Not long ago, a ward member told me about a friend whose only son died while he served as a bishop. Last week my wife told me about a bishop who suffered from epilepsy and lost his job because of it. Then I had forgotten this until recently: A man we knew in our previous ward lost his first wife suddenly while he was serving as bishop. And this last weekend at conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen told of a man who was killed in a car accident while he was a bishop, two days before Easter.
Bishops are not exempt from the trials and difficulties of life any more than anyone else. On the contrary. I don't think I have ever waded through more adversity than I have during the last four years. But I am now grateful for these trials, every one of them. Very grateful. They have taught me so much. They have brought me closer to my Heavenly Father, and to my wife and family. I know now that if my inbox had been stuffed with temporal blessings during this time, I might have been less sensitive and less able to help ward members who likewise have suffered. And I also know that my trials have been much lighter than they have been for other bishops.
If you are muddling through an ordeal, when you find out about some one else's troubles, aren't you thankful for your own? And if asked, you wouldn't trade in your personal trials for anyone's, would you? While I can't point to a particular scriptural passage to prove this, it seems evident that the Lord hand picks our trials for us. They are exactly what we need to learn and to grow during the time we are facing them—though certainly we must face them with faith and patience; otherwise, they can be wasted.
While bishop, I have never had more trouble staying in good health, and my illnesses have been more acute and prolonged than ever before. And I have never had the kinds of financial difficulties that I have had since I was ordained a bishop. Even though in many ways I have been more productive than at any time in my career, and even though my income is now steadily improving, it seems that storms arise on all sides to disrupt my work and life. It has been the most bewildering and humiliating time in my life. Nevertheless, I am responsible for dealing with my troubles with health and career. No one else is. And with the Lord's help, I know I can do much, much more to change and improve my situation. I cannot lay my problems at anyone else's feet.
Through it all, God has been with me, every day He has been with me. I have been upheld by angels. I have never felt closer to my beloved wife and children, and I have never felt closer to my Heavenly Father and Savior—not even on my mission. Never before have the scriptures been so alive with meaning. I have never had such a constant flow of inspiration and affirmation from the Lord. Never have I felt such deep appreciation for the smallest of blessings.
Would I want to change that? And could I have gotten these blessings in my relationships and in spiritual awareness without trials preparing me to receive them? The answer is a resounding and emphatic no. No, I feel now to glory in tribulation:
Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3–5.)