When I think about adversity or trials I ALWAYS think about an ancient literature class that I once took. For the most part I merely muddled through this class. I vaguely recall reading Homer and learning about Odysseus and Plato. I remember that the teacher liked to ask questions using the Socratic method which drove all us students crazy. There is so much from the class that I have long since forgotten.
But one thing I learned in that class has stuck with me vividly. One of the final things we read was the beginning section of Dante's Divine Comedy, Inferno. When the poem begins Dante is lost in a dark and terrible forest. Ahead in the light he sees a hill basked in sunlight. He takes courage at the sight and starts toward the hill in order to climb out of the darkness and into the light. But on the hillside he is stopped by 3 terrifying creatures, a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Dante stumbles back into the darkness and is met by Virgil. Virgil explains to Dante that it is not his road to climb straight into the light. Virgil says, "A te convien tenere altro viaggio," which means, "You must take a different road." To find his way out of the darkness Dante will instead have to go deeper into the darkness, and thus begins Dante's journey into the Inferno, into hell.
This lesson has always stayed with me. Whenever I find myself asking "Why can't this be easier?" I find myself remembering Dante. Dante had to descend down through all 9 circles of hell before he could come out on the other side. There was no way around or over hell-he had to go THROUGH it.
It is same for each of us. We cannot avoid the darkness. There is no shortcut. And although this may sound depressing this knowledge has actually become my lifeline. When I find myself at the beginning, in the dark and terrible forest, I now recognize that there is a potentially darker journey ahead. Recognizing this means I can prepare myself. I can put on my sturdy walking shoes, pack some snacks, make sure I have extra batteries for my flashlight and then press forward, knowing that the sooner I begin the journey the sooner I will be on the other side.
I have a copy of a conference talk by Jeffery R. Holland from back in 1999 that is dog-eared and wrinkled and tear stained. The talk is entitled "An High Priest of Good Things to Come" and I'm fairly certain it's probably my favorite talk given by any General Authority ever, if it's okay to pick favorites of that sort of thing.
Elder Holland says:
Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. Moroni spoke of it in the Book of Mormon as “hope for a better world.” For emotional health and spiritual stamina, everyone needs to be able to look forward to some respite, to something pleasant and renewing and hopeful, whether that blessing be near at hand or still some distance ahead. It is enough just to know we can get there, that however measured or far away, there is the promise of “good things to come.”
My declaration is that this is precisely what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers us, especially in times of need. There is help. There is happiness. There really is light at the end of the tunnel. It is the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, the “light that is endless, that can never be darkened.” It is the very Son of God Himself. In loving praise far beyond Romeo’s reach, we say, “What light through yonder window breaks?” It is the return of hope, and Jesus is the Sun. To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. Christ comes to you in His “more excellent ministry” with a future of “better promises.” He is your “high priest of good things to come.”We can't avoid the trials of life-but because of Christ there is hope. The darkness will not be forever.
God's promises are sure and he says, " My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." D&C 121:8