The following story is a work of fiction, but only slightly. Wherever the Sego Lily Foundation takes me, I hear stories that go like this.
Gwendolyn Kate Mears – “Winnie” to her friends – loves pickleball, stocked fishing ponds, and the endless sunshine of Saint George, Utah where she has lived alone since 2013. Her active lifestyle hides a constant ache for her soulmate, Dale, who died suddenly in 2012 one month shy of retirement. Winnie and Dale’s storybook marriage took place in a split-level ranch near Hill Air Force Base where Dale worked for Boeing. They raised three boys, rooted passionately for the BYU Cougars, and happily gave thousands of hours to Roy’s 18th Ward of the LDS Church.
Winnie was at Harmon’s when she got the call – Dale had fainted. No big deal. But by the time she got to the hospital fully expecting to see her husband’s trademark grin, he was gone. During the funeral, Dale’s Bishop commented on the good and natural role of death in Heavenly Father’s Plan. The remark – off hand, at best – unsettled Winnie’s youngest son, James. “None of this feels good or natural,” he thought. And, so, he dove headlong into LDS-approved literature to discover the nuances of Eternal Progression. His reading only raised bigger and more consequential questions. Private doubts spilled into a one-on-one confrontation with his bishop, who rebuked James and commanded him to bury those doubts immediately.
By and by, James gravitated to the life of the Savior. He read John 3:3 from his quad, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” James was flummoxed – Aren’t there three kingdoms? Aren’t we already re-born? Once in the Pre-Existence and once on Earth?
James, anxious and depressed, finally confided in his wife, April. And much to his surprise, she didn’t want to divorce him for she, too, had harbored private doubts for many years. Hers began at 14, when the sheer excessiveness of Joseph Smith’s polygamy lodged in her soul like the goat-head thorns that so often terrorized her hikes. They talked, and I mean they really talked. For the first time in their marriage, they were honest with each other about the Church. That day they took off their Temple Garments never to put them on again.
James and April discovered a website that explained John 3. They started livestreaming the services of the church that hosted the site. But that church was in Pennsylvania and they were in Utah. They corresponded by email and the pastor flew back and forth. By God’s grace, James and April asked Jesus to save them by grace alone. Eventually, at the Pennsylvanian pastor’s suggestion, they found a Bible-teaching church twenty minutes from their home.
While James was journeying toward a saving relationship with Christ, Winnie took a trek of her own. She and Dale had always dreamed of retiring to the desert. And, so, Winnie moved to Saint George to begin the life of a young widow and retiree. James took it hard at first; he was his momma’s boy, after all. The two still talk every day: James of his growing family and Winnie of her grand adventures (she’s refused three different suitors and recently started culinary classes at Dixie Tech). They talk about the Church and Joseph Smith. But when he turns the conversation to salvation by grace alone, Winnie swats away all such discussion more swiftly than the fellas seeking her hand.
“I just can’t imagine eternity without Dale,” she says tersely and tearlessly. And there the conversation dead ends. Winnie won’t get past it. It hardly matters that she hasn’t been to a sacrament meeting since Dale died or that she no longer regards the LDS Church to be the one true church. She wants her soulmate back. Period.
James just showed up at a Sego Lily Foundation event and asked the question near to his heart – How do I get my mom to listen?
Some topics are so overloaded with emotion that the only thing a believer can do is entrust their family member to the word of Christ, who cares for them infinitely more than we do. This is one of those cases.
The Word of Christ
Jesus has a lot to say to people like Winnie, but three points strike me as particularly important.
First, Jesus categorically claims “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He said this just before raising his dear friend Lazarus from the dead (John 11:35-36), thus proving the claim. Jesus, the Architect of eternity, the Creator of forever has plainly said, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). Before people like Winnie can ask Jesus to be their Savior, they often need to see Him as the Lord who determines eternity. Talking to LDS widows and proclaiming, “Jesus says you can’t have eternal marriage” is biblically true, but hard to hear. And this is why I suggest starting with Jesus, the resurrection and the life. He offers Himself to every Latter-day Saint, and his first order of business is to convince him of His right to define eternity.
Second, Jesus demands absolute allegiance: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus is jealous for the hearts of people (Exodus 34:14), yet He warmly calls us to that allegiance. Siding with Christ has great incentive, which brings us to our third point.
Third, Jesus offers an incredible reward to those who choose Him over everyone and everything else. He says “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). He compares the discovery of Himself to finding great treasure in a field (Matthew 13:44) or a pearl of great value (Matthew 13:46). Jesus is nobody’s debtor. If people like Winnie turn their hearts to Christ, He promises to reward that allegiance on a divine scale. We know that the Winnies of the world can’t ultimately have their Dales. But Jesus, in incredible grace, is offering unimaginable reward to anyone who willingly hands over his fool’s gold in exchange for the true treasure of Jesus Christ.
As people like James talk to their widowed moms and dads, the above three points must be rehearsed with grace that echoes the very heart of Jesus. “The servant of God must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone” (2 Timothy 2:24).
If Winnie were real, she would certainly ask, “What about Dale?” Well, Jesus is Judge of the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). He alone knows the hearts of men like Dale. Let us entrust our loved ones to a merciful Lord in the hope that there is more to the story. Nobody loves redemption more than the one who will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).