Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Trials & the Storms of Life

I'm sure that many of us (if not all of us reading this) have had trials and storms in our lives where we've responded with the question, "WHY ME?????"  Now I don't think that necessarily asking this is a bad thing.  I think that if we wallow, and we dwell on it, and we suffer unneccessarily it can be a bad thing - but I think that if we take that question and turn it around a little bit we can learn a lot in each and every trial - even in the middle of the trial and not just looking back. 

Instead of asking "Why me?" ask "What can I learn?".

I've thought about this a lot recently and I've found a few key reasons I experience trials and I thought I'd pass them along and share them with anyone else they might help.  I feel that going through difficulty and trials can be for the following reasons:

Developing Empathy and Compassion - Many of my trials haven't necessarily been directly for me in a typical way.  Many of my trials I'm finding have been so that I can understand other people better.  Once I've gone through something, or done something maybe I shouldn't have done - I understand others so much better.  The idea of "walking around in someone else's shoes" has a lot of merit and truth.  If we think of our Savior and how he truly understands our weaknesses and struggles - it's because through the Atonement he has actually experienced them.  As we go through hard times much of it is so we can develop an understanding and empathy for others.  We all have such vastly different lives and by experiencing a little bit about others we grow closer I believe.

Trials Help Us to Not Judge Others - Going along with the last one of developing empathy and compassion as we do that we begin to judge others less.  As I struggle with something and hope that others will not judge me as I struggle I hope to remember that later on so I don't do likewise and judge others unfairly.  For instance - after we struggled with infertility for years and years I have learned not to judge other people on the spacing and timing of their children.  For all I know they have tried getting pregnant for years.  We had many, many people make comments about how it must be nice to be waiting to have kids until we owned a house, finished school, had a career - all things that were nice, but we longed for a baby much more than we ever longed for a 3 bedroom home of our own....I've tried not to judge others on how they spend their money, how they discipline their children, or how they get along with their spouse.  I hope that we will all work on not judging people all around - but especially in situations where we know nothing about their experiences.

We Need to Learn to Forgive Others - I look back and see several times in my life where I have been hurt or wronged by someone else.  I have been hurt, angry, said I would NEVER do that to someone else and I would never be able to forgive that person.  Well I think we should "never say never" because I have also had experiences where I swore I'd never be - and needed other people's forgiveness.  How can I expect someone else to forgive me for something I haven't been able to forgive another for?    Going through trials gives us extra opprotunties to forgive others.

We Go Through Trials So We May Strengthen Others - I have had a couple of exerpiences and confirmations recently that trials I have gone through weren't just for my benefit - but for others as well.  There are many ways this can happen - when we struggle and others serve us - they are blessed.  When we struggle and are good examples of learning as we pass through those trials - we bless others.  When we struggle and learn we can be there for others so they do not feel alone as they struggle.  When we pave the way by "learning the hard way" sometimes others won't have to struggle the same way we have.  I think of the pioneers and early leaders of the church and how I have learned invaluable lessons because of experiences they had and lessons they learned.  I hope that I am able to handle my trials and lessons in a way that can bless others both now and in the future.

We Have Trials So We Can Draw Closer To Our Heavenly Father - I remember a conversation I had with a dear friend several years ago.  We were just getting to know each other and were sharing our experiences with infertilty before having our families.  We were both sharing things we had learn as we struggled through and how looking back we were so grateful for those experiences.  She said, "At times I actually kind of miss being in the middle of that trial.  Does that sound crazy?  I just felt so close to my Heavenly Father as I leaned on Him for understanding and strength."  So true!  When we are in the depths of heartache and struggles - if we will rely on our Heavenly Father and the infinite strength and peace He gives us - the middle of our trials can really be a peaceful and beautiful place.  I will question myself when I begin a new trial and kind of take stock of where I am at with my relationship with my Heavenly Father - often when I'm not as close to Him I find myself in a trial - so I have opprotunities to strengthen my relationship with Him.  Just like a parent who misses their children - our Heavenly Father wants us to be close to Him.  I love the scripture in Ether 12:27 where we're told that if we go to the Lord with our weaknesses He will make weak things strong for us.  It's SO true!

Trials Often Prepare Us For Future, Harder Trials We May Face - I see some of the trials from my past and think - WOW - that was a stepping stone to these other things we'd be learning later on.  In fact in the midst of some recent trials I had a strong feeling that that particular trial wasn't the actual trial - but was to prepare me for something bigger later on.  (That was a scary thought...). But since we're here on earth to continaully learn and grow it's important that we build upon what we know - right?

Trials Help Us Feel Grateful For Blessings and Re-evaluate What Is Really Important -  I bet you've heard, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." How often to we express gratitude for our health, or do we wait until we're sick to complain about the lack of health?  As I've been going through a few things recently I have developed a great sense of gratitude for material items that I had always taken for granted.  I've also realized what things are important (family, relationships, the gospel) and what things are just not vitally important.  Trials have a definite way of giving us a different perspective.

Trials Teach Us How Strong We Are - When Cory and I were in the midst of a VERY hard summer job years ago one of our leaders in the company was talking to us. He said, "I know you don't believe me right now, but you are going to look back on this summer and say 'WOW!  Look how strong we were - look at all we accomplished together!'".  At the time I felt overwhelmed and stressed to a breaking point - but know what?  Looking back on those experiences in Detroit it did just that.  Repeatedly when we're faced with something I have the thought "Remember what you accomplished before?  You can do it again - you're tough!".  I think we don't realize our strength and trials give us a chnce to prove our toughness - even if it's to prove to ourselves that we can do hard things. We can often amaze even ourselves with how tough we really are!

Trials Are Given To Us To Bless Us - I believe this more right now than I have ever believed it.  There are economic challenges we are going through right now that I know would break me if I didn't have this perspective.  There are things I've gone through in the past that have shaken me to my core - but I ultimately have learned that trials are the greatest blessing our Heavenly Father can give us.  They cause us to stretch, strengthen and lift ourselves and others in a way we would not otherwise be able to.  They bring us to our knees and help us be reminded of a Father who loves us more than we can even comprehend.  Trials are a gift and I hope that as each of you go through these trials you can find the same kind of perspective as I feel I'm being blessed with. 

I am indeed grateful for the trials my Heavenly Father knows I can handle. I am beyond grateful for a knowledge that I have that after the storms, and even in the midst of the storms we can find beauty and peace.  Through the particular challenges I've been dealing with in the last several months I can honestly say that I am happier and more at peace than I have ever been while struggling.  Often after a trial is over and resloved I've been able to find the beauty of it - after I'm done suffering; but this is the first time I have been in the middle of a trial and felt extreme gratitude for the experiences and lessons I'm learning.  Sure - it's hard and there are days that really stink - but I have felt the love and beauty that my Heavenly Father has given me.  I feel gratitude in greater ways than I remember feeling it in a very long time.  I have a new sense of what my blessings are and feel greater love for life.  I know that we can all find beauty during the storm and I hope anyone reading this can feel that peace. 


jed-laura said...

a lot of the things I've been thinking about on my commute to work each day, yet didn't have it all figured out quite so eloquently. I look up to you- and thanks for your thoughts. It's nice to hear something heartfelt and timely like this.

love ya-

The Rhiens said...

Wow! You amaze me sometimes, Joanna. Your wisdom and insight is touching. I am proud to be your mom. I hope I have taught you as much as you teach me.

Love, Mom

Ashley Mullen said...

Ditto what your mom said Joanna! Thank you for the insight! Amazing!!!!! I am so glad you are my sister! I learn so much from you! Thank you! Love ya!

Chelsea said...

that was so well said! i have a feeling i'll be coming back to this post to read it a couple times. [if you're lucky, you'll be asked to give a talk soon and voila, here's your outline. ha] hang in there, girl!

The Rhiens said...

I was very pleased to read your comments, and feel of the growth that you have been in the midst of. I am proud to be your dad.

Constant smooth sailing never a seasoned/prepared mariner makes...I love you. Give us a call someime.

Love, Dad

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your personal insight. I may use this as part of my devotional at school where I teach. Bless you as you continue to pursue God in your life!