The Gospel of Joy

imageAs this wild northern wilderness transforms into it’s briefly lived autumn before the fierce arctic winter rolls in, the hills turn to gold speckled blankets of swiftly shedding deciduous amidst the resilient evergreen. (that sentence sounds cheesy but that’s just how it came out.) The mornings are frost filled, the sunrises are increasingly slower and later, and the cold wind preludes the incoming snow fall. The Swedes cling to every last snatch of sun upon the pavement before they must enter the inevitable dark ages of winter.
Down in America, autumn was always a season of it’s own: a separate entity independent of summer or winter… but up here on the top of the world, where the North Star shines directly over your head, autumn’s prescience is but a few short weeks before howling winter takes over, making it more a simultaneous swan song to summer and a prophetic warning cry for winter.
In a matter of weeks, the sun will only be over the horizon for a couple hours. The darkness will beat down upon us as heavily as the snow that falls from it, and all plant life will be but corpses along the gray countryside. With such a grim future comes the uprise of depression and all inhabitants of Norrland will either have to fly south with the birds or endure through the darkness with the hope of a bright spring. This fall is really bringing home to me the fact that I really am living on the top of the world. Because the earth spins on an axis, for a portion of day we are literally further north than the North Pole. image

But with all the glum shared by the population on the doorstep to winter, President Nelson’s talk this last week in general conference could not of been a more perfect remedy. I positively loved his message. I loved all of conference (particularly Elder Renlund’s shout out to my old area Göteborg) but President Nelson’s talk seemed tailor fitted for me.  He spoke of finding joy in every circumstance. A skill I very much need to work on.  He taught that “the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
I invite you to ponder upon that quotation for a wee bit. Ponder upon it’s meaning and then ponder upon your own life and think of how you can apply such a principle to your every day. The very essence of the concept makes such a practice exclusionary to literally no one. Anyone can gain from this.
I have seen this principle to be true on my mission. I know a refugee man with the most horrifying past and the most seemingly bleak future, who maintains a level of joy that would convince you that he is the most blessed and happiest person on the planet. On the other hand, on my mission I’ve also met a man with all the earthly possessions he could possibly desire, his dream job, dream inner city apartment and yet a inner discontent and sadness no amount of money could pacify. Clearly, though circumstances can influence happiness, it isn’t the circumstance that ultimately determines happiness. The most battered modern Job (biblical character Job…not the synonym to occupation) can have joy and the most pampered modern Solomon can have depression. What is it that gives my refugee friend joy that the other man lacked? President Nelson explained “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening–or not happening–in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”

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As cheesy as it may sound to the casual outside listener, it’s true. This gospel gives you joy. Of course, troubles and trials keep coming in life, sometimes even more frequently when you are a disciple of Christ, and the gospel may not always relieve you of the tragedies, but it does supply joy through them. As President Nelson said “it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our ‘afflictions shall be but a small moment’ and be consecrated to our gain.”
One of my heroes is a woman we are currently teaching who is preparing to be baptised on my last week of the mission. She was raised in Iraq where she was forced to marry a man 10 years her senior at the age of thirteen. Her husband was abusive in every sense of the word. By age fourteen, she gave birth to her first of five children. In the same year, she was forced to flee her hometown, being made to leave her baby girl with her parents as she escaped on a dangerous raft across the Mediterranean. Now, she is twenty-six years old and single handedly raising four sweet and precious children, some with autism. She has just, in the last couple weeks, been able to be liberated from her husband, who would physically abuse her and her children, sleep around constantly with other women, and forcefully use all of her money to be wasted on gambling, alcohol and riotous living….. she has every justification to simply give up in life and face every day with a bad attitude. She has had constant suffering since childhood and now she is twenty-six, with severe medical problems as a result of having babies so young, with four kids to raise by herself, with no family in the country, a daughter still in Iraq, and the weight of providing for a family alone.

 

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Erik with 4 of his past companions.

What are most people doing at age twenty-six? Just getting married? Earning their Masters at university? Having their first baby? Or still wandering about aimlessly just to have a good time and avoid responsibility? And yet she, at the very same age, has lived through what most forty-six year olds have not. And she is HAPPY. She has JOY. She gives those around her joy. She does not complain about her problems. She looks for the way out of them. She truly is incredible to me. She is constantly positive…. and as she increases in knowledge of the gospel, so too does she increase in joy.

Her story, of course, is an extreme one. Neither I, nor most people reading this blog, can claim we come from war torn countries and were forced into marriage as 7th graders. But to quote another talk in this past conference, by elder Schmutz, I don’t want this to “cause many to think their own sorrows and sufferings are of little consequence in comparison. Please don’t compare, but seek to learn and apply eternal principles as you wade through the furnace of your own afflictions.”
We all have our trials, and we all have the ability, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, to have joy through the trials, regardless of their magnitude or our past history of pessimism.
It is all dependant upon our eternal perspective. If we look at life with the ante-mortal existence and post-mortal existence in mind, adding the atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ into the equation, we do truly find redemption, reward and JOY, promised to the true and faithful.
We are the gospel of “every little thing is going to be alright.”
President Nelson made a beautiful point regarding the very atonement that allows us to have joy, “In order for Him (Christ) to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy!”

It was the joy of our possible redemption, repentance and ultimately our eternal salvation that enabled Jesus Christ to fully complete His sacrificial act upon the earth. Though He died of a broken heart, He atoned with a joyful one. It was JOY that held Him through the pain of the garden and the cross. It is JOY that will hold us through our individual portions of the garden and cross that He has already suffered for us… for the sake and hope of JOY.
“If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”
With the joy of the gospel, we can endure everything. I’ve seen those who have suffered the greatest maintain the greatest joy…. those who you hear about in the news and in the Church’s pleas to aid. The Refugees, orphans, and widows…. with the right perspective, REGARDLESS of their circumstances, maintain eternal JOY.
Some may have the Christ given gift of easily emitting JOY. Cling to these people! They are sent from heaven.
If you are like me, however, you may need to work upon this attribute…. but I know that all of us, when we maintain proper eternal perspective and a love of God and of ALL man, can have JOY.
I’m here in Sweden to spread the message of joy.
“That is why our missionaries leave their homes to preach His gospel. Their goal is not to increase the number of Church members. Rather, our missionaries teach and baptize to bring joy to the people of the world!”
I have four weeks left to give my full-time service to preaching the message of joy, and I intend on doing so joyfully….right into the dark gaping jaws of winter.

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