Life is hard.
No, nothing is wrong. Actually, I’m doing very well. Far better than I deserve. However, I know that every blessing I have—and even some of the things I don’t recognize as blessings—represents one that someone else is wanting and suffering for. I know that many of you, my friends and family (as well as those I don’t know yet), are struggling with something right now.
I remember walking down the streets of northwest England, having the opportunity to talk to a lot of strangers. As a missionary, it’s amazing how willing many people are to tell you all kinds of things. Maybe it’s because the badge makes them feel a little more comfortable, or maybe it’s just because someone asked, but I feel like I heard a number of life stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Inevitably, many of those venting sessions would return to the ever-present, “Why?”
Why? Why is life hard? Why does God let suffering happen? Especially to good people?
I soon found that most people weren’t really looking for an answer. They just needed someone to listen. But the question frustrated me, as all questions do when you can’t answer them in a way that really satisfies. Sure, I did have some answers, and they were answers I believed in (and still do):
- We live in a fallen, imperfect world.
- Life is a test.
- We need to struggle in order to learn and grow.
- We have agency, the ability to choose, and that is too valuable to take away—even if it means we will sometimes hurt one another and ourselves.
Yet none of these answers seemed to do the trick for me, and so the question stuck around in my mind for quite some time.
Missionaries have a special privilege of blocking out a couple of hours each morning just to read, study, and think about questions like these. I was spending a little of that time every day reading the Book of Mormon. One morning, I found myself reading the story of Helaman’s stripling warriors. For those unfamiliar with it, this is one of the best-known Book of Mormon stories; most LDS primary children can tell it to you:
There are two groups of people: Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites have the scriptures and are (usually) trying to follow God. The Lamanites, at this point, hate the Nephites because of some ancient family drama (It’s always family drama, isn’t it?). A few Nephite missionaries decide to go live with the Lamanites for a while and try to share the gospel. God’s love and the love of neighbors proves more powerful than deep-seated enmity (because it is), and a group of the Lamanites are converted.
Now, the Lamanites, at this point, are a people who really like war. These Lamanites who convert have killed many, many people before, and they recognize that that’s going to be hard to come back from. They are so committed to making sure that they don’t kill again that they bury their weapons and make a solemn promise never to take them up again—even in self-defense. However, other tribes of Lamanites are not happy with their fellow Lamanites getting chummy with the Nephites. They attack and kill many of the converted Lamanites. The Nephites decide to send their own armies to protect the converted Lamanites so that they can keep their promise.
Eventually, the Nephites need some reinforcements. Around this time, the next generation of converted Lamanites is growing up. There are a group of 2,000 young men who have not made the promise never to fight (because they don’t have the same history as their parents). So they volunteer to fight to defend their people. A Nephite named Helaman leads them. At more than one point, they are faced with a battle in which they are extremely outnumbered and out-experienced. However, they trust in their cause and they trust that God will be with them, so they meet the challenge. Miraculously, they beat the odds and not only do they win, but not one of them is killed. They praise the Lord for protecting them.
That’s usually where we stop. These amazing young men had faith and were good people, and God protected them. The end.
This time, though, I was caught by half a verse that I never seemed to pay much attention to before. In this passage, we learn that a few hundred of the 2,000 young men fainted because they lost so much blood. We also learn that not a single one of them escaped the battle without injuries—in fact, they all received multiple injuries. The scripture doesn’t expound on those injuries, but I don’t imagine that battle-hardened ancient writers usually bother to record scratches, so we can probably guess that a lot of them were pretty major injuries. Yet that’s not what the story seems to focus on.
Helaman and these young men don’t record that God abandoned them and let them lose limbs, faint, collect nasty scars, and maybe even think they were going to die. Yet I’m sure they expressed sorrow. I’m sure they screamed and cried at the pain, and that they struggled with the lasting effects of their injuries. What was most important, though, was that they survived. And they won.
As I read this story, seemingly for the first time, I felt like the Lord was giving me the clearest answer I’ve ever received to this question.
“Why is life hard, Lord?”
“Because it is. Isn’t there a better question you want to ask?”
It doesn’t matter whether I’m young and inexperienced like Helaman’s army, or older and more experienced like their opponents. It doesn’t even matter whether I’m “good” or “bad.” War is hard, period. We frequently compare life to a battle, and in this way it seems to be a valid comparison. It’s hard. The questions I really want to be asking are:
What am I fighting for?
Can I win?
Those questions change everything. The first one is up to us, and then God can answer the second: “YES!” The story of Helaman’s army is not typical of battle stories. The “good guys” don’t always win, and they don’t all survive. But the story is true of life. Ultimately, at least if you believe in a grander scheme than what we have here in this life, we can survive and we can win. Even if it hurts. We just need to decide what we’re fighting for, and make sure it’s worth it.
I hope all of my loved ones who are wounded right now know that they can win this fight. I hope you know you will survive, and I hope you know you aren’t fighting alone. I hope you feel the worth of what you’re fighting for. I hope you feel the power that is sustaining you, especially when it hurts. I hope you keep fighting, and keep finding reasons to be happy.