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Uncharted Waters: Finding Comfort and Peace when Life Is Less Than Ideal. By Briana Johnson

By Briana Johnson
view looking down at a couple's shoes as they hold hands

Life is beautiful, a gift from a loving Heavenly Father. When we are fulfilling its purpose and reaching toward our potential, we find happiness. However, life often does not turn out the way we had envisioned. It can catch us by surprise, knock the wind out of our sails, sink us in unfamiliar waters, and maybe even leave us shipwrecked, alone, and battered. The charted course we mapped out in our mind’s eye of how our life would unfold—what our life would look like—may appear very different in today’s reality. We may have found ourselves far from the ideal family life we imagined. We may look around and feel alone. We may carry heavy burdens which accompany being divorced, widowed, diseased, or being the caregiver for a disabled loved one, unmarried, unloved, abused, left in the wake of the loss of a child, longing for a child of our own, or plagued with addiction. During difficult times we often wonder and question: ”Where is the comfort? How do I fit in? Who can understand, and how can what I am going through truly be in God’s plan for my betterment?”

The summer of 2009 found my husband in a thriving career as well as the backyard soccer hero to our three small boys. Our world was then turned upside-down and inside-out. For three months he had not been able to swallow food, was losing weight at an alarming rate, and was suffering tremendous fatigue and weakness, to say nothing of the intense worry we faced. When the diagnosis of an aggressive case of multiple sclerosis finally came, we were stunned. I will never forget looking at each other that night, not knowing what to think but feeling tremendous fear, as if our future plans and expectations of our life together were slipping through our fingers.

The passing of each year has brought one family adjustment after another and the onset of unexpected symptoms and the loss of functions for my husband. As fatigue, pain, and temperature intolerance increased, his taste, sight, cognition, balance, and mobility decreased. We also began experiencing little losses we had not expected—no more backyard races with the boys, loss of stamina to prepare the gourmet meals that had brought him delight and stress relief, the inability to attend our boys’ sporting events due to hot or cold outdoor temperatures, no more walking hand in hand on a date, and so many more.

Because of his love and sense of duty as a father, husband, and provider, he worked for as long as he could but left his career at the age of 38 due to his worsening symptoms. The most difficult of symptoms, that of drastic cognitive decline, has robbed him of so many of his gifts and pleasures. He suffers from confusion, memory loss, absence seizures, and an inability to concentrate or perform simple tasks. He is homebound while I am now the sole provider for our family of seven with children ages newborn to 13.

a walking aid

I have watched my husband suffer and have cried out to Heavenly Father, “Why—when this man would serve Thee faithfully in whatever capacity you asked him?” I have to leave my five children and ill husband at home to work full-time and have wondered how this situation will allow me to be the mother and wife my family needs. I have cried watching couples on a date or families on vacation and have called out, “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” (see “A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook).

Thankfully, the Lord has been merciful to my questioning and ungrateful soul and has humbled my heart to see the miracles He is performing all around me and within me. In this humbled state I have learned many ways to find comfort, a sense of belonging, and peace with God and His plan for us—those things that I need to press forward in joy.

Seek to increase kindness, compassion, and understanding of others.

Social media bombards us with images portraying others’ lives as picture perfect and often leads us to believe we are alone in our feelings of leading less than ideal lives. Satan would have you believe that you are alone and that you should isolate yourself from others instead of extending grace toward them. We cannot see what goes on within people’s homes or their hearts and minds, but no one’s life is as ideal as we imagine. With the understanding that we are all sent here to this earth to be tried and our natures changed, we can display an increased compassion and outpouring of kindness toward our fellow brothers and sisters who are our companions in this refiner’s fire. No one is outside the reach of tribulation, and to be understood and extended kindness in the midst of such flames would be the “balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22) for both the giver and receiver. Our own hearts are made light as we seek to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

It is a natural tendency to not want to accept help from others, whether out of embarrassment, a feeling that we should be able to handle it all, or a desire not to burden others. Out of necessity I have had to allow others to serve our family, and from this service has come meaningful friendships and a sense of belonging that stems from being a part of a community that looks out for one another. President Spencer W. Kimball has said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” I have felt God’s love and have truly witnessed His awareness of me through those who have helped me fulfill my cherished roles as wife and mother by bringing my children home from school, visiting my husband on their lunch break, washing our laundry each week, and taking my sons to football and mountain bike practices.

Be kind to yourself.

Extend yourself grace. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said that “sometimes with smudges on our cheeks, dirt on our hands, and shoes untied, stammeringly but smilingly we present God with a dandelion—as if it were an orchid or a rose! If for now the dandelion is the best we have to offer, He receives it, knowing what we may later place on the altar. It is good to remember how young we are spiritually” (That Ye May Believe, 100). The Lord sees your complete potential and accepts your offering. If the God of all can extend us grace, let us soften our hearts toward ourselves and grant kindness for all that we have overcome.

Study more about God’s nature and His plan.

Understanding God’s true loving nature and His perfect plan for us will bring comfort and shield us from the destructive effects of bitterness and anger that can arise from trials. President Boyd K. Packer shared: “One eternal truth that I have come to know is that God lives. He is our Father. We are His children. … Of all the other titles that He could have used, He chose to be called ‘Father.’ … His use of the name ‘Father’ is a lesson for all as we come to understand what it is that matters most in this life.” As I have sought to understand how these trials are for our betterment, I have come to realize that I will not fully comprehend this, but what I can be sure of is Heavenly Father’s love for me, His daughter.

Look for compensatory blessings.

Elder Richard G Scott has stated: “Find the compensatory blessings in your life when, in the wisdom of the Lord, He deprives you of something you very much want. … To the ill, He gives patience, understanding, and increased appreciation for others’ kindness. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.” I have witnessed many unexpected compensatory blessings in my life. Some for which I have been so grateful have been manifested in my children. Today our children are strong, brave, and independent, yet also reliant on one another. They have developed an awareness of the needs of their father and are compassionate and protective of him. God has blessed us greatly with growth that could have not been achieved any other way.

Remember that the Savior understands.

When we long for someone to understand our pain, to feel the comfort of companionship, we must remember that the Savior stands with arms outstretched to embrace us. He fully comprehends all as the Redeemer of our souls. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught: “There may be some among you who feel darkness encroaching upon you. You may feel burdened by worry, fear, or doubt. To you and to all of us, I repeat a wonderful and certain truth: God’s light is real. It is available to all! It gives life to all things. … It can be a healing balm for the loneliness and sickness of our souls. In the furrows of despair, it can plant the seeds of a brighter hope. … It can illuminate the path before us and lead us through the darkest night into the promise of a new dawn.”

If we find ourselves in uncharted waters, on an unexpected course, remember that we are not alone in this ship. There is a crew surrounding us and as we aid one another, each sharing in the work, we will move forward together. As we learn to relinquish the wheel to the Pilot of our souls, He can make the necessary course corrections. We may venture through storms ahead but with the Master at the helm, safe passage is certain.

Briana Johnson is the blogger behind Sweet Dreams Are Made of These. She is the wife to a wonderful husband and a mother to three boys and one girl. Together they face life’s ups and downs, including her husband’s multiple sclerosis, and find joy in the journey.