December 22, 2021

Have you ever stood over the crib and watched your young child sleeping and felt overwhelming love wash over you, only to be replaced by the gripping fear, "What if something happens to him/her?" And that thought steals your happiness and peace in a moment that might be one of unadulterated joy.

Brene Brown used this example in a talk once and someone in the audience shouted out, "Oh why do we do that?" I could answer her. I've seen that "What if?" played out in the real world. It was over half my life ago, but hearing my mother's sobs as they carried my little brother's lifeless and cancer-ridden body from his earthly home on a cold October morning is still a poignant memory. I still remember seeing my father cry for only the second time in my life.

My little brother, Errol, was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed rascal. He was good-natured and fun, and he loved life. He loved riding horses and working cattle, skiing, and sports. He had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. Most significant to me, he loved and looked up to me. He was 9 years younger than me and wanted to tag along in everything I did. He was beautiful.

Errol started having serious health problems at age 14. Doctors, doing the best they could, misdiagnosed a highly malignant brain tumor as stomach problems--until he started seeing a black spot before his eyes. He lived three more years--mostly in extreme pain. In the end, as a 17 year-old boy, he made the decision to stop treatments after it became clear that they would only prolong his suffering and not give him much more life. What a hellacious decision for a 17-year-old boy to make. If he was still on this earth, Errol would have turned 45 years old this month.

The fear that something like this might happen to a child we love is why we stand over a crib worrying and feeling pain instead of just feeling that overpowering love.

Our brains are over 2 million years old and they are wired for survival. They also wire us for the survival of our children and the perpetuation of our families. So we worry about a lot of things we have no control over. Our fear response is over generalized to ensure that we remain vigilant about the things we can control to preserve and protect our children.

Every mid-single I know has felt deep pain, accompanied by a deep disappointment at how their lives have "turned out." As painful as my brother's death was for me, my divorce from my kids' mom was harder. It was actually a lot harder. I missed Errol and I still miss him. But he didn't leave voluntarily. There was no personal rejection in it. My former wife left of her own free will. She wanted to leave.

The losses so many of you have suffered triggered the greatest pain you will ever feel. It is important to acknowledge the pain we feel and truly process it in order to move on.

President Nelson has said that "the only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life." I would add that the only way to take sorrow out of divorce is to take love out of marriage. Admit it. You loved that gaslighting narcissist deeply. You thought he or she loved you too. You kept hoping things would change and, time after time, you were disappointed until all hope was gone. Whatever you think of your former spouse now, you loved him or her. That's why it hurts so much.

If you haven't been able to stop bagging on your former spouse, you have not fully grieved. Admit to yourself and a trusted circle of friends how much you loved your former spouse and how bitter your disappointment was that the dreams you had for that marriage were lost. Cry about it and ask God "why?"

So, what about this problem of allowing our worry about the possibility of loss to destroy our happiness with the blessings we have and might have in the future? If we had known that my little brother was going to suffer and die of cancer, we could have protected ourselves emotionally. We probably would have--and deprived ourselves of the years of joy he gave us. We would have avoided getting close to him, knowing that he would be taken from us someday--and fearing the pain. And that's exactly why God doesn't let us know the end from the beginning. We aren't supposed to know. In many cases, knowing would steal our joy. It would force us to play it safe and not get involved with people.

For whatever reason, our godlike nature demands that love come with the risk of pain and loss. There is something heroic in us all that understands that love cannot be real unless it has a price, and we are risking pain for it. This is taught no better anywhere than in the simple scriptural phrase: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son" (John 3:16).

I understand that risking your heart can seem foolish when it has been so filled with pain in the past. Why would I climb out on that limb again? We do it because the alternative is cold and bitter. It is refusing to gain anything good for fear of losing it. To gain love for eternity, we must take the risks and the pain in this life to really understand its value. In eternity, we will feel the permanence of love in a way that we cannot feel in this life. As John the beloved wrote:

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4.)

At this time of year, we celebrate a new Life that came into the world to bring new life to the world. It is the hope of the resurrection and eternal life with our loved ones that brings us our greatest joy. If you have been disappointed in love, this time of celebration can be a time of renewal. As President Nelson said:

"[T]ender recollections come of loved ones who were a vital part of Christmases past. . . A good cry at Christmas time is a sacred symbol of love."

I got to experience that this morning as I wrote about my little brother. I hope you take the opportunity to remember the good times with people you have lost--in whatever way you lost them.

Whatever you have experienced and whatever you have lost, I promise you there is a law of restoration. And by suffering losses, you have learned the meaning of love in a profound way. Love isn't about watching for red flags and setting boundaries and otherwise putting up barriers to caring about other people. Of course you should be wise. But love is about taking the risk because love is worth it. I challenge you to love fiercely and freely without fear this holiday season and forever after. It IS worth the price.
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