Death is inescapable for all of us. And losing those we love is part of life, as well. During the last two weeks I’ve experienced the loss of four loved ones and friends.


The last phone call I got was particularly difficult. I tried to maintain only a modicum of emotion during the conversation, but afterwards I held my hands to my face and sobbed. I was losing a woman I consider flawless– truly a giving, loving example of Christlike attributes. I want her in my life. I want to call her, see her, laugh with her, cry with her. She was still in the middle age of life. And now she’s gone.


Of course we know we’ll see our loved ones again. And we rejoice at the grand reunion we know they’re having with others who have longed for their company as well. We celebrate a life well lived, and feel gratitude for knowing them. But in those more selfish moments when we look at the gaping hole in our own life, we mourn.


Why did this have to happen? Couldn’t she have stayed a little longer? My heart was breaking as I tried to make sense of my sorrow. And suddenly I felt a prompting. The words came into my aching heart, “The question isn’t why she’s gone, but why the rest of you are here.”


It thundered through me with the layers of meaning that always seem to accompany moments of quiet revelation. I felt reminded that any one of us could be called home anytime God chose to do so, and that our very presence here on Earth is quite deliberate. God isn’t just turning his back and letting random deaths happen or not happen. He is a God of order and design. If someone righteous goes home, there’s a reason for it. And if someone stays, there’s a reason for it.


It caused me to re-evaluate my purpose here-everyone’s purpose here. We are not supposed to bob along in the current of life and just let events wash over us, unbidden. Life is not a series of lucky or unlucky turns, and it’s not supposed to be a jumble of errands and activities we plan, even with best intentions.


God is waiting for us to do the things we were sent here to do. That sounds like an obvious part of the gospel plan, but is it something we consider as we plan each day? Do we stop and consecrate our moments to building the kingdom? Or do we find ourselves dashing to work, orthodontist appointments, soccer practices, and meetings? If our lives were pie charts, how big a slice is “recreation”? How big a slice is “service”?


Of course we have to work, buy food, do laundry, deal with illnesses, etc. That’s definitely part of the mortal experience. But we all have moments when we can choose to visit the sick, be good missionaries, improve our communities, encourage the downtrodden, and live a bit more nobly than choosing to spend our free time in selfish pursuits.


Patriarchal blessings are great sources for the answer to “why are you here?” and can pinpoint the varying purposes each of us has. Perhaps one reason we’re still here is to learn traits we haven’t grasped yet-patience, generosity, compassion, dependability, and dozens of others. Another reason we’re still here is to accomplish work that we alone can do-the raising of particular children, the finding of certain ancestors for temple work. No one’s test is the same as another’s, and only God knows when you’ve passed the test and are ready to return. Some of us need more refining.


Soldiers who suffer from “survivor guilt” often feel their friends didn’t deserve to die, and that they don’t deserve to live. But they have it backwards-their friends were given diplomas, whereas the remaining soldier was asked to do a little more homework first. Life can be rewarding, but going home to our loving Father in Heaven is the Great Reward.


And so we miss those dear to us, as they “graduate” before we do. But each passing can also remind us to dedicate our hearts more fully to the Savior’s work. Our prayers can be more genuine expressions of bringing our hearts and wishes in line with God’s. As we more sincerely offer up our sins and our selfishness, we can become more useful tools in His hands. We can truly discover why we are still here, and master the lessons He’s waiting for us to learn.


You can find Hilton’s books at jonihilton.com.

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