Sunday, May 07, 2006

Burdens of Our Own Choosing

Today in fast and testimony meeting, a sister I'll call "Ann" stood and bore her testimony. She is fairly new in the ward, but I know a little about her because she has two Primary age children who sometimes (as will happen) have a hard time acting reverently in Primary. Ann spoke about how sometimes it's hard when she compares her life to her siblings' lives--they seem to have such easy and trial-free lives while hers is very, very difficult, and filled with a lot of burdens. But then she remembers what her dad tells her: "God won't give you more burdens than you can handle". Ann concluded, "God must know that I am strong enough to handle a lot of burdens." (Although I'm using Ann as a springboard for my thoughts on the subject, I want to be clear that I do not know everything about her life. There could be extenuating circumstances or details of which I am not aware.)

This struck me as perhaps fundamentally incorrect. I know that God won't tempt us beyond that which we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and I know that He won't leave us to deal with our troubles alone, if we but ask and repent. But I think that our own choices account for many (NOT ALL) of our trials, and we can't put the responsibility for suffering those trials on God.

To use Ann as an example, she was raised in a stalwart LDS home. She wants to raise her children in a like manner, and she does her best to do so. She, however, married outside of the church. Some of the trials she mentioned (bringing the kids to church alone, trying to listen to the talks while wrestling with three children under the age of six, not making it every week because a lack of support) are a direct result of a choice she made.

It may be comforting to think, "I have these problems because God knows I'm strong enough", and oftentimes that may be harmless. But I see at least two problems with this way of thinking:
  • It doesn't teach true principles, and it may lead away from better choices and correct teachings. (If I don't think it was my own actions that led to my problems, I'm not likely to change my actions or discourage anyone from following my example.)
  • Many times the corollary to this way of thinking is that others don't have those problems because they aren't strong enough, or righteous enough. (Don't laugh. This has actually been mentioned to my parents in the context of righteous children: The strongest, most righteous families are sent the troublesome, wayward children, because those families are the only ones strong enough to raise them.)
This is a principle best applied to our own lives. After all, if we are honest with ourselves, we are the ones in the best position to judge if we are blaming our troubles on some whim of an experimenting, unfair God (God: "Let's see, oh he can handle this." ZAP!). And if we do realize that our own actions are the cause of our troubles, then perhaps with that new-found humility we can more easily gain the comfort and the support from heaven that we so desperately need.


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  • Well done. I generally agree with this.

    By Blogger Eric Nielson, at 5/08/2006 9:01 AM  

  • That's an interesting point. I definitely agree with you that attributing all of life's challenges o the whim of an experimenting God is a problem, and that it's important to honestly look at ourselves and the role we are playing in our difficulties.

    I would also note, however, that the idea that people bring their trials on themselves through bad choices can also be one that people might cling to because it's comforting. It's rather scary to realize that bad things could very well happen in my life if even if I do make all the "right" choices. But I think a lot of things just happen; they aren't due to people's moral failings or to some nefarious divine plan to see how much we can stand before we crack, but are simply part of the vagaries of mortality.

    By Blogger Lynnette, at 5/09/2006 9:48 AM  

  • Careful on the wayward children thing. President Faust talked about this as recently as three years ago here. His talk references others that are good on this subject as well. Who can say what people bring with them from the pre-earth life and why families are saddled with varying degrees of problems?

    You are correct to suggest that we should avoid false doctrine. But we also need to understand that only God comprehends the degree of difficulty each of his children is faced with. Check out Stephen Robinson's Parable of the Divers in his book Following Christ.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 5/10/2006 8:30 AM  

  • Reach upward, you make a good point. I didn't mean to connect the wayward children tangent with the original point, that of burdens that we have brought upon ourselves. Now that you bring it up, though, I understand that connection is easily made.

    To let me clarify my thinking on that subject: I do think that poor parenting practices can lead to wayward children. I would be belittling our roles as parents to think otherwise. But I don't think that every wayward child is the result of poor parenting techniques, because this denies the role of individual agency. There are scores of examples of righteous parents with difficult children, and I certainly don't think that my parents (or my husband and I) are better parents than Lehi, Alma the Elder, King David, etc.

    However, my original point still stands. I have, unfortunately, been (often) guilty of pride "looking up". (Sometimes I wonder if it is my favorite pet sin.) My seeking to belittle others, even just in my mind, doesn't do a lot to humble me, and that pride keeps me from the Spirit of the Lord. This is something I especially want to be more aware of in my dealings with God and my fellow men.

    By Blogger Keryn, at 5/10/2006 9:45 AM  

  • Lynnette, thanks for your comment. You make an excellent point about the comforting nature of "judgemental" trials--that is, you are suffering because of something you did. There is so much unexplained pain in the world, and it would be so much easier if we could assign a cause and effect to everything. Thanks for adding it to the comments, I hope everyone reads it as well.

    By Blogger Keryn, at 5/10/2006 9:48 AM  

  • I agree that each of us must accept responsibility for our own actions, and we should teach our children to do the same. But my point is that there are often mitigating circumstances beyond our ability to judge.

    I have some friends that are struggling with the very poor choices of one of their young adult children. It seems obvious to me and others acquainted with the situation that much of this simply comes down to 'the chickens coming home to roost.' My friends are expecting responsible behavior, while imprinting that trait has seemingly never been part of their parenting pattern.

    It's easy for me to look at my friends' situation and conclude that they have their just rewards. But I can't see into my friends' physical and spiritual genetics and abilities, nor can I really see these things in their child. While they are responsible for their parenting choices, and their child his responsible for poor behavior, there may be matters hidden from me but visible to God that allow Him to judge perfectly.

    My friends' child will have to deal with many consequences throughout life that directly result from poor choices. But don't we all bear scars of this nature to one degree or another? That's part of what the Atonement is for.

    I guess I'm simply calling for a balanced approach. Accept responsibility--don't try to shift blame--but also seek and accept divine help.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 5/10/2006 3:12 PM  

  • I agree with most of what everyone has said.
    1. Sometimes poor choices = trials that we brought on ourselves.
    2. Sometimes trials are through no fault of our own.
    I think that what many people toss around that I don't agree with is:
    The more trials you have the stronger God thinks you are.
    I don't think we should treat challenges like that. I think we should appreciate what we (or others) LEARN from the challenges. We want to come out of anything stronger than we were before....even if it takes years.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/10/2006 5:54 PM  

  • Having a wayward adult child (from the age of 19 until the present age of 42 is very depressing, discouraging, and filled with guilt for me as the parent. I am constantly trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could have done differently. Needless to say, these years have been very trying for us. We are rearing a child that was birthed by this wayward child at the age of 21. The child was left on the side of the road, but thankfully was found and was o.k. Now she is constantly battering us because as she phrases it "we took this child from her". We did indeed take her to court when the child was about 3 or 4 years old and received custody. She was only allowed supervised visitation which she never exercised.

    When and if she does come around us, she is rude, crude, and downright disrespectful to us.

    What do we do at this stage? I am at my wits end.

    And by the way, since the child is now older, she has started calling him frequently, wanting to see him, and filling his head with lies, and cruel things about us.

    My or my, I hope nobody else has to deal with this.

    I still love her dearly and would love to have some type of relationship even if it is strained. I have not given up hope. Will continue to pray daily that God will see fit to help in this situation.

    Has anybody else had to deal with this kind of situation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/21/2006 11:02 AM  

  • Oh, anon, I am so sorry to hear about your trials. I think your grandchild is a very lucky person to have you to raise him/her! It's so hard to watch someone you love and care for make choices that are so wrong--and end up hurting that person and everyone around them so deeply. I wish I could understand why things happen, or what to do when things are so hard...but I do know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are there for us during all our trials (whether of our own choosing or not), if we but turn to Them.

    By Blogger Keryn, at 8/21/2006 9:22 PM  

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