The biggest difficulty in my life wasn’t reconciling my trials with my faith. It was reconciling my blessings.
I grew up in what seemed, to me and the outside world, to be the perfect environment. I’m the oldest of the oldest on both sides, born to an MBA from Harvard and a rocket scientist from MIT. Almost all my family members are active members of the Church. And it seemed like I was good at almost everything. It wasn’t really true – I lack coordination, can’t do geography or names in history, and have always been socially awkward – but in the outward, externally valued parts of society, I never really had to work hard to look good. I could take math tests without studying and ace them, perform in musicals, write and get published as a 3rd grader, even win records and medals in swimming. In my mind, I was on the top of the world.
Until I realized, one day, that everyone else wasn’t just like me.
I know it sounds odd, but for most of my life it didn’t occur to me that most kids had to take notes in class. Or had to study books to prepare for a test. Or really struggled with understanding how mathematics worked. And when I had that realization, it hit me hard.
I remember thinking about a girl who sat next to me in my economics class. We had talked about our passions and goals in life, and for the first time I realized that, for her, grades mattered because they would open or close the doors to her future. She told me one day that she had spent 20 hours studying for our most recent test. She had gotten a B-, and was frustrated. I hadn’t studied at all, and got an A. Then I started seeing it all around me. The guys who swam consistently, and never missed a practice, were always second place to my first. I walked on to the varsity diving team and displaced a guy who had spent 4 years working for his spot. A girl spent thousands of dollars on voice lessons, but couldn’t get a spot on the show choir or the musical… while for me it was a given. And I began to ask myself why.
There wasn’t really anyone I could talk to. If you bring up the fact that you’re at the top of your class, it comes across as proud or arrogant. Simply trying to create background here in this post has probably already turned people off. The reality is that, while there are plenty of support groups to help people find meaning in their trials, there isn’t anything like that for blessings. I didn’t feel like I had any problems in my life. And that – the dichotomy between my picture-perfect life and the world around me – made me truly wonder.
I knew, cognitively, that God loved all His children. But I couldn’t understand why He would seemingly bless them in such different degrees. It wasn’t the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I was okay with realizing that trials were building blocks in God’s eyes – specifically meant to help people grow. But, if trials are so important, why don’t we all just have trials? Why would God then give blessings in such a seemingly inequitable supply? Why are there children born in Africa who will starve, while their mothers watch helplessly, and I’ve never wondered about my next meal? Why does God bless us?
For years I’ve wondered about that. Wrestled with it, fought with it, tried to find the answers in the scriptures. I read the parable of the talents a thousand times, along with every other reference to gifts or blessings or talents in the scriptures. And yet couldn’t understand.
Until I realized where I had gone wrong.
I was asking the wrong question, because I had a flawed view of truth. I had been looking at blessings and trials, weaknesses and strengths as two different things. I saw trials and their meaning – helping people learn and grow – but my assumption was that blessings were simply to make your life better… and perhaps the life of people around you. I don’t know what it was, or where, or when, but I suddenly realized that, in God’s eyes, they’re the same.
Really. In the blink of mortality, God cares about one thing. Helping us to have the perfectly designed experience to return to Him. In His eyes, blessings and trials, strengths and weaknesses, everything in life has one purpose. His purpose – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
With that realization, life suddenly made sense. I could understand how God could give one man a trial and another a blessing – because that is what they need, individually, to return to Him. In the grand scheme of life, God has a Plan. Not just for the entire human race, but for each individual person who has ever lived. Hence why, in my estimation, He said “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” instead of “men.” Everything in life is just an ingredient in that Plan – a blessing. Personal, unique, and designed perfectly to help us return to Him.
The difficulty, then, becomes understanding how the aspects of life are designed to bless us. In the moment, there are things in life that are excruciatingly painful… and it sounds even trite to say that the pain will eventually change me into someone better. Abuse. Hunger. Pain. Sickness. Depression. Isolation. Betrayal. I don’t know how it all works out, but I do know one thing. God won’t let someone mess up His Plan… so anything that happens to me, or any righteous saint, will be for our good. And, looking back, I can see that. The blessings, trials, and everything else in my life have made me into who I am today. And if I could go back and trade my trials and blessings, but had to trade in also the things I’ve learned from them, I wouldn’t do it.
To every man is given a gift. I think that gift is more than just a gift of the Spirit like speaking a foreign language. To me, it’s the unique set of circumstances that God has created in each of our lives. Not just the blessings, strengths, and talents, but also the trials, weaknesses, sorrows, betrayals, and pains that will lead us to Him. Why does God bless us, or curse us, or allow us to feel joy or sorrow or pain? Because He loves us more than we can imagine. Only a loving God would let His children walk through fire to be changed… and I’ll be forever grateful for that gift.