Lost Balloons

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Yesterday, my wife and I attended funeral services for her grandfather. It was a lovely service, with beautiful music and thoughtful remarks. Forrest Tinkler was clearly a well-loved and wonderful person.

The events of the past week have transported me back a few months to when my grandmother died in June. I thought I would publish here some of the thoughts I shared at her funeral service.

I was baptized when I was 8 years old. I barely knew what I was committing to. I still don’t. But I know now that at least one of the promises we make to God when we are baptized is to “bear one another’s burdens, … mourn with those that mourn … and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). We promise to live as Christ lived—for the sake of the others in our lives.

We do this first by befriending those close to us—our family members. We learn to love them, make their interests our interests, their concerns our concerns, their pains our pains. We learn compassion, which literally means to suffer with others. Passion means “suffering,” and the prefix com means “with.” All parents know what it is like to suffer with and on behalf of their children. And children and grandchildren, as their parents and grandparents grow old, learn what it is like to suffer with and on behalf of their parents and grandparents.

There is almost nothing on this earth that connects souls more than this mutual commitment to compassionately suffer with and sacrifice for those we love. That is why parents are so connected to their children. That is why children who sacrifice personal convenience, time, and resources to care for their aging parents are so connected to them.

The promises we make to God when we are baptized are designed to transform us into critters who cannot be indifferent to the suffering, death, and absence of those we share this world with. It’s designed for us to be invested in the lives of our neighbors, our family, and our friends. To be interested in their successes and failures, their pleasures and their heartaches. To make it all but impossible not to mourn their passing and their loss. I believe that Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the promises we make when we are baptized, are designed to connect us in just the kind of way that makes our hearts ache when we lose those we love.

I will miss my grandmother. For the past few years, I have tried to make her a priority in my life. I visited her as often as I felt I could. Her passing hurts more than I ever expected. She was a cherished part of my life in ways that have surprised me.

Some in this world will preach the false gospel of risk aversion—they teach us to never invest ourselves too much in our relationships, especially with those who may leave us soon. They teach us to avoid the pain and heartache that comes with loss by never learning compassion. Indifference towards others, they say, will protect us from the otherwise inevitable tears of loss and disappointment.

In contrast, I would like to declare that, as James teaches us, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). I would like to invite each of you to commit to befriending those in your family, in your neighborhood, and in your lives who need companions, who may feel as if they’ve outlived their usefulness, who may feel that the ones they love have all slipped through their fingers, as lost balloons, to return to God without them. If you don’t personally know anyone who fits that description, ask your bishop. He’ll know someone. They are lonely. They need your friendship. Spend time with them. Sacrifice hobbies and afternoons and precious television time to be with them. I challenge you to find someone this week to befriend.

And I warn you that as you do this, you will risk—or all but guarantee—disappointment, sadness, and heartache, as any of us do when we invest ourselves in the lives of others. It will hurt when they are gone. You will likely weep for their passing. And with each and every tear, you will become a little more like our Father in Heaven, who in His compassion weeps because of suffering and heartache in His children.

As we find ourselves interested in the welfare of those we serve, we will find them becoming interested in ours. And that interest extends beyond mortality. As we make compassionate service to the widows, the fatherless, and the lonely a lifelong habit, we are, in a very real sense, recruiting an army of heavenly beings who will watch out for us, root for us, and help defend us against evil. With each passing friend, and neighbor, whom we have served and for whom we have suffered and sacrificed, we gain an ally with direct access to the divine Being—our Father in Heaven—to whom we pray. With time, we’ll be able to say with confidence of any enemy, as the prophet Elisha did in the Old Testament, “I am not afraid, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). For we will be surrounded by angels to defend us, who are now as invested in our welfare as we once were in theirs.

I loved Margaret Turner. And I am honored that I can now count her amongst the angels who will come to my aid in my moments of need. And knowing what I know about my grandmother, and the tenacious ways she fought for her beliefs in her schools and her community, there are few who I would want to be pleading my cause more than her.

I know that Jesus Christ lives. Let me say that again—I don’t just know that He lived, I know that He lives. And that because of Him, we too can live again. Prophets and scriptures—both ancient and modern—teach about our eventual reunion with those we love, the peace they feel as they return to live with God, and the inevitable defeat of death by Christ. And I know that these doctrines are true. I have felt the witness of the Spirit testify to my heart that through the Savior Jesus Christ, we can be redeemed from sin and return to live with God and those whom we love. And I’m grateful for the baptismal promises that  teach me the kind of compassion towards my family and friends that keeps me missing them and looking forward to that day of Resurrection.

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