Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Discovering what we're made of: The refiner's fire

I have a couple of friends who are on my mind a lot lately.  They’re battling with some of the hard realities of life and wondering why things must be so difficult for them all the time.  I know they are not alone in these thoughts.  I have them myself on occasion.

Listening to them voice their concerns and feeling somewhat helpless to lift their burdens, I’ve had cause to reflect on my own feelings about trials and why some people can just never seem to catch a break from them.
For many, the first tendency when things get tough is to question God.  If He has the power to remove our burdens from us, why would He not, especially if He loves us?   How can He sit back and watch us suffer?
Whenever I try to understand why God, our Heavenly Father, deals with us the way He does, I shift my thinking into parent mode.  I have children and I love them.  We are Heavenly Father’s children, and He loves us.  When I make that connection and recognize that His methods and motives are often similar to mine, I understand more clearly why God has to allow me to struggle at times.

The first and possibly most important reason is a little thing called agency.   We are told in the scriptures that we are agents unto ourselves.  Some of the suffering we endure in this life happens through no fault of our own.  But often, our struggles come as a direct or indirect result of our actions and/or poor choices.   Other times, we suffer at the hands of others, again through no fault of our own.  There are wicked people in the world who would offend, steal, cheat, lie, and even inflict bodily harm or death.  We have no control over their actions but can be very negatively impacted by them nevertheless.   

Each of God’s children has the gift and blessing of agency.  I have it.  You have it.  The guy on death row has it.  We would think God to be unfair if He allowed others to keep their agency but took ours away. Along those lines, we cannot expect Him to remove others' agency from them while letting us keep ours.  That agency is among the greatest of God’s gift to His children.  It is part of what makes us all unique and allows us to grow, learn, and progress at our own individual paces.  Without it, we would have no power to act, but only to be acted upon.

Another reason He allows us to struggle is to strengthen and refine us.  In the book of Isaiah, the Lord speaks to Israel saying:

Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.  (Isaiah 48:10)

Shifting again into parent mode, let’s think about how we raise our own children.   Do we hand them everything on a silver platter?  When Suzie is having trouble with her math homework, do we send a note to the teacher explaining that the work is just too hard and Suzie won’t be doing it?  When Johnny is being teased by someone at school, do we show up at school wearing boxing gloves and beat the snot out of his nemesis?  Of course not.  We love our children and often have to talk ourselves out of “saving” them in these ways, but we know that ultimately when they learn to do the work and struggle through the hard times, doing so makes them stronger and arms them with knowledge and experience to deal with life’s future challenges. 

As a mother, there are times that I would do anything to take away the suffering of one of my children.   Many times, it would be quite feasible for me to do so.  But, for their own good, I have to let them go through the refiner’s fire and come out stronger on the other side.   Evading trials is simply not an option for us in this life.   We will all have them and they are ours for a reason.

My most favorite scripture in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether, chapter 12:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

God is our loving Father.  He knows each of us as individuals, just as we know our own children.   When we face adversity, we may wonder why He lets us go through the things we do.  I submit that it is because He knows that we can handle what He gives us.  Would you force your severely asthmatic daughter to climb up the side of a 12,000 foot mountain?  Probably not.  But what about your healthy teenaged boy who is perfectly capable but lazy and unwilling?  He would complain, he would sweat, he would have to stop and rest many times along the trail.  He would beg you to relieve him of the burden. But you would likely push him along--suffering and all--until he reached the top, because you know what it would do for his mental and physical health.  You would do both—shielding one child from hardship and forcing it on the other—because you love them.  To completely shelter our children from difficulty is to do them the worst possible disservice.  The Lord knows this and builds us up through trials by allowing us to learn from our suffering.   Without this refining process, mankind would be overrun by the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world.  Just as we want our children to be people of character rather than pampered brats, our loving Father wants more and has more in store for us.  He helps us attain it by giving to us individual weaknesses.  He already knows what we can handle and what we can do, but ultimately leaves it to us to discover what we are capable of with His help.

None of us is without weakness.  As the scripture states, it is our weakness that creates humility in us and compels us to seek the Lord’s help.  When we do that, and ONLY when we do that, He promises to make those weaknesses our strengths.  But that strength does not come to us without effort and learning on our parts.  He will not take our trials from us, but He WILL help us carry the load if we let Him.  That is His promise to us.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hallie's Big 1-1

11 years ago today, the doctors cut my tummy open and out popped a wrinkly, slimy, skinny little alien creature who would eventually be known as Hallie Elizabeth Reynolds.  It was the day I became a mother for the first time.  My little Hallie has been a joy and a source of entertainment to me ever since.  I wish I had some baby pics of her to post here, but I don't.  I didn't discover the wonder of digital until she got a little older.  :(   You'll just have to trust me when I say she was the cutest little blonde-headed baby girl ever.

Drama, anyone?

 No, she didn't join a cult.  She's a Christmas angel.

Such an awesome big sister.  Her baby brothers love her.

Baptism day.

REEEALLY excited about her birthday gift.

Before she learned the importance of proper dental hygiene.

Dorothy all hopped up on Halloween candy.

Back off, boys. 

A snowflake in The Nutcracker.

Abs courtesy of mac n cheese, graham crackers, and unfortunate genetics.

What can we say?  She enjoys turkey.

One of my faves.

Hey, even princesses have to pee now and then.

Happy birthday, my first born.  I love you for the kind, fun-loving, outgoing, adventurous, thoughtful, helpful, beautiful little girl you are and have always been.  I hope you have a perfect day!

Love, Mom