Editor’s Note: This is final article in a thirteen-part weekly series which has run here in Meridian every Tuesday for the last three months. (Click here to read article 1, here to read article 2, here to read article 3, here to read article 4, here to read article 5, here to read article 6, here to read article 7, here to read article 8, here to read article 9, here to read article 10, and here to read article 11., and here to read article 12.)
Readers’ Forum: Thank you all so much for being with us through this series on Family Revelation. To us, there is not a more important topic. Whether you have read all thirteen articles or only one or two, we would love to hear from you and to let other readers hear from you as we end this series. At the end of this final article are a few questions that might make for an interesting readers forum—please hit the comment link and speak to any of them that you wish…or ask some questions of your own.
Again, we want to thank our daughter Saydi for her valuable contributions to this series. Saydi is an extraordinary mother and brings the perspective of the current generation of parents in the thick of raising children and coping with the Corona Pandemic. As always, you will find Saydi’s comments in blue.
It is one thing to ask for and receive Family Revelation in normal times—And something else again to find the help we need in times of Crisis
“Keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” Elder Holland (April Conference 2016)
All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. Chapter 35: The Blessings of Trials, Chastening, and Persecution,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 260–66
As we were writing the first draft of this final article, we were on a plane and on our way to attend the funeral of our nephew whose life was cut short by a terrible illness. My brother and his wife were about to bury their son—something no parent should have to do—something no parent plans to do. It was a time when intense Family Revelation and enormous Divine comfort is desperately needed. Our hearts bled for them and as we all gathered, we all begged for insight and help.
Now, ironically, we are finishing up this article during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic. It is a time when many of us are seeking Family Revelation harder and deeper than we ever have before because the challenges we and our children face are so new to us and so difficult.
This last article in this series is about grappling with events that occur in our families over which we have no control. Challenges that require us to adapt and change and react, challenges that require us to learn things that we may not have wanted to learn—things on which we need revelation and guidance with an intimacy and a clarity beyond what is required in more normal life.
Some of these unplanned and unexpected forms of adversity come upon us as tragedies, and others come simply as changes we are not ready for. But change is the only predictable constant in our lives as we pass through phases and turns and twists that none of us can anticipate or plan.
When life doesn’t turn out as planned, Elder Joseph Wirthlin’s delightful advice always comes to mind. When he was bitterly disappointed in a sudden change to his life-plans, his mother suggested this motto “Come what may and love it!” He continues, “I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.” October Conference 2008
The one thing that can help us most in how we respond and react to crisis or changes or disappointment—is Family Revelation.
Review in your mind the phases of your own life for a moment. Some of these changes could take a book to include all of the details, but just think about the number of times you have entered a new experience that required adjustments and “learning to love it.” From the first day you left the safety of your home for kindergarten, there has been a continual series of new phases, each with its own challenges: middle school, high school, painstaking decisions about college or job choices, serving missions (or not), finding the right career (or not).
There may have been an enormous need for answers from heaven while finding and deciding on a person to marry. Enormous changes and needs for revelation come when deciding where to live (sometimes over and over again). When and how many children to have are sacred decisions that bring dramatic change. Bringing children into the world might have included miscarriages and infertility issues which causes mighty suffering and a need for the comfort of the spirit. Perhaps a divorce or a wayward child brought momentous changes as you begged for inspiration to know what to do and how to learn to love the things that you may initially hate. Those years of living in “the refiner’s fire” with children in our homes bring unimaginable stretching and a constant need for help from Heaven.
Going on to the empty-nest phase of life sounded like it would be a pleasant relief when we were young parents, but as we get there we know that it holds its own special needs for inspiration and change. Much of this phase includes changing our minds, sometimes gritting our teeth and learning to love it. As we enter life with adult children and grandchildren and a “full-time” spouse (or not) additional changes come. In addition, many have ageing parents and often we are sandwiched between caring for our own family and the beloved people who cared for us. Death becomes a bigger part of life. Our prayers get longer and more specific. Our hips and knees begin to give us trouble and we can’t get out of bed without feeling creaky. The changes that our own aging brings also carry a special need for “loving it.”
Larry and Virginia Stevens are our awe-inspiring friends who have been our role model for growing older for many years. Larry is in his 90s and is affected with the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. Raising his head as much as he could over his walker when I asked how he was doing one Sunday, he answered in a laborious, raspy voice (also a result of the disease), “I’m doing as well I can under the circumstances. You know, there is only one opportunity in all of eternity to grow old and I’m making the best of it every day!”
Virginia, a magnificent, brilliant and example of the gospel in action and remains optimistic even with her own failing health and unrelenting back pain at 87. She is always quick to answer our emails to assure us that they are busy working on college courses online, making cookies for the homeless and that she and Larry are holding each other up as they dance in the kitchen every morning to Have I Told You Lately that I Love You. That is the supreme example of coming what may and loving it!
The bottom line is that we need to plan on changes that we can’t control. The attitude and spirit with which we face each surprise, and our ability to keep the door open to Family Revelation will make all the difference.
How do I Replace Faith with Fear in the Upheaval Created by Storms in My Life?
“We came to mortal life to encounter resistance. It was part of the plan for our eternal progress. Without temptation, sickness, pain, and sorrow, there could be no goodness, virtue, appreciation for well-being, or joy.” President Howard W. Hunter [CR, April 1980, p. 34]
The first place most of us go when we are facing big challenges in our lives is to our knees. Abraham Lincoln said “There are times when I am driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”
We petition, bargain with, beseech, entreat, implore the Lord to grant our requests. Sometimes we get just what we ask for and we rejoice. Other times, when we are in the depths of sorrow because of a great crisis the answers don’t seem to come at all. President Nelson shares this wisdom in those circumstances:
“I recognize that, on occasion, some of our most fervent prayers may seem to go unanswered. We wonder, ‘Why?’ I know that feeling! I know the fears and tears of such moments. But I also know that our prayers are never ignored. Our faith is never unappreciated. I know that an all-wise Heavenly Father’s perspective is much broader than is ours. While we know of our mortal problems and pain, He knows of our immortal progress and potential. If we pray to know His will and submit ourselves to it with patience and courage, heavenly healing can take place in His own way and time.”—Russell M. Nelson, “Jesus Christ—the Master Healer,” Ensign,Nov. 2005, 86
The Savior is in our Boat
When we are crying for help from the Savior at the loss of a child or about how to help a family member who is suffering, the most comforting example of how to embrace those storms of life is found in the inspiring story in Mark 4: 35-41. After a long day of teaching multitudes of people through deep and moving parables from the bow of a boat while they listened, mesmerized on the shore, Jesus must have been exhausted. When evening came, the multitude dispersed and to the apostles who were with him he said, “Let us pass over unto the other side.” Apparently, they set sail and Jesus found a pillow and a comfortable spot in the “hinter of the boat” and fell deeply asleep. And then…mayhem! “And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship so that it was now full.”
That ship was full of water and those aboard thought they were about to die! In a panic they awakened the Savior and said, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” As we all know, Jesus arose, rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, “Peace be still.” The wind ceased and there was a great calm. And in that calm, the Savior asked two very instructive questions: “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?”
We would like to think that those questions were spoken not in anger but as a reminder that Jesus, the Savior of the world was there with them in that boat! How could they think that they would perish? Did they not know that he was there and would be protect then? At that moment, the disciples, must have been astonished to realize that Jesus not only could heal the sick and cause the blind to see, He could also control nature! Yet they had neglected to have faith that He would and would save them? Perhaps this was another parable, using them instead of a fictional character to teach a valuable lesson. The Savior was perhaps giving them a loving reminder that they must replace fear with faith, even in the most violent storms and know that He would surely be there to guide and protect them during all the storms of their lives.
So it is with us! He is with us during our life-changes and our grueling trials. And even though, at times, it may feel as though Jesus is asleep while we are suffering, in actuality He will be there to say, “Peace be still.” In essence, he will be assuring us, even though our storms may be long and arduous, that “It’s all going to be alright!” He is in the boat with us and will help us see our way through our dark places.
There have been times when I have felt abandoned by the Savior, like those disciples might have felt in that small boat on that story sea. Sure, the master of the universe was in their boat, but he was asleep on a pillow. In these times it’s easy to really start to feel as if you’re perishing and no one cares to come and rescue. But when we cling to faith instead of fear, if we can remind ourselves that Jesus is in our boat, that He is aware of us and our storms, that He has miraculous power over our lives.
Christ does have power to calm storms in our lives, but, perhaps most miraculously Christ has power to calm the storms within us. In this story, perhaps Christ’s command to “be still” was directed less to the winds and waves and more to the frantic hearts of the disciples. Even more than praying for storms to cease, we have to let Christ calm our fears as whisper peace to our stormy souls.
In the story of the Jaredites it was the storms and winds that drove them towards their promised land. So it is with us, the adversity God allows as part of mortality can be the driving force of progression for us, and for our families, if we can trust in God’s plan, seek His light for our vessels and allow him to command our souls: “peace, be still.”
Our best lifeline through the difficult changes and challenges in life is to diligently continue to seek guidance from the Savior. And with the help of a loving God and The Comforter we can navigate the arduous, ever-changing gyroscope of our lives with faith and love. Life is full of dealing with the distressing realities that we all shouted with joy to accept in that distant council in heaven. People we love make mistakes and so do we. There are endless stories that involve grief and pain in our lives: A beloved child or family member who has left the church, a spouse who has been unfaithful, a family member who has a chronic addiction, even one whose pain has caused him or her to take their own life.
Help from the Spirit
The list of things that cause grief in our lives goes on and on! But the list of gifts that can help us make our way through the trials that cause grief are also endless. We love this list of things that the Holy Ghost can do for us compiled by Parley P. Pratt. It is not only comprehensive but glorious! We should read this every day. It would help us remember that the Holy Ghost can help us with everything, including becoming more beautiful, inside and out!
“The gift of the Holy Ghost … quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man [and I’m sure he almost meant woman’. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being” (Key to the Science of Theology, 9th ed. , 101)
The beautiful promise of Elder Pratt’s quote is that utilizing the gift of the Holy Ghost can steady us and help us become the best of who we really are. The Holy Ghost refines us, even as our trials help us figure out who we really are and “what we’re made of.” Opposition is part of God’s plan for happiness. And with Jesus at the helm of “our boat” and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost we can embrace the tests of life and overcome them in ways that we never would have imagined! If we “bear it well” we will love what we have learned and who we have become through life’s trials.
We love this quote: “Grief does not change you… It reveals you.” John Green,( The Fault in Our Stars). And with the help of our Savior and the Holy Ghost it can also strengthen you!
As Elder Maxwell said,
“Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, “Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991).
In the following sections we will look at some real-world examples from families who have experienced grief and undesired change for a variety of reasons; and how Family Revelation has helped them navigate their storms. You may see similarities to your own family. Hopefully, looking at examples from the lives of others will spark ideas that will reveal ways to help replace fear with faith in our own lives as we navigate the trials of our lives and as we are reminded that the Savior is always “in the boat” with us.
Storms in our lives are and will continue to be abundant! We certainly do not consider ourselves experts, on solving any of these problems but the next six sections of this article, we explore just a few of the life-changes that many and even most of us have faced or will face in life. If not to us, to someone we love. Each of those difficult things stretch and test us and create an extreme need for help from Heaven to guide and sustain us through these high-risk phases and events as we have experienced them. Each is headlined with a question—a tough question.
1. How can I seek Family Revelation in dealing with the great epidemic of our generation…mental illness?
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed…While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, non-judgmental, and kind” Elder Holland (Like a Broken Vessel October 2013)
“Along with the bright colors of happiness and joy, the darker-colored threads of trial and tragedy are woven deeply into the fabric of our Father’s plan.” Neil L. Andersen (from Wounded)
In the Eyre family, we have children living all over creation with their young families. Two in Europe, one in Hawaii, one in New York City and the rest scattered around in between. We love attending church with them when we are visiting and meeting the beautiful saints of their congregations, from small branches to giant wards. Interestingly within about a three-month period, I (Linda) attended three different Relief Society meetings where the discussion was centered on Elder Neil A. Andersen’s talk in the October 2018 Conference call “Wounded.”
By the third time I heard the discussion (which was different and fascinating each time), I realized that that being wounded was a big part of everyone’s’ lives. One teacher pointed out that in the Book of Mormon story, even though none of those dear, faithful, dedicated Stripling Warriors were killed, they were all wounded. Each time the word “wounded” came up in the discussion it opened Pandora’s Box and I was amazed at the honestly with which dear sisters shared their stories of being wounded. In most cases, the discussion eventually evolved to the epidemic of our generation…anxiety and depression. Our world has become enmeshed and even obsessed with this insidious illness that has touched almost every family.
During the three years we presided in the London South Mission four decades ago, we were privileged to serve with more than 600 wonderful young missionaries. Of course, many of them had medical problems but anxiety and depression as we know it today was hardly ever mentioned. There was clearly anxiety in the faces of when those trembling, literally green missionaries showed up at our doorstep in England. having no idea of what the next two years or eighteen months would hold for them. But most learned to replace their fear with faith and they went on to acclimate to “the best time of their lives.”
Occasionally when a missionary brought up concerns about feeling discouraged and “down,” we would suggest that he needed to “work harder” and gave him a companion that would accommodate that. And the amazing thing is that that it usually worked. There certainly were some who were clinical depressed and would have benefited from professional help, but deep depression was rare and so little was known about it. What a different world it was for missionaries forty years ago, before the greater onslaught of depression and prior to the beginning of the massive information explosion that pervades everything.
Today there is probably more talk about issues surrounding depression and anxiety and a plethora of difficulties related to mental illness (not only with missionaries but in society at large) than has ever existed in the history of time.
My mother, who had never had a down-day in her life, fell when she was in her 80’s and broke her hip. Her whole identity revolved around an active life filled with the joy of athletics and service. Something got tangled up in her brain and she became clinically depressed! My sister and I were at our wits end praying for answers, pleading for direction, for relief, for understanding and for help! Medications only seemed to make things worse.
In Your own Life
By now, you will almost certainly be thinking about someone you love who is in a dark place, whether it be depression, or other issues concerning the continually rising numbers of people suffering with various forms of mental illness.
Living with and caring for those who are dealing with mental illness can be grueling and even debilitating. Those of us who have never experienced more than a short period of time feeling depressed about something, find it hard to understand and empathize with those who are suffering from deep or clinical depression.
Sincere prayers for revelation on how to help are important but often revelation comes through people who really know how to help. One young woman, suffering with clinical depression was sure that the Savior would save her. After endless prayers and a long wait she was guided to the understanding that her help on earth was to be found in professionals and medical doctors who had spent their lives being inspired to find mediations that would help those in need. She learned that it was important to seek for counselors, therapists and medications for help. In addition, she was prompted to find a friend who had also experienced depression and had found relief…someone who could get down in that dark hole with her and help her figure out how to get out.
There is no one size fits all answer for you or a loved one who is struggling with depression or mental illness. This is where revelation comes in. For some the answer might lie in finding a good therapist for others, seeking the correct medication. For some the answer might be to make some life changes, find a better support system or connect on a deeper level with loved ones. There are as many different paths through these struggles are there are people who are affected. Our job is to connect with God and ask him to help us know which path we, or a family member should take.
Sometimes we grossly underestimate the depth and resistance of depression. A mother who was desperate to help her adult son—who was curled up in a ball in his dark room, wishing to die—thought that perhaps reading him an article from The Ensign that she found so inspiring would help. Years later, after massive research on depression and treatments that included shock therapy, she realized how uninformed she had been to her son’s real needs.
Until you’ve experienced a mental illness there is no way to completely understand what it’s like and we do our friends and family a disservice when we try to pretend we know what they’re experiencing. From a perspective of mental health, it’s so easy to be baffled by the behavior, perspective and thoughts of one who is suffering from mental illness.
As mentioned at the outset of this article, my cousin recently passed away after struggling with a mental illness for 20 years. At his funeral a dream was shared that his father had. In the dream my cousin was in a large body of water, panicking as he was attached to a chain and weight pulling him down below the surface.
Full of determination and power he swam with all his might to make it to the surface for air. Despite being continually pulled down he kept swimming with all his might to break free. He swam and struggled and reached until finally the chain was broken and he surfaced, breathing in a big gulp of air and freedom.
Because mental illness is impossible to understand from the outside, often it looks to an outsider like the person struggling isn’t trying hard enough, isn’t working, should maybe just tweak this one thing, or change their mind and buck up.
We have to remind ourselves that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Often on the inside people are swimming and struggling and reaching, only to be continually pulled under by a weight and chain.
The Church has quite incredible resources online for those in need of help with mental illness. At ChurchofJesusChrist.org/mental illness, you will find the words of Elder Holland, who gave a searing talk on mental illness in conference in October, 2013 called Like a Broken Vessel (small portion quoted above and below) where he inspires those who are affected and those who are compassionately trying to help with stories from those who are or were suffering with depression. He introduces us to a world of inspiration and help for those who are suffering.
As you continue to peruse that extensive site, you will hear words of love and hope from others who have or are suffering. You will hear phrases like “Trust in the Savior, Have courage, Christ will never leave you. Trials help you come closer to Him. You’re not alone. Don’t you quit. He knows our weaknesses and still loves me. I can become what I was intended to be through the Atonement. If hold on and trust in the Atonement. There is absolutely hope”.
And these are the same messages that will reach us through the Family Revelation that will answer our prayers, except that our personal revelation will be more specific and will come with more power.
Above all we must remember to feel God’s love for us and our loved ones whose lives are in turmoil. And remember that He said “I have graven thee upon palms of my hand.” (Isaiah 49:16). He loves each individual with a love beyond our understanding. He will be standing there on our doorstep with a light to help us navigate those days of feeling helpless.
Elder Holland pleads: “Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. As President Monson said to the Relief Society sisters so movingly last Saturday evening: “That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.”4Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.” (Like a Broken Vessel October 2013).
“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.” Anonymous
2. How can I seek Family Revelation to help those who struggle with addictions?
“When hope seems lost, when the very jaws of hell seem to gape after us (see D&C 122:7), we can be secure in the knowledge that Christ’s love is eternal and everlasting”. Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Satan is raging in a world full of subtle “enticings.” Today, we have our very own object “of curious workmanship” in our pockets or purses. But this one, unlike the one that led Lehi and his family the right direction in the wilderness, can lead us either to the brightest destinations or the darkest wilderness. Though many good “directions” come from the information explosion, it has also created extensive havoc. Countless marriages and lives have been disrupted and sometimes destroyed by the new drug called pornography. It has become one of Satan’s most effective tools to produce guilt and make people think that they have already gone so far downhill that there’s no going back. They are hooked! And as members of the church, we are not exempt and may even be prime targets. Interestingly excellent insights and help can be found online at several church sites as well as a highly successful worldwide online website about pornography addiction at fightthenewdrug.org.
But our greatest help will come through our own personal Family Revelation.
The Internet, smartphones and social media are grabbing our children’s minds. These “curious objects” have affected our children in ways that were unimaginable to our ancestors. Teenagers and often their parents as well are addicted to their “devices” and check for “direction” multiple times a day. Many of our own missionaries have struggled with FOMO (fear of missing out) as they enter the mission field torn away from the addictive magnetism of social media and the Internet—and are sometimes unable to cope with the separation.
As our adult children have struggled with what to do about the addictive nature of electronic media with their children, they have discovered that one of the best ways to handle restrictions is to let their kids be part of the solution. Instead of taking phones away after an infraction of a rule, they have had multiple family councils where parents have explained the dangers of devices and kids have helped decide on the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Systems have been put in place that allows parents to turn off their devices including phones, computers and computer games until homework, music practice and sports are completed. The key getting the kids be on board with the dangers of technology and the principles behind the importance of limits and then having them help set agreed-on the rules for use. It is a perfect example of Joseph Smith’s admonition to “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”
The Church has exceptional programs for people struggling with addictions of all kinds and has helped countless numbers of people find a better path. However, for some, the decision to change is too hard. The spectrum of addictions is wide and varied and sadly, the effects of addictions involve not only that person but their families, sometimes for generations.
Each of us has our own story of loved ones with addictions.
I (Linda) have a half-brother who died of alcoholism. He lived in a time before anyone really knew how to treat an addiction to alcohol. He was kind and soft-spoken but hopelessly addicted. He married a woman who was bright and happy except when she was drinking. Then she became abusive. Although they have both passed away, their wonderful oldest child has now lived with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for 63 years. Their second daughter, 61 has emphysema as a result of having been addicted to cigarettes since she was in high school.
A dear friend had a son with some learning disabilities in high school and started drinking and smoking with a crowd of friends where he felt comfortable. There may never have been a more supportive family in history who have continued to love this young man unconditionally. His mother has helped him through the church’s addition program several times and he has gone with determination to change with real intent. But with all those good intentions, and with high hopes every time and some long periods of success, he has not yet completely succeeded in overcoming his addiction. The most important part is that this family, including that troubled son, refuses to give up! He is always ready to try again.
There is a reason that this young man and his family haven’t given up. Years ago when the problems became severe, the father of this family called for a family council where they all, together, sought Family Revelation. The mom and the other five children in the family were gathered together to work on a plan to help. They rallied around him with love and support.
Twelve years ago, when the father of that family died suddenly, the mother took the reins and continued to call for family councils (by now the children were all married with families of their own) to help their brother as needs continued. After years of petitioning the Lord for new ways to help this son, this family has been inspired to extend not only unconditional love, but also tough unconditional love as this beloved son and brother works his way through his time on earth.
He continues to believe in the universal quote, “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again” Progress is slow. Sometimes it seems as though progress is going two steps forward and one back but as his family continue to rally around him, they all have hope that through continuing inspiration, they can help him to conquer this ugly, Satan-backed addiction. Through it all, this family has learned not only to increase their love for their brother but to have a special love for each other and for their directions from the Lord on his behalf.
Family Councils are useful for all families but especially for families who are experiencing the critical issues of addiction. As we try to help those who suffer with the really hard things in life and plead for help from Heaven to help those who suffer with addictions which are one of Satan’s greatest tools to beguile those we love to listen to his voice.
“For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil” (Alma 5:40).
Elder Faust said, “Who has not heard and felt the enticings of the devil? His voice often sounds so reasonable and his message so easy to justify. It is an enticing, intriguing voice with dulcet tones. It is neither hard nor discordant. No one would listen to Satan’s voice if it sounded harsh or mean. If the devil’s voice were unpleasant, it would not entice people to listen to it. Shakespeare wrote, “The prince of darkness is a gentleman” (King Lear,act 3, sc. 4, line 143), and “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, line 95). As the great deceiver, Lucifer has marvelous powers of deception. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; see also 2 Ne. 9:9).” Elder James E. Faust from The Great Imitator, 1987
Answers to our prayers—our pleading for help with loved ones who are in the grip of addictions—will sometimes be that we have to allow those we dearly love to exercise their free agency. This is sometimes excruciating as we see those we love suffer because of bad decisions and the snares of Satan. But in the process, we learn so much about life and ourselves and God’s plan for happiness. We stretch in ways that we never thought possible as we are guided by direct revelation and comforted from the Holy Ghost. In the end much of what we learn as we go through those hard times with those we love are treasures!
This beautiful little poem from Mary Oliver speaks volumes in a few sentences that applies so beautifully to all of us who deal with loved ones over which we have no ultimate control :
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
That this, too, was a gift.
3. How can I receive help from heaven when a child or someone I love has left the Church?
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverb 3”5-6
Robin Zenger Baker wrote an article (found on chruchofjesuschrist.org) on April 27, 2017 called When Your Child Chooses a Different Path after two of her daughters left the church. She told of feeling like a failure as a parent when she thought of the well-known admonition: “No success can compensate for failure in the home,” until she found a quote from Harold B. Lee that said, “No home is a failure as long as that home does not give up.” She goes on to say, “In my conversations with other parents whose children have chosen to leave the Church, I discovered that the sentiment of failure among parents is not uncommon. But parents don’t need to carry this burden. Whether your child believes in the Church is just one aspect of their journey and doesn’t have to be the only factor we consider when we measure our success as parents.”
As parents grapple with family members who have fallen away from the church, it may be a good to remember that each of us came to this world packed with vastly different gifts and different spiritual aptitudes. May we once again emphasis our testimony of the reality that when we enter this earth life, we come with our own unique spirits as children of our Heavenly Parents. Children “come who they are” as eternal spirits who came to earth with personalities and intellects that had been developing ions before they came to earth.And strong, sometimes rebellious spirits can bring a lot of grief! But even though grief is inevitable, the answer for parents and family members who feel helpless in the grief of a child leaving the church is always the same: Unconditional Love! Easily said, not easily done! Let’s explore a little deeper.
Agency and Growth
Sometimes allowing our children to exercise their free agency, especially when we think they are not “in their right mind” and continuing to love them unconditionally is a revelation in itself.
Listening to a podcast of another young man, who decided at age thirteen that he was not going to Church, shed some light and even inspiration on how important it is to respect our children’s free agency, even when we think that a decision is wrong. He said that the opposition from his well-meaning family after his decision to stop going to church on Sundays created some deep scars of insecurity and further doubt in his mind.
This young man spent twenty years on a global search for the truth in other Eastern religions and said that he gained a wider perspective of different ways of looking at the world and a lot of truth that he had not been able to find in the Church. To make a long, complicated story short, after two decades of searching, the discoveries he made through soul searching and meditation along with wise counsel in his youth from a loving grandfather—who promised him that he knew that he had a very important purpose for coming to earth and that he would always support and love him, no matter what his decision about the church would be— played a big part in his decision to come back to the Church. Sometimes grandparents can be inspired to help grandchildren in a way that parents can’t. This beloved son is now learning to love the gospel in a totally different way as he learns the doctrines of the restored gospel for the first time as the Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward. When he came back, he felt that he was stronger in his faith because of what he had learned from Eastern religions and other sources of truth. He affirms, “I came back bearing gifts.”
In talking to his wonderful mother, she said that she and her husband were totally heartbroken when it looked as though life for their son’s life was not going to turn out as planned. She couldn’t figure out how he could have grown up in a family with many other children who followed the plan so eagerly while this one just couldn’t get it and had such a rebellious nature.
When I asked her how long she was angry she calculated for minute and then said, “About 12 years.” She said that she had always loved him unconditionally and had been in touch with him as he traveled through the world in his quest for truth. At one point his father got a clear revelation that the most important things for them to do was to keep him attached to the family. The mother said one of her greatest revelations came when she was crying out to the Lord, “Please help my son!” The answer came: “He is my son too!”
“Those years of watching all my son’s high school friends leave and come home from their missions was heart wrenching,” his mom confided. “But now I see that several of those returned missionary friends have fallen away from the church.”
The lessons this family has learned as they progressed through life with its ups and downs have been invaluable. They have certainly been comforted through their search for Family Revelation in their quest for empathy and unconditional love.
Elaine Cannon in a small book on adversity wrote:. When we are pushed, stung, defeated, embarrassed, hurt, rejected, tormented, forgotten—when we are in agony of spirit crying out “why me?”we are in a position to learn something. [Elaine Cannon, Adversity, p. 47]
And what we must learn and remember is that our wayward children and loved ones were there with us in that grand council in Heaven when we all shouted for joy to come to earth and experience not only joy but loss and sorrow. In the Book of Mormon, both the steadfast and immovable Alma and Mosiah lost sons who not only fell away from the church but also persecuted the members in extreme wickedness. These sons made a miraculous come-back, which may not happen right away or even in this life to our children who have left the church But as it says in Proverbs, we must trust in the Lord and not lean unto our own understanding. Not only is life long, but the Millennium is even longer and Eternity is forever! Things can change…in time or in eternity.
After living in Boston for 25 years we moved to Utah and were shocked at how much talk, grief and agony there is in the church culture due to children “leaving the church.” In meeting new people in Salt Lake, I’ve been amazed at how many first, introductory conversations have focused on children who have left: “Yes, I have 3 children, but only one of them is still active.”
I’ve come to believe that we are using the wrong markers to judge our children and their success. This idea of “active” is very arbitrary. What does it mean? To be attending meetings? To hold a calling? What about a teenager who is “actively” working on figuring out what they believe? What about a young adult who is “actively” working through some doubts. What about a young mother who is not currently attending church, but “actively” working to serve those around her in sincere, Christ-like ways. And on the flip side, what about a 25-year-old who is going through all the “active” motions of going to church, attending the temple, fulfilling a calling, but who is emotionally or physically abusive to his wife?
Of course we want our children to fully participate in the blessings associated with the Church culture and gospel truths. Of course we want them to follow the binding and buoying covenant path. But, it’s important that we don’t get caught up in the cultural markers of what it means to be a true and good disciple of Christ.
If we stay close to God and try to tune into his wavelength He can reveal to us the way that He sees our wayward children. He can fill us with love for them and compassion and understanding of their choices and struggles. And He can remind us that the covenants we have made also have binding power over our children throughout the eternities. Eternity is much longer than we realize during the day to day and our children are tethered to Christ through our covenants.
I often tell my children who are ever bent on parenting each other: “stay in your own business! You don’t need to worry about what your sibling is doing! That is my job, you can relax and worry ONLY about the actions you are taking to do the right thing.” As our children get older and exercise their agency more and more we can imagine our Heavenly Father saying something similar to us. Not that we shouldn’t pray for them, and seek guidance on how to love them best, but we can let them choose and leave the intervening to our all-knowing Father.
I do love that when Alma the younger was visited by the angel he was told that the angel was sent due to the pleadings of his father. Our prayers on behalf of our children have more of an effect on God’s dealings in their lives than we can ever see or know in this life.
Having faith that things will work out in the end is a crucial component of dealing with the distressing, sometimes debilitating things in our lives is the key to our peace of mind. We are indebted to Elder Howard W. Hunter for these wise words: “A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent.” (Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 65.)
“We are on earth to demonstrate the same trust in Him that allowed us to stand with Jesus Christ when He declared, “Here am I, send me.”7
Bonnie H. Cordon April Conference 2017
4. How can family revelation give me hope when a child has serious lifelong disabilities?
“Adversities are temporary. What is permanent if what we become by the way we react to them” Elder Dallen H. Oaks
Bless those valiant souls who adopt children because they have disabilities! And the many parents who feel that their greatest gift in life is their child with special needs! Those beautiful spirits in troublesome bodies and minds teach us so much!
The Special Oympics has been a fabulous new awakening to the world of what is possible for kids with disabilities. In 2011 Barry Morrow who won the Academy Award for his film Rain Man, gave his Golden Statue to Kim Peek, a Utah native and a Savant about whose life the movie was based. Kim and his father traveled the world with the statue inspiring those lives he touched with the value of those wonderful souls whose disabilities also give them special abilites. The Peek Award given every year since, has honored media makers who positively affect our society’s awareness and perceptions of people with disabilities. The Award for 2019 went to Dan Habib for creating an wonderful body of work about disabled people, including a documentary called Intellegent Lives. It is astonishing and we highly recommend it!
When babies are born with unexpected lifelong special needs, it can be devastating. Somehow almost everyone we know who has had a disabled child, knows the wonderful story that Laurie Ballam recorded on a cassette tape that she made with her husband Michael in 1997 called Unexpected Journey. She recorded her thoughts after the birth of their son who was born with significant life-long disabilities that would change their lives and the life of their family forever.
To paraphrase as nearly as I can remember, Laurie uses the clever metaphor of boarding a plane, excited about a trip to the tropics with all the clothing and other items needed to enjoy the warmth and sunshine at her destination. When she lands, the airplane door opens and she is stunned to realize she has been taken to a Scandinavian country in the middle of winter. Totally unprepared for the surprise and unequipped to cope with the situation, she is at first angry and is desperate to go back to where she had intended to go. But as she learns there is no way to go back, she works to embrace the change with courage and flexibility. In the end she is even embracing what she learned there with joy, realizing that she could never have discovered what she needed to know about herself and others, had that unexpected change of events not happened.
Lucy, the last child of our daughter Shawni was born with Bardiet Biedl Syndrome (BBS), a very rare syndrome that involves a variety of difficult issues. Most kids with the syndrome become blind usually between ages 11 and 14 and have serious issues with weight. The hormone in their pituitary glands called leptin, which tells them that they are have eaten enough is missing. Kids with BBS are always hungry. Lucy is twelve and losing her sight. Her night vision is almost gone and she uses a cane to navigate during the day, although she can still see to read and can see fairly well in the daytime if the light is bright.
The BBS kids also have some autistic tendencies and some ADHD issues but we Love Lucy! But the needs are endless. There are multiple genetic issues that are different in each BBS child’s case and the syndrome is so rare that parents are pretty much on their own as they deal with each individual child’s issues and needs.
Countless hours have been spent with Lucy as wonderful social workers and a braille teacher (who is a true champion) have directed her to learn what she needs to know to deal with her world. As adolescence approaches Lucy’s parents are deeply concerned about difficult social “issues” which are inevitable even in the best-case scenario in Jr High. In addition, her wonderful parents are working to keep up with the needs of their other four kids. It’s not easy! Here are some of Shawni’s thoughts of being overwhelmed, along with little bursts of inspiration.
“I feel like my life is spinning out of control with so many needs right now—and Lucy is sort of on the outer spin, her friends, her emotions, her school work, …they’ve all taken a spot in the fray. I keep getting this tug to sit with her quietly, looking into her eyes to try to help her make sense of the continually changing world she’s grappling with. So we started reading “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” in small increments and I’ve made a conscious effort to stop and look in her eyes, cup her chin in my hands (like my favorite picture of Christ does) and try to glimpse into her soul and figure out how to help. But those moments are just that: glimpses, and then I’m off to the next thing. I wish life could slow down.”
Most certainly Shawni and her husband David have landed in a place that they didn’t expect. They were all packed up to go to a different place with this fifth child. And there’s no going back. Life with a disabled child changes life every day. Like so many parents of children with special needs, prayers, inspiration, revelation, desperation, and innovation, have helped on a day to day process of discovering new ideas and new paths that have been a result of endless prayers for help.
Because of Lucy’s special world, their lives and the lives of their children have been changed and enlightened in ways that would have been impossible, had they not had the opportunity to nurture a child that required such constant revelation for a loving Heavenly Father to help them find their way in a maze of uncertainty. The whole family not only adores Lucy, but have such compassion for other children with special needs. They have learned what the pure love of Christ really means.
Parents who deal with the life-long difficulties and complications of raising a child with special needs also develop a refinement of the spirit and a certain kind of sanctification that belongs only to those who have spent their lives in the service of a beautiful child with a dysfunctional body and/or mind. That child’s progress in life, brings deep sorrow and unimaginable joy.
Most of the difficulties in our lives are temporary. Injuries get better. Life-phases change. Naughty children often grow up to be amazing human beings. We pass through trials. But raising a child with disabilities is lifelong. It is a never-ending search for how to make things the best they can be.
The best and absolutely joyful aspect of this is that most of those who have disabilities also have unusual capabilities. Lucy is an astonishing artist, has learned to play the piano (via jumbo notes carefully created by her dedicated and loving teacher). One of her greatest attributes is her delightfully contagious giggle. She is a genius at legos and can beat her grandparents in any card game, including Bridge. Often, she sees the world in ways that we wish could, and she is a master at telling it like it is!
After spending time with the noble spirits with special needs, we realize again and again that they teach us things that lift and inspire us! Kim Peek, with his incredible abilities as a savant shared his gift of memory and with numbers with hundreds of audiences all over the world. Afer his presentation he delighted children by letting them not only admire but hold the precious “Gold-Leafed Statuette” from the Academy Award. By the time he returned from his tour, the gold was almost completely worn off . When asked what happened to the gold, he gave an answer that only he would think of. He said, “It’s on the hands of the children!”
In his talk in October 1989 Elder Carols Amado said an interesting thing:
“Basically, we limit our vision to the events that happen in this life with the greatest emphasis placed on the present. Only when we fix our gaze on the heavenly things do we begin to understand the eternities.”
Life seems long when dealing with children with special needs. And as they age, thinking about their future lives on earth is often ever more daunting. But in the end, it makes us smile when we think of the great joy that comes from thinking of what it will be like as these special souls pass through the veil and rejoice with loved ones who greet them as they emerge through the veil and leave their earthly bodies and disabilities behind. Those of us who are left behind long to know how she will look in that new realm. What treasures will lie in her soul that she was unable to express on earth?
In reference to the resurrection, Alma says, “the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.” (Alma 11:43.) Afflictions, like mortality, are temporary.
And so indescribable joy will come with the resurrection, when those troublesome bodies and minds are restored to perfection. It will be a joy beyond imagination to put our arms around Lucy’s formally disabled body and mind in all her glory and to feel the love of the Lord as that child meets parents and family, caregivers and loved ones as themselves…for the first time. It will be immeasurable joy in the pure love of Christ.
5. How can I receive revelation to forgive family member who have caused deep injustices?
“My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify that forgiving and forsaking offenses, old or new, is central to the grandeur of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Conference, October 2018
The following personal story might bring some stories of injustice in your own life to mind:
Eighty-year-old Wanda was slowly pulling out of her driveway in her car when a three-year-old, who was walking along with her parents on a Saturday afternoon dashed into her path. There was a small gash on the child’s forehead and the horrified, deeply compassionate grandma and the child’s parents rushed her to a nearby hospital for stitches and an examination which showed no brain damage. Shaken but thinking of how much worse the accident could have been they all went home feeling grateful.
Within a few weeks, when Wanda was still struggling to recover from the trauma, she received notice that she was being sued by the other family. For the next two years, when the case finally went to court, that dear humble grandmother hardly slept a full night, agonizing over the details of that day, worrying about the child, about insurance issues and about how much money she might have to pay including money for an attorney. The greatest sadness was that little child was the child of an extended family member. It literally crushed Wanda’s soul to think that a relative could cause such anguish. On the day of the trial, the relatives with the “injured” child won, and the father of the child, who hadn’t spoken to Wanda since the day of the accident walked up to her in the hall of the courthouse and said, “This isn’t about you Aunt Wanda. We just needed the money”
Wanda’s insurance paid for the damages and even though it was a huge relief, Wanda was never quite the same. She eventually recovered although that incident brought an abundance of gray hair and may have taken a couple of years off of her life. She tried to forgive and forget. But her daughter Emily, who lived several hours away, did not. No sorrow or repentance for their actions was ever mentioned by the young couple and seeing her mother suffer all that time over such an injustice had left her feeling more like a Mother Bear than a daughter.
It was a load that Emily carried for years until she went to visit her mom one summer and came face to face with the injured child’s mother. The Mother didn’t recognize her but as Emily looked into her face she realized that this woman was entirely unaware of the horror she and her husband had inflicted on her mother. So unaware that it probably had never occurred to either parent to apologize. They just “needed the money.” In a flash, a revelation came to her mind as she remembered the magnanimous words of the Savior at the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” She heaved a huge sigh as she realized it was time to forgive and forget. A long-carried load of resentment and anger lifted from her soul and she felt free.
The church scholar Hugh Nibley at one time in his life had an after-death experience. Without going into detail, he said that what he learned changed his life: “We’re just dabbling around, playing around, being tested for our moral qualities, and above all, learning the two things that we can be good at: we can forgive and we can repent.”4 ( Boyd Jay Petersen, “Hugh Nibley: A Life of Faith, Learning, and Teaching,” BYU Religious Education Review, winter 2010, 13;) (this was taken from a speech by D. Todd Christopherson at the April 22, 2010 BYU commencement speech.
Volumes could be written about family angst because of misunderstandings and injustices. If we’re not careful feelings of anger or even hate in our families can take over lives. As I contemplated this story, it was evident that one can forgive, even when repentance is not part of the mix. Carrying indignation and wrath, especially if it is a toward a family member is a very heavy load to drag around in life. We love this thought: “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Unknown
In the same conference talk referred to above Elder Holland said “I testify that forgiving and forsaking offenses, old or new, is central to the grandeur of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that ultimately such spiritual repair can come only from our divine Redeemer, He who rushes to our aid “with healing in his wings.”16
An inspiring friend who has dealt with a stunning setback in their family that involved an unfaithful son and a lot of broken hearts, was thinking about how to mend her broken heart and to forgive. In a moment of contemplation, she remembered what Jesus had asked his disciples early in his ministry, “What seek ye?” That question lodged in her mind as though it was a question directed to her. “What do I really, deeply desire right now?” In thinking about the sorrow she had experienced along with their family because of the current crisis, she picked up her planner and a folded piece of paper fell out that she had tucked there from a Christmas letter. The title had intrigued her and she had intended to read but had forgotten. It was the perfect answer to her question that dropped in her lap just at the moment when she was desperate for a way to forgive, to heal her heart and begin to feel whole again.
The title of the article was The Uncommon Power of Grace, written in the New York Times just before Christmas on December 18 2018. It revealed the importance of grace in our lives, especially in devastating situations when we are bitterly disappointed and the person involved is in dire need of forgiveness. These two paragraphs were particularly poignant to her:
“If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken…it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.’
“You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude” Peter Wehner NYT Dec. 2018
The thoughts she read about grace were the answer to prayers and to the question, “What she really desired at that moment was grace. Her mind was filled with the answer that she should not only forgive, but forgive with grace which the dictionary describes as “elegance or beauty in form or action.” She knew that she needed to forgive with love…and to be gracious instead of judgmental, even when someone’s action had changed a life or tread on sensitivities.
Not only is grace the ultimate gift from our Savior, but it is also a glorious gift that we can give to others as we deal with family members who have brought about unexpected sorrow to our lives. As we see so many beautiful saints in the gospel forgiving family members and others who have created sadness or disruption in their lives, we see the gospel in action!
May we add love and grace to repentance and forgiveness to the list of crucial things we need in order to receive reconciliation with our family members? When someone has accused us wrongly, or a teenager is being disrespectful, or when adult family members clash on matters of family, religion or politics, grace and love are literally the salvation of lasting relationships. And when love doesn’t seem to work, often the solution is…to love more! The Savior’s supreme example of loving those who hate us and revile against us is the door to our success in receiving family revelation for injustices.
We love this favorite quote that puts things into perspective:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Hunter S. Thompson
Often life just plain hard and sometimes full to the brim with the havoc created by sin, disappointments, and upheavals because of differing beliefs and injustices, often over issues that involve inheritances and money in our families. By using the God-given tools of reconciliation, we can return to our Heavenly home without a load of troublesome baggage, having learned the eternal importance of love, repentance forgiveness and grace we can find freedom and we can enter with the ultimate gift…joy!
“My beloved friends, in our shared ministry of reconciliation, I ask us to be peacemakers—to love peace, to seek peace, to create peace, to cherish peace. I make that appeal in the name of the Prince of Peace, who knows everything about being “wounded in the house of [His] friends” but who still found the strength to forgive and forget—and to heal—and be happy.”
(Elder Holland The Ministry of Reconciliation October 2018.
6. What about The Biggest Change of Death? Experiencing the holy process of sanctification as we seek to “endure to the beginning.”
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15
Of course, the final change in life is death. In the path of this Pandemic, almost all of us know someone we love or admire whose life has been taken by this dark epidemic! And even if we don’t know of anyone personally, we have all experienced the death of a loved one. And let’s face it, in the end, we all facing death as an inevitability.
Richard’s father died of cancer at age 39 (his mother was 38 and was a widow for 52 years). Linda’s half-sister died of cancer just after giving birth to her third child. And as mentioned at the beginning of this section, we have a dearly loved nephew who just passed away at 33 with a cruel mental illness.
The funeral for the passing of one who has lived a good long life is often cause for a celebration of a life well-lived. For others who die suddenly or whose life has been filed with grief because of mental illness or an addiction, even who have taken their own life after a long struggle with misery, death carries a special kind of grief.
Nothing brings a more acute need for faith and for Family Revelation than death.
Finding direction from heaven as we experience or contemplate parting with a much-loved family member who suffers with a fatal illness sometimes encompasses many of the ways to seek and receive revelation. Dealing with this final step of life involves searching for answers “through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12) as both the sufferer and those who love them experience death.
Returning to Elder Wirthlin’s wonderful talk referred to at the beginning of this section, we find comfort in his prophetic words:
“The Lord compensates for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added to them in his own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is that knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.”
There are so many fierce trials in the process of death. But how we manage death, especially when it involves a long, arduous process can make all the difference. Bruce and Marie Hafen in their book Faith is Not Blind tell of a beloved friend who died of multiple sclerosis. Not long after he became bedridden, his wife died of cancer, and they rolled him into her funeral in a hospital bed. Elder Hafen tells of visiting him in his home shortly afterward and being surprised at the peace and light that surrounded this dear brother. Their conversation was about how happy he was to have lived such a blessed life with a glorious family. He mentioned his ancestors who had been endowed in the Nauvoo temple just before leaving on their unknown journey that they knew would hold fearsome trials. Brother Hafen said “The light in his face and the spirit in the room told me that I was watching the sacred process of sanctification, which his deteriorating physical condition paradoxically seemed to enhance.” (Faith is Not Blind p.55-56)
In the biography that Elder Hafen wrote on the life of Elder Neal Maxwell, called A Disciple’s Life, we find illustrations of a remarkable way to embrace death.A lifelong and inspiring disciple of Jesus Christ, Elder Maxwell became an Apostle of the Lord in 1981. All those who knew him, adored him. His unique wisdom and compelling and thought-provoking writing and speaking was not only about life but later, especially about death.
Elder Maxwell wrote, “the very act of choosing to be a disciple can bring to us a certain special suffering” He acknowledged that suffering sometimes takes us ‘to the very edge of our faith.’
When he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia in 1997, he said to his wife Colleen, “I should have seen it coming.”
As he walked through the valley of death for the next seven years, he embraced the deep learning and sanctification that comes during the process of dying. Elder Hafen said, “He saw himself in a time for testing and refining. And because he chose not to let his own misery imprison him, he could reflect on what his new understanding could teach him and how it helped him teach others… He sensed from a spiritual impression that the Lord had given him leukemia so that he ‘could teach the people with more authenticity.’ ”
According to Elder Hafen, Elder Maxwell became more compassionate and spiritually sensitive. He viewed the experience as a gift and knew the Lord was giving him “a new sanctified heart with divine attributes.” (Faith is not Blind pages 58-59) The example of Elder Maxwell as well as that of the friend sited earlier with multiple scleroses may be the ultimate examples of becoming sanctified and of “getting it right” with their revelations about how to deal with the reality of their impeding death.
Being the caregiver for those who are dying can also help us find our own path to sanctification. During those days and sometimes years of selfless service to those we love, we are provided with opportunities to learn patience, endurance and unconditional love. As we care for a faithful beloved mother who doesn’t remember who we are, or someone who is struggling with cancer or the debilitating issues of an aging body or an unhealthy lifestyle, we begin to feel more clearly that God knows us and knows them and is there to help. Tender mercies flow as we pray tirelessly for how to get through the day and give comfort with inexhaustible love.
Those last days are holy times in holy places. As we look back on those precious days, we find that the blessings of those excruciating times were intended for us as we have loved and served them. There is no finer way for caregivers to show that they are “willing to take upon them the name of thy Son” than by loving those in extreme need as the Savior would. It is indeed a path to sanctification of their own souls. What we learn will be “beauty for ashes.”
Family members who are searching for help and consolation from God, from the Savior and the Holy Ghost, as they go through the suffering and misery the process of death and as we ease loved ones from this life to the next, we are not unlike the Nephites who were “wading though much affliction” in Helaman 3:35 where we find this inspiring account:
Nevertheless, they did fast and pray oft, and did was stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in their faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
When gloom seems to overtake the long, strenuous journey that finally ends with the unknown of stepping through the veil—instead of thinking about “enduring to the end”, we might take the perspective that it is actually more a matter of “enduring to the beginning.”It will be a new beginning forcaregivers as they start a new era of life without a loved one on earth and certainly a new beginning for the one who has passed through the veil.It is the beginning of a joyful new step into eternity.
Brigham Young offers some delightfully hopeful, even joyful insights about the spirit world:
“ I would like to say to you, my friends and brethren, if we could see things as they are, and as we shall understand them…we shall turn round and look about upon it and think…why, this (death) is the greatest advantage of my whole existence, for I have passed from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguishand disappointment into a state of existence, where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. My spirit is set free, I run, I walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor, and I enjoy the presence of my heavenly Father, by the power of his spirit. I want to say to my friends, if you will live your religion, live so as to be full of the faith of God, that the light of eternity will shine upon you, you can see and understand these things for yourselves.” (B.Young)
The comforting words of President Ezra Taft Benson relate: …the spirit world is not far away . Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us (Conf. Report, 4/71, p, 18, Ensign 6/71, p. 33)
Watching those we love “suffer unto death” is one of life’s greatest grueling gifts. As we seek the Spirit for someone we love who is nearing death’s door we can be assured by these words for us and for those who are preparing to “move on.” “I will be on your right hand and on your left. And my spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels shall be round about you to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88).f
Those who gave the tireless care will someday be “crowned with glory” for their love and sacrifices. As Thomas Carlyle said, Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with. Faith, hope and charity will ring true. And the Savior will be there in the boat with us whispering, “Peace be still.”
The changes, crises, and storms that are inevitable in our lives and unescapable in our families can push us past our capacities and beyond our strength and demand help and comfort and sustaining from a higher source—in short, they require Family Revelation. Sometimes the guidance we receive in these dark and seemingly hopeless situations can turn ashes to joy and remind us in unforgettable ways of the power of the Spirit.
The stretching, grueling challenges covered in this last article are only samples of the many hard and unexpected changes that life holds for all of us. But while they vary in how they come and what they do to us, the ultimate answer for all of them is found in the Family Revelation that we can seek and receive.
Questions for Reflection (please answer by commenting)
1.What have been the hardest changes in your life so far? As you reflect back on them, have they provided spiritual growth? Did they make you more attuned and more diligent in seeking Family Revelation? What did you seek and what did you receive during those changes?
2.What future changes can you anticipate and prepare for? Could Family Revelation have an equally important role in preparing for future change as in meeting it when it comes?
3.In hindsight, has your life and your nature been largely formed by change? Do you generally view major life changes positively or negatively?
4.Do you relate to the “storm and sun” metaphor? Looking back as well as forward, can growth and progress come in both kinds of weather?
5.How to crises and failures relate to the “war in heaven” and to the two plans presented there?
6.Thinking back over this whole series on Family Revelation, what are your main take-aways?
7.What do you think is your own greatest personal obstacle—the thing that keeps you from receiving the Family Revelation you need?
8.If you could offer just one piece of advice to other parents who feel the need for Family Revelation, what would it be?