In February, I had a very positive outlook on the future. I was turning 16 and had all the best-laid plans for the next year.
I do this thing where I make lists of things I’m looking forward to. I had one of these lists in my phone. I was going to meet my new baby cousin, go to the much awaited Conan Gray concert with my best friends and come June, I would move with my best friend. These are just a few of the events on my list.
Like so many others in this pandemic, my plans were foiled. I watched as, in just a matter of weeks, each thing from my list was crossed off and would no longer happen.
I spent my last two weeks in Oxford ill and off of school (but of course, I hadn’t known they were my last two weeks). On the Wednesday before school ended, my mom came in to tell me that we were going to be packing up our flat in Oxford, England three months early and heading back to America.
On Friday I went to the last day of school, on Saturday I said my general goodbyes, on Sunday I said a tearful goodbye to my best friend who (although I was no longer ill) I couldn’t hug, because she has asthma and is therefore at risk of Covid-19.
On Monday, I was on a plane with my parents, brother and little maltese-poodle.
Suffice to say, I felt pretty discouraged during this time. I could hardly bring myself to pack up my room, or say goodbye to the people who I’d spent the best years of my life with.
During this time, there was a night where I really needed comfort, and not the kind my friends or family could provide. I picked up my Book of Mormon and opened it at random, to Alma 32.
In Alma 32, those among the “poor class of people” are kicked out of their synagogue because of their unclean appearances. They go to Alma, crying that they have no place to worship because they aren’t allowed in their synagogue. There are a lot of different aspects of this chapter, and lots of different messages to be taken from it, but what stood out to me most was Alma’s message to those who had been thrown out of their place of worship. “I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.” (Alma 32:12)
To paraphrase, he tells them that because they’ve been kicked out of their place of worship, they’ve been forced to learn and develop humility and wisdom. Although the priests in the synagogue may have cast them out, they are in the presence of God because of their humble circumstance. (There’s a lot to learn in this chapter, and it’s one of my favourites, so I definitely recommend studying Alma’s words here.)
I thought a lot about this message over the next few days. I felt, and still feel grateful, for the support of my family and the many miracles and blessings that occured during our impromptu move. But nothing could change the fact that I had been emotionally preparing to get on a plane with my best friend in June, after having nailed my exams with my British friends. But there I was, in the middle of March, saying hurried goodbyes, with no grades to show for two years of school, getting on a plane with my little white dog in a carrier bag.
I think we all, especially in this time of crisis, experience being kicked out of our synagogues. It could be losing someone, a drastic change in your financial situation, an injury or a mental health issue. It could be changing friend groups, not making a sports team or failing a class. Anything that leaves you feeling sucker-punched and maybe even asking the age old question: Where are you, God?
Some things happen for a reason. But some things don’t. In my short 16 years I’ve already seen enough to know this.
But, I do think that something good can come from anything. I don’t think those people were kicked out of their synagogue for a reason. Wouldn’t it have been nice to enter their place of worship and pray to God?
Something good did come out of it, though. Alma tells them they are lucky for their trials, because it has made them humble and wise.
In life there is so much pain to be experienced. Maybe this is just me, but when people address trials with the old “everything happens for a reason!” it’s not comforting. What if you’d just lost a family member? What if you’d just been in an irrecoverable accident? God doesn’t want his children to suffer, and because of this,I don’t believe that he sends me trials, I believe that He lets me experience the circumstances of the world (which create enough heartache alone) because He knows I’m spiritually strong enough to get through them, or at least have the potential to be.
We can take things away from our experiences. We can learn not to lie, steal, cheat or behave some way when we make mistakes. We can develop humility, empathy, wisdom and so much more because of things that happen to us.
I think this comes back to what Alma told the people who had been thrown out of the synagogue. They had the ability to learn from their experience, to develop something from it. In this way they were lucky. The development of humility had been catalysed by their trials.
I miss Oxford already. I miss my friends, my flat, I miss riding my bike everywhere, I miss the food, I even miss school. This is not my first rodeo when it comes to moving, but to be honest, that doesn’t make it any easier.
So, I’ve been kicked out of my synagogue, so to speak. What have I developed? What did this experience do for my soul? I think my answer to this is gratitude for the present.
Ever since I’d learned I was supposed to move in June, I had made it a goal not to wish the days away, because I was excited to return to my previous home in Utah. Sometimes (in fact, often) failing, I tried hard to live in the present in my life in Oxford. I am so grateful for my efforts to live in the present then, before I knew I’d be returning to Utah early.
Many face much worse versions of getting kicked out of their synagogue. I have no doubt that I will face worse versions in my life, because we live in a fallen world and things happen to people. We face trials because we make mistakes. Because other people make mistakes or intentionally hurt us. Most frustratingly, because of circumstances in a fallen world.
My favourite scripture, especially recently, is Ether 12:27. It says “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I have a testimony of this: that if we come to God, especially in our trials, and plead with him in our pain He will turn our pain into something beautiful and strong. Not for any reason other than His love for us, He will help us turn the heartache of our trials into attributes that we can help build the kingdom with.
Something I’ve struggled with is knowing how I can have God take away my pain and help me grow. But the truth is, it comes back to the primary answers. Get down on your knees and pray earnestly. Pick up your scriptures and feast upon them. Try to develop Christlike attributes. He, after all, is the perfect example of emerging triumphantly from trials
God loves us. We chose to come to earth so that we might one day be like him, and more than anything He wants us to succeed. He wants to take our pain away so that we might use that experience to grow and help others grow. When we make mistakes, when we experience hard things, how we choose to react is everything. If we choose to turn to God, that’s everything. When we are kicked out of our synagogues, what will we do?