Jennie Taylor, a mother of seven, received a visit from army officials when her husband Maj. Brent Russell Taylor was deployed in Afghanistan. He had been killed in action. She experienced a deluge of grief in the coming days, faced with the prospect of caring for her large family in his absence.

The day after learning that he died in 2018, she had a thought that she hated — “this will be good for me.” She later explained, “God has blessed me so much through what has happened. Again, I don’t think that God caused it and I don’t think it had to happen for me to learn those lessons. I think that God has let us learn those lessons because of what happened.”

Taylor experienced joy in her suffering and became a stronger Christian as a result. In turn, she has spoken to several large audiences about remaining resilient in the face of trials. She established the Major Brent Taylor Foundation, which provides scholarships to young leaders.

It seems paradoxical that deeply challenging trials can catalyze resilient faith.

Recently, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Patricia Holland spoke about how to have hope even in difficult circumstances. Speaking about ongoing challenges in many parts of the world and other local tragedies, Elder Holland acknowledged the personal and global suffering that Latter-day Saint experience. But he explained, followers of Christ can have “a perfect brightness of hope” in the face of suffering.

“How could Jesus speak of cheerfulness in the midst of all the anguish he faced moving towards the crucifixion?” Elder Holland asked and then said, “Even in that fateful atmosphere, there must have prevailed at the Last Supper, in the middle of Passion week, Christ is still reminding the disciples of the reason and their duty to be of good cheer.”

He gave as an example the prophet, President Russell M. Nelson.

Elder Holland said, “Prophets are of good cheer because they are true disciples of Jesus Christ and that is the ultimate source of all optimism.” That reminded me of a family photo of President Nelson on a swing. His joy emanates from the photo and is the same joyful demeanor that I’ve been accustomed to see in general conference.

A family photo of President Russell M. Nelson on a swing.
A family photo of President Russell M. Nelson on a swing. | Nelson family

President Nelson is no stranger to sorrow — he lost both a spouse and child. He said, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”

Christian theologian C.S. Lewis learned this lesson as well. When he grieved the loss of his wife, he observed that the joy he seldom experienced came from God. He wrote in “A Grief Observed,” “Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it. Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift. Don’t we in praise somehow enjoy what we praise, however far we are from it? I must do more of this.”

Praising God in times when our circumstances are tragic seems like an impossible ask, but Christ commands his followers to have joy — a joy that is often countercultural.

I’ve had stretches of time where, due to health challenges or the loss of a family member or relationship, I have wondered how God could expect me to have joy. During a particularly difficult stretch, I scheduled a meeting with one of my church leaders and told him that seeking joy seemed harder than going through all of my challenges again.

He asked me to go home, read my patriarchal blessing and think about how, if I wish to have a positive impact in this life, I have the responsibility of repenting, committing myself to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and letting go of what I want to in order to do what God wants.

This message was a revolutionary change for me. It felt like a mist of darkness was lifted from my eyes and my heart was suddenly transported heavenward after feeling weighed down by overwhelming circumstances. After telling listeners that they have a mission in this life, like my inspired church leader reminded me, Elder Holland admonished them to repent and increase their faith.

It is when we are converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we have hope and joy, and can be the “moral examples” that Elder Holland asked to be. His comments were similar to what is found in Luke 22:32. In the passage, Jesus is speaking to Simon Peter about how Satan had planned to tempt him. Jesus said, “But I have prayer for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

Conversion, then, not only produces the kind of joy that Elder Holland spoke about, but also has another mechanism that he mentioned — it is through conversion that we can be optimistic about the world and be leaders in global solutions. Like he said, believers can look at the world not just as it is, but as it ought to be. We can be lights of hope and catalysts for change even — and perhaps especially — when it’s difficult.

Global and personal tragedy will surely continue to strike. Perhaps one of the strongest and most countercultural calls that will be heard by the faithful is loving God and neighbor while having joy through it all.