Heaven Can Wait

My grandmother and her first husband.

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?

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30 Responses

  1. makakona says:

    i loved this. a girlfriend and i recently had a similar discussion. because i am the only member in my family and because my kids go to a parochial school, people seem to ask me more often than is normal, “what if none of it is true?” you know, i really don’t care. in the end, i’ll have lived a beautiful life, full of love and service, and that’s what makes me happy.

  2. spunky says:

    The promises of heaven affect my daily life very little. Its all a little too much of a gamble for me- and makes me feel a bit selfish- i.e. “go to the temple because people will thank you for eternity” if not delusional “one day, it will all be sorted in heaven”. I suppose I don’t really like the thought of an afterlife– the eternity issue creeps me out, yet not having an afterlife scares me. I am not sure there is a benefit of belief in afterlife, but for the idea that I can finally rest from my troubles and have utter joy, if but for a moment.

    To be quite frank, I am unsure if the belief of a celestial is rewarding to me. My birth family is Mormon, and I had the “sealed for eternity” crap nailed into my head amid a childhood of som much abuse that I sought excommunication as a means of not having to spend eternity with them. Whilst I have laid to rest the idea that I will be forced to spend eternity with them, the childhood terror of being a slave in eternity to overbearing and abusive family members still haunts me. The whole Mormon sales-pitch of eternal families has always been what most drove me away from the church, and still makes it uncomfortable for me when I consider what I hope heaven to be like. For- I do not want my Mormon birth family to be in heaven at all– and the eternal plan threatens me that they will be because the celestial kingdom is all about families, right? I have my own family now, and I can’t bear being without them… the the little girl in me is still scared of a celestial kingdom that always presented itself as hell if it included my birth family.

    • Emily U says:

      Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s important to remember stories like this when we teach about families being “forever.”

    • Heather says:

      My husband always cringed at the Primary song “I have a family here on earth, they are so good to me, I want to share my life with them through all eternity…” If we idealize blood family too much we forget that not all families are created equal. I’m sure many a kid in Primary has struggled through the implications of that song. When I lived in Arizona a Primary counselor gave a disclaimer before introducing that song to be taught. It was tactful and reassured the kids that nobody was going to be stuck with bad people, no matter what their ties. And personally, a lot of the people who think they are headed to heaven aren’t.

    • Amy says:

      Interesting point of view. I am luckily happy to be sealed to both my birth family and my husband and children now. However, I have often wondered how people felt who weren’t happy with their families here on earth, why they would want to be sealed for eternity. I must admit, in those situations- like yours- a very confusing concept. And I certainly don’t have the answer, except that I do believe in a loving God who wouldn’t want you to suffer for eternity for someone else’s sins. Thanks for sharing.

      • spunky says:

        Jeppers, I really need to proof read, even when I am busy.

        Anyway…Thanks. I am aware that I need to repent for holding a grudge against family. It has taken me time to deal with my own anger and resentment and very unChristlike thoughts, so I know I am not faultless for this and a million other reasons. And I know I need to forgive them… its just hard to not be the scared little girl, even as an adult and even though I know heaven should be peace. So I think that is another twisted Mormon-esk thing I personally deal with– guilt for NOT wanting to be with family, guilt for holding a grudge and guilt for not forgiving. All of that plays into my concept of things I need to deal with before I can reach heaven, and things I should do in this life. But the last time I tried reconciliation with my mother involved her blaming me for her actions (i.e. “I did the best I could, you were just a bad child and needed to be burned with an iron occassionally”).

        I was just considering a recent conference talk (can’t recall who gave it)… the gist was that we can choose the sin, but not the consequence. The consequence of eternity, as it is unknown- can be hard to fathom when we have earthly baggage.

  3. shley says:

    I used to worry about the afterlife. From the time that we are young we are taught that we are sealed to our families and we’re going to be with them forever. This scared me to death. I didn’t get sealed to my mother, brothers and stepdad until I was a teenager and quite frankly I don’t want to spend eternity with them. I seriously considered not going into the sealing room with them. I was frightened that if I died before I managed to get sealed to a husband that I would have to spend eternity with my family. There is no point in going somewhere with someone if you don’t like to be around them, it’s pure misery.

    I have to say I like the idea of the sealing effect a lot better now that I know husband trumps parents.

    I really like the idea of the afterlife now. It’s a comfort to me to know that there is somewhere after this and if for some reason my life is ended prematurely that I will be with my heavenly parents and extended family. I look forward to it rather than dreading it and being scared when every near miss comes around. I’m not trying to get there early or anything, but I’m not as scared during my life when possibly life threatening events come about. For example, giant semi barely misses my tiny car, yeah, I’m kind of freaked out, but I know that if it did hit me, what was waiting for me would be good. So I’m not going to be this overly worried person about moving onto the next life. Whatever will be will be.

    • spunky says:

      I didn’t know that “husband trumps parents”… where is that from? I like it.

      • shley says:

        I didn’t ever hear it until a few years ago, the first time I heard of the concept is when I was a teenager sometime, but the whole idea is that your spouse is the only one you get to keep. You may be sealed to your kids, but they’re going to get sealed to their own spouses, and your parents may be sealed to you, but they’re also sealed to each other. The way I look at it is that you get to be with your husband all the time, but your family kind of lives two hours away and you get to visit often, which is a huge relief to me.

      • dramademon says:

        This outlook presents its own set of problems though. Take the abuse already talked about and apply it to a spouse. Imagine getting out of that situation and not remarrying and therefore not being allowed to cancel your sealing to your old husband with a new one. Or being like one of my grandmothers and sticking with the marriage through the abuse because you respected the old temple wording and saw it as your husband’s “law”. Or being like another grandmother of mine and stating, because of the wording in the temple, that she would rather be a servant in her father’s house than a servant in her husband’s.
        Or there is the conflicting experience of mine and my mother’s. She is happy to know that her abusive father will not be her father in the eternities and that she is building a new family with her (2nd)husband. Whereas I am troubled that my connection to my “unrighteous” father will be dissolved, and the concept that my husband will replace my family was felt at an early age when grandparents refused my involvement in the family business or family history with the explanation that since I was a girl “these things don’t matter.”
        Then you have a father remarry shortly after his wife’s death and you’re left wondering why would a woman distance herself from her family only to become a number in some mans harem?

        I must interject that I love the lesson on focusing on the now. But if these things we are taught don’t matter, then why are we bothering with them at all?

  4. IdahoG-ma says:

    So, grandma was right!

    It is kinda helpful to me to imagine myself making an accounting. Raising my autistic daughter is hard. I get tired and discouraged, so imagining myself on the other side having to face a tribunal where one of them says, “We see here that you accepted this hard task, and did the best you could with it.” Then turning to smirk at one of the members he says,” Gabe, here didn’t think you could do it, but I told him your stubborn streak would get you through.” It just gets me from morning to night sometimes. I have to admit that a break from family does make heaven sound better. I am ready for a new adventure.

    • Heather says:

      That’s a GREAT image! I think we all have to fashion our own personal justifications for the choices we make. When bad stuff happens, some people take great comfort in thinking it’s part of God’s plan; others shrink at that and would prefer to believe that stuff happens and the Lord lets it. We all have to have theological explanations that WORK for us. For me, worrying about heaven made me unhappy, so I stopped, but I’m sure there could be a time when I desperately need the notion of it to get me thru. God bless you! You are doing a great work with your daughter.

  5. SilverRain says:

    I’ve always thought that now is the only reality. The past is memories, and the future is dreams. They only matter insofar as they affect now.

  6. kew says:

    For a few years now I have wondered what the appeal of heaven is. Honestly, passing quietly into oblivion sounds much better to me than living forever in the LDS heaven. I just don’t understand why I would want exaltation.

  7. Emily U says:

    I like this post a lot. Because of the housing market and other factors I am stuck in a one bedroom condo with 2 kids now, and have been stressing about it, trying to think of a way out and not coming up with anything. But just this week I had a “this IS your life” epiphany, and decided I need to be happy in the NOW. I feel much better because of it.

  8. Bones says:

    I have a question, along these lines, and hope one of you can answer it. A few years ago, at General Conference, was speaking on the topic of good works. I am sure I heard him say that some people do good works just for the joy they get from it is this life and others do good works for the eternal reward. Then he said that the latter is better–that doing good works for an eternal reward is better than doing them just to be a good person.

    I have never disagreed with a statement at GC more. Can any of you remember that? I’d like to find that talk if I could.

    The thought of eternal rest sounds horrible to me. I can barely tolerate down-time now, why would I want to have an eternity of it.

    • Heather says:

      I have no idea who gave that talk but would love to read it and try to understand their conclusions. Obviously I also disagree with the idea too. It seems to me that the logical LDS view would be that doing good to be a good person leads to an eternal reward, and doing good to seek an eternal reward would likewise make to doer a better person. I don’t care why someone brings me a meal when I’m sick–I’m blessed by the action whatever their “eternal” motive.

      And I think we have a messed up view of heaven. Screw the harps and long polyester dresses. Give me cowboy boots and chocolate!

    • Amy says:

      Not sure I remember that talk, but I would be interested to hear it because that doesn’t ring quite true to me either. I thought the point of doing good works was to become more like Christ and I do believe that being a good person is becoming more like Christ. And becoming more like Christ will lead us back to Him.
      As for the eternal rest thing, I think that should be better-defined. I don’t think I will just be laying around in the next life. Perhaps it is a rest from certain earthly cares- for one, we won’t have the same health problems etc in the next lives because we will have perfect bodies. Just a thought…

  9. CatherineWO says:

    I’m clicking “like” buttons all the way down this discussion. How I wish I had heard and understood these ideas earlier in my life. I spent much of my early married/mothering years doing things only for the eternal reward, things that made me miserable. I had chronic health problems that made it very likely that I would die young. I knew my husband would remarry and I hated the thought of sharing him with another woman eternally, but I was determined to be the more righteous wife, so my place would be secured. It’s really only been in the last five years (since I realized I beat the odds–I’m now too old to die young) that my outlook has shifted (like major earthquake shifted), and I am a better, and happier, person because of it.

    • Caroline says:

      Like CatherineWO, I too was tormented by the fear that my husband would temple marry another wife if I died. And I was also tormented by the idea that God would command my husband to take another wife in the afterlife, even if my husband didn’t remarry in this life. I spent many hours in tears thinking about the awfulness, the unfairness, the violation of fidelity, etc. that such a scenario would entail.

      I’ve been a lot happier since I decided that my God is not a God that would force something I find so horrific on me. It’s felt good to let go of those specific ideas, fears, etc. about the afterlife and concentrate more on the person I want to be in this life.

  10. Corktree says:

    I’m not really sure how my view of the afterlife affects my day to day. Like my post about the difference between our remembering and current selves, I live my life so that I can be both happy in the moment and happy with what I’ve chosen to do in my life, but I rarely think of heaven as reason for any choices I make. I do contemplate what the reality will be like when I die, but more out of curiosity. ( I frequently find myself lamenting that there is no way to learn all that I want to in this life, so I’m hopeful that eternal progression really is what it’s all about. )

    But my goal is to teach my children to do things for the sake of doing them for good in the moment rather than as insurance for some nebulous outcome beyond this existence. I really hope that quote from GC is either wrong or was corrected in some way. I’m pretty sure Christ taught that we need to pay attention to the needs of people around us *now* and not to be so concerned with what we think will get us past the gates later (because people were often wrong about what those things were).

  11. IdahoG-ma says:

    Cowboy boots and chocolate! I only want to go to heaven if a sense of humor goes with it. Maybe that is what the tribunal will be about. I suggest we all remember to laugh at any jokes they crack. Just sayin’ (with my tongue in my cheek).

  12. MB says:

    Your description of the change in your reasons for making the choices you do reminds me of the notion of moving upward through Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Motivation, from the Ego stage to the inclusion of the Self-actualization stage.

    I think that’s a good thing.

    Maslow’s hierarchy is as follows:

    Self-actualizaton (personal development, principle based living and creativity)
    Ego (recognition, achievement, reward)
    Social (being loved and included)
    Security (feeling safe and in a stable environment)
    Physical (air, water, food, health)

    Most of us start out as infants in the physical stage of motivation. Hopefully we incorporate the stages above as we mature and learn and embrace the “self-actualization” one. It sounds to me like that may be what Corktree is trying to teach her children.

    Maslow later added another level, “self-transcendence” which, if you ever wish to read his attempts to describe it, you might find compelling.

  13. Rita says:

    Thanks Heather – I loved this post. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the next life – like what the heck will we all be doing for ever and ever? It just seems all too daunting to me. And what about all those who have spent thousands upon thousands of years waiting for the resurrection a what are they doing? When my mother died I actually asked her to get a message somehow – what it was all like? She had such strong belief and conviction. So – since i haven’t heard from her yet 🙂 – like Heather I prefer to live in the moment. I live a good life – but not so much because of the rewards I’ll receive – but because it makes me feel good.

  14. Yet another awesome post, Heather. You rock.

    The guy I used to date who wouldn’t touch my butt also said something about the afterlife that really stuck with me (one of the best things I got out of that relationship!): I firmly believe that a loving Heavenly Father will not put me somewhere I will be eternally miserable. I don’t know what it will be like, and it’s not worth worrying about. In the mean time I just have to trust and cultiver mon jardin.

  15. Ziff says:

    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 love this conclusion, Heather! I couldn’t agree more.

  16. Two of Three says:

    Love love love this post. How many times I have cringed when I hear people say we do good things because of the blessings attached. What about doing good because it is the right thing to do? Because if we have the ability to help others, we should do it. That is what I teach my children. As far as the Afterlife goes, I think I pulled away from traditional Mormon teaching because it didn’t make sense. We are taught in the church that in order to be with your family, you must be sealed. No seal, no deal. I am the opposite of Spunky. Life without my birth family, none of whom are LDS, would be hell. They are my most solid of relationships. The port in the storm, so to speak. So, I am denied these good and loving people if they choose not to join the church? If my sister joined the church, she would have to leave her wife and daughter. What does that do to her forever family? The church has more hoops to jump through than, I think, God ever intended. I prefer to live my life well and think I will be with all of the people that I love in Heaven.

  17. Notmyrealmoniker says:

    Ask an older single member or a gay member if the afterlife as described by Mirmonism seems palatable or equitable, and see what they have to say.

  18. Aimee says:

    I LOVE this post, Heather. I will no doubt be quoting this for years to come. It is an elegant summary of what I most deeply believe. Thank you yet again for an inspiring post.

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