Saturday, May 16, 2009

Good Man Gone: Finding Peace

The second part of my New Year's Resolution for this month is from Matthew 6:19-23:

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

I could never have imagined at the beginning of the year when I made this resolution how appropriate it would be today as I write about this portion of it.

Yesterday, I attended the viewing of a man in our stake who died of an unexpected heart attack. He was in his early 50's, had just been to the doctor and been pronounced fit as a fiddle, was losing weight and feeling great.

He was the Bishop of his ward, and I had been the High Council adviser for his ward when I first was called to my current calling. He was a wonderful, humble, caring, kind man.

His wife had been cancer free for just over a year. During her treatment, while he served faithfully as a Bishop, their ward rallied around them in wonderful ways, giving incredible love and service and strength to both of them in their trial. Everyone had become reconciled to the possibility of her death, so his was a true shock. His son flew home for the weekend, after which he will return to finish his mission. In the words of our Stake President, "None of them would have it any other way." I spoke with his wife briefly at the viewing yesterday, and something she said has been weighing on my mind ever since. She said, essentially:

He lost his mother about six weeks ago, and his aunt passed away five days later. We had reached peace with death and were focused on life. I know it will be hard in a couple of weeks when everyone gets back to their own lives and I am alone to deal with not having him here, but I believe in the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation and the promises of the temple. It will be hard, but I will be OK.

What I want to share from this experience is not related directly to those things she mentioned at the end (the Atonement, Plan and temples), but something else that she said at the beginning - being at peace.

As much as anything else, when I die I want to be at peace with death - but I also want to be at peace with my life. I don't want to be bitter or angry or upset before I die; I want to be at peace.

I believe that is up to me - that it is my responsibility. The natural man inclination is to blame others for our feelings - for whether or not we are at peace. I understand the necessity for anger, grief and/or cognitive dissonance when certainty is shattered, ambiguity accelerates and testimony is tried. I really do get that need. However, reconciliation of some kind that leads to peace and charity is critical.

I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I had a universal answer. The only answer I have is that there is peace in letting go - that there is peace in cutting others slack - there is peace in real charity - there is peace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There isn't always peace in the human organizations in which that Gospel is interpreted and taught, just as there isn't always peace in even the most ideal families, but the peace the Gospel brings can influence and strengthen the peace that then can be brought individually into the Church - the community of spiritual family.

I hope I or my wife never has to deal with what this good Bishop's wife is experiencing right now and in the near future. I hope we die together, at a ripe old age. More than that, however, I hope that when either of us dies, the other is at peace - because she or I simply has become a peaceful person.

As I strive to be a peacemaker and, thereby, to be called a child of God, I understand that the first peace I must influence and create is within my own heart and soul - that I can't spread peace externally unless I am at peace internally. For those who now are not at peace, I hope they can look for peace even before understanding. That might seem counter-intuitive at first, but I believe peace can bring understanding - and that understanding, in and of itself, rarely brings peace - largely because the quest for understanding never ends. Peace, on the other hand, can last and endure even during circumstances that cannot be understood - like the unexpected death of a good Bishop.

God bless you, Denny. You will be missed.


Nora Ray said...


Jami said...

Thanks, Ray.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit it,but I think suffering has made me a much more peaceful person.Understanding can be an intellectual process,or it can be a deeply experienced spiritual witness.I see now that my time will be short-in common with the rest of humanity,and in that time i would like my legacy to be one of warmth and understanding.I see that much,if not all,that i hoped to teach can be taught by someone else and those I love will infinitely prefer love over lessons.It's very hard to get over the idea that it all has to be me,but it's possible that this has just been a further expression of my egotism.Then again.look how self righteous I still manage to be.I sometimes wonder just what it will take for me to get over myself.God bless this dear man's family.Half a century is not long to have.So very much to learn.