Why “Hang in There” is Not a Gospel Principle *

This article applies to all of us who are trying to figure out how to approach the trials in our lives.  Do we just hang in there, or is there something we can actually do?

Why “Hang in There” is Not a Gospel Principle

In his talk in General Conference in April 2015, Elder Kevin W. Pearson said: “Let me be clear: to ‘hang in there’ is not a principle of the gospel.” I was personally disappointed by this statement. At that time, I was struggling to finish a semester of my Math PhD program while dealing with the challenges relative to being a father of five, including overcoming the effects of sleep deprivation brought on by our twin babies not sleeping consistently.

There were certainly days when I felt like “hanging in there” was about all I could muster. However, the Lord has taught me why “hanging in there” might not be the attitude with which He wants me to approach my challenges.

When I think about “hanging in there” through a trial, I think about maintaining my current level of effort until the trial passes. It is a static attitude that requires me to stay put while I wait for circumstances to change. However, there is danger in staying put. As President Henry B. Eyring has explained: “As the forces around us increase in intensity, whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient will not be enough. And whatever growth in spiritual strength we once though possible, greater growth will be made available to us.

Both the need for spiritual strength and the opportunity to acquire it will increase at rates which we underestimate to our peril” (in BYU Speeches of the Year1998-1999, pg 94). Not continuing in spiritual growth makes us vulnerable to being overcome by the temptations that will surely come.

Additionally, the attitude of waiting until circumstances change seems problematic. In two of his recent general conference talks, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has emphasized a different mentality.  When talking about the subtle yet significant blessings of tithing, Elder Bednar stated that the blessings we receive may be “greater capacity to act and change our own circumstances rather than expecting our circumstances to be changed by someone or something else” (Ensign, November 2013, pg. 18).

In a different conference, when describing the people of Alma in bondage, he noted, “These good people were empowered through the Atonement to act as agents and impact their circumstances”(Ensign, May 2014, pg. 89). The attitude of waiting for circumstances to change seems not to be the attitude the Lord would like me to take. Rather, He would have me act to change my circumstances.

When I tell people that I am “hanging in there”, I am indicating that I am relying on my own strength to hold out until the end of a trial. Hanging in there seems to pit my own strength against my circumstances. However, my own strength is usually not enough. As Ammon exclaimed: “Yea, I know that I am nothing, as to my strength I am weak; therefore, I will not boast of myself...” (Alma 26:12). The long term effects of dependence on my own strength will not be success in God’s terms.

Nephi taught, “[F]or I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34). The trouble with relying on my own strength is that I ignore the greater power that is available to help me. Through the Atonement, I can be provided with the power and strength to overcome our trials, but I must ask for it and apply it.

Otherwise, I may be in the condition described by Elder Bednar: “I wonder if we fail to fully acknowledge this strengthening aspect of the Atonement in our lives and mistakenly believe we must carry our load all alone – through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline with our obviously limited capacities” (Ensign, May 2014, pg 89). If I simply “hang in there” when my trials arise, I may miss the opportunity to learn about accessing the Lord’s power in the way He wants me to.

Lastly, when I am “hanging in there”, I seem to be focused on the difficulties I am facing. This makes me blind to the great blessings and the power the Lord offers. I see an example of this principle in the experience Peter had in walking on the Sea of Galilee. We read that Peter “walked on the water, to go to Jesus”. However, “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and [began] to sink” (Matthew 14:29-30).

When I am focused on the difficulties I face, whatever faith I had when I began to face my trials is diminished. I begin to sink with fear in the seemingly overwhelming challenge. Thus, I tell myself and others that I am “hanging in there”, trying not to be overcome, all the while missing the blessings the Savior is giving me in those very moments to fortify me and give me strength to overcome. I become guilty of a sin described in the Doctrine and Covenants, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21). By just “hanging in there” my focus is on the trial and not the constant stream of mercies emanating from the Father.

So if “hanging in there” is not a gospel principle, what is the suggested method to overcome our difficulties? Elder Pearson explains how enduring to the end is an alternative: “Enduring to the end means constantly coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him.” Continued progress and reliance on the Savior are the key. I must first look to the Savior and rely on His strength. Elder Bednar encouraged us to rely on the Savior’s strength by teaching: “In essence, the Savior is beckoning us to rely upon and pull together with Him, even though our best efforts are not equal to and cannot be compared to His” (in Ensign, May 2014, pg 88).

In my efforts to rely on the Savior, I may, like Peter, be distracted by the troubles and difficulties around us. When my faith seems to be failing, I can follow Peter’s example and cry out “Lord, save me”(Matthew 14:30). The Savior is willing and able to help. In these moments of crisis, the Lord may bless me with a change of condition, like the waves and the winds ceasing.

He may empower me with knowledge or strength to change the circumstances that upset my faith. He may simply provide a gift of greater faith so that I can endure the trial and come off conqueror. I may be given assurance that I can endure the trial. He may answer in a completely different way as well. It will take a measure of humility to ask for His help. It will take another to accept the answer or help He provides.

The major difference between “hanging in there” and “enduring to the end” is a change in attitude. In addition to the humility required to rely on the Savior, the Lord wants me to have gratitude as I approach my trials. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught that I need to be grateful in all circumstances. This attitude would bring a blessing in terms or my mindset when facing trials. He said “But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding” (Ensign, May 2014, pg 70).

Approaching a trial with gratitude may not be our first instinct, but it is possible. For instance, I have read of Nephi who, when tied on the ship he constructed, “did look to my God, and I praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions” (1 Nephi 18:16). That attitude makes all the difference and is probably the greatest shift I need to make.
I need not “hang in there” through our trials.

I can have gratitude, fix my faith on the Savior, and rely on His strength. I will still endure trials, but perhaps I can endure them well and receive the blessings promised: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8).

* This article was written by Ben Schoonmaker

1 comment:

Jason said...

Thank you, Roger. This was my biggest tender mercy for the day.