Before his death, Nephi consecrated his younger brothers Jacob and Joseph to be priests and teachers of their people. Jacob reports: “we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people on our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence.” Starting in Jacob 2 we see an example of one of the more difficult sermons Jacob was called to teach, to a group of people that had begun to interpret the scriptures in such a way that they could claim justification for chasing after their own lusts. Having “obtained [his] errand from the Lord,” Jacob delivered a rebuke that not only made him uncomfortable in speaking it but that he knew would make others uncomfortable in hearing it:
“Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained… to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds….” (Jacob 2:9)
To “enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded.” You ache for those people: wives and children whose hearts had been broken by the selfishness and faithlessness of their husbands and fathers. It must have been a hard sermon for them to hear; it’s likely that some left. But I do hope at least most of them stayed, because the healing power of the gospel message is not limited to those wounds for which it is an unambiguous comfort. Indeed, you could say the healing power of the Atonement is most remarkable when applied to those wounds that throb and ache more profoundly with increased proximity to the church.
Each of us has suffered the sort of wound that was entirely of our own making, and we know what to do in such a scenario, difficult as it may be. But what about the injuries of the sort that we acquire through no fault of our own — what can we do about those?
Let’s Get Ready to Humble [Ourselves]!
These sorts of wounds can be sorted into one of two categories: no one’s fault, or somebody else’s fault. Dealing with them in a way that strengthens (rather than weakens) your testimony, though, is pretty much the same: it starts with humility.
Humility is the foundation of this process; begin by mustering as much of it as you can. In this respect, the grief and pain you feel can actually work to your benefit — remember, Alma was most successful among the Zoramites whose “afflictions had truly humbled them.”
“And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance….” (Alma 32:13)
“Sometimes.” He’s not wrong; we all know (or know of) people who were hardened, rather than humbled, by their afflictions. The good news is that you can choose which one you will be. Take the grief and pain you feel to the Lord; pour out your heart in fervent prayer. This will lead you to your first real step on this journey, as helpfully illustrated by Alma: repentance.
“Repentance?” you might say. “Are you kidding? This is not my fault! What do I need to repent for?” You’re right; this wound is not your fault, no more than it was the poor Zoramites’ fault that their wealthier neighbors cast them out and shunned them. But does that mean you have nothing for which you need to repent? Hardly.
Elder Neil L. Anderson taught:
“Repentance is powerful spiritual medicine. There are few spiritual ills it will not cure. Each sin we leave behind through our faith in the living Christ—both those of commission and those of omission—opens spiritual doors. As we feel the potency of repentance, we better understand why Christ admonished the early missionaries of this dispensation to “say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (D&C 6:9; D&C 11:9; see also D&C 19:21).
Is your need for “open[ing] spiritual doors” somehow lessened simply because the wound afflicting you is not of your own making? Of course not. Moreover, the healing power of the Atonement becomes more potent as you draw nearer to our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Anything separating you from Them only prolongs your pain, so get humble and get repenting. And if you don’t know where to start, all you have to do is ask.
Taking the Bull by the Horns
Spiritually cleaning house is a great first step, but if you are not actively seeking to fill your life with good things, then bad ones tend to sneak in. Which brings us to our next step: taking full responsibility for your situation. By this I do not mean assuming fault upon yourself where there is none; I mean exercising your freedom to “act for [yourself], rather than being acted upon.”
Joseph of old is pretty much the poster child for the righteous exercise of responsibility and agency in times of unearned hardship — he did so twice –and to the benefit of many. It would have been understandable had he just given in to despondency or bitterness or anger; surely he felt all of these things. Such feelings of ill-use are only natural. But he did not let those feelings run the show.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins tells a story of two employees who learned, through hard-won experience:
“[W]hen they blamed someone else, they were surrendering control of [their] success to others…. They learned that excuses keep you from taking control of your life. They learned that it is self-defeating to blame others, make excuses, or justify mistakes—even when you are right! The moment you do any of these self-defeating things, you lose control over the positive outcomes you are seeking in life.”
The natural man may ardently wish to blame others or to indulge in a victim mentality, but in so doing you diminish your own ability to act. Grieve and mourn as needed, but do not let yourself become paralyzed by those things.
Whether it’s extracting yourself from a mire of self-pity to take care of the task right in front of you, or hitting your knees to plead for direction while awash in a sea of pain and bewilderment — and then following through on the directions you receive — there is always some choice you can make to give yourself a better outlook and to better invite the Spirit into your life, regardless of your circumstances.
Let It Go
For many of us, what follows next is the hard part: forgiveness. If you have been wronged, you must forgive whoever wronged you. Even if yours is a problem that’s no one’s fault, you must search yourself for feelings of anger or resentment. It doesn’t matter if they’re irrational or aimed the wrong way — you still need to find them and get rid of them.
The adversary (aka Jerkface) will whisper in your ear that those who have caused you pain don’t deserve your forgiveness. He is, of course, a liar — whether the person you are forgiving has “earned” it or not is utterly irrelevant. This is not about them; it’s about freeing yourself from the chains of hatred, contention, and malice with which the adversary would have you bound.
Of course, its necessity does not make it an easy thing to do. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:
“If you have festering sores, a grudge, some bitterness, disappointment, or jealousy, get hold of yourself. You may not be able to control things out there with others, but you can control things here, inside of you. …
You may need a transfusion of spiritual strength to be able to do this. Then just ask for it. We call that prayer. Prayer is powerful, spiritual medicine. The instructions for its use are found in the scriptures.“
We must forgive, or we ourselves can never heal. It may take a long time to manage it. You may need help from on high. Humble yourself and do whatever it takes; as distasteful or impossible as forgiveness may seem, you cannot afford to skip this step.
This is Going to Hurt
Imagine you are out in the wilderness. Your leg is badly broken and needs immediate medical assistance. You have the choice of two doctors. The first doctor offers you powerful pain pills immediately, and will also happily fetch you a lawyer to sue the pants off of whomever you deem responsible for your injury.
The second doctor, however, doesn’t immediately offer such potent relief. First, he examines the wound, assessing the damage; next, he resets the bone, cleans the lacerations on your leg, then splints and bandages the whole mess, and insists you begin taking a powerful antibiotic. None of this is pleasant, but somehow you can feel in his presence and demeanor an air of both deep love and ultimate competence; this comforts and encourages you.
When he lifts you up, the splint holds well enough that you can hobble along with his help. In fact, leaning on his ample arm provides a profound relief to your stressed and battered self. He promises you a more thorough healing once he gets you out of the wilderness. As you travel along, you find that you become stronger with each step, and you begin to have a greater love for and understanding of the man who is helping you along. You also learn the hard way that if you wander away from him, all of your weight is now on that injured leg and you have no relief for it.
The world would tell you the second doctor is cruel for not giving you the same kinds of painkillers as the first doctor offers. They would tell you if the second doctor really loved you, then he would heal your leg on the spot, pat you on the head, and send you on your merry way. Some might even tell you your leg was meant to look that way, and anyone who says otherwise hates you.
None of them, though, take into account the fact that the first doctor offers no substantive help at all. In fact, to accept his “help” is to die a malingering death in the wilderness, of infection or exposure or hunger or being mauled by wild beasts, all while your supply of pain medicine slowly dwindles away.
It’s easy to armchair quarterback this decision: “Of course you pick the second doctor!” It’s much more difficult, however, when it’s you or your loved one that’s suffering — especially when the second doctor seems, in the moment, to be prolonging or adding to that suffering.
“I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee.”
We will, each of us, have pain in this life. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” taught our Savior in His mortal ministry. And as hard as it may be to process such a thing in our day and age of seemingly endless conveniences, sometimes there’s no getting around the pain that life throws at us. There’s just getting through it. Family, friends, even professional counseling, can be invaluable sources of support and comfort, but they cannot replace the matchless power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
“The Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane and His agony on the cross redeem us from sin by satisfying the demands that justice has upon us. … The Atonement also satisfies the debt justice owes to us by healing and compensating us for any suffering we innocently endure.” (emphasis added)
Our Savior knows exactly what each of us is going through. He knows exactly what it means to suffer for wrongs that were in no way His fault. Not one of us can, at the end of all things, look Him in the face and say, “I had it worse than you did.” The Son of Man descended below all things so that none of us would be beyond His reach.
When Jacob taught his sermon at the temple so many years ago, he spoke to those who had caused grievous wounds in the hearts of others. He invited them to repent, to be “reconciled unto [God] through the atonement of Christ,” so they would cease doing harm to themselves and ones they loved. Today, I invite any of you who have been so wounded, by another or just by the circumstances of this fallen world, to do the same. President Monson taught:
“[The Lord] commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and … they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (in “The Way of the Master,” Liahona and Ensign, Jan. 2003, 7; quoting Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus , 401; emphasis added)
As you follow Him and accept His ministrations, you will find relief. You will find hope. You will even begin to find joy, even amidst the pain. Remember, the pains of this world are temporary; the Master Physician promises, “if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.”
May we all strive to endure it well.
- Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020: March 9-15.
- “Wounded” -Elder Neil A. Andersen, October 2018
- “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying” -Elder Dale G. Renlund, April 2015
You can follow Angela on Twitter at @angelaisms.