3 Nephi 1:13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
And so begins the miraculous story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Savior of
the world. The Redeemer. Prince of Peace. The Deliverer. Our comforter,
friend, and confidant.
The scriptures describe Christ's birth in the following ways:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“Jesus Christ is the light of the world because He is the source of the light which ‘proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space’. His light is ‘the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’. …to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide [their] feet into the way of peace”
Christ came to bring peace and miracles. But what do we do if we don’t feel
the peace or we haven’t gotten our miracle? When it feels more like a bleak
midwinter day than a joyful morning? When the words ring through our
“And in despair, I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”
How do we stay the course when Christ’s peace feels far away? When you find
yourself in an unfamiliar place in life where joy and peace are hard to find.
Where life isn’t what you wanted it to be. I want to share the story of one such
person who found herself there.
It is one widow’s account of losing her husband to cancer at a
young age. She shares her “but if not” story.
Jason lost his battle with cancer, and we miss him terribly. My future looks bleak and
uncertain and scary without him in it. I wish he was still here on earth with me, Since my
husband's death, I have struggled to attend church. I love my Savior and have felt Him
carrying me through the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. I have faith in His plan and
know that someday this will all make sense. But being at church is hard.
For example, on one of my first Sundays back at church after Jason’s death, a
well-meaning speaker in sacrament meeting said he was healed of cancer because of
the “faith and prayer of friends and family.” The next week someone shared that she
was thankful for the Word of Wisdom because she knew she wouldn’t die “in her 50s of
lung cancer” as her parent had. A few weeks later, in stake conference, several people
shared their miraculous stories of healing, of lives saved.
The reality is that sometimes our prayers aren’t answered in the way we desperately
hope they will be. People die in spite of priesthood blessings, ward fasts, and
unshakeable faith. While those situations are very difficult, I think we need to share
those stories, too. We need to share our own “but if not” moments and learn from each
other how to carry on faithfully when the miracles don’t come.
This widow recalls a quote from an Ensign article that stated:
“When someone has an ailment or an illness and they are healed as a result of a
blessing, their faith is being strengthened. But for those who aren’t healed, but continue
faithful, their faith is being perfected. The first is a faith-promoting experience. The
second is a faith-perfecting experience.”
Given the choice, most of us would probably choose the faith-promoting experience
over the faith-perfecting experience—it’s far less painful. But if perfect faith is our goal,
we will undoubtedly need to pass through some “but if not” experiences.
I love the insights on suffering that were given by
Francine Bennion at a BYU Women’s Conference.
She states, “We wanted life, however high the cost. We suffer because we were willing
to pay the cost of being and of being here with others in their ignorance and
inexperience as well as our own. We suffer because we are willing to pay the costs of
living with laws of nature, which operate quite consistently whether or not we
understand them or can manage them.
We suffer because, like Christ in the desert, we apparently did not say we would come
only if God would change all our stones to bread in time of hunger. We were willing to
Like Christ in the desert, we did not ask God to let us try falling or being bruised only
on condition that he catch us before we touched the ground and save us from real
hurt. We were willing to know hurt. Like Christ, we did not agree to come only if
God would make everyone bow to us and respect us, or admire us and understand us.
Like Christ, we came to be ourselves, addressing and creating reality. We are finding
out who we are and who we can become regardless of our immediate environment or
I love the thought of the depth that going through hard things creates. The fact that we
didn’t want to just hear about the difficulties life can bring but we wanted to experience
them. Really feel them. Only under those circumstances can our soul truly grow.
I can say for myself that my hardest times in life were when I had to reach deep within
myself to survive. It was beyond difficult. It was like working out a mental muscle that
had been dormant for a really long time. So what do we do when we encounter these
“dark nights of the soul” while we are waiting for the growth, the peace, and the miracles
I’ll tell a story that illustrates the importance of one single element in getting us
through those dark times.
In the 1950’s Dr. Curt Richter, a Harvard graduate and professor at Johns Hopkins University conducted an experiment using rats. He had already done a few experiments involving rats and seeing how long they would tread water in a jar before they drowned. All the rats in the previous experiments drowned within 1-2 minutes. Richter decided to test if he could change the results by introducing one critical concept to the rats—hope.
He gathered another group of rats, even more than the first experiments, and again placed them into the jars. This time, instead of leaving them alone to sort out their crisis independently, he watched. As he saw the rats begin to give up within minutes, he reached in and plucked them from their predicament. He towel-dried them and allowed them to recover and rebuild their energy.
He then returned them to the water.
What did the rats do after realizing that getting out of the situation was not impossible? Once they realized that a hand just might appear from above and rescue them?
The rats all swam nonstop for 60-80 hours!
Even in a tiny rodent brain, having a little bit of hope for more life was an incredible motivating factor for perseverance and resilience.
I love this poem that illustrates the power of Hope.
"Hope floats, as a fated ship is dragged to its demise on the seabed. Hope rises when
everything else is sinking. Hope flies when there are no wings and hope drives without an engine. Hope does not need light, or oxygen to survive. It grows best in the dark, truth be told. Hope is the 1% which rallies against statistics. The one they cannot explain. Hope is against-the-odds, in spite of fact and solely made of will. Hope is the space between faith and spirit. Hope is the belief that things can get better, that the sun will warm again, that the end not need be that. Hope lives in the mud, in the mire, in the barren wasteland of emptiness. It is like magic, this hope. And the best thing of all? It’s free, you just have to call it near. Hope floats my friends, cling onto it, when you are just too tired to swim."
Practical things to do if you find yourself in that dark place -
How to keep hope alive
Ten Tips for Staying Positive
Make up mantras. You are not alone. We’re all in this together. These aren’t just snappy sayings for t-shirts; they’re positive affirmations that can be a powerful tool in helping to shape your outlook. Pick one that resonates with you and repeat it often.
Focus on successes. Remembering challenges you have overcome in the past can
Challenge your negative thoughts. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose the way we respond to it. Reframe the situation and see what
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Start or end your day with a gratitude practice. Write down three things you are grateful for each day, or partner with a loved one and share them out loud. Gratitude trains your brain to see the positive.
Stay in the present moment. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of anxious thoughts about the future. We all want to know how things end. If you find yourself stuck in this negative pattern, try this simple exercise to bring yourself back to the present moment. W.I.N. is an acronym that stands for What’s Important Now? When you get anxious about thoughts of the future, bring yourself back to the present moment by asking yourself “What’s important now?” Ground yourself in the present. Pinpoint what is important to you in the current moment and the current circumstances. Make it your focus for the day. Repeat this same exercise tomorrow. And the next day. Before you know it, your thoughts will naturally be focused more on what matters, and less on
Let it go. Similarly, staying in the present moment can keep you from unnecessarily ruminating on the past. Traumatic events and other circumstances require appropriate support, time and attention to heal, but give yourself grace for mistakes or imperfect plans.
Connect with positive people. Social connection contributes to happiness and is
Pay it forward. Performing acts of random kindness for others is a great way to boost your happiness. In addition, those you help and even those who simply witness your kind gestures will also benefit. Learn more about using kindness as a coping skill here.
Do it for your family. Optimism can be a learned behavior and is a teachable skill. Give your family the many benefits of optimism by setting an example for them to follow.
Practice makes progress. Of course, all new habits take time and continuous practice before they become automatic. Make the choice to be more optimistic each day and enjoy the rewards of your improved outlook. As we enter this Christmas season, may we remember to give ourselves grace. Be kind to ourselves in whatever place we may be.
Now this is where I am supposed to wrap it all up in a tidy bow. Share my testimony that I know this church is true. That I know God lives and loves us. That our Savior is real and cares. But I have to be honest. Currently, that is not my testimony. So in the hope that my vulnerability gives someone else courage, I will share my version.
I hope this church is true. I hope that there is a God who knows me and loves me. I hope for a Savior who knows how to comfort me because he has felt the same struggles. I hope that my trials on earth have a purpose. I hope that the love I have for my family is a smaller version of the immense love my Heavenly Father has for me. I hope that the story of Christmas is true and that we have a Savior who came to save us from an eternity of sadness. It is the hope that keeps me coming. That keeps me from quitting. I hope that one day I will stand up here and say I know. But until then, I pray that hope is enough.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.