Last month I wrote the stories of two of our missionaries, Elder Cox and Elder Chalas. Elder Cox lost his father before coming on a mission. His mother had written to us to tell us about the tremendous sacrifice it would be for their family to have their son leave for two years on a mission. He was the only Priesthood holder left in the house, as all his siblings were girls.
One night, while serving in Monte Cristi, a dangerous area, Elder Cox and three other missionaries walked from one house to another house. At both homes they shared Christmas with a family. Several people later told them that they had seen eight missionaries walking together that night between the houses. But Elder Cox insisted there were only four missionaries. It was a mystery to explain. Elder Cox believed that his father and others from the other side had come to protect him and the other missionaries from an unseen danger.
Elder Chalas’s father died while Elder Chalas was serving as a missionary with us. His story is also found in my last month’s article.
Here is an interesting continuation of their stories.
Elder Chalas, (from the Dominican Republic): “After the death of my father, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. Never in my testimonies, never with investigators. Only with my companions.
In my next transfer I was sent to Monte Cristi, with Elder Cox as my new companion. The second day we were together, we had a very special experience. On Feb. 14. one month after my father had died, we had an investigator in Monte Cristi, whose father had died the week before, on Feb. 7. He had died by suicide. When we came to teach her, she was very, very sad. She loved her father very much and was devastated by his death.
We had planned to teach the first lesson about the restoration, but because she told us that her father had died one week earlier, we changed the lesson. She had the biggest questions of the soul. She wanted to know why her father had died. Why was God punishing her? And why her father died like this? We talked about the plan of salvation. We explained the purpose of life. Later, I asked her what question she wanted to ask God. She started crying. She said, “Why did these things happen?” She stood up and left the room because she was crying. We waited for her. When she cried, we could feel her pain.
When she returned, I closed my book and shared with her my experience. One month ago, my father died. She had not seen her father for a month. But for me it had been a year and a half. She stopped crying. Later my companion told his experience about what had happened to him. Her pain left. She was surprised, and she asked us if we weren’t sad about our fathers’ deaths. We replied, “Yes. We love our fathers. But we know the plan of salvation.” She felt much better.
After this, we gave her the pamphlet of the plan of salvation. She promised to read it. Now, instead of so much sadness, she has much tranquility. When she read the pamphlet, she said, “Now I know where my father is.” It was a great comfort to her. In the tender mercy of God, it was no accident that we were teaching her.
Before this, my companion had never shared his experience with me. We’d only been together for two days. I had never imagined that he had also recently lost his father. The three of us had had the same experience. We lived a scripture literally, (Doctrine &Covenants 50:22: wherefore he that preacheth and he that receiveth understand one another and both are edified and rejoice together.) We had all become wounded healers.”
What a beautiful thing that the Lord sent those two particular missionaries to visit this young lady when she was so full of grief at the loss of her father. In this experience all three experienced a degree of healing. Through their wounds they were reaching out and helping to heal each other in their loss.
I have been fascinated by the concept of “wounded healers.” After I lost my daughter, Amber, to suicide, it seems that I have become a much more effective healer. I was moved to create Rising Star Outreach after Amber’s death. I now give many presentations across America about our work in India. After nearly every presentation I give, I have at least one parent approach me afterwards and tenderly share with me their own story of surviving a child’s suicide. There is a lot of pain that is shared.
The death of a child by suicide is always accompanied with a lot of pain. Often agonizing pain. Crippling pain. Pain from lost dreams, pain from feelings of guilt (Is there something I could/should have done to prevent this? Could I have inadvertently caused this death? So many incriminating questions that seem to haunt endlessly.) How could a loving God have let this happen?
Many mothers and fathers share with me how their world seemed to descend into darkness with the loss of their child. The very sharing seems to draw us closer. Some have lived with this pain for years, ashamed to speak to anyone about it, fearing they would not be understood. Because of my own story, they feel safe to talk to me about their feelings. I feel inspired to assure them that there is light and joy again in this life that is waiting for them. I have had the opportunity to keep in touch with a number of these parents. Several have told me that our meeting was life-changing for them.
I feel very humbled to be able to share these experiences of pain. Before my daughter’s death, I was never, ever, even one time, approached by a parent of a child who had taken their own life. It wasn’t until I suffered this loss myself, that others were drawn to talk with me. My own wound had become the force that drew others to me. There is something of a shared humanity when we can share each others’ sufferings.
I remember a remarkable night years ago when several sisters in our ward spent the weekend together at the lake home of another ward member. As the night hours got late, somehow the conversation developed into a sharing of our deepest trials. One sister struggled with addiction to pain medicine. Another struggled with feelings of worthlessness from past sexual abuse. One sister shared her broken dreams after finding out her husband had had an affair. Another sister shared her feelings of loss after losing her mother to cancer. Yet another sister shared with us that she was in fact, now battling a life-threatening cancer herself. One sister felt spiritually crushed when both her children left the Church.
At that time, I was struggling with a daughter who was desperately trying to live with bipolar disorder. I shared how helpless I felt to stop the progress of this debilitating disease. Its effects were ricocheting throughout our young family. A final sister shared her desperation to find a husband and be able to start a family. She was already late in her thirties and becoming very discouraged.
As each sister spoke, it was amazing to me how much closer I felt to these sisters after learning about their struggles. The interesting thing was that each of us had struggled with completely different trials. Yet there was a beautiful coming together. While each trial was different, the suffering was something we all identified with. Our souls had been opened. Our hearts had also been opened to each other.
None of our pain came from the same source. Yet there was something about sharing that pain that made us feel that we understood each other so much better. Suffering is universal. It is part of our humanness that we can all relate to in one form or another.
That closeness continued long after that night was over. I feel like the sisterhood that developed in that ward was the most genuine that I have ever experienced. I felt new appreciation for the struggles of each sister. I found myself praying for them, caring about their progress, rejoicing in each step forward.
I wondered later what would have happened if we had shared our successes, instead of our suffering. Would the same closeness have developed? I don’t think so. Something about sharing successes often leaves some feeling less blessed, less adequate, less deserving, cheated. But sharing suffering has a unifying effect.
I can’t help but think of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice. This is a suffering that has drawn the entire world to Him. This suffering assures us of His love and His ability to heal. Indeed, millions of Christians across the world identify themselves by the symbol of the cross—a symbol of the suffering of the Savior that offers healing to all mankind.
Isaiah taught (prophesying of the Messiah), “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
Jesus is the ultimate wounded healer. Through His suffering we can all be healed of our own suffering. What a tremendous gift His suffering was to the world! And what a gift it is for us to have a loving God who can take even our greatest suffering and use it to help heal our brothers and sisters.
LewisJuly 13, 2022
These are extraordinary stories! You are such a gifted storyteller, I can’t wait to read your articles. We are all wounded. The reliance on the love of our Savior can both heal our wounds, and allow us to be instruments in His hands to help heal others. Thank you for your insights.