My talk on adversity...

This talk borrows a little from a lesson by Lynda Needham on Job and a little from a talk by Elder Monte J. Brough titled ìAdversityî, but is mostly original. I will give this talk tomorrow, but you guys get to see it first! (if you get up early enoughÖ) Click more to read the talk...

My brother has never had a major accident with a knife. When he was 4 and I 6, he got on a stool and took my Grandfatherís fish filleting knife from its drawer. I saw him with it and knew that no good could come of him having it. I took it from him and escorted him back into his room, the red room. My room was the green one. My grandmother always color coded the rooms. But I digress. I took him to his room and took one of his crayons. I put it in my hand like this. I explained to him that knives were very dangerous, and this knife in particular was not to be played with. It was very sharp, designed to cut through the bones of fish. To demonstrate how sharp it was, and embed in his mind that it was not a knife to be trifled with, I said, ìSee here, this is how sharp it isî. At which point I sliced the crayon like so.

Of course the knife did not magically stop at the end of the crayon, but sliced me open, severing an artery and nerve, and biting deeply into the bone. I did not cry, and do not know why I did not cry, except to say I was never the sort to cry; I kept emotions far from the surface from a very early age. I ran into the bathroom, flinging my hand as one does when one has a painful hand, and grabbed a towel and wrapped my finger in it. I then cleaned the blood off of myself as best I could, retrieved the knife, cleaned it and put it away. And of course, I threatened my wonderful brother with death should he ever reveal what he had seen.

And then I went on about my business as if nothing had happened. A short order later my grandmother called for me. I came to her, and she asked me what was wrong with my finger. I said nothing much, it was just a cut and I was putting pressure on it. She asked to see it. I said it was unnecessary. She insisted, and so I un-wrapped the towel. Before it was half unwrapped it was obvious that I was still bleeding profusely. She of course took me to the hospital and it was stitched up.

This talk from here will sound a bit like last weeks gospel doctrine lesson, and I apologize for those who must endure it again. The lesson last week taught of three types of adversity: the adversity we bring upon ourselves, the adversity that comes naturally through life as described in Matthew 5:45 concerning the Lord making the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sending rain on the just and the unjust, and adversity that comes when the Lord schools us as described in Mosiah 23:21, ìNevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faithî

The story of my finger is incontestably an example of the first of these adversities. I cut myself. I brought the suffering on myself. The world did not cut me, and the Lord certainly did not cut me. I would like to expound on the three ways that we learn to avoid bringing adversity upon ourselves.

1. We learn from personal experience. I can say that I have one scar on my body that came from a knife. Just one. I learned my lesson the first time. If only I and we all always learned our lessons the first time. This way speaks most to our animal side or carnal side, and least to our spiritual side. I will come back to that.

2. We learn from the observation of others. I started this talk with the sentence ìMy brother has never had a major accident with a bladeî. He learned from my mistake. If we are never taught that drinking alcohol is wrong we can observe the effects of inebriation in the town drunk and vow to avoid the drink. If we are never taught frugality we can still see poverty and wealth amongst us and know which we would prefer.

3. The third way we learn to avoid bringing adversity upon ourselves is to learn from an outside source and then obey it. I knew I shouldnít play with knives. I had been taught by my parents and grandparents. I knew better. If I had but obeyed, I would not have suffered. This way speaks least to our carnal selves and most to our spiritual selves. The Lord reveals his will for us (concerning right and wrong) by way of the scripture and prophets and his spirit. I do not need to quote the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots to tell you that we can learn right and wrong through them and obey them so as not to bring suffering upon ourselves. I will leave a few examples from the scriptures though.

I said I would come back to ìlearning through personal experienceî being the least of the ways we are to learn to avoid adversity. An example is Thomas. Thomas said he would not believe save he put his fingers in the print of his hand and thrust his hand in Christís side. Christ allowed him to do so with a rebuke, telling him not to be faithless, but believing. He said ìThomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.î

In stark contrast to this is Peter. Matt 16:13-17:

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Here is where Christ makes manifest who will be the leader of the church when he is gone. (Real quick gospel according to Steven warning) But more than that, I believe here is where Christ made the decision as to who would be the leader. What is certain is that Peter had moved beyond ìseeing is believingî. He had moved beyond listening to everyone else. He communed with God. The spirit of the Lord could speak to him, and he heard. Learning from and obeying the scriptures and spirit of the Lord speaks best to our spiritual side and is the best of the ways for us to learn to avoid bringing adversity upon ourselves.

When we do likewise, as much as we can, when we stop believing only what we see and stop learning only from our own mistakes we change from children to men and women. At this point we stop whining about how unfair life is when we go through the second type of adversity, or the common adversities of life. At this point the Lord can start to work in us, perfect our iron in his fires of adversity, making us into steel. But we must first put away childish things. We must (as much as we can) stop learning (or not learning) through personal sins and mistakes. Back to my story.

There have been many symbols in my story so far. Cutting myself is a symbol for us bringing suffering to ourselves, and learning from our own mistakes. My brother is a symbol for learning from the mistakes of others. My grandmother telling me not to play with knives is a symbol of learning from the testimony of others, and from God. And my grandmother here is a symbol of God. She would kill me for blasphemy if she heard that, I think.

I did not know for years how my grandmother knew to call for me, knew that something was wrong. Now that I am older I realize that I must have left the bathroom a bloody mess with how I had been wringing my hands and flailing wildly for a towel. (Come on, that pun deserved at least a little chuckle.) An example of this from the scriptures: When Cain slew Abel the Lord came to him. He told him that the earth had opened its mouth to swallow the blood of his brother, and the blood cried out from the very earth. In other words, the Lord came to Cain because in his sin, he had left the Earth a bloody mess. The Lord came to Adam and Eve because in their transgression they had fundamentally changed the Earth, leaving it a bloody mess. My grandmother came to me because I had left her bathroom a bloody mess and the blood on her carpet and curtains and walls cried out to her.

When you make mistakes do not be fooled into believing that it only affects you. You will leave blood on the walls of your life, often, even mostly made up of those you love the most. This is an example of the second type of adversity. If I am murdered tomorrow, it does not mean that it was the Lords will that I be murdered. It means that it was the Lords will that the man who murdered me have his free will. We being subject to othersí free will is an example of the adversities of life. When a husbandís or wifeís mistake breaks up a family, he or she leaves ìbloodî if you will, on all involved, including the children. Do your best not to leave blood on the walls of your life.

Adversity is going to come brothers and sisters. If you bring as little adversity upon yourself as possible, and if you endure the adversities of life well, then the Lord will start to stretch you through his adversities. Elder Maxwell has said, ìThe soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretchedî.

There are many examples in the scriptures of great men who were stretched, Job being the most prominent. Paul was also stretched, and said he gloried in it for it worked patience, and patience worked (or causes) experience (Romans 5:3-5) Joseph Smith was stretched by the Lord, and when he inquired, the Lord said it was for his experience. But the greatest example is the example of Christ. Heb 5:8,9 ìThough he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey himî. Even Christ learned through adversity. It isnít that Christ had so much more to learn that he had to suffer so much adversity, but that he was already so far beyond our trifling problems that there was nothing he could learn from them. It is for this cause that the Lord told Joseph Smith, ìThe Son of Man hath descended below them all, art thou greater than he? (D&C 122:8)î

Last symbol from my story. When adversity comes, donít wrap it in a towel. Go to the doctor. Check yourself, see if you caused it. If you did, fix it, repent and move on. Never make the mistake again. Our Heavenly Father is always there to lighten your load, as much as is good for you. He will never turn the fire up so high that you cannot endure it, but he will also not turn it down so low that you learn nothing from it. Our adversities are for our own experience. The only things we take from this life is what we learn and who we become. Some would say that what we learn IS who we become. Endure adversity well and allow them to turn you into the steel the Lord wants you to be.