Louis Zamperini was a person of faith, even though he lost his way at times. When I read his amazing story and watched the movie Unbroken—about how he faced trauma, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and alcoholism—I could relate. And, like Zamperini, faith has played an important role in my sobriety, and my life. However, Louis’ life was definitely more dramatic than mine has been.
Louis became an Olympic track star and then a military officer in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he survived for 47 days on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Then, he was captured by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war.
HOPE AGAINST HOPE
“To hope against all hope” means we hope for something even though it is impossible to see how it could happen. When Louis and his comrade had been adrift in the raft for several days without water, there was no rain in sight. Yet, against all hope, he prayed and promised God he’d commit his life to Him if He’d send rain. The next morning, there was a huge downpour. The very definition of faith means to believe in that which we cannot see.
TRIALS CAN DEEPEN OUR FAITH
Zamperini endured many difficult trials. We tend to think that life would be great if we didn’t have to deal with trouble and pain—if everything could just be easy. Yet, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow in faith. I have often wished I didn’t have to go through the trials I have faced. Yet, I have to admit, I am so grateful for the strength and increased faith I have gained because of my challenges. “No pain, no gain” applies to faith.
FAITH REQUIRES PATIENCE
Only three men survived the plane crash, and only two lived 47 days at sea. It was Zamperini’s faith and persistence that helped pull them through. However, at some point during the two years he was a prisoner of war and frequently beaten by a guard called “the Bird”, he lost faith. He questioned how a loving God could let such things happen. After returning to the United States and getting married, he still felt like God had been “toying” with him. He began drinking heavily and got angry whenever his wife went to church. Four more years passed before Louis returned to church where he remembered the promise he had made to God before it rained. Then he went home and emptied out all the liquor bottles in his cabinet. He never had another drink. Even though it took years, Louis still managed to find faith again and it helped him overcome.
FORGIVENESS INCREASES LIGHT
For years after the war, Louis longed to hunt down the Bird to get revenge. With divine help, he finally found freedom from his prison of hatred. When he learned of the Bird’s death, “something shifted sweetly inside of him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was finally over.”* For me, it has been important to realize that my hatred for those who committed serious sins against me was only hurting myself. And forgiving them didn’t mean they were being “let off the hook.” It meant that I was being released from the strongest emotions that held me bound to them—vengeance and hatred. It takes time for us to heal and reach a place of forgiveness. When we do, we often find those dark places in our heart and mind can finally be illuminated by divine light.
*Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. New York, New York: Random House, 2010, p. 386.
Laurie Campbell is a copywriter for advertising, as well as a volunteer counselor with a masters in mental health counseling. She finds photography and nature go hand-in-hand, increasing spirituality and love for God’s pretty amazing creations.
I’m a trauma queen. My therapist says I’ve been through a greater variety of trauma than anyone she’s ever worked with. Jokingly, I “brag” about it. In reality, I’m surprised I’m still alive. And, miraculously—with heaven’s help—my past is becoming the strongest part of my present and the brightest part of my future. It is in this same spirit that I’m celebrating Holi this year, for the first time.
Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday celebrated mostly in India and Nepal. It starts the night of the full moon just before spring—this year starting March 12th. People gather round a Holika bonfire that symbolizes the burning away of the bad and the victory of good. It’s a time to let go of the past, to forgive and forget. The following day, people gather together and celebrate by “coloring” each other. Brightly colored water and colored powders are thrown on each other until everyone’s drenched in color. It marks the beginning of spring. A time of peace and harmony. A fresh start.
We each have things from our past that can interfere with the present. Whether they’re mild or severe, we’re prone to collect them and the negative emotions attached. Like when someone has said or done something hurtful. Or, when we’ve done something embarrassing or hurtful to someone else. The more upsetting the event, the more likely we are to remember. And, the more the emotions can make us feel worse, over and over again.
So, using a fire to symbolize the burning away of the bad and the victory of good can be healing. Fire is often used to purify, cleanse, and change. In nature, fire makes room for new vegetation to grow and the resulting ashes provide nutrients. So, as a Holika fire symbolically burns away emotions from the past that weigh heavy, it can make room for new growth. Allowing for a celebration where we can enjoy the present.
A few years ago, I was in a group therapy discussion where we were working through difficult issues from the past. The instructor had us write down, on a piece of heavy paper, those memories that kept coming up and troubling us. Then, we went outside, walked off by ourselves, and each burned the list. The paper was thick, so it burned rather slowly. I watched as each troubling emotion was consumed, disappearing into the sky as smoke and falling to the earth as ashes. I was making room for new growth and providing important nutrients for that growth to take place.
I’m looking forward to my first Holika fire. And, the next day, where I can welcome a colorful new season of life.
Laurie Campbell can be found, on the first night of Holi, watching past burdens turn to smoke and ashes. Her celebration of spring the next day will likely be a “Westernized version” where she’ll enjoy Peeps of all colors.
Novelist, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is famed for many things, including her unflinching honesty. Not only did Angelou write about fighting a daily battle against racism, but also her rape at eight years old. The trauma of rape and the fear that her testimony had caused the perpetrator’s murder left Angelou mute for the next five years.
If anyone had the right to wallow in self-pity, Angelou did. Yet she is rarely remembered for the abuses she endured. Instead, she showed incredible faith in herself and in the future. Today, Angelou is remembered for her strong spirit, joie de vivre, and for daily demonstrating the importance of self-empowerment.
Here is some of her advice on self-empowerment:
Step 1: Refuse to be a Victim
“Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
While you may find temporary relief in self-victimization, self-pity is not a place you want to stay for long. This is the time to have your cry, take a few deep breaths, and then resolve not to let your past dictate your future.
Step 2: Forgive
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Forgiving is usually a long and difficult process, but in the end you are the one left with a lighter heart and brighter future. Have faith that sacrificing your grudge will lead you to the kind of healing and freedom you seek.
Step 3: Reject Defeat
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Life will throw everything it has at you—that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a few things back. Hold your head high, throw your shoulders back, dig your heels in, and make up your mind to come out the winner. You have the ability to emerge from life’s storms a stronger, better person than you were before, but it’s going to take equal measures of faith and gumption on your part.
Step 4: Create Your Own Happiness
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“Determine to live your life with flair and laughter.”
Life has an abundance of both woe and wonder, but what we find is what we look for. Have the courage to create happiness for yourself.
Angelou was never one to take a back seat in life. Despite her trials, she declared, “You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Even when life seemed impossible, Maya Angelou had the faith to create a better future for herself. She showed us that we have the power to rise beyond tragedy and hurt. Life was meant to be enjoyed, and like Angelou, we should allow nothing to hold us back.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted with a budget in bookstores or bakeries.
Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s first black president, an anti-Apartheid icon, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and though he wasn’t extremely public about his Christianity, a man of great faith.
Mandela, fiercely devoted to unity in his country and among his people, avoided divisive speech, at least later in his life. In general, that included religious discourse. However, his Christian beliefs were evident in the way he lived his life and in many of his statements on forgiveness, love, equality and optimism.
Here are six statements from Nelson Mandela that affirm the power of faith to overcome fear, prejudice and hate. (For more great quotes from Nelson Mandela and background on some of those listed below, visit https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/selected-quotes)
1. “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” (From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written from the prison on Robben Island, 1 Feb. 1975)
The imagery of a triumphant “sinner who keeps on trying” with “hope that he will rise even in the end” is a decidedly Christian ideal with application to all people — especially those facing adversity.
2. “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.” (Spoken in Kliptown, Soweto, South Africa, 12 July 2008)
Mandela’s acute observation of the power of selflessness is reminiscent of the biblical ideal to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
3. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Mandela’s message of equality, love and tolerance reflects the faithful belief that God is no respecter of persons.
4. “You have to have been in an apartheid prison in South Africa to appreciate the further importance of the church. They tried to isolate us completely from the outside. Our relatives could see us only once every six months. The link was religious organisations, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and members of the Jewish faith. They were the faithful who inspired us. The WCC’s support exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion made to our liberation.” (Address to the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998)
In this statement, Mandela recognized the positive influence of faithful people from all over the world and their effect on him personally.
5. “The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!” (Address to the Zionist Christian Church’s Easter Conferences, 1994.)
Like many Africans, Mandela had faith in Jesus Christ that sustained him through difficult times. He also looked to Christ as an example of unconditional love and as a proponent of equality.
6. “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.” (From his autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom,” on his experiences with Christianity early in life)
People of faith, regardless of specific religious beliefs and practices, are generally concerned with the welfare of their fellow beings all over the world. Mandela recognized the good in these faithful people and praised them for their efforts.
Breanna is the author of one book, the mother of two daughters, and a frequent contributor to several faith-based magazines and blogs. She blogs about her faith, her family, and her favorite things at www.breannaolaveson.com.
“In darkness, God’s light shines most clear.” Corrie ten Boom’s faith shone even in the darkness of the holocaust. This courageous Dutch watchmaker overcame the despair of the Ravensbrück concentration camp as she shared her light with her fellow prisoners throughout the war.
Show Gratitude:“Prayer is the key for the day; the lock for the night” Despite illness, abuse, and grief, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, did their best to give thanks to God. Upon installment in the overcrowded Ravensbrück barracks, Betsie reminded Corrie that they were to “give thanks in every circumstance.” However, when Betsie gave thanks for the fleas, even Corrie balked. Yet she gave thanks, and in the months following, discovered that the same fleas that tormented them nightly kept guards from intruding upon the safety of the barracks during the day.
Serve:“The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God.” Even in prison, Corrie and Betsie prayed and read the Bible with those around them, bringing their light to the darkness of Ravensbrück. Though crippled by illness, they shared what they had and served those who could not help themselves. In serving others, Corrie found a purpose and a peace that would sustain her throughout the war.
Love: When the love of her life married another woman and Corrie’s heart shattered, her father taught her this lesson: “’Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel . . . . Whenever we cannot love in the old human way, God can give us the perfect way,” . . . He had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this; places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.” Corrie learned to love God’s children so much that she sacrificed her freedom to rescue approximately 800 Jews. Later, when she entered those darker rooms of the holocaust, rather than curling in on herself, hiding from the pain, she brought the light of love with her.
Forgive: When God “tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” Corrie discovered that while she felt pity for the abused, Betsie found it in herself to love the abusers. After the war, Corrie fulfilled both sisters’ dreams and founded homes for both former prisoners and guards, giving them the love and time they needed to heal. Later in her ministry, a Ravensbrück guard asked her for forgiveness. He did not recognize her, but she recognized him. In this moment of agony, she turned to God and He filled her with the forgiveness the man sought. In her own words, she taught that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
Trust in God’s Purposes: “Let God’s promises shine on your problems.” Corrie believed that “every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” Instead of being angry at God for allowing her to suffer, Corrie had faith that God had prepared her to take the path she was on. If God willed that she labor in Ravensbrück, losing her sister and father along the way, she trusted that there was a purpose to her suffering. Corrie found the strength to bear her burdens by trusting that they filled God’s purposes. After her miraculous release, Corrie continued to use her experiences in Ravensbrück to share the light of God with people all over the world.
Corrie ten Boom died in 1983, having shone the light of God in some of the darkest moments in history.
You can read Corrie’s autobiography, The Hiding Place, to learn more about her life and faith.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and walk outside and is not to be trusted in bookstores or bakeries.
Born in India in the late 19th century, Mohandas Gandhi, known as ‘Mahatma’ (or ‘Great Soul’) is known for his civil rights leadership. He was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Although he was killed in 1948, his years of civil disobedience to promote peace have influenced countless other leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
What can Gandhi teach us?
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Gandhi fervently believed in humanity. He trusted and had faith that there were good people in the world. In light of recent terrorist attacks, it has been hard to see that goodness (and much of it) still exists in the world today. But, it does! There is still hope. Gandhi’s words are poignant and true. Though there may be a ‘few drops’ in the ocean that are dirty, the entire ocean does not become dirty.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
When you look in the mirror in the morning, what is the first thing you think? If you are standing in a check-out line at the grocery store, what comes to mind as you see the polished figures on magazine covers? If you are faced with sickness, disability, or failure, what do you think about yourself? What are you becoming because of these thoughts? When we immerse ourselves with positive thinking, we will become positive ourselves. If we think that we might fail, we probably will. What we think, we become. Think GOOD thoughts. Think more of yourself. You are doing better than you think.
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
We might feel like our actions are insignificant. It may seem that what we are doing is of no value. Maybe we tell ourselves, “There’s too much bad in the world. It will never change.” Instead of focusing on changing the world, focus on changing yourself. Set goals for how you can improve. If you could change any bad habit, what would it be? Work on remaking yourself first.
“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.”
Again, with recent devastating events happening in the world it is imperative to look outside of ourselves. When tragedies happen, we unite. We show compassion and love. Pure religion is giving service and being sympathetic to those of different backgrounds, religions, and orientation. Today, try to understand what someone else (a coworker, a neighbor, a family member) might be going through—walk a mile in their shoes. When you ask how they are doing, really listen and seek understanding.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Have the faith to forgive others. Forgiveness does not make you weak; it is a strength. As you forgive others, you will feel an added measure of power. Forgiveness enables us to move forward with life, in spite of defeat or hurt. As we exercise the faith to forgive others, we will be more at peace in our own lives. Is there someone that you need to forgive who has wronged you? How can you move forward?
Gandhi taught us to never lose faith in humanity, to watch our thoughts, to remake ourselves, empathize with others, and learn to forgive. Gandhi was a wise man whose life lessons far extend past the 79 years he spent spreading messages of peace, acceptance and love on Earth.
Cheri Peacock Hendricks is a graduate of SUU who loves running on trails, baking and social media.
Those of us that have to interact with other human beings (so, pretty much all of us) know that people aren’t perfect. They can be rude, insensitive, or downright mean. Sometimes, people hurt us in unimaginable ways. But carrying around resentment and bitterness towards others can weigh us down. Holding grudges keeps us stuck and keeps light and happiness from entering our hearts. Here are four tips to let go of grudges so we can enjoy the present.
Tip One: Let go of your identity as the “victim.”
Sometimes we have trouble letting go of the past because we continue to think of ourselves as the person who has been wronged and the other person as the offender — long after the offense has occurred. The problem with this way of thinking is it puts the responsibility of our situation in someone else’s hands. We are powerless. When we stop thinking of ourselves as victims, we can focus on controlling our reactions to our circumstances. That’s empowering.
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tip Two: Recognize that forgiveness is not the same as trust.
Often, we resist letting go of a grudge because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness doesn’t mean being friendly with the person who hurt us, or reconciling an unhealthy relationship. It doesn’t mean we ignore repeated offenses or put ourselves in situations where we will be abused or disrespected again and again. Forgiveness does mean putting aside the need to seek revenge and the wish that the past had been different. Forgiveness is having faith that a higher power will make things right. Forgiveness is shifting the burden of vengeance from ourselves to the same higher power who understands — and loves — all of our hearts. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” —Paul Boese
Tip Three: Give yourself some love.
Another reason we have a hard time letting go of grudges is we focus our attention on the offender rather than on the actual pain of our experience. The moment we were offended was probably terrible. We may have felt embarrassed, terrified, unheard, unwanted, or unimportant. We hold on to the grudge and focus our anger on the wrongdoer to protect ourselves from negative emotions. But the grudge acts like a plug in our hearts, keeping pain in and keeping peace out. The key to pulling the plug on grudges is to give ourselves the love and comfort we didn’t get earlier. If that love is hard to come by, we can rely on our faith. Our faith allows us to tell our higher power about the exact nature of our suffering and then trust that soothing peace and comfort will follow. Our faith invites the love and compassion into our hearts that we need to heal our pain and truly let go.
“At the heart of all anger, all grudges, and all resentment, you’ll always find a fear that hopes to stay anonymous.” – Donald L. Hicks
Tip Four: Remember we don’t have to do it alone.
Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor who wrote and spoke often about the healing power of forgiveness. After speaking once in Munich, a former Nazi guard approached her, hoping for her forgiveness. She was paralyzed, unable to extend her hand — until she realized she didn’t have to create a feeling of good will for this man all on her own. “In that moment,” she later wrote, “something miraculous happened. A current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me…. I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”
With faith, we can tap into a universal source of love, healing, and forgiveness that already exists, instead of trying to create those feelings on our own.
You can probably remember seeing her picture on the news—a girl with blonde hair and a shy smile, sitting next to her harp. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home on June 5, 2002. She was fourteen at the time.
The word of her abduction spread to national news outlets. What started out as an anxious search for one missing girl in Utah, turned into a nationwide effort by thousands to bring her home.
Miraculously, Elizabeth was found nine months later. The details of her captivity emerged, revealing an experience that no one of any age should have to endure. In spite of these troubling circumstances, Elizabeth has amazed the world with her determination to live a full, happy life.
As an abduction survivor, she has turned her efforts to raising awareness of victimization on a global scale. She hopes that no child will ever have to experience the crimes she endured.
How did Elizabeth get through those long nine months of pain and suffering? What kept her from giving up and losing all hope of being found? How has she risen from that dark part of her life with such grace and optimism? She attributes it all to her faith.
“In my own life and in the countless other lives of survivors that I have spoken with, It has been the power of faith that has allowed us to not only persevere, but to find true peace and happiness.”
Elizabeth’s faith healed her deep wounds, set her free from her haunting past, and opened the doors to a brighter future. How has faith healed your heart and the hearts of those around you?