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Trials. Whether they come from a lack of blessings (such as infertility) or something bad occurring (like a health problem), trials come to all of us. How do we truly overcome trials in this life? How do we find the strength to go on if trials seem to come all at the same time with no end in sight? What are our options to survive the tempests of life?
Abraham holds a distinct principle that I’ve actually been pondering for a couple of weeks now. The principle has been forming in my mind, and part of Abraham’s story teaches it perfectly. Whether your trial is infertility or something else, Abraham’s story can teach us how to survive these trials. Let’s delve deeper.
The trial of Abraham
Abraham had plenty of trials…his father tried to kill him. He moved a lot. His wife was almost taken from him by an Egyptian ruler. Abraham and his wife also experienced infertility. Let’s hone in on the infertility issue.
The Lord promised Abraham that he would be given posterity that was numberless. That is part of the Abrahamic covenant that is so essential to our doctrine. Christ literally told Abraham that he would have posterity that would be greater than the amount of dust on the earth. And yet, Abraham found himself and his wife rather childless.
I can imagine that this must have felt uncomfortable. Abraham had this promise of numberless posterity, but it was not yet fulfilled. He and his wife continued to get older…and older…and older, and still no children. In chapter 12, Abraham is promised children. In chapter 13, Abraham is promised children. In chapter 15, the Lord specifically promises that Abraham will have numberless children that will truly be his. They won’t just be an heir that is present in his house; there will be a child that is biologically his.
Sarai is getting desperate enough that she gives her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar has a child in chapter 16. In chapter 17, the Lord says, “Yes you have Ishmael, but you’re still going to have a son with Sarah (Sarai’s new name).”
And that’s the end of our reading for this week. If you want a spoiler, Sarah finally has a son in chapter 21 when she’s 100 years old.
I specifically mention each promise and each chapter because I want to emphasize the waiting and the pain that must have come with waiting. I imagine us in our own trials, pleading over and over and over to be delivered. I imagine us pleading over and over and over for a specific blessing. We keep receiving the same answer: All our trials will eventually be made up by Christ’s atonement, and we will eventually receive all the righteous desires of our hearts. But we keep asking, and we keep receiving the promises. We experience the pain of patience and waiting, and it feels as though it will last forever.
I imagine this is how Sarah must have felt for 80 years.
To overcome the trials
There are times in our lives when the Lord carries us through a trial. I’ve heard stories of unearthly peace in the midst of devastating trials. I’ve heard stories of people pleading for strength to carry them hour to hour as they go on living through hardships that I can’t imagine. I’ve felt this kind of “carrying” to a smaller extent as I’ve been comforted even when there are no solutions.
There is a lot going on in my family right now (nothing too serious), and it’s causing some anxiety. I haven’t felt on top of my mental health, and I’ve had a hard time accomplishing day to day tasks. I’ve had a really hard time being the kind of wife and mother I’d like to be.
There was one day when I remembered this idea that the Lord could carry me through this. Even with my mental health being what it was, I believed that the Lord could just walk me straight through to the other side and so I knelt down to pray for that blessing.
As I started to ask the Lord to carry these burdens, the Spirit made me pause. I was enlightened and reminded that the Lord can’t swoop in and carry me effortlessly through every trial. Though He never leaves me, He will not always carry me through. How would I get any stronger if I didn’t have to carry some of the weight myself? He mercifully allows me to carry some weight because He wants me to grow, and He makes up for the stumbles along the way. He perfectly knows me and knows when to step in, and He also knows what I need to grow.
The point remained. The Savior would not be taking away the anxiety I was feeling. That was my trial. He couldn’t take it away without compromising my entire earthly purpose of growing. It was then that the Spirit taught me something profound. Before I give it away, I want to share it from Abraham’s perspective.
So in chapter 15, Abraham comes before the Lord and essentially says, “I still don’t have a kid.” Here is what happens.
Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 15:9-12
9 And Abram said, Lord God, how wilt thou give me this land for an everlasting inheritance?
10 And the Lord said, Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?
11 And if thou shalt die, yet thou shalt possess it, for the day cometh, that the Son of Man shall live; but how can he live if he be not dead? he must first be quickened.
12 And it came to pass, that Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of Man, and was glad, and his soul found rest, and he believed in the Lord; and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness.
So Abraham says, “How are You planning on giving me this inheritance?” And the Lord is like, “Even if you’re dead, I could give you that inheritance.”
And then here’s the real kicker. Abraham (Abram at the time) essentially received a vision of Jesus Christ, and he was glad and his soul found rest. He was not given children. He did not see his future children. He did not see his endless posterity. He saw Christ, and that was when his soul found rest.
When we go before the Lord in these times of trials, we’re not necessarily looking for an immediate fulfillment of our hopes and dreams and deliverance. We believe in His promises for us. Oftentimes, when we go before the Lord, we’re asking for what Abraham received. We’re asking for rest from the heavy burden.
Now here was my epiphany in one short statement:
When it comes to trials, sometimes Jesus Christ carries us through. Other times, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that carries us through.
That seems like a silly nuance, but it’s important. Let me explain.
There are times of infertility when your aching feels so strong that the Lord has to carry you through your daily tasks. Then there are times when you have to choose to believe in His promises. You find joy and peace as you ponder and daydream about how you will love the little ones that have been promised to you.
There are times of physical illness or ailments when the Lord has to carry you through your daily tasks because your body does not have the physical capacity to do it alone. Then there are times when you make a mental list of all the things you’re going to do once your body is whole and resurrected, and your faith in the promises of Christ carry you through.
Abraham saw the days of Christ (which I can only imagine strengthened his faith in the Savior), and that was when he felt peace.
My anxiety about our future is not totally gone, but I’ve received promise after promise that the Lord is watching out for me and my family. Through the anxiety, I have to remind myself of those promises over and over and over, and that has been what’s carried me through.
Faith is also a process
Faith, in and of itself, is not easy. Sometimes it’s easy to look too closely at your fears and to sit in them. Sometimes it’s much easier to give in and get angry and ask why you’ve been denied righteous desires. I don’t think faith always looks like a smile. Sometimes faith is as simple as an acknowledgement of Christ when you’re sitting in your fears or grief. It is a simple, “Okay,” when “Thy will be done” is too long of a phrase to say.
As you come to invite Christ into your life more fully, that faith becomes easier. If you were to see what Abraham saw, your soul would find peace as his soul did. Faith is not one, big, climactic choice. It’s a stairway. It’s simple choices day in and day out. It is built and remembered and torn down and recreated. It is corrected and altered and enlightened as we go along.
Faith is a choice to believe in Christ’s promises when He has deemed it necessary for you to lift some weight for a little while.
I am grateful for an all-wise Savior who is present in the details of my life. I am grateful that He has enough self-restraint to allow me to suffer reality in order to become the Being He pictures in His head. I am grateful when He steps in, and I’m grateful for the opportunities to trust His promises when He deems it necessary.