This weekend I had the pleasure of watching the 185th semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint.
I enjoyed all of General Conference, but I think the one sentence that stood out for me was when Elder Neil L. Andersen quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he told him
“If everything is going perfectly for you right now…just wait.”
At first glance this might sound pessimistic, but for me it was actually very comforting.
There’s a false belief that persists in and out of religious organizations that goes something like this: if your life is running smoothly then you must be living righteously and if you are struggling with any difficulty (poverty, disease, doubt, etc) then you must be guilty of some kind of sin or major error in judgment.
I don’t believe that.
I believe that life is difficult.
I believe that life is difficult even when we do our very best and make all the right choices. I also believe what John Wayne said “Life is hard. It’s even harder if you’re stupid.” No one can deny that mistakes make life harder, but even the wisest and best among us will at some point fall victim to pain, heartbreak, health problems, and eventually death.
I’ve met and spoken with people who disparage religion as a placebo for people who are escapists looking for some kind of relief from the very human pain they experience. Some have claimed that religion is for the weak of heart, for people who can’t face the difficulties before them, and are unwilling to do anything about them.
I don’t believe that either.
I don’t believe religion is some kind of secret spell that people use to magically prevent difficulties; I believe that living one’s religion, trying to practice faith, hope, and charity, dedicating yourself to true principles, and making an attempt to keep promises made to God doesn’t get you “out” of troubles, sorrow, or heartache. It gets you “through” them.
It gets you through them because when you put your faith in a love that is bigger than yourself, a belief in the divinity of every other person you meet, and a knowledge that everything we learn here is a blessing; suddenly your life is not just a meaningless mass of pain. It’s a time to learn, to grow, and to share the experience with others.
Surrendering to the lesson, allowing the pain to change us for the better, allowing it to soften our hearts, rather than hardening them, is the very essence of faith.
I would add to that sentence above it’s mirror: If everything is going wrong for you right now…just wait. It will get better because I also believe that life isn’t just difficult. It is also beautiful and full of joy.