Like all of you, I am sure, I have been inundated by media coverage regarding the death of Michael Jackson. He certainly seems to have been loved by many around the world. However, whether you loved him, hated him, or were indifferent, I think most people would agree that, at the time of his death, he seemed not to be a very happy and content human being. In fact, it seemed to me that he was quite miserable.
His death reminded me of the death of Elvis Presley back in 1977. One writer at the time said that Elvis got what he wanted and then didn't want what he got. And what did he want? It seems that he wanted fame and fortune which would bring him happiness. In his lifetime he accumulated more of that than most people could ever dream of. However, like Michael Jackson, Elvis was not content with his life and died unhappy and discontent.
For many years now I have pondered the question of what it takes for a person to be content with their lot in life. How much money, possessions, accolades, degrees, positions, and fame does it take for one to be content and at peace?
Those of you who know me well have heard me quote Paul's words to the Philippians. I have always found them very challenging on a personal level. Having spent his adult life testifying of Christ and being stoned, beaten with rods and whips many times, spending literally years in dungeons, being ship wrecked, and also having a "thorn in the flesh," some kind of ailment from which he was never cured, he was able to write to the Philippian saints: "... I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." [Philippians 4: 11 (emphasis added)]
In pondering Paul's words and the concept of being content with our lot in life, I believe that it is important to always remember the counsel given to us by Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he said: “... We can and ought to be content with the things allotted to us, being circumstantially content but without being self-satisfied and behaviorally content with ourselves." (3 Ne. 12:48; 27:27; Matt 5:48). (Neal A. Maxwell, May 2000 Ensign, 72)
I believe he was saying we must never fall into the trap of letting our outward circumstances limit or control our behavior and keep us from achieving our full potential.
If Paul is telling the truth about himself, and I believe he was, what had he learned about life that apparently had eluded Michael and Elvis and so many others as well?
He gives us an insight into the source of his contentment when he says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." [Philippians 4:13]
It seems to me that Paul is underscoring and emphasizing the words the Savior spoke to his apostles just prior to entering into the Garden of Gethsemane the last night of his mortal life. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid." [John 14: 27]
The world will never be able to give us the peace, contentment and joy that the Savior can. It is a gift to all who will come unto Him with faith and trust and who will be true to the sacred covenants they make with Him.
Alma taught his son, Corianton, that "wickedness never was happiness." And the reason for it is that "... they [the wicked] have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness." [Alma 41:10-11]
Samuel, the great Lamanite prophet, said a similar thing to the wicked Nephites when he announced to them that the days of their probation were passed, their destruction was made sure, and the reason: "... ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head." [Helman 13:38]
Whenever we are in a state contrary to the nature of God we simply cannot be truly happy or content, experiencing the peace that only the Savior can give to us. Sadly, millions of Heavenly Father's children have lived out their lives never learning that fundamental truth about life.
I had to learn this truth the hard way. 20 years ago when I was injured, for about the following five years I was anything but content with my lot in life and filled with peace. Almost daily my heart was troubled and afraid. About two years into my injury Jo Anne persuaded me to read a book written by Dr. Arnold D. Bissner entitled "Flying without Wings." I wasn't ready for the book. I just couldn't believe many of the things about which Dr. Bissner was writing. Instead of motivating me it actually discouraged me. However, 20 years later, in a very few sentences, he has captured the essence of how I now feel. Dr. Bissner contracted polio as a young adult, finished medical school, and practiced psychiatry the remainder of his life, all from a wheelchair. He wrote: "My disability has taught me a lot and continues to do so. When I was young and physically strong to live life from a wheelchair was unthinkable. When I was disabled it was unacceptable. Gradually over the years however, not only has it become acceptable but I have found it to be satisfying as well."
Can someone paralyzed from the neck down and living each day on life support find that state acceptable and even satisfying? Strange as it may seem it is the truth! Paul was right! What once seemed to be impossible for me has become a reality. We can do all things through Christ which gives us the strength to go forward regardless of our circumstances because of his gifts of peace, contentment and joy. There is no other way! He is the way!