Tommie Farrell currently serves as 1st Counselor in the Abilene Texas Stake. He has served as Ward Mission Leader, Elders Quorum President, and Bishop. Favorite callings of his past have been Primary Teacher, Temple Ordinance Worker in Lubbock Texas Temple during the first years in operation and as a Scout Master just prior to his current calling. He has been married to Karen Farrell for 26 years and they have four fantastic children at ages 25, 20, 17 and 13. He has been a physician for 20 years with 15 years of these dedicated completely to the field of Hospice and Palliative Medicine where he gets to care for patients and families with critical illness and end-of-life care.
Many years back I read a book titled The Gift of Pain by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancey. I appreciated the valuable insights it provided me as a physician who treats patients who suffer from pain. Dr. Brand is an expert in the treatment of Hansen’s disease which most people know more commonly as Leprosy. The disease affects the nerves which can result in loss of feeling. When loss of sensation occurs, injuries such as burns may go unnoticed and a person may not feel the pain that can warn of harm to the body. In ancient times, without the benefit of antibiotics, this could lead to infections of the skin. Hence, the biblical warning of these persons being unclean. So, if we are without any pain our lives can actually be negatively impacted. Thus, the title of a book announcing pain as a gift makes more sense.
Suffering – My Grace is Sufficient
Suffering is an experience much more profound than pain. All of us have experienced some form of suffering. It can occur without the presence of pain. Discussing how suffering can be a blessing is something I do humbly. Though I am acquainted with suffering, I recognize the variety of experiences others have had are unique. As I continue to write it is with a sincere prayer in my heart that nothing I express dismisses the experiences of others.
There are some foundational scriptures I share in my thoughts on suffering. From Ether 12:27:
“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Though it is an extrapolation to replace suffering for weakness (and not the intent of the writer of this verse), I believe if we are humble, the grace of the Lord is sufficient to have suffering become the strength of our testimonies in Christ.
From Alma 7:11-12:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
There is no need to extrapolate the meaning of this scripture. Any suffering we experience has been experienced by our Savior and He knows how to succor us in all things.
From Isaiah 61:1-3:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
The Lord describes his very purpose to be the One that transforms the worst aspects of life into the most glorious.
So, let me share some of the ways suffering has blessed me. My pondering for this was born out of some poignant events in my life that include a loss of a child, the depth of sorrow when I felt lost in sin, and most recently going through treatment for cancer (I am in complete remission at this moment). All of these times are ones that I would not want to experience again, but I have a profound gratitude for the lessons I learned as the Atonement of Christ was applied to each experience.
Here are four key lessons I have learned as I grew through suffering.
We Really Do Have a Savior Who Is Full of Grace and Mercy
I don’t know if the depth of our knowledge of our Savior’s love and goodness can be known until we have to use it. I would never suggest a person to sin just to know He will forgive. However, I do recommend every person who hurts for any reason, whether by choice or circumstance, to reach out to Him. During some days of my cancer treatment, the suffering I felt inside seemed so overwhelming I could repeat but a very simple phrase – “I love Thee and I trust Thee.” Stripped down to that level of nothingness allowed me to feel how great Jesus is.
All service matters, and the simplest service we provide for someone we want to help is through prayer. After I was out of the hospital from my initial treatments, I saw a Facebook meme mocking those who express the sentiment “I will pray for you.” It dismissed this act of faith as being just a token and meaningless. I had been isolated in a hospital for 41 days during the Covid pandemic and was only allowed to have visits from my wife and my brother. During that time, I had countless messages from friends, church brothers and sisters, co-workers, and old acquaintances I had not spoken to in years, all including their devotion to my well-being by stating, “I’m praying for you.” It was not that I expected my outcome would change based on the number of prayers I had received. I trusted God’s will would prevail whether that was my cure or my death. However, I counted every prayer as an act of service and faith, and it strengthened my testimony. I, in turn, prayed that all those prayers were consecrated for those who had exercised their faith to pray (2 Nephi 32:8-9).
The Daily Practices of the Gospel, Especially Service, Strengthen Us
Most of my treatments were done from home. There were some weeks that I felt particularly ill but lying around sick did nothing to alleviate the misery. Gratefully, I had daily opportunities to live the gospel. My personal and family daily scripture time continued to be the anchor. Service to others provided the best relief from any of my personal concerns. I developed the motto a person does not have to feel good to do good. The life of Joseph Smith highlights this truth. He never stopped in his duties no matter the difficulties. Most are familiar the story of the early morning of March 25, 1832 in Hiram, Ohio when men dragged Joseph out of his house, choked him, tore off his clothes and tried to force a bottle of acid into his mouth chipping one of his teeth. They scratched his body and spread hot tar all over and covered him in feathers. After an excruciating night of having that removed, the next day being Sunday, he preached without any message of malice (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, v.1, ch.XIX).
We Are Never Alone
One of the greatest insights I received came in the moments I was alone. There was an entire day that I had to be in my hospital room without any visitors. I was having tremendous headaches. But even without anyone familiar there was the kindness of the strangers who cared for me. As mentioned above I found out how many were praying for me that day. And, ultimately, I believe that my Savior was there as I continued to feel calm throughout the experience. The thought that came to me after that time was how much we will never know what the experience of our Savior was like. I was never separated fully from the household of faith or my Savior. However, in the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross, Christ experienced a true loneliness none of us can know.
There have been other lessons I have learned in times of suffering, but these are the ones that seem most pertinent to share. You will notice that they are in no way new or sophisticated. We are taught all these lessons from our youth – that we have a Savior who is good and kind, that prayer matters, service strengthens us, and we are never alone. That ultimately is the blessing of suffering – it makes the lessons we have heard throughout our lives real.
Just as the presence of pain can keep us from neglecting our bodies, the presence of suffering keeps us from neglecting our souls.
I recognize that it can be difficult to recognize blessings when in the middle of a suffering experience. Also, not all suffering brings meaning. For those who have not experienced the same blessings in their life as I have, I honor that. I also testify that even when not felt the Savior is there with us. Paul, an Apostle also acquainted with much suffering, says it well –
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor death, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
As this is ultimately an article for leaders, let me offer two brief summary recommendations. First, allow all of our personal sufferings and sorrows to increase our faith in Christ. Second, as we testify to and try to succor others don’t dismiss the simple lessons of our gospel. They are the most significant. In a recent visit with a leader of our Church, he reminded our Stake Presidency to be positive when working with others with difficult problems and sins with these words, “look up… the Savior’s Atonement has already covered them.”