Twice a year, my piano teacher would have us learn a piece to perform in a recital. My preparation for these recitals varied. Sometimes I could have played the song with my eyes closed. Sometimes I was not so prepared.
For one recital I learned “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Well. I say “learned,” but I don’t think it’s the right word. I didn’t practice as much as I should have. The day the recital came, I still had a difficult section at the end—five measures—that I couldn’t get through. I hadn’t practiced it because I felt it was too hard. And now it was too late. Right before I was supposed to play—I mean right before, like on my way to the piano when it was my turn—I asked my teacher if I could just play the final note and skip that part that I didn’t learn. I did. It wasn’t the smoothest transition to the end, but I made it through the recital.
Wanting to Skip the Hard Parts
This past week has been very difficult for me. There’s been a lot of things I’ve had to deal with. And I’ve found myself feeling incredibly frustrated. I’d become so good at being happy. I like being happy. And I was so annoyed that all of these stupid things were happening that I had a really hard time dealing with. Just like that piano recital from many years ago, I didn’t want to go through the hard parts. I didn’t want to have to do the work it would take to get through them. I just wanted to be done.
I don’t know if the rest of you struggle with this, but I do. I tend to want things to be easier. My response to challenges is very rarely “bring it on.” When I went through the hardest part of the coming home process, I didn’t care about any potential growth or what I was learning or how I could use this experience to help someone. I just wanted it to be over. For me, when things get hard I want to take up permanent residence underneath my bed. Or as permanent as it needs to be for all the bad stuff to go away.
I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think there are those spiritual giants out there who can have really tough times and keep smiling and be just fine. But I think there are also a lot of us who have a harder time staying positive in our darkest moments.
Even Joseph Smith had times when he struggled. I love Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–8 because it shows one of those moments of having a hard time. Joseph asks where the Lord is and how long He would wait to help. Do you feel like that sometimes? I know I do.
I love the Lord’s sweet response to Joseph—and us—in this hard time: “My son [or daughter], peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” Our hard times will be short in the eternal nature of things.
I also love Christ’s response to challenges in Matthew 11:29-30: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I love the image of being yoked together with Christ and Him helping us with our burdens.
Even when there have been long periods of life being hard, things have always worked out. Every. Single. Time. Isn’t that amazing? With all of the things I’ve dealt with in life, all of the stupid things I’ve ever done (and let me assure you, that number is pretty high), all of the times I’ve been hurt or let down by the people around me, and all the times of just being sad for no real reason, things have always worked out. Always! And when the hard times go away and things get easier to handle, I remember that Lehi definitely knew what he was talking about when he said, “for it must needs be, that there is an aopposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2). How could I know how to be happy if I didn’t know what it’s like to be sad?
No matter how much I’ve wanted to skip to the end of the hard times, I’ve always been grateful for those hard times afterwards. I am who I am because of what I have been through. My trials have made me a kinder, more compassionate person. They have helped me gain a strong testimony of the gospel and the Atonement. In the end, there was no short cut to get those results. I had to struggle.
It’s Okay Not To Be Okay
We can’t skip the hard parts. Not learning the hard part on my recital piece meant that I lost a chance to grow my music skills, although I did have to learn the same thing later. I just prolonged the opportunity to grow as a musician. We can (hopefully) learn how to deal with trials in a positive way. But we can’t skip them. And it’s okay to have a difficult time. People who know me know that I tend to be very open about how I’m feeling about life. I think this makes people uncomfortable sometimes but I do it anyway because I’m convinced that if we were all a little more open with how we were feeling, mental illness would be less of a problem for many people. I saw Inside Out this week and was absolutely thrilled with the message that our feelings are important and they shouldn’t be ignored.
It’s okay to have a hard time. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be sad sometimes. It’s okay to mourn your mission or anything else you might have lost. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay.
When I came home, I felt like a terrible person because I had a difficult time dealing with coming home. I knew that I was supposed to come home so I felt that I must be a bad person to have such a hard time with something that I knew was right. I learned much later that most early returned missionaries go through all of the stages of grief. I didn’t know that those feelings were completely normal. I wish that someone had been there to tell me that it was okay to hurt when I came home.
So to those of you who are now where I was then: If you’ve come home early from your mission, it’s okay to have a have a hard time. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to sometimes be frustrated or disappointed or heartbroken or even angry sometimes. It’s okay to deal with those emotions. If you’re a parent or family member of an early returned missionary, it’s okay for you to have a hard time too. It’s also okay not to have a hard time. Everyone deals with things differently. If you’re not struggling with coming home, that is wonderful. You don’t need to feel bad about that. No matter what you are feeling, we have those feelings for a reason and it’s okay to acknowledge them.
Hard Parts Don’t Need to Last Forever
Although it is important to have hard parts and to know that we don’t always have to be okay, I also know that it is important to allow ourselves to heal. One of the best lessons during my healing period after I came home was from my roommate. I’ve talked about this before I think. On a particularly difficult day, I was sitting alone in my room crying. My roommate came in and talked to me and I told her what had happened. She listened and expressed her sympathy and understanding. Then she told me that it was okay to be sad that day and to deal with the emotions. But tomorrow, I needed to move on and be okay. I will always be grateful for her wisdom that it was okay for me to grieve, but not to dwell on it past the time it took to deal with the hurt. Not being able to skip the hard parts doesn’t mean that you have to drown in them.
I will also say here that if you’re struggling with prolonged feelings of sadness or despair, find help. Go to a friend, your bishop, a teacher, or to professional counseling. If you’re in the middle of one of these “hard parts’ and need someone to talk to, send me a message on the Early Returned Honor Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please find someone to talk to. It’s okay not to be okay for a while, but you don’t have to deal with it alone, either. And while you’re talking to other people and getting support from the people around you, don’t forget that Jesus Christ knows exactly how you feel and what you are going through. For a long time I felt like I had to fix myself first and then I could go to him. It doesn’t work like that. If you go to Christ, He can help you fix yourself.
One of my favorite songs is “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul”. I have listened to the BYU Vocal Point arrangement of this song on repeat for hours on especially hard days. I love that first part that says, “Savior, Redeemer of my soul whose mighty hands have made me whole.” I have experienced that. I couldn’t skip the hard parts, but Christ carried me through them and helped me get out of them. No matter how broken you think you might be, you are never so broken that the Redeemer cannot heal you. The Savior and the Atonement can make you whole.
Like I said, last week was a really hard week for me. I’m still coming out of it. But with the perspective of the gospel, I am grateful for it. If I never had any hard parts in my piano music, I never would have learned to play Mozart or Shubert. I would never have learned to be a strong musician. And if I never had any hard parts in my life or had been able to skip them, I never would have learned how to be a stronger person.