What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (Part 2)

 

This blog has been so therapeutic for me lately. It’s been a great way to work through things I’m thinking and feeling as our family tries to tackle life right now. I know I’ve already written on the above-mentioned subject, but some additional ideas came as I sat in the temple today, so I wanted to take a minute to jot them down (maybe more for me than for anyone who will ever read them here).

The image in particular that came to mind was that of an oil press. It’s what the word Gethsemane actually means. The garden where the Lord suffered the atonement was a place that was used to press olives and release their precious oil. In this process, huge stone slabs or wheels were lowered onto olives that had already been crushed, and the weight of the slabs slowly squeezed all the oil out of the pulp.

How symbolic that, in that very same place, Christ felt such immense pressure from the weight of the world’s sins that He truly bled from every pore. To me, the image of an oil press makes His sacrifice that much more profound and meaningful.

Then I started thinking about how adversity in our lives can also feel exactly like an oil press. Like a huge stone slab pressing on us and weighing us down at times almost more than it seems we can bear. Now, I’m definitely thankful to know that, in these moments, the Lord truly can carry our burdens. In fact, He’s promised to do so if we’ll just come to Him in faith (Matt. 11:28-30). The heavy weight of adversity really does have its solution in Him.

But let’s lay aside the burden part for a minute and focus specifically on what comes out of the press when the olives are crushed. It’s the oil. It’s as if the weight of the slab reaches right into the heart of the olives and releases what was previously invisible to the naked eye.

So what is it that’s released when we’re under the heavy pressure of adversity in our lives? Some may say it’s in those moments that we truly shine—that we display great courage or faith or patience in some of our most difficult and excruciating moments. And I won’t argue with that. I’ve seen it time and time again. Victory in the midst of tribulation can be incredibly inspiring.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes what adversity squeezes out of us isn’t inspiring at all. As the pressure of our challenges bears down on us, suddenly it’s our fear or our insecurity or our bottled-up anger that comes oozing out with increasing intensity. Just like the oil press, the weight of our adversity forces things out into the open that we may have been really good at hiding (at least, up until now).

Once I started thinking along these lines, all kinds of examples of this began coming to mind. Christ’s apostles may have vehemently proclaimed their faith in Him, but put them on a boat in the middle of a brutal storm where the waves have completely filled their vessel with water…and suddenly it’s fear—not faith—that comes oozing out to the surface (Mark 4:36-40).

After all the visions he’d seen, I’m sure Lehi was convinced that he believed in the goodness and omnipotence of God. But let his sons’ bows stop working and the hunger pangs begin to plague him…and suddenly the good prophet finds himself murmuring “against the Lord his God” (1 Nephi 16:20).

And what about me? Oh, I can stand up in Fast & Testimony meeting and testify of my faith in Christ with such exuberance that I start thumping the pulpit…but why is it that I feel such anxiety when it looks like we won’t be able to pay our bills? Why is it that I feel so inadequate when the Bishop hands me a new assignment? Why is it that I have food in the fridge and gas in my car and clothing on my back and I still want more, more, MORE??

It’s just that darn oil oozing out from under the weight of my adversity. It makes it so I can’t deny the truth about myself any longer. I have to admit that sometimes I’m terribly impatient. Sometimes I don’t appreciate what I have. Sometimes I struggle to trust the Lord when circumstances in my life get precarious or scary. But I’m learning that’s okay because those oozing character defects are exactly what the Lord has been trying to get me to see all along.

For far too long, I subconsciously hid those character defects behind a mask of active Mormon “busyness.” I read my scriptures, said my prayers, and planned killer FHE lessons. I took cookies to the neighbors, made darling handouts for Relief Society, and watched every hour of General Conference without falling asleep even once. All those outward activities somehow convinced me that I was a really good person. That it was all those other people who were lost. All those other people who needed to repent. Not me. Nope, I believed I’d reached the pinnacle of what it meant to be a good Mormon wife and mother.

But all the Lord had to do was apply a little pressure in the form of adversity…and wham, I couldn’t remain in denial for one moment longer. I remember first noticing this when I had a house full of crazy little kids. I thought I was doing everything right, but then why couldn’t I stop myself from losing my temper? Why did I continue to freak out at these cute little people I adored so much? The answer is simple. All the spilled milk and crayon on the walls and sleepless nights applied enough pressure to bring the oil oozing out of me in about 2 seconds. I’d lose it. I’d yell at them. Or I’d grab the car keys and tell my husband I couldn’t take it anymore and I was running away from home. So much for the pinnacle of perfect Mormon motherhood.

I’ll admit that now I’m really thankful for all that adversity (and the adversity that still continues), because it taught me how fully and deeply I needed the Lord. How much I still need Him. My oil press of adversity (both then and now) has been SO valuable in that it’s shown me I am not all that (killer FHE lessons notwithstanding). In fact, like Ammon said, I’m nothing without His grace strengthening me and holding me up from moment to moment (Alma 26:12). So today I’m trying to embrace the pressure of that oil press . . . and to make sure I’m continually analyzing what kind of oil is coming out of me. And when needed, to take it to Him for a little purification. 🙂

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