When enduring trials, hardships, or frustrating circumstances I have often found myself pondering two questions. First, why is this happening to me? And second, does anyone know how I feel right now? In the moment, it can be tempting to fall prey to the belief that there is no purpose to our struggles, or that we are utterly alone in our despair or grief. Looking through the distorted prism of pessimism may suddenly seem easier and more attractive than the invitation to “look to God and live.” However, I have learned for myself that not only is there always a “wise purpose” for our suffering, there is one who can always relate to how we feel.
There is something consoling about someone being able to relate to you. To relate is to establish a sympathetic relationship with someone, or to “bring into or establish association, connection, or relation.” Dictionaries define relatable as a word used to describe a “person with whom you feel as if you have something in common.” There is a special bond or relationship created by having something in common and being able to relate. There is no one that the word relatable better describes than The Savior. He is the one with whom we have the greatest opportunity to form a special association, connection, or relationship with in this life. His capacity to relate, and therefore comfort and strengthen, is greater than family, friends, priesthood leaders, and even a spouse. However, even with that knowledge, I have found myself asking at times, does he really know though? Careful examination of the scriptures brings one to conclude, yes, he really does know.
Does he know what it feels like to be picked last or not at all? “Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barrabas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” “And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barrabas.” (Matt. 27:17, Luke 23:18)
Does he know what it feels like to be alone? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Does he know what it feels like to watch loved ones go astray? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37)
Does he know what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend? “And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him.” (Matt. 26:47,50)
Does he know what it feels like to be made fun of or mocked? “And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him.” (Mark 15:!7-20)
Does he know what it feels like to be taken advantage of? “Herod came from a family of political schemers. He used Jesus to gain favor with the Romans and the powerful Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.” (Jack Zavada)
Does he know what it feels like not to be believed in? “But though he had done many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him.” (John 12:37)
Does he know what it feels like when people won’t trust you or put their faith in you and your abilities? “But every man walketh in his own way, after the image of his own God.” (D&C 1:16)
Does he know what it feels like not to be acknowledged? “Like goldfish in a bowl, some are mindless of who changes the water and puts in the pellets.” (Neal A. Maxwell)
Does he know what it feels like to be confronted with temptations? “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil.” (JST Matt. 4:2)
Does he know what it feels like to have to forgive, even if it is undeserved? “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Does he know what it feels like to suffer negative consequences because of someone else’s bad decisions? “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Does he know what it feels like to be weak, sick, or afflicted in any way? “And he shall go forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.” (Alma 7:11)
Jesus does know how it feels. And he has commanded us to be as he is, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I.” (3Nephi 12:48) Since he is perfect in every way, this command could be applied specifically to various attributes he possesses. For example, “Be ye therefore charitable”, “Be ye therefore forgiving”, or “Be ye therefore an example”. In times of trial, hardship, or frustration, the call being extended might be, “Be ye therefore relatable”.
We become relatable like him by submissively suffering on our own level the things he suffered; God, of course, being the one who decides what “our level” is. Elder Maxwell has said, “By taking Jesus’ yoke upon us and enduring, we learn most deeply of Him and especially how to be like him. Even though our experiences are micro compared to His, the process is the same.” Thus we are placed in situations that, although difficult, will enable us to become more like Christ. If we are wise like Job, amidst all these things we will avoid charging God foolishly. It should be noted here, that the attitude that God’s tutoring needs to be justified by an immediately discernible reason, will lead a heart to become hardened. Submissiveness comes easier if we understand that we justified his tutoring and stretching when we chose to come down here to this world.
When we pray and ask to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, or to have our faith increased, or for opportunities to grow or help others, lets not be too alarmed when we are then called to pass through hardships or struggles of some sort. Lets not push the panic button when we are confronted with new personal challenges to overcome. We must allow ourselves to be molded into the instrument that the Lord needs. “How could there be refining fires without enduring some heat?” (Maxwell) We must allow ourselves to become relatable. President Monson taught, “We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift his children. He is dependent upon each of us.” With that in mind, how can we expect to help someone with depression if we have never been depressed? How can we expect to comfort someone who is lonely if we have never felt alone? How can we truly assist in mending someone’s heart if we have never had our’s broken? How can we help someone feel like they are good enough if we have never felt inadequate? The next time you find yourself struggling, try and be grateful, and learn from it as much as you can. It is very likely that you are being prepared to be an instrument through whom God can work to bless the lives of others. To wade through an icy river of tribulation and then go back and carry someone else through the same figurative river, is to be a Christ figure.
In my life, opportunities for service or influence toward others in various ways have often been accompanied right before or soon thereafter by opportunities to go through something that gives me a taste of what the person I’m meant to serve or influence is feeling or going through. “Some afflictions are physical, others mental, or so begin. Often, however, they are interactive, forming a special pain.” (Maxwell) It may be that the “special pain” is being formed for the purpose of us becoming more relatable, better enabling us to serve with charity or influence with compassion. I have found that the closer I have analyzed what is happening in my life with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I can see the divine potter trying to mold my soul closer and closer to the shape of the Savior. God is in the details, and we can become as much like Jesus as we allow ourselves to. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunities given. That involves looking at hardships and trials, big or small, as occasions for learning, growth, and becoming more relatable to others. In short, everything we go through can serve as a chance to become more like the Son of God if we but allow it.
The words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from his MTC devotional speech for new mission presidents The Atonement, have powerful application to missionaries, but can also be applied to members.
“I am convinced that [living the gospel] is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation was never easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, He is our Great Eternal Head. Why would we believe, why would we think, that it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? In turn, how could we possibly bear any moving, lasting testimony of the Atonement if we have never known or felt anything of such an experience? As [Latter-day Saints] we are proud to say we are disciples of Christ – and we are. But mark my word. That means you must be prepared to walk something of the path He walked, to feel something of the pain He felt, to at least occasionally. . . shed one of the tears of sorrow that He shed.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying you have to look for suffering, and I’m not saying that we experience anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and frankly, sacrilegious. But I believe that [followers of Christ] to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to come to repentance, to come to know something of the price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price – it will only be a token, but I believe it has to be paid. I don’t believe [living the gospel] has ever been easy. . . I believe it is supposed to require something of our soul. If Jesus could plead in the night, falling on His face, bleeding from every pore and crying, “Abba, Father, (Papa), . . . remove this cup from me.” Well little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or “easy” thing for a [Latter-day Saint]. This is the Living Son of the Living God saying, “Isn’t there some other way?” So, . . . if [you] wonder why this isn’t easy, [you] should remember [you] are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot better asked it a long time ago. He asked if there were not a less excruciating way – and for Him there wasn’t. So perhaps, for us in token symbolism, there won’t be an entirely easy way either.
[Brothers and sisters], if [you] can come to love and appreciate it, the Atonement will carry [you]. . . When [you] struggle, when [you] are rejected, when [you] are spit upon, and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, [you] are standing shoulder to shoulder with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect [person] that ever lived. [You] have every reason to stand tall, and to be grateful that the Savior and Redeemer of the world knows all about [your] sorrows and [your] afflictions, and that for a moment or two in [your] life, [you] will understand what he went through for [you].”
I believe one of the divine purposes for suffering on any level, is to make us more relatable like Jesus. So, as Paul worded it, “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort herewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2Corinthians 1:4) The more experience we obtain, and the more hardship we bear, the greater instrument in the hands of the Lord we become. The reason Jesus Christ has so much to offer us is because he has been through so much. Likewise, the more we endure, the more we will have to offer others. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“As with every virtue, Jesus is the exemplar. While shouldering Jesus’ yoke, we , too, can better come to “know according to the flesh how to succor [each other].” Likewise, by seeing life’s experiences through to the end, on our small scale, we can finally say as Jesus did on the cross, “It is finished.” We, too, can then have “finished our preparations,” having done the particular work God has given each of us to do.”
“Therefore, one of the most powerful and searching questions ever asked of all of us in our sufferings hangs in time and space before us: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” Jesus plumbed the depths and scaled the heights in order to comprehend all things. Jesus, therefore, is not only a fully atoning but He is also a fully comprehending Savior!”