a purpose to the pain and hardships of life?
There is and always will be pain that is part of life, but we can find peace, hope and strength to persevere. I believe those gifts come when we can find an eternal perspective and purpose to apply to the challenges we are facing.
Why Did They Do It?
Harold B. Lee once said, “We are tested, we are tried, we are going through some of the severest tests today and we don’t realize perhaps the severity of the tests we are going through.”
He talked about the challenges of the pioneers of the past. Have you ever thought about the sacrifices that were made by not just the pioneers of the 19th century, but of all those who have fled their homes seeking a place with religious freedom? Many traveled over the seas to come to this land for exactly that purpose. Have you thought of the physical discomforts, the aching of leaving loved ones, the humility of leaving comfortable homes and lives to head out into the unknown, the lives that were sacrificed along the way, parents burying children and then traveling on, families being separated for life, the fear, the loneliness, the pain? The tests they faced demanded proof of their desires and loyalty. They were physically and emotionally taxing! So, why did they do it? What made it worth all the sacrifice? Do we take these sacrifices for granted?
Harold B. Lee thought so,
“They came here to this favored land. We are inheritors of what they gave us. But what are we doing with it? Today we are basking in the lap of luxury… It would seem that probably this is the most severe test of any test we’ve ever had in the history of the church.”President Harold B. Lee
That statement was made in 1973. And maybe up until last year the test of ease and comfort was a thing…
An All-Encompassing Plan
I think last year yanked the rug out from under all of us. I have yet to talk to any person who has said, “Oh I don’t think it was so bad.” Every person I have talked to has carried heavy burdens over the last year and a half. Each has had challenges that have pushed them to the breaking point. The life of ease Lee talked of is gone. We all faced hardships in the past, but it’s like last year hit and life’s testing doubled down and then doubled down again.
Would you believe me if I told you that all of this was supposed to happen, that it is all part of the all-encompassing plan of God?
Let’s look at some of the symptoms of our time as they have been mentioned in the scriptures. See if you recognize any of them:
- wars and rumors of wars
- earth in commotion
- nations will crumble
- thrones will be cast down
- empires will be no more
- the whole earth will be shaken
- there will be subtle evils and clever distractions
- love will wax cold
- iniquity will abound
- an excess of information where men will be ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And the people…
- men’s hearts will fail them
- they will have hard hearts
- they will love darkness rather than light
- they will be lovers of themselves
- lovers of pleasure
- they will be high-minded, covetous, boasters, disobedient, unthankful, untruthful
- they will forget God,
- and they will reject His gospel.
Yes. God knew this was coming. In fact, because He knew, He gave us an offering of peace,
“Be not troubled, for, when all these things shall come to pass, ye may know that the promises which have been made unto you shall be fulfilled.”D&C 45: 34-35
With all the hard, all the pain He knew would come, He also offers promises of peace, comfort and strength. Hardships of the past were used by God to test, to sift and to prepare. They were used to strengthen and to teach. They were used as a refiner’s fire. And if we can learn to keep an eternal perspective, we can use our own trying circumstances as a refiner’s fire, too.
What is a refiner’s fire?
Before there were chemicals to do the job, gold and silver were refined with fire. Refining is purifying, a lifting off and burning of the dross. When metals are refined, they become significantly more priceless.
My family loves to go to ghost towns. We love to go on adventures to seek out these abandoned places. We love to imagine what life was like before the towns died. Many of these places existed to provide workers for nearby mines. Mines held precious metals and minerals. Often times we can find the remains of mills in these old towns. When the precious metals would come out of the mines, they would be imbedded in rock.
The first step in refining is to take this metal-infused rock and pound it, shatter it and crush it into a powder. I like to think of this beginning process as me recognizing that there are impurities in the way I think and behave. It is not comfortable to remove this contamination from myself. I often feel crushed and shattered as I work relentlessly to shed myself of these things that do not add value.
After the rock has been pulverized, it goes through a water bath where the metals are separated from the dirt as best as possible. I am so grateful for baptism and for the atonement of Jesus Christ that make it possible for me to shed the residue of my past mistakes and shortcomings. The more we work together the cleaner I become. But this is not enough.
Finally, the metal dense dirt is poured into a clay crucible and placed into a fire. That fire has to reach temperatures of 1948 degrees. That high heat melted the metal and lifted the scum to the top of the liquid where it could be skimmed off. This process was done multiple times, each time resulting in a purer gold or silver.
How did the refiner know that the gold was finally pure? He could see His reflection in the gold, just like it was a mirror.
Who is the refiner in our life? Who sees the value in us even when we are covered in dirt and grime? Who loves us so much that He refuses to leave us that way? It is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our refiner. He is the one that allows the heat to become hot enough to burn away all that is not useful in our lives, all that is not serving us well.
The heat that He applies is not the heat of a forest fire. It is not meant to destroy us. It is not the heat of an incinerator. It is not meant to consume us. It is a refiner’s fire. He knows the exact heat that is required to purify us.
If we will trust Him, and turn to Him, then He can use this heat, these hardships to help us grown. When we submit to His refining…when we choose to let hardships make us better instead of bitter…when we look for learning and lessons in our times of testing…when we choose to abide, meaning stay and wait…THEN He can use these challenges to refine us, to make us our highest and our best selves.
Quintin L. Cook said, “The refiner’s fire is real, and qualities of character and righteousness that are forged in the furnace of affliction perfect and purify us and prepare us to meet God.”
We Shouted for Joy
There was a time when we were gathered together before we came to earth. We had meetings about what earth life would be like. I know we saw the possible hardships, the rough spots, the heat that would be applied. We shouted for joy. We wanted the change it would bring, the growth that could come in no other way. We knew we could not improve, grow stronger or reach our full potential without these hardships. We trusted our Savior completely. We knew He would do what He said He would do. We knew that through His atonement in Gethsemane and on the cross, He would make it possible for us to draw on His strength, to draw closer to Him, to yoke ourselves to Him. We trusted that plan and we fought for it!
What Will YOU Do?
At this time when so many are turning their backs on the refiner, choosing to walk away, what will you do? Will you remember where we came from, that this life is very temporary and that pain is a part of the plan, meant to help us grow in strength, loyalty and perseverance? Will you choose to cling to an eternal perspective?
David A. Bednar said,
“Who’s on the Lord’s side? Now is the time to show that we have minds and hearts that accept and will be responsive to these inspired warnings. Now is the time to show we are watching and preparing to withstand the latter-day trials. Now is the time to show that we will be true at all times in whatsoever things we are entrusted by our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son.”Elder David A. Bednar
At this time, I feel like Peter of old. When a large group of people had followed and been taught by Christ and then turned away from Him, Jesus asked His disciples, “Will ye also go away?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6: 67-69)
If I were to turn away now, where would I go? Christ has the peace I so desperately need. Even when I am in my hottest fires, I know He is there with me. Even when the fire is raging, I can ask Him for peace and it is always given. Jesus Christ is the only one who can make sense of the flames or offer me any relief from the heat.
I invite you to stay, to abide the hardships, the fires that are refining us in these last days. I promise you that as you turn to the refiner and ask for His peace, it will be available for you, just as it has been for me. Please stay.