Afflictions include sorrow, adversity, tribulation, calamity, and trouble-all these are the common lot of mankind; they are an essential part of this probation. (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 26, 2nd edition, Deseret Book, 1978)If we accept Elder McConkie's definition (and I find it very commendable), then we can accept that adversity is synonymous with the word suffering. All of us suffer at one time or another, whether we are rich or poor, bond or free, or any type of gender. There is a saying that in life only two things are promised: death and taxes. This is partially true, but not entirely. You may not live to the age of having to pay taxes, but you will live long enough to suffer. So perhaps the two things really promised in life are suffering and death. Even a pessimist like myself finds this very bleak.
While it will be generally conceded that we all suffer, perhaps of even bigger importance is why there is human suffering; or more particularly in the moment of suffering the question comes across as "Why am I suffering?" While I cannot fully answer that question, I would offer the following advice to the person who is comforting the person suffering (and if I recall my baptismal covenants correctly that is all of us who have taken upon ourselves the covenant of baptism [Mosiah 18:8-9]) Recall the story of Job, a just man who suffered greatly. His friends interpreted his suffering as a response to his sinfulness because a just God would not cause a righteous person to suffer. Job, knowing that he has done nothing that warranted his immense suffering, rebuked their arguments as trivial on the grounds that he knew he was a righteous man, though he could not understand why God was allowing this to happen. At the end of the story God agrees with Job that he had been righteous, but rebuked him for questioning his judgement (Job 40: 8-9) A similar thing happens in the New Testament. After encountering a man who is born blind, the apostles ask the Savior whether this man is suffering for his own sins or the sins of his parents. The Savior responds that the young man has not sinned nor his parents, and heals his blindness (John 9:2-3).
The lesson for us in these two events is that we do not have the complete information as to why someone is suffering, and to speculate about it will likely lead to more suffering for someone who needs to be comforted. President Monson wisely said "Never allow a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." We who are tasked with comforting the afflicted should worry more about how we are going to help the person rather than worry about why it happened in the first place.
As for the person who is suffering who is asking the question "Why me?", allow me to give the following recommendation. We would do well to remember that nowhere in the scriptures is it promised that life will be fair. Part of our suffering is brought upon us by thinking there is always a reason for suffering and we then think of ourselves as Sherlock Holmes, trying to figure out the the why question rather than thinking about what we can learn from the experience. The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said this:
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible. (The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, pg.3, HarperCollins, 1994)We cannot control what happens for the most part; we only have control over ourselves. So, when we suffer (as we all will) we need to focus more on what we can do rather than looking for someone or something to blame, which I admit is much easier in theory than in practice. At any rate, it is foolish to blame either God or the universe for our suffering. God did not promise us a fair life before we came to this Earth, yet we accepted the challenge anyway. The universe is not an agent, so when we ask it "Why me?" it will not bother to respond "Why not?"
Now that I have dealt with the why question of suffering, the question remains of how can we endure suffering. Before answering this, I would point out that enduring is more than simply surviving. Surviving means that we allow things to happen but don't bother to learn from it. Enduring means that while we question why we suffer, we know that there is something we can learn from the suffering. Enduring is active, surviving is passive.
Perhaps the two greatest examples of enduring adversity come from the two greatest men who have ever lived but perhaps suffered more than anyone else: Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph Smith, Jr. While in Gethsemane and suffering pain unimaginable (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-18), Jesus asked that his pain and suffering not come. But, he was willing to submit to whatever needed to happen. Jesus' response is remarkably stoic in nature; he does not want to suffer but realizes that he cannot control that. What he can control is how he responded to the suffering. He responded by accepting it and learning from it. We should do likewise.
Joseph Smith's suffering was different, as was his response. In section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants, he, like Jesus, cries out to God to end his suffering, even going so far as to ask if he is still there (Doctrine & Covenants 121: 1-4). The Savior responds that if the Prophet endures his suffering, he will be exalted in the end (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). Or to put is as the German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did, whatever does not kill us will make us stronger. This way of overcoming adversity is saying that we must suffer in order to become the kinds of people that the Lord would want us to become.
In closing, the Savior was asked by a rich man what he must do in order to obtain eternal life (Mark 10: 17-21). Jesus responded that the man would have to pick up his cross and to follow him. The path of the Savior is one of pain and suffering. The only perfect man who ever walked the Earth suffered more than any of us, and we cannot call ourselves his disciple if we are not willing to suffer and endure to the end as he did. But, we do not have to do so alone. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I pledge to all members of this ward that if they need a friend in their suffering, I will do everything in my power to be there for them in there time of need. And I am not the only one. The Savior suffered so that you will not have to suffer alone, and no matter what happens he will always be there for you as he has been there for me.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.