It’s my privilege to know exceptional people. I’d like to say it’s because I’m picky about who I associate with, but truthfully I think Heavenly Father put His favourites in my path. Last night I got an email from one such favourite, and she reminded me of a great lesson.
A young father in her church congregation had quickly fallen ill and passed away suddenly, leaving his young wife with two small children. My friend, full of compassion and sorrow, considered the course of grief in our faith. She said,
“Sometimes I feel that because we do know what happens after we die, that prevents members from mourning and grieving… like if they are sad, then they don’t have a testimony, don’t have faith. It’s a bunch of garbage*. We can be sorrowful. We can be devastated.”
How grateful we are to understand our Heavenly Parents’ great plan of happiness. Knowing that our journey is not over at death, that there’s much more need and purpose for us, is a great comfort. But my friend raised a really important point: we can be sorrowful. She later, crucially to me, reminded me of our covenant to Heavenly Father: that we would “mourn with those that mourn.” (Mosiah 18: 8-10)
I read that in her email to me and I felt humbled, like I’d missed this important promise all along. Do I take the opportunity to truly mourn with the mourning, or is it my habit to skip that part and revert immediately to those comforting truths I know? It’s not necessarily a bad thing- it’s doing your best to comfort one who stands in need of comfort- but I began to feel like there was great purpose in the Savior’s counsel to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. In fact, maybe there was great purpose in it preceding the task to comfort. I have learned that God’s pattern is to teach His children concepts “line upon line, precept upon precept.” Essentially that means to learn how to walk before we attempt to run.
I thought about this, and concluded that I don’t think a person can successfully administer true comfort without first mourning sincerely. Mourning is the schooling of true compassion and humility. In the case of mourning with others, as we promise to do at baptism, it’s removing yourself from the picture, and being solely concerned for someone other than yourself.
I read in 2 Nephi 8: 11,
“Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”
In this scripture I see the necessity of Zion- which we understand to mean a group or family of like-minded and righteous peoples- mourning together. They mourn together first, then they comfort together, and the result is the success of that comfort: joy, holiness, gladness, and healing as sorrow and mourning flees away. There is something to be said of the doctrine of Zion. We have our personal journey of discipleship, yes. But true success in the gospel concerns companionship, family, friends, wards and stakes: we lift one another and no man is left behind. Heaven would not be heaven if it comprised one lone man.
Neal A. Maxwell said,
“It is abundantly clear, therefore, that we have a duty to comfort others, to mourn with them, to serve them, and to help them… We do not know all the details of the crosses others bear, but we know enough to understand that crosses are being borne valiantly. Moreover, the courage of others can be contagious.” (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 94)
Who am I to think I am qualified to comfort without first mourning? To comfort is a god-like right, earned first by being in the trenches of mourning. When we take more courage and patience to feel sorrow, to share and to listen without preaching, Maxwell suggests that the observation of unity (which is a peek into Zion) is fortifying and comforting enough.
* Prime example of why I adore this friend. See: On Being Genuine, Uchtdorf. She’s the MOST genuine.