How to Live a Joyful Life and the Importance of Choosing to be Happy
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A Pattern for a Joyful Life

A Pattern for a Joyful Life

Stitch by stitch, we can continue, rejoicing, knowing the Lord is with us.

By Elaine Sorensen Marshall in the Winter 2014 Issue

Illustrations by Michelle Sorensen (BFA ’10)

I recently retrieved from my departed mother’s unfinished projects a quilt top pieced by her mother with some scraps from my great-grandmother nearly 70 years ago. My mother had said it was not worth finishing. It was not straight and had been pieced with mismatched scraps.

But, drawn by nostalgia and a need for comfort, I decided to finish Grandma’s imperfect quilt. I found a vintage reproduction fabric for its back and borders. Then, out of respect for its time, I knew it needed to be hand quilted. So I spent hours and days quilting Grandma’s work that my mother had labeled “not worth finishing.” My husband called it “a monument to misspent effort.”

The more I quilted, the more I noticed its flaws. Mom was right: Grandma’s work was not that good. But as I continued, I felt comfort in the old seersucker fabrics. I imagined that I could remember some of them in my grandma’s dress or Mom’s apron or even a sunsuit of my own childhood. As I stitched I returned with longing to my mothers. I wanted to be what they would have liked me to become. At the same time, I wondered if I was enough for them or enough for my own children. Sometimes the quilting seemed futile, but I wanted to continue this small work that my foremothers had started.

Continue Your Journey

We are reminded by the Lord to “continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end” (D&C 100:12). This short passage represents one of the most efficient statements of commandment and promise in all of scripture.

It offers three profound principles: First, to continue—to just keep going. Second, to rejoice in that continuing. And finally, the marvelous promise that the Lord is with us now, always, and to the very end. It is a gentle reminder that all we have to do is “press forward” (2 Ne. 31:20) with joy to have the only promise we really need—that the Lord is with us.

Continuing may be the hardest part. I think it means to keep doing the small, prosaic, daily, good things in our lives. It means to keep on choosing righteousness. On bad days, it means to simply put one foot in front of the other.

The path is not always easy. It is not even mostly easy.

Whether it is the big, life-changing challenges or the drizzle of daily demands, we must not weary. In his last speech to the House of Commons, after a lifetime of service in England’s worst of times, Winston Churchill said, “There is time and hope if we combine patience and courage. . . . Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair.”1

I worked on my grandmother’s quilt during a time of special concern for one of my children. I tended fears that after all I had devoted to raising that child, perhaps I had not been enough. I even entertained the self-defeating question that if I was not enough in this most important task, of what use was my life? Why should I continue? In the evenings as I stitched, I grieved over the “what if I hads” or “what if I hadn’ts” in my life. Was I too strong? Was I not strong enough? Had I talked when I should have listened? Had I truly born testimony? And worst of all, did I fulfill the poem written for Mother’s Day by my son in the fifth grade that he titled “My Mother Is Always Busy, Busy, Busy”? Is that how I want to be remembered?

But I kept quilting, drawn to the strength of my mothers before me—assuring them that with all their flaws, they had been more than enough for me; stroking the same cloth their hands had touched; and praying that I might know how to continue to become enough for my children.

I have a friend who prays (like we all do) about the path of her own young-adult daughter. You can imagine her joy in recently receiving this e-mail message: “I know that I’ve come into something knit tight and strong and soft. I’m just the stray thread in this quilting bee of yours, but you’ve been kind enough to not snip me off just yet. So, here I’ll hang, tagging along, laughing when you do, and writing when you do, and studying the patchwork your stories have created.”2

As I continued Grandma’s quilt, I learned something else: my stitches were not even, and my borders were not straight. My work was worse than Grandma’s! Nevertheless, to continue my well-worn metaphor, author Mary Neal proposed:

Each of us is like a small piece of thread that contributes to the weaving of a very large and very beautiful tapestry. We, as single threads, spend our lives worrying about our thread—what color it is and how long it is—even becoming upset if it becomes torn or frayed. The complete tapestry is far too large for us to see and of too complex a pattern for us to appreciate the importance of our single thread. Regardless, without our individual contribution, the tapestry would be incomplete and broken. We should, therefore, recognize and take joy in our contribution. Indeed, our threads—our lives—are important; what we do and the choices we make, even the seemingly small ones, actually make a difference.3

Was it worth continuing the imperfect work that now extends across the lives of multiple generations of imperfect women? Now my granddaughter, Robyn Elaine, and perhaps her daughter, may enjoy this remnant filled with scraps, stitches, and flaws that may reach across more than five generations as a symbol of our continuing.

It connects me to who I am. I am a daughter of great-great-grandmothers who were among those who knew the Prophet Joseph when he was young, who followed the Saints across tribulations, who buried too many children along the way, who sold their butter to make ends meet, who patched their aprons and quilts—but who continued. They just kept stitching, and they kept walking. They were among those pioneers who “walked and walked” and continued to walk.4

Near the end of his own mortal journey, Moroni recorded the comforting words of his father: “I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. . . . I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men” (Moro. 7:3–4).

Whether your walk was begun by great-grandmothers in the early days of the Restoration or you are a first- or second-generation convert breaking a new path of courage, you must keep walking that peaceable walk, keep stitching, keep growing, keep trying. Keep doing the daily good things you do. It is who you are. You do it by faith and courage and commitment to your covenants with God.

Sharing his own personal story, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Don’t give up. . . . Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. . . . It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”5

Let Your Hearts Rejoice

It is not enough to continue the walk with gritted teeth. We are told to “rejoice evermore” (1 Thes. 5:16). We are “that [we] might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25).

When I was a new faculty member at BYU, I sat in this very room to hear author Annie Dillard. I wrote what I heard her say that day: “Grace happens anyway; the least we can do is be there.”

I believe that the commandment to “rejoice evermore” isn’t just an ancient nod to the power of positive thinking. When we rejoice, our eyes become open to miracles. There are gifts of grace all around waiting to be made visible by our rejoicing. If we are willing to rejoice in our walk, however hard the road, we will witness miracles. I like the saying “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”6

A father in my ward lost his job and has not found work for nearly a year. Last winter his wife took the children to the pediatrician’s office to get their flu vaccinations, with just enough in her purse to cover the expense of the immunizations. Ten-year-old Drew had a deathly fear of needles, but modern medicine had its own miracle called the nasal mist. When Mom stepped to the counter to verify that the shot and the mist were the same cost, all sighed to hear that the price for the mist was more than twice that of the injection. Drew instantly panicked. He knew this meant that he would have to get a shot, so he did the only reasonable thing: he ran away. His mom and older sister caught up with him and brought him back to a nook in the hallway to calm him.

Interrupting his tears, Drew asked if they could have a prayer to ask for Heavenly Father’s help. Mom agreed and suggested that Drew should say it. He gave an inspiring prayer asking for help to be calm and still. He asked Heavenly Father to help him to be brave. Then he closed his prayer with the words “And please help that I will get the mist instead of the shot.”

So of course Mom worried not only about the imminent extreme reaction but his disappointment when his prayer could not be granted. This only added to the pileup of burden and despair over the last year.

Eventually, Drew’s oldest sister went first to show that the shot wasn’t so bad. Then it was Drew’s turn. Just then, another nurse came running to announce that hearts in the office had been touched. Drew would not need the injection. He would be provided the mist at no additional cost. Drew looked up to his mom and said, “See, Mom, the Lord answers prayers.”

I know that Drew’s father will find work, and I suspect that the memories of hardship will fade with rejoicing in what our ward has come to call “Drew’s Flu Mist Miracle.”

When I was a ward Relief Society president, my stake Relief Society president, Sister Ann Nicholls Madsen (MA ’75), challenged us to pray specifically, “Lord, who needs me today? What is her name?” I found that a rather frightening challenge. Frightening because it required me to commit, to listen, and to be available—and frightening because it worked. On the days that I dared to say that prayer, I did receive a name in the most miraculous ways. More than once, I was led to the doorstep of a sister who needed someone at just that moment, whether in the anguish of watching her dying husband or just in need of a word of cheer. I rejoice in the memory of those miracles.

Let us practice saying the very word rejoice in our prayers, as in the words of the Psalmist: “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart. . . . I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name” (Ps. 9:1–2).

Rejoicing can be learned. Joy can be cultivated by practicing gratitude, forgiveness, and kindness. (I am not talking about casserole-to-my-sweet-sister kindness; I am talking about letting-the-jerk-in-the-car-merge-in-front-of-you-in-traffic kindness.)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could rejoice so much that others become suspicious? Ammon’s joy was so great that it made his brothers question his motives, believing that he must be boasting. He “did rejoice exceedingly” (Alma 25:17), proclaiming, “How great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started . . . that God would have granted unto us such great blessings? . . . Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name. . . . Yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. . . . For in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26:1, 8, 11–12).

Today we sing “Now Let Us Rejoice.” When William W. Phelps wrote the words to this hymn in 1833, he had moved his family to Jackson County, Mo., where they had helped to build a community of farms, stores, and schools. They lived in the newspaper press building, where he was the editor. But soon a mob on a rampage tore down the building, destroyed the press, burned precious books and papers, tarred and feathered Church leaders, and drove the Saints, including the Phelps family, from their new Zion out into the cold, dark winter. It was in the midst of such suffering that Brother Phelps wrote the words to the hymn, later to be sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple:7

Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation. . . .

Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation . . . .

In faith we’ll rely on the arm of Jehovah

To guide thru these last days of trouble and gloom . . . .

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,

And they will be crown’d with the angels of heav’n.8

And in March 1842, on the upper floor of the Red Brick Store, 20 brave women sang the same song as they closed the very first meeting of the Relief Society with the words “now let us rejoice.” 9

Let us rejoice because He is with us, as the psalm proclaims: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 89:15). And let us sing our own song on our own walk with rejoicing: “Be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant, my feet!” 10

I Am with You

We rejoice because the Lord is with us, even to the end. Life is not about overcoming or enduring this one great trial in front of us. I hear sisters say, “I know if I make it through this, everything else will be OK”—as if the Lord has some specific test planned for each of us, and if we overcome that one trial, we get a free pass directly to happiness on earth and in heaven. I am here to tell you that you can get through the challenge you have today, but do you know what? There are more out there—things you cannot even imagine. Satan has a growing number of creative ways to tempt us and our children. Life is a continuing journey, and the Lord is with us, walking beside us throughout this eternity, step-by-step. And today is part of that eternity. A dear friend recently reminded me of the words of C. S. Lewis: “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” 11

Through the Atonement, the Savior fills the measure where we are not enough. Sister Linda K. Burton reminds us that “all that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” “there is power in the Atonement to enable us to . . . become true disciples of Jesus Christ,” and “the Atonement is the greatest evidence we have of the Father’s love for His children.”12

There is a comforting pattern that reassures of the reality that our lives continue together across earthly and heavenly spheres. We are all part of a wonderful pattern we weave with the important people of our life—a pattern that can fill our hearts with rejoicing today and through all eternity.

In my family, threads were broken for a time. We were ambushed by trauma. The loss of my 8-year-old son Todd continues to be the most profound and defining experience of my life. In a strange way, everything goes back to that. The ache never leaves.

For a time, the Resurrection and even the Atonement didn’t matter to me. It didn’t matter if I died. I might have wished it. There was a time when all I knew was his absence. The void without him was all there was. I had no sense of where he was or if he was. All I knew was that he was gone. I have since met mothers who have expressed similar anguish about children who are struggling to find their way in this life.

I remember my mother standing by watching in her own sorrow, which I can understand only now that I am a grandmother. I thought then that she just did not understand, when she would say, “Elaine, you cannot live your life in Gethsemane. Jesus was already there. You need to come into another garden.”

I eventually learned that, even though I was not aware, the Lord was always at my side. His greatest gift is that He is there regardless of where we are or what we believe in the moment. The Savior lives. He is with us. His Atonement allows us to try again, to repent, and to continue. He is there regardless of where we are in our belief or doubt about that reality.

Other sorrows and losses will come. We will suffer, sin, regret, and need to try again.

Anyone who would be a disciple of Christ kneels sometime at [our own] Gethsemane. But . . . we need not stay. When we can find the courage to surrender, to accept the gift of the Savior—who already suffered there—we can stand and move on to another garden. Grace [and the Atonement offer] the quiet promise of that safe passage.13

Somewhere, sometime (I don’t know exactly when), I made a decision. I don’t know if it was a decision or a gift. But I decided that since I cannot die, because life continues and there really is no death, quitting is not an option. I must live. If I must live, then I am going to live fully, embrace and own my life as mine, engage in each moment, and continue forward.

I decided to accept the company of the Lord, who was already beside me. I decided to walk with God—no, to run with God, as Paul declared to the Hebrews, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, . . . and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland promised:

Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. Moroni spoke of it in the Book of Mormon as “hope for a better world” (Ether 12:4). For emotional health and spiritual stamina, everyone needs to be able to look forward to some respite, to something pleasant and renewing and hopeful, whether that blessing be near at hand or still some distance ahead. It is enough just to know we can get there, that however measured or far away, there is the promise of “good things to come.”

. . . This is precisely what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers us . . . . There is help. There is happiness. There really is light at the end of the tunnel. It is the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, the “light that is endless, that can never be darkened” (See John 8:12; Rev. 22:16; Mosiah 16:9). It is the very Son of God Himself. . . . To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. Christ comes to you in His “more excellent ministry” with a future of “better promises” [Heb. 8:6].14

The Savior is with us—to the end. He has shown Himself in His power and calls to us personally to know Him. We learned that with Martha on the path to the house of her brother Lazarus as she grieved his death, when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25); with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, when He showed Himself as the resurrected Savior (see Luke 24:13–32); with Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:3­–5), and with Mary Magdalene at the end of her lonely walk to the empty sepulchre (see John 20:1, 11–17). How many times on our path need He show Himself to us?

Because He is with us, we must continue, embrace and own the lives we are given, find ways to make them useful, and live every day of our eternal life—and that means today.

Sister Eliza R. Snow declared, “I will go forward. . . . I will smile at the rage of the tempest, and ride fearlessly and triumphantly across the boisterous ocean of circumstance . . . and the ‘testimony of Jesus’ will light up a lamp that will guide my vision through the portals of immortality.” 15

The promises of Isaiah are made alive in our joyful singing: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10) and “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; . . . For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. . . . Since thou wast precious in my sight, . . . I have loved thee. . . . Fear not: for I am with thee” (Isa. 43:1–5).

My journey is woven together across eternity among loved ones here, in heaven, and in my life to come. Our journey continues. It will not always be easy. Indeed, I expect challenges even in heaven, but we can rejoice in this day, and we can walk with God wherever and forever.

We can continue and rejoice, for the Lord is with us.

This article is adapted from an address given on May 2, 2013, at the BYU Women’s Conference by Elaine S. Sorensen Marshall, former dean of the BYU College of Nursing. She is now chair of the Department of Health Restoration and Care Systems Management and the Bernice Castella Distinguished Endowed Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

Web: Watch the entire address on BYUtv.

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  1. Winston Churchill, “Never Despair,” speech to House of Commons of the United Kingdom, March 1, 1955.
  2. Personal e-mail communication, March 4, 2013. Used with permission.
  3. Mary C. Neal, To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Waterbrook Press, 2012), p. 102.
  4. Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked,” Children’s Songbook (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1991), p. 214.
  5. Jeffrey R. Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” Ensign, November 1999, p. 38.
  6. Quote attributed to David Ben-Gurion.
  7. See J. Spencer Cornwall, Stories of Our Mormon Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), pp. 123–124, and Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988) pp. 30–32, 79.
  8. Now Let Us Rejoice,” Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 3.
  9. Relief Society Minute Book, Nauvoo, Ill., March 1, 1842, cited in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), p. 14.
  10. The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 60.
  11. C. S. Lewis to “Mrs. Lockley,” Sept. 12, 1949, in C. S. Lewis, Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, (New York City: Harper Collins, 2008), p. 144.
  12. Linda K. Burton, “Is Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ Written in Our Hearts?Ensign, November 2012, pp. 111–14.
  13. Elaine S. Sorensen, “Evening Balm and Morning Manna: Daily Gifts of Healing Grace,” in Dawn H. Anderson and Susette F. Green, eds., Women in the Covenant of Grace (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), p. 267; also in Elaine S. Marshall, “Safe Passage,” in The Gift of the Atonement: Favorite Writings on the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), p. 101.
  14. Holland, p. 36; emphasis in original.
  15. Eliza R. Snow, Poems: Religious, Historical, and Political (1856), pp. 148–49; emphasis in original. Cited in Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 59.