03870_000_006Based on a talk given at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
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 to these words was anger. The next day I heard the song again, and I laughed at myself because I had come to understand why the line had made me so angry. It was because it appeared to be true!
When I was in elementary 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 didn’t work on Sunday and earn double pay at a grocery store. Instead, I kept 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, “Who are those strange people?”
As a young married couple, my wife and I attended church with our restless children. On Super Bowl Sunday—the biggest championship football day of the year—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, worn-out car we would pull up to a stop light alongside a luxurious automobile. The occupants, with their socially acceptable number of children dressed in the most fashionable clothing, would look down on my six children, dressed in their second-hand clothes purchased at a discount store.
I felt most frustrated last year when my college-age children persuaded 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 run to the stage, grab the microphone, and give my opinion on the subject. Of course this would have horrified my children so I controlled myself.
The statement “sinners laugh and saints cry” is a simple approach to life—too simple; it ignores reality. Some sinners leave a trail of broken lives and plenty of tears, and we Latter-day Saints definitely have our share of laughter. But for saints as well as sinners, all that is meaningful in life doesn’t have to be funny. However, 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 commandments, expectations, 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 in the Church, 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.
In the Midst of Trials
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 changeable 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 relieved 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 God could free him. It was in this setting that Joseph cried unto the Lord, “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? Former General Authority 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:
“… 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 volumes, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, volume 5, page 28.)
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, at the same time as God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ wept, the sinners laughed.
Our Own Gethsemanes
Each of us must pass through our own gethsemanes or ultimate trials. There is probably no greater gethsemane for saint or sinner that 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. 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 (I quote it with his permission):
“If you may be permitted to listen, these are some thoughts your 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 held back by the troublesome physical limitations you accepted and lived with in such an adorable, non-complaining way.
“Mom and I and your seven brothers and sisters are better because you came to our home. Soon after your birth, because you needed special medical care and attention, you helped us to accept fear and the unknown; to better love others with physical, emotional, or mental challenges; and to ask and plead with our Father, who today you know better than we do. As you grew older, we learned determination from you. You had every right to spill your milk but never did. You averaged 97 percent in spelling for an entire year and by strong determination struggled with mathematics. You sat with your mom and read every night without a complaint. 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 describe.
“We pray for all of us whom the Lord expects to stay here on the earth 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 love to have you stay! How we would love to hear you say, as you did, ‘I love you’! How we’d thrill to feel that clinging embrace! Oh, yes, especially today.”
The Purifying Fire
As you shed tears in your gethsemanes while other laugh with the sinners, don’t curse the purifying fire in which you have been placed. Your challenges are divinely appointed and they 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 help us to grow towards 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 had used up all my tears 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 sinner 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.”
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 marriage 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.
The President 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 president 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. 17:6.)
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 from this mortal life was near said, “I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and he 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.” (General Conference, April 1985.)
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 talk, 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 wrote 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.) (General Conference, April 1985.)
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.