The Uses of Adversity

The late Carlfred Broderick was a professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at USC as well as a Stake President. He may have been one of the most profound–not to mention funny–LDS thinkers of his generation.

This is from an essay entitled “The Uses of Adversity,” which began as a talk at a BYU Women’s Conference and later was included in his book My Parents Married on a Dare.

While I was serving as a stake president, the event occurred that I want to use as the keynote to my remarks. I was sitting on the stand at a combined meeting of the stake Primary board and stake Young Women’s board where they were jointly inducting from the Primary into the Young Women’s organization the eleven-year-old girls who that year had made the big step. They had a lovely program. It was one of those fantastic, beautiful presentations—based on the Wizard of Oz, or a take-off on the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy, an eleven-year-old girl, was coming down the yellow brick road together with the tin woodman, the cowardly lion, and the scarecrow. They were singing altered lyrics about the gospel. And Oz, which was one wall of the cultural hall, looked very much like the Los Angeles Temple. They really took off down that road. There were no weeds on that road; there were no munchkins; there were no misplaced tiles; there was no wicked witch of the west. That was one antiseptic yellow brick road, and it was very, very clear that once they got to Oz, they had it made. It was all sewed up.

Following that beautiful presentation with all the snappy tunes and skipping and so on, came a sister who I swear was sent over from Hollywood central casting. (I do not believe she was in my stake; I never saw her before in my life.) She looked as if she had come right off the cover of a fashion magazine—every hair in place—with a photogenic returned missionary husband who looked like he came out of central casting and two or three, or heaven knows how many, photogenic children, all of whom came out of central casting or Kleenex ads or whatever. She enthused over her temple marriage and how wonderful life was with her charming husband and her perfect children and that the young women too could look like her and have a husband like him and children like them if they would stick to the yellow brick road and live in Oz. It was a lovely, sort of tear-jerking, event.

After the event was nearly over, the stake Primary president, who was conducting, made a grave strategic error. She turned to me and, pro forma, said, “President Broderick, is there anything you would like to add to this lovely evening?”

I said, “Yes, there is,” and I don’t think she has ever forgiven me. What I said was this, “Girls, this has been a beautiful program. I commend the gospel with all of its auxiliaries and the temple to you, but I do not want you to believe for one minute that if you keep all the commandments and live as close to the Lord as you can and do everything right and fight off the entire priests quorum one by one and wait chastely for your missionary to return and pay your tithing and attend your meetings, accept calls from the bishop, and have a temple marriage, I do not want you to believe that bad things will not happen to you. And when that happens, I do not want you to say that God was not true. Or, to say, ‘They promised me in Primary, they promised me when I was a Mia Maid, they promised me from the pulpit that if I were very, very good, I would be blessed. But the boy I want doesn’t know I exist, or the missionary I’ve waited for and kept chaste so we both could go to the temple turned out to be a flake,’ or far worse things than any of the above. Sad things—children who are sick or developmentally handicapped, husbands who are not faithful, illnesses that can cripple, or violence, betrayals, hurts, deaths, losses—when those things happen, do not say God is not keeping his promises to me. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.”

I’ve shared this story on several occasions as part of Institute or Sunday School or other lessons; without fail, at least one person will ask for a copy. They may be initially attracted to his borderline irreverence, but they end up falling in love with his clear statement of what God does–and, more importantly, does not–promise as rewards for our obedience.

32 comments for “The Uses of Adversity

  1. I really like this, too, Julie, and am glad you thought to give it circulation here. Too bad Brother Broderick didn’t oversee the selection of photos for church publications! I think the tendency within the church to admire material and telegenic success is one of our gravest, Alma 4:10-esque problems.

  2. I have heard it said that Br. Broderick was sometimes a guest on the Johnny Carson show. Does anybody know if that is true?

    Thanks, Julie. He really is a breath of fresh air, isn’t he?

  3. This has long been one of my favorite essays (read: most useful to me because my expectations are so often mistaken). Thanks for posting this excerpt.

    In this connection: a (probably over-used) quote from Marilynne Robinson: “Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true: ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required” (Gilead, p. 245-6).

    Matt E: Amen!

  4. Great reminder, Julie. Similar story should be told to converts joining the Church.

  5. Thank you for this post.

    It never fails to amaze me how the things we really need are provided to us just when we need them. A close friend of mine was diagnosed with a terminal illness yesterday, and not only did I need this reminder, it’s helped me figure out what to say and how to comfort my friend and her family. Thank you.

  6. Prayers for your friend, Laura (and for you!)

    Life is hard, but with the Lord, we can do hard things.

  7. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.�

    Thanks, I’d never heard this story before.

  8. Beautiful. As I read the first two paragraphs I was having the same thoughts that obviously had gone through President Broderick’s mind. Truer words were never spoken than the counsel he so wisely gave.

  9. Aaron, why would The Tonight Show have invited Broderick? I can’t imagine Johnny introduced him as a Mormon stake president, the author of My Parents Married on a Dare, or even as a professional sociologist. At least, I’ve never seen any other professional sociologist on The Tonight Show.

  10. Susan, it’s really, really good. Wise and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

  11. Brother Broderick’s daughter Jenifer is married to a guy from my old ward in San Mateo, California. He and I went to the same high school.

  12. #16 -Broderick did a lot of research on child sexuality (when boys started liking girls, etc) That’s why he was on Carson. He talks about it in the book.

  13. Broderick also wrote a personal essay about his profession and his faith called “The Core of My Belief,” published in Phil Barlow’s collection entitled “A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars,” (1986)

  14. Matt,

    I looked at the obituary that Edje linked in comment # 14 (written by one of his colleagues at USC, I guess), and the obit confirms that he was invited on the Tonight Show multiple times. Based on the info given, Br. Broderick appears to have had research interests in marital and family therapy as well as an active counselling practice. Maybe he was the forerunner of Dr. Phil, but without the self-promotion.


    The primary to YW event he describes is painful for me to read about. I can imagine lots of damage being done by people with good intentions, but it happens over and over again. Why do we do things like this to each other? I’m glad he had the courage to throw a little cold water on the whole thing, it showed exceptional leadership. My guess is that most of us wouldn’t have rocked the boat.

  15. One of my favorite thoughts (it’s not a quote because I can’t remember it completely or even who said it) is: “Sometimes God doesn’t calm the storm. Sometimes he calms the child within the storm.” It’s that thought and the one expressed in your post, Julie, that get me through the hard times.

  16. “Why do we do things like this to each other?”

    Because virtually all of us are in callings where we are basically incompetent (but trying our hardest) and sometimes we don’t think through our plans. Ask me about the idea I came across online for a Primary Activity Day that consisted of throwing Skittles at stuffed animals to approximate the response to Samuel the Lamanite. Or (and I can’t believe I am admitting this in public) ask me how young and stupid I was when I asked a Sunday School class in BERKELEY to give examples of modern secret combinations.

  17. “ask me how young and stupid I was when I asked a Sunday School class in BERKELEY to give examples of modern secret combinations.” As someone who has taught gospel doctrine in a ward dominated by graduate students and university faculty, I can feel your pain on this one!

  18. _My Parents Married on a Dare_ is one of my favorite books. I can’t believe it isn’t more popular with Church members. I think one of the things I identify with most is that my grandparents married on a dare. Brodrick’s description of how they were married was exactly what happened with my grandparents. This must have been a cultural fad back in the 1920’s-1930.
    Thanks I enjoyed your post.

  19. Julie: I must be really REALLY stupid, but I don’t get why it’s stupid to ask a Sunday School class in Berkeley (or anywhere) examples of modern secret combinations. What am I missing here?

  20. meems,

    Because one man’s secret combination is another man’s politcal party, especially in a ward like Berkeley’s.

  21. FWIW, Dr. Laura used to credit Bro. Broderick frequently with being one of her mentors. For some reason, I always want to call him Broderick Crawford, the lead actor in “Highway Patrol.

    I appreciate quotations from Bro. Broderick. Towards the end of our marriage, and towards the end of his career, my wife and I went to him for counseling, hoping that someone of his high reputation could help. He was losing his mental acuity by then.

    In the first session, he asked why we were upset with each other and just listened to us rant without any constructive wrap-up or direction. We were so upset by the end of the session that we wouldn’t even talk to each other in the parking lot afterwards.

    The following week, he opened the session by asking who we were and how he could help — no recollection of us from the week before. We asked him what we could expect from him and his answer was a puzzlingly vague, “use me how ever you want,” without any explanation of how people like us could use him. We were nearly hopeless, feeling that if a big gun like him couldn’t do any better than that with us, then our marriage probably couldn’t be saved.

    This triggered a brief respite for us, however, as we realized each other saw the lack of help the same way. It brought us to realize that we wouldn’t be able to have our bishop, stake president, or a renowned counselor fix us, but we had to find answers within ourselves. This gave us a little time of cooperation but we eventually came to understand that we w/couldn’t work out our problems. The fault for this is mine, it lies in who I was then.

    For a while, I felt let-down by Bro. Broderick but then accepted that he gave us what he had but there just wasn’t much left when we went to him — he retired within a year of our meetings with him. This is why I appreciate stories like the one posted here: showing me who he had been before I met him helps me feel better towards him, and so get past my disappointment from my experience with him.

  22. Dr. Broderick was a well liked and respected professor in the Psychology department at USC. My wife and I met him first as a therapist. He had a counseling practice outside of his USC work. We became friends and spent many rewarding hours with him and his wonderful wife. He was as wise privately as he was publicly, but funnier. Later we served together as ordinance workers in the Los Angeles Temple. He quipped that his last act as Stake President was to call himself to be an ordinance worker. He loved the temple. His best and funniest stories were always about his own foibles and follies, and he was always able to explain what he learned from his experience. To get more of his wisdom, search the Ensign and used books; also, he made a recording for Covenant, “It Came Out of the Blue Like a Scheduled Airline.� I miss him.

    About pain – I’ve been pondering a statement by C.S. Lewis that I think is more true than I would like it to be: “Nothing will shake a man – or at any rate a man like me – out of his mere verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself. “ The gospel can help us understand and endure and learn, but I think in some form or another, all of us must pass through the valley of the shadow of death to know the truth in our hearts.

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