WildernessThroughout the scriptures, the wilderness is often used to symbolize hardships, trials, and a lack of commodities. All of the accounts of people in the wilderness produce what is known as a trial of faith, or as I like to think of it, a test of faith. In each case of people being in the desert, they either exercise their faith--and therefore have it strengthened--or they succumb to their weaknesses with their faith resulting in a eminent faltering. The wilderness proves to be a place of refinement
When God commanded Moses and the children of Israel to flee from Egpyt, they wandered through the wilderness. This time proved to be very trying for this group of God's chosen people. As they "wandered" about, being led by the guidance and direction of Moses, many people allowed their circumstances to get the better of them. We can read multiple accounts of these children of Israel who murmured and complained along the way and, as a result, none of the initial travelers were permitted to enter into the promised land at the end of their forty years of wandering. Although many of them had high points along the way and had times of showing their faith, we can see that the wilderness proved to be a little too hot for many of these people.
On the other hand, the wilderness often helps people to strengthen their faith. After he was baptized by John the Baptist, the Savior was "led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God." (Matthew 4:1, Joseph Smith Translation). The Savior then spent the next forty days fasting and communicating with God, both of which are a very spiritually and physically demanding task. I have never fasted for any longer than one day and that was hard so I can't even imagine fasting for forty days!
But for forty days, Christ fasted and talked with God. Although it was doubtless a difficult task, it is evident that this time in the wilderness--away from the world, away from all but God--proved to be a time of strengthening for the Savior. We can see this in the following verses in Matthew chapter 4 where Satan himself comes to tempt the Savior. The devil comes to him tempting His mortal appetite, His pride, and His desire for wealth and power. In spite of how weak Christ inevitably must have been as a result of His time in the wilderness, He shut down the devil with ease.
As we turn to the lives of some of the early pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we see another experience of growth that comes as a result of life in the wilderness. Soon after the untimely martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Saints were led west by Brigham Young. Traveling hundreds of miles across land that had scarcely been traveled before, these pioneers are an example of conversion that comes through enduring the wilderness.
These Saints--many of which had a beginners testimony in the reality of a true and living prophet--exercised their faith and followed the inspired word of God as declared by Brigham Young. They faced many trials and innumeral hardships along the way and many of these faithful Saints died along the way, but each and every one of them became Saints. They acted on their testimonies and became converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ which forever changed their lives and the lives of countless people they interacted. They became "converted in the wilderness."
PrisonAnother place where many people have undergone intense suffering and trials to their faith is in prison. Many of us understand very well that the conditions of prison are not very pleasant. One of my favorite stories of people enduring their time in prison is found in Alma 14 in the Book of Mormon.
After being forced to witness many of their believers and their sacred records burned, Alma and the newly reactivated Amulek were thrown into prison where they were stripped of their clothing, abused physically and spiritually, starved, and put into terrible circumstances for "many days". As I have already discussed in a previous post, this experience in prison proved to be a wonderfully trying experience for both of these men, but it also proved to strengthen their faith in the power of God.
Another great example of drawing nearer to God in spite of being in prison is found in the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon, but this one comes from a different angle. This time, the powerful prophets, Nephi and Lehi, are in a similar situation to that of Alma and Amulek. Rather than praying and having the prison tumble to the earth as Alma and Amulek did, Nephi and Lehi become "encircled about as if by fire" and a cloud of darkness fell upon those who had come to abuse them.
As an imminent destruction hangs over them, the captors search for a solution and turn to one of their group who had once been a Nephite and had once followed God. Relying on his previous testimony, he told the group that they needed to "repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ". As they do so, the cloud of darkness begins to disperse and each of them becomes encircled about as if in the midst of a flaming fire. As a result, these men who had come to torture these prophets become converted to the Lord and immediately began teaching and testifying of the things they had seen. These men had been "converted while they were in prison."
The Secret to HappinessAn interesting trend that I see in all of these examples is in line with what Elder Neal L. Anderson has recently talked about. "These fiery trials are designed to make you stronger, but they have the potential to diminish or even destroy your trust in the Son of God and to weaken your resolve to keep your promises to Him."
We all go through trials in our lives. That is something that we cannot and will not avoid. At some point in our journey through mortality we will spend time, in one form or another, in our own wilderness or prison. That isn't a question. The question is what these difficult times do to us and how we respond.
I feel it is pretty safe to assume that nobody wants to allow their trials to destroy our faith and the peace that we enjoy. So how do we prevent these trials from getting the better of us? The answer, at least in part, is dependent on our attitude.
Perhaps you are one who is currently going through a hard time. Maybe you are looking forward to an oncoming change that will help make life more enjoyable. Just waiting a few more days or weeks before you can be happy, thinking "I can't be happy right now because of this, but in a few more weeks that will be gone. Then I will be happy."
In this most recent general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addresses this mentality and discussed the importance of enjoying every day, regardless of our circumstances. He said:
"We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect....Maybe you are one who is unhappy because you feel that God has cheated or shortchanged you in one way or another. You were doing your best, working towards some worthy and worthwhile goal only to have that great opportunity snatched from beneath your feet and you are feeling bitter towards God.
"Brothers and sisters, no matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it.
"Perhaps we should be looking less with our eyes and more with our hearts. I love the quote: 'One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.'"
This great Mormon message discusses how our attitude of remembering God and having faith in Him and trust in His timing can help and bless us with such situations.
The overarching principle between enduring through difficulties is hope. As we have hope--a positive, optimistic, confident outlook--we are able to endure whatever comes our way. This hope and abiding trust in God is what allowed Alma and Amulek, Nephi and Lehi, early pioneers, the Savior, and numerous others to push through the hard times. This is what allowed them to come out on top of their circumstances and be victorious.
The lack of such hope caused such people as the children of Israel, Laman and Lemuel, and many others to not receive the full blessings that God had in store for them. This hopeless mentality turned what could have been an encouraging and uplifting experience into a debilitating and destroying experience and it has the capacity to do the same for us.
As we live our lives with hope, even in the face of adversity and afflictions, we will always be able to not only endure through them, but endure well and receive all of the blessings that our wonderful Father in Heaven has in store for us.