S. Michael Wilcox: Grief, Loss and “Filling Eternity With Love"
In 2010, S. Michael Wilcox lost his wife Laurie as the result of an inoperable brain tumor. Previously, the couple had dreams of traveling the world together. Instead, for the last decade, Wilcox has traveled alone, seeking solace from the grief of his loss and looking for confirmation from God that he is on the right track to see his beloved wife again. On this week’s episode, we discuss the lessons he has learned from loss and the truths he has found in love that lasts forever.
Grief is love’s shadow. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve.
Website: LDSLiving Online Book Club
Sunset: On the Passing of Those We Love
When Michael Wilcox's wife, Laurie, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that would ultimately take her life, he began keeping a journal to record what he was learning about living, loving, and grieving. Although at the time he was not intending that it would ever be published, he gradually came to recognize our "sacred covenant to share our burdens, our mourning, our comforts, and our witnesses."
The lessons he offers in this thoughtful and sensitive book are more than a chronicle of his own journey; they are important reminders to all of us to cherish every day we have with the people we love, to treasure the gift of our mortality, and to turn to the Lord in all our trials.
What Seek Ye?
From a young age and throughout His ministry, Jesus Christ asked questions: deep questions, thought-provoking questions. He asked questions of future Apostles and the Samaritan woman, of those who didn't believe and those seeking miracles.
We often think about our relationship with God in terms of us being the questioner approaching the great Answerer. But what if He is actually the great Questioner, and we are inteded to wrestle––not to receive the answers from Him, but to give them? Bestselling author S. Michael Wilcox teachers, "How we answer those questions tells our Father in Heaven much about us, as well as revealing ourselves to ourselves." Over time, Wilcox has also learned, "If I am the Answerer and God the Questioner and I can answer His questions with thought and devotion, then my own inquiries to Him are significantly diminished." As you explore these short yet profound questions, you'll learn more about the Savior and more about yourself, discovering personal answers along the way.
1:49- Insights about Life and Love
4:23- Death—A Foe and a Friend
6:43- “There Will Never Be a Time When I Did Not Love Her”
10:35- Meeting Laurie
12:32- Bracelets and Single Earrings
17:55- Questions Associated With Grief
21:48- No Road Map
24:37- Waiting Spaces
28:39- A God of Happy Endings
30:36- The Questioner or the Answerer?
34:12- “Why Trouble Ye Her?”
40:22- Good Questions
43:50- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Three days after Christmas in 2010, Laurie Wilcox passed peacefully from this world to the next. She was just 57 years old. Her husband, a beloved Latter-day Saint author and speaker was left to grieve her passing. In the days and weeks following his wife's death, S. Michael Wilcox wrote many things he was learning from the Lord. Today, 10 years later, we talk with Brother Wilcox about what grief and a loving God have taught him about eternal love. S. Michael Wilcox received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado and taught for many years at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. He has spoken to packed crowds at BYU Education Week and has hosted tours to the Holy Land, to China, to Church History sites, and beyond. He has written many books, including his newest book, What Seek Ye? He and his late wife, Laurie, are the parents of five children.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am honored to have S. Michael Wilcox with me today. Brother Wilcox, thank you so much for welcoming us into your home.
S. Michael Wilcox 1:24
Nice to have you here. It's nice to be in a comfortable environment and to be with you.
Morgan Jones 1:28
It is, it's a treat to be here. Well, I asked Brother Wilcox—we're going to be talking today about his new book, What Seek Ye? but I asked him because I noticed as I was listening to the audiobook how frequently in the book you refer to your wife, Laurie. We have done one episode with someone who lost a spouse, but it was still fairly new, and I have always wanted to do another episode because I think that's something that so many people can relate to, whether it's losing a spouse or a child or a loved one. So I asked Brother Wilcox if he would be up for talking a little bit more about that today, and he said yes and referred me to another book that he wrote called Sunset. You wrote that book not long after your wife passed away. Is that right?
S. Michael Wilcox 2:22
Yes, that's correct. When I was going through that experience with Laurie, it's the deepest, most life-affirming experience I think someone can go through, to see someone you love pass. When that experience was going on, I was writing notes, because I knew I was getting a lot of insight about life and love and eternity, and I didn't want to miss them. I didn't want to forget them. So when she had passed, I went back and pulled all those notes out, and I wrote Sunset based on those experiences. So that was immediate. I wrote that immediately after she passed away.
Morgan Jones 3:06
And now it's been—
S. Michael Wilcox 3:08
Morgan Jones 3:08
A decade. I sent a link to that book to my co-workers earlier today and I said, "If you want to believe in true love and read the most beautiful book written on Desert Bookshelf, you should read this book, because it is so, so, so good." So I want to talk a little bit about both of these books today if that's okay.
S. Michael Wilcox 3:28
Morgan Jones 3:29
To start off, Brother Wilcox, can you tell us a little bit about what happened—your wife had an inoperable brain tumor, is that right?
S. Michael Wilcox 3:38
She had brain cancer. I was doing a Time Out [For Women] in Pittsburgh, and I got a phone call on the way home that there was an emergency at home. Someone was in the hospital, and I didn't know who it was. But as I was flying home, the Spirit kept saying, "Your life is going to change dramatically." And when I got home, Laurie had gone into seizures with a brain tumor, and that's how we found out she had cancer. She died eight months later.
Morgan Jones 4:06
So hard. In this book, like you said, you're writing about the things that you were learning as you went through that experience, both with her sickness and then her passing, and the grief and the things that the Spirit was teaching you. I wrote down a few of the things that I really love that you wrote, and I just want to kind of touch on those as we go through this. One thing that you said is, "Love brings and takes away the fear of death, makes it both foe and friend." How, Brother Wilcox, have you found, in the 10 years since Laurie's passing, death to be both a foe and a friend?
S. Michael Wilcox 4:47
Well, I think the foe part of death is, I miss her. I think about her all the time. I travel to keep my mind focused. I travel a lot—well, with the virus I can't, so I just get in the car and go. This last week, I went back to the places where we spend our honeymoon. Crater Lake and the Redwoods. I miss her. I think about her all the time. Death took something very precious away from me. That's the foe part. The friend part, one of the questions that Jesus asked that meant a lot to me is, "Sleepest thou?" It's the shortest question. "Sleepest thou?" There are a lot of ways that that is applicable to me. But in terms of Laurie, the first words, God said to Adam were, "Awake and arise," and I always thought that meant, "Open your eyes and stand up." Eve has been introduced into his life. But since Laurie's passing that question, "Sleepest thou?" means so much more, because I think I was asleep all those years I had her. I was just asleep. I was not awake. And with her passing, I woke up and realized what a treasure, what a gift, what a wonderful thing it is for a man to love a woman, and a woman to love a man deeply and eternally. And now that I'm awake, I say now to God, "I'm awake, God. I'm awake. And I'm trying to arise." And so it's been a great friend in deepening that love and being a great motivator of me to be a better person and be worthy of her.
Morgan Jones 6:41
Beautifully said. Another thing that I love is, you talk about eternal love, and you said, "I realized as I turned through"—so you're talking about how her mom brought you pictures of Laurie.
S. Michael Wilcox 6:57
Morgan Jones 6:57
And you said, "I realized as I turned through the pages of her past that I loved her at every age. Though I had not met her until she was a freshman in college, I fell in love with the five-year-old in curls and ribbons, the ten-year-old vacationing in Waterton Park, the fifteen-year-old high school student walking through the snow of Alberta with her books. I had seen these pictures before, they were not new to me, but as I went through her past I realized a new dimension of eternal love. We speak of the everlasting nature of love, its infinite scope (only Mormons truly believe all the love songs and have as their most sacred ordinance the verification of that belief). I always imagined that ceaseless, eternal love as stretching down the long corridor of welcoming time, past horizons, past setting suns and turning galaxies, but my vision was always a future one, of time unspent. Now I feel it pulling me backwards, through every moment of her childhood, her growing preparatory years, the seasons of dolls and dances, first lipstick and earrings, times that I did not share with her but that were now as precious as if I had always known her, always loved her, had never lived without her. And I sense in this backward yearning that when the day comes that veils and closed doors will part and open, the reach of love will encompass all the eons of the past so that eventually there will never be a time when I did not love her." Brother Wilcox, what have you learned about eternal love and the purposes of love in this earth life?
S. Michael Wilcox 8:30
Well, I think I tried to write it as best as I could.
Morgan Jones 8:33
You did a beautiful job.
S. Michael Wilcox 8:36
You wrote there that we believe in eternity, and eternity isn't just one direction. Eternity is both directions.
Morgan Jones 8:45
S. Michael Wilcox 8:45
You stand in the mirrors in the temple, and I look at one and it represents past, and I look at the other, the future. I have learned that love grows, love deepens, and I might say all of eternity will not be enough for me to fulfill my love for her. It won't be enough. Maybe God gives us eternity so we can fill it with love, because—I mean, not just love for a wife or a husband, but love for children. Love for one another, love for God, love for Christ. Jesus's love is broad as eternity, we're told in Moses 7. His empathy, the rock of His love, His mercy, it's as wide as eternity. And I think I have learned that it will take eternity to fulfill all the corners that my love for her will present. It'll take that much time. And we'll feel that for everybody. It'll take that much time to learn to love God and feel his love for us. It'll take that much time to learn our love for our children, our grandchildren, and to feel their love for us and of our Savior. Eternity is a big place. It's infinite because God's love is infinite. He has to create because His love is infinite, and since there is no end of his love, there'll be no end of what he creates.
Morgan Jones 10:33
Yeah. How did you first meet Laurie?
S. Michael Wilcox 10:38
Oh, it was typical BYU, you know? I didn't believe I'd ever marry anybody wonderful. Who was I? For heaven's sake. I was nobody. I was nicknamed "the frog" because I never kissed a girl, to become a happy, handsome prince. And I went to BYU, and my patriarchal blessing told me that I would, in time, if I kept myself clean and pure and good, that I would meet someone likewise—three words—pure, clean and undefiled. I got into the ward, I saw her on the doorstep, I knew her sister, and as soon as I saw her, I loved her. She bore her testimony in church shortly thereafter, and I could hear the Spirit in my mind say those words likewise: pure, clean, and undefiled. And I leaned over to my roommate and nudged him—who my mother was paying $20 every date he could get me on because I just had no confidence. He got 20 bucks every date that he could get me on. I turned to him and I said, "I'm gonna marry that girl." And he was stunned, I think he could see his $20 disappearing. But I don't know that the Lord was saying, "I picked her for you, here she is Mike." I think he was saying, "Don't sell yourself short. You've tried to do right and good, and if this is the kind of a person you want, then you try." And so I asked her out, and standard BYU, six weeks later, I asked her to marry me. It didn't take me very long. So that's how I met her.
Morgan Jones 12:30
It's a great story. Another part in the book that I love is, in this section, you give an example of her losing earrings, and you say she always only could find one of the earrings in a pair. But you talked about how, after she passed, those single earrings, even that, filled you with love for her. And you said, "We should love people for what they are at their very best, the totality of all their highest moments from every age. This is the real person, the eternal one, the one we are to remember and hold dear, I of her and she of me." What has the loss of Laurie in this life taught you about loving people as they are and appreciating them for who they are, even in our mortal imperfection?
S. Michael Wilcox 13:23
Well, I mean, the earrings thing used to be an annoyance, you know? Like her addiction to bracelets. She had bracelets. But they become endearments later on, and I think that's probably true for a lot of things. I think that quote is from Sunset.
Morgan Jones 13:45
S. Michael Wilcox 13:46
One of the questions, or one of the things that I deal with in What Seek Ye? that Jesus asked is, "Why do you look at the motes in other people's eyes?" And I think sometimes we answer, "Because they're there, I can see them." And I can just see hear the Lord say, "Yes, I know they're there. But why are you looking at them? We should not be looking at those things." But we live in a real mote-picking world. It's a disease now. We're always looking at the negative. And so when Laurie died—I tell this story in Sunset—I went to Antarctica. It's such a beautiful place to heal, and Laurie loved Antarctica. So I went down there and my daughter said, "We will clean out mother's things when you're gone because that'll be painful for you." Her clothes, and all her bracelets and single earrings. And I said, "No, because there'll be things I want. I'll want those single earrings and those bracelets, and there'll be a certain hairbrush and I'll want these things. But when I get back, we'll do them together." So we did, we started in the closet upstairs and went all the way down. Laurie saved everything, I threw everything away. She just saved everything. We threw a lot away, and there were things I wanted and things the kids wanted. When I was done cleaning the whole house, I was sitting in bed late one night and the Spirit said, "Michael, there's another cleansing I want you to do now. It is the cleansing of the memory and the heart and the soul of every negative you ever shared with this woman. Throw them all away. Every mote and every beam, I want you to throw away." So I get to remember Laurie how? In absolute perfection. She was the most feminine, most perfect woman God ever put on Earth. That's the way I remember her. No motes, no beams. She had no motes. I have to deal with my own beams. I have to deal with the fear I always had a question I dealt with, "Why are you so fearful?" I'm afraid she won't want me. I'm afraid I have too many beams for her mote-less soul.
And after having that experience of cleansing the memory of all mote, of all the negatives, a few months later, the Spirit came back and said, "Now Michael, what you did with Laurie, whom you love so much, I want you to do with everybody. Throw all the motes and all the beams away. Don't hold in your heart or your mind any of those negatives. We throw them all away. The best you, the real you—sometimes we say, "Now I know the real you." The real you is you at your best. All the best moments put together makes the real you. The you God sees. The you He wants us to see. That doesn't mean that we don't have to make assessments of people's characters and how much we trust them. We do make all those assessments. But we want to see them at their very best. I think it's a gift God gives women—I think he gave it to Laurie, certainly—to see the men they love, to see their children at their very best. And because they see us that way, we try to live up to it. We try to "arise." So that's helped me to not mote-pick and answer Jesus's question, "Why are you doing this?" So I get to say, "Lord, I'm not doing it. I learned not to do it with Laurie, you taught me, I'm not going to do with anybody else." Although occasionally in our political world, I do mote-pick.
Morgan Jones 17:47
Right, I think everybody does. Another thing that I wanted to talk to you a little bit about is grief. I think you say a few things that I think are so helpful. You talk about how grief physically hurts. You talk about how it caused you to question the things that you believe—these are things that you've devoted your life to teaching about, and you talk about how it surprised you that you had these questions. And I think that causes even deeper emotional pain. I know in my life when I've gone through things that were hard, and I've felt bitterness toward God, or questioning God, that almost hurt even more than what I was going through because I hated feeling that way. So talk to me a little bit about what you have learned about grief.
S. Michael Wilcox 18:41
Well, I think grief is love's shadow. If we didn't love, we wouldn't grieve. Therefore, I would increase the grief a hundredfold to have the love increased a hundredfold. But grief did—in my case, it doesn't for all people—grief did cause me to question. All at once, all my happiness hung on my belief, hung on temple ordinances and sealing powers and promises Joseph Smith made and taught, and scriptures. All my happiness. Is there a Laurie, and is she still my Laurie? And I use a couple of images. One is of a rope with knots in it, and it used to be very easy to hold on. My rope of faith has knots in it, I could hold on. And when she died, they unraveled, and I just had to grip tighter. You know, Joseph Smith is told in Liberty Jail, when he's questioning, "Hold on my way," just hold on. The other image is of a path. My faith path was wide, easy to walk. Lots of good things happening, lots of blessings. And sometimes things happen in our life that our path narrows. You read something on the internet, a blessing doesn't come that you want, we all have a crisis of fait—something happens, and the past seems to narrow and there's a beautiful verse in Habakkuk where he talks about God giving him the hooves of a hind or an ibex or a mountain goat so he can walk on those narrow, tiny, little ledges when faith becomes like a tiny ledge on a cliff where a misstep would send you to a fall. You pray for hind's feet. And I pray, "God, give me those feet, and I will walk," and He does. Because the path widens again. I still wrestle with, "Will she still want me?" But He asks the question again, "Why are you so fearful? Why are you so fearful, Michael?" He asks that when He's in the boat, in the storm. And the implication is, "I'm in the boat with you. I'm not up there looking down. I'm in the boat with you. Don't be so fearful. It's okay to be fearful. Just don't be so fearful. Don't be so fearful. You'll see her again and she'll be all you want her to be." Love is eternal. That's a solid part of my path, but it's something grief has caused me to deal with.
Morgan Jones 21:47
Yeah. Another thing that you write about in relation to grief in Sunset is, you talk about how, "There is no road map for grief to tell us how near we are to that desired, and yet not desired, destination of healing, peace, and relief." And I think that's so true. I think when we're in the thick of grief, we never know, "How long is it going to take me to feel better?" You later say that, perhaps, our inability to say goodbye is an indication that we do not need to say it, because there is no such finality. What have you found in the last 10 years about the timeline of grief?
S. Michael Wilcox 22:32
Well, time went exceedingly slow the first years, because I would think, "I'm 60." You know, I'm 70 now, but I'd think, "I could live three decades!"
Morgan Jones 22:52
And every day feels long
S. Michael Wilcox 22:53
And every day is long. I can remember the first year thinking, "It's been an eternity. It's only a year. I may have 34 more of them. I don't know how I'm gonna deal with this." Probably those first three, four, even five years just seemed slow, slow, slow. And I stay busy. I travel 250 days a year to be on the road to deal with it. The second five years, time has normalized. It's not so slow anymore, and I actually sense it's speeding up. And the next 10 years—I called the one book Sunset. I say to my children, "I'm going to run into the sunset, because that's where she is in my mind." Laurie's in the sunset. I look at a sunset, that's where she is, and I'll run to it. So I think that those are the last 10 years of my life, whether I die at 85 or 90, I don't know, or maybe I'll die tomorrow. It's going faster. So for those who are new in their grief, it's gonna be slow. It's just what it is. But it seems to accelerate, and the older I get now, and the more time passes, the faster it goes. Thank heaven.
Morgan Jones 24:36
S. Michael Wilcox 24:36
Morgan Jones 24:37
Another thing that I love in this kind of goes back to the "running into the sunset" idea. You said, "Endurance is what God asks of us, and endure we must, but it need not be a distressing endurance. We hold on until reunion ends our wanting. It is not easy, but we feel the love while we wait, and love is always a good thing to fill a heart." And I love the way that you put that. I think waiting is something that everybody can relate to. Whether it's waiting to see a spouse again, in your case, or waiting for healing, or waiting to find someone to marry, I think that these are all things that people wait for. Life, in many ways, is a waiting space. What have you found about waiting?
S. Michael Wilcox 25:29
We learn, no matter what you're waiting for. It's as if maybe the Lord is saying, I know you want this, Whether it's to be married, a reunion with somebody, an answer to a prayer. I'm dealing with a man now who just doesn't know why God won't talk to him anymore. So whatever we're waiting for, you learn. You take that time to learn. We're down here to learn. Life is a brief blink of eternity, and to use a college analogy, maybe this is Compassion 101, Suffering 101, Agency 101, or Good and Evil 101, but it certainly is Love 101. And one of the things that, no matter what we're waiting for, that we are to learn here and now in this time period, is to love. To love ourselves, to love our Father in Heaven, to love each other, to love family, to forgive, to feel compassion, to feel empathy. He says, "it is better for us to pass through sorrow that we may"—I like to change words—that we may [learn]." That we may learn. So we were going to pass through it. Whatever grief, whatever trial, whatever thing we're waiting for, we'll pass through it. We're going to get through it. This is going to be over for me. Mary at the tomb looked at the empty tomb, no Jesus. The epitome of grief, for me, is Mary Magdalene on resurrection morning. And in one brief word, Jesus simply calls her name, "Mary." And she turns, and all the grief is gone in a burst of joy. And that'll happen to all of us, whatever we wait for. I say to people, every good thing in life is on the straight and narrow path. Everything you want is on that path. Just stay on the path, and everything you want, you'll receive. God's plan is a plan of happiness. He's going to get us happy. And one day, He'll say to me, "Mike, why weepest thou?" I'll say, "Because I miss Laurie." And he'll call my name, "Michael," and I'll turn like Mary did on resurrection morning, and there she'll be. And it will be over. It will be over. Waiting is over. It's over. Grief is over. Happiness is the destiny. Until that comes, learn. We learn. We learn to love and forgive, to feel compassion and kindness. We learn.
Morgan Jones 28:39
That reminds me of something that you talk about in What Seek Ye? You say, and correct me if I'm wrong, that our God is a God of happy endings. Is that what you say?
S. Michael Wilcox 28:51
That's correct, yeah.
Morgan Jones 28:52
And I think that that is so true, and that's what he wants to give us, but we are meant to learn things along the way, and sometimes that means passing through those difficult experiences and then being able to look back and be like, "I made it through that."
S. Michael Wilcox 29:07
Morgan Jones 29:08
And maybe that comes in this life, maybe it comes in the next, but I think that that is a beautiful way of putting it, that our God is a God who wants to give us every happy ending.
S. Michael Wilcox 29:18
Yeah. One of the questions I really love about Jesus is, "What shall I say?" I mean, I love a lot of His questions, but that one really hits me. He said, "Now is my hour come. What shall I say, Father? Save me from this hour. But for this cause came on to this hour." That's true of all of us. When we come to our hour, our moment of pain, trial, whatever, we all might say, "Father, save me from this hour." I cried that. "Save us from this hour, Lord." But we came to earth for these hours. We came to learn. We came to experience. And we have to trust that He's going to know when to save and when not to save. Jesus Himself cried out in Gethsemane, "Save me from this hour." But He trusted God. There'll be a happy ending. There'll be only happy endings for all of us. We're all going to get it. I'm going to get my happy ending. I still wrestle with fear, but in my best times, as I sit here talking to you, I will have that happy ending. It's going to come, because we believe in a God of happy endings.
Morgan Jones 30:35
Thank you. Another thing in What Seek Ye? Like I said, the thing that struck me as I was going through this was how often Laurie entered into these questions that Christ asks. So in this book, you explore many of the questions that Christ asks in the New Testament. How did the loss of your wife lead to your exploration of these questions?
S. Michael Wilcox 31:03
Well, I don't know that there's a direct connection between that.
Morgan Jones 31:07
S. Michael Wilcox 31:07
Um, I just think Laurie's always in my mind. I mean, she's always there. She's in every cell of my body. I don't know where in me I would say she's not. I don't know where I would say she's not. So whatever I write or do, she generally comes to the surface. I like to look at the scriptures differently sometimes, and it hit me that, most of my life, I have thought that I was the questioner and God was the answerer. We're always saying, "Go to God for answers," or, "I'm looking for answers to my prayer." I think the Lord finally said, "Mike, you've learned that relationship, now let's try another one. I'm the questioner and you're the answerer." And when that idea hit, that maybe I had it backwards, that the most important thing wasn't that I had questions for God and He had answers for me, the most important thing was that He had questions, and I had to answer them. So then I went to the life of the Savior once that idea hit and said, "Okay, I'm gonna underline every question Jesus asks, and assume that he's asking it to me personally." Not every question struck me, but as I went through it—and I couldn't get all the ones I loved in, so I tried to mingle a bunch of questions—but it struck me that so many of those questions caused me to love Him deeper, and my relationship with Him became much more personal if I could answer those questions. My love increased. Even the question, "Lovest thou me?" that He asked to Peter, if you let him ask that question to you personally, "Michael, do you love me?" it's such a wonderful thing to answer that question, and to say "Yes, Lord. Thou knowest that I love Thee." It wasn't Laurie's passing that motivated the writing of the book about the questions of Jesus, What Seek Ye? but she's always there, and so many of those questions became very personal to me in my relationship with Laurie and my grieving and my missing of her. So many of those questions impact that area. Not all of them, but so many of them. Like the mote and the beam question. Who would have linked those two?
Morgan Jones 33:50
S. Michael Wilcox 33:52
So that that's kind of how that came out. Now I find that, if I can answer God's questions to me, I don't have very many for Him anymore. The relationship is changed when I'm the answerer, and not God the answerer.
Morgan Jones 34:10
Fascinating. How, as you have delved into the study of the Savior's questions, have you found that—because I think, many times, when a question is asked of someone, it's because we're seeking to understand. So sometimes these questions that the Savior asked were of other people, like with the example of Peter, sometimes they were questions that He was asking of God. But I think He was asking to understand. So what have you learned about how He seeks to know us and understand us by asking questions?
S. Michael Wilcox 34:53
I think he probably knows and understands us perfectly. It's me Learning to know and understand myself that is the critical factor in the questions, and me learning to understand my relationship with my Father in Heaven and the Savior that becomes the critical factor. His questions cause us—certainly me—to go deep into our hearts and into our minds and into our lives and see things in there that I think He already sees. Like the question, when Mary anoints Him with the oil, and the apostles complain that she's wasted it, and that she should have given it to the poor. I'm sure was she was sensitive, she thought she was doing a good thing and she's getting criticized for it. And the Savior's question is, "Why trouble ye her? Why are you troubling her?" Now for years, I just read that as a lovely story in the New Testament. All of a sudden, I can see the Savior looking to me and saying to me, "Michael, why do you trouble other people?" Everybody's doing the best they can. Why are we troubling each other so much? Why are we filled with indignation, as in the scriptures, and murmuring at her? We live in a mote-picking, filled-with-indignation, murmuring world, and two of Jesus's questions have pretty much cured that for me. I'm not perfect in it, I still can be filled with indignation and murmur, and I can still mote-pick, but I don't do it very long, and as soon as I find myself doing it, I quit. So it's not me understanding more about Him that the questions have done. It's me understanding some things He wants me to see in myself and in others, and I've loved Him because the questions have made me a better person.
Morgan Jones 37:10
One thing that I really appreciated is how you talk throughout Sunset about how you want, when you see Laurie again, to be good enough. And I think that that's something that all of us wrestle with, whether it be with somebody that we love and long to see again—in my case, it would probably be my grandma—or when we see the Savior again. We want to have learned what He wanted us to learn. What do you feel like you hope that Laurie sees when you see her again?
S. Michael Wilcox 37:51
Oh, wow. Well, I would like her to see perfection, but she's not going to see it. I think what I hope Laurie would see is how hard I'm trying to be what she wants me to be. Because I know she tried very hard to be what I wanted her to be, and that's what we would see in one another. I'm sure she's not perfect either, although I can't think of any flaw in her, she could point them out herself. But I would want her to see that I'm trying to be everything, not only that God wants to see me so that I can please Him as Jesus pleased them, but that what she would like to see me. I'm trying, and I want to, and I'm going to get there. And I hope she would see how deeply that I love her. When we were dating, I was 22, and I was stupid. You're stupid at 20. And she asked me—because I was an English major and I had to write papers and read big novels like "War and Peace," and I wasn't spending as much time with her as she thought I should—and in tears one day, she said to me in a conversation, "We're engaged. Don't you need me?" And I wouldn't have used that verb. "I would say, 'I love you, I want you,' but need? I'm not sure I need anything or anybody." And she cried. Now I would say, "Laurie, ask me that question again. Now I know how to answer it. I didn't know how to answer it at 22, I was stupid. Now I need you like sunshine and air. I need you." And I would hope she would see, not only that I love her and want her, but that she's needed. And I would hope I see that in her. "I love you and I want you, Mike. And I need you."
Morgan Jones 40:22
I think it's interesting, so we've been talking about the questions of Christ, and I feel like it kind of came full circle with that, because you're talking about a question that she asked you. And I think we all have questions, whether we're asking questions of God, seeking for answers to our deepest questions, or asking questions of other people. My last question before we get to the last question would be, what have you learned about what makes a good question?
S. Michael Wilcox 40:52
I think, as I've studied the Savior's questions, His questions—and we kind of talked about a little bit—His questions always invite one to go deep into the soul. They're not cognitive answers. He's not looking for a cognitive answer, He's looking for an examination of the heart. Who I am, what I am, my relationship with other people. It's like the parables. The parables aren't doctrinal, the parables are stories that meant to invite me to see, "Am I what I should be? Am I living the way I want to live?" One of the questions I love of His is when somebody asks Him, and this happens more than once, "What do I have to do to gain eternal life?" That's a big question. "What do I have to do to gain eternal life?" And I've thought about all the ways people answer that, how I would answer that, "Oh, we have to have the right ordinances, the right religion, you have to do this or that," all the things we have to do for eternal life. He answers it with a parable, the Good Samaritan. How do you gain eternal life? You do the big two: you love God with all your heart might mind and strength, and you love your neighbor. It's that simple. It's not about all this other stuff that we answer about how you gain eternal life. You gain eternal life by loving one another and loving God. When that's talked about, when the questions asked Him, He's a good Jew. For good Jews, it's part of the tradition to answer questions with a question. He says, "What does scripture say? How readest thou? How do you answer the question, 'What do I do to gain eternal life?' What do you find in the scriptures?" And what people find in the scriptures tells you a great deal about them and the religion. What we want to find with that question is the two great loves. But He lets us search for it. I love that: "How readest thou?" And we have to go deep in. So a good question. As I teach, I try and ask questions that will draw some self-examination and a deeper understanding of the God we love and the Savior we love and what they want of us.
Morgan Jones 43:31
Yeah, thank you. My last question for you, Brother Wilcox—and I just want to thank you, thank you for being so open and for sharing these things that are in your heart with our listeners. I hope that they'll be helpful to people that will listen. I know I've certainly been touched by them, so thank you. My last question is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
S. Michael Wilcox 43:56
Well, it means a lot of things, I guess. In our conversation, for me, it's the path back to the God I love, it's a path to the Savior I love, and it's a path to the woman I love. And I'm all in, because I want those relationships. So that's one of the things. To be all in is to know what you want, what's at the end of the path. Too many people get on paths when they don't know what's at the end of the path. I know exactly what's at the end of the path I want. I don't walk the path as good as I'd like to, but I know where the path goes if I can stay on it, and what I want at the end of that path. I asked my Father in Heaven that He'd be pleased with me. And I want my Savior's love, that I'll get to have the opportunity the Nephites did of touching the tokens of His Atonement, and knowing. The first token is the heart, the wound in the side. Can you imagine what that would be like to touch the Savior's side by His heart, and know that you, as the song says, hold a place within that heart? And I want to be with Laurie. I want to always be with Laurie. I don't want to ever be separated from her again, this is a painful thing. It's going to hurt until I see her again. So all in means those three relationships. And my mother's there, and my ancestors, who I'm grateful for. The other thing it means is, traveling has taught me that there is so much goodness in the world. I probably started out on my path in life thinking God kind of talked to the apostles and prophets in the Book of Mormon, and then there was a Restoration, but I didn't know much else that was out there. Traveling and learning about all the different religions and beliefs and faith and literatures and musics, mythologies and natural beauties of the world.
Now, I would say to you: God has been talking to His children every way He can, all the time, everywhere. And if you can't listen to an apostle or a prophet, maybe you can listen to a sage or a philosopher or a musician or a poet or a playwright, or an artist, or you'll see God in the lives of good people all over. So the phrase "all in" also means, not that I'm all in, but that I get to bring all in all the goodness of the world, I get to bring into my soul and my life, whether I find it in a Catholic saint, or a Chinese sage, or a renaissance artist, or a New England poet. All that comes into my life. The gospel is an all in gospel. We need to be all in on that path, knowing what it is we want. I know exactly what I want. And I also want my children and grandchildren there. And the privilege that I have of searching humanity, history, and find that there is no end to goodness on this earth, and there will never be an end to goodness. There's just so much, I can't fit it all in my heart and brain, there's just not enough room. I'll need eternity to fit it all in.
Morgan Jones 48:07
Thank you so much, that's beautiful. Thank you, Brother Wilcox, for taking the time to be with me today. I really, really appreciate it.
S. Michael Wilcox 48:13
My pleasure. It's been wonderful talking. I think the final thought of a marvelous Muslim man, a dear friend of mine who loved Laurie a great, great deal. After she died and I went to see him in Egypt, he let me talk about her like you have today. And when we were done, he said, "You know, Mike, for us Muslims, when you talk lovingly about those who have passed, you lift them to higher and higher places in paradise." And so I thank you for letting me lift Laurie to a higher place in paradise by being able to talk about it with you.
Morgan Jones 48:59
S. Michael Wilcox 49:01
Morgan Jones 49:01
Thank you. We are so grateful to S. Michael Wilcox for joining us on today's episode. You can find both What Seek Ye? and Sunset on desertbook.com now. Also, we're very excited that What Seek Ye? is the September LDS Living book club Book of the Month, so if you want to follow along with us there, be sure to check that out on Instagram. Thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for making us sound good, and thank you so much for listening. If you haven't already, could you do me a big favor and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts? We would be so grateful, and in return, we will be back again next week with another great episode. We'll look forward to being with you then.