A few weeks ago, my family lost our father. Although his death was sudden, and the circumstances surprising, it was not, in truth, unexpected. His health had been declining for several years, and he had several injuries from falls as he had become more unstable on his feet.
His passing is felt deeply by our family, but not for him. Rather we mourn for our mother, and each other. I, personally, have remarked to several people that I am not sad about his death, but merely for how much we all, and especially his eternal companion, our dear mother, will miss him. You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ has taught me many things about Death, and Death has taught me many things about Life.
One of the things I have learned is the truth of the infinite nature of choice. We have a multitude of choices place before us each day. We have limitless options at this point, but the moment we decide, that vast collection is reduced to one point.
Some of our choices produce more unlimited possibilities. One of those is the choice of education. Learning, growing, developing, and expanding our minds increases our options. Choosing to not learn, to not study, to not practice limits our potential future.
As a youth, I took piano lessons. I also played the violin in school. I didn't always put in the hours I sould have, however, when it came to practicing. Today, if I were to pick up a violin, I would most likely still sound like a beginner--a sound not incredibly pleasant to the human ear--but I would know some of the basic principles to playing.
Over the years, I have spent more time with my piano playing, and I can play things now that I could not play even a few short years ago. I am not, however, what I would consider a proficient pianist. I know that had I spent more time practicing as a child, I would be better now.
But most importantly for this discussion, because I took the opportunity when younger to take piano lessons, I now have, as a possible choice, playing the piano. Had I not made that choice to take lessons, the choice to play would not now be open to me. But had I made the choice to practice more, my options now would be greater.
The second thing that Death has taught me is how eternally important family is. Growing up, I admit I saw my dad as almost super-human. This is possibly due to the fact that I also saw him rather infrequently, since he was on the road for so many days during the week, then busy on weekends. After his job changed, he spent more time at home, and my image of him was shattered. After that, he and I did not get along very well. Until I moved out, that is. Not living in the same house allowed us to develop a better closeness. I still find that odd, but it was true.
In fact, I have found that I often have repeated that pattern. Many of the people in my life get along better with me when we do not lve in the same house. If I had the chance for a do-over, I would spend less of my energies on things that matter less, and more on my relatinships with family.
Even now, my siblings and I chat every Sunday night. Some of these siblings were out on their own before I was old enough to really get to know them very well. But the love I have for them, and the rare amounts of time I spend with them--even online--show me how important it is to focus on those moments when I can.
As our society brings about the collapse of the family, our church asks us to strengthen those ties. Death has taught me that strong bonds of love are not broken at the passing of a loved one, but strengthened further.
Death has also taught me the importance of peace. Not just peace as an absence of war, but inner peace that comes from sure knowledge with a sound foundation. I have always felt that there was either staying busy, or doing nothing. There was little in between. I now realize that we each need moments of peacefulness.
We should not merely be passive in accepting peacefull moments when they come, but we should actively seek them. Merely being inactive is not the same. If we are to truly find serenity, it must be a proactive choice, with conscious actions. I still waste plenty of time, but I am finding ways to build peaceful moments in my life.
And to paraphrase financial guru Dave Ramsey, the surest way to inner peace is to "walk daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus." My truest moment of peace come from the surety that He has suffered that I may be forgiven, and that from Him I can gain the strength to carry on when the journey seems difficult. From Him I find light when the way is dark.
This brings me to one of the most important things I have learned -- the importance of maintaining an eternal perspective. So many believe that we should live only for today, because there may not be a tomorrow. I know that this is good advice in many ways, but not all.
We must remember to live in such a way that we are prepared for tomorrow. This is good advice financially (which I am still in the process of attempting), and great advice spiritually. We will live again after this life, and there will be a day of accountability, when we will be asked to answer for the lives we have lived.
In that day, we cannot hope to accomplish in one moment what we should have maintained for our entire lives. If we have not lived up to our commitments, and religiously our covenants, that day will be too late. And if we have not made any commitments, our lack of initiative will mean that we have to answer for the good we could have done, but didn't.
You see, one of the reasons we are here is grow in strength and knowledge. If we give in to baser instincts, we cannot acheive that goal, since sin makes us weak. If we never build our character, we stay weak. It reminds me of trees. If trees are given too easy a life, they will be blown over at the first strong wind. Too harsh an invironment, and the tree can wither.
We will not wither, because God will never put us in an environment that is too harsh for us. He knows our strengths, and knows how much we can take. He has promised we will never be given more than we can withstand. Which means we cannot use, as an excuse, that something was too difficult. It will never be so.
So our task is to grow. We are to become strong. We are to become great. And staying weak by refusing to stretch our limits will condemn us as surely as sinning.
The final thing I will discuss (for now) is the third thing death has taught me. That is the importance of death itself. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe that one of the most important, and educational places on earth is the LDS temple. Tonight, while there, something profound occured to me. Death is more than just an end to our earthly life. It is even more than the first step into the next life.
Death is a necessary part of the Great Plan of Happiness. You see, Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden after partaking of the forbidden fruit. Not just because they had disobeyed God's command, but because staying could have disrupted the entire plan. Had they stayed, they may have partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life. This would have made them immortal once again. But they had allowed the sin of disobedience into their lives and hearts and souls. Had they done this, not only would they have lived forever in their sins, but it is possible that even had they been able to have children, all mankind would have been born into a world of immortality.
Immortal innocence was the state of the world before Adam's Fall. Immortal corruption would have damaged the plan that was to culminate in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That was what I realized tonight about death. We need it. Not just so that we can keep the world rom being too crowded, not just so we can get to the next life. We need death to separate us from our corrupt corporeal bodies, so the Atonement can save us. Immortal beings could not be changed in the way we need to be changed, but a spirit separated from its body by death becomes somewhat lessened.
That is when the Atonement comes into play. First, by relying on the grace of Jesus Christ, after all we can do, we can turn to Him for mercy. His grace fully grants us the gift of immortality once again, after we have been cleansed of our sins. If we have been cleansed. Those who have, by whatever means, rejected the forgiveness of the Savior in this life will be raised to a state that is less than their ultimate potential. They will not achieve Celestial Life with God, because of their choice to deny the full power of Christ's sacrifice in their lives.
But those who allow their sins to be forgiven, who sacrifice their sins in order to know God and Jesus Christ who He sent, will be raised to a state of Celestial Glory. And all of that is possible because we can, at the end of our days, do the one remaining thing we have been unable to do until then--die.
I do not fear death. Will I welcome it when it is my turn? Who can say? Will I seek it? Absolutely not. But when it comes, I will not be looking into a void, but stepping from this room into the next. I will not be taken by a heartless predator, but will be met by a familiar friend. And when that time comes, I will praise God for the time I had, and thank Him for His merciful blessings.