As a kid I used to worry a lot about the afterlife and all those degrees of glory. When I learned that my paternal grandmother was sealed to her first husband, and not my grandfather, it stressed me to no end wondering how my dad was going to manage in the next world NOT being sealed to both parents. But it bugged me even more that my grandma didn’t seem to care. She’d shrug her shoulders and say, “Oh Heather, the Lord will sort it out.”
In high school French we read a lot of existentialist lit and I remember being shocked by Voltaire’s flippant views on religion: a ship is caught in a storm, half the crew pray, half don’t. They all die regardless, so why pray? It bothered me to think that there was NOT some great tally of good and bad going on “up there.” Wasn’t the purpose of this life to get back to God, to vicariously build my mansion on high by being obedient here on earth? Why pray, why be good if it didn’t matter?
I mentally chewed on this for years, trying to understand the purposes of suffering and joy. For the first decade of my married life we were students. Poor students. Cleaning other people’s bathrooms poor. I kept thinking, I’ll be so happy when this is over and our real life starts, i.e. a good job, kids, a home, dental insurance. Somewhere around year 6 I had to face the facts: this was my real life. Always looking to the future was making me miserable. I needed to find a way to be happy in the now, because now is all we have. So I stopped worrying about when my husband would finish his dissertation and if we’d ever get to the point where we didn’t have to assemble our furniture.
I never meant for this to have big spiritual implications, it was honestly a survival mechanism. But part of my realization was that if now is it, then everything is spiritual. Choices about certain things like accepting a calling, attending the temple, or helping that semi-crazy friend move for the 4th time in 6 months took on new meaning. A subtle shift happened. Whatever I did I had to do because it made sense in my right now life. No more mansion on high. No more reward in heaven. So if I go to the temple, it’s because it affords me peace. If it helps someone on the other side, that’s a bonus. But I don’t feel guilty when I don’t go. And I don’t believe there’s a frowning angel giving me a demerit. I serve the YW because it makes me a better person to prepare lessons and enjoy the friendship of my girls. I am blessed by this. I hope that my lessons stay with them and help them make good choices in the future, but that’s not why I do it. To quote Ursula LeGuin: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
My girlfriend says I’m like Santa now, all about being “good for goodness sake.” And the older I get, the more I believe that goodness is its own reward and sin is its own punishment. Serving others makes me happy. Even if the angels aren’t recording it. And taking the time I need to fill my own cup ensures that I am able to help those in my care. So taking a nap or going to lunch with girlfriends can have eternal consequences. We need to believe that our happiness is as important to God in this life as it is in the next.
Sometime in the 90’s there was a shift in temple policy. In performing proxy marriages for deceased persons it became possible for a woman to be sealed to all of her husbands. Most people have never heard of this. I know found out when my dad and his sister where vicariously sealed in the LA Temple for my grandmother and grandfather. I thought I’d be so relieved to have this childhood worry laid to rest, but funny enough, it didn’t seem important anymore. Like my grandma, I’d learned that we build Zion around us every day. Heaven can wait.
How much do the promises of heaven affect your daily life? What benefits do you feel from belief in an afterlife? When are thoughts of a celestial kingdom a blessing to you? Are they ever a burden?