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We’ve all tried to imagine the next life. Leaders who have seen it in a vision, and others who have visited in near-death experiences, have assured us of its immense beauty, dazzling light, and the feeling of being bathed in love. Many of us picture the scenery, the surroundings, our loved ones. Of course we don’t really know what it will be like and how our daily lives will play out—are there even “days” as we know them? People have jokingly speculated about which spouse will control the thermostat, and whose favorite music will be playing. But there’s one thing we can count on: We will take our grudges with us.
And that’s not so fun to imagine, is it? Those thorns in our souls, those jagged rocks we have refused to set down, will not just magically evaporate. We will not suddenly overcome all our weaknesses, our pride, our resentments. We were supposed to do that on earth. If we still can’t forgive someone, those same feelings will remain in our heart as we step through the veil. And, unfortunately, these will be obstacles to our progress.
What will happen when you encounter that person you can’t forgive? What if that person preceded you in death, and by the time you arrive they’ve had years to learn, repent, and grow? When we die we are not frozen like the cryogenic people in pods you see in movies. We continue to learn, grow, and progress. Christ taught us that if we do not repent here in mortality, we’ll have to do it in the next life, and suffer even as he did. So repentance definitely happens.
But what if they are completely changed and you simply can’t accept it? I’ve talked to many women who say they don’t want to be sealed to a departed husband or a cruel father, but I remind them that no one is shackled to an unworthy companion or family member. Heavenly Father would never do that. But… what if this person has finally overcome his weaknesses and has completely transformed into a righteous person, the very image of his true potential? Is that not a possibility? Why not assume the best for now, and then see what you discover in the next realm? You might be pleasantly surprised.
And if not, then the sealing wouldn’t be ratified by the Holy Ghost anyway, so no harm is done. (For a great example of just such a turnaround, we read Christ’s instructions in 3 Nephi 18:32, “Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” My own italics.)
And then, what about us? What if we’ve nursed a stubborn refusal to set aside the hurts and abuses of this life? What will happen if we haven’t repented of thinking that certain people were too awful to be covered by Christ’s atonement?
Of course, the best way to prepare for the next life is also when it’s easiest: Here and now. This is the time to conquer our critical natures, our self-pity, our dislike of others. Here is where we need to give up the hope for retribution, for someone else to suffer as much as we’ve decided they should. This is when we truly need to permanently give up grudge-holding. Earth life is the time to refine our hearts, and honestly align ourselves with the compassion and charity we know we should exhibit. Instead of getting caught with negative assessments in our hearts, we should step into the afterlife cleansed and forgiven, knowing we could meet up with former enemies and feel only forgiveness and love in our hearts.
This isn’t to say it’s an easy process. Every day people are taken home, many with no warning. None of us knows our departure date, and we would all be wise to set aside time to evaluate where we stand in how we feel about our fellowman. If there are individuals who have caused you pain and suffering, you—and I—need to get on our knees and plead with God for the strength to get past it, set it aside, and replace resentment with forgiveness. We need to pray for increased faith, and for a deeper trust that God will make all things right. If someone needs punishing, God will take care of it; we do not need to fantasize about what that might entail.
And while we’re praying to forgive others, this might be a good time to realize that the shoe is often on the other foot. Is there someone you have wronged in your past? Pleading for their forgiveness might be a wonderful step to take. It’s humbling, but it’s also cleansing and vital to our own realization that we’re all just people, and we all need the healing balm of being forgiven. Then, wouldn’t it be wonderful to pass through the veil knowing you could feel genuine gladness with every single person you meet? Surely that joy and love of others is part of Celestial life. And if that kingdom is our aim—and it should be—then we need to start on the correct path today. Set down those rocks and travel light. It’s the only way to fly.