What Does My Lack of Personal Trials Say About Me?

May 7, 2009 | 33 comments
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I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should talk about in my inaugural post on this blog.  Quite honestly, when I agreed to do a stint as a guest blogger, I thought it would be pretty easy.  But, lately, it seems that all my Mormonism-related thoughts have been trite and meaningless.  For example, I considered drafting a post complaining about one of the teachers Elders Quorum and his refusal to teach out of the manual.  But, honestly, I think that post would have just ended up being a rant about a quorum discussion outlining the evils of facial hair (true story, by the way) and I don’t think that’s what the faithful readers of this blog are looking for. So, I decided that, if that’s the quality of ideas I’m coming up with, it was probably best to wait until a really good idea came along.

Nothing happened.

I think that’s because, when it it comes to blogging, trite and meaninglessness are kind of my go-to moves.  I suppose that, for my limited time here on T&S, I could be sort of the blog’s resident Seinfeldian character — meaningless, inane thoughts that, if nothing else, are entertaining.  Let’s see how far that gets me.  Of course, that brings on the added pressure of actually being entertaining.  I guess I’ll try not to dwell on that.

That said, I do I want to say the topic of this post is a relatively serious one for me…that’s probably why I’m going to be so irreverent about it.  Here we go…

Growing up in Mormon-dom, we become accustomed to hearing faith-promoting stories about trials and obstacles various Saints have had to overcome and the lessons they learned along the way.  Many of us have stories of our own to share in that regard.  Indeed, many of my family, friends, and acquaintances have had to deal with things like a death or illness in their immediate family, children born with disabilities, the inability to have children at all, long-term poverty or unemployment, or any number of serious, life-altering struggles.  In many of these cases, these people respond with unwavering faith that this has happened to them for a reason and that they’ve grown from the experience.  Others respond by questioning the very nature or existence of God, many times they “go inactive” (whatever that means…they haven’t stopped moving or anything) or they become openly bitter toward the Church and the Gospel.  Of course, I greatly admire the former response and can certainly understand the latter one.

Here’s the thing…this kind of thing doesn’t ever happen to me.  I’m not talking about the questioning of God thing (no, my faith is a tad short of perfect), I’m talking about the struggles that get people to that point.  Whenever I’ve been faced with a “crisis” of faith, it hasn’t been because of some unfair event that’s happened in my life it’s usually because I’m just an idiot…and because I have facial hair (just ask this dude in my Elders Quorum).  Please be aware, this is not a complaint, only an observation.  I certainly don’t want to make light of any real trials readers may have endured, I’m only pondering my own lack of similar trials.

Throughout my life, I have been tremendously blessed, both materially and spiritually, to the point where anything resembling a complaint from me about my life should be considered on ungrateful grunt.  I havent’ been rich, but I haven’t been poor either.  My family weren’t all a bunch of spiritual giants, but, all in all, they’re good people.  So, none of the things that tend to cause real heartache in a persons life have been sore spots in mine.  Yeah, I had some rough, depressing times as a missionary — in New Mexico.  I have a friend who went to the Philippines and, according to him, his companion woke up one morning to find his foot had been gnawed off by a 100-pound rat (or something like that…rats were definitely involved and, according to my friend, they were huge).  The biggest problem in my mission was that the trucks they gave us to drive around didn’t have 4-wheel drive.   Also, I didn’t get married until I was 29, but you should have seen some of the girls I was dating before I met my wife — marrying virtually any one of them would have been a bigger trial than perpetual singlehood.  These are just a few examples.  Obviously, like everyone, I’ve faced some difficulties in my short 31 years on the planet, but nothing like those faced by the people I know, see, or read about.

Typically, we hear two principles that explain the need for personal trials.  The first is that they happen in order teach us something, either a specific, custom-fitted lesson for the individual or the whole “opposition in all things” thing.  If we looked only to that principle, I suppose the only logical conclusion for me to draw would be that I know everything already so there’s no need to trifle me with additional lessons.  However, even with that airtight logic, I doubt the plausibility of this conclusion.  I swear like a sailor, watch rated-R movies with great frequency, send text messages during church, stand in the hallway during Elders Quorum talking about politics or the recent Jazz game (I hate Kobe…just sayin’), make irreverent jokes, and, though I’m not proud of it, I do tend to kill the occasional hobo.  This is not a confession, T&S readers, I’m only making the point that there are still obvious lessons to be learned by the Bry-man (I’m already regretting calling myself that…too late to change it now, though). Also, even if I did know everything, I’d probably have to deal with the occasional trial so that my example could teach others God’s intended lessons.  Nothing like that is going on either.

Fortunately, the second principle sheds more light on this subject.  That is the whole God-Will-Not-Try-Us-Beyond-Our-Capabilities thing (see eg. 1 Nephi 3:7 or 1 Cor. 10:13).  For many people, this is a source of comfort when they’re dealing with difficult times.  For me, though I hate to admit it, it’s kind of a source of shame.  I mean, if Principle A (trials are lessons) doesn’t explain my lack of trials due to my obvious and obnoxious need to be taught a thing or two, then Principle B (trials cannnot exceed our strength) suggests that I’m rarely tried because God doesn’t think I can handle it.  Obviously, I’m oversimplifying a difficult doctrinal question, but, still, that doesn’t do much for the self-esteem.

Honestly, I’m hesitant to ponder this topic too deeply out of fear of that it will tempt the irony gods into preparing something real special for me.  That loud noise you hear is me knocking on wood very loudly…so loudly, in fact, that it exempts everything I’ve said here from coming back to haunt me.  Having said that, sometimes I think that I’d like to have a sort of off-the-record conversation with God about this, if nothing else to satisfy my own curiosity.  Though, due to my fear of actually bringing trials upon my myself, I’d probably rather not go there.  Here’s how I think that conversation would go:

Me: Hey, God.  I don’t mean to bother you or anything.  Just had a couple questions.

God: No problem….what was your name again?  I’m sorry, I’m not so great with names.

Me: It’s Bryan.  Remember me?  I was one praying last week that the Jazz would make it out of the first round.

God: Oh yeah!  The Bry-man!  Sorry I couldn’t help you there.  I don’t typically get involved in sporting events and, quite frankly, if Carlos Boozer’s not going to play defense, even I would have a hard time changing that outcome.

Me: No worries…I’m getting over it.  Anyway, I don’t want to tempt fate or anything —

God: There’s no such thing as fate.  Preordination is a true principle, predestination is not.  The difference is subtle but significant–

Me: Sorry…just an expression.  What I was saying was…I’ve noticed that I’ve had it pretty easy lately while, at the same time, it seems like everyone else is dealing with some pretty difficult stuff–

God: I see.  So…you want more trials then?  A little pain and suffering perhaps?  I can totally hook you up.  Testing people is kind of what I do.

Me: No!  That’s not what I want.  This is more of a philosophical curiosity.  You see, I don’t really feel like I deserve such a blessed status and, well, I see lots of really good people–

God: Remember, opposition in all things?  That’s why bad things happen to good people.  There’s a scripture about that in Nephi.  Look it up.

Me: That’s my point, do I not need any opposition?  Or, is it because I’m too weak to handle any?

God: This is getting a little confusing.  You say you don’t want trials, but you kinda sound like you’re asking for them.  I’m gonna go with my gut on this one.  Trials it is!

Me: No…never mind I take it back!  Let’s pretend this never happened.  Anyway, didn’t we agree that this was off the record?

God: No, I never heard you mention that.

Me: Oh crap….

Anyway, that’s the spot I’ve found myself in recently.  On the one hand feeling very grateful for my current situation but, on the inside, silently (very silently) wondering why nothing bad seems to happen to me.  Again, I’m not bragging or trying to make light of any serious trials people might be facing.  I just occasionally wonder if there’s another principle there that I’m missing.  They probably discussed it during Elders Quorum when I was in the hall.

33 Responses to What Does My Lack of Personal Trials Say About Me?

  1. Julie M. Smith on May 7, 2009 at 11:51 am

    “a rant about a quorum discussion outlining the evils of facial hair (true story, by the way) and I don’t think that’s what the faithful readers of this blog are looking for”

    You obviously haven’t checked our archive.

  2. Marc Bohn on May 7, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Bryan… as a Republican Hill staffer, I think you’re overlooking the ’06 and ’08 elections my friend.

  3. Bryan on May 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Nicely played, Marc. Touche’.

  4. Bill on May 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Marc, those defeats qualify under this exception:

    “it hasn’t been because of some unfair event that’s happened in my life it’s usually because I’m just an idiot”

  5. Jack Mormon on May 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Perhaps your “lack of personal trials” is, in and of itself, a personal trial of sorts. Placed into a mortal situation providing success in most of your endeavors, the Lord is interested in seeing how you will handle it. Will you remain a “humble follower of Christ”, or will you become lifted up in the pride of your heart like the Nephites were so many times during their life as a nation?

    Or perhaps there are some whoppers awaiting you in the future. Without turning this into a partisan political thread, it is widely believed that America will be subjected to national judgment at some point in the near future. You will probably experience it, and may even live through it. We will emerge from it successfully, but severely chastened.

  6. Kaimi Wenger on May 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I swear like a sailor . . . talking about politics or the recent Jazz game . . .

    Possibly related?

  7. Rob M. on May 7, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Dumb luck, my friend. That’s the only answer. I don’t think God throws trials at people for sport. He simply allows them to happen, and so far, you’ve gotten lucky, as have I, and as we all know, luck can change.

  8. Scott B. on May 7, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    “…when it it comes to blogging, trite and meaninglessness are kind of my go-to moves.”

    This describes me to a T, and is the primary reason I usually have a hard time coming up with posts. In my solo-blogging days, I would fill the day with rubbish until something more quality-oriented came to mind, but that seems somehow rude in a group setting.

  9. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    If you are 31 and only married a couple of years, you don’t have a lot of children yet. Just wait. You will have all the trials and challenges you could ever hope for.

    My son-in-law was basically a slacker until he married my daughter when he was 26 and they started having kids right away. He needed not just a job but a career that he could support his family with. He joined the Air Force, earned a degree in computer science, got some decent job experience, and at the end of his enlistment took a job in Boise with Micron–which then began a process of laying off 1000 employees. They moved back to eastern Washington, the job he thought he had fell through, but he finally found a good job and they recently bought a house. Along the way, one of their children was born very early–and did not survive. Caring for and raising their five kids, all with their own distinct personalities, is more than enough to solve all their concerns (if they had any) about not having enough challenges in life.

    Extending ourselves beyond out comfort zone–in marriage, work, church service or community involvement–puts more of ourselves at risk. The most poignant emotions we feel are usually about the suffering of those we care about, not ourselves. Marriage is the major way most of us put ourselves at risk, and put our happiness in the hands of chance and the independent decisions of spouse and children. If we are serving our neighbors in church and the community, we also put ourselves at risk. Perhaps if our own lives are all too comfortable, we need to seek out ways to help those who are not so comfortable.

  10. dan r on May 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I believe it’s dangerous ground to tread on saying that God is the one that “gives” us trials. Trials happen. They are a natural and consequential part of living outside of Eden in an imperfect world. I don’t think God gives us trials any more than I think God tempts us. There are enough things that can go wrong in life without God stepping in and adding to our problems. He has, however, made a plan that helps us to benefit from those trials (no matter where they came from). When a drunk driver kills a family member, God had no part in that evil. But, He has graciously allowed us to learn from it.
    Just because God is aware of “every hair on your head” doesn’t mean that God is commanding everything to move, and function, and grow. I think there is something wonderful about God observing the way things work under laws that even He has to obey.
    We run into trouble when we say “everything happens for a reason”. By doing so we completely disregard the beautiful plan God has allowed us to participate in and place all cause, blame, and consequence on Him. By doing so we deny ourselves the responsibility and blessing of actively participating in this life. We are asked to act and not solely be acted upon.

  11. jsg on May 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Bry-man,
    A trial is an experiment–putting something to the test. You can experience a life full of productive trials if you try. Try marriage, try children, try tithing, try imparting to the poor more fully, try home teaching as though your priesthood ministry can make a substantial difference, try preaching the gospel more boldly, try fervent prayer, try being a student of the scriptures, try ridding yourself of a persistent grudge, try the temple more often, try faith, try being nicer to people who are experiencing trials. Maybe we don’t need to be tried so much if we’ll just initiate the trials. When Moroni spoke of receiving a witness only after the trial of faith, he was definitely talking about the “try” kind of trial. And this Witness is what we are all after.

  12. Starfoxy on May 7, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I kind of agree with Jack. While I don’t think that God is necessarily planning these things out in minute detail, I do think that having a mundane or charmed life can be it’s own sort of test.
    We’ll be judged according to our circumstances- so I would think that having a cushy life just means you’ll be held to a higher standard in some ways.

  13. MattG on May 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I can also relate to this. I’m 37, but so far have managed to dodge any major life-changing trials. I had a loving family and never had too much trouble in school. My mission went surprisingly well compared to most of my friends. I married my high school sweetheart and we have been happily married for 15 years. We have 3 beautiful, healthy kids. I have enjoyed great health all my life. So anyday now I’m waiting for the hammer to fall. The scripture that keeps running through my mind is “The Lord loveth whom he chasteneth” (close enough). So is the converse true? If I’m not being chastened, what does that mean? My brain has a hard time grappling with that scripture. Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop….the charmed life will end sometime, right? I try not to dwell on it too much lest I develop an anxiety disorder.

  14. Amanda on May 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    just wait. they’ll come.

  15. anoner on May 7, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Just wait till you have kids.

  16. Vader on May 7, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    GENERAL MARTIN:
    I want you men to fly your planes on over to Haleiwa.
    LIEUTENANT WELCH:
    Yes sir. Uh … what do you want us to do when we get there?
    GENERAL MARTIN:
    Just sit tight. Listen for the phone.
    That’s all.

  17. Ellis on May 7, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Count your blessings and hope that things don’t get worse.

  18. Ray on May 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Thank God and hope it lasts – and what Rob said (#7).

    I think we make way too much of comparing our trials to those of others – and imputing some cosmic significance to the difference between ours and others. I think most of the reasons and justifications we reach are hogwash – the best attempts of our limited view, but fundamentally flawed. I prefer to avoid reaching such conclusions about the “why” and simply do the best I can regardless of what life throws my way.

    For this topic, faith is good enough; I don’t need to know.

  19. Zack on May 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    To all who have made the (tongue-in-cheek, I assume) comments to the effect of “the trials will come” or “you’ll see soon enough”:

    What if they don’t. I’m still rather young (younger than the author in fact) and similarly have not had giant trials thrust my way to the tune of what I know others have. While I am confident that I will and that the author will face much greater challenges in life than we have up to this point, it is also entirely possible that we will never have trials on par with what some of our peers have already faced in their young age. At this point I am thinking about my father. He has commented to me that he doesn’t feel as though he has had great challenges in life either. Certainly there have been a great deal of trials and challenges and so forth.

    I acknowledge that there are great trials in my future, but I imagine that the vast majority of those will be related to stupid decisions on my part as most of my trials up to this point have been. I think that’s just sort of how it goes and then there’s the luck of the draw for other kinds of random trials that get thrust on people. I’ll have a fair share of those but chances are I will know a great many people who have had much worse (and much better) luck than me with regard to the happenstance kind of trials that come into our lives — health (own and of loved ones), accidents, damage to property, choices made by others, etc…

    This leads me to wonder just a little bit every now and then what it means when the scriptures mean when they say that all will be tried like Abraham. Maybe doing little things for God and big things for him are just as hard from an eternal perspective. Thinking about things like this makes me think that gospel just might be as simple as it sounds. The workers get paid the same no matter what hour they went to work in the field. And no matter how hard or easy their particular job there was.

    Huh.

  20. Cameron on May 7, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve had my own trials as everyone had (mostly by my own poor choices), but a few things came to mind after reading your post:

    “The Quiet Dedication of a Lifetime” – talk given in the last few years by Elder Oaks. He explains how many people go back and forth between good and bad extremes, but what the Lord really wants is someone who will consistently and diligently do the simple things that he has commanded.

    I think this may relate to trials, too. Not all of us will experience what most of us would call the ‘dreaded’ group of trials, but the challenge of becoming a celestial person through the Atonement and raising a family in our society is a pretty big one, wouldn’t you say?

    I also thought of Alma’s counsel to his son to not be lax because of the easiness of the way. I don’t know where this principle intersects with ‘being tried as Abraham,’ but I think it’s a good thing to remember as we strive to live the gospel and keep our covenants.

  21. Chad too on May 7, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Zack,

    If trial doesn’t seem to be coming your way, then wear yourself out in service to those for whom trials seem to be coming in abundance.

    When you aren’t an hungred, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, your marching orders are to give meat, drink, shelter, etc….

  22. Bookslinger on May 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Bryan,

    Matt 5:45, “… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

    Maybe you’re the unjust guy that the Lord is blessing in order to try the faith of the other guy.

  23. DavidH on May 7, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Bryan. No trials. Wonderful. Just keep knocking on wood.

  24. Amy S on May 7, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    hmmmm. I think I know the problem. exactly how much facial hair do you have?

  25. Zack on May 8, 2009 at 3:20 am

    If trial doesn’t seem to be coming your way, then wear yourself out in service to those for whom trials seem to be coming in abundance.
    When you aren’t an hungred, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, your marching orders are to give meat, drink, shelter, etc….

    I’m pretty sure those are our marching orders whether we’re free of heavy personal burdens or not. I don’t remember ever hearing an apostle say anything like “Do your home teaching. Except if you have AIDS.” The savior didn’t exhort us to “turn the other cheek, so long as it doesn’t have a boil on it.” In fact, if anything, the gospel dictates that our times of personal trial are the times when it most behooves us to reach out to others. Obviously practicality dictates slightly different standards. I am fine with that. I imagine that’s why many wards tend to have bishops who don’t have as many young children (though this certainly isn’t always the case — mine is 31 or 32 and has 3 boys under 5). I remember when the bishopric was discussing names for a new Relief Society President an aspect of the centered on the number of children she had, whether she worked or not, and where the family lived in proximity to several of the sisters who would have the most needs. (Obviously these were not the standards by which she was chosen, but they did enter into the discussion.)

    Perhaps I am going on too long about this, but I think there are interesting undertones to this post that deserve some of our consideration. If we’re so busy fixing our own problems, the gospel instructs us to forget ourselves and serve others just as much as if we’re not burdened with heavy loads.

    I guess all I’m saying is I share Bryan’s curiosity and wish someone saying something different could say it as compellingly as he has. I suspect that the real answer is that most of the crap that happens in life is just kind of random. But that’s just not all that philosophically or theologically compelling.

  26. TStevens on May 8, 2009 at 8:08 am

    At the end of my mission another guy was explaining to me how super strong or spiritual Elders always got stuck with crappy companions. His theory was only the strong could serve with those guys and still feel the spirit and get the work done. He then proceeded to share numerous examples. I was thinking to myself that can’t be true because my 15 companions had all been awesome and …, oh wait, never mind. The sad light bulb of truth went on in my head.
    But now as I have grown up and matured I realize that we will all eventually suffer our trials in one way or another. For example, on my next mission my companion will be my wife.

    As for petty EQ lessons, I was berated for not following the scriptures because I didn’t eat wheat (I have a pretty bad food intolerance).

  27. Tiffany on May 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

    This is going to sound trite, but seriously, stop worrying about it and enjoy your period of no trials. Because the trials will come eventually. I can promise you that with complete certainty.

  28. Chad too on May 8, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Zack, it wasn’t a condemnation.

  29. Marc on May 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

    All I know is that every time I pray for the Lord to bless me with something like patience, I cringe a little at what that might mean.

  30. Susan M on May 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I’d heard people like you exist. I never believed it, though.

  31. Angie on May 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    If you are experiencing a season of less trials, then use more of your resources to help those around you. When the trials do come, then accept the help of those around you. And if the “major” trials never come, then enjoy the blessings of a life of service to those who suffer.

  32. TBB on May 8, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Apparently, I got all of your problems. My mother has always told me that i was born under a black cloud.

  33. Bookslinger on May 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    “I was thinking to myself that can’t be true because my 15 companions had all been awesome and …, oh wait, never mind. The sad light bulb of truth went on in my head.
    But now as I have grown up and matured I realize that we will all eventually suffer our trials in one way or another. For example, on my next mission my companion will be my wife.”

    That sounds like your imlying your wife will be your “difficult companion.”