Adapted from a talk given in the Altoona Ward of the Altoona Pennsylvania Stake
April 24, 2016
Do you ever feel that your life is an old-time country song? One of those ones where the dog died, your spouse left, the rent’s due and you’re broke? One of those ones where someone’s lied, your truck doesn’t work, and all you have left is the shirt on your back? One of those ones where your kids are gone, you got fired from your job, and there just doesn’t seem to be any hope?
Do you ever wonder why bad things keep happening to you even though you are a member of the Church? Even though you have the Gospel in your life? Even though you pay your tithing and you say your prayers and you read your scriptures and you go to all your meetings?
If the Gospel is supposed to bring us happiness, why do all these things keep happening that, face it, don’t make us very happy?
Personally, I have a lot of experience wondering about this exact question.
I grew up in a small community in eastern Canada. By small I mean 9 houses, 34 people, and all of them related to me. My parents always made sure we had food on the table and clothes on our backs and a clean house to live in. They provided my brother and me with music lessons and dance lessons and karate lessons, made sure we were able to attend any clubs or extracurricular activities that we wanted to, joined Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts as leaders so they could go with us, went to church just about every Sunday, and did their best to give us every opportunity they could. I was always first in my class, won school awards, and music awards, and scholarships.
I grew up in the Anglican Church, known here in the United States as the Episcopalian Church, went to Sunday School, was a junior leader at church camp. Life was pretty good.
But in May of 1992 I was unmarried and pregnant with my daughter. During a meeting with my priest, it became clear to me that I did not believe some of the central tenets of that faith. I told her that if what she was telling me is what Anglicans believe, then I was not an Anglican.
I had my daughter while at university, and while it was certainly no picnic, it was doable with the help of my parents and brother and several close friends. But I was bereft of that church fellowship that I had enjoyed my entire life, and I missed it dearly. Thus began my search for a new church, one where I believed in all the tenets of its faith.
Over the next eight years I researched every religion I had ever heard of, and many more besides. From other branches of Christianity, to Eastern religions, to New Age spirituality, I looked into them all. One night I saw an ad for a free Book of Mormon on television, and that began my six year investigation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Life was pretty good – I was in a relationship I wanted to be in, had a young daughter, had a career I loved, was able to see my family whenever I wanted and to travel, and I was a rising star in my profession.
Then I was baptized. And my life became a country song.
I split up with my boyfriend, moved into a dump, and got a new job an hour away from home. I met and married a supposedly fine young man but for various reasons six months later we separated because, in true country song fashion, it was all my fault because if I hadn’t married him, no one would have known what he was really like. Two years later our divorce was final, he was excommunicated and I was remarried to a man who I did not love. Don’t worry, he knew that when he married me, because again, in true country song fashion, when he asked me to marry him I told I would but not because I was in love with him because I wasn’t. I developed some health issues, and was off work for seven months as a result, then got another new job and we moved again. This time, HE developed some health issues that resulted in an addiction to multiple prescription medications and 3 and a 1/2 years later, divorce. Over those few years, I hurt my knees and was in a wheelchair, then used a cane for several years. My daughter developed severe allergies to smog, so we moved from the big city that we loved back to the small community where I grew up….
Or…my daughter did, anyway. I had to finish out my teaching contract, and so I moved from our lovely four bedroom home with the meticulously planned and maintained back yard into a bedbug infested boarding house. When my contract was over in June, I was on my way back to my parents’ home, a three or four day drive, when I was in a car accident and again couldn’t work. In October I was cleared to return to teaching, and the only job I could find was in a small community in the far north that had the highest rate of violent crime in Canada, and where all but two of the men had been to jail. The next year I found work back home, and was looking forward to doing the job I loved again. Except, like in those old country songs, it just did not work out.
I met my current husband online a while after that. We had so much in common that it was almost surreal. We met in person on April 2, got engaged on April 6, and were married in June. A perfect, fairy-tale romance, right? A happy ending to the country song that had become my life, right?
Not quite. If you thought things were bad before, in true country song fashion, they were about to get worse.
I was teaching 3 hours from home, and so I had rented a small apartment to stay in during the week. Seven days before we got married there was a sewage flood in the apartment that ruined everything that I had prepared for the wedding – the flowers, the programs, the decorations, the cake ingredients, as well as most of my clothes, books, and other personal effects. Five days before we got married my report card files became corrupted on my computer, and I had to redo 315 report cards. Two days before we got married an emergency came up that had to be taken care of right away, and so we spent the evening doing that instead of finishing the dresses for the two girls, who ended up wearing unfinished dresses in our bridal party. The day before we got married, I spent 6 hours or more in hospital with severe kidney stones, and then had to decorate my wedding cakes that evening, and finish decorating the hall in the morning before we got married in the afternoon, where we discovered that I had lost our wedding rings, so I was married with my mother’s ring and my husband wore my father’s key ring.
On our way back to the US after our wedding we were stopped at the border and weren’t really sure that I was going to make it in. I did for the summer, but it was another three and a half years before I was finally allowed to immigrate, and in that time my daughter left and hasn’t spoken to us in four and a half years, my husband’s ex-wife was forced to move away to live near her family, I had serious medical conditions develop in every major system in my body, my husband had some health issues, my van literally blew up in my driveway, one of our cars was broken into and the other car was stolen, my grandmother died.
We thought for sure that once we were able to live together that things would get better. But the health issues, the car troubles, the job situations…it all continued.
I mean, if this ain’t a hit country song in the making, I don’t know what is!
So what is the purpose of it all? Why have I, and my husband since we are in this marriage thing together, had to go through all of these challenges and setbacks and problems? why all the trials and tribulations? why all the afflictions and adversity? if being obedient to the Gospel is supposed to make us happy?
In the April 2000 General Conference, Colleen Menlove reminded us that “In the Book of Mormon, Lehi explained to his son Jacob that happiness is a result of obedience. He told Jacob that eternal laws have…opportunities for happiness attached to them. When we…obey, we reap the happiness (see 2 Nephi 2:10). Part of what creates happiness is the absence of regret, guilt, and sin.”
And here is where MY country song ends. The old country songs are full of bitter regret, unresolved guilt, and unforgiven sin. And that is NOT MY song.
In my song, my daughter brought me much joy, despite the hardships of raising her, and was in reality a huge blessing in my life, since she is the only natural child I have despite years of trying. My first marriage, ironically enough, cemented my testimony of the sealing ordinances of the temple. My second marriage taught me to be forgiving and selfless in my relationships. My work with all ages of children allowed me to travel all across Canada, the Eastern United States and overseas, and taught me patience and understanding and compassion for the situations that families find themselves in. My numerous health issues allowed my husband and me to spend far more time together during the years we were waiting for immigration than if I had been well, and it gave him many opportunities to serve me and for us to grow more closely together as a result. Problems with the wedding and the cars reminded us that they are just things and not really important in the big picture. And being able to take care of my grandmother for hours every day in the months before she died afforded me the opportunity to bear my testimony to her, and have her declare that perhaps that was what she believed, too.
In 2 Nephi 2:11 we read that “…it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”
In her talk, Sister Menlove said, “We happily anticipated coming to earth to experience opportunities to grow spiritually…. the opportunity is here and now to obtain happiness that extends beyond our earth life; however, we need to know what it is and where to find it.” We already know what happiness is – remember what she said about happiness being the absence of regret, guilt, and sin? And the Prophet Joseph taught that “happiness is the object and design of our existence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255-256).
So the only question left is ‘Where do we find happiness?’ And again, our dear Joseph has the answer. He said happiness “will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 255-256).
Instead of living our lives as country songs, full of regret and guilt and sin, let us resolve to live our lives as the sacred hymns we know and love, hymns such as:
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.
Brothers and Sisters, through personal experience, it is my solemn testimony that as we live the Gospel more fully, we will be able to better handle everything that comes to us in our lives in more and more Christ-like ways, and by doing so we will find greater happiness. And we will, as it says in Alma 27:18, become truly penitent and humble seekers of happiness, seekers of virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and obedience, and free from regret, guilt and sin.
I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.