Elizabeth Smart captured the hearts of Americans when she was kidnapped as a young teenager from her bedroom. She agreed to leave with the kidnapper in order to protect the younger sister who shared her room. She was discovered nine months later and it was revealed that she had spent nine months in the hands of a mentally ill couple. The husband had raped her daily and forced her to participate in activities that were repulsive to this highly moral young Mormon girl. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The day after her rescue her mother gave her some advice that changed her life. She told her daughter that the kidnapper had taken nine months of her life she could never get back—but he didn’t have to take any more of it. She advised the girl not to relive the events or to spend days in anger because that gave him continued power over her. Instead, the best revenge was to be happy and have a wonderful life.
Elizabeth recognized the wisdom of the advice and set out to do just that. She returned to the life she’d previously enjoyed and finished school. She went on to Brigham Young University, owned by her religion, and took time off to serve a voluntary eighteen month mission in France, sharing her religion with those who were interested. She had to return briefly to testify in the trial of her kidnapper and had the opportunity at that time to point out to him that his power over her was ended—she was indeed happy and having a great life.
After her mission she returned to college. She married in the Mormon temple and has taken a break from school to write a book. She also started a foundation to help other kidnapped victims and their families. From time to time, she speaks to groups about how to overcome their trials and to be happy, even when life is hard. She advises people not to let their trials control them, but to keep moving forward in life.
Her faith has helped her to accept the educational nature of trials and how they can be used to make us stronger. While God doesn’t cause trials, he sometimes allows them to happen for the greater good. Mormons believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ can bring healing from the very greatest trials.
Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, was in prison for crimes he didn’t commit and asked God why so many terrible things happened to him when he was trying so hard to do the right thing. He received a revelation that answered this question for him, and for everyone else:
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
“Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 122:7–9.)
Even Jesus Christ was not spared suffering and trials. We can’t expect our own lives to be without them—but with the help of the Savior, who understands trials from personal experience, we can, as Elizabeth Smart learned, stay in control and move forward.