I’m Being Tried?

[ 19 ] Comments

by jendoop

pewsI’ve been listening to NPR’s Morning Edition series “Losing Our Religion” the last two  mornings. The interviews are filled with intelligent religious questions that are probing and often heart-wrenching as I consider the wandering path so many take and eventually discard in the search for truth. The questions posed are worthy of discussion, as many of us at times, perhaps even now, struggle with these ideas about religion. As you read the following question from today’s episode and consider your response, please think of it as if you are responding to someone dear to you, who you love and genuinely want to help, without condescension or hollow platitudes.

This was asked by a young man whose mother had cancer on multiple occasions and eventually succumbed to the disease:

While I was younger, my father drank a lot. There was abuse in the home. My brother committed suicide in 2001. So at some point you start to say, “Why does all this stuff happen to people?” And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be I’m being tried? I find that almost kind of cruel in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. Eventually that gets just too hard to believe anymore.


Photo credit: Creative Commons License Dave Lawler via Compfight

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

19 Responses to I’m Being Tried?

  1. Bonnie says:

    “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is probably the most vexing question with which we’re presented in mortality. Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us. To me that says that the onus is on those who aren’t in the bad situation to intercede, to do as he has exemplified and to run to save. We have a collective responsibility to help those who suffer. I’m sorry whenever I hear about people who’ve suffered, who are suffering. What I choose to do about it, beyond being sorry, is crucial. I’ve been one of those who suffered frightening, soul-wrenching things, just as many of us have. I am okay now. There is another side to sadness, a happier, resolved side. I have people to thank for that, and I have God to thank for that … after a time. “You will get through this,” I would say to someone I loved, “and I will do anything I can to help. We will both be better on the other side.”

  2. Emily says:

    I think I’ve started to focus on how I react to my trials more than anything. Sometimes it does seem that my prayers aren’t answered or I don’t get the answer I want, or bad things happen and it doesn’t seem fair, but when I worry less about that and more about what I do with life and my attitude, it makes things a lot easier and less confusing.

    • MSKeller says:

      I agree Emily, once I realized that “Why Me?” was the wrong question, and “What does this require of me?” was a better one, I began to heal and to realize that my short-sightedness didn’t negate truth, whatever it was. Just because I can’t currently see the logic of a principle (or practice for that matter) doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

      M

    • Becca says:

      I like your question “What does this require of me?”

      I had an experience where I was in a horrible car accident with my 18 month old son (14 weeks or so pregnant with my second) while my husband was at military school. Before my husband had left, we had prayed for protection and peace, and I had been trying to do everything right (I was in school, so I was faithfully attending classes, studying, and I was also trying to be a good mother, and a good Latter-day Saint, reading my scriptures, serving where I could, etc etc etc – I felt like I was doing a pretty good job). Immediately after the car accident, I asked “Why me?” and realized that I was asking the question because I truly wanted to know “What does God want me to learn from this situation?” A few hours later, when my son and I had been checked out by the medics, and the fault had been determined to be 100% the other driver (she swerved into my car from the other lane, there was nothing I could have done to prevent the accident), and I had talked to insurance people to get our car replaced, I realized “God wanted me to know that He is absolutely looking out for me while my husband is gone and I am all alone.” Which may have seemed backwards, since he had just allowed me and my son to experience a particularly traumatic event – but I felt that if He hadn’t allowed that to happen to us, we would have just spent those few months while my husband was gone believing God was watching over us – but now we knew He was watching over us. Everything ended up working out fine, we were fine, we had no problems with the insurance, we had no problems with anything. God had completely taken care of us, and my faith was strengthened.

      • Bonnie says:

        I’ve had this precise realization as well, Becca. We’ve discussed Elijah and the widow’s son so often in our family that we almost think of them as ancestors. The boy had to die for the widow to say, “Now of a surety I KNOW that there is a prophet in Israel.” There have been my “now I know for sure” moments too. It has struck me too that those kinds of moments require a crisis.

  3. Paul says:

    In response to this specific question, were I asked, I would say, “I can understand why you might feel the way you do. From your point of view, I can see what you mean. But I have had a different experience. As I have faced trials in my life, including the loss of my mother to cancer and the near loss of one of my children to addiction, I found my faith to be a source of comfort. It did not provide me answers to the question ‘why is this happening?’ but it did help me to think about what I could do next. Of course my own views of the afterlife gave me a different perspective, but my faith also helped me to respond to my child with a certain compassion I may not have had were it not for my faith. And the longer view gives me hope, despite life’s setbacks. I have faith that I will see my mother again, for instance.”

    I served my mission in Germany in the late 1970′s. There were still plenty of the war generation around who had lost their faith as a result of that terrible circumstance. Many felt as if God had been politicized in the war, and that He did nothing to stop it. And they abandoned whatever faith they may have had. Others witnessed such autrocities that they could not conceive of a supreme being who had power to stop it but did not. All I could do in such conversations was to share what I had learned by my own limited experience. Often it was not enough to move them.

    Seeing God as a vending machine of blessings or as a protector against any bad thing that could happen will, in my view, inevitably lead us to disappointment because at some point our expectations will not be met. Trying to understand God’s will for us in the midst of adversity is more helpful for me to find hope and understanding that helps me work through a crisis.

  4. Jendoop says:

    Bonnie, I really appreciate your perspective. We need to be aware that when we don’t reach out there are consequences, and when we do we can be a true source of help and strength to someone in desperate need – we can be an answer to prayers.

    There were times in my childhood when I wondered why someone didn’t help me, even though I couldn’t find a way to say, “Help me,” to anyone but God. Now, many years later I see the development of my life into something really good as a combination of working to help myself , the help of others, and God’s hand in my life – a warm feeling of love when I pray, rallying strength when I feel like giving up, inspirational truths from spoken and written words, the beauty of the earth (which is a testimony to me of God’s existence and great love and hopes for what mankind can become), and something which I can only describe as the Holy Ghost giving me inspirations of thought, a strong sense of what is right, inspiring compassion beyond my natural abilities, and what I feel is a reward of good feeling when I act on those compassionate feelings. On top of all of that I have felt an ebbing of guilt and consequence when I pray for forgiveness. The process of repentance through Christ is an undeniable force in my life and that is my greatest reason for continuing in religion, this religion devoted to Jesus Christ in the latter days.

    That said, I admit that it is only my experience, others may have different experiences and for that I am heartbroken. My life has been difficult, I do not want to think what it would have been without the manifestations of God. I feel such great love and care for those who may only feel silence when they pray. How very much we need to be kind with each other.

  5. Mike Walton says:

    I like this post. people don’t post enough about the stuff that really matters. Whether or not there is a God is about as important as you can get. Here is the quote that I found interesting. “I think having a God would create a meaning for our lives, like we’re working toward a purpose — and it’s all worthwhile because at the end of the day we will maybe move on to another life where everything is beautiful. I love that idea.” This is true, having religion and a God in your life does create meaning, purpose, goals and a feeling that death is not the end. But loving that idea doesn’t make it true. Wanting those things doesn’t simply make you believe them. As an atheist, I take my “Search for Truth” very very seriously. It is an almost constant struggle. Some days it is nearly all I think about. Other days are filled with daily life, but not one goes by without some passing thought about living a life without God or religion. I am indeed missing out on many things that I crave. But at least for me, the one thing I can say is I am in no way deluding my self. I’m looking at life through the prism of what I am best able to discern as the truth. That doesn’t mean, that you Jen or other people who are religious are deluded. You have just looked at the same evidence and come to different conclusions (I guess). *sigh*

    • jendoop says:

      I really appreciate your comment, and the courage it takes to share. The position you are in is what is heartbreaking to me; your desire for belief in God while searching for truth and getting different answers than I have. In a dialogue about this I think it’s important for people of faith to recognize that people who don’t believe in God may have truly gotten a different answer. Just because I’ve gotten it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a universal experience, although it can be uncomfortable to believe that God would answer me and not you – and that seems to be the crux of why it is so difficult for believers to accept it. What I love is that you are still seeking.

    • MSKeller says:

      Mike, while I am a strong member of the gospel, and I soundly believe there is ‘something’ more, I’m not always certain what that more is either on any given day. That admitted, I also share that some days I’m very certain that what I know is very close to what I hope. IF that makes any sense?

      Other days I flounder and just hope, with little ability to feel I know much of anything at all for a certainty, and that is all right. I’ve found that it works for me to be like Simeon. You know the story, the old man who was promised he would see the Savior, but day after day, year after year. . . nothing. . He was devout, he went to the temple daily, yet every day was disappointed once again.

      Until one day, THE day. Finally all the long days before became negligible. He knew. He held that babe in his arms and he KNEW his promise was fulfilled.

      So, when I can’t justify what I think I know, with what I feel and hope, I put it on that ‘tomorrow’ shelf and revisit it another time. Sometimes the next time I pull it out for examination is THE day, that I know that at least that one principle is truth. I wasn’t blessed with pure faith. I’m a searcher.

      I so appreciate your respect and candor.

      M

  6. Brenda says:

    There is not an easy answer to this question. It is especially difficult when things happen and you are a child with no power to change the situation. As the product of a similar background it is a question that I’ve wrestled with my entire life. Here’s what I know to be true.

    Trials are not just about being tested. They do several things at once. First, they teach, they humble, they allow you the opportunity to fervently reach out to God, to endure, to forgive. It is an accelerated course of all the things we came to earth to learn.

    Second, in my experience, even in the worst times God provides moments of safe harbor. Many times through the love and efforts of others as Bonnie spoke about. It doesn’t go away, the problems may not be fixed but help to endure will be there.

    Lastly, in families where abuse is present, I know for myself that God placed me in a family that I love to be a stop gate of the abuse. He put me there to stop the generational cycle and to help heal our family line.

    All of this took many years to understand and I floundered around during much of it, but as I continued to pray and work the fog of it all eventually lifted and I was able to see clearly that God did love me and was with me.

  7. SilverRain says:

    Some people see a conundrum in “all-loving,” “all-knowing,” and “all-powerful.” They say that God can be any two, but not all three. I think that is because we have a very limited perspective. Just like a kid on the playground who wonders why he has to get skinned knees, deal with bullies, and fail to make it across the monkey bars, we wail at the heavens, wondering why.

    But if we think about it, the answer IS the gospel. It is by the Atonement that God can be all three things at once. In the Atonement, God became flesh. He showed He was willing to suffer right along with us, to prove to us that He is not distant from our pain, but that our pain has a purpose. And, He made it possible so that our failures and pain CAN be pointed to a greater purpose; He reconciled us to Himself through Christ and the Spirit. He is the parent on the playground, ready to sooth the scraped knees, teach how to deal with bullies, and spot us on the monkey bars until we are able to do it ourselves. Just like that parent, He doesn’t bubble-wrap us, forbid us from playing on the playground, or present only a playground that gives us no challenges.

    In His wisdom, He knows that in order to grow we must also risk, and risk means pain. He loves us enough to let us take that risk so that we can grow. Even when it means we get angry at Him for not preventing our ills.

  8. MSKeller says:

    It is a question that I’m not at all certain we are supposed to know for a surety. I’ve learned by hard experience that faith is much much, stronger than facts. Science is based in facts and yet they change all the time as more knowledge is gained and more information is discovered. Faith comes from the inside outwards, and has the ability to change us, motivate us and move us to good. Facts don’t have that same ability.

    Assigning characteristics and passions to a Supreme being is fool-hearty at least and dangerous at best. We can’t possibly see from that wide of a perspective. We give qualities and ‘if/then’ statements as if we were gods and knew all with which to make a judgement. We can’t. It is as I felt when some happily married woman tried to explain to me what I needed to do and how I should respond and feel when my temple marriage crumbled. She couldn’t possibly know.

    What we can do is change the questions we ask. When something terrible is happening to us or ones we love, ‘why’ is not going to bring the answers, because there usually are none. We just don’t know.

    We know from the scriptures and the blind-man that trials aren’t a natural consequence of sin, or being tested. Sometimes, perhaps, but definitely not the rule.

    We can label causation anything that we wish, most often it is simply agency; theirs, ours, natures, and even Deity. I expect the best we can do is decide where to from here. Assigning blame will rarely make things easier, better or healing accelerate.

  9. Becca says:

    This post, and the young man’s question, reminds me of a post over at By Common Consent after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I thought it was a really interesting perspective on “What kind of God allows children to be massacred?” – seems like a kind of similar question to what this young man is asking. Just another perspective.

  10. Becca says:

    Here’s a quote from the author (but in the comments) from that post:

    “It’s possible that God has reserved some kind of existence for his children where they no longer suffer in any way. I don’t think such a view is adequately scriptural, but even if it ends up being the case, for my part, that’s the ticket that I would give back. I’m imperfectly courageous and lack the endurance on this point, but as long as there is suffering somewhere, I want a part in helping to alleviate it. As long as there are beings somewhere in the universe that are in torment and need help, I want to become the kind of being that rushes to the front. I shrink on a regular basis from this, but I have the hope that with God’s help I can and am becoming more like this, as one who can endure what needs to be endured in order to to extend charity to all.

    It’s my conviction that Christ never really knew me, that we never truly locked eyes in familiarity and understanding, until he felt as alone as I’ve felt, until he realized that there was no help coming, as many of the victims yesterday surely realized at some point before their deaths. In that moment he became what I needed him to become in order to accept whatever he would ask me and his disciples to do next.”

    • Bonnie says:

      This is such a poignant reminder of something that he’s not explicitly stating but seems to be the truth underlying it: mortality is part of a long continuum of eternal life. Even if we die here, if in the last moments of our life we learn something true and vital, we take that experience with us to the next stage. As resurrected beings, we need to preserve within our souls the ability to succor suffering and the profound desire to. It is quintessentially who God is. Joseph said that we cannot have faith until we know God is, his character and attributes, and that our course is acceptable to him. Those three things, I’m increasingly convinced, continue to develop after our deaths here. I love the way Jacob addresses this perfecting impulse. As long as we keep this, and sometimes crises bring it out in us, we draw closer to God.

      • jendoop says:

        Bonnie, It’s interesting that you’d mention death, because yesterday’s episode of the NPR series from the OP was about dealing with the death of a loved one without faith.
        http://www.npr.org/2013/01/16/168563480/after-tragedy-nonbelievers-find-other-ways-to-cope
        Then contrast that with this beautiful post: http://melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/dispassion
        Tell me more about Jacob’s ideas on the perfecting impulse.

        • Bonnie says:

          I don’t know that Jacob calls it that, but I do. The desire to succor, to save, to bring others with us back to God, this is the perfecting impulse, I think. It accelerates the work of perfection within us to indulge that pure impulse. The more iterations of effort we expend, the more refined our views become about what works to help others and what doesn’t, but the most important thing I think occurs in all this effort, fruitful or not, is that our desire to alleviate suffering grows more and more firm. This desire to assist God in his creation grows until it crowds out other desires, and I think this continues even after death for a great long time. At some point, we are perfect, because we have lost ourselves to find ourselves in God.

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