Happy Endings


Bruce C. Hafen
Is eternal family joy possible, or is it only the stuff of dreamy movie plots?

Happy Endings

Hollywood and television have discovered a theme the public loves: happy-ending stories about angels and life after death. In one recent hit, a man dies, then finds his family in a colorful “heaven”—after going through an ugly “hell” to save his wife. The story’s message is that love can outlast death—and the hearts of most people want to believe that message is true.

Ironically, at the same time, many families are dysfunctional. As President Hinckley said, “The family is falling apart. Not only in America, but now across the world” (Church News, 3 Oct. 1998, 6). One-third of U.S. babies are now born outside marriage, and more than half of all new U.S. marriages will likely end in divorce. No wonder Hollywood is looking for eternal happy endings.

Is eternal family joy possible, or is it only the stuff of dreamy movie plots? With family problems now so widespread, some LDS young people despair of seeing their family dreams come true. One returned missionary told his stake president that he’d seen so many family disasters, he didn’t dare marry unless the stake president could guarantee that his family would not fail.

Primary songs, primary truths

The Primary song “Follow the Prophet” describes today’s confusion: “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.” And the song’s answer: “Follow the prophet; he knows the way” (Children’s Songbook, 111). The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102), which teaches us how we really can live “happily ever after.” As always, the living prophets give us the messages we most need for the day in which we live.

A recent book by non-LDS writers called Heaven: A History says that most people today want to believe in a heaven with families in it. But it also says that “ideas about what happens after death are only popular sentiments,” and aren’t taught by today’s religions—except for the teachings of our Church. “The understanding of life after death in the LDS church is the clearest” understanding about heaven in the twentieth century (Colleen McDannel and Bernhard Lang, 1988, 308, 320).

If your family is strong

If your family is anchored in the gospel, how fortunate you are! Still, even temple-married families aren’t perfect. As Sister Mary Hales said, “When you may think that someone has a perfect family, you just do not know them well enough” (Robert D. Hales, Ensign, May 1999, 34). But if your home often knows the warm feelings of love, and if your family is trying—even most of the time—to have family prayer and family home evening, you’re learning the pattern for happiness.

When our children were small, they were almost too “active in the Church.” Our bishop would smile at our noisy crowd and say, “Curtain climbers, rug rats, and house apes!” Your family might feel that way sometimes. We see each other at our best, and our worst, in the closeness of family life. In the worst moments, you might wonder how you can even live with them. But in the best moments, you know you can’t live without them.

The night before our oldest son left for his mission, we put together “the family slide show”—the best and funniest pictures of our family for 20 years. At the end of the show, we knelt in prayer together. There were plenty of tears and hugs that night. No more curtain climbers or rug rats—just imperfect young men and young women, and their imperfect parents, who felt an honest love for each other. And those feelings have kept growing.

If your family is torn

In the musical Les Miserables, Fantine sings of her childhood dream “that love would never die.” Then she cries, “But the tigers come at night, and tear your [dreams] apart.” I know how hard family problems can be. I have seen plenty of tigers tear at people’s dreams, when the hearts of children and parents don’t turn to each other.

I have also known valiant Church members who have absorbed the pain of family trauma rather than passing it on. Emulating Christ, they give love in exchange for hatred. They “renounce [family] war and proclaim [family] peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers” (D&C 98:16).

“See the vision” and hang on

Whatever our circumstances, we all feel the longing to belong in eternal unity with a loving family. I know the power of hanging on to that feeling as a deep, personal vision.

Harry was fighting in a torrent of rain and blood one night on New Guinea during World War II. Shrapnel from enemy mortar shells ripped his stomach apart, and he lay dying in a muddy foxhole. As he pled with God to send a rescue crew, he closed his eyes and a dreamlike picture of his sweetheart flooded his mind’s eye. The image of returning to her and raising a family together gave him the will to live until a British officer named Abel scooped him onto a stretcher. Harry returned home to marry the girl of his dream, and soon they joined the Church. Fifty years later, their posterity is among the strength of the Australia Devonport Stake. Harry was kept alive—physically and spiritually—by his dream of family love.

The mental image of his wife also gave Viktor Frankl the strength to survive the agonies of a Nazi concentration camp: “As we stumbled on for miles, … dragging one another up and onward, … my mind clung to my wife’s image … her look was then more luminous than the sun. … for the first time in my life … I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love.” Therefore, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1984, 56–57, 12). His “why” was the vision of being together with his sweetheart. Full of such hope, he could live with the awful “how” of imprisonment.

As we recently left the temple together, following the marriage of some young friends, Rich, the groom, said he first met Kate when he was 14. “That’s when I first saw the vision,” he told us, smiling at Kate in her wedding dress. “But I wasn’t worthy of her, so she never knew how I admired her. Then after years of school, seminary, and a mission, I saw her again. And this time I was ready.”

A Young Women teacher I know taught the Laurels in a very remote area with few Church members. The slim prospects for eternal companions discouraged her girls terribly. She taught them to cultivate a vision of their future home and marriage, urging them to pray actively for their future companions, who were surely alive somewhere. She taught them to live worthy of such a dream, every day, every night. All six of her Laurels ultimately found and married righteous young men in the temple.

I once saw Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, rising majestically against a clear blue sky. For the next few days, the mountain was enshrouded by dense clouds. Some visitors came thousands of miles to see the mountain, but never did. I shared their disappointment, but I knew the mountain was there. I had “seen the vision.” Sometimes our dream of joyful marriage and family life is obscured by dark clouds. But I know this dream also waits for us, as strong and sure as a mountain.

Live to fulfill your family dream. The longing of the human heart for this fulness is a source of great power, even—especially—on those cloudy days, or years, when your dreams seem impossible. Your longing to belong forever to a loving family comes from God, and He has promised its fulfillment to the faithful: “For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Ps. 107:9). You can live happily ever after, for the Lord God has spoken it. I have seen the mountain of the Lord’s love. I know His promise is sure.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson