Note: I wrote this post a long, long time ago and then deleted it. I can't remember why. Possibly because it was rambly and long. Found it today and am posting it for real. I am fond of preaching to myself.
Jeff’s recent thoughtful post has stirred me up. I knew one of the men he was talking about, for a while they lived down the street from us and Mother befriended his young wife. They were a young, hopeful couple and seemed especially enthused about the gospel. I remember the young man bearing his testimony and mentioning how grateful he was that his wife saw fit to ‘hitch her wagon to his star’ and marry him. I was a terribly romantic adolescent then and the words made me swoon. Oh yes, I remember them. So sad to hear that life did not give that family all they had hoped and wished for. And then his untimely death, that just stinks. Especially contrasted with the other more prominent death.
Many emotions rise to the surface. I like to think that it is noble of me to care so much about and feel such a sense of injustice. But truth be told, there is something else that keeps bubbling up in all this. Something I dare not admit as it is proof again of my shallowness.
It’s hard not to feel a teeny bit bitter, jealous, and resentful of the man who died with it all – success, fame, money and righteousness to boot. I am sure he had his struggles, but all we see is that. This seeming unfairness, well it rankles me a bit. There I said it.
How dare he lead a charmed, smooth life, adored and admired by so many! And here’s more of the ugly truth: Who doesn’t want lots of people singing their praises and lauding their achievements at their funeral? Who doesn’t want it splashed throughout the newspapers that a good man (or woman) has died and will be sorely missed?
We all want that, don’t we? It is proof that our life mattered, that we had worth. That we were respected. This is the rub for me and the awful truth, maybe for you, too. We simply love the good opinion of others, crave it in fact. And this obsession/need comes cloaked in respectability. I want to give off that I have it all together, that I belong to an ‘Ensign family’, and I expect to be rewarded for all my efforts, both spiritual and temporal. There is shame in admitting this, but there it is. Now don’t get me wrong, wanting respectability is not wholly a bad thing. Not at all. But taken to extremes and left unchecked it can cause us to appear rather than to actually be. And that is not good. In fact, the Savior had quite a bit to say about this.
Now I know you are all thinking ‘this is not what JLA was meaning at all in his post’. I get that, people. I always go from point A and wind up around W. But, for me, point W is usually where the truth lies. At any rate, through all this, I was reminded of a talk that I have loved all these years. Perhaps I have loved it because it speaks to my insecurities and makes clear what really, really matters.
Elder Packer (Boyd K. Packer, “The Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 20):
…remember this: It is the misapprehension of most people that if you are good, really good, at what you do, you will eventually be both widely known and well compensated. It is the understanding of almost everyone that success, to be complete, must include a generous portion of both fame and fortune as essential ingredients. The world seems to work on that premise. The premise is false. It is not true. The Lord taught otherwise.
I want you…to know this truth:
You need not be either rich or hold high position to be completely successful and truly happy. In fact, if these things come to you, and they may, true success must be achieved in spite of them, not because of them.
And then this:
…the choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil, and that is a very different matter indeed.
…Wealth and prominence do not always come from having earned them. Our worth is not measured by renown or by what we own.
We may foolishly bring unhappiness and trouble, even suffering upon ourselves. These are not always to be regarded as penalties imposed by a displeased Creator. They are part of the lessons of life, part of the test.
Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of age.
Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity.
Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury.
All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect.
It is possible to be both rich and famous and at the same time succeed spiritually. But the Lord warned of the difficulty of it when He talked of camels and needles (see Matt. 19:24).
He goes on:
What, then, do we want you to do? Simply this:
Study the gospel.
Stay active in the Church.
Receive the ordinances.
Keep your covenants.
Hmm. There it is. Everyone speaks of death being the great equalizer, and it is. But the truth is it is covenants, both made and kept, that put us all on equal footing and eliminate any need for comparing or being jealous. Keeping covenants (and that really means discipleship as well) is well within the realm of all us.
If, when I die, that is all that can be said about me, then all will be well and good. Because somewhere away from the crowds, and the well attended funerals and the respectability we have so carefully crafted around ourselves, somewhere, sometime the truth about us will come out. The Lord will judge, in both justice and in mercy, how we each fared.