No promises, but I am feeling like this post may have a slightly different flavor than my previous posts. I have been thinking about a lot of things lately. I just recently moved to a new apartment, surrounded by new faces and new experiences, starting school again, trying to plan the rest of my life while not knowing at all what lies ahead…you know, just the regular stresses of life. More than that, though, I have been thinking about pain. Mostly because I have been experiencing physical pain, but of course my metaphorical mind kept translating my observations into statements that beautifully hinted toward emotional damage and healing as well.
For anyone who received my emails during the start of my mission in the Philippines, this may have a touch of “deja vu” for you, but today I want to talk about why pain is a gift and blessing from God, and how we can allow ourselves to see it that way.
First, we should examine for a moment the timeless question of why pain even exists. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are trials such a constant, and supposedly necessary, part of our lives?
There are countless answers to that deep and profound question, some of which are unclear, and many of which deal heavily with the process by which we reach our divine potential. Maybe I will return to those another day, but I won’t take time to discuss them here, save one:
We live in a fallen world.
What does that mean? It references an event known as the “Fall of Adam and Eve,” or the process by which our first parents, and all mankind, became mortal. As the Bible Dictionary states, “Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There was so sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life.” As a result of this eternally significant choice, we as humans became vulnerable to all manner of afflictions, including but not limited to, disease, heartache, addiction, depression, pain, loneliness, anxiety, frailty, aging. The negative effects of the Fall are not limited merely to the spiritual canker of sin.
Many hardships in our lives come as the result of misused agency (wrong choices made by others, or ourselves). However, many come simply as a result of this “fallen world.” We are mortal, and our bodies imperfect, and thus we are subjected to these trials.
The most beautiful thing, however, is that the Fall of Adam and Eve was not a surprise to our perfectly loving and perfectly omniscient Heavenly Father. Even before the world was formed, He knew that this Fall would take place, and that we mortals would need divine help in order to overcome the consequences. A Savior, a mediator was chosen. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, performed an infinite Atonement on our behalf, allowed Himself to be crucified, and rose from the dead on the third day. It was prophesied of this experience:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.Alma 7:11-13, emphasis added
Because of this Atonement, because of the things He willingly suffered, the now resurrected and glorified Christ is able to deliver us from ALL the negative effects of the fall, both physical and spiritual. We will all eventually die, but He has overcome death and has promised we will live again (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). We all sin and fall short of His glory (see Romans 3:23), yet He has promised redemption to those who will accept Him and repent (D&C 19:16-17, Mosiah 26:30). And yet even in our smaller, more private pains, He stands with us, ready to help. “I will not leave you comfortless,” he promised, “I will come to you.”
Now, we started by asking why pain is a good thing. And you may be thinking I have wandered entirely off-track, but I promise I haven’t. This all relates, and here is why.
After Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, just before they were cast out of the garden, the Lord came and spoke with them. He explained to them the reasons for the situation they would soon find themselves in, and he left several promises with them.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.Genesis 3:17-19
Now, when I read this, it made me think. These are some rough things they have in store. The Lord is basically saying: “Look, you’re gonna have a hard life now. You’ll have to work hard just to find food to eat and to keep your family alive. You’ll have to forage and try to find edible plants, and you’ll probably get pretty scraped up along the way. Not everything in your environment out there will be soft and cuddly. It’s going to be tough. And then you will die.” It sounded a lot to me like Adam and Eve were being punished for going against the Lord’s commandments! But one phrase in verse 17 kept coming back to me: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,“ the Lord said.
”…FOR THY SAKE...“
He says it like it is a good thing…
This honestly really puzzled me for a while, but then something finally clicked. This one phrase completely changed the way that I view this scripture, the fall, the atonement, and all of mortality!
Far from being a punishment, the Lord is informing Adam and Eve that even though they are starting a new adventure, and not an easy one at that, it is all a part of His plan. A great and perfect plan in which everything was carefully arranged; a merciful Savior sacrificed in the Garden of Gethsemane as a counterpart to the transgression which took place in the Garden of Eden. I read in these verses in Genesis an invitation, as if the Lord is saying:
Your life will be hard. You will get hurt, you will get tired, you will get sick. You will make mistakes, you will feel sorrow, you will feel guilt, you will feel pain. And every time that one of these things happens to you, think BACK to this moment. Remember WHY you are experiencing all these things. Because of this Fall. And when you look back on the Fall, let it point your mind FORWARD to the life and sacrifice of your Savior, the answer to all these trials. Remember the blessings that have been promised to you because of His perfect love. Think of the opportunities that are being offered, and choose to accept Him more fully into your life. Choose to obey Him more exactly. Choose to become more like He is.
Why is pain a good thing? Why is it a gift and blessing from God? Because in a fallen world, where we so easily get caught up in our everyday cares and the subtle stresses of daily life, it is a reminder that there is a much bigger picture! It is a reminder that these trials of mortal life are “but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). It is a loving invitation to come unto Christ, to repent, and be healed (see 3 Nephi 9:13). What more beautiful gift could we hope for?