It seems that every family has their share of hardships. And it makes sense, because as Elder Stanley G. Ellis just taught, “Hard is part of the gospel plan.” Some families deal with death or sickness, divorce, infertility, or financial difficulties. Some challenges are visible, while others are totally undetected.
But interestingly enough, the difficulties themselves don’t make or break our families. In fact, trials can actually help a family grow closer together!
So what makes the difference? How can a family grow stronger in spite of, or perhaps because of, their challenges?
While it may seem like a hardship will break our family, that doesn’t have to be the case. According to Hill’s ABCX Model of family stress and coping, a family’s perception plays a large role in the outcome of a crisis — not just the crisis itself.
How does Heavenly Father see trials? Elder Richard G. Scott wisely said, “trials . . . are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more.” Our loving Father in Heaven knows that through trials, our families can grow even stronger.
So as we experience these challenges, what perspective do we have? Do we see them as opportunities, or as devastating catastrophes?
Opportunity to Bond
Trials don’t just provide opportunities to develop character; they also provide opportunities to bond! Research shows that stress triggers the release of oxytocin, which has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone.” Essentially, oxytocin promotes social bonding! Isn’t it interesting that our bodies are designed to seek for greater connection in times of stress?
When stressful scenarios happen in our family life, we can take advantage of this opportunity to bond. As Elder Neil L. Anderson said, “No trial is so large that we can’t overcome it together.”
Of course, every family member will experience a crisis differently. For example, a parent may feel a different kind of pressure than a child during a financial crisis. A sibling will feel something different than the child diagnosed with cancer. However, all family members are impacted. And all family members can use it as a chance to connect.
Professors Robinson, Carroll, and Marshall explain it simply:
“As families recognize and appreciate that their personal experiences are different from one another’s, their collective experience as a family becomes more shared. In other words, the validation of difference within the unit brings unity.”
My Own Growth from Trials
I can’t imagine what difficulties you might be facing right now. And likely, the only one who truly understands is our Savior. But I want to share a little about how my own family has been strengthened from our trials.
When I was five years old, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And it was a pretty nasty strain of it, at that. Instead of starting with mild memory loss, she began her journey with vivid hallucinations. So for as long as I can remember, my Grandma Eaton was crazy — in the literal sense of the word.
We were able to live just a few blocks away from my grandma’s nursing home for many years. Although it was hard for my dad to see his mother in such a state, we faithfully visited every Sunday. We sang hymns to the nursing home residents, chatted with them, and spent time with my grandmother.
Some could say that this was a real trial, having one’s mother and grandmother not even remember who you are. But instead, I came away with a strong love of the elderly. My family was blessed with the opportunity to serve together, visiting with those lonely residents. While I am excited to one day know the real Grandma Eaton, I am so grateful for the almost 10 years we had to grow together as a family because of this trial.
Christ Can Heal Us
You’ve likely all dealt with family trials in the past, and some of you are probably deep in the middle of serious trials right now. No matter what your situation is, our Savior offers His love and healing.
Elder Holland spoke about the help available to us from Christ: “Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials.”
No matter what challenges your family is dealing with, Christ truly can lift us. We can choose to see the opportunities in our trials and rely on our Savior, the One who understands. As Paul taught, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution[?]” He goes on to answer his own question: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
As you face your family trials, I invite you to see trials the way our Father in Heaven sees them: opportunities for growth. In sharing with your family and turning to Christ, you may be surprised by the blessings that come!