“The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, alone, and discouraged he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements. He also used the hut to store his few possessions.
But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. The man was stung with grief and anger.
“God, why did you do this to me?!” he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.
“How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked of his rescuers.
“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
We each have times in our lives when we feel, like the man in the story, like our little hut is burning to the ground; times when we feel like crying out “why is this happening?” or “God, why did you do this to me?” Like the man in the story, it can be difficult for us to recognize that bitter trials are often blessings in disguise. President George Q. Cannon taught:
“The saints should always remember that . . . if [God] requires them to endure present privation and trial, it is that they may escape greater tribulations which would otherwise inevitably overtake them. If He deprives them of any present blessing, it is that He may bestow upon them greater and more glorious ones by and by.”
The man in the story was required to endure the trial of his hut burning to the ground, but that privation allowed him to escape the greater tribulation of trying to stay alive while remaining on the island alone. He was deprived of the blessing of sleeping in the hut that night, but it was that very deprivation that allowed him to receive the greater blessing of being rescued.
This story and the principles put forward by President Cannon represent a pattern that can be observed in each of our lives and in numerous stories in the scriptures. I would like to use this story as a base to present some additional principles that can help when we feel like our hut is burning to the ground.
Brigham Young taught: “If you possess the light of the Holy Spirit, you can see clearly that trials in the flesh are actually necessary.” Perhaps it was his possession of that Spirit, and understanding of the necessity of trials, that led him to make this statement after being driven out of Nauvoo, and crossing the plains to the Rocky mountains: “We are infinitely more blessed by the persecutions and injustices we have suffered, than we could have been if we had remained in our habitations from which we have been driven—than if we had been suffered to occupy our farms, gardens, stores, mills, machinery and everything we had in our former possessions.” This perspective coming from a man who lost everything he had more than just once.
Jacob’s son, Joseph, likely felt like his hut was burning to the ground when he was sold into Egypt by his brothers, or when Potiphar’s wife had him put in prison. But these hardships gave him the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream which led to his promotion, enabling him to temporally save many people, including his own family from the coming famine. Our hut burning to the ground may be creating an opportunity for us to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands.
Nephi and his family likely felt like their hut was burning to the ground when Laman and Lemuel’s bows lost their springs and Nephi’s bow broke—this was their only way to obtain food. In fact, this trying experience brought out murmuring not just from Nephi’s brothers, which is to be expected, but even from his father Lehi. However, this smoke signal summoned a rescue boat in the form of learning to rely on the Lord through the Liahona to find food, rather than themselves. Going forward from this experience they had more trust in God’s ability to take care of them.
So much of life’s curriculum, therefore, consists of efforts by the Lord to get and keep our attention. Ironically the [things] he uses are often that which is seen by us as something to endure. Sometimes what we are actually being asked to endure is his ‘help’. – Neal A. Maxwell
If we humble ourselves and look close enough, we may find that our hut burning to the ground is actually the Lord trying to get and keep our attention so he can help us.
Alma senior, high priest over the church, and Mosiah, King of the land, may have asked why and felt like their hut was burning to the ground when their sons “became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God by “stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension and giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.” (Mosiah 27:9-10) But this smoke signal summoned a rescue boat in the form of an angel who initiated the conversion of arguably the greatest missionaries we have in all of the scriptures.
One of those missionaries, Alma the younger, was sent to preach in the land of Ammonihah where “Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people.” (Alma 8:9) They withstood his words, reviled him, spit on him and cast him out of their city. He likely felt just like the man who’s hut burned to the ground as he left that city, being “weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation, and anguish of soul.” (Alma 8:14) He felt discouraged and perhaps even wondered why he had been sent there. But it was at this time that the same angel who had appeared to him years ago, when he was acting just like these people, visited him and commanded him to return and go right back into the city. This smoke signal summoned a rescue boat in the form of an opportunity for Amulek who had been prepared by the angel to receive him. This was the perfect wake-up call for Amulek to get him out of his spiritual snooze, as by his own confession was “called many times, yet [he] would not hear, therefore [he] knew . . . yet [he] would not know.” Sometimes our “hut burning experience” is entrusted to us as a means of giving someone an opportunity to “drive” the rescue boat to save us because that is what they need at that time in their life for their own growth.
The servants of Lamoni may have felt like their huts were burning to the ground when the lamanites scattered the king’s flocks at the waters of Sebus—in their eyes this meant sudden death. However, this smoke signal summoned a boat in the form of Ammon’s miracle fight scene that led to a bag of arms being dropped before the king who then asked questions and, along with those same servants and all of his people, was converted. Our hut burning experience may be creating a missionary opportunity.
Aaron and his brothers likely felt like their “hut was burning to the ground” when they were cast out and driven about until they came into the land of MIddoni where they were taken, cast into prison, bound with strong cords, stripped naked, and starved. (Alma 20:29-30) They gave up the entire Nephite kingdom that Mosiah and the people tried to confer upon them so they could come preach and this is the result—tied up in a prison with no food, no water, and no clothes. Perhaps they felt like crying out like the man in the story, like us, “God why did you let this happen?” “Why did you lead me here to suffer?” “Why aren’t you intervening?” “Why aren’t you getting me out of this?” But if we take a step back and wait just a second, the smoke signal is bringing a boat.
It is these circumstances that led the Lord to command their brother Ammon to leave the land of Ishmael and come directly to the land of Middoni. King Lamoni accompanied him and on the way they met King Lamoni’s father—the Lamanite king over all the land. This meeting would not have occurred had it not been for Aaron and his brothers in prison at Middoni. As King Lamoni’s father heard Ammon’s testimony, and saw his compassion he recognized there was something different about him and his heart was softened. It was this interaction that prepared him to be taught the gospel. Aaron and his brothers were freed and eventually found their way to King Lamoni’s father’s palace where he permitted them to teach him because they were Ammon’s brothers and he was still “troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of Ammon.” (22:3)
King Lamoni’s father gave away all his sins to know God, was converted, along with his whole house, and then sent a proclamation out to the entire Lamanite kingdom commanding everyone to let the sons of Mosiah preach, and encouraging them to listen to them. The result was that “thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord.” Those thousands are the same people who chose to bury their weapons of war, and eventually had 2,000 stripling warrior sons who fought for them. All because of the “hut burning” prison experience at MIddoni. Without that, Ammon never leaves the land of Ishmael, never meets King Lamoni’s father, whose heart isn’t softened, and without that, conditions in the Lamanite kingdom stay just the way they were—no converts, no covenants, and no anti-nephi-lehis. Perhaps our hut needed to be burned to the ground in order to activate events that will lead to conversion in others.
Joseph Smith the greatest prophet to ever live braved many hardships and tribulations during his life. Possibly the most trying of those experiences was the four months in the middle of winter he spent unlawfully confined in the dungeon ironically named Liberty Jail. In his letters he spoke of the jail being a “hell surrounded with demons . . . where we are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description.” He wrote, “ We have not blankets sufficient to keep us warm, and when we have a fire, we are obliged to have almost a constant smoke. Our souls have been bowed down and my nerve trembles from long confinement.”
Pen, or tongue, or angels, could not adequately describe the “malice of hell” that he suffered there. – Jeffrey R. Holland
To make matters worse, in the midst of this imprisonment, the Saints were being driven out of their homes in Missouri via an extermination order signed by Governor Boggs. These conditions drove the prophet to cry out, “O, God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1) Surely Joseph could relate to the man watching his hut burning to the ground asking why. But Joseph’s burning hut of adversity sent up a smoke signal that would summon a boat in the form of some of the most powerful revelations ever given from God contained in Doctrine and Covenants sections 121-123. Sometimes our “hut burning” experience is given to us to produce knowledge, to bring about the circumstances necessary for the pouring out of weighty revelations, or as the Lord said to “give thee experience.”
How about Abinadi—talk about a literal smoke signal. He probably felt like his hut was burning to the ground when he was burning to the ground after having preached to a wicked group of people where as far as he knew, the 1 person that believed him was likely killed. Perhaps there were times when he posed “why” questions to the Lord. But that 1 person baptized 204 people and their group eventually grew to 400. That 1 person became high priest of the church, his son became perhaps the greatest prophet/missionary in the book of Mormon and was translated, his grandson led a group of 2,000 stripling warriors, and his great great grandson was called as Jesus Christ’s chief apostle when he visited the Nephites. We may not get to see the rescue boat immediately or even at all in this life, but we can rest assured that our suffering is never done in vain.
As challenging as each of these stories are, none match the hut burning experience of the Savior of the world. As described by Jesus himself, so great was the suffering it “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” The culmination of the suffering consisted of the Father withdrawing His spirit. It was this that brought the “Why” question out of Jesus: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” These flames of anguish summoned the greatest rescue boat this world has ever known—grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
So, we know that the burning hut produces flames that always summon a rescue boat. But each of us still has to endure a cold night without a hut before the boat gets here. I would like to share a few thoughts that can help us while we are waiting, and enduring in the meantime.
We will not have in all specific situations the answers to questions such as, “Why me?” “Why this?,” but knowing the grand “why” of life will help us to endure the gritty little “whys” of this month or this year. – Neal A. Maxwell
The grand why of life is that we were sent here to learn, to grow and progress, and become more like God through our experience. Knowing and remembering this can help us to endure the hut burning experiences which are necessary for this purpose to be accomplished.
Furthermore, Elder Maxwell states:
Certain mortal “whys” are not really questions at all but are expressions of resentment. Other “whys” imply that the trial might be all right later on but not now, as if faith in the Lord excluded faith in His timing. Some “why me” questions, asked amid stress, would be much better as “what” questions, such as “What is required of me now?” Or “What can I learn from this?” Or “What could I do in my life right now to access the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?”
If we amid stress can just make the little adjustment of changing our “why” questions to “what” questions, it can completely change the way we view those trials. We can also, in the meantime learn from the example of those in the stories cited.
Brigham Young trusted God and looked at things with an eternal perspective.
Joseph chose to remain clean and in tune with the Spirit so that when opportunities to get out arose he could take advantage of them.
Nephi did not become a victim, he did the best he could to come up with a solution and then asked for the Lord’s help and guidance.
Alma senior prayed with much faith. Alma the younger obeyed “speedily,” when he was given instruction from the Lord’s messenger.
Ammon looked at the situation as an opportunity to gain the trust of others and rely on God’s promises to him.
Aaron and his brothers were patient in their sufferings.
Joseph Smith cried out to God with everything he had, and relied on the answers given for hope.
Abinadi was obedient even though at the time it may not have seemed worth it.
And Jesus Christ humbly accepted that for Him, there was to be no deliverance, by submitting his will to the Father’s saying “Not my will, but thine be done.”
I know that we all experience our figurative huts burning down, but it is my prayer that we can see them for what they truly are. God never leaves us alone or lets us suffer without our eternal perfection in mind. He knows you. He loves you. And He is determined to make more out of you so that you are fit for His kingdom.