Most members of the Church today are not faced with the same kinds of challenges, trials, and sacrifices that the pioneers experienced. We are not facing ice-clogged rivers or blizzards raging around our tents. We are not asked to subsist on four ounces of flour per day, to press on pulling our handcart without a husband, or to leave a child buried in a shallow grave along the trail.
But we are facing some pretty serious challenges of our own. Today, many families are caught in difficult financial circumstances. They are unemployed. They’ve seen serious reductions in their retirement funds and life savings. They are losing their homes through foreclosure. A growing number of natural disasters destroy homes, property, and livelihoods and leave loved ones dead or seriously injured. Pornography, selfishness, and infidelity destroy numerous marriages and families. People addicted to alcohol or drugs bring years of sorrow and heartbreak to their family members. And knowing that things in the world are going to get worse before they get better only adds to our sense of hopelessness.
Some people are dealing with these trials well, but many others—even including those in the Church—are losing hope. Frustrated that God is not hearing and answering their desperate cries for help, they bitterly turn away from Him and reject the Church with all of its requirements and demands.
Here are some comments and questions I have heard over the past few years:
• A returned missionary in his late twenties: “The Brethren keep encouraging us older men to marry, but why should I date and get serious with a girl? All around me, including in my own family, I see failing marriages. The future is so uncertain. What if I can’t love and care for a family and make them happy?”
• A seminary student after a fireside talk on the Second Coming: “I hope I die. I don’t want to be on the earth if things are going to be so horrible.”
• A recent college graduate: “Why even try to plan for the future, let alone retirement? The world is facing economic collapse and it will all be for nothing.”
• A man in his mid-forties, a fifth-generation Latter-day Saint: “I’ve tried to be faithful my whole life. I served a mission. Married in the temple. Now, my life is a wreck. I’ve prayed. I’ve fasted. I’ve begged the Lord to help me. And nothing has changed. So I’m done with it.”
• A woman to the teacher just before a gospel instruction class was to begin: “Just thought I’d warn you. If you tell me one more thing I’m supposed to be doing to be a better person, I’m going to stand up in the middle of your lecture and scream.”
• A young single adult to her institute instructor after class: “Thank you so much for that lesson, Brother Jones. It was so inspiring, and I’m so depressed.”
• A father who lost his home, his wife, and several children in a devastating earthquake: “Why, God? Why?”
• A single woman in her thirties: “I have decided that God isn’t going to answer my prayers. I have to face the fact that I am going to be alone the rest of my life. And that reality is so depressing and so discouraging that I often cry myself to sleep at night.”
• A stake president: “In addition to the usual concerns about transgression and apathy, I worry about some of our stalwarts. They know the gospel is true. They serve faithfully. But the joy is gone.”
• An elderly couple: “We had always heard people joke about old age not being for sissies, but we never understood it until now. Life grows increasingly difficult as our pains increase and our capacities diminish.”
• The parents of a wayward child: “He’s lied to us, stolen our credit cards, forged checks, cost us tens of thousands of dollars. We’ve spent thousands more on his legal defense, been to jails to bail him out, nursed him through several attempted suicides. He’s been breaking our hearts for nearly twenty years now. But the hardest thing of all is that we can see no end to it, no solutions, no way out.”
• A highly successful entrepreneur in fast and testimony meeting, with tears: “We are moving out of the ward this week. Our house is in foreclosure. I’m looking for a job. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life is try to explain to my sixteen-year-old son why we are moving in with Grandma.”