Adversity emerges in our lives in so many different ways: our hearts break with grief from the loss of someone we love; we feel sincere remorse for the ways our sins hurt others and ourselves; and we suffer from things beyond our control—things such as the poor decisions of others, illness, tragic accidents, and addiction.
While we can’t avoid adversity, we can control how we respond to it. These difficult moments offer opportunities to grow, stretch, and become our best selves. “Behold, I have refined thee, . . . I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). These words to ancient Israel apply to all of God’s children, even His Only Begotten Son, who lived here on earth without sin—but not without adversity.
Enduring pain, temptation, and despair, Jesus Christ suffered more in His life than we are capable of imagining—let alone experiencing. He faced every type of adversity, from mundane to monumental. In doing so, He set the ultimate example for each of us, meeting each challenge with faith, resilience, and patience, personally illustrating the spiritual growth and refinement that are possible when stumbling blocks are turned into stepping stones.
While each of us has the ability to follow Christ’s perfect example, how many of us encounter adversity only to ask questions like these: What have I done to deserve this? Why me? But when we lean on the Savior and learn from His example, we begin to instead ask questions like these: What can I learn from this struggle? How can I endure this temptation and become stronger for it? How can I use this situation to strengthen my relationship with God?
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we’re told that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Valiant men and women who have come before us have sought to understand and find solace in this scripture—people like Mother Teresa, who even managed to have a sense of humor about her adversity. A quote widely attributed to her says: “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. Sometimes I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
God does trust us, and He understands how adversity can help us reach our full potential. We each have a seed of greatness—divinity—inside of us, and its growth depends far more on adversity than on prosperity. As Winston Churchill is attributed with saying: “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. If you’re going through hell . . . keep going!” And Oprah Winfrey managed to share this idea in five compelling words that she is credited with having said: “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have added their own wise counsel on successfully facing adversity. Mormon Apostle Neal A. Maxwell advised: “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’” (“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign or Liahona, May 1991, 88).
His colleague, Apostle James E. Faust, said: “Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. . . . In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master” (“The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign or Liahona, May 1979, 53).
And the Apostle Russell M. Nelson said: “An all-wise Heavenly Father’s perspective is much broader than is ours. While we know of our mortal problems and pain, He knows of our immortal progress and potential” (“Jesus Christ—the Master Healer,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 86).
To help us through the precarious landscape of our trials on earth, God gave us an Advocate and Counselor who paid for all of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. In those places our Savior took on all of our difficulties and despair, causing Him to bleed from every pore of His body (see D&C 19:18). In the midst of this unimaginable trial, the Savior cried out, pleading with God, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
In this plea we see both Christ’s humanity and His divinity: we witness both the agony He was experiencing as well as the extraordinary fact that He could endure it. Perhaps even more extraordinary was that He chose to endure it. That choice made in the Garden of Gethsemane became one of His defining moments—the moment He developed supreme empathy for our struggles by literally living through those struggles first, before we ever came to earth.
The ancient prophet Isaiah tells of the role of the coming Messiah, which is “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). This passage of scripture includes a compelling reference to the spiritual prisons we sometimes build for ourselves by the choices we make, by sinning or wallowing in pain and anger when Christ has already shown us a better way. He had agency just as we have, and He used His agency to overcome His afflictions and to use His spiritual strength to help others. We have that same agency, and how we use it defines us.
Another prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, said: “Being human, we would expel from our lives sorrow, distress, physical pain, and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort. But if we closed the doors upon such, we might be evicting our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery. The sufferings of our Savior were part of his education” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 168).
Our experiences are part of our education. These experiences can create in us empathy and a desire to help others who suffer. This is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ—acting in His stead when needed, reflecting the Light of Christ that each of us has within us, and turning adversity into opportunities for our own progression and the progression of others.