Several years ago I heard a popular song that contained the line “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” My immediate reaction was anger. The next day I heard the song again, and I laughed at myself because in the interim I had figured out why the line had made me so angry. It was because it sounded true!
When I was in grade school, my parents made me go to church on Sunday while others went to the movies. In junior high school, I collected fast offerings while others slept till noon. In high school, I passed up working on Sunday and earning double time at a grocery store so that I could keep the Sabbath day holy. During my mission I walked down the streets on Saturday nights with my companion while others our age drove past us with their dates, laughing, pointing, and asking, “What’s with those guys?”
As a young married couple, my wife and I attended church with our squirming children. On Super Bowl Sunday, while the rest of the world ate, drank, and cheered, we tried to encourage our children to listen to the words of a member of the stake high council. At other times, while traveling in our old clunker of a station wagon, we would pull up to a stoplight alongside a Mercedes Benz. The occupants, with their national average of 1.7 children dressed in designer jeans, would look condescendingly at my six children, dressed in their less-stylish hand-me-downs purchased at a discount store.
My frustration peaked last year when my college-age children prevailed in getting me to attend a concert at Brigham Young University. When the singer announced the song from which this line is taken, he said, “I’m not trying to convert anyone; I just want to provide you with an alternative.” I wanted to race down the steps, grab the microphone, and give my opinion on the subject. Of course, this would have horrified my children, so I stifled the urge.
The statement “sinners laugh and saints cry” is a simplistic generalization at best. We Latter-day Saints definitely have our share of laughter, and some sinners leave a trail of broken lives and buckets of tears. For saints as well as sinners, all that is meaningful in life doesn’t have to be funny. However, to brush aside the line in the song with this equally simplistic argument is to ignore a reasonable question. At a given point in time, don’t many who make no effort to live Church standards appear to be enjoying life more than those who do?
Our lives as Latter-day Saints seem to be controlled by inhibitions, constraints, service, sacrifice, and financial obligations. In the world we see people with none of these so-called restrictions—people who are home with their families on more than just Monday night and who have 10 to 15 percent more of their gross income to spend. By the time we Latter-day Saints meet our financial obligations, we can’t afford to do anything wrong!
Let’s be honest with ourselves: the Saints really do cry a lot. But then, nothing worth having comes easily. The celestial happiness we seek does not come without effort. The voguish phrase “No pain, no gain” applies well to the things of the Spirit.
Sometimes in the midst of trials we cry out, “What have I done wrong to deserve this?” Often, tribulation comes into our lives not because we are doing something wrong but because of what we are doing right. We are striving for the purification and sanctification that will lead us to exaltation. We all must pass through a certain amount of fire so that our spirits will be pliable in the hands of the Lord.
Joseph Smith’s life exemplifies this principle. There was probably not a darker period in his life, by all outward standards, than the winter of 1838–39 when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail. The Saints were being persecuted, robbed, and murdered, and there was dissension and apostasy in their ranks.
We may be inclined to underestimate Joseph’s suffering. I don’t speak of the coldness of the jail, but of his discouragement. We may think that his anguish would be mitigated by his memory of having seen the Father and the Savior and by his memory of the visits from Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and a host of other heavenly messengers.
In reality, this knowledge may have intensified the pain. After all, Joseph had a perfect knowledge that the Lord could free him. It was in this setting that Joseph cried, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1.)
To this agonized plea came the Lord’s answer: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” (D&C 121:7.) He added, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7.)
“For thy good”? What possible good could come from that experience? B. H. Roberts gave an insight about the possible good that could come from such an experience when he described Joseph’s reaction to a similar experience in 1842:
“What is most pleasing to record of this period of enforced seclusion while avoiding his enemies, is the development of that tenderness of soul manifested in his reflections upon the friends who had stood by him from the commencement of his public career: … No act of kindness seems to go unmentioned. No risk run for him is not appreciated. Indeed he gathers much benefit from those trials, since their effect upon his nature seems to be a softening rather than a hardening influence; and the trials of life are always beneficial where they do not harden and brutalize men’s souls; and every day under his trials the Prophet seems to have grown more tender-hearted, more universal in his sympathies; his moments of spiritual exaltation are superb. No one can read them and doubt that the inspiration of God was giving this man’s spirit understanding.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 7 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, 5:XXVIII.)
After the Lord told Joseph, “These things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” he said, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.)
Part of the reason the Savior suffered in Gethsemane was so that he would have an infinite compassion for us as we experience our trials and tribulations. Through his suffering in Gethsemane, the Savior became qualified to be the perfect judge. Not one of us will be able to approach him on the Judgment Day and say, “You don’t know what it was like.” He knows the nature of our trials better than we do, for he “descended below them all.”
As a loving Father in Heaven viewed his Beloved Son suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior cried out, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.)
Can you imagine the tears in the eyes of the Father when he had to deny his Son’s request? Can we comprehend the sacred tears shed by the Father when he had to abandon the Savior on the cross and hear him say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34.) And yet, even as God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ wept, the sinners laughed.
Each of us must pass through our own Gethsemanes. Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a beautiful poem suggesting that we, too, will have our own Gethsemane to face:
In golden youth when seems the earth
A Summer-land of singing mirth,
When souls are glad and hearts are light,
And not a shadow lurks in sight,
We do not know it, but there lies
Somewhere veiled under evening skies
A garden which we all must see—
The garden of Gethsemane.
With joyous steps we go our ways,
Love lends a halo to our days;
Light sorrows sail like clouds afar,
We laugh, and say how strong we are.
We hurry on; and hurrying, go
Close to the border-land of woe,
That waits for you, and waits for me—
Forever waits Gethsemane.
Down shadowy lanes, across strange streams,
Bridged over by our broken dreams;
Behind the misty caps of years,
Beyond the great salt fount of tears,
The garden lies. Strive as you may,
You cannot miss it in your way.
All paths that have been, or shall be,
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden’s gate;Must kneel alone in darkness there,
And battle with some fierce despair
God pity those who can not say,
“Not mine but thine,” who only pray,
“Let this cup pass,” and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemane.
(In Poems of Power, Chicago: W. B. Conkey Co., pp. 147–48.)
There is probably no greater Gethsemane for saint or sinner than the death of one of our children. Just minutes after he learned of his ten-year-old daughter’s accidental death, a father I know wrote a letter to her (I quote it with his permission). Note how this good man’s Gethsemane became a sanctifying experience because of his knowledge of the gospel and the gift he had received of the Comforter. Contrast his reaction with what it might have been without the light of the gospel:
“If you may be permitted to listen, these are some thoughts your ‘Dear Ole Dad’ would like to express in his and your mom’s hour of joy and sorrow.
“You have been an angel of light in our home. Even in your passing you have sanctified the experience by the sweet sorrow of this temporary parting. As I sit in this hotel room many miles from home and only moments after hearing of your passing, I have confidence that you are really home. It’s pleasing to know that you are not encumbered by the mild but troublesome physical limitations you accepted and lived with in such an adorable, noncomplaining way.
“Mom and I and your seven brothers and sisters are better because you came to our house. Soon after your day of birth, you helped us to accept fear and the unknown; to better love others with physical, emotional, or mental challenges; to accept the disappointment accompanying an unknown prognosis; and to query and plead with our Father, who today you know better than we do. As you grew older, we learned determination from you, who had every right to spill your milk but never did, who royally defeated your mom and dad in tetherball, who averaged 97 percent in spelling for an entire year and by sheer grit struggled with math, and who without ever a complaint sat with your mom every night—summer and school months—to read and understand what you had read. Yes, we did our best to help you learn, but what we learned from you cannot be printed in books—cannot be written because it is almost too sacred to rehearse.
“We pray for all of us whom the Lord expects to stay here on the job for yet a while. Our prayers are that we will be worthy to be reunited with you and to see you whole and perfect. Oh, how we would have loved to have you stay! How we would love to hear your ever-so-spontaneous ‘I love you’! How we’d thrill to feel that clinging embrace! Oh, yes, especially today.”
As you shed tears in your Gethsemanes while others laugh with the sinners, don’t curse the purifying fire in which you have been placed. Your crucible is divine and will ultimately perfect you. Latter-day Saints don’t seek the unpleasant things of life. We don’t look for pain and suffering. However, we recognize that trials and tribulations come to all of us and they can be turned into spiritual stepping-stones to sanctification and exaltation.
I have spoken of tears of sorrow and pain. I shall now speak of a different type of tears. They are unique to saints and will never be shed by sinners.
When I was in an elders quorum presidency, we worked with several less-active families. In a personal interview with one couple, I asked, “Isn’t it about time you went to the temple with your family?”
I couldn’t believe their answer: they said yes.
They were asked to speak about their “conversion” in a Saturday evening session of stake conference, and as they expressed their love, I cried. I thought I was all cried out by the time we went to the temple—until I saw them and their beautiful daughters kneel at the altar and be sealed for time and eternity.
Shortly after my call to the Presiding Bishopric, I received a letter from one of my uncles. “Dear Glenn,” it said. “I saw you on television last Sunday. Do you realize what an accomplishment it was to get your old reprobate of an uncle to watch general conference?”
That summer he and my aunt celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. After the reception I walked them to their car and said, “If you would like to meet me at the Salt Lake Temple, I would love to perform your sealing. I’ll even do it for free!”
A year passed. I arrived home late one night to find a message awaiting me: “Please call your uncle, no matter what time you get home.”
I called, and he said, “Glenn, I’m calling to collect on your golden wedding anniversary offer of a free sealing in the Salt Lake Temple.”
I asked, “Are you serious? When?”
He said, “In December. My bishop thinks I can be good enough by then.”
I sealed them to each other and then sealed two of their sons to them. After fifty-one years of marriage, my uncle and aunt received the great blessings of the temple, and the entire family cried.
One day, after President Ezra Taft Benson had been ill for some time, he again stood before the General Authorities of the Church in our monthly temple meeting. It was the first time we had been together with him for two months. He expressed his love to us and said, “Brethren, it is so good to be with you again.” And then the prophet cried.
At the conclusion of the Savior’s visit to the people of Nephi, he felt their love and faith and was deeply touched. He had just announced that he must leave, but as he looked at the people he “beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.
“And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.” (3 Ne. 17:5–6.)
Then he healed the sick, and those who were healed did “bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and … did bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Ne. 17:10.)
And then Jesus “commanded that their little children should be brought.
“So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him. …
“And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.
“And when he had said these words, he wept … and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
“And when he had done this he wept again.” (3 Ne. 17:11–12, 20–22.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke of tears in general conference just a few weeks before his death. In one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever heard, that special witness who had full and complete knowledge that his passing was near said, “I testify that [Jesus Christ] is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.” (Ensign, May 1985, p. 11.)
Those of us who witnessed the delivery of that magnificent address can testify that those tears were flowing even as Elder McConkie stood at the pulpit. They were not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy at the anticipation of the blessing awaiting him.
Just one day before Elder McConkie’s address, I had received my call to the Presiding Bishopric. One day after his address, on Easter morning, at 5:00 A.M., I was writing my remarks to be delivered that afternoon. As I reflected on Elder McConkie’s beautiful oration, I was overcome with the knowledge of my weaknesses and inadequacies. However, as I began to comprehend what had taken place in my own life, self-doubt was replaced with peace, confidence, and eternal joy. I wept.
I penned the words which seem appropriate to repeat at this time: “I love the Lord Jesus Christ. I love the transformation his atonement has wrought in me. … I once was in darkness, and now see light. I once lost all of my confidence, and now know all things are possible in the Lord. I once felt shame and now am ‘filled … with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.’ (2 Ne. 4:21.) ‘I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.’ (2 Ne. 1:15.)” (Ensign, May 1985, p. 79.)
I feel the same way now as I did on that Easter Sunday. That knowledge brings tears.
Would I rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the Saints? Not for one moment. Once one has felt the joy of the gospel, there is no going back into a frivolous world. Try as we might, travel where we may, there is an emptiness all the laughter the world has to offer cannot fill. That emptiness can be filled only by placing ourselves in tune with eternal truths and living according to the prescribed laws of God.
As our understanding increases, we realize that tears of sorrow can be exquisitely beautiful—and that they ultimately give way to tears of eternal joy.
The world knows little of true joy. I thank God for the restoration of the gospel, which gives us an understanding of what true joy is and how we can obtain it. And I pray that each of us will discover the majesty of crying with the Saints.