Each of us, at some time or another will have to spend some time in Liberty Jail. This is the message of Elder Jeffery R. Holland in his recent CES fireside address, "Lessons from Liberty Jail." (Sept 09 Ensign) Just like the Prophet Joseph Smith and his companions, who endured the cold winter months of 1838-39 in what could only be described as a miserable dungeon for crimes they didn't commit, each of us will face things that seem unfair and unjust. How I personally handle them and what lessons I learn from these experiences depends greatly on how I choose to endure them.
While the conditions were bleak, it was during this time period that some of the most sublime passages of modern scripture were revealed to the prophet. It was during this time of desperation that Joseph pleaded with the Lord (see D&C 121:1-3). In response, the Lord replied that the purpose of our afflictions and the blessings we can obtain if we but endure (see verses 7-8). It was also during this time in what Church historian B.H Roberts calls "the prison temple"—noting the refining elements of the experience—that some of our most sacred spiritual instruction, including the Lord's teaching that "many are called but few are chosen" and the proper characteristics for exercising power in the priesthood, is set fourth (see verses 34-43).
Speaking of enduring and learning, Elder Holland promises: "You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life-in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and oppositions you have ever faced."
While personally I would never pray for bad things to happen in my life, I know I need to be prepared to face them. Elder Holland gives three keys to doing this: first, realize that everyone faces trying times; secondly, that even the worthy will suffer; and third, remain calm, patient, charitable and forgiving at all times. Finally, he concludes that we need to face all things with a cheerful spirit.
For me there are times when I've felt almost overwhelmed by my personal struggles; times when I've felt unfairly judged by others; and worse, times when I've felt used and abandoned by the very people whom I loved and viewed as a friend. At times, I've wondered, "Why me Lord? I'm doing what you asked me to do!" But as Elder Holland points out, "Why not me?" The scriptures and Church history are full of people who have suffered and endured things that they clearly didn't deserve. The atonement is the supreme example of this. According to Elder Holland, our trials put us in good company.
Ironically, the times when I feel the furthest from the Lord are the very moments when I am the closet to Him if I but reach for Him. This is one of the lessons of Liberty Jail. Sometimes these bad days are those humbling moments that I need to remind me that the same things I'm enduring now also happened to the Savior of the world as part of the great atonement—that when I plead, "Lord, how much worse can it get?", the answer is simple: "I died for you so that it won't get worse. I am with thee."