Individuals must look forward with hope to turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones, said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy and Church Historian, during a campus devotional at BYU held in the Marriott Center on Sept. 11.
"How can we make a bad experience become a learning experience?" he asked. "Part of the answer, of coarse, lies in perspective."
Drawing from the example of the pioneers in the Martin Handcart Company who experienced much suffering and heartache, Elder Snow spoke of the response of many of the company's members who turned a difficult situation into a learning experience.
"How we choose to lead our lives and how we make faith part of our lives, ultimately helps us face the challenges which come to everyone in this earthly existence," he said.
It is through turning a desire to believe into action that helps solidify an individual's faith. Just as investigators of the Church must take action before obtaining a testimony — even if they have a strong desire to believe — so must Church members.
"Someone who hears the gospel for the first time must not just believe but must take action for there to be a witness or assurance. For a new investigator this means study, prayer and attending Church. Only after making commitments and acting upon them does an investigator obtain a testimony of the restored gospel."
Those actions become a series of stepping-stones leading to a testimony of the gospel, Elder Snow said.
"The pattern is the same for those of us who have been in the Church for many years," he said. "We must continue to step forward on the stepping stones which will increase our faith. As our study and prayer continue, we accept new callings in the Church, which cause us to stretch and grow. We serve others through home or visiting teaching. We prepare for and keep covenants made in the temple. As we continue on this path of learning, serving and growing, we touch on the stepping stones which strengthen our faith and ultimately lead us to an assurance or witness of truth."
From that spiritual growth, individuals are more prepared to face and overcome the adversity that is part of mortal probation, he said.
"As we contemplate the straight and narrow path which returns to the presence of our Heavenly Father, invariably that path will contain stumbling blocks which can, if ignored, become trials, even crises in our lives," he said. "Now please understand; the trail of life is strewn with stumbling blocks placed there to test us and to try us. Sometimes it seems we are literally stumbling through life as we deal with the challenges and trials of this mortal existence. The stumbling blocks of which I speak are those which we can avoid if we are obedient, plan ahead and remain vigilant."
Elder Snow shared a few stumbling blocks for individuals to be aware of and do their best to avoid, as well as counsel to help in times of trial.
"Pride can blind us from danger," he said. "If we are caught up in ourselves and our own well-being, we become more susceptible to the enticing of the adversary. Pride prevents us from serving and giving and causes us to become self-centered and demanding. Pride interferes with relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and loved ones. No one cares to be around a truly selfish person."
Avoiding negativity and pessimism
"While there are challenges and difficulties we all face, it is important to maintain an eternal perspective," he said. "Life is sometimes hard because it is supposed to be. The great Plan of Happiness provides for a mortal existence where we can come to learn to overcome hard things. If we tend to focus on only those things in our lives which do not go as we intend, we will miss the marvelous blessings we otherwise enjoy."
Using technology for good
"Let the advancements of today's modern technology be a springboard in your lives, not a stumbling block," he said. "Never have we been blessed with so many tools to perform the purposes of the Church."
Although technology has many positive influences, Elder Snow warned listeners about the addictive forces of pornography and video games — especially violent and inappropriate games.
"While I appreciate the economy and efficiency of texting, don't give up on personal face-to-face communication," he said. "You don't need a battery, you don't need a signal and you don't need a handheld device. You will be surprised what can come from a real live conversation.
"Let's embrace the technology, but let's not forget the importance of personal communication. Try it, you might like it."
"Don't howl and whine. Choose to be optimistic. Being optimistic is good for you. … Optimistic people are happier, healthier and more successful than those with a negative outlook on life. Optimism results in less depression, higher achievement and a stronger immune system," Elder Snow said.
Those same principles are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he said. It is through the Lord's help that individuals are able to make impossible things possible, find rest from one's labors and feel the love of Heavenly Father. "So choose to be optimistic. Choose to look on the bright side. As you go about your day's activities, expect the best."
Speaking of the attention the Church has recently been experiencing in the news, Elder Snow spoke of the positive and negative reports.
"Some of our beliefs, which to some may seem peculiar, have been ridiculed by a few," he said. "The ability to transmit information through the Internet and the media is unparalleled. The words of a bitter or disrespectful critic are magnified many times through use of social media. This was a platform not available to our critics just a generation ago."
It is the responsibility of members to appropriately filter through the rhetoric and attempt to understand why such things were said — especially when crude utterances are made for political gain or entertainment.
"Please understand, the followers of the Savior have always been in the minority and often in history have suffered more than the simple sting of unkind and cruel words," he said.
For some, such verbal assaults have created a crisis of faith, causing individuals to wonder if such things are true and if so, how could it possibly be.
"Our history as a Church is a rich tapestry woven with beautiful threads of sacrifice, service and devotion," Elder Snow said. "The stories of early Church leaders and members are motivating and compelling. Their accounts of the remarkable and the mundane inspire us to accomplish difficult tasks. But like all of us, they were not perfect.
"It is important to view the entire tapestry of our history and not just individual threads which may seem to strike us as too peculiar if not viewed in the context of time and place."
To achieve a proper balance, individuals must continue to pay attention to their spiritual well-being through prayer, scripture study and keeping the commandments.
"Touch upon the stepping stones which will build your faith," he said. "Then when the winds of discontent blow, you will be protected from the storm. …
"There are many other stumbling blocks which will undoubtedly threaten your future progress. Some you will need to maneuver around or laboriously push them from your path. You will avoid many stumbling blocks by living wisely, being obedient and by paying attention to the stepping stones which will build your faith."
Although challenges and trials will come, it is through being prepared that they will become seasons of learning in one's life, Elder Snow said.
"Rather than times of setback and loss of faith, these experiences themselves will become stepping stones of spiritual strength for your eternal progression.
"Be meek, humble, strong and wise," he said. "The future is bright, and you, the rising generation, will determine our course. It has ever been so. Being with you today convinces me our future has never been in better hands."