We recently read a wonderful book by S. Michael Wilcox called What Seek Ye? How the Questions of Jesus Lead Us to Him. In each chapter of the book, Brother Wilcox explores a question Jesus asked in the scriptures. One in particular stood out to us; it was the question “why weepest thou?” and in the corresponding chapter, Brother Wilcox explores the role that trials play in our lives. He sat down with us to talk about that chapter, and shared what he’s learned as he’s gone through his own adversities, including the deeply felt loss of his wife, Laurie.
To give you just a little more background on Brother Wilcox — he received his PhD 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 many others. He’s written several books and he and his late wife, Laurie, are the parents of five children.
We felt honored to share this time with Brother Wilcox, and we hope you get as much out of this conversation as we did.
Tim Chaves: Hey, everybody. This is Tim Chaves from Faith Matters. We recently read a wonderful book by S. Michael Wilcox called What Seek Ye? How the Questions of Jesus Lead Us to Him. In each chapter of the book, Brother Wilcox explores the question Jesus asked in the scriptures. One in particular stood out to us, it was the question, Why Weepest Thou? And in the corresponding chapter, Brother Wilcox explorers the role that trials play in our lives. He sat down with us to talk about that chapter and shared what he’s learned as he’s gone through his own adversities, including the deeply felt loss of his wife, Laurie.
To give you a little more background on Brother Wilcox, he received his PhD from the University of Colorado and taught for many years at the LDS Institute of Religion, adjacent to the University of Utah. He’s spoken to parked crowds at BYU Education Week and has hosted tourists to the Holy Land, to China, church history sites and many others. He’s written several books and he and his late wife, Laurie are the parents of five children.
We felt honored to share this time with Brother Wilcox, and we hope you get as much out of this conversation as we did.
Aubrey Chaves: Okay, Brother Wilcox, welcome and thank you so much for joining us. We’re really excited to talk to you. So-
S. Michael Wilcox: Thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: … thanks for being here.
S. Michael Wilcox: I’m glad to be here.
Speaker 2: Thanks you.
S. Michael Wilcox: Hope you’ll still be glad when I go.
Tim Chaves: Absolutely.
Aubrey Chaves: We just finished your book, What Seek Ye? and just loved it. It had been recommended actually multiple times by friends and listeners, and so we finally read it and it was such a beautiful book, and we totally understand why so many people just kept bringing it to us. For someone who hasn’t read it, the book is structured around the questions that Jesus asked during His ministry, so, What Seek Ye? And Why Beholdeth the Mote In Thy Brother’s Eye? And what are the other… Where the nine, all of these questions. They’re like 20 or 25, right? Lots and lots of questions that Jesus asked.
S. Michael Wilcox: And I didn’t get them all. I read the New Testament, the gospels just underlining every question and applying it to myself. Zoe was asking that question to me and it really it deepened in a great way in my relationship, my love of the Savior and my awareness of how far I yet have to go.
Aubrey Chaves: It was interesting that they’re all very familiar, none of these questions felt new. We hear these questions all the time, but to see them in a big list was really interesting. And then you say at the beginning of the book that we often think of our relationship to God as we are the questioner and God is the great answer. And you threw out this idea that maybe we have it reversed. Maybe God is the great questioner and we’re meant to wrestle with our own answers as opposed to being receivers of these answers.
I love that paradigm because I totally resonate with that idea that that’s how it feels. It feels like there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers and that our life is us working through these deep questions, so I really love that paradigm. But when we finished the book, the question that really stuck with both of us was Why Weepest Thou? That’s why we wanted to bring you on and just really dive into this chapter about trials and suffering, and this question that, that Jesus asked, why weepest thou?
I wonder if just to start, would you give us a little bit of context from your own life? You write so personally and with such feeling and deep experience about this question. Maybe could you just tell us a little bit a bit about your own experience with trials and suffering and this question, why weepest thou?
S. Michael Wilcox: Well, I don’t think any of us are going to get through life without some. Part of our problem in our modern world occasionally is we have a belief that through social changes and adaptations and science, we won’t have to suffer anymore. And that becomes an expectation that we will conquer it. We’ve done a lot there, but none of us I think are going to get through life without a few tears. And that question is asked, it’s one of my favorite. I have one I love more of all the questions of Jesus, but that’s certainly one of my favorite, why weepest thou? Was given to Mary Magdalene at the tomb.
Mary, to me represents all the pain of the world in that moment, all the pain seems to be in that one woman. And now even the body of the Savior is gone. And that very gentle why weepest thou? All of our lives, people weep. For me, I guess that question became the most personal when Laurie died, my wife died. I’d just retired, we were going to travel the world. I was going to… I told her, I bought her a map, I said, “I’m going to show you the world, Laurie.”
Directing tours and two months later she had cancer. And by the end of the year, she had passed away. Was in a terrible brain tumor. And there’s a lot of tears, there’s a lot of weeping. We’re hurt by other people, life just gives us a lot of joy, but it also gives us a pain. That’s one of the things we’re down here to learn. On the road to Emmaus, He also has a question when they’re talking about their confusion and they’re sad, this is resurrection morning.
They don’t know He’s resurrected and Jesus comes and He walks with them. They don’t realize that. That’s a great comfort, that story. And He asks them again, “Why are you sad?” And that gives them an opportunity to do a certain kind of prayer that I call the pouring out prayer. Some phrases and words in the church are used so much that they don’t have a lot of power anymore. We kill them. Okay.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s so true.
S. Michael Wilcox: We’ve killed tender mercies. We’re killing ministering. We’ve pretty much killed atonement. It’s a beautiful word, but we just use it for all the time, everything. And we kill the word prayer. So I try and find different things to replace those where they have meaning and pouring out is one of those.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: And so He says to them where they say, “Don’t you know what’s happened? Don’t you know?” And sometimes in our lives, we say to God, “Don’t you know, Lord.” I said, “Don’t you know my Laurie’s gone? My life, I’m lost, I’m lost in living now.” And He says, “What things? What things have happened?” And we pour out and we just tell Him. And one pouring out is often not enough when you weep, you pour out, and you pour out, and you pour out until that moment comes when the savior says, “Mary.”
I’m going back to why weepest thou? And I love the three words, “She turned herself.” And all of us sooner or later, turn ourselves from the empty tomb, which represent… For us, a lot of times, that means a good thing, it’s empty. But in my life, in your life, we have our empty tombs, things we look into and there’s nothing there, but darkness, the empty tomb. She turned from it to the living Christ.
And in that one brief moment of time, you have the great turning from sorrow to joy, from despair to peace. Celebratory joy, unexpected joy. The apostles, when they first see Jesus believed not for joy. So great. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And all of us, because he said it, we’ll all be able to say of our own pain, whatever it is, it is finished. I’ll see Laurie again. Jesus will say, “Michael,” and I’ll turn myself and she’ll be there and it’ll be over. It’ll be over.
Tim Chaves: You talk in the book about when Laurie died, many well-intentioned people said, “God’s called her home” or similar things. And you push back against a little bit the idea that God plays such an active role in giving us trials and tribulations. Could you talk a little bit about that idea?
S. Michael Wilcox: Yeah. I don’t think God is a great center of trials. He doesn’t need to. I think He would say, “I don’t need to do that, life will do that.” And the image that I would use for that is Jesus in the boat during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. And I like to remind people, where is He? He’s not above the heavens sending the storm, He’s in the boat with you. And I felt all through that experience of going through those months of watching her slowly die, that God wasn’t sending this to us.
My son, a very faithful, believing young man, he’s married and has his own children, but he said, “Why is God taking my mother?” And I said, “Kay, God’s not taking your mother. Cancer’s taking your mother.” “Why does she have to hurt so bad? Why does God let her hurt so bad?” I said, “God’s not hurting your mother. The cancer’s hurting your mother. He’s in the boat with us.” We think it’s God’s job to take away the pain. And because He sometimes does, that’s life to save you, He goes around healing.
We kind of want that ourselves and sometimes He does, but I think God’s job, His purpose is not to take away the problems, not to send them. He doesn’t need to send them, life sends them. We send them to each other. His job is to make us brave. His job is to give us courage. His job is to give us hope. His job is to get us through it. And I never felt through that experience that he was outside. He was in my boat with me while the wind blew around me. I know people get mad at Him. I understand that completely.
I believe we need to change the paradigm of He sending these things. He’s always on our side. I used to say, “Lord, can’t we have Hezekiah time?” Hezekiah got 15 more years. Remember? “Can we have… how about five, two? Just a little more time.” I always felt God’s saying, “I’m sorry, Mike, this is happening to you and Laurie. I wish you could have your 20 years together. I wish you could take her all over the world like you want to, I wish she could see those places and enjoy your grandchildren.
But I can’t stop a cancer for everybody. I can’t stop every automobile accident and every disease and I… But I will be with you. I will see you through it. I will make you brave, and I promise you,” and this is the most important promise, I think, “I will bring good out of it.” And that truth is in every book of scripture. It’s such an important one, no matter what happens to us, whether we bring it on ourselves, life gives it, nature gives it, God’s promise is, “I’ll make it good. I’ll make it good.”
And if I had to pick one good from this, the knowledge that the best day of my life was the day she married me and grief has put my love for Laurie so deep in my heart, you will never pull it out, ever. Grief is Love’s shadow, so I would increase the grief to increase the love. I would. Good comes from all negatives and they end. “It is finished,” Jesus’s most beautiful words from the cross, “It is finished.” You’ll say it, I’ll say it, we’ll all say I one day.
Aubrey Chaves: I’m thinking about-
S. Michael Wilcox: Too long of an answer, I’m sorry.
Tim Chaves: No.
Aubrey Chaves: No, that was such a beautiful answer. I really, really love that. I’m just thinking about, for people who are in the middle of this, and I’ve always loved what you say about the fourth watch, that we worship a fourth watch God. And I just wonder if you could talk about when you’re in the third watch or you are in the fourth watch and you’re praying for a miracle, you want a miracle where the loved one you’re losing is not lost yet. With this perspective, what does faith look like?
Does it look like having fasting and praying and gathering and asking for a miracle or does it at some point transition to acceptance or is it always acceptance?
S. Michael Wilcox: Well, I think it’s trust. Going through certain difficulties in life has helped me have a different perspective on Gethsemane and Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “If it’d be possible, Father, let this cup pass from me.” Isn’t that nice that He of the most important moment of history, when everything humming of balance, if He could get out of it, He was praying that He would. So I guess it’s right for me to want, “Lord, I don’t want to go through this.” So I go to Gethsemane, that that prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”
Most of my life, I saw that as the great act of obedience. I think that’s the way we think it. Now I say, it’s the great act of trust that Jesus was saying, “I don’t…” We always say, “He’s omniscient,” I don’t want to get into doctrinal things here. We left brain religion too much. Religion belongs in the right brain, quit left braining it. We can say He’s omniscient, okay, but I think He was saying, “I don’t know all that you know, Father. I may not see it all. I’m in a bad spot here. And if it’s possible, I don’t want to drain this cup. Nevertheless, thy will be done. I trust you.”
I trust you, the way we all say it. One day, we’ll get to ask God a lot of questions and of His answers, we’re all going to say, “Amen. I wish I had known that down there on earth Lord, but right now, I trust.” There’s a place in Philippians where Paul was facing his death. The trial was going to come up. He didn’t know if he was going to be beheaded by the Romans, condemned or be set free. They didn’t have jail time in those days, it was one or the other. And he wrestles in his mind with what would be the better of the two outcomes.
And he writes to the Philippians, “I don’t know what I would choose. I don’t know what I would choose. To be with Christ is far better, but to be with you is more needful. And so I think I’m going to stay.” I read that and I thought, “Father in heaven, I don’t have the wisdom to know the difference between far better and more needful. I don’t have the… I think maybe Jesus is wrestling with far betters and more needfuls also, and the Father knows the far betters in the more needfuls.
And so I didn’t know what to pray for. If it’s better than she be with you, Lord, if it’s far better that she go for reasons I don’t know, or whatever trial we’re facing. If it’s far better I go through this. He said, “It is better for us to pass through sorrow.” Now she said that before she passed through it, but I love the phrase, pass through. We get through it, you go through it. And so I said, “Father in heaven, I don’t know the far betters in the more needfuls, you do. If it’s far better for Laurie to be with you, to pass, I know you’ll make everything good for us all. I do trust you in that. Then you bring her home.
I can give you lots of reasons that I think it’s more needful that she stay. And if it’s more needful for her to stay, then that’s what we pray for. If it’s more needful for us to go through things and learn things, I don’t know what to pray for.” And the Lord answered that prayer. He said, “Mike, you pray that Laurie draws all the joy out of life she can, and then she passes quickly.” And so that became my prayer and that’s what she did.
We traveled, we did all we could. We even did Disneyland.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that part.
S. Michael Wilcox: And and then within just a few weeks, she just went downhill on a slide and was gone.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: I hope that answers some of that.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. Could we talk about maybe for a moment, a different type of trial, which is the type that is brought on by others. And this is getting into what philosophy you might call the problem of the problem of evil. Especially when you get into really dark stuff, the atrocities that you hear about even either on an individual or a community level.
S. Michael Wilcox: Children’s suffering-
Tim Chaves: Exactly.
S. Michael Wilcox: Is the big one [crosstalk 00:20:04]
Tim Chaves: Yeah, it’s a perfect example. It’s just like, how could… And this is where I think a lot of people run into real faith challenges, not just in our religion, but in-
S. Michael Wilcox: All religions.
Tim Chaves: … the people across the world, is how could a loving God, which is a central tenant of most religions, allow something like a child suffering so deeply to happen. Do you have thoughts on this?
S. Michael Wilcox: It’s a bigger problem in Western religions than Eastern religions definitely. I have wrestled with that like we all do, and there are all kinds of answers. And you can get fractional answers, what I call. If there was a single answer that anybody could give that would put the question to rest, we would have had it and we wouldn’t be asking it anymore. That says to me, no matter how much I’ve worked with it, I’m never going to be satisfied, not going to be satisfied.
Maybe the one element of an answer will make you feel a little better, maybe another, somebody else feel a little better, and other you know free agency never satisfies me. And so deeply thinking about it one day, why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why does such horrible things happen? I just had this insight, is as if the Lord was saying, “You’ve wrestled with this a long time, Mike, let me give you a thought.” And this was a thought. “You are asking the wrong question.”
Now, I had to really chew on that for a while, “You are asking the wrong question.” “What’s the right question, Lord?” And again, that softly, gently. “The right question is there is suffering in the world. What are you going to do about it?” That really changed my perspective. What are you going to do about it? God’s dignity will probably take care of itself. We sometimes feel we need to defend Him with all kinds of answers about it, and I think He can take care of Himself.
And like I say, I have absolute trust one day, I’m going to ask Him that question. He’s going to lay it all out and I’ll say, “Amen.” But in the meantime, my major question is, what am I going to do about it? Here’s Moses worrying about the children of Israel. Very telling phrase when it says, “When he came to age, he went out to visit his brethren and he looked upon their burdens.” I think that changed Moses. When we go out and we look upon the burdens of our fellow men, it changes it, it creates something in us.
Now he’s at the burning bush and I think he’s saying, “Lord, hey, what are you going to do about all your children suffering down, they’re in bondage?” And the Lord says, “I have surely seen them. I have heard their cries by reason of their taskmasters. I know their sorrows. I will deliver them.” I can hear Moses say, “Good, it’s about time.” Two verses later, what was he saying? “Come now, I will send you and you will deliver.” And Moses says, “Who am I?”
And if you look at the history of the world, that is generally the way God deals with all those questions. I don’t know why He allows. Like I say, if there was an answer, we’d have it. There isn’t an answer. The question is, “What am I going to do about it?” And so, Moses goes. Buddhism arises out of that question. I’ll just give you one last thought on this one. The main problem in Eastern and Western religions is different.
The main problem that religion’s trying to help people grapple with in life in Western religion is sin. Sin is the main problem. And the answer that Jesus comes to give is forgiveness, mercy. What is the answer? Human infliction of pain on one another, and today’s world, our answer is outrage, cancellation. There’s no forgiveness, no mercy, no understanding of we’re all human, we’re all making mistakes. Let’s do what we can to improve them, but little forgiveness, little kindness. But this is the answer that Western religion gives to human life.
In Eastern religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese wisdom, but especially Buddhism, the problem is suffering. That’s the problem, which you and I can understand. It’s just that our problem is another sin, but their may problem is suffering. The Buddha’s whole search was how do I end it? Make a long answer, short, the answer is compassion, selflessness. That’s the answer. You forget yourself and you live in compassion. You quit worrying about all of your own hurts and pains and you look around.
And once again, history is filled with magnificent people who said, “I don’t know why God lets it happen. I wish He didn’t, but I will not be part of the problem. I will be part of the solution.” That was Dostoevsky’s answer, a great Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov. And he will wrench your heart as he states the problem with the suffering of children, difficult to read. He wanted to answer that question and he said, “I’ve got oppose it strong enough that people won’t think I’ve diminished it.” And so he really, really asks it.
And the stories of children suffering break your heart. In fact, he felt, he stated it so hard and strong that he couldn’t answer it. But the answer he comes up with essentially is compassion, selflessness. “I refuse to be part of the problem. I will not be part of the problem. I will be part of the solution.” So whenever I get to where I get a little mad at God, I can get mad at God, who’s running things up there. I try to remember, what are you going to do about it, Mike? And then in as much as you can you try to alleviate suffering.
Aubrey Chaves: Just a couple of days after we plan this interview on this topic with you, my parents were in a plane crash and they both broke their backs about a week ago, a week from Saturday.
S. Michael Wilcox: Painful.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. It’s been a long week. It was so interesting though, because this was all so fresh on our minds when this happened. And I kept thinking of the… When you talk about Job and how his friends sat with him for seven days in silence, because they could see his suffering or see his grief. And we’ve watched that this week, that friends from every era of their life have surfaced and sat with them emotionally. Sometimes it’s a message, some people have shown up and just been at the house and physically sat with them. But it’s been such a lesson in how to show compassion.
When I see suffering get really busy and for a lot of times, I think that’s for me, I feel really good about feeling like I’m helping. And it’s been so beautiful to watch how these friends have been able to recognize what the real need was, which I think for a lot of days it was not physical, it was not necessarily food. It was just love. It was just their suffering being witnessed by someone. Would would you expand on Job? I’ve never read that story that way, and after the plane crash, I went back and read those verses again, and it was such a beautiful recipe for care in suffering.
S. Michael Wilcox: If there is an answer that I feel a little bit comfortable with to the big question you asked, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why does a good God allow it?” The answer would, be there isn’t anything quite like the negatives of life to create the positives of life.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: So you are feeling in your heart, kindness, service, selflessness, compassion, as you watch other people hurt, and that’s a good thing. We’re here to learn to be God-like, and what is God? He is compassionate, merciful, kind, serviceable, selfless. And what are the experiences in your life or in the lives of others that are best calculated to create those feelings and emotions? And they’re usually the broken back kinds of situations.
Job was an attempt. It’s in called the wisdom literature, so how much of the story is literal? We don’t have to worry about. There is a little set story that introduces it, but it’s written to allow a dialogue as to why God allows suffering and pain in the world. I don’t think Lucifer pays house calls on God. But it’s a set story. But Lucifer probably does say to God, part of his name is the accuser, is, “Lord, they only love you when things are going good. That’s when they love you.
And they have faith in you and trust you and believe in you and say good things. But if you let problems come, they will curse you to your face.” And one of the beautiful things for me about Job is God’s answer. And I think He says it of your parents, you, hopefully me. Maybe I got through mine. “I have more faith in my children. I don’t think they’ll stop believing in me, and loving me, and trusting me no matter what happens to them. So you do the worst you can, I believe they will be strong.”
After liberty jail, at the end of Joseph’s life he says, “Deep water is what I’m want to swim in. My whole life has been one trial from beginning to end.” “You can bury me in the deepest pit in Nova Scotia and pile the Rocky mountains on top of me,” Joseph said, “And I will exercise faith and get out on top.” It’s a nice thing to know about yourself as he said that you’re stronger than all the powers of earth and hell. He said, “You can believe, and trust, and have faith, and hold on.” As CS Lewis said, “When every…” He’s talking about Jesus on the cross, because Jesus went there.
“When every evidence of God and His love is gone from your world and a person still cries out, ‘I believe and I love,’ that is a great triumph.” Sometimes all we can do as… Job’s friends, Job should have ended it in the first couple of chapters, quick. “Don’t get into all the discussions, just be quiet friends.” They did what was right at the beginning, they sat there. There’s another more beautiful one, I call it tarry and watch. So here is Jesus in Gethsemane, His great moment of agony, Gethsemane and the cross.
And what does He do? He goes into the garden, the Gethsemane and He takes all the 11 now and some others, Mark was there for instance. And He takes Peter, James, and John, three friends deeper into the garden, a stone’s castaway, we read. And He says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” I’ve sometimes thought about people and suicide. I can’t think of a better place to counsel somebody who’s wrestling with those depths than to take them to Gethsemane with Jesus. “He was so amazed,” Mark says, “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.”
Sometimes God lets us be in an agony because it draws us to pray more earnestly. But what does He need? What does He need? That’s another thing I’m thinking about. I wrote the book on, a book… A book, not a book.
Aubrey Chaves: A book.
S. Michael Wilcox: I wrote a book on the questions of Jesus. I’m pondering, I don’t know if I’ll ever write it, but I’m going through the New Testament now with the question, what were the needs of Jesus? What did He need? And there He is in Gethsemane and He says to Peter, James and John, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch with me.” And that is sometimes the best thing you can possibly do for other people. I am grateful when I went through Laurie’s passing, so many people, they never said anything that was going to take the pain away. You can’t take the pain away.
I don’t know that I wanted away. I don’t know, but I want it gone now. Would the loss of the pain mean the loss of the love? They just tarried and watched and didn’t go to sleep.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: And sometimes I pray, “Father in heaven, if there’s somebody near me, a stone’s cast away who is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, don’t let me go to sleep.” That’s one of those questions Jesus asked that was so impactful to me, “Sleepest thou?” I don’t want to be asleep. And we know how important that was. Here He is, He’s talking to his Father, He’s got God. We always tell people, “Pray to God. Pour out.” An angel comes to strengthen Him. I didn’t get an angel come to strengthen me, you probably haven’t in yours.
And after that first prayer of, “Nevertheless, not my will be done,” now what does He need? The angel, God? No, He needs Peter, James, and John. He needs a human voice, a human face, a human touch. He needs the tarrying, watching friends. And so he goes and they’re asleep. Luke always so gracious. Luke is always so gracious. Luke understood human weakness. Says, “They slept for sorrow.”
Aubrey Chaves: No.
S. Michael Wilcox: Doesn’t that soften it? Really softens it. You’re asleep [inaudible 00:37:05]. Slept for sorrow. And He wakes them and asks them, “Peter, couldn’t you watch with me one hour?” Then He goes back and He prays again, “Father, if be not possible, except I drink the cup, thy will be done.” Now what does He need? He needs those three again, so a second time He goes out for the human face, the human touch, the tarrying, watching. I say to people, “When you’re in deep needs, when you’re in,” I don’t know, that any of us ever have our Gethsemanes.
We might have our liberty jails, I’m not sure we ever have Gethsemanes. But when we get near it, find somebody to tarry and watch with you. And if you’re the tarrying, watching person, it probably isn’t so important what you say as that you’re there. I used to feel I always needed to give the answers as though I could reason myself out of pain or talk somebody else how to pain. Pain is pain. Sometimes they just need somebody to put their arms around them, weep with them. That’s it. Just weep with them.
Tim Chaves: What would you say about those who… I love the idea that there’s potentially an inner circle of tarry and watchers, those you need most in your moment of trial. And that happens on occasion where I think I recognize I’m part of that inner circle. But more often, I find myself on the margins, someone is going through something deep and I want to offer support, but I think it’s clear that I’m not the tarry and watcher in that scenario.
Aubrey Chaves: A stone throw.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, exactly.
S. Michael Wilcox: You’re Matthew and James and the others at the gate of Gethsemane.
Tim Chaves: Exactly. And I feel like maybe all I have to offer is something to say. I know that I can’t take away their pain with my words and I don’t want to offer them a platitude and say, “Oh, God’s ordained this or whatever it is.” And so I’m curious, what would you recommend that those on the outside do? Is there something that you can or should say to offer something? Or is there something you can or should do if you’re not part of the-
Aubrey Chaves: You’re at the gate.
Tim Chaves: If you’re at the gate, yeah.
S. Michael Wilcox: Well, we always pray and those are things that it’s hard to give a general answer to because… It’s easier to give a general answer to those a stone’s cast away than those at the gate. Because we don’t know what they did. They prayed. I wish I had a great, deep, wonderful answer for that. I think you try and be available, you understand, you stay sensitive to the Spirit that there may be a chance. When Laurie died, I’ll just give maybe an example of somebody at the gate, which actually turned out to be the best thing.
I just say this for people at the gate. You may not have anything to do other than to be empathetic. Maybe the blessing is going to be in your heart. I went to Egypt after Laurie died. I went to Antarctica first, I’ve been traveling for 10 years. Sometimes I think I’m trying to stay one step away from grief. You do have to stay engaged in life. And a very good friend of ours, but he’s Egyptian, met me at the Egyptian-Israeli border to talk to me about Laurie. And for a while, he just let me talk about her.
One of the best questions you can ask somebody, we say, “How are you doing?” Let me just add one word to that. How are you doing today? It’s a big difference. You may see them, especially Americans, were just, “I’m fine. I’m doing okay.” When you ask that question, “How are you doing today?” And we talked about Laurie. Sometimes it’s helpful if it’s somebody who’s passed. “Tell me about her. Tell me about your son, who has…” You let him talk about him. He talked about Laurie for half an hour. I talked about her, he talked about her.
It’s just relieving to talk about her. And sometimes things that you wouldn’t say to one of my children, I might say to you. And then he said… Hassan was his name. He said, “Mike, for us Muslims, when you talk lovingly of the dead, you lift them to higher and higher places in paradise.” That was the sweetest thing anybody ever said. That was the most comforting thing anybody ever said. It was not said by one of the stones throw tarry and watchers. It was said by somebody at the gate, who I think was moved by the Lord to say something that I needed at the time, so you try to stay open and listen.
And there may come something into your heart or your experience that will be exactly what they need at that time. I think one thing you help people do, I’m not sure it’s something you say to people going through trials when they’re going through them. We always have to go by the Spirit and hope that that we’ll know how to deal with each individual case. But I try to get people to the point where they’re looking for what I call… I got a couple of names for them. I call them attic moments.
When you have deep loss in life, deep, deep struggles, you look for the attic moments. And if I had Anne Frank’s diary, that’s where I get it. Here she is, Nazi controlled the Netherlands in Amsterdam, and up in that room, they’d been in there for months and months, hiding. Life is not pleasant. Eventually, of course, Anne Frank dies. So what does she have in the attic? You can visit that, I’ve been there. It’s like going to the temple for me to go into that attic.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: And you see the little window in the attic, and she could see the sky, and the clouds passing over in the branches of a tree. That’s what she could see. And this teenage girl writes this beautiful statement of affirmation that as she says, “As long as I have this, how can I be unhappy? As long as I can see this tiny, tiny little bit of nature, nature is healing, how can I be unhappy?” And so she’d go up in the attic a lot. Look, see a cloud pass by, she talks about the branches glistening in the rain. I say, this is a mature girl.
In my life, we look for what I call the attic moments and every single day there’ll be a dozen of them. So I don’t have in my life the big joy, the grand happiness, which for me is Laurie. For Latter-Day Saints, it’s love, it’s family, it’s relationships. I don’t think the celestial kingdom is a place. I think the celestial kingdom is people.
Tim Chaves: Yes.
S. Michael Wilcox: It’s relationships. It’s not an environment. It’s relationships. I don’t have that now. The big center of the painting, happiness, but there are all kinds of attic moments, little happinesses all around. And we look for those and they come all the time. This is going to seem silly. I discovered last week that Costco sells Boursin Cheese. I haven’t had Boursin Cheese since my mission in France. Now, God created taste buds for Boursin Cheese. And just to put that on a little piece of bread, hadn’t tasted it for 50 years. And it took me back to France, this marvelous taste.
Tim Chaves: That’s awesome.
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
S. Michael Wilcox: And I thought, “Whoa, as long as…” I feel like Anne in the attic. I feel like saying, “As long as I have Boursin Cheese, I’ll be okay.” And there’s lots. I think we look for the attic moments. Tolstoy writes in War and Peace of Pierre, who’s searching for happiness. Everything wrong goes in his life, it’s terrible. He’s in a shared, retreating with Napoleon’s army. He’s suffering and they’re starving to death, they’re freezing, you can’t get in a worst position. And a peasant pulls out a potato, cuts it in half and gives him half of it.
And it’s ravenous hunger, and he begins to eat and the peasant says, “No, no, no, no, not like that.” Takes out a little packet of paper and sprinkles, a little bit of salt, few spices on it, he says, “Now eat it slow and enjoy it.” And in War and Peace, that is the transition moment for this lead character, Pierre, because he realizes that in the worst of situations, there’s always the bite of potato. There’s always the view from the attic.
Aubrey Chaves: It seems like it’s really a gift of suffering that it’s like you’re not even capable of appreciating something so small until you’ve suffered so deeply. And it reminds me of the… I think it’s actually in your new book. In Holding On, is that where you talk about the ibex goats?
S. Michael Wilcox:: I do.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that metaphor and I kept thinking about that with trials, that maybe a gift of suffering or maybe the way suffering is sometimes alchemized is that you are high enough for those nutrients that they… You have to be high enough to get what you need. And so you can appreciate these things that you may have missed before, but also there’s real growth there, that maybe we’re not going to have otherwise without this pain. Maybe before we end, will you just talk about the ibex goats and what they’re and how they climb and how you see that as a metaphor?
S. Michael Wilcox:You can go on YouTube. YouTube is a great thing.
Aubrey Chaves: I was showing the kids yesterday.
Tim Chaves: We saw it, it’s wild.
Aubrey Chaves: It is unreal.
S. Michael Wilcox: It’s crazy. I was in Israel. In Israel, they have ibex and they grow in real tiny ledges in the Judean wilderness, which is where the idea comes from. I teach Habakkuk. Habakkuk is going through a faith crisis. He’s saying, “God, where are you?” That’s how it all starts. “How come you make men like fishes? How come the big eat the little?” God’s answer to him again, even the scriptural answers are never sufficient, is that, “The just believe by faith. You just going to have to trust me and have faith. One day I’ll answer it all, and you’ll say, ‘Amen.'” Which is job’s answer.
He comes to the conclusion, “Well, God, then give me hinds feet so I can walk on my high places.” High place is the Holy Spiritual, the high. So whether you think of mountain goats in the rocky mountains, the ibex in Israel, sometimes our path of life narrows, narrows, narrows, narrows, narrows, narrows, and we’re going to fall off. We lose our faith in God, in the church, in one another. And they’re just so narrow. And so we praise for the ibex on the dam you’re talking about in Italy, or in Israel, or the rocky mountain. They have special hooves and they can hold onto a ledge an inch wide on almost 90 degree vertical thing.
If you Google Cingino Dam, you don’t even have to put the name in. Just put ibex Italian Dam, you can see them. And they walk out on it to lick the nutrients, the salts, and things that seep through the dam and they hang on. Sometimes I have to say to myself, “Lord,” Habakkuk’s prayer, “give me hinds feet. Just give me hinds feet. There’s not any answers. I don’t know the whys, maybe I don’t have anybody that’s watching and tarrying with me. I’m just desperate. I’m exceeding sorrowful unto death. And my path is only a half an inch wide, and I’m on a vertical cliff. Give me Habakkuk’s hinds feet for the high places.”
I love all those Hs, that alliteration. Habakkuk, hinds, high. “Just give me those feet.” So I’ll hold on because I know from experience the path widens again, things change. When Laurie first died, time crawled. You’d be five months and I think, “It’s only been five months. How am I ever going to live decades without her?” But time is a healer, we say that and it accelerates. It does accelerate, so it doesn’t move so slowly now for me.
For anybody out there who is wrestling with whatever trial life has given you, not that God’s given you. We say, “God has a plan for us.” He has a plan for us multiple, and He’ll get us through it. But His plan for us is that we have a happy ending. I don’t know that He’s in all the details. The plan is, it’s going to end happy. It’s going to end happy, so don’t fall off. Hang on because as Joseph Smith says, “What do we hear in the gospel we’ve received?” That’s a great question. And then he answers it, “A voice of gladness.”
We’re all going to get our Mary-Jesus moment when Jesus says, “Michael,” and we turn. And it’ll be over.
Tim Chaves: Can I ask one more thing?
S. Michael Wilcox: Sure.
Tim Chaves: Is that okay?
S. Michael Wilcox: Of course.
Tim Chaves: I really love how you closed the chapter why weepest thou? Talking about the power of weeping itself. You shared, I’m not sure what to call it, a parable or a myth about the first tears that entered the world.
S. Michael Wilcox: Adam and Eve.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. Would you mind sharing that?
S. Michael Wilcox: Sure. It’s a Jewish story. The Jewish people have a little bit of experience with suffering as a people, and they’ve dealt with it a number of ways. One is humor. Jewish humor is wonderful, and also tenderness. Jewish spirituality is… There’s a lot of tenderness in it. They tell a story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and they’re being expelled, and they feel so bad. And God feels so bad for them. It’s not, “Get out.” He’s loving. He knows what’s going to happen to them and He says to them, I’m paraphrasing the story.
“Dear children, the world in which you go into is going to be harsh and hard. And there’s going to be bitter hard, difficult times for you. But look, I have a gift for you.” And He holds His hand out and there’s a little tiny pearl in it. Little tiny, clear pearl. And He says, “Look.” And they say, “What is it?” And He says, “It’s a tear. And whenever life burdens you, whenever you don’t think you can bear it, these tears will fall from your eyes, and you will be relieved.”
And Adam and Eve weep over the loss of Eden, and are comforted, and pass the gift of weeping on. What’s the shortest verse in the scriptures?
Tim Chaves: Jesus wept.
Aubrey Chaves: Wept.
S. Michael Wilcox: We all have it memorized. Jesus swept. I think, like I said I’ve been thinking about His needs, He needed to weep and He wept freely. And there is good in weeping, and in hope. One last one, if you want to edit it out, you can. Since we’re talking about Jewish people and their dealing with suffering, what is the single most famous, popular, the greatest hit song attached to a movie in all Hollywood history?
Aubrey Chaves: I don’t know.
Tim Chaves: I don’t know.
S. Michael Wilcox: Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Aubrey Chaves: Oh.
S. Michael Wilcox: Wizard of Oz. It was written… The music is a Jewish lullaby-
Aubrey Chaves: Really?
S. Michael Wilcox: … by a man named Harold Arlen, second generation Jew from what were called the shtetl, the little villages of Russia and Poland. Second generation Jew escaping the pogroms. The lyrics were written by another Jewish second generation. His parents had also immigrated to America, named Yip Harburg. And they wrote the lyrics. It was the biggest contract, they got to write the lyrics for Wizard of Oz, which was the big, big thing in the 40s. It’s going to win the Academy Award.
The producers of the movie were saying, “We don’t need that. It’s not even in the book. What’s this little American Kansas girl singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow?” But they insisted. And if you think of the Jewish people and all they suffered, and what it meant for them to come here, and to get out of a lot of that, the lyrics, and hopefully I can repeat them to you. It’s hard for me to do it without weeping. The lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is the marriage of Jewish yearning for a life without suffering, married to American optimism and hope.
You think about these boys, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I learned of once in a lullaby.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
S. Michael Wilcox: Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Someday, I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me, where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops. That’s where you’ll find me. Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I? Now, if you put that in the voice of a Jewish boy who’s come out of a history of immense suffering, there’s something deeply beautiful about that song. I can’t hear it without the tears, God’s gift to us all.
And realizing that I think God sings that to all of us. It’s our yearning, it’s our hope. And in all for Yip Harburg, the land over the rainbow was America. We have our problems. For all of us, the land over the rainbow is real. That’s where Laurie is. I can’t look at a rainbow and not think of her and say, “I know that’s where she is, Lord. And one day I’ll be there.” We’ll be in the land where troubles melt like lemon drops.
But in the meantime we learn, we learn, it is better for us pass through sorrow. We learn from it wonderful lessons and you’ll be full of compassion. And I hopefully will, and kindness and mercy, and God will say, “Well done. I know it was hard.”
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you so much. That was amazing. I just feel like you have insight from every perspective.
S. Michael Wilcox: Well, thank you for letting me be here. I’m sorry, I talk too much.
Tim Chaves: No, it was perfect.
S. Michael Wilcox: I do have-
Aubrey Chaves: No.
Tim Chaves: We do so appreciate your wisdom, and your love, and your example, so thanks for joining us.
S. Michael Wilcox: Thank you for letting me come.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you.
Tim Chaves: Thanks so much for listening, and of course, a huge thanks to S. Michael Wilcox for joining us. We’d recommend the book, What Seek Ye? to anybody that has interest in hearing more of his insights. And as always, if Faith Matters content is resonating with you and you get a chance, we’d love for you to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. It definitely helps get the word out about Faith Matters, and we really appreciate the support.
Thanks again for listening. And as always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org.