Finding Joy in Death

Last week, a good friend of a good friend passed away. This young man had bravely and faithfully fought cancer for five exhausting years, almost since he and his wife had been married.

The news of his passing left us – virtual strangers to him – in tears. We mourned for his wife and 3-month old twin sons. We were shaken by the gap left by his singular life in the world.

It struck me how it was likely that this man and his family did not know how far he reached in impacting the lives of those around him. We knew him from our home Stake but had never personally been close to him. Still we knew his story. We had heard through various sources and mediums of his courage and humor and goodness in the face of pain and suffering and personal loss. He brought faith to a hopeless situation. It was undoubtedly what caused him to live long enough to see the birth of his little sons.

In contemplating more, a couple realizations struck me of tender mercies we experience through death.

1. Rarely do we admit it but the power is in each of us to have dramatic impact on others’ lives. The choice is not whether or not our lives leave a mark, but rather what kind of mark we allow them to leave. Do we leave the world bitter and indifferent at our passing? Or do we leave it rejoicing in the fact that we had lived?

We find joy in the passing of our loved ones when it becomes clear how their lives positively influenced others. This is their legacy. And we have been blessed with additional hours and days to build ours.

2. The beauty in death comes especially as we take that next step out of this world and into the arms of our Savior. In our sorrow, it took concerted effort to turn our minds to thoughts of this man’s reunion with a loving Savior.

“While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.” Alma 28:12

What a meeting that must be – for us to finally fall at the feet of our Rock, the Being who made life for us not just endurable but exalting. I long for my opportunity to tell my Savior in person that whatever goodness I felt or helped others feel was all from Him. That if I had kept the faith and finished my course, it was all and only His doing.

3. Joy is found in death as we are released from sorrow, pain, and affliction by virtue of our Savior’s sacrifice. President Uchtdorf taught in this last General Conference that “…your death will be temporary. Your spirit one day will reunite with your body. This resurrected body will not be subject to death, and you will live in the eternities, free from pain and physical suffering.” There isn’t much room for our personal mourning when we contemplate how much we each carry through life as our burden and that we finally, through our passing, can lay it down at our Redeemer’s feet and say “It is finished”.

May we all build a legacy founded on and pointing to Christ, and retain a primary remembrance of the joys that come from the reunion we hope to have with our Savior; the knowledge that life is temporary – everlasting joy and happiness need not be. As we do, there can be no sting in death, our own or those of our righteous fellow disciples.

A Prophet’s Legacy: Learning to Discern Between Distorted Truths and Reality

The New York Times recently published an article in response to the passing of our beloved President Thomas S. Monson. Meant to serve as an obituary, the writer proclaimed President Monson’s legacy as follows:

“Thomas S. Monson, who as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2008 enlarged the ranks of female missionaries, but rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage, died on Tuesday… .”

PresidentMonsonDisciples of Christ reading this feel dismayed at the utter lack of truthfulness regarding President Monson’s impact on the lives of people around the world, within and without the LDS faith. How could such a man be reduced to nothing more than what the New York Times describes him as: anti-feminist, anti-homosexuals and archaic in ideology?

The answer is simple. This rhetoric is further evidence of the opposition to President Monson and all disciples of Christ by the adversary. Only he could influence the hearts and minds of man enough to convince them that these things – which made up an incredibly small amount of his life – are what President Monson should be defined and remembered by.

As we remember President Monson and seek to gain a testimony of our new prophet, how can we be sure to discern between what looks like truth and the truth itself?

Disciples of Christ are blessed to have important keys that help us distinguish between truth and distorted truths or lies proclaimed by Satan. These include prayer, revelation through the Holy Ghost, and experimenting on the prophet’s words. But there is another indicator that we may not be turning to in our search for testimony and confirmation.

3 Nephi 14: 15-18 reads, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

We can gain and confirm our testimony of the prophet by examining the fruits of their life and determining whether those fruit are good or evil. 

Upon further investigation into the fruit of President Monson’s life, beholders cannot help but proclaim the evidence of his goodness, service, love, and dedication towards all people, such as could only be had by a Prophet of God.

  • President Monson was always focused on the one. Elaine S. Dalton has said, “For me, President Monson is like the Savior would be if He were here. His ministry, his sensitivity to the one is incredible…” (p. 443). Elder William S. Walker of the Seventy said, “President Monson is warm and attentive, with a wonderful sense of humor and a spontaneous love for people. I think as a prophet he is irresistible” (p. 494).
  • He served the humble. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said of him, “…he has always been able to see and appreciate the value and the good, the gifts in everybody, particularly those of humble circumstances” (p. 52). Said President Harold B. Lee, “As a young bishop in a ward which required much attention to needy persons, he rose to the occasion…he developed a sensitivity which has characterized his life” (p. 130).
  • He was playful and human. In his first appearance at a general priesthood meeting, President Monson performed his signature move – he wiggled his ears. This had a great impact particularly on the youth of the church as they related to the “fun” side of their priesthood leader.
  • He was dedicated to serving others through his church callings, from his very first as a deacons secretary. “Whatever his calling has been, he has devoted 100% of his energy to it”, said Lynne Cannegieter, his personal secretary (p. 86).
  • He raised a righteous family with his dear wife of 65 years, Frances Beverly Johnson. 
  • He served his country by enlisting in the Navy.
  • He was the epitome of a missionary. Said Elder Quentin L. Cook, “There is not any part of missionary work that President Monson hasn’t influenced. He served in every role in the Missionary Department during the course of his life. He’s toured most of the missions….He’s in a league by himself in terms of being a great missionary” (p. 171). 
  • He was instrumental in ministering to and sustaining the members of the Church in East Germany during the Communist reign. He developed trusting relationships with Communist leaders to the degree that when he requested missionaries be sent to East Germany – and missionaries be sent from East Germany – the totalitarian government’s response was simply, “Permission granted” (p. 334).
  • He LOVED. David A. Bednar recalled, “In a message he gave to all of the General and Area Authorities, he said that one of our responsibilities is to help the members feel the Savior’s love. That’s who he is. His whole ministry is focused on discerning the needs of an individual and offering a smile or a pat on the back – doing some simple, very gracious thing that you never would really expect the President of the Church to do” (p. 149). President Spencer W. Kimball also said of him, “As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Elder Monson is filled with the pure love of Christ, and he radiates this to others. People love him because he loves them. His witness to the world is one of love and understanding”.

*Quotes are all taken from “To The Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson” by Heidi S. Swinton

Even those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could not help but declare that such a life was surely a good one – that these fruits, what he did and who he was, were nothing short of remarkable and holy. This is his legacy. This is the legacy of all those ordained by our Savior to be His representative in the mortal sphere.

As we transition now into a new era of apostolic and prophetic leadership, may we all seek to grow our testimony of the prophets by searching the fruits of their lives and determining if any such person could be less than a divinely called Prophet of God.