First Person: “To Struggle is the Program” (or Life is a Process, Not a Bunch of Events)
I don’t know when he started saying it, but Dad’s mantra is one that I heard often. I’m sure I will pass onto my own children.
To struggle is the program.
Of course, you can imagine the kinds of conversations that brought on that teaching. Who wants to hear that the pain and struggle they are going through is supposed to be part of life? I sure didn’t. I wanted things to be easier, period. (I would often wonder (and still sometimes do): This is what I signed up for in the premortal world and shouted for joy about?)
In moments of spiritual clarity, however, of course I know he is right. We are here to be tested, to learn from our experiences, to learn faith through the trials that come. Of course, life is also full of rich and wonderful blessings, so it’s not like he was trying to be pessimistic or gloomy. We are that we might have joy, right? But still, sometimes it is in the struggle that we learn to appreciate the joy all the more. I look at my life and really can see blessings that struggling has brought, and I am (usually) grateful for the growth.
Lately, Dad’s words have been distilling on me in a slightly different way, thanks to some discussions with my husband, who has been reflecting on how life is a process, not a bunch of events. How often are we focused on the events in life: the next appointment, the next project, the next piano lesson for the children, the next family scripture time, the next big opportunity, the next stage of life when “all of our troubles will fade”? The list of “things to do” or “things we want” or even the goals we set can sometimes dominate our lives and our thinking. As my husband and I have talked, we have realized, perhaps more profoundly than ever, that it’s possible that a focus on events could also cause us to miss the purpose of life and the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the journey, and especially to build relationships with God and the people around us.
I think Nephi understood this concept. In 2 Nephi 31, he spends considerable time teaching about the critical nature of baptism, the ordinance necessary to get us into “the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life” (v. 18). This is an event that is absolutely essential to salvation. And yet, after expounding on the blessings of baptism, Nephi asks an important question:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?
And then, of course, he answers his own question by saying, “Behold, I say unto you, Nay” (v. 19).
The event of baptism is not enough. Indeed, we could plug any important event into this equation. Is all done when we receive the ordinances of the temple? When we married to our spouse? What about the day-to-day events of life and of gospel living? Do we say one prayer and we are done? Do the dishes once and check it off the list forever? Is all ever done? Sometimes that very fact that be exhausting! There is always another meal to cook, another weed to pull, another paycheck to be earned, another church meeting to attend. Clearly, the purpose of life is not really to “be done”!
Nephi teaches us what our lives should be about in verses 20 and 21:
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way….
No event, whether temporal or spiritual, will ever render our work “done.” No goal accomplished is ever sufficient to get us Home. We are here to struggle — not only to struggle in the sense of struggling through pain and trials, but to work hard and to work tirelessly and to work consistently. In short, nothing short of steadfastly enduring to the end (with faith, hope and charity along the way) will be enough to accomplish our work on earth.
Dad’s teaching has taken on a new light for me. Heavenly Father sent us here to learn the process of Christlike living and being. No event alone can make that happen, no matter how grand the event may be. It’s in the struggle, in the striving, in the pressing forward, in the enduring (in both spiritual and temporal elements of our lives), that the Lord can mold and shape and change us. The ordinances and commandments, as well as our day-to-day to-do lists, are only steps in the process, means to a potentially glorious end. The growth God desires for us comes in the struggle to make the most of every day, to repent when we make mistakes, and to build relationships with God and with our families that can take us into eternity.
I am convinced that this is part of why we hear so much about the importance of family life in the Church — because the consistent, repetitive work and the process of growth is so important in those family relationships. In fact, a quote from a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks comes to mind even as I write that:
Now is the time for each of us to work toward…becoming what our Heavenly Father desires us to become. As we do so, we should remember that our family relationships…are the setting in which the most important part of that development can occur…. Exaltation [eternal life] is an eternal family experience, and it is our mortal family experiences that are best suited to prepare us for it.
To struggle is the program. More than ever before, Dad, I believe you are right. But that concept is exciting me more than ever because it has taken on new meaning. Life is a process and it’s through continual effort and focus that I can continue to grow closer to God.
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