Sunday, December 14, 2008

Resistance Training: Irony in Adversity

My husband's grandma passed away last night (we only have one grandparent left...strange to be moving to a new phase of life where our parents are the oldest generation).

I am happy for her. She was old, and sick, and all but bedridden. She suffered a massive stroke years ago, before I even knew her. I can't imagine how difficult it was for her to be so dependent on others. To have so little control over so much of her body. To have life be so different from what it was, and have it continue for so long that way.

I'm sure it was all the more difficult when her husband passed away a few years ago. Oh, how she missed him!

But what I am pondering tonight is something that she said more than once: "My stroke was the greatest thing that ever happened to me."

I think also of my dear aunt, who was in a car accident at the age of 19 -- at the prime of her life. She was a P.E. major, someone who loved sports and loved to dance. And she ended up paralyzed from the waist down. While she pursued her dreams with passion (she ended up teaching P.E. for years, getting a Ph.D. and being a university profession), some dreams have remained unfulfilled. We as cousins gathered at her home last night for our highly-anticipated yearly party; we are her children, as she has never married and had children of her own.

The irony of trials can sometimes be so painful. They can even seem, in our mortal view, so senseless.

Irony describes some of how I feel about some struggles in my life. For example, there are few things a mom of young children needs more than health, but if anything, my health as of late has been worse than what I have dealt with the past six years since my chronic illness began. Other challenges in combination with my health issues have tested me to limits I didn't know I had.

And I confess that sometimes I pound on the doors of heaven, pleading for strength and perspective that can be difficult to find in the midst of the struggle.

I am reminded tonight, as I consider Grandma, my aunt, and so many others whose lives have had tangible evidence of pain and trial (so often the irony is unseen to others!) of something Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:

What I now read is a most wintry verse indeed: “Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” (Mosiah 23:21.)

This very sobering declaration of divine purpose ought to keep us on spiritual alert as to life’s adversities.

Irony is the hard crust on the bread of adversity. Irony can try both our faith and our patience. Irony can be a particularly bitter form of such chastening because it involves disturbing incongruity. It involves outcomes in violation of our expectations. We see the best laid plans laid waste....

Without meekness, such ironical circumstances are very difficult to manage....

Amid life’s varied ironies, you and I may begin to wonder, Did not God notice this torturous turn of events? And if He noticed, why did He permit it? Am I not valued?

Our planning itself often assumes that our destiny is largely in our own hands. Then come intruding events, first elbowing aside, then evicting what was anticipated and even earned....

Irony may involve not only unexpected suffering but also undeserved suffering. We feel we deserved better, and yet we fared worse. We had other plans, even commendable plans. Did they not count?...

Customized challenges are thus added to that affliction and temptation which Paul described as “common to man.” (1 Cor. 10:13.)
It's easy to talk about trials being for our good when we aren't in the middle of them. At least that is the way it is for me.

But then I am reminded of what I taught my son years ago when he asked why some people get sick (of course, in his general question was a very specific concern about why his mom was struggling with health issues -- it's been for over half of his life!).

The analogy I used with him was how that when we build our muscles through weight training, it can hurt. It can be hard. The way we build strength is to have resistance. I didn't use that word, but he clearly understood the principle. We have, more than once, reflected together on that reality. I will make motions of lifting barbells and talk of building spiritual muscles. And he will nod. (Children are so teachable. Would that I could be so receptive to simple truths.)

In answer to prayer, God is now the Parent reminding me, the child, of this principle. I prayed for perspective tonight and thought of Grandma. Of my aunt. Of so many others whose lives have been riddled with irony. My heart has been softened a little toward the ironies in my own life.

Elder Maxwell's words have helped.

In coping with irony, as in all things, we have an Exemplary Teacher in Jesus. Dramatic irony assaulted Jesus’ divinity almost constantly.

For Jesus, in fact, irony began at His birth. Truly, He suffered the will of the Father “in all things from the beginning.” (3 Ne. 11:11.) This whole earth became Jesus’ footstool (see Acts 7:49), but at Bethlehem there was “no room … in the inn” (Luke 2:7) and “no crib for his bed” (Hymns, 1985, no. 206.) [What a truth to remember at this time of year!]

At the end, meek and lowly Jesus partook of the most bitter cup without becoming the least bitter. (See 3 Ne. 11:11; D&C 19:18–19.) The Most Innocent suffered the most. Yet the King of Kings did not break, even when some of His subjects did unto Him “as they listed.” (D&C 49:6.) Christ’s capacity to endure such irony was truly remarkable.

You and I are so much more brittle. For instance, we forget that, by their very nature, tests are unfair.

Elder Maxwell goes on to list many other ways in which the Savior's life was laced with irony. His life was unfair, too! He understands irony and adversity.

I invite you to read more of Elder Maxwell's talk here. It's one that has become a sort of anchor talk for me.

I'm grateful the Lord brought it to my remembrance tonight.

What talks, quotes, scriptures, or principles bring you strength and perspective during hard times?


SilverRain said...

Thank you, Michelle. Just . . . thank you.

It's like that line from Labyrinth, one of my favorite movies. One of the characters says to the lead character, Sarah, (who has been complaining of unfairness for most of the movie), "It's not fair!"

She replies "No, it isn't. But that's the way it is."

Sometimes simply recognizing that it isn't fair is enough to help calm savaged nerves, I think.

It isn't fair, and that's okay.

jendoop said...

Anything that reminds me of God's love despite my imperfections keeps me moving. I get weighed down not just by going through it, but by trying to do what's right while going through it.

Great post, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I have had such a smooth ride lately but it reminded me to appreciate the times of trial when the greatest growth occurs.

Ginny said...

thanks...working through the "unfair"-ness of my friend losing her baby at 32 weeks...this helped.

m_and_m said...

"It isn't fair, and that's okay."
That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? If we can actually accept that, life will be a lot easier, no?

jendoop, remembering God's love is a huge one for me, too. Thanks for your comment.

lusciouschaos, enjoy that smooth ride! :)

Ginny, your comment brought a lump to my throat. That is hard stuff. Hugs to your friend -- and to you!