Overcoming Adversity Isn’t the Point

Woman holding an umbrella resisting the wind.

We live in a fallen world. Millions of people are hungry. Depression is real. Cancer kills. Tragedy strikes. Life throws curve balls. That’s the way things are. More often than not, our goal is to overcome the adversity that challenges us. We want to triumph over pain and suffering. We don’t like it, and we’re not meant to. But while Christ’s atonement one day promises us the final victory in this war, our entire lives will still be spent doing the fighting. But hey, keep reading for the good news.

Adversity isn’t going anywhere

A man rock climbing.

Each of us falls somewhere on the spectrum of adversity. Some face more than others, but none are exempt. We face adversity a million times a day in a million different ways. Despite our efforts, nowhere in the Plan of Salvation is it written that we can wholly defeat adversity in this life. It’s not going to happen. When we overcome one obstacle, there will always be another one down the road.

Those that hope to earn an adversity-free life are sure to be profoundly disappointed. But knowing that fact helps to highlight what we can and are meant to achieve. Beating the opposition isn’t the point. Finding happiness despite the opposition is.

Beating the opposition isn’t the point. Finding happiness despite the opposition is.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. Nobody likes to be told their life is going to be full of suffering, but that’s what we’re up against. The final step in the gospel is “endure to the end,” not, “relax on a white-sand beach to the end.”

What the scriptures teach

An open bible on top of a map, next to a compass and lantern.

Lehi’s dream

Remember Lehi’s prophetic dream in 1 Nephi chapter 8? Lehi discovers a beautiful white tree, the fruit of which “was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted … And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy.”

Other people soon arrived at the tree and also ate the fruit, which is symbolic of the love of God. But not everyone was filled with joy. Some were filled with shame. Wondering what the deal was, Lehi took a look around “and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building … And it was filled with people … and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.” There’s the opposition.

And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.

These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

Here’s the interesting part: The fruit of the tree was not the reward of heroically overcoming the opposition of the great and spacious building. Rather, joy was found from the fruit despite the constant opposition from those people in the building. One is not the result of overcoming the other. They’re happening at the same time.

The Jaredite barges

As the Jaredites prepared for their great journey across the sea, the Lord spoke to the brother of Jared about figuring out a way to provide light to those in the boats. 

For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea …

And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?

Again, notice the wording of this example. The Lord asks (emphasis added), “What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” The Lord does not say, “Behold, after ye have come forth from the depths will I provide light.” The Jaredites enjoyed the light during their trials, not just after them. Our goal should be the same.

Joseph Smith

One of Joseph Smith’s friends described him as, “always cheerful and happy.” But anyone that has studied Joseph’s life understands the crippling (almost literally) trials he suffered. Six of his children died. He was forced to defend himself in about 48 different criminal court cases (according to Brigham Young). He was attacked, tarred and feathered, and unjustly imprisoned. Yet, he’s described as “always cheerful and happy.” Surely Joseph understood the importance of finding happiness despite unending opposition.

How you react is your choice

Two paths through a forest.

Of course, we need to try to overcome opposition in life. We can overcome trials. The hungry can be fed, the depressed can recover, even cancer is survivable for some. We need to be fighters. We can make life easier for ourselves and others. But expecting adversity in all its forms to end in this life is a slippery slope.

If we have unrealistic expectations, our disappointment with life may tend to grow. It becomes easier to sink into the pit of misery. We start to blame others for our problems. We become bitter and cold. We complain about our circumstances, and when circumstances change, we find another aspect of them to complain about. We choose to hate life until life runs out of things to hate.

Unfortunately, that day will not come in mortality. If we change ourselves into beings that choose to complain at every turn, I’m confident that characteristic will be alive and well even after this life.

And so the choice is truly ours. We can choose to be unhappy with the chaos in our lives, or we can deal with it as best we can, and find happiness amidst the chaos nonetheless.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

The plan

Painting of Adam and Eve in Mormon theology.

As mentioned previously, we live in a fallen world. Fallen, because of Adam and Eve’s choice to eat of the forbidden fruit. It is because of their decision that pain entered the world. But there was a greater purpose to the Fall.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

In other words: Because opposition entered the world, we can exist, and we can find joy. Too often we look at opposition as the thing that prevents us from being happy. The reality is that opposition is the thing that enables us to find happiness through Jesus Christ. He is the source of our faith, our hope, and our happiness. May God bless each of us on our journey to find joy through Christ, despite the adversity we face each day.

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, FamilyShare.com and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.