"Life is Hard, and Then...

Brigham Rupp Sunset Photo

…you die.”

The quote is not originally his, but this was my dad’s typical response any time I tried to complain to him during my teenage years. He would say it with a smirk, quickly undercutting whatever complaint I had. What do you say after that? Thanks? Despite being the epitome of hyperbolic pessimism, it stuck because it was at least a little bit true. Life is hard. I’ve beens studying the scriptural theme “endure to the end” for the past couple weeks. The phrase is most prevalent in the Book of Mormon, where it is usually the last in the list of requirements for salvation and eternal life. Christ said it when he was teaching his disciples about the Second Coming in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, and it also appears a number of times in the Doctrine and Covenants. Reviewing these references makes it clear that enduring to the end is a commandment, but I’ve found it is one that does not mean much until I am in the midst of something difficult to endure. Then it suddenly shifts from a vague and ambiguous idiom to a very pointed directive regarding my personal circumstances.

For example, the phrase came to my mind at the onset of a bad chest cold a couple weeks ago at a very inconvenient time. (Is there ever a convenient time for a cold?) “Endure to the end!” I thought to myself. I know what you’re thinking, “A cold? he’s enduring to the end of cold? What a wimp.” Guilty as charged. But I began to think about greater challenges that we face individually and collectively: failing health, parenthood, end-of-semester finals, financial misfortune, frustrating church callings, troubled relationships, political and social strife— these and so many more real challenges God asks us to endure in faith. The command to endure, by very definition, implies a truth we often struggle to accept: mortal life is intentionally challenging. Despite our valiant and tenacious efforts to reach some sort of comfortable stasis in our lives, trials, challenges, and mistakes constantly disrupt us. If it were not so, the commandment could probably be “relax to the end” or “enjoy to the end.” But it is not. the command is to endure. Here are some ancient and modern definitions:

  • To stand, take a stand, stand still, abide, endure. (Old Testament hebrew amad)
  • To prevail, overcome, have power, be able (Old Testament Hebrew yakol)
  • To remain, to tarry behind, to remain i.e. abide, not recede or flee (New Testament greek hypomeno)
  • Suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently. Remain in existence; last. (Modern English dictionary)

I don’t mean for this to be a pessimistic observation. To be honest, I’ve never really liked the implication of "enduring". For years I thought that if I lived the Gospel well enough I could reach a point where I was always thriving and never simply surviving. You might say I saw any time when I was simply enduring as a failure. But my mind is slowly changing. I am seeing that God’s commitment to my personal growth is so strong that as long as I am faithful he will repeatedly push me out of the comfortable, glassy mooring of thriving and into the challenging, wind-tossed waters of endurance. My experience helping others with their challenges reveals the same pattern. This has been one of the most important lessons of my life: that God intends for me to grow, and growth comes from enduring adversity.

While it seems embedded in our very nature, it is dangerous to invest too much in the hope of a life of peace, comfort, and stasis. At best this can shield us from opportunities for growth, and at worst we can become disillusioned with God and his plan as we wonder why “bad things” keep happening in our lives.

Many people live in frustration and confusion as their hopes for bliss are repeatedly dashed. In the Church, we often emphasize that if we have faith and keep the commandments, we will be blessed. This is true, but far too often we think “blessed” means having money in the bank, perfect health, the ideal family, an easy calling, a successful career, and a pristine home.  I’m not saying we should walk around frowning or that we should seek out hardship. The course of life provides plenty of challenges without going out of our way. Nor am I saying that God doesn’t bless us with moments of peace, happiness, and success. But we ought never forget that from Adam and Eve to the Children of Israel, from the saints of the primitive church to the saints who crossed the plains, this truth is clear:

"Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many." (D&C 24:8).

President Gordon B. Hinckley once quoted Jenkins Lloyd Jones from the Deseret News regarding the realities of life. Jones was talking about marriage, but he perfectly captures the risk of misplaced life expectations:

“There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young [men and women] who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and [beautiful] wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear the divorce courts are jammed. …

“Anyone who imagines that bliss [in marriage] is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” (“Big Rock Candy Mountains,” Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).

The rest of D&C 24:8 is comforting: “Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.” “We count them happy which endure,” wrote James (James 5:11). Paul said of Abraham, “after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (Hebrews 6:15). Article of Faith 13 says, “we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.” But our most profound call for endurance comes from the Savior himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). We should never forget that the single person most worthy of God’s blessings endured the greatest affliction of all. It’s ironic but true, and further born out in the example of countless faithful individuals, such as Joseph Smith, who for their faith and obedience received less and less temporal peace and comfort. Imagine the Savior foregoing Gethsemane and the cross bitterly thinking, “I’ve done everything right. Why is this happening to me?” It happened to him precisely because he did everything right. Because Christ “finished his preparations” and partook of the bitter cup, enduring our own bitter cups has value and meaning:

"But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever" (2 Nephi 9:18 ).

Endurance is an attribute of deity. Lives of bliss do not a Godly people make! When those "crosses of the world" arise, the command to endure to the end becomes very real and challenging, whether to the end of a temporary affliction, the end of the world, or the end of our very lives. How grateful I am to know that as long as I endure in faith, my Savior will endure with me. The peace and comfort we all long for is promised to the faithful, but primarily in the eternities. For now, we wrestle. we stretch. we endure. And if we are wise, we develop the ability to be comfortable with discomfort—that is—we come to appreciate that at least while we are in the schoolhouse of mortality, God will rarely bypass opportunities for growth through affliction. Expecting and recognizing affliction for what it is does not magically ease the pain or the challenge. But it does increase our ability to learn and grow from the experience. As my mission President Paul M. Norton was fond of saying, “You cannot build character in the garden of Eden." Thus, as author Jim Rohn famously said, "Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better."

Of course, Elder Neal A. Maxwell captured all this in three simple sentences. I love this quote within a quote: “...What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity. Righteous desires need to be relentless, therefore, because, said President Brigham Young, 'the men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom, will find that they must battle every day' (in Journal of Discourses, 11:14). Therefore, true Christian soldiers are more than weekend warriors." (Conference, October 2006).

 

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A few modern prophets and authorities on the topic: