This is an excerpt from The Slow-Ripening: Fruits of Mothering by, Emily Watts.
One day when I was rereading the story of Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price, I was particularly struck by some wording in the verse in which he’s talking about his religious quest. He says in verse 8 of Joseph Smith–History, “During this time of great excitement”—religious excitement—“my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.” At fourteen years old, his feelings were “deep and often poignant”? He was going to church as often as he could? Do you know a fourteen-year-old boy like that?
I thought, What would make a fourteen-year-old boy do that kind of deep, serious, poignant soul-searching? And then I remembered: When Joseph Smith was seven years old, typhoid fever had raged through the neighborhood and had hit the Smith family. In his case it had settled as an infection in his leg. Normally, the treatment would have been amputation, but his mother begged the doctors and prevailed upon them to try a relatively new procedure, which involved not taking off the whole leg but cutting out the portion of the bone that was infected. It just sounds hideous. I try to picture a child having such an operation without anesthesia, and I can’t; my mind will not even go there. But that was how it was. Joseph was to undergo this operation, and he didn’t want to take the whiskey that was the only option available to deaden his senses. He said, “If I can be held in the arms of my father, I’ll be all right.”
It is interesting to me that he asked for his father, knowing his mother couldn’t do it. In fact, this insightful little boy asked her to stay away altogether, and she wasn’t in the room when the operation began.
When they cut into his leg to get to the bone, Joseph cried out so loudly that his mother came running into the room. She describes in her history the blood and carnage, the scene on the bed that she saw. And this seven-year-old boy called out: “Mother, go out. I will try to stand it if you will just go away.” So she did, all the way out of the house into the orchard to pray.
Well, Joseph Smith survived that operation. He made it through that terrible, terrible ordeal, though it took years, and his brother Hyrum was the one, largely, who carried him around, who nursed him, who rubbed his leg when it hurt, who took care of him, forging a bond that would last all the way to Carthage jail, when they left the world together (see Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 69–76).
I think that’s where deep and serious and poignant feelings might have started for Joseph Smith. And when I see that, I understand better that Heavenly Father doesn’t always take the hard things out of our path—because sometimes those trials are making us who we need to be. I am grateful to Him for that.
(Emily Watts, The Slow-Ripening Fruits of Mothering [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 17–20).