On My Mind: The Consolation Prize
It seems that as members of the LDS church, we have unknowingly created a list of things we can say to those dealing with difficult times. Of course this list is non-published and it has been developed by our LDS culture. I admit that I have personally used this list and I am sure you have as well: for death…“He will be better off being with Heavenly Father,” for a wayward child…“If you continue to be faithful, your daughter will eventually come back to church,” for a miscarriage…“It is probably better that you miscarried…maybe the baby would have had problems.” And, the list goes on.
When something bad happens to us in this mortal existence, we desire very much to find a reason or purpose for it. Additionally, we think we need to attach to it a happy ending, just to make everyone feel better. But, in the reality of it all, sometimes it just isn’t helpful or comforting. In fact, what we indirectly end up saying to our grieving friends is “stop fretting about it…stop being sad.” It is okay to be sad, it is okay to mourn, and it is okay that the pain never disappears.
When someone recognizes the need to be sensitive to those who are infertile, we often hear something such as, “Those who are not blessed with children in this life will find joy in parenthood in the eternities.” While we understand that having an eternal perspective and looking forward to having the blessings in the eternities is certainly a good thing, what about now…in mortality? We are left to daily experience the sorrow and the very real mortal difficulties and pains of the trial, which last beyond one day, one month, or one year…they can last a lifetime.
To intended-to-be-comforting comments, I just really want to say: “But, why not now? Why is it that 90% of the population can be parents here and now and I have to wait until another existence?” I feel as though I am a second-class citizen, that I am not good enough for the blessing now. I feel like someone is saying “I am sorry, you don’t get the grand prize, but here you go instead.” I get the consolation prize. What if I don’t want the consolation prize? What if I don’t want to wait? What if I just want the grand prize? —the one I have been expecting, the one that everyone else gets, the one I was told I would get, the one I was made to have?
I remember inwardly celebrating (I think I vocally celebrated with my husband, too), when I heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk from the April 2009 General Conference. He opened by saying,
“Brothers and sisters, my Easter-season message today is intended for everyone,but it is directed in a special way to those who are alone or feel alone or, worse yet, feel abandoned. These might include those longing to be married, those who have lost a spouse, and those who have lost—or have never been blessed with—children…” (Ensign, May 2009, 86).
He continued to make his landmark talk about Christ’s endurance through the greatest suffering of all.
Why did Elder Holland’s introduction make such an impression on me? Perhaps it was because he acknowledged the exact trial that I have experienced in my life. He didn’t try to fix my problem or offer some reason for why it is happening, and he didn’t devalue the sorrow by coming up with some happy ending. He simply acknowledged it. He acknowledged that because of it, I sometimes feel alone and abandoned. He showed me that he is very much aware that couples deal with infertility and that with the trial comes tangible reasons to sorrow. He showed love and compassion.
While we are trying to make sense of trial by explaining away or erasing the legitimate sorrow and pain, we fail to do the one thing that could really help: to express sorrow and regret. We have opportunities in very intimate, quiet moments to acknowledge the unfairness of it all through simple words: “I am sorry you are having to deal with this particular trial. My heart hurts for you.” Enough said. There is really no reason to try to find a comforting solution or an explanation, because, really, the only person who can do that is Heavenly Father.
No one wants to feel like they get the consolation prize while everyone is being awarded something better. May we each be more mindful of the things we say in each of our relationships so that we can be friends who bring comfort, peace, and love to times of difficulty. Let us become better at acknowledging and allowing room for sorrow and grief. I know that we have within us great capacity to strengthen those we love.
16 November 2009