October 1, 2007

Trials and Happiness

Orson Pratt
Jedediah M. Grant
May 10 and 20, 1855 In this discourse, Pratt began by contrasting the attitudes of the first Utah settlers with the attitudes of more recent emigrants:
We see, from what has been portrayed before us, the trials and difficulties that we, some of us, have had to endure in this Church; we also see, from what he has explained, the patience of the people in passing through those difficulties; no murmuring, no complaining, no faultfinding, but all taking hold with one heart and one mind to do the will of God, under the most straightened circumstances. We can contrast this feeling with what we see manifested by some of our new emigrants; some of them come in here feeling dissatisfied, having become so in crossing the plains; they will differ with each other, lose the good spirit, and allow themselves to be controlled by an evil influence. I say we can see...a great contrast between those that first came here, and those that now come (Journal of Discourses 3:12-13).
Granted there must have been a little complaining here and there, but overall, Pratt felt the attitude of the first Mormon pioneers was much more positive than the new emigrants. He explained why he believed that was so:

Now the question might arise in the minds of some: "Were the pioneers who came here so much better than those persons that now come?"

I think not.

"Then why was there no murmuring, nor fault-finding, nor apostasy?"

The reason is obvious; those who first came here had more experience in such matters than the new emigrants have, who come here almost without experience in those things which they naturally come in contact with when crossing the plains. In fact there are very few in the world that would do any better than the ‘Mormon’ pioneers did the first year they came here. It requires experience to enable people patiently to pass through the scenes of trial that were endured by the pioneers, and those who first came into these valleys.

Take our late emigration that have crossed over the plains, and let them be driven a few times from their comfortable habitations, and let them wander for months in the cold winter, and then send them off on an expedition, such as the pioneers took to this country, and you would see them quite a different people: you would see them altered and improved by the course of experience they had passed through; they would be benefited by certain kinds of experience which others have passed through before them; and, if attentive, they would add many important items to their former stock of wisdom and knowledge.

Consequently, it requires experience, not only for the old members, but for the new; and should the new members be permitted to come from the old countries, and meet with no poverty, no affliction, it would not be known whether those persons would endure such trials; and hence the necessity of such trials to give people experience.
It needs no extensive retelling: the early Latter-day Saints endured an awful lot of trials. They must have got all their murmuring out of the way at that time! Trials weren't reserved for the early saints only; every member is promised trials. While the new emigrants had encountered trials before joining the Church, they should expect some problems to continue after gathering to Zion:

Then, it is not surprising to me that the Lord takes certain measures to bring those persons into difficult circumstances; in fact, we have the Lord's own declaration for it, that He will try this people, not in some things, but in all things, to see if they will abide in the covenant, and He says, "If they will not, then they will not abide in me."

Here, then, we perceive that each will have his share of trials, either in the beginning or in the advanced state of the Church. We do not know what they will be, only so far as God has revealed in His word.
Pratt said experiencing trials was requisite in the plan of God, that we might experience opposition in all things. In opposition we can make our own choices (see 2 Nephi 2). This learning by trial is a hard doctrine. We want to take Christ's yoke upon us because his yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Notice, the yoke is still there, and some pulling is still required. Elder Pratt said God will test us with trials to see if we will obey Him in all things. This concept was emphasized by Elder Henry B. Eyring in his general conference address shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In the midst of commotion; wars, rumors of wars, Elder Eyring noted an increase in the discussion of prayer. When in trouble, people turned to God in prayer:

The great increase in heartfelt prayer, and the public acceptance of it, has been remarkable to me and to others. More than once in recent days, someone has said to me with great intensity and with a sound of worry in the voice, 'I hope that the change lasts.'

That worry is justified. Our own personal experience and God’s record of His dealing with His children teaches us that. Dependence on God can fade quickly when prayers are answered. And when the trouble lessens, so do the prayers. The Book of Mormon repeats that sad story over and over again."

He then quoted a most powerful selection. Helaman 12:1-3:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.

Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.

And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

As Elder Eyring explained, when the trouble lessens, so do the prayers; a sentiment echoed by Elder Pratt:

Should all this people here in Utah be called to pass through such scenes as some of us have been called upon to encounter, I believe there would be many who would say, "Let us endure these things with all submission and patience before God."

In order to do this, it is necessary for us, in our prosperity, to remember the Lord our God, for if men and women will not remember the Lord, when the heavens smile upon them, and when health is in their habitations—if they will not acknowledge the hand of God then, and be thankful for the blessings that they receive, you may be sure that they will not be so well prepared to endure trials, and to pass through adversities, as those who have, in the days of their prosperity, humbled themselves before the Lord, and acknowledged His hand in all things. There are individuals in this Territory, of a careless disposition,and you may mark them, and those that have waxed fat, and their hearts are upon the things of this world, that when tribulations come, they will be the ones to quake and fear, while those who have taken a different course will be able to stand.

Many of the saints who didn't complain while crossing the plains had endured trials earlier in their discipleship. Elder Pratt related something he learned from Joseph Smith while the saints were enduring one of these many trials. When saints began settling at Commerce [later Nauvoo] in the Spring of 1839, the area was a muddy, swampy mess. These new settlers had just been evicted from their Missouri homes, enduring cold weather, as well as inadequate shelter, clothing and food, thus arriving to Commerce in a weakened state. Hundreds of people became sick with malaria, most likely because of the stagnant condition of the land. Joseph filled his house with the ill, and tents full of sick people filled his yard. All over Commerce people were suffering. Joseph himself, while trying to care for the sick, was soon overtaken with the illness. (see History of the Church 4:3-5)

Regarding these circumstances, Elder Pratt related the following:

I heard brother Joseph, when speaking of those that were sick in Nauvoo, make remarks similar to those that I have now made. He said, that those who would not, when in good health, call upon the Lord, and acknowledge His hand in all things, and remember him, would not have faith when it was needed-he said that those individuals would have but very little faith in the days of their calamities and affliction. Then seek to get faith and spirit sufficient to assist us in the days of our afflictions, that we may be prepared for all the vicissitudes of life. We ought to know that we are well off at the present, but all do not realize this fact. How often I have thought of the remark made by the Prophet; nothing can be more true than that remark; it carries its own evidence with it, that those individuals who have wealth and riches in abundance, but do not remember the Lord, when troubles come, they will be in the greatest distress, generally speaking.

Elder Pratt may have had a selection from the Doctrine and Covenants in mind when he related this story. Many of those saints suffering in Commerce, when driven from their homes in Missouri, learned a valuable lesson about prayer in good times as well as in times of trouble:

Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance— I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions; Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels. Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified. Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances. They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy (D&C 101:1-8).

Whether our trials are caused by our own mistakes, the mistakes of others, or events completely out of our control, it is vital that we have established a relationship with God before and as the trials come. Staying close to God at all times means we'll be close to Him in hard times. With all this dreary talk of trials, we need to remember life isn't all about the garbage we have to deal with. We can experience joy in the present; even amidst trials. Too many saints believe we might have to postpone all joy until the next life, missing out on the joy of everyday living. Brigham Young was a firm believer that we should have joy here and now, as well as joy anticipating eternity. Horace Greely, a famous newspaper man, wrote a chapter on Brigham Young in his book An Overland Journey From New York to San Fransisco in the Summer of 1859. He described the prophet thusly:
He was very plainly dressed in thin summer clothing, and with no air of sanctimony or fanaticism. In appearance, he is a portly, frank, good-natured, rather thick-set man of fifty-five, seeming to enjoy life, and to be in no particular hurry to get to heaven (ibid. chapter 21).
Brigham enjoyed the "here and now" alongside anticipating the "there and then" of the great Millennial day. Brigham's philosophy was one of happiness, and he spoke of it often in his sermons; he called the gospel "happifying." What made this man happy? After all the trouble he experienced, how could this man preach happiness? He had happiness figured out:

I have learned enough to be happy, when I am in the enjoyment of the blessings of the Lord. That is a great lesson for a man to learn. There are two things that make this people unhappy, if ever they are unhappy, viz., themselves, and the spirits that are around them. This, however, will more particularly apply to individuals… Will you make yourselves happy? You are greatly blessed of the Lord, all the day long, and should be happy; but we are apt to close our eyes against this fact, and fancy ourselves miserable, when we are actually blessed. I have learned not to fret myself about that which I cannot help. If I can do good, I will do it; and if I cannot reach a thing, I will content myself to be without it. This makes me happy all the day long. I wish you to learn the same profitable lesson. Who hinders you from being happy? from praying, and serving the Lord as much as you please? Who hinders you from doing all the good in your power to do? Who is there here, to mar in any way the peace of any Saint that lives in these peaceful valleys? No one (Journal of Discourses 1:1).

We can enjoy the here and now. Ten days before Pratt's discourse on trials, Elder Jedediah M. Grant expressed his views on joy in the gospel even in times of trouble:

In order to understand the principle of happiness you must not be ever complaining, but learn not to fret yourselves. If things do not go right, let them go as they will, if they go rough, let it be so; if all hell boils over, let it boil. I thank the Lord for the bitter as well as for the sweet; I like to grapple with the opposite: I like to work and have something to oppose. I used to dread those things, but now I like to grapple with opposition, and there is plenty of it on the right hand and on the left. When trouble gets in among you, shake it off, or bid it stand out of the way. If the devil should come...kick him right out of your way; bid him depart, do not allow him to have place in your habitation, but learn to be happy… [G]ive me a religion that will make me happy here, and that will make me happy hereafter. If you have the blues, or the greens, shake them off, and learn to be happy, and to be thankful. If you have nothing to eat but johnny cake, be thankful for that, and if you have not johnny cake, but have a roasted potatoe and buttermilk, why, be thankful; or if you have a leg of a chicken, or any other kind of food, learn to be thankful, and if you have only one dollar in your pocket, learn to be as happy under these circumstances as if you had ten dollars... I want the Saints to live in a way that they can feel happy all the time, and then we shall enjoy the Holy Spirit; then we shall meet in heaven to part and meet again... (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses 3:7-10).

Living the gospel amounts to following Christ, and we do so by doing the basics. Doing the basics can enable us to experience confidence in trials through the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

Elder Eyring gave a few reminders on how to receive and retain the influence of the Holy Ghost:

The words and the music of this conference will lead you to do what will strengthen you against the danger of a drift away from heartfelt prayer. From what you hear you will feel promptings to go to the scriptures. Follow the promptings. You will be reminded in this conference of service you committed to give when you entered the waters of baptism. Choose to obey. If you ponder the scriptures and begin to do what you covenanted with God to do, I can promise you that you will feel more love for God and more of His love for you. And with that, your prayers will come from the heart, full of thanks and of pleading. You will feel a greater dependence on God. You will find the courage and the determination to act in His service, without fear and with peace in your heart. You will pray always. And you will not forget Him, no matter what the future brings. I bear you my testimony that God the Father lives. He loves us. He hears our prayers, and He answers with what is best for us. As we come to know Him through His words and in His service, we will love Him more. I know that is true (Henry B. Eyring, "Prayer," Ensign, Nov. 2001).
*In the future I'd like to explore the value of sorrow in the gospel. Sometimes it seems we overemphasize happiness to the extent it is seen as sinful to feel sorrow, but we are also taught that Christ feels sorrow. There is something important in proper sorrow that deserves to be explained further.

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