The following is adapted from a talk given by Carlfred Broderick at BYU Women's Conference, excerpted from The Best of Women's Conference: Selected Talks from 25 years of BYU Women's Conferences.
While I was a stake president, the event occurred that I want to use as the keynote to my remarks. I was sitting on the stand at a combined meeting of the stake Primary board and stake Young Women’s board where they were jointly inducting from the Primary into the Young Women’s organization the eleven-year-old girls who that year had made the big step. They had a lovely program. It was one of those fantastic, beautiful presentations—based on the Wizard of Oz, or a take-off on the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy, an eleven-year-old girl, was coming down the yellow brick road together with the tin woodman, the cowardly lion, and the scarecrow. They were singing altered lyrics about the gospel. And Oz, which was one wall of the cultural hall, looked very much like the Los Angeles Temple. They really took off down that road. There were no weeds on that road; there were no Munchkins; there were no misplaced tiles; there was no Wicked Witch of the West. That was one antiseptic yellow brick road, and it was very, very clear that once they got to Oz, they had it made. It was all sewed up.
Following that beautiful presentation with all the snappy tunes and skipping and so on, came a sister who I swear was sent over from Hollywood central casting. (I do not believe she was in my stake; I never saw her before in my life.) She looked as if she had come right off the cover of a fashion magazine—every hair in place, with a photogenic returned missionary husband who looked like he came out of central casting and two or three, or heaven knows how many, photogenic children all of whom came out of central casting or Kleenex ads or whatever. She enthused over her temple marriage and how wonderful life was with her charming husband and her perfect children and that the young women too could look like her and have a husband like him and children like them if they would stick to the yellow brick road and live in Oz. It was a lovely, sort of tear-jerking, event.
After the event was nearly over, the stake Primary president, who was conducting, made a grave strategic error. She turned to me and, pro forma, said, “President Broderick, is there anything you would like to add to this lovely evening?”
I said, “Yes, there is,” and I don’t think she has ever forgiven me. What I said was this, “Girls, this has been a beautiful program. I commend the gospel with all of its auxiliaries and the temple to you, but I do not want you to believe for one minute that if you keep all the commandments and live as close to the Lord as you can and do everything right and fight off the entire priests quorum one by one and wait chastely for your missionary to return and pay your tithing and attend your meetings, accept calls from the bishop, and have a temple marriage, I do not want you to believe that bad things will not happen to you. And when that happens, I do not want you to say that God was not true. Or, to say, ‘They promised me in Primary, they promised me when I was a Mia Maid, they promised me from the pulpit that if I were very, very good, I would be blessed. But the boy I want doesn’t know I exist, or the missionary I’ve waited for and kept chaste so we both could go to the temple turned out to be a flake,’ or far worse things than any of the above. Sad things—children who are sick or developmentally handicapped, husbands who are not faithful, illnesses that can cripple, or violence, betrayals, hurts, deaths, losses—when those things happen, do not say God is not keeping his promises to me. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have a resource to deal with your pain.”
Now, I do not want to suggest for a moment, nor do I believe, that God visits us with all that pain. I think that may occur in individual cases, but I think we fought a war in heaven for the privilege of coming to a place that was unjust. That was the idea of coming to earth—that it was unjust, that there would be pain and grief and sorrow. As Eve so eloquently said, it is better that we should suffer. Now, her perspective may not be shared by all. But, I am persuaded that she had rare insight, more than her husband, into the necessity of pain, although none of us welcome it.
Last Easter a friend, after having two boys (then four and two), brought a baby daughter into the world. Her husband wanted to visit her in the hospital and see the baby, but he had those little children at home. So his home teacher was kind enough to say, “Hey, bring the kids over. We’ve got a bunch of kids at our house. Bring the two kids over; my wife’ll watch them.” (That’s not quite what King Benjamin said about service, but it’s one step off.) “You go and see your baby.”
So he did. While he was in the hospital seeing his new baby, his two-year-old got away from that woman’s care and drowned in the pool. Through CPR she was able to bring him back to his heart beating and his lungs working but never to real functioning. For two months he lay in a hospital bed, breathing, with his heart beating on machines that helped. His little knees somehow (I don’t understand the mechanics of this) bent backwards. His feet bent backwards. I don’t know why. In the rigidity of his coma he became deformed. He had been a perfectly whole, wonderful child, but now it was hard for me to go visit him. I would go and sit beside him, looking at his mother who was rubbing him and singing to him. It was hard.
The ward fasted every Sunday for a month for that child. They kept a twenty-four-hour vigil so that there’d be somebody he knew there when their faith made him whole. He was blessed by the stake patriarch, by the stake president, by a visiting general authority who was kind enough to add that additional duty to his busy schedule. In all those blessings the mother took hope. I will not say that she was promised flatly, but she took hope by what was said, that the child would live, that she would raise him in this life, and that he would perform many gracious acts and achievements. She would not even tolerate anyone’s raising the possibility that he would not get better because she felt that everyone’s faith had to be whole and focused.
I never saw so many people at the hospital—dozens of people kept vigil, fasted, and prayed for this child. After two months it became clear the child was wasting away and was not going to get better. His mother was the last to finally acknowledge what everyone else came to see—he was not going to live. It was costing, I forget how many, thousands of dollars a day. So they finally decided to do the gracious thing and let him return to his Father. It was the hardest thing they ever did. They prayed, fasted, consulted with priesthood leaders and finally, finally, decided the only thing to do was to pull the tubes. His mother said, “I can’t stand it. I don’t want to kill that little boy again. How many times is he going to die?”
So his grandmother went and held him in her arms when they pulled the tubes, but he didn’t die. He lived another two weeks. I cannot express to you how spiritually exhausted everybody was when he finally died. The family had spent days and nights for weeks with him. Everybody had scarcely slept in two and a half months. Just a week before that baby died, the newborn got a temperature of 105 and was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with spinal meningitis. It was a misdiagnosis, but they put the baby in the room just right down from the other baby.
Her husband said, “Honey, let me go bless the baby.”
She said, “You get your priesthood hands off my baby.” She didn’t want God to take that baby too. She said, “God’s got all the babies he wants. Why does he want my baby? God doesn’t need him on a mission—don’t tell me that.” People are not always helpful with the things they say. “God needs him worse than I need him—don’t tell me that. He’s got billions of babies, and I only have one; I have one two-year-old. Don’t tell me he has a mission that can’t wait fifty or sixty years more on the other side. There’s lots of work for him here. We’ll keep him busy.”
At the graveside the grandmother gave the opening prayer, and the grandfather dedicated the grave. In a somewhat unusual choice, both the boy’s parents spoke. Can you imagine that? What they said was this: “We trust our faith will never again be tried as it has on this occasion. The things we have faith in have come down to a short list, but that list is immovable. We do not have faith that God must do what we entreat him to do.” Earlier she had cried out to God, “I asked for a fish, and I got a serpent. I asked for a loaf, and I got a rock. Is that what the scriptures promise?”
But after it was all over, at her little son’s graveside, she was able to say, “I am content that God be God. I will not try to instruct him on his duties or on his obligations toward me or toward any of his children. I know he lives and loves us, that he is God. He’s not unmindful of us. We do not suffer out of his view. He does not inflict pain upon us, but he sustains us in our pain. I am his daughter; my son is also his son; we belong to him, and we are safe with him. I used to think we were safe from grief and pain here because of our faith. I know now that is not true, but we are safe in his love. We are protected in the most ultimate sense of all—we have a safe home forever. That is my witness.”
And that is my witness to you, that God lives, and he does not live less though you have injustice and adversity and pain and unkindness and violence and betrayal. God is in his heaven. We chose to come to an unjust world and suffer. But God is God, and he loves us. His son died for us. There is for each of us, because of who we are and who he is and who we are together, hope. There is hope.
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Since 1975, the women's conferences held annually on the campus of Brigham Young University have uplifted, instructed and encouraged the women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thousands flock to BYU each year to attend in person, and literally thousands more can, as of recent years, watch selected talks on satellite broadcasts. The Best of Women's Conference is a landmark anthology of dozens of the most memorable addresses presented at women's conferences over two-and-a-half decades. A must-have collection created especially to celebrate the year 2000 and the silver anniversary of women's conference, this commemorative volume will be a significant addition to any home library.