Two years ago, a traumatic loss occurred in my life. Based on both the circumstances and the timing, it felt “focused on areas of our lives and parts of our souls with which we seem least able to cope,” as Elder Paul V. Johnson once described.
I did what I could to work through my grief. I prayed and studied. I visited with my therapist. I remained diligent in my church and temple activity. No relief came. As time went on, I began to despair.
Not only was my pain constant, but I also didn’t feel like the refining process was occurring. Quite the opposite, in fact. My trial wasn’t making me a better person or a better disciple of Jesus Christ. It was making me worse.
When life doesn’t go as planned, Latter-day Saints look to gospel principles. They provide comfort and guidance. The idea of adversity is tightly linked to the idea of spiritual refinement; our trials and tragedies refine our character in some way to make us more fit to live with God again. All we have to do is…let God in, right? We use phrases like that a lot in the Church.
Just let God in. Just ask Him if He loves you. Just reach out to Jesus.
We don’t really talk about what to do when you reach out in distress and do not receive comfort, let alone the clarity to find purpose in it all.
This is the space in which I found myself. Instead of increasing trust in God, I felt increasing anger. Instead of increasing peace, my anxiety turned into a rolling boil. Instead of confidence in myself, I was sure I must have done something terribly wrong and thus turned frantic in my gospel-keeping. I didn’t even feel more charity for others, another hallmark gift supposedly bestowed upon us by trials. The collapsing of others at fairly trivial experiences become more and more infuriating.
In a state of helplessness, I couldn’t help but plead about the empty purpose of my trauma. If there really isn’t a purpose for this traumatic pain, why put me through? If it isn’t going to at least make me more fit for your kingdom in some way, any way, what is even the point?
The answer didn’t come that day. If I’m being honest, I’m still angry. I’m still in pain. I haven’t felt God comforting me. But, an answer has begun to form. It has eeked itself out over the last two years. The surprising thing is, it’s actually a very familiar principle. But in practice, in actuality, it is impossible to truly comprehend until you experience it. When it does, it shocks you. It hurts. And I hope by reading my story you won’t have to work as hard to embrace it when your moment comes.
The answer is this: If we are really serious about becoming like Jesus Christ, we must experience, in our own way, one of the most essential parts of His Atonement. God withdrew His presence from His perfect Son. Jesus Christ had to choose: would He follow God’s plan when all signs of His Father disappeared? Would He stay loyal to a God that seemed to have abandoned Him?
He did. And so must we. Consider this quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, “Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!”
We must find the power and faith through the grace of Jesus Christ to follow Him through these terrible experiences. When faced with overwhelming loss, we may not be strengthened. We may not be kinder, or wiser, and there may not be any other lesson to learn than to choose God. We must choose Him. Over and over again, especially when all the evidence tells us to choose another way. When we do, we aren’t just being refined. We are being glorified.