“Not lucky, blessed”

Occasionally I will be talking to someone about some fortunate circumstance of my and/or my family’s life, and I will say something like, “We’ve been lucky,” and the person I’m talking to will gently correct me and say, “Not lucky–blessed.” Well, yes, fine, if you prefer: “blessed”–but lucky to have been blessed in this particular way. Surely there are others out there, no better or worse than we, who have not been “blessed” quite as we have.

It would be easy, for example, to ascribe our financial “blessings” to our obedience to the law of tithing, were it not for all those other faithful tithe payers who are still struggling to make ends meet. I trust they’re getting their share of other, less tangible blessings–but this disparity in kind is a mystery that I prefer to call “luck” because it is the term I feel comfortable with.

They say God won’t give us any trial we can’t handle. I’ve often wondered what would happen if God did give us a trial we couldn’t handle. Would we spontaneously combust? I think this is just a cute way of saying that with God all things are possible. It may well be that God is sitting up there in heaven and saying, “Well, the Smith boy should go into remission now because his parents aren’t very strong, but the Jones boy can get hit by a bus because his folks can ‘handle’ it.” Even so, I don’t want to think about it.

It’s worth noting that Jesus never said, “I won’t give you any hardship you can’t handle.” He did say, “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.”

Pat Robertson is the low-hanging fruit this news cycle. When he said that Haiti suffers because of a pact somebody made with Satan back in the day, everyone predictably jumped on him–with good reason, because seriously, who says crap like that? This article, while not a defense of Robertson’s remarks, gives them some context (beyond “Dude’s a nutjob”). It’s a natural human tendency to explain evil, to rationalize suffering. It’s why people insist, all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism and that the prevalence of breast cancer is due to the fact that it afflicts mostly women. We’re suffering and we want, need to be angry, and anger needs an object; we’ll take whichever one is convenient, whether it’s sensible or not. The injustice of most of the world’s suffering is so offensive that we can’t bear the thought that it might be random; after all, if it’s random, what’s to stop it from happening to us?

Sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know why. Sometimes good things happen and we still don’t know why. We ask, “Why Haiti?” but we don’t ask its companion question: “Why not us?” Surely God punishing folks for their sins isn’t unheard of, so why aren’t more of us suffering? Specifically, why am I not suffering more? As I said, it’s a mystery, and a very difficult one to accept, actually. Confronted with the fact that life isn’t fair, some reject religious faith altogether, while others go to great lengths to explain God’s apparent tolerance for evil but never quite succeed. Ultimately our faith is trust that God is good and just and that our puny mortal minds can’t wrap themselves around the whys and wherefores of divine goodness and justice. “If I knew Him, I’d be Him.” There’s no pretty way to affirm God’s existence and simultaneously admit that his “blessing” patterns don’t make a lot of sense.

I understand that when people say they’ve been blessed, they are expressing their gratitude to God. It’s a well-known fact that God hates ingratitude. When I hear someone say they are “blessed,” as opposed to merely “lucky,” I don’t think they are implying that they’ve somehow earned this blessing. I don’t have a problem with the word “blessing” or “blessed.” I have a problem with being corrected on the word “luck.” If I say someone is unlucky, no one is going to correct me and say, “Not unlucky–cursed.” (Well, with the possible exception of Pat Robertson.) Certainly this is a personal problem, but I can’t say “blessed” without wondering, “Why me?” and “Why not someone else?” As a consequence I don’t use the word much in the context of whatever good has happened to me but rather whatever good I hope will happen to somebody else. I suppose “luck” is just my shorthand for “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Not lucky, blessed

Comments

  1. I think very similar to the way you do, or rather have thought like that at various times and in different circumstances (what does that even mean…) I guess I’m just expressing somewhat of a similarity of opinion with you.

    On the other hand, I think if look at a talk like this one:
    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-520-33,00.html

    “Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.”

    I think there is no shame to calling a spade a spade or a blessing a blessing or a tender mercy a tender mercy.

    I know where you’re coming from, because it’s hard to call yourself blessed without implying that someone else is not blessed if they don’t have the same thing you have.

    My opinion is increasingly becoming… If you are financially well off and pay your tithing you are enjoying a blessing of the lord. If you are poor and pay your tithing you are also receiving blessings from the lord. It’s man not God that insists all blessings be equal in measure and form in order for it to constitue a “valid blessing” (as opposed to coincidence or luck). If it’s good, I suggest give credit to the Lord.

    Once again, this should not be construed that one person is more blessed than another because they are wealthy and pay tithing and that line of thinking probably only comes from prideful or envious thoughts. Well that’s what I’m hashing through in my mind on the matter anyway.

  2. Nice post. I’m sure that good clean livin’ probably shifts the mean toward more lucky/blessed, but statistics still apply. Introducing random variables to God’s plan makes the majority of us nervous, but I figure we acknowledged them as part of mortality and agreed to live under this system when we accepted God’s plan to come to earth. I struggle to see any other explanation based on watching life unfold. Perhaps I simply lack the faith to see things clearly (I’m sure I do), or maybe the randomness is an integral part of this life to test the purity of my motives/faith?

  3. Peter LLC says:

    Surely God punishing folks for their sins isn’t unheard of, so why aren’t more of us suffering? Specifically, why am I not suffering more?

    Good question. Anyone who wants to identify spades is going to have to explain why I lead a charmed life in spite of my substantial and numerous flaws.

  4. In my experience, there’s no such thing as “luck.”

  5. Fantastic post, RJ. You’ve highlighted a fistful of folk doctrines that used to bring me great comfort and peace, and now drive me absolutely crazy.

    If God never gives us anything we can’t handle, then we have enormous amounts of data proving that God isn’t the only giver around here.

  6. There is that scripture that says we won’t be tempted above that we are able, so the notion of not being given more than we can handle is not without some scriptural connection.

    Another one of the scriptures that I think of when I ponder the seeming disparity of suffering is “Unto whom much is given, much is required.”

    That to me answers some of the ‘why not me’ — because maybe our test in our relative ease is to see what we will do with it — will we use what we have been given (materially and spiritually (i.e.,– the gospel) for the good of others and the building of God’s kingdom? That’s another level of sobering.

    That said, I think that we all suffer and struggle in different ways and at different times. Not all suffering makes headlines. I also don’t believe it’s just the luck of the draw — the notion of such randomness doesn’t gel with the God I know who has been in the details. But I also don’t believe that the things we see and how we see them is anywhere near the vastness of how God works. Suffering as measured in mortality compared to the glory that awaits us — even the worst of the worst who may in this life be truly cursed because of wickedness — is beyond our comprehension.

    “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” right? Actually, that’s a whole other thing to process — how suffering could be for benefit, especially what appears to us as needless, pointless suffering. But we are told He will consecrate our afflictions for our good. I have to believe that.

    But in the end, when I try to consider all of these things, I have to recognize how little I really know and understand. I just know that God is great, perfectly loving, and perfectly just and merciful — and that we don’t see the balance take its course often in this life. Without a notion of eternity, I simply cannot process the pain and the injustices inherent in mortality.

  7. This makes me think that God doesn’t think I can handle much. Thank God.

    I’m going to try that “not unlucky, cursed” correction next time. I bet I get socked.

  8. Bless you for this post, RJ. Err, luck you? Um, nevermind.

  9. Folk doctrines always have a (twisted) scriptural connection.

    “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear” does not mean “I the Lord will not tempt you above that which ye can bear,” nor “I the Lord will not inflict suffering upon you beyond your capacity to bear,” nor “I the Lord am the only cause of action in the universe, therefore all temptation and suffering comes at my hand.”

  10. I’m very lucky. It could also be called blessed though, like others, I’m not really sure why I deserve it over someone more faithful.

    I think a lot of life is randomness. A chance mutation happens and cancer occurs. A driver swerves and a life is changed. A butterfly flaps its wings and a hurricane flattens thousands of houses across the ocean. Things just happen. Good things happen to both good and bad people. Bad things happen to both good and bad people.

    At the end of the day, it’s how we relate to them that matters, regardless of your belief system. In our church, we are promised that a Celestial Kingdom is possible with all that entails. Muslims are promised rest with Allah and 70 virgins. Even Buddhism, which doesn’t necessarily claim an existence of God, promises ultimate release from the cycle of suffering – if we relate to our circumstances well.

  11. Sorry, one more thought.

    I think we need to be careful if we ascribe EVERY good thing to God. What does that imply for the bad things – are they directly from God (ie. curses) or are they because God decided not to give us a blessing?

    That being said, I thank God daily in my prayers for all that I do have.

  12. I have been thinking about this “blessed” concept a lot lately and have come across four things that have enlightened/confused me more. (I think I am going to have to put them in four separate comments so it doesn’t get caught by the filter):

    First, Elder Oaks’ talk from conference:

    My message is that God’s universal and perfect love is shown in all the blessings of His gospel plan, including the fact that His choicest blessings are reserved for those who obey His laws. . .

    God’s choicest blessings are clearly contingent upon obedience to God’s laws and commandments. The key teaching is from modern revelation:

    “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

    “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).

    This great principle helps us understand the why of many things, like justice and mercy balanced by the Atonement. It also explains why God will not forestall the exercise of agency by His children. Agency—our power to choose—is fundamental to the gospel plan that brings us to earth. God does not intervene to forestall the consequences of some persons’ choices in order to protect the well-being of other persons—even when they kill, injure, or oppress one another—for this would destroy His plan for our eternal progress. He will bless us to endure the consequences of others’ choices, but He will not prevent those choices.

  13. So, based on that talk from Elder Oaks’, I feel frustrated when I don’t feel “blessed”, but I think it’s because I don’t understand the meaning of the word “blessings”. I ascribe them to be certain things (I think it is because of the scripture he cites that says the blessings obtained by obedience to that law upon which they are predicated). But, Elder Oaks even starts his talk by specifying “blessings of His gospel plan”, and yes, I have received many blessings from the gospel plan (baptism, temple sealing, children born in covenant, etc.) that are predicated on my obedience to my covenants. I also gained insight from this article in the January Ensign. President Uchtdorft talks about the saints of Kirtland and says:

    That era of Church history is known as a time of severe trials but also supreme blessings.

    In Kirtland the Lord bestowed some of the most remarkable heavenly manifestations and spiritual gifts this world has ever experienced. Sixty-five sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received in Kirtland and surrounding areas—revelations that brought new light and knowledge about topics such as the Second Coming, caring for the needy, the plan of salvation, priesthood authority, the Word of Wisdom, tithing, the temple, and the law of consecration.

    It was a period of unparalleled spiritual growth . . . As the Saints of Kirtland drew near unto the Lord, He truly did draw near unto them, pouring out the blessings of heaven upon the heads of the faithful . . . But, of course, great spiritual experiences do not make us exempt from opposition and trials.

    It really hit me when I read this that we are promised spiritual blessings, not necessarily temporal blessings. Even though others around us are receiving them and crediting the Lord, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those temporal blessings are guaranteed to all the same way that spiritual blessings are guaranteed to all who come unto the Lord.

  14. Third, along the lines of being frustrated by not feeling blessed, Rico over at MormonMatters
    said something I found particularly profound:

    Faith is a paradox. I believe that we see our faith, or experience our faith, when we keep doing those things that are right even when it seems impossible for us to receive the blessings. It is the strength to endure even when we see no possibility of fulfillment. It is in these moments of struggle that we are forced to draw closer to God and rely more wholly upon him because there is nothing else to rely upon.

    Amen to that. I think it is the true test of discipleship. If you have paid your tithing and paid a generous fast offering and then lose your job and lose your home and pretty much everything (as happened to a very faithful couple I know), do you continue to praise God for your blessings? Do you remain faithful to the principles that don’t seem to be producing the desired results? That’s a very temporal example, but it’s just one I am thinking of. Personally, my struggle is this: after 2+ years of DH in the Bishopric which has appeared to be nothing but an extreme hardship for my family, am I faithful enough to support him in accepting another calling like that? I think the concept is applicable in so many situations. As Rico says, do we have the strength to endure even when we see no possibility of fulfillment?

  15. John Mansfield says:

    “I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.”—Zephaniah

  16. And, last, just a quick thought I had related to this question posed in the OP:

    Surely God punishing folks for their sins isn’t unheard of, so why aren’t more of us suffering? Specifically, why am I not suffering more?

    Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact scripture right now. I read it within the last week somewhere between 3 Nephi-Mormon (may have been Christ quoting Isaiah?), but the message I distinctly remember getting from it was that the Lord will allow us to revel in our wickedness until He comes. Basically that we won’t see the “punishment” until it is too late.

    (Also, this is a threadjack so I won’t go into it, but I disagree strongly with this statement: It’s a natural human tendency to explain evil, to rationalize suffering. It’s why people insist, all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism )

  17. A very timely piece about the uncomfortable (and, thus, ignored) dichotomy between blessings/luck and curses/bad luck.

    A member made the dead-serious comment last week in GD that the earthquake in Haiti was a blessing to those people so that they could improve their lives. While I refuse to accept that point of view, it did make me start thinking about blessings and God’s relationship with the world in a global sense.

    An embryonic thought: Could it be that “luck” is an appropriate description of the things that happen to us, and that “blessings” are best reserved to describe the way in which we act/react towards external influences? It seems to fit with “much given/much required” and the universal promise of eternal life despite the undeniable inequity of life’s events.

  18. Stephanie, call it my Pat Robertson moment.

  19. “prevalence of breast cancer is due to the fact that it afflicts mostly women”
    I haven’t heard this line of thinking… what do you mean?

    Great post, I’m finding myself moving farther away from giving thanks to God for “giving” me something, and rather just thanking him for life I have, that because I am, I can be blessed and cursed through my actions, those of others, or for no reason at all…

  20. Stephanie, I love your thoughts. That D&C scripture has always been hard for me in the whole dichotomy. If blessings come by obedience, how can a lack of blessings not be because of unrighteousness. I love that you shift to the definition of blessings. Certainly money can be, but that’s not necessarily what the Lord is promising. His work and glory is our salvation, not debt relief, or owning a home, or even having your electicity turned on. Salvation is available to all: poor and rich, and those that receive it are the ones that are ultimatley the “most” blessed…

  21. sorry, ultimately…

  22. “They say God won’t give us any trial we can’t handle.” And They are purveyors of FALSE DOCTRINE. Just as Kathryn said @ #9.

    I wrote a post about this very thing a while ago…
    http://www.nourishment-blog.com/nourishment/Blog/Entries/2009/8/18_mr._yahne_was_right.html

    While I believe all good things come from God, I’m also uncomfortable saying all my good fortunes are because I’m “blessed,” precisely because the flip slide of that is not a nice conclusion.

  23. “prevalence of breast cancer is due to the fact that it afflicts mostly women”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that if breast cancer were a “male disease” they would have cured it by now. You know, like they’ve cured testicular cancer. Oh, wait.

  24. Something that I didn’t put in the post but along the same lines: Our family owns the book “I Am a Child of God” that features Greg Olsen’s artwork. (He didn’t write the accompanying text–that honor belongs to Wendy and Michael Nelsen.) It’s a fine book, except for one page that I wish I could just rip out or take a black Sharpie to: “I know I am a child of God because He surrounds me with people who love me and keep me safe.” It’s beautiful that so many children are blessed with loving and safe families, but it’s hardly universal, and I’m uncomfortable characterizing it as evidence that one is a child of God. Everyone is a child of God, even those who are lonely and abused. I don’t know, of course, that being born into fortunate circumstances *isn’t* a sign of God’s favor; I just *hope* that that isn’t the case.

  25. Wonderful post, RJ. (Techy admins, can we just get a comment template for Rebecca’s post that starts that way, to save typing it every time? Alternatively, could you write something mediocre or uninteresting, Rebecca, just once, to make the rest of us feel better?)

    I suspect this is why we have the Book of Job, and why we all ought to read it several times a year. Because, of course, EVERY human explanation of evil, of suffering, is utterly inadequate, at best. In fact, our misguided attempts to explain others’ suffering (and sometimes our own) tend to add to that suffering, and contribute to the net evil in the world. Job ends up with faith only in the most mysterious, least rational propositions of all–resurrection and redemption. I suspect we will all discover, finally, that that is all there is, and it is more than enough.

    Old Edward Estlin maybe got it right:

    O sweet spontaneous
    earth how often have
    the doting

    fingers of
    prurient philosophies pinched
    and poked

    thee
    has the naughty thumb
    of science prodded
    thy

    beauty how
    often have religions taken
    thee upon their scraggy
    knees squeezing and

    buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
    gods
    but
    true

    to the incomparable
    couch of death thy
    rhythmic
    lover

    thou answerest
    them only with

    spring

  26. I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments. I don’t mean to come off as a Negative Nelly. (Or nattering nabob of negativity–although I do like saying that.)

    I like what m&m said about the “much is given/much is required” and Stephanie’s commentary on the talks she cited. Also, John Mansfield’s Zephaniah quote. I appreciated that.

  27. And thanks, Kristine, whose comment I just saw. Poetry! Kristine is classy. :)

  28. Actually Breast cancer can and does affect males. And no need to apologize for discounting an autism/vaccine link.

  29. Looks like TAMN will have to re-name the website to “Seriously, So Lucky”

  30. Possibly except to those parents who are firmly convinced that vaccines caused their child’s autism, and you just called them stupid.

  31. I’ve been mulling over in my mind this quote that Robert Kennedy used from Aeschylus the night Martin Luther King was shot:

    “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

    Perhaps the ultimate “blessing” is wisdom.

  32. Rebecca, you also prompted a memory of this poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins, “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord”:

    Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
    With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
    Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
    Disappointment all I endeavour end?
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
    How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
    Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
    Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
    Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
    Now, leav’d how thick! lac’d they are again
    With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
    Them; birds build — but not I build; no, but strain,
    Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
    Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

  33. Dwight Schrute says:

    “A real man makes his own luck.”–Billy Zane, Titanic

  34. I’m not big on poetry, usually, but it sure works for me here.

    #9 Kathryn, 1 Cor 10:

    “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who 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”

  35. This is a great post. I’ve been thinking about this very topic since reading this news article the other day:
    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/34933053/ns/today-today_people/

    In particular, I pondered the message Dan Woolley wrote to his sons:

    “I was in a big accident. Don’t be upset at God. He always provides for his children, even in hard times. I’m still praying that God will get me out, but He may not. But He will always take care of you.”

    I kept asking myself: What on earth does he mean by that last sentence, under these circumstances? Sure he was ultimately rescued, but his colleague was not.

  36. MikeInWeHo,

    If you’re a believer, you believe that God knows what’s best for you and will either take you “home” or leave you here to “bless” others. Either way, the “best” outcome occurs. If you’re not a believer, it means believers take comfort in believing this stuff.

    Personally, I’ve felt like God’s delivered me from some tough things because I asked (not because I deserved it), and left me to cope with others because I needed those opportunities to grow. May or may not be true, but I’ve sure felt a lot better believing it. I’ve also always felt God would watch over my kids if I couldn’t, and that He’d help them through whatever they had to face.

    Interestingly, this way of believing is really hard to project onto others, and it seems pretty immune to actual events on the ground. There’s really no “cause and effect” relationship visible to the outside observer.

  37. #30. You certainly don’t need to pass an IQ test to become a parent. Being convinced of something doesn’t necessarily make it true. If you want your child to suffer a preventable disease by not vaccinating them, unfortunately you do have the right to do so. But maybe you will be blessed, or lucky, and your kid won’t get sick.

  38. Yes, Martin. My point still stands.

  39. “Anyone who wants to identify spades is going to have to explain why I lead a charmed life in spite of my substantial and numerous flaws.”

    Or explain why someone who tries to do all the things they are supposed to do and gets wheelbarrows of crap dumped on them.

  40. Molly Bennion says:

    I do not believe God will not allow us to suffer a trial we cannot endure as I understand the meaning of that word. Trials can leave horrendous human damage to the righteous and unrighteous alike. Even his comfort may not be enough to stave off such mental illness as one of my husband’s ancestors suffered as one of the last to leave Nauvoo, one of the most victimized by the mobs. But I do believe He will not allow us to suffer a trial over which we cannot ultimately prevail. That gives me enough hope for myself and mankind and plenty of reason to believe in His goodness.

  41. This all gets to my understanding of the other part of the atonement, beyond just allowing us to be forgiven for sins, which is that the atonement also enables us to struggle on under the weight of all the trials, misfortunes, accidents, and sometimes intentional hurts that others have dumped on us. It is what allows us to forgive those who have wronged us.

    From Alma 7: 11 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.
    12 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.

    Sometimes the only hope we have is that we can receive comfort in and through the Savior, and know that ultimately, this mortal life is of limited duration. We are also taught that we are here that we might have joy, but given no promise that precludes the suffering and heartbreak that are so much a part of mortality.

  42. Bogolubov says:

    The logic is always tortured, but perhaps this is one of the best examples:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/books/20garner.html

  43. I think, as someone mentioned, that how we define blessing is key.

    According to King Benjamin, when we keep the commandments, God “immediately” blesses us (Mosiah 2:24). Every blessing from God is based upon obedience to the law upon which His blessing is predicated. (D&C 130)

    President Kimball said this: “If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil–all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency. . . . There would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.”

    If we attribute some tragedies to God’s allowing man to misuse agency, perhaps we can explain someone’s seemingly “unearned” blessings as a result of man’s own efforts and not a blessing from God at all. Plus, some adversity really is a blessing in the long run, and what we may consider blessings can in some cases turn out to be detrimental to us. In the end, we have to trust that God knows what is best for us.

  44. And no need to apologize for discounting an autism/vaccine link.

    I don’t apologize. It is my Offensive Remark For The Month.

    But for the record, I didn’t call anyone stupid. I have friends who believe their children’s autism was caused by vaccines, and I don’t think they’re stupid. It’s completely off-topic and therefore not worthy of extended commentary, and I suppose if I had it to do over again, I would excise that particular gem and stick with wide-spread beliefs that only stupid people have, but I don’t have it to do over again, so I am letting it go. I won’t offer some half-assed apology expressing my regret that some people were offended. I will say that I wish in retrospect that I had kept my opinion on the matter to myself, which is what I usually do. That doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

  45. Excellent, thought-provoking post. Just yesterday as I read a newspaper article about elderly nursing home patients in Haiti left out in the street to starve, I thought about how impossible it can be to understand God’s will. Personally, I find the phrase “God won’t give me more than I can handle” unsettling rather than comforting, because I *do* know people who’ve been given more than they (or any human being) can reasonably expect to handle and have suffered or even crumbled under the weight of exceptionally difficult life circumstances. I don’t like the idea that these people are then responsible for not “handling” the incredibly tough hand they were dealt, while those of us with much easier lives are to be congratulated for successfully navigating calm waters. But, then again, if our waters are relatively calm . . . does that mean that we’re weak? That God gives weak people easy lives and strong people hard ones? The mental gymnastics it takes to play this idea out leaves me exhausted.

    I find it much more comforting to think that God will support me in my trials, that his atonement will cover me and make up for my weaknesses, and that having the spirit in my life will help me learn from difficult circumstances.

  46. Aaron Brown says:

    “I’ve often wondered what would happen if God did give us a trial we couldn’t handle. Would we spontaneously combust?”

    This is really a great question, because the more you think about this oft-stated claim (“God won’t give us trials we can’t handle”), the less sense it makes. Can anyone provide an example of what not “handling” it would look like? Isn’t it a fact that, if any one of us were smackdab in the middle of the Port au Prince earthquake, and were severely injured and starving, and our children were killed, that as long as we literally survived the ordeal, we would in some sense be “handling” it, by definition. Or perhaps we can imagine that a horrific event might drive us crazy, depressed-beyond-belief, suicidal, homicidal, etc., and that once we’ve achieved this state, we’re officially no longer “handling” it. But if this is so, doesn’t the very existence of people who are indeed in these states definitively disprove our claim about “handling”? Or do we actually tell ourselves there’s no such thing as bona fide cases of severe depression, suicidal tendencies, murderousness, etc.?

    Great post, Rebecca.

    AB

  47. And since some lovely poetry is showing up in this thread, this poem by Mary Oliver is a worthy addition:

    Heavy

    That time
    I thought I could not
    go any closer to grief
    without dying

    I went closer,
    and I did not die.
    Surely God
    had His hand in this,

    as well as friends.
    Still, I was bent,
    and my laughter,
    the poet said,

    was nowhere to be found.
    Then said my friend Daniel
    (brave even among lions),
    “It’s not the weight you carry

    but how you carry it–
    books, bricks, grief–
    it’s all in the way
    you embrace it, balance it, carry it

    when you cannot, and would not,
    put it down.”
    So I went practicing.
    Have you noticed?

    Have you heard
    the laughter
    that comes, now and again,
    out of my startled mouth?

    How I linger
    to admire, admire, admire
    the things of the world
    that are kind, and maybe

    also troubled–
    roses in the wind,
    the sea geese on the steep waves,
    a love
    to which there is no reply?

  48. John Mansfield says:

    Aaron Brown’s comment reminded me of Thomas Monson’s talk (“Be of Good Cheer”) about the refugee woman who dug graves for her children using a spoon. The pacing of the storytelling was perfect because after she buried the third of four children, I thought “Now she’s going to lose the spoon and dig a fourth grave using her fingers.” Sure enough.

  49. Angela, very nice poem. This topic seems to be a common theme. There are many different ways of coping with misfortune, so one size does not fit all. But as human beings, our ability to break in so many different ways is matched only by our capacity for finding infinite ways of coping with that breakage.

  50. It’s interesting to me that many responders here have used poetry to try to express their feelings. It is obviously very difficult to understand the perplexities of the Lord causing the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, because there are so many ironies even in the rain, it being both a blessing and a curse at times and falling on the seemingly cursed and uncursed at the same time. A very wise man in my ward often said that we Mormons overused the expression “thankful for the blessings we enjoy” in our public prayers and then said we should think more on the blessings we don’t enjoy. To me, that’s what many here have said. It’s the attitude of enjoying that blessing we don’t particularly want that’s hard. The shear magnitude of the disaster in Haiti, though, and disasters elsewhere, is so hard to understand even with the idea of trying to “enjoy” those blessings we don’t typically enjoy. And that oft-used placating thought that it’s us who need this blessing of helping the people in Haiti doesn’t work for me, either, even though I am moved with compassion and will likely do something to assuage my conscience relative to the earthquake. I like the word luck, too, and admire the Jewish philosophies that I’ve heard and read about luck. From what I understand, Jews do believe that it is luck and this world has some randomness to it. I do believe in tender mercies, too, though, so don’t think I’m a Mormon heretic. Luck is the only word to describe some things.

  51. Latter-day Guy says:

    Great post, Rebecca. Thanks.

    48: That story was (and still is) really disturbing.

  52. John Mansfield says:

    Isn’t all this just part of the beauty of God’s use of evolution for the unfolding of his wonderous plan whereby less fit species and families unable to bear their burdens are removed from cumbering the land? I’m sure I’ve read several times that evolution, with its competition and death for the loser unto her fourth generation, is a beautiful part of Heavenly Father’s creation.

  53. I once took a class from the poet Geofrey Hill framed around this thesis: that the experience of God and the experience of pain were both ineffable and that the futile struggle to speak these mysteries was the lifeblood of poetry.

  54. Peter LLC says:

    Or explain why someone who tries to do all the things they are supposed to do and gets wheelbarrows of crap dumped on them.

    Indeed.

  55. re: 36
    “Either way, the “best” outcome occurs.”

    I agree with you Martin that this is the mindset of many believers. At times I wish I could think like that, but mostly I’m glad I struggle with the unknowns. I’m with Job and the Jews.

    Psychologically it’s problematic to contort tragedy into a blessing-in-disguise (“Daddy’s in heaven now!”). The grieving process can get all messed up, leading to all kinds of problems like depression later on.

  56. @ #55 Thank you for those last two sentences, Mike. That’s a really important distinction, and one I’m hyper-vigilant of now.

  57. StillConfused says:

    I think God gets way more credit/blame than rightly belongs with him. Paying your tithing does not excuse you from being fiscally responsible. Paying your tithing will not make the oncoming truck veer away. We should take responsibility for those things within our control and not over analyze the things that are outside of our control.

  58. Great post. I have been asking similar questions for the past couple of decades. Reminds me of the zen koan “what’s the sound of one hand clapping?” Or how about this one: Joseph Smith said that every son has a father who had father…. That being the case, who was the “first” father? Who was Heavenly Father’s father?! If there is “no beginning or end” then there is just “now”. But, how did “now” come into existence? Ya know, a person could make himself insane thinking like this. Ya know…..????? Arrrrrrgh!! My brain hurts already.

  59. Stephanie says:

    Re 48 – I was thinking of the same talk. I found it both disturbing and comforting. No happy end. No blessing after the trial. Just misery and faith. It made me question if I would have the faith to endure. I’ve started to crumble under much lighter burdens, but I realize I need more faith. I need that kind of faith.

    (Rebecca J, I wasn’t asking for an apology – just smarting at what I perceived as insensitivity on ScW’s part. /Threadjack)

  60. Re: m&m (and probably others whose posts I have not read)

    I, too, think our task is to see what we do with our “blessings”. The greatest mantra I’ve ever learned was from a Baptist woman I came in contact with.

    She lived by: Pass the blessings on.

  61. RJ, this was great. I’ve been thinking about it since you posted. After all that thinking I realize that anything I say will be as confused as my thinking. So I will not say anything. For which you are blessed and lucky.

  62. Can anyone provide an example of what not “handling” it would look like?

    I think this is a good question, and illustrates the challenge of trying to discuss these things w/ a limited language.

    I also think that at some point, the whys of it all matter less than the “what we do with it” part. When God talks about us being able to bear things, I think the way to escape is not just in waiting for Him to manage what happens to us, but in what we do with what happens. Christ is the answer, not “it happened because of ________”

    And imo, at some level, I think we all create folk — or at least grossly incomplete — doctrines at some level if we try to explain too much of what happens. We simply don’t see or understand why or how things work and I think we risk getting ourselves in trouble by thinking that we know more than we do or trying to explain what we do not really understand.

  63. Another thought — when I’m feeling like I can’t “handle it” anymore, I try to remember that we really all are blessed to even be here, to get a body, to progress in this way.

    And Keryn, I agree.

  64. Stephanie and John M –

    You know, I really struggled with that talk… I did not really get any comfort out of it at all. I listed to that story and just felt like, what was the point of that whole journey? What exactly was she showing faith in? I just don’t get it. Maybe I need to read it again, because I really had a hard time with it.

  65. Stephanie says:

    Enna, the point I got was that she remained faithful (to God) even when she lost everything and wanted to die. I would want to die, too. But she kept going. For me, that was the point. Just keep going no matter how bad it gets. Not really comforting in the sense that there was something to offer comfort, just comforting in the sense that, “If she can keep going, I can, too”.

  66. Mark Brown says:

    Rebecca, thank you for saying what I have been trying to find words for. Especially this:

    The injustice of most of the world’s suffering is so offensive that we can’t bear the thought that it might be random; after all, if it’s random, what’s to stop it from happening to us?

  67. When in doubt give God the credit. I suspect a lot is actually coincidence. But there’s nothing wrong for praising God for something he didn’t do. But probably one shouldn’t ignore God for things he did.

  68. Not really comforting in the sense that there was something to offer comfort, just comforting in the sense that, “If she can keep going, I can, too”.

    To me, that was the point. The story was horrific. I hated it. But I think his point was that life can get really, really bad sometimes — and he is aware of that. He knows there are people out there who really would rather die than face what they are facing. When I went back and read that during a Sunday class, it hit me so hard — here is a prophet reaching out to those who are at that point of utter hopelessness. I was really moved by that.

  69. One man’s blessing is another man’s curse.

  70. Wonderful topic….I struggle with what “enduring it well” looks like. I tend to get perfectionist and feel like I have to endure it perfectly without going all laman and lemuel complainy….so I guess I’ve endured very few things well. I just have to hope for a lot of grace in enduring things well…I wish I could practice first, before having alive audience wacthing whether I endure well.

    I’ve never understood people with a strong sense that this life situation is a curse becuase of wickedness, this life situation is a blessing…IMO Christians should be somewhat familiar with the life of Christ, and His life is a VERY obvious example of bad things happening to good people.

    On the blessed and lucky….My sil frequently tells me how lucky I am to married her brother. This sil has 2 ex husbands. Some things really aren’t luck. yes sometimes good people get divorce, but if the guy is drinking and doing drugs BEFORE you get married, chances are he will continue and that may lead to bad situations..choosing to marry into that is not bad luck it’s a bad choice. I did get lucky in many ways when I chose my husband, but there were some conscious choices I made in him-he wasn’t doing drugs, didn’t cheat on me while we were dating…you know some basic stuff that really could have changed her marriage experience. That’s NOT luck. I correct her every time.

  71. My experience with “luck” and “blessed” has taught me several things over the years–We’re not alone.

    When I followed the ways of the world and something the natural man prized fell into my lap, I said I was lucky. Some of my friends said, not luck–but blessed. The blessing they referred to was packaged by the god of this world.

    When I changed directions and followed God I realized that the more I sought the Lord the more “lucky” I became. Some of my friends said, not luck–but blessed. The blessing they referred to was packaged by the God of heaven.

    Those who walk the path of faith are taught to be thankful in all things (Mosiah 26:39). Does this mean things that are sad and difficult? Each of us has to be the judge of how we answer that question.

    The Lord has told us that He will consecrate our afflictions to our gain (2 Nephi 2:1).

    We can follow the Savior from a distance or up close, the choice is ours. The view is different based on the distance we choose to follow Him from.

  72. Latter-day Guy says:

    65, 68: I don’t know if I can say this right, but the point you bring out is (part of) what disturbs me in that story. If your faith is impossible to dislodge, if no circumstance could make you cease to believe, then how is your faith distinguishable from insanity? How is it built on anything but itself?

  73. Stephanie says:

    Re 72 – isn’t that the point of the story of Job, too, though? His friends told him to curse God and die. The Bible Dictionary says:

    The human mind is such that it is essential for Job to have a correct knowledge of God and know that his own course of life was acceptable to God, or he would not have been able to endure the trials that came upon him.

    I don’t really have an answer to your question. I think that faith is often mistaken for insanity.

  74. 72,

    In my mind, faith is about a choice, and it means all the more when it’s made against the hardest of odds, in the face of opposition. This is far, far from insanity, imo. Insanity is a passive thing, it (generally speaking) ends up happening to you. Faith is very active; it must be chosen, sought, exercised.

    Have you ever been suicidal, or at least at that point where you truly felt you couldn’t do it anymore? I have. To choose to look to God and live at times like that is no easy thing. But to do that and to realize that more light eventually does come, even if just a ray, even if it comes later than sooner, is enough to strengthen that faith. At least in my experience. That is what I felt Pres. Monson was trying to teach.

    The fruits of faith are discernible. Light, as Alma says, is real because it is discernible. In that sense, it builds on itself, but it is based in Light and Truth, in God’s light and truth.

  75. p.s. the times when I have let myself choose hopelessness, that has also fed on itself in terribly destructive ways. When I have enough of my wits about me, I can see how different faith and its fruits are, a la Moroni 7:14-16.

  76. Latter-day Guy says:

    “In my mind, faith is about a choice, and it means all the more when it’s made against the hardest of odds, in the face of opposition.”

    Thus: credo quia absurdum est? I mean, in most human situations, faith (at least of the Christian variety) doesn’t usually lead to destructive actions. Even if there is no God/life-after-death/etc., saying prayers doesn’t hurt anyone. But consider an Abraham and Isaac situation. Who’s crazier, the man who kills his son because the voice in his head tells him to, or the man who hears the voice in his head tell him to kill his son, realizes that under most circumstances this is pretty convincing evidence of insanity, realizes that killing sons is generally a pretty horrific thing to do, but soldiers on anyhow?

    I do agree with you that both faith and despair can become cyclical––and that is a perfect example of what disturbs me here: it seems they progress by the same mechanism.

    73, Yes, I do think that is the message in Job. I find it a troubling book.

    No doubt this is just another of those “shelf” issues I ought to put away for later.

  77. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster by your side…

  78. Latter-day Guy, here are some of my thoughts – FWIW. I know others’ mileage and perspectives may vary.

    I guess to me some of it in my mind comes down to the fact that faith is about so much more than just offering a prayer or only going through some outward motion. It’s offering one *and* getting to the point where you know God has answered. It’s choosing to follow Christ because you have received a witness from God through the Spirit that it’s the right thing to do (not just not a bad thing to do). About repeatedly seeking His will and trying to do it. In fact, I would argue that just offering a prayer w/o real faith that it will be answered, if continued in that mode, is not real faith and at some point going through the motions won’t really do much good — even could do harm if there is a false sense of security of going through that motion w/o real intent. Faith is about leaning on and actively seeking to follow a Being you know is real, and expecting — and getting — answers and true, divine light and help. And feeling the change in your life and heart by so doing.

    I think if we try to understand faith only in the context of extreme situations like Abraham’s, we miss what it means on a day-to-day basis. I doubt Abraham or Nephi could have done what they did w/o a lifetime of clear experiences with God to know when they were hearing His voice. My goal is to have enough experiences on a regular (if not daily) basis with God that I can know the difference between inspiration and insanity. I don’t think that is at all an unreachable goal.

    A less dramatic question in my mind is ‘how do I know if it’s God’s voice or my own?’ Again, I think ultimately a lifetime of experience help us develop that ability to discern. And there’s an atonement to fill in the gaps when we goof, which we will do. Guaranteed.

    One last thought – I don’t think we should be at all surprised that hope and despair function in a similar way. The adversary’s way is essentially a counterfeit to God’s. Even scripturally, we see such parallels (and contrasts)…e.g., a serpent in the garden deceives and inspires transgression; a serpent on a pole heals; we can either choose the path of light or of darkness. In a way, it can make the journey easier…once we have experiences with God and contrast that with the adversary’s counterfeits, we, like Moses can more readily say, “I can discern between you and God — get thee hence.” And choose the One who heals, lifts, and strengthens us.

  79. Great post, madhousewife. Like Mark, I particularly like this point:

    The injustice of most of the world’s suffering is so offensive that we can’t bear the thought that it might be random; after all, if it’s random, what’s to stop it from happening to us?

    I think that’s spot on. It’s social psychologists I think who do lots of theorizing and experimenting to figure out how we make attributions about various events. (“Why did that happen to her and not me?”) And if I remember right, they tend to find that can’t, as you said so well, bear the fact that events might be random. So we come up with all kinds of rationalizations and blame people for things out of their control that happen to them.

    Also, as usual, your writing is wonderful.

  80. Perhaps people who say, “we won’t be given trials that we can’t handle are misquoting 1 Ne 3:7, “…for I know he giveth no COMMANDMENTS unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing….”

  81. My husband and I have always had financial struggles for the 20 years we’ve been married. It’s only recently I realized that if we’d had more money, I’d probably be a horrible mother. Our financial situation has caused us to be a very tight-knit family—we’ve had to be, living in a tiny cramped apartment! If we had a bigger place to live I’d probably never see my kids. I’m the type to burrow into a hole whenever possible. (I’ve actually been going crazy lately because I’ve had no time alone in weeks.)

    Sometimes I’m glad HF gives us what we need and not what we want.

  82. When I was 17 the ward youth all piled into two cars for a trip to a Stake Dance. My friend’s car had 7 people in it and mine had 8. On the way back it I was driving the car behind when we came upon a series of S turns. Since it was dark and I could not see any oncoming headlights I thought in my invincible 17 year old mind that it would be a good time to really accelerate on those blind turns and pass my friend. What I didn’t realize was the high hedge just off the road was blocking oncoming headlights. As I was even with my friend’s car I saw a car not very far away coming right at me. I remember everything like it was slow motion, and between the speed of my vehicle and the braking of the other two cars I just missed having a massive collision. I literally could see a 2 inch gap between the cars as I just slanted away from him. In that moment I had a “vision” of the destruction of lives that had almost happened; the devastation that would have been put to a dozen families. I almost killed the entire ward’s youth because I was stupid. In that I have come to realize I was lucky, everyone else was blessed. In that I don’t think you get blessed for being stupid, but you sometimes can if you are just an innocent bystander. Maybe their blessings made me “lucky”. And fwiw, in the following 23 years I have never passed anyone ever again for fun, and rarely because I needed to.

  83. TStevens – That was a harrowing story. I liked your insight, but it also made me think that maybe you were blessed, if we use the word “blessing” in a particular way – essentially you were given the gift of fear. You were lucky, of course, that you didn’t have to “earn” that gift the hard way. So yeah, now I’m back to my original semantics. ;) But I liked what you said about other people’s blessings making you “lucky.”

    Susan M – That’s interesting. Perhaps the reason my children are so difficult is that if they were well-behaved and compliant, I’d find them a lot easier to ignore. I’m a burrowing type myself.

    Han Solo – Once again, you absolutely right.

  84. Great Post,

    I’m struggling to see anyone being “blessed” in this world, The earth is fallen, people are fallen. all good & bad are due to natural randomness and patterns. Gods involvement is minimal.

  85. JES (80) — Most likely; after all, I can’t imagine a condition in which we do not have commandments to follow, even if it is just continuing to live up to all we’ve been told to do (pray, scripture study, etc.) when all seems hopeless and pointless.

  86. re: 84 I agree with MrQandA. The older I get the more Deist I become. That may also be a function of living a largely secular lifestyle for so long, I suppose.

  87. It is hard to distinguish what is a blessing and what is a cursing. Remember the old Chinese proverb: The man was given a horse, how fortunate. The son riding the horse broke a leg, how unfortunate. The army rejected the son because he was unfit, how fortunate…

    So I see blessings and cursings come in pairs. It is really hard to distinguish them. What could be more unfortunate than the death of a spouse? A pleasant remarriage and the happiness of two people recovered?

    If God blesses you, as he did Job in the beginning, be humble and suspicious. You never did deserve it and God may take it all away instantaneously.

    So I have really stopped thanking God publicly (as in Testimony Meeting) for any blessing as being extremely egotistical, and thank him privately for the momentary respite of the present and beg that it may continue.

  88. Stephanie says:

    Wow, BobW, very insightful! Your comment reminds me of that story in the Ensign last year about the mother whose toddler got caught in the thorn bush. She was mad about the scratches until she looked past and saw the pond. The thorn bush prevented her son from drowning in the pond.

    I often wonder how often I am doing that. Cursing God for the thorn bush without realizing that He just saved me from the pond.

  89. I always love when people get up in fast and testimony meeting and list all of their blessings as proof that they are righteous and Heavenly Father loves them…especially when half the people in the congregation have suffered with NOT having 1 or more of their “blessings”. I guess we are being CURSED!! :P

  90. Susan…Im glad HF thought we “needed” to lose our child! *rolls eyes* Its easy enough to say that when the “trial” really isnt that bad. I suppose you had enough to eat and shelter during your “poor years”.

    Stevens, for every story like that, there is another where everyone died.

  91. Stevens, for every story like that, there is another where everyone died.

    I’m sorry for your loss, anon. And this comment is very true. And the reality of that is really painful to process. Why will one person with cancer live — which we will often call a miracle — and one person die? Why will one family find a job and the other have to rely on help to survive? Why, why, why?

    But I guess my question in return is: Are blessings meant to be a comparative exercise? Does the variation in blessings and miracles negate their reality? Also, does heartrending trial indicate a lack of being blessed?

    And, as someone above indicated, are blessings always positive, happy things? Can heartrending trials be blessings (even as they are heartrending?) – I don’t think we have to *like* something horrible and hard that happens to us to be able to come to see the potential blessings therein. I think hard things can end up teaching us about the Atonement, and that in and of itself is a potentially life-changing blessing. In reality, is that not why we are here, really?

    I also think of the notion of compensatory blessings in the eternal scheme of things. That to me is important in processing all the injustice in this mortal, fallen sphere.

  92. I want to correct myself — sometimes trials themselves may not be blessings (or at least maybe it’s too hard to even go there — should anon, for example, who has lost a child feel *grateful* for that heartrending trial? I think some things happen that will always just be plain sad, period, and that God understands and acknowledges and cares about our sorrow and pain), but I do believe blessings can come to us in spite of them, and to help us carry our burdens, and that all injustices can be compensated for eternally through the Atonement.

  93. Latter-day Guy says:

    “…sometimes trials themselves may not be blessings…. [B]lessings can come to us in spite of them, and to help us carry our burdens…”

    Thanks for saying this, m&m. I just went to a funeral a few days ago for the baby of a relative. They’re a young married couple, they have had three children and already lost two. It’s just heartbreaking. I sympathise with their need to make sense of it––and there is a strong streak in Mormon culture that asks “What is God trying to teach me?”––but sometimes terrible, tragic things are just terrible, tragic things. When we try to bring comfort by saying things about being “taken home,” or having “fulfilled their mission,” I wonder if we cause more trouble. Shouldn’t we just be willing to say that sometimes people have accidents (or get sick, etc.) and die, and it’s horrible? Finding comfort in the gospel is important, but trying to find meaning in some particular tragedy might make make things worse (as per #55).

  94. I have a couple of friends who have lost two babies, too…so hard.

    BTW, thanks for your comment. That’s why I corrected myself — because I think part of the underlying frustration that comes in this discussion is that sometimes we try too hard to explain things…and I think that potential ‘folk doctrine’ can be on either the side of thinking that everything was ’caused’ by God or thinking that it’s all just chance — in essence, trying to pretend we have it all figured out, because we just don’t. I think we need both faith in a bigger picture but also a willingness to just acknowledge that life is just plain hard – and that it isn’t necessarily showing a lack of faith to say and feel that. Compassion demands that we recognize that, imo.

  95. “…sometimes trials themselves may not be blessings…. [B]lessings can come to us in spite of them, and to help us carry our burdens…”

    I said something similar in SS, The reaction to my comments were quite interesting, many of the members reaffirmed there belief that trials are to teach us something, and quoted D&C 122.

  96. That is why I got lucky

  97. Stephanie says:

    Finding comfort in the gospel is important, but trying to find meaning in some particular tragedy might make make things worse

    Excellent point.

  98. Isn’t the avoidance of using the word bless leading to a culture/society (however, small) where not recognizing blessings can be a form of ingratitude, not recognizing His hand in all things… speaking of blessings received by the writer/speaker (one self) not those of others.

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