A Test of Faith
We’ve all been there. In the thralls of bitterness and woe. Times when our faith and fortitude are tested. Tested so much so that we feel we might break. You know the feeling. The challenge through these difficult times in our lives is keeping our faith alive. Just as everyone has, I have experienced several profound challenges in my life where my faith has been stretched so thin that I felt it would break if I were stretched any further.
One of these trials of faith came in 2003 when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). She was only 5-years-old at the time. The world for my wife and I came crashing down. This was our oldest child. A child who had always been so happy; that joy reflected in her large blue eyes every time I looked into them. But at that time, those eyes were filled with tears of fear and pain.
I can still remember the stabbing fear I felt when I had first received word that my daughter had cancer. A few days before she was diagnosed with the dreaded “c” word, my daughter had complained of severe pain shooting through the joints in her ankles, knees, elbows, and shoulders. At first, my wife and I shrugged the symptoms off as growing pains.
Then on May 20, 2003, I went to my job as a special education teacher at a junior high in Idaho Falls. The night before, my daughter had complained of severe pain again. Consequently, we gave her some pain medication. Soon the pain subsided and she fell right to sleep, so I my concerns were alleviated when I went to work the next day. At work, I received a phone call from my wife. She told me that when she picked Kylee up from preschool, she was in a tremendous amount of pain and decided to take her to the emergency room. I told her okay and to keep me posted throughout the day. Again, I wasn’t worried too much. I shrugged it off as growing pains.
After school that day, I had a meeting scheduled, which resulted in me getting home later than my usual time. When I arrived home, no one was there. I thought that was strange because my wife and daughter should have been home from the emergency room at that time. I decided to call my in-laws, figuring that my wife had stopped by her parents’ house. The words my father-in-law spoke to me on the telephone that day still haunt me.
He said, “Shaun, you need to get up to the hospital right now! Kylee has cancer!”
Needless to say, I was stunned. Fear wrapped over me like a thick hot blanket, suffocating me. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t even think. I don’t remember if I even told my father-in-law good-bye. I just remember jumping into the car and racing like a I was in the Daytona 500 up to the hospital. When I arrived, my parents were already there. Everyone had tears in their eyes. I hugged my wife and hugged Kylee, who was lying on a bed with an I.V. They soon life flighted Kylee to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
For 8 long months we endured all of the ups and downs that come with treating cancer. On October 23, 2003, Kylee had a bone marrow transplant. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had to wait to see if her body would accept her new bone marrow. Finally, in January of 2004, Kylee came home. Even though she still had to go to monthly check ups and treatments the worst was over.
Now, 11 years later, Kylee is cancer free. She is a vibrant and beautiful 16-year-0ld (I have to keep the boys away now). Those large blue eyes once again light up whenever I look into them. But I’ll never forget the experience. It is one that I don’t wish on any parent; to watch their child go through that struggle. It nearly brought me to the breaking point of my faith. It also brought me to my knees where I petitioned with my Father in Heaven to heal her. Those prayers were answered. And I believe, without a doubt, it was because I didn’t let bitterness and despair overtake my faith.
But how? You may wonder. How do we keep going, holding on to faith, when all we see around us is misery, pain, and despair. From my experience, I discovered 5 steps or ways that I kept my faith alive. Below is a set of practices that I used during this trying time that pulled me through the murky waters of despair and sorrow:
21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
~ Alma 32:21, The Book of Mormon
1. Pray Continuously
Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational speaker and spiritual teacher, once said:
“In my deepest, darkest moments, what really got me through was a prayer. Sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ What I’ve discovered is that intimate connection and communication with my creator will always get me through because I know my support, my help, is just a prayer away.”
~ Iyanla Vanzant
Without a doubt, I can truly testify that without prayer as a communication with God my faith would have crumbled through this trying time. It was in those times of sorrow that I knelt in humble prayer. It may have been as simple as asking God for comfort to help me get through this. I never received a powerful revelation or vision that everything would be okay. Instead, I received the spirit of comfort. Somehow, I just knew everything would be all right. Even if Kylee did not survive, I was rest assured that we would be together again.
2. Find Comfort in the Scriptures
The last thing I wanted to do during this time was read my scriptures. I can remember people advising me to find comfort in the scriptures. Even though I didn’t say it out loud, my thoughts and feelings told me, No I don’t want to read my scriptures. My daughter’s suffering. I need to do something about it now. I fought back those feelings and began to read. I still remember a particular section in the Doctrine & Covenants that has stayed with me to this day. It states:
7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
I remember thinking to myself after reading this passage, Who am I to complain about my daughter’s illness. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered more than any human being on earth. Yet because of that suffering, He understood what my daughter, myself, and my family was going through. I remember I got the distinct impression that Christ was with us. He was the foundation holding us up as we endured this trial. From that day forward, whenever I felt the need to complain or ask why me, I would remember this scripture. To this day, I still find comfort in the scriptures.
3. Humble Yourself
Now, many of you may be wondering: What does humbling yourself have to do with keeping my faith alive? Well, the answer is simple. We must rid ourselves of any sense of pride and arrogance if we must petition to the Lord. 2 Nephi 12:9 of The Book of Mormon states:
19 And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.
I truly believe that the Lord helped us because of our humility. Now, I don’t say that with arrogance. Rather, we knew that everything was out of our hands. We had no control over the situation whatsoever. Therefore, we left it in the Lord’s hands. When you come to God with a broken heart and contrite spirit, when you relinquish control to Him and trust Him, you have truly exercised your faith. God cannot, therefore, deny any blessing for which you are deserving.
4. Serve Others
I like to compare faith to a muscle. To increase muscle strength, an individual needs to push a muscle to its limit. The more you work the muscle, the stronger it gets. The same is true with faith. The more you exercise your faith the better you’ll be able to keep your faith alive. A great exercise in faith is that of serving others.
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
~ Mosiah 2:17, The Book of Mormon
When we are consumed with our doubts, fears, and worries, the last thing we want to do is serve others. Such was the case in my experience with my daughter. On one rainy, horrible day, we received news that the bone marrow that my daughter received was not grafting in. Her body was rejecting it. Consequently, the doctors were worried, which caused us to worry even more. I had to drive home that day. I remember feeling anger towards God as I began the 3 hour trip home.
Choking back the tears, I had to stop and get gas. While I was filling up, a little old lady was walking around in the pouring rain asking the other customers if she could get a ride. I watched in amazement as people turned her away. I then went into the convenience store to pay for my gas and buy some snacks for the trip home. When I came back out, I saw her standing by my car. She looked distraught. Right then, I asked her if she needed help. Immediately, her countenance changed.
I helped her into my car and asked her where she needed to go. She said that she needed to go to the bank so she could deposit her monthly social security check. I’ll never forget the words she said to me as we traveled to the bank. She said, “You are may angel today. There was no way I would have been able to make the walk all the way to my bank in this rain.”
I had to choke back the tears again. But this time the tears weren’t of sadness or sorrow. They were tears of compassion and love for this woman. She will never know, but on that day, she was my angel. You see, by me serving this woman, my perspective changed. I was renewed with a new sense of faith and hope.
When we arrived at her bank, I offered to wait until she was finished and take her back home. She insisted that I go as she pointed at the bus stop next to the bank. Assured she would be okay, I then left for home. I remember driving home with tears streaming down my face. I felt good and hopeful. Here I was angry at God before I stopped for gas, and then soon after I was praising Him because of the love and warmth I felt. For me, this was just another experience in my life that God is there. He is with us always, and when we serve others, we show our love and faith in Him.
5. Stay Positive
Keeping a positive attitude and faith go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. One can’t be negative and complaining and still have faith. It just won’t work. One of my favorite authors, Joel Osteen, states:
~ Joel Osteen
I love this quote. staying positive is essential to keeping your faith alive. During this time with my daughter, it was very difficult to stay positive. There were a lot of times when I wasn’t positive. But one thing I learned through this experience was that having a positive attitude was how we helped our daughter get through this. Even if my wife and I were faking it, we held it together whenever we were around her. I believe this gave her strength to keep fighting and exercising her own faith.
Keep Your Faith and Hope Alive
In closing, faith and hope are abstract things that we can’t see or touch. It doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. On the contrary, faith and hope are around us everyday. We see them in the flowers, in the trees. We see them in our children’s eyes. We hear them in our children’s laughter. The challenge is to hold onto to them and never let go. God has promised us his untold blessings for us if we but ask in faith.
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
~ Matthew 7:7-8, The Holy Bible
Have you experienced a trial of faith in your life? If so, how did you keep your faith alive? Share in the comments below.