A few weeks ago I sat at a Stake Relief Society luncheon and listened to a few women share their stories of hardship and how they have overcome them. One sister shared how she, with four children at home, had had breast cancer. She talked about the pain and exhaustion chemotherapy treatments caused. Another sister explained the trials and triumphs of having Multiple Sclerosis. The third sister shared her experiences with raising a severely handicapped child as well as the challenges her husband had with debilitating depression. It's easy to sit through such a meeting and think to ourselves, "Man! If they have all those challenges and can be strong, what am I complaining about?"
But then the third sister said these words: "Having these challenges doesn't make me any better or worse than you. My trials are mine and yours are yours."
Though I've heard this many, many times throughout my life, the moment and the way in which she said it really resonated with me. I took a moment to acknowledge that pain is pain. Though miscarriages are extremely common and though I already have six beautiful children, my pain was very real to me.
Each of us will feel pain and suffer in some way, especially as true disciples of Christ. Pain is painful for the one who suffers it. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has so eloquently explained:
"Our individual experiences may not always be unique, but they are always authentic. God will even take into account our perceptions of, as well as our responses to, our trials. For those of us who do not, for instance, find claustrophobia a challenge, it is difficult to measure the terror that comes to those for whom it is such a challenge. Thus, a friend may seem to struggle unnecessarily long before finally prevailing with regard to a particular principle of the gospel. But for that individual, the struggle was real enough! ...We must remember that, while the Lord reminded the Prophet Joseph Smith that he had not yet suffered as Job, only the Lord can compare crosses (emphasis added)."
Brene Brown (there she is again!) also talks about this in her book, Rising Strong. She says, "...pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked." Someone may lose a husband and not show compassion toward the mother who just sent her last child off to college. Another might be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and not sympathize with a friend who just had knee surgery. A person who miscarries may not acknowledge her own pain because she knows a woman who could never bear children. All of these scenarios involve pain, loss, and struggle. Thus, each situation is in need of more empathy and compassion, not less.
Brown continues, "Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us."
Because of our trials and struggles of this life, we have the power to heal one another! We have the ability to, "succor those that stand in need of our [succor]" (Mosiah 4:16) and "mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9)." Though I may not enjoy the process, if this is even one portion of the joy I gain from struggling, I'm okay with that. I know that my afflictions, and those of others, can be "swallowed up in the joy of Christ (Alma 31:38)."
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One day we will understand fully how complete our commitment was in our first estate in accepting the very conditions of challenge in our second estate about which we sometimes complain in this school of stress. Our collective and personal premortal promises will then be laid clearly before us.
- - Elder Neal A. Maxwell