Years ago I attended BYU Women’s Conference and I do vaguely recall that it was a good conference, but out of the whole two days of workshops I only remember a single line. The speaker said, “You can live without faith, but you cannot live without hope.” At the moment the words came out of his mouth, they made perfect sense, but I had to really chew them over. For me faith and hope had always been so inextricably interconnected that I had never taken the time to break down their separate roles in my life.
Today I am talking about hope. In his talk, “The Infinite Power of Hope,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf calls hope “one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity. These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time.”
Every time I hear a speaker say that faith and fear cannot exist at the same time, I get very uneasy because it shows me the holes in my own faith. If I were a perfect person with perfect faith, I probably wouldn’t ever feel fear because my confidence would be so unshakable. But I’m not perfect. I am a mother and a daughter, a friend, a sister, and an aunt in a very frightening and uncertain world where sometimes it feels like everyone is at risk. I love the Lord and I believe very clearly in Him, yet there are still things that keep me up at night.
I do not believe the Lord condemns me for my weakness, in fact he proves that he understands and works around it. Faith and charity can be powerful, blue steel swords, allowing us to cut our way through the thorny hedges that mortal life or Satan put in our way. These are magnificent tools, but sometimes we fail in our technique and our swords break, or get knocked from our hands, or sometimes we begin a trial with a sword that is not yet sufficiently long to face our troubles with easy confidence. The Lord understands that acquiring perfect faith and perfect charity will only come through a process that takes at minimum a lifetime of effort and practice to master. For the imperfect among us, faith and fear can coexist, which is why the Lord also asks us to develop hope, because hope can give us the courage to continue fighting despite our fear.
Uchtdorf writes, “Hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness. Its absence—when this desire of our heart is delayed—can make the heart sick.”
“Hope is a gift of the Spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior. This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope.”
In 2016 our family left China for the summer, assuming we would return in the fall as we always did. I went in for my yearly checkup and there was the doctor sitting in front of me saying, “We don’t know anything yet, let’s just run some tests.” His voice was cheerful and hardy, but I could see his eyes and I thought, “He thinks I have cancer.”
Even looking at the doctor’s face, I still believed I would escape, and that once the test results came back I’d laugh and breathe a sigh of relief after such a close shave. It just wasn’t a good time for cancer. As it happened, I already had a plateful of pretty nasty trials, and I honestly did not believe the Lord would ask me to fight cancer on top of everything else. It just wasn’t convenient, and we all know that cancer’s really polite about such things.
As I waited for the test results, I went home, got down on my knees, and asked the Lord for a miracle, genuinely believing that I would receive it. And I did receive a miracle, I heard the words perfectly clearly in my mind, “Go open your scriptures to where you’ve been reading.” So I hurried straight off and opened my scriptures to the next chapter which happened to be John 11,—the story of Lazarus.
I started to think the stork may have dropped off the wrong miracle.
But I had heard the Lord’s instructions so I started reading. Verses three and four hit me straight between the eyes and I knew with perfect clarity that the Lord had highlighted them specifically for me. In those verses Christ was away from Judea and Mary and Martha had sent word that Lazarus was gravely ill. Verses three and four read:
3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Lazarus did die, but was raised again. I was not going to be spared this trial. But I also understood three other things: 1) the Lord loved me, “He whom thou lovest is sick,” 2) I was not going to die, and 3) the Lord was going to stick closely to me. In two verses He gave me the tools I needed to cultivate enough hope to carry me through what would prove to be the most brutal years of my life.
The rest of John 11 bears close reading. Among other things it illustrates the importance of centering our faith on Christ, on the hope Christ gives us, on the charity Christ shows to those who love him, and on the courage of his disciples who followed their Master into Judea, knowing it could cost them their lives. It was all the information I needed. It was a miracle, just not the one I asked for.
The test results came back, the doctor was right, I did have cancer that was not caught as early as they would have liked. Not only that, but I had two separate forms, one that could be helped with chemo and one that could not, and would require a series of invasive surgeries, rather than just one minor lumpectomy. The Lord did not remove my trial, but he did demonstrate that he clearly understood the serious troubles I was already facing. Consequently, he opened a window of hope to help me recognize his love and tender attention. He also removed the fear that I would be forced to leave my children during their tender teenage years. Hope kept me from becoming overwhelmed.
Chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation left me bald and sick and weak, but at no point was I afraid. I also had hope in the day when the steps of my treatment would be completed, and my body could once again perform as it should. Hope gave me courage to continue centering my faith in Christ’s promises made in John 11, but I had to cling to it with both hands.
When we are hurting or frightened, we can sometimes pray with all our hearts, and yet, in that most painful moment, it can seem that the Lord has gone silent and left us to ourselves. In these times faith and hope can work together as we remember that pain and stress, or desperation can cause a sort of spiritual buzzing in our ears that can sometimes make us hard of hearing, deaf to the delicate voice of the spirit. We can first take hope in the fact that the Lord has a plan, which will settle us enough to exercise our faith that he has not abandoned us, even if our pain and weaknesses temporarily blind us to his presence. Then we cling to his promises with both hands by opening up as many channels of communication as possible: prayer, scriptures, conference talks, standing in holy places, and so forth. Eventually our deafness can heal, allowing the Lord to communicate and give us the tools to fight off fear, and even that many headed hydra, Despair.
These past two and a half years have not been uniformly horrible, I need to stress that. I met many kind and loving people I would not otherwise have met, and I have been greatly touched and helped by the prayers and support of my friends and my family. My children stepped up so lovingly and admirably, and our church has made us feel so welcome. There were so many angels of mercy who shoveled our walks and driveway when it proved beyond me, and who brought us meals when I was out of commission. This is very tender for me because I’m a very self-contained person who prefers to circle the wagons and keep it in the family. That first winter in our home, I remember poking my chemo bald head out my door, looking at the vast piles of snow around my mailbox, and saying to myself with perfect seriousness, “I don’t need to get my mail until spring.” I shut the door never expecting anyone to shovel it out for me, but my neighbors did just that, and I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the help of so many kind souls. I will never forget any of this, and it has taught me an important lesson, we cannot do life alone.
At the Huntsman Center I didn’t have one doctor. Instead I worked with a large team of highly trained professionals who each brought something different to the table. At the beginning I thought I could handle the rest by myself, but I learned that I needed a team in my personal life as well, that sometimes I had to swallow my pride and learn to lean on friends and loved ones. That can be tough and humbling, but for me understanding this principle has meant the difference between success and failure. I came to understand the word “unity” in a way I never did before. In the end none of us can complete our mission alone, we need a team captained by our Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, we add our families, and then we build out from there.
I don’t want you to think I’ve been buried in misery and suffering every day, because that simply isn’t true. For the most part I could do what I needed to do. The Lord has always blessed me with strength and a solid foundation, and no matter what challenges I’ve faced in my life, he has blessed me with the magic ability to power through to the finish line. I didn’t necessarily win, but I always had the capacity to make it to the end. I am extremely grateful for this blessing.
But twice during this ordeal, I hit my limit. Until that time I did not know that was possible. I knew what it meant to be exhausted or overwhelmed, to feel inadequate, dejected, or defeated, but I have always believed that deep inside there was something more to draw from, some hidden bit to pull out and keep going. Until that moment, I did not know it was possible to be empty, utterly and completely empty, mentally, emotionally, and physically. There were miles to go, and I had no more to give. I remember laying on the couch in the family room and praying. I told the Lord, “I have nothing left.” It wasn’t exaggeration or self pity, it was simply a statement of fact. That was it.
I knew the Lord had been helping me all along, to pretend otherwise would be very ungrateful. But I want you to know that at both these times, these awful moments, the Lord actually picked me up and lent me the strength I needed to get up and move forward, and not just to move forward, but to laugh and joke with my kids like I hadn’t a care in the world. Nobody knew, from the outside you could not tell, but the Lord was holding me up, and he continued to hold me up until I could stand on my own.
We talk about the Atonement, the great gift that allows us to partner with Jesus Christ who so generously makes up the difference. I got a taste of what that feels like, just a taste of what it means to be picked up and carried through, because even though I had truly tried my level best, all my efforts had fallen far short, and there was nothing more I could do. I could not have tasted this gift in comfort, only in the fire of adversity. I know there are others out there who have traversed infernos of their own, and consequently understand these words in their very bones. To you I add my witness of this principle, and I testify of its truth.
In his talk Uchtdorf called hope a principle of promise as well as a commandment. With the story of Lazarus the Lord had given me a seed, but a seed was of little use unless I took the responsibility to make it an active part of my life, to dwell on it and think about it so my hope could grow and develop into a strength and a shield. In Proverbs 23:7 is says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Hope is a power, but like all God’s blessings, it is also a choice.
I’ll be honest and admit that as my life seemed to spin out of control, it has sometimes been hard to sit in church among all those bright, shiny people when I felt so defective. I need to emphasize that no one there had been hurtful to me or offended me, but sometimes we carry these feelings of inadequacy inside us for many different reasons, and they can make us more vulnerable to a thoughtless comment or an unkind word. We’re hurting, and without realizing it we can grab hold of someone or someplace to focus our pain, maybe spread a little blame. We must recognize we are in terrible danger of taking offense where we shouldn’t, and piling more pain in our ugly treasuries. This is a good time to step back and hold to what we know to be good and right, and recognize that all of us are utterly imperfect, anything to stave off greater misery.
In those moments it helps to look around and remember that most of our dragons are slain in private, and you cannot tell by looking into your neighbor’s smiling face what foes she has had to combat, or what deep wounds he has suffered. Each of us is on a separate journey learning different lessons at different rates, which means each of us could be a villain in one scene and a hero in the next. The Lord understands all this and gives us a powerful weapon in our defense. He says, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” This does mean that we should love our neighbor, but it also points out that if we are not one, it is easier for Satan to separate us from the Lord, like a lion attacking a wildebeest that has been separated from the strength of the herd. In anger and isolation it is easier to lose hope and stray off the safest path.
The ultimate expression of hope is, of course, the Atonement. Because of the Atonement we have the opportunity to repent, receive forgiveness, and return to God with our families intact. This is nothing to be sneezed at. But to think of the Atonement merely in terms of repentance is to limit it dreadfully. The Atonement is known as the Great Leveler because it is the power of healing. The Atonement applies to all pain, regardless of the cause.
When we sin we essentially wound ourselves, sometimes with little pricks that heal quickly with minor attention, and other times we may tear a great gouge that leaves a kidney dragging on the street. The size of the wound doesn’t matter. We will find that if we do our part, Christ is equally adept at healing wounds big or small.
But what if our wounds are caused by illness or accident, or what if we are torn up by the sins of others, what then? What if we don’t get the job we struggled and prepared for, or our family situation isn’t all we deserve, or we didn’t get the miracle we desperately prayed for? What if the sinner who wounded us gets to repent and ride off scott free while we are still hurt and bleeding? What if we get cancer at the worst possible moment?
When these things happen, and they will, remember that the pains of our lives are part of our individual journey, even when they were caused by the unjust actions of someone else. Whatever someone else has done, your experiences belong to you, not to the perpetrator. You choose how to approach your personal challenges, how to process, and how much you want to learn. That is your right and your privilege, and no one can take it from you. Christ has already learned just how hard this is. His load was wildly unfair, and so massive that even he bled from every pore as he carried it. He understands and knows exactly how to support you. Go back to that three legged stool: faith, hope, and charity. Faith will help you center on Christ, tapping the power of his great leveling Atonement. Charity will free you from the emotional drain of anger and grudges by helping you to forgive yourself, others, and even at times God Himself. But if your faith and charity are not yet perfect and you find yourself struggling with fear or hurt or the sometimes lifelong process of forgiveness, remember that hope is not only a commandment, but also a principle with a blessing attached, a way amplify whatever meager resources we may possess, and take courage despite the odds. Hope is the handful of loaves and fishes that God can multiply to feed the 5,000. Hope reminds us that we are not alone.
I would like to close with Uchtdorf’s final words in “The Infinite Power of Hope.”
“And to all who suffer—to all who feel discouraged, worried, or lonely—I say with love and deep concern for you, never give in.
Never allow despair to overcome your spirit.
Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorrow, and gladdens every heart.”
These words bring tears to my eyes because I understand them much better now than I would have two years ago. The Lord has promised never to try us beyond what we are able to bear, yet sometimes we hurt so exquisitely that it may seem there is no limit to our pain or our trials. But I testify that where there is pain, we will also find even greater evidence of the Lord’s love and attention. That all by itself is reason for hope. This is what I have learned over the last two years, and what I wanted to share with you.