At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I read an article on Deseret News detailing the experience of James Stockdale in a Vietnam POW camp called Hanoi Hilton. That article highlighted that Stockdale knew that he would be entering into a world of patience and perseverance.
In order to achieve that, Stockdale adopted a philosophy where he would only focus on what he could control. Focusing on what one controls helps one to accept the things that we don’t control. And since one would focus on what one controls, one can gain patience. And then living in patience consistently will help obtain perseverance.
Marcus Aurelius was a humble and diligent Roman emperor. Those kind of emperors were very rare in ancient Rome. How could an emperor be humble and diligent? Well, saying a little bit of Marcus’ background can show these qualities.
Marcus’ father passed away when Marcus was about 3. Marcus only remembers that his father was a good man. Marcus’ grandfather adopted him, and Marcus was able to live his young live studying and learning. Marcus would be known for his love of learning.
Because of Marcus’ diligence, the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, who didn’t have a successor, thought that Marcus would make a good emperor some day. So when Marcus turned roughly 17, the Roman Emperor adopted him to put Marcus in line to become emperor, of which Marcus shunned the idea. Marcus ended up mandating that his half-brother would be a co-emperor with him.
Almost immediately after Marcus became emperor, wars and plagues broke out across the Roman Empire. On top of these challenges, out of 13 children, only three of Marcus’ children would live past the age of 7.
How did Marcus face challenges? Did he handle them like the some of his predecessors by grabbing power and forcing his will on others? He didn’t. Marcus was the last of 5 good emperors during the prosperous time called Pax Romana. So then how did Marcus adjust and cope with everything that he had to do? In his journal, which now-a-days is called Meditations, Marcus describes how he coped with problems.
It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it - not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. […] Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself?
So remember the principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.
This is the language of a journal entry, so we get to see Marcus’ train of thought. He first wrote, “It’s unfortunate that this has happened.” Imagine that! A Roman emperor was writing in his journal that something was unfortunate. In today’s lingo, that’s saying that a certain event was challenging.
But then Marcus corrects himself. He says that it is fortunate that some event has happened and he remained unharmed. And if Marcus is still able to act like a virtuous and rational being after a challenge, then it is fortunate that he endured and prevailed. If he is able to do so, then he has good fortune from what just occurred. He is still alive and he was able to still be a good man.
“John, Leave it alone”
There is an impactful story that Boyd K. Packer told a while ago. It is the story of a man whose wife died after child birth because the doctor was treating another patient with an infection.
This is an incredibly tragic story. A man’s wife died due to a doctor’s forgetfulness of cleaning his hands. The man that lost the wife was in deep depression and vengeance. The man probably stewed in anger and hatred for the doctor for a long time. He wanted his wife to be alive.
Eventually the man’s stake president called the man over to teach the man that he was destroying himself and he needed to leave the matter alone. The man eventually listened to the stake president, and the man was able to see beyond himself.
The man saw that the poor doctor was overworked. The doctor had gone from place to place trying to help as many people as he possibly could. Had the man gone through with his anger, more lives would have been negatively affected by a tragic event. The problem would have grown bigger and possibly uncontrollable.
The man in the story learned that he needed to control what he could control and be observant of others. He couldn’t control bringing his wife back from the dead. He couldn’t control the actions of the poor doctor. He realized that the doctor was worn thin. What he could still control was his reaction, obedience, and being a good man.
There are three different creation stories in the scriptures that describe how Adam and Eve had to work for food as soon as they left the Garden of Eden. After leaving the Garden of Eden, they also faced the death of one of their sons and subsequent exile of another son. I wonder if Adam and Eve thought, “If only we could have stayed in the Garden of Eden, then none of this would have happened.” Even if Adam and Eve thought that, they still continued on. They knew the choice that they made, and they followed through with it.
One of the things they learned was the Plan of Salvation. Souls would come to this earth to gain a mortal body, and by coming to earth they would be able to participate in the Plan of Salvation. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” Because of Adam of Eve, every soul in the pre-mortal life that chose to follow God’s plan could have to opportunity to learn, grow, obey, and return to Heavenly Father with more wisdom.
So then every soul that comes to earth must learn how to endure. With the previous examples about Marcus Aurelius and the man in Boyd K. Packer’s story, enduring life is all about learning and reframing. Marcus focused on staying the same after wars and plagues. The man in Packer’s story learned that life is fragile, and anger would only make life worse. That man reframed his perspective to see an overworked doctor, and the man had compassion.
Make no mistake, challenges are uncomfortable, but there is no growth in comfort. In order to grow, one must stretch beyond their capacity. And it takes time; that is why patience is required for perseverance. Ammon who preached to the Lamanites demonstrated that their patience brought success.
27 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success. 28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.
Could Ammon and his brothers have thought if only they could control the Lamanites’ conversions? Maybe. Could Ammon and his brothers have thought they could leave the Lamanites and return to peace and comfort? Possibly.
But Ammon and his brothers were patient as they received all kinds of trouble while among the Lamanites. They had received a prompting and a revelation to preach the Gospel to the Lamanites, and so Ammon and his brothers continued to preach. Ammon and his brothers could control to stay on a mission.
Thanks to their perseverance and endurance, they were able to convert so many Lamanites to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And those Lamanites that converted would later be a huge impact in the history of The Book of Mormon.
The story of Ammon and his brothers hints at the help that God can provide. Ammon and his brothers found encouragement and comfort to keep going. I believe that their encouragement and comfort was a tender mercy of the Lord.
But what is a tender mercy? Nephi says that tender mercies are for all of the Lord’s chosen. So what were the examples that Nephi gave? He isn’t really explicit about it. Nor by analyzing Nephi’s life is it really clear about what he is referring to. But I think I found one answer.
2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. 3 And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.
As I read these verses, I believe that Nephi is illustrating that tender mercies of the Lord can be things that help you stay obedient. Nephi’s life was flipped upside down when his family left Jerusalem. Nephi went from being a city dude to a nomad. While as a nomad, Nephi and his family were headed in a direction pointed by a magical ball. Also, his brothers were such a pain to work with. It wasn’t a luxurious life.
But Nephi would claim that God knew about the whole situation. And so God would help Nephi’s family complete the commandments that He gave them. The children in Nephi’s family would still have plenty of nutrition to grow.
Rest from all your afflictions
While going along this life journey, I think it will be important to remember that some day rest will come. Amulek has this to say about enduring well.
40 And now my beloved brethren, I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions; […] 41 […] [and] with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.
Under the power of Christ, God’s children can overcome death. This earth will be perfected eventually. With both of those things in mind, I believe that I can get rest from a mortal life. And as I am enduring this life patiently, I can still choose to follow Christ and show that I love Him and obey Him. And as I continue to follow Christ, I will be stronger and wiser.
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
I think this verse means that I can conquer spiritual and physical death. And this will only happen if I endure life well.
Recently I read the book called, Count of Monte Cristo. It is a fabulous book full of adventure and intrigue. Edmond Dantes is on a mission of vengeance to rectify all the wrongs that occurred to him. At one point though, Edmond learns that perhaps his mission of vengeance wasn’t the right thing to do.
And so Edmond demonstrates his remorse and life lesson at the end of the book. He essentially abducts a friend from Paris to the island of Monte Cristo, and and at the island he teaches his friend the biggest life lesson that he learned. Edmond recalls that he thought he was as God, executing justice for the wrongs that have been caused. But Edmond rebuts himself saying he shouldn’t have done that. Edmond teaches that he should have waited in this line, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words - Wait and Hope”.
And so patience and perseverance is required in this life because there are going to be so many problems to endure. And, as Marcus Aurelius said, to persevere and endure through a hardship, and still remain the same person, is good fortune. And there will be even more fortune being obedient to God during the entire time of perseverance.
- Marcus Aurelius. Meditations 4:49a
- 1 Nephi 17
- Alma 26
- Alma 34
- DyC 121