Shiny Happy No Thanks


There’s this weird phenomenon I’ve observed. It’s unclear where it’s nexus lies— It may be influenced by the rise of the Pinterest quote culture, or the focus on and elevation of lifestyle blogs. Are wall-quotes in living-areas a symptom or a cause? I’m not sure. What I see in my own community, on social media, and online in general, is an elevation of happiness being considered a virtue, a morally superior position. Being happy is great, of course, but the converse side of expecting happiness (or cheerfulness) as a marker of faith is that those who are somehow not “happy” or who struggle in any way, are somehow perilously close to morally failing.

What a horrible expectation to place on anyone walking through the normal emotions that come with the trials of a lived life.

As Mormons, we’re particularly guilty. We talk of the Gospel as though it should be a magic band-aid that will insulate us from human reality. It’s not. Just because I have faith in God and in Jesus doesn’t somehow make it incumbent on me to be “too strong for fear” or “too happy to permit the presence of trouble.” I call BS. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes things are scary. Sometimes trouble finds us, and it sucks. The idea that I (or anyone) is somehow responsible and should exercise control over the human condition is actually contra to Gospel principles.

This is evident in how Mormons treat death and funerals. It may be my convert sensibilities, but turning a funeral into a missionary experience leaves little room for real grief or for the bereaved to openly and honestly experience their loss with the support of their community. Naked, raw grief gets pushed to the side, while we congratulate ourselves on our beliefs. Instead of talking of our missed loved-one, we talk of the plan of happiness, of the plan of salvation, of how great it is that the departed is in reunion with their family. While that may be true, there is also a living family still present; a family who is missing and aching for that same loved one, and their feelings should also be honored and given space. What a burden we place on the surviving family when we expect a focus on happiness in the face of tremendous and sometimes terrible loss.

I see similar inertia in others going through hard times- be it divorce, unemployment, mental health challenges, wayward children, or anything you can dream up that somehow doesn’t fit the ideal. The idea that we must always face towards “happiness” creates little space for people to be human. I see women who are deeply hurt, but who lack the vocabulary to even admit it. I see people who are afraid of feeling anger, people who believe the outward appearance must always be cheerful, and who are then swallowed by shame and fear that their facade will crack. This isn’t healthy, and frankly, is a lived denial of the salvic power of the atonement.

Grief is real. Sadness is real. Depression, anger, sorrow, frustration and weariness are all real. We are not moral failures if we feel these things. We needn’t plaster over our feelings with peel-off wall quotes and pretend everything is awesome. When you set only a shiny-happy example of what your life is like to your friends and family, where are they to turn when their own life doesn’t match up with your shiny-face? How can they know that you also struggle, that you also grieve and are angry sometimes? Pretending and presenting further alienates us from one another. Pretending has never, ever, built a bridge to another person.

I’m not suggesting we wallow in our sorrows, or carry them around held high- I’m suggesting a healthy balance is… healthy.

A person exiting a painful (they all are) divorce shouldn’t be expected to only focus on the good in people who have harmed them. A person who lost someone to a violent cancer or who is left to raise young children alone should not have to experience their loss as a missionary moment. Let people be angry, sad, grieve, mourn, and be with them, hold space for them, as they move through the real emotions of a lived life. When we shove feelings we deem less favorable down, they can germinate in the dark, and can grow and cripple us. If we allow our feelings room to be, to run their course, their energy is then dissipated and carried by our support structures and our own processes, and they become faded memories.

We also model for our friends and family what it looks like to actually walk in faith.

Walking in faith through hard things, while acknowledging they’re hard, is beautiful. There is a vulnerability in taking off the mask of positivity, and allowing yourself to feel what you feel. The irony is, God knows anyway. We’re only fooling ourselves and each other.

Next time you’re tempted to attach morality to a feeling, or to shove away part of yourself,  take a moment to stop. Ask if this is healthy, or if perhaps, it might be better to model a more fully fleshed-out version of what it means to be alive. Life is not always pretty, nor fit for the cover page of a lifestyle blog. And that’s okay. As a matter of fact, that’s what makes it beautiful.


  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Tracy. I’ve been teaching Job the past couple of weeks, and my students have been talking about how sometimes it’s okay to let God have it in our prayers, if that’s how we really feel. The converse could be said of those moments when we genuinely are so full of rejoicing that words barely come and we fling our happiness heavenward with the same vigor as we had our anger or frustration. I suspect that in either case God appreciates our candor much more than a song and dance telling him what we think he wants to hear.

  2. ^ Yes! Yes yes yes! I’m so glad you’re talking openly and honestly with your students, Jason. They’re lucky to have you. I have never believed in telling God what I think he wants to hear- the hubris in the very idea denies…well, it denies his being God.

  3. Well said! This whole concept of “setting and example” permeates this, and the ramped up rhetoric that if others (non-members) see our happiness, that they will want what we have, so always show the happy shiny. This also contributes to the LDS culture of passive-aggressive behaviours, since we have a distorted view that we shouldn’t show any anger either.

    As you point out so well, life happens, emotions ebb and flow, and there really are some pretty lousy things that happen. To not acknowledge them is unhealthy. I can’t tell how many times I hear at funerals someone trying (and failing, miserably) to comfort with “They are in a better place, etc.” How about, “I am so sorry for your loss and I grieve with you”. I, for one, am sick to death of the notion that the church has that funerals shouldn’t really be about the dead, but to be a missionary moment. It’s plainly and simply hijacking a powerful, personal moment that should be the family’s time to remember and start healing.

    Thanks again for your well thought out discussion of this.

  4. I think it’s also pertinent to point out in the New Testament and in the Four Gospels, Christ and a Christian life doesn’t promise happiness. To quote Julie Smith, “…the promise of discipleship is not shiny happy–it’s suffering and persecution and sacrifice.” It’s us who have put the shiny-happy spin on it, and really only in the last few decades.

  5. In the midst of a meeting where we were waxing a bit glossy grappling with real pain and trials and the ways and the hows, there was a bit too much suggestions of perspective framing and comparing our trials to others to find comfort. I couldn’t take it anymore. Suddenly words of my sweet sister in law came to mind. She told me of a conversation she had with a friend that lives in her same very small southern Utah community. The friend’s uncle was going through pancreatic cancer treatment at the same time as she my sister in law was going through breast cancer treatment, her friend is developmentally delayed and is kind of an eternal YW with all the exuberance and intensity but also the myopic view. She told her “Jenny, it’s gonna be okay, and even if it isn’t okay it’s gonna be okay because of Jesus.” That came flooding back. Previously it had found me in a desperate moment of need, as my sister in law faced reoccuance of her cancer her words and part of a hymn verse. Attending a ward in my neighborhood because I couldn’t make my body or brain handle 9:00 church that Sunday day, I went to a friend’s ward at 1:00 to take the sacrament and find solace. Her words and these words “…trust in his redeeming blood and try his work to do…” That’s it, sometimes that’s all I can do. Sometimes I doesn’t work out, it isn’t fair, it’s cruel and painful beyond comprehension, that is when all I’ve got left is to trust Jesus, that eventually it’s gonna be okay even if it is currently so not okay.

  6. “Is it only happiness you want?”
    – Husker Du

  7. Thank you! This has been something I have been thinking a LOT about lately. The past few years I have forsaken my facades, and am embracing being a raw human being. I’ve had more people open up to me about their doubts and troubles because I’m not pretending “everything is awesome” anymore. It’s a much more fulfilling way to live.

  8. JD_Dancer says:

    As Paul just alluded to, there’s another side to this coin. It is incumbent on all of us to recognize when this process is underway in those around us. In our culture it perhaps requires a bit more attention to nuance and detail than it normally should. Brave members who are willing to be vulnerable and to wear their true feelings on the surface should be celebrated and – more importantly – supported. Mourning with those who mourn, etc.

    Other authors on this blog have made this point before and it rings so true and I’m glad you’ve revisited it, Tracy. In a culture where faaaaaar too often we go through the motions of Sunday worship barely scratching the surface of real interaction that explores truly lived life we need this reminder often.

  9. The smartest thing I have done in mourning my wife’s death has been to cry when I needed to. And I have said many prayers complaining to, and about, God. But that’s okay–He is big enough to handle it.

  10. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    Lowell Bennion taught that happiness is a by-product of our worthy goals–

  11. My mother passed away about a month ago. The funeral was a very mixed bag for me. My brother and I both spoke, and each in our own way paid tribute to the woman my mother was. I’m not claiming there was anything super special about our euologies, but they were personal and meaningful. There were musical numbers from the grandkids, and it was happy and sad and lovely and gave us all a chance to cry and laugh and remember mom.

    And then the bishopric representative stood up. He’d known my mother for decades, but said nothing personal about her–indeed, barely mentioned her name. After a much-too-long overview of Mormon doctrine, he concluded his speech with an appeal to “talk to the missionaries if you want to know more.” I was incensed. Maybe some will think my anger was misplaced, but this felt so inappropriate, so out of a place at a meeting I assumed was designed to celebrate my mother’s life and give comfort to those who were mourning her passing–not serve as an informercial for the church she served for decades. Why did our grieving have to be co-opted as a missionary opportunity? Why did anyone think this was appropriate?

    I’ve been to plenty of Mormon funerals over the years, so I’ve certainly heard versions of this speech before, and wasn’t exactly surprised by it. But it’s never felt so out of place or inappropriate before, and, as you can tell, I’m still a little shaken up by it.

  12. I much prefer the LDS funerals I’ve been to over the non-LDS ones. In my experience they’re much more a celebration of someone’s life. The non-LDS funerals for my brother and sister were seriously lacking and were basically only protestant sermons.

    I’m kind of looking forward to my funeral. There will be such a weird mix of people there.

  13. Zina, I’m sorry for your loss. Your experience is what I was thinking of- and have experienced as well. It’s such a note of dissonance to me to have a member of the bishopric (usually) get up and turn it into an infomercial, particularly after heartfelt eulogies from loved ones. I know we do it, and I just don’t understand why.

    Susan, your funeral will have the craziest mix of folks! That’s a great testament to who you are. LDS funerals aren’t all bad. It’s just that particular trend I noticed and dislike.

  14. Allowing myself to be angry at God for my infertility was actually a step for me in the process of accepting His will for my life and for then offering up my will as my sacrifice. If I’d been stuck on the stay positive and all righteous desires will be fulfilled happiness phase I would have missed out on a lot.

  15. Excellent.
    “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
    ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  16. Kristine A, ^ Yes! Being honest with God and giving up my will in that honesty (and anger and sorrow and every conceivable emotion) is one of the most powerful lessons I have had with God- and a cornerstone upon which my faith rests.

  17. Jenny Evans says:

    I’ve only been to one LDS funeral before, but I wouldn’t describe the mood as “happy.” I saw plenty of people cry.

    I’d describe the mood as reverential (honoring the dead person’s life and hearing funny/touching stories from his life) and also hopeful (we did hear a talk about the plan of salvation.)

    I think it’s totally possible to feel hopeful and sad at the same time. Sad for your loss but yet hopeful for the eternities.

    Of course it’s also totally possible to be sad and full of despair, and probably many people feel that way at least temporarily after a big loss. I don’t think I’d ever fault someone for experiencing their grief that way.

  18. Oh Zina, I’m sorry. I felt the same way at both My MILs and my BILs passings. When I spoke to my in-laws after my MIL’s funeral and said essentially, that I thought we were here to celebrate this amazing woman, in her entirety, not just her church service, my FIL got offended and told me that, but of course everyone wants a sermon on the plan of salvation during a funeral, that’s where we find solace.
    I agree that a bit of the plan is definitely helpful and even comforting, but a member of the 70 who had been her mission president many moons ago, made a point of talking about how she was such a great person, b/c of church service and that really bothered me. I mean, am I only defined by how many RS presidencies I get to serve in or how many callings I “excel at”. Because if so, I’m really screwed, as so far that part of my many talents has not been tapped.

    Anyways, not to hijack, I just wanted to say YES, I completely feel you and wish there was a better answer (other than choosing to have the next funeral somewhere else).
    *Hugs* and peace to you. Losing someone you love is terribly hard.

  19. “[People] should not have to experience their loss as a missionary moment.”


  20. Last year I was called to teach sunbeams. The first week I showed up, I hadn’t read the lesson, but my co teacher was teaching about feelings. She had these dinosaur pictures and each one represented a feeling. She proceeded to describe each feeling and tell the kids how it was bad to show that feeling until she got to happy. That was the only feeling that was good. The rest should be avoided. I was horrified that this would be my co teacher. When I went home and read the actual lesson It was much better, but still problematic. The lesson talks about how it’s alright to have all kinds of feeling and that we need to express them in healthy ways. I’m not board with that, but much of the lesson is focused on telling children that if they are being good they will be happy. This can easily be understood as if you are not happy, you must not be being good. Here are some direct quotes from the lesson:

    “The Holy Ghost will help us know what to do so that we can be happy again.”

    “Explain that Heavenly Father and Jesus want us to be happy. They know that we can be happy when we do what they tell us to do.”

    “Tell the children how you feel happy when you do what Heavenly Father and Jesus want us to do.”

    And of course, what was literally my favorite primary song as a child:
    If you chance to meet a frown,
    Do not let it stay.
    Quickly turn it upside down
    And smile that frown away.

    No one likes a frowning face.
    Change it for a smile.
    Make the world a better place
    By smiling all the while.

  21. Molly Bennion says:

    Thanks, Tracy. One of my pet peeves and the reason for this decree years ago: if my family has to hold a service in my home or a funeral home to be sure there will be no plan of salvation talk and no one speaking who doesn’t know the family well, so be it. Also, put me in the cheapest possible box and hold the cheapest possible funeral, take the money saved, hire a band, and hold a wake. Whether friends and family are happy or sad I am gone, a cathartic evening for all is almost guaranteed.

  22. Molly, those are my wishes as well!

  23. anon for this says:

    I completely agree with what is written here.
    Perhaps a little off topic but I am grappling with the idea of anger. I have heard anger condemned in a church setting, based on Matthew 5 etc. I have tried to stuff my anger in the past and it has ended up ruling me so my lived experience says that I have to acknowledge anger when I feel it. So I am not sure how to reconcile what I read as the Savior saying that anger is a bad thing with my experience of having to feel my anger in order to get past it. I would love your thoughts as this post resonated so much with me.

  24. I think there’s a difference in feeling anger, and allowing anger to control us. In my experience, when I try and shove down or moralize my anger is when it does the most damage. If I observe, and allow it to be there, while not redirecting it at inappropriate people or things, it’s okay. It’s is what it is, and it passes. It’s neither good nor bad- it’s human. I am not a bad person for feeling angry. But I could very easily cause a lot of problems that do have moral issues if I harm myself or others. I think that’s the distinction.

  25. Thank you for this, Tracy. Recently my branch has been all about happy. Last year the youth conference for the region’s theme was “Choose Happy,” and I am pretty sure it came from one member of our branch who is always saying that as his motto and for everyone to subscribe to. On the one hand, I acknowledge that sometimes having an optimistic reminder to choose to count blessings, look on the bright side of life, and approach the day with a positive attitude, can be very healthy; however, I can’t always choose Happy, and I don’t even want to always choose Happy, and I especially don’t like the felins of moral failure I feel because I might not be happy. Happiness for me is actually a complicated thing and I hate to boil it down to such a simplistic attitude that makes a person who isn’t fanatically happy feel like a loser. And then be happy about it.

  26. The best funeral I’ve been to was my cousin’s husband’s. He took his life (he had a medical condition, couldn’t sleep at all, nothing worked and he understandably lost his mind.) After a couple talks listed on the program the meeting was opened up for people to share memories (like fast & testimony) It was beautiful, people were courteous, kept it brief, and like Kristine once said here – ‘uncorrelated grace broke out’ everywhere. I’ve never been so touched by the sheer & enormous amount of love pouring from people – ALL kinds of people. No one tried to answer any ‘why’ of his (and our) deep grief in this life. The bishop wrapped up the meeting with some obligatory doctrinal words. I thought it would be better if it didn’t have to end with “but the last word is still xyz about the church”. I don’t understand why we feel the need to control the reins of a funeral – it seems to imply the institution is more important than the person whose life is being celebrated & trumps or suppresses (or at least does not seem to honor) the variety of beliefs of the people mourning. Still, my memory is largely of the unscripted words spoken by friends. I wish more funerals were like that.

  27. Tracy: I love your latest comment, because it invites us to think about the transition between allowing ourselves to be honest about what we really feel and figuring out how best to express those feelings socially. That seems very difficult to me, but perhaps part of where we go astray is in thinking that social norms of appropriate expression ought to dictate (or legitimate) what we actually feel. Just because expressing what you feel might be inappropriate for a given situation doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong or shameful in feeling it.

  28. I agree that we can’t always be happy. After all, life happens, whether we are good, bad, or indifferent. We all have our ups and downs, we have our happy moments, our sad moments, our angry moments. I have certainly never heard anyone in my ward downplay anyone’s misfortune. We “mourn with those who mourn.” But I am confused by what you said about funerals. I don’t recall ever being to a funeral that was NOT about the deceased. In most of the funerals I have been to, at least one speaker, sometimes a family member, sometimes a friend, has talked about their memories of the deceased–fun times growing up, little vignettes from their life that make the lost loved one more real to those of us that may have known this person only for a few years. And although there may be some mention of meeting with loved ones in the next life, I certainly have never considered that to be a missionary experience. It’s just part of what we believe and, IMO, is not out of place to mention at a funeral. Why would it be? But I have never heard a sermon on the plan of salvation at a funeral. Always, it has been memories of the loved one. Even when the Bishop speaks (generally at the end), he usually expresses his love for the deceased. His remarks are usually brief and certainly not a sermon. Maybe my ward is different from others (I’ve always said I live in the best ward in the church).

  29. Sharee, have you been to many non-LDS funerals? Have you been to LDS funerals where it was *primarily* about the deceased, their family and their lives, and not closed by an officiant who then gave a sermon on the church? If that doesn’t bother you, then fine. Expressing love for the deceased as a footnote to the boilerplate info-sermon on the church isn’t very respectful of the life passed, I have felt. As many others have said in the thread, they don’t care for it either, and it’s so common at LDS funerals as to be expected. It can be shocking to someone not of our faith, believe it or not.

  30. Thank you Tracy for this. I wholeheartedly agree with it. A few years ago my oldest, very devout LDS daughter, announced to my husband and I that she would not be holding our funerals at the church. They were to be celebrations of our lives not missionary moments. We were stunned. We’d never really discussed it but we recently attended and LDS one and she made the decision. So I am in the clear. :)

    As to life pain, I also agree, I have 2 or 3 ward friends who have taken time off from church because life pain has gotten in the way and the burden gets worse when they come to church. One women is dealing with a SIDS death, another with “wayward” family members. Both women have had hurtful remarks made to them. Things such as, “If you truly knew the gospel this death wouldn’t hurt so much.” or “If they had just been in church everything would have been fine.” Ouch. Being religious is not the bandaid of life.

    Last of all – Angry at God. I first learned this idea from author Catherine Marshall, in her novel Christy she suggests railing on God, telling him exactly how you feel, then listen and see what happens. I have found every time I apply it that healing begins. Not that every thing goes my way, nor am I instantly happy, but a focus, a hope, an understanding come. Little by little I can try to move forward.

    Loved this post. You really touch truth.

  31. The thing is- we confuse happiness with peace. The Lord promises us that when we lean on him and give all our struggles and sorrows and frustrations to him- that we will find peace. One can attend the funeral of a loved on even a tragic death with peace when anchored in the gospel. Peace is different from bubbly radiant happiness. That doesn’t mean there won’t be ache and sorrow and a desperate void felt- loosing my sister last year left a hole that can’t be filled- I was shocked and suprised at the pain I felt even when I thought I had a strong anchored testimony of the gospel, why want I “happy” that she was free from her mortal pain and now with others who loved her?- BUT what I found was yes there is pain and that’s ok- because the Lord promises peace and even in pain we can feel peace through the hardest of things. Happiness is good and what our savior and Father want for us- but when we can’t always feel happy- because that wouldn’t even be a healthy thing to feel not would we learn much in or mortal experience from it- we CAN always find peace

  32. This Pollyannic radical happiness meme is not the product of LDS culture, but it is deeply rooted in the American psyche. I believe it began with Phinneas Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy who really believed that thoughts influenced outcomes and the material world. It was updated by Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. For these figures, positive attitude conquered all. It has been reignited for today’s adults by Stephen R. Covey and Deepak Chopra. The last two were successful because they simply repackaged ideas which Americans already believed. However, Chopra did give it a nice South Asian flair. Covey’s books caused a mingling of positive thinking with scripture.

    I do believe that we can control our thinking and moods, even if we suffer from episodes of anxiety and depression, but it takes an enormous amount of training and effort (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). But I also watched Gordon B. Hinckley sob uncontrollably at his wife’s graveside following the funeral, and was distressed by the voyeuristic media who assured that millions would witness his private sorrow on the 10:00 news. There is something sacred about sorrow. And when a family is in sorrow, only the most sublime and tender Gospel teachings and remembrances are appropriate.

  33. From Emma Lou Thayne:

    Now Let Me Be Sad

    Now let me feel sad. Impulse, trained in gladness,
    Do not try to whisk me away from grief
    Like a child caught sulking in a corner
    Immobilized by imagined hurt.

    Instead, let me grow rich with my sadness.
    Let it mellow and strengthen my joy,
    Take bold hold of my will,
    Give tears permission to water the parch of loss.

    Let its music ripple my spine,
    Let me give ardent ear
    To what was, to what never will be.
    Grief, be my companion in joy.

    In the numberless calls acquainting me with the Night
    Bring me to my senses, numberless too
    In abandoning numbness and the faint iridescence
    Of busyness, crowds, brief entertainments.

    Like walking into a sea, only in depth can I float,
    Depth, too often feared for its power
    To raise me footloose and struggling
    Is all that can gentle me back to shore:

    Safe, breathing in the cosmos of the sweet unknown
    Full of the Light of having been sad.

  34. And, I agree with what has been said above. Ironically, one of Mormonism’s most powerful teachings is the need for sadness–both as a sanctifying force and as a connection to foster empathy between us and those we love. We worship the Weeping God of Enoch and the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief. We should at times be resplendently happy, and at other times genuinely heart-broken. Even more importantly, we should learn to embrace and buoy up those around us when they pass through such times, not by asking them to deny those feelings, but by staying inside the sadness with them and saying “I love you, I understand this is hard, and I will be here until things get better.”

  35. Benjamin Wong says:

    I am not sure what others think or feel and I can only speak for myself. But I recall President Uchdorf and Erying repeatedly illustrate the point that “it’s okay to be sad”, and there is always hope and light through the atonement of Jesus Christ. As least that’s the message I take from their talks. As a Mormon myself, I have learned the reality and veracity of sadness and grief. And it’s totally okay to be sad. The church or members never judge me because I’m sad. I always find the anchor of faith and the source of hope through the Book of Mormon, conversations with my fellow Mormons and going to church. I may see differently with Tracy on this alleged culture of fake happiness. You said if we are not “happy” (the fake happiness she mentioned in the article), then we might be seen as morally weak. However, I feel that the church is encouraging us to achieve the real happiness, and never the fake one, and that is, to be able to find peace, strength and motivation to keep on going despite all the difficulties and sorrow we face. I think the church has always promoted and encouraged the members to truly be happy. But is it not true that a lot of people are sharing their “happiness” through Instagram and other social media? To a certain extent, yes and I do also know people who do that. But who knows? Maybe they are really happy and can’t help but to share it, or they are really just pretending to be happy. There might really be a culture of fake happiness, but I believe it’s not the majority. I have also attended funerals where we all shed tears of sorrow for we mourn with those that mourn, and we also comfort those who need to be comforted by assuring each and other the beauty of the plan of salvation. It’s just my 2 cents. I’m not here to argue or anything, I’m also just sharing what I have observed.

  36. Tyler, thank you for that ELT poem. Sublime.

  37. When my best friend discovered that her cancer cells had found their way into her brain, she cried. And the nurse (who was only trying to help) said, “Don’t cry, you just need to trust God!” My friend vehemently disagreed– of course you should cry when you find out you have cancer in your brain. That doesn’t mean you aren’t or won’t trust God. But you have cancer for crying out loud and that means you’re allowed to cry and be sad and angry at times! (And the same goes for other trials, as well.)

    We all need to remember that Christ said Blessed are those that mourn. And we believe that our job is to mourn with those that mourn. This does NOT mean telling them to cheer up. It means crying along with them. As often as they’re crying.

    Thanks for this, Tracy. You’re the best!

  38. Jared vdH says:

    Thankfully in my adult life I have only experienced the deaths of two relatively close family members, my grandfather and my uncle. For both I was asked to give the “plan of salvation” talk, invited by my father at the funeral for my grandfather and invited by my grandmother at the funeral for my uncle, not the bishop. I was 24 when I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral and 31 for my uncle. For both I started the talk talking about the life of the person who had passed and some of what they had meant to me. I then transitioned into speaking about the person’s life in the context of Christ’s atonement and plan of salvation. I also mentioned how Christ can help support us through our grief. That was essentially my thesis, we’re all grieving at their passing, but Christ and His atonement can help us turn that grief into eventual joy and peace.

    These talks were praised both by family members and people I had never met before as powerful and uplifting, possibly one of the best talks they had ever heard. I also felt both grief, sorrow, peace, and the Spirit while giving these talks. I was even asked by several people to email them a copy of the talk so they could read it again later.

    I think the “talk to the missionaries” bit gets said by bishopric members because they somehow feel inadequate to communicate the beauty and grace Christ’s atonement provides us, especially in times of sorrow.

    To all those who refuse to have funerals at chapels because the bishopric will turn them into recruiting pitches, I totally understand and can agree with your approach. My hope though is that wherever you hold them that Christ can still be a part. Talk of Christ and of the the plan of salvation can still be appropriate in a funeral where the point is to grieve.

  39. “But I have never heard a sermon on the plan of salvation at a funeral.”

    Sharee, it is standard operating procedure in many wards and stakes to require at least one of the talks at a funeral to be focused on the plan of salvation in a general missionary posture. This is supported by the Handbook and a preference voiced by President Packer a couple of decades ago about how he felt Mormon funerals should proceed.

  40. MagpieLovely says:

    Yes, john f. The handbook explicitly states this: “Funerals provide an important opportunity to teach the gospel and testify of the plan of salvation. They also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. However, such tributes should not dominate a funeral service. Having large numbers of people share tributes or memories can make a funeral too long and may be inappropriate for a Church service. If family members want an extended time to share such memories, they may consider doing so in a special family gathering, separate from the funeral service.”

  41. Anonymous for This says:

    About ten years ago my aunt died very unexpectedly. Unfortunately for the personality of her funeral, her husband had advanced in church employment to the point that her funeral was dominated by the impersonal plan-of-salvation talks delivered by a seventy and an apostle, neither of whom knew her at all. Another speaker more acquainted with the family used the occasion to chastise her inactive children by reminding everyone that only those who lived the gospel would get to see her again.

    My aunt was mischievous and delightfully unawed by high church authorities, and she would have found much of her funeral ludicrous. Skip the plan-of-salvation talks. We wanted to hear more about how my aunt had tricycle races with her grandchildren and made sure that she won.

  42. First, that was wonderful, Tracy. Thank you. Now, for a my own aside:

    There are many, many things to really admire about Mormon culture. Funerals are not one of them. Mormon funerals are the worst, and the number of “horror stories” I’ve heard in my relatively young life, as someone who doesn’t even know that many people who have passed away, is astounding. Funerals as missionary/teaching moments should be banished from the earth forever.

  43. Years ago when I was very young the community where my parents were from suffered a tragic scouting accident that took the lives of several people. My (convert) mother was overcome with grief and extremely upset, particularly as one of her close friends lost her husband and at least one child in this accident. At the funeral, my mother’s father in law told her, “It’s obvious you don’t really understand the gospel yet.” I think it is that belief and attitude that produces funerals that focus on the plan of salvation and produces a people who think that any show of non-positive emotion is a weakness (in moral character, intellectually, or spiritually).

    In a RS presidency discussion on how to create a better bond in our ward, I suggested we become more authentic and less scripted (shiny happy). “We need to be the kind of women our sisters can aspire to,” was the RS president’s reply. It appears to be the pervasive culture to pretend that our lives are perfect because we know God’s plan and choose the right, but no one’s life is perfect, no matter what face they put on.

    It seems that we can only speak candidly about our trials when they are far behind us. Unfortunately that is often too late. Mourning and comforting each other needs to come when we are in mourning and in need of comfort.

    I once stopped praying for a year. That temper tantrum was one of the best things I did to strengthen my relationship with God. As someone mentioned above, he is big enough to handle whatever I throw at him. My relationship with him only improves when I am honest with him in everything, and that includes my anger, grief, and sadness.

  44. I think we need to make a sharp distinction in this discussion between the sadness and pain that accompany our experience of loss and abuse, and should be temporary, and our general emotional state, which should tend toward happiness. At some point after an event causing great pain, e.g., a divorce or the death of a parent, we need to be able to get on with it. Some research, from several decades back, indicates that the length of time that this takes for most people on average, is about three years. I rather like the scriptural injunction to “be of good cheer” and the message to Primary children to learn to turn that frowny face upside down, because we know that the external manifestation of the emotion is in a reciprocal relationship with the internal state of the emotion. One will affect the other. There is probably some truth in the Freudian idea that negative emotions should not be repressed, but there is also a lot to be learned from research in the emerging field of positive psychology that can be of use in our religious communities. The whole basis of this sub-discipline is that we can develop coping skills that will tend to a happy, meaningful life. As to the negative feelings of fear and hate, I think it best that we stay as far away from these two as we can; there’s no real virtue in going there. Personally, I have long been inspired by the image of Brigham, his wagon stuck, as he stands knee deep in the muck with his shoulder to the wheel, singing a hymn at the top of his lungs.

  45. Speaking as a mom of four with a husband, I think that it is ok to have negative feelings. It is not ok to be rude to others when you feel bad. Finding a way to exist around others without yelling, or without making others feel bad, etc. is essential. Perhaps someone might think I’m the cheerful police, but I have two teenagers who always speak to me respectfully and I have never had any of my kids call me “Mean” or say “I hate you.” They tell me stuff like when they have broken rules and I didn’t know, or when they think they don’t believe in the church. So, I think I am doing a great job at expecting people to have a good attitude and work through negative feelings even.
    I would say that I never, ever say I want my kids to be happy. I would like my kids to be responsible or a good husband or a good mother or good person or something. But I have never told my kids “I just want you to be happy.”

  46. I think it behoves us to be kind, even in the face of anger or sadness. And I hope and pray for the same grace when I inevitably screw up. Basically, one of my kids telling me he hated me didn’t rattle me.

  47. Nailed it.

    The missionaries who taught me were wonderful and I count them among my best friends still. However, one of them said, “If you know the Plan of Salvation and you cry at a funeral, you’re selfish!” I disagree. It’s perfectly fine to be sad. You’re going to miss that person and be devastated.

    The beauty of the gospel is the Atonement and how Christ suffered all of our pains and how he can succor us through those pains, physical and emotional. It doesn’t mean we avoid having those pains, and I believe the suffering can draw us closer to him.

  48. Families may hold a simple, discrete ring ceremony with their departed loved ones, so long as it happens away from the church building and does not detract from the missionary nature of the funeral service.

  49. I look to 19-year-olds for all funeral-related advice. They know best.

  50. Kristine says:

    robrunning–obviously, those missionaries hadn’t made it through the Doctrine & Covenants yet:

    “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die…” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45)

  51. Angela C says:

    Pres. Packer has said the following: “I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them. The gospel is to be preached.” Some may say he’s the killjoy who’s wrecked funerals for Mormons by turning the deceased into an object lesson, but if he makes good on this threat, it will all have been worth it.

  52. Thanks, Tracy and Ally. Thanks also to gst and Angela C for a good laugh. :)

  53. My faithful LDS parents are elderly and won’t last much longer. Among their grandchildren, about half are no longer LDS. I am afraid that the bishop will indeed turn the funeral into a missionary lesson the moment I tell him that there will be nonmembers present. How can I approach the bishopric and ask them to give a closing funeral sermon that will not be preachy? I want all the speakers to respect the choices the grandchildren have made. Any advice on how to describe what we’ve been talking about here in ways that a bishop will understand? On second thought, I’ll just print out Zina’s comment. It’s perfect.

  54. My experience has been like Sharee’s: the funerals I have attended have been wonderfully uplifting and healing. I don’t feel like the bishopric talks are “missionary moments” so much as reminding us of the importance that death isn’t the end and part of the plan. I have found the ones I head heard to be inspiring and healing. But that is just my experience and it seems others experiences have been different. And I have never been to an LDS funeral where there was no talk of the deceased’s life. That would be odd to me to have a funeral where the deceased was hardly mentioned. I’m glad my experience has been different. Honesty LDS funerals have always been super spiritual experiences for me.

  55. Maybe it’s just different wards, but the mantra I hear from Mormons the most is how life is a trial and how trials make us stronger and how if life isn’t difficult we aren’t growing. I see a culture of “trials” based in an ethos of pioneer lore more than a culture of constant cheerfulness.

  56. livinginzion says:

    Exactly because of attending more than my share of dreadful Mormon Sermon Funerals, I told my dear husband that when I die, I want to be cremated (against the Church Handbook, but screw it – until the church ponies up $12,000 minimum to bury my dead fat, I’m being baptized by fire) and my ashes scattered. I don’t want a church service at all.
    My husband threw a fit and said absolutely I would have a dignified church funeral service. (He’s fine with cremation, he’s just as frugal as I am.) I told him “Fine. Do what you want at my funeral. Just know that if you do have a boring, horrible church service, I Won’t Be There.”
    He replied, “I wasn’t really planning on you attending, dear.”

    That is what 28 years of marriage gets you. Nothing but the love.

  57. blueridgemormon says:

    Angela C on the BKP anecdote… for the win. Still laughing.

  58. I love this post, Tracy. If there’s one thing I don’t need when suffering from depression, it’s people wielding “you should be *happy*!” as a club to indicate that I’m not only depressed, I’m evil for being so.

  59. Joseph Horner says:

    Im a psychologist who worked at BYU for a time. This and needing to appear as a monoculture of stereotypical Mormon were my least favorite things about Utah. I have since left Utah. I could write you a dissertation about this topic and some have.

  60. A careful reading of the Handbook says that cremation is “discouraged”, not banned.

  61. Joseph Horner says:

    Heres an example. If someone expresses a strong emotion to you (“This sucks”. “I’m sad”, etc) if you respond with a rationalization (“they are in heaven so its ok”. “you know tomorrow will be better” etc) it usually makes the person who expressed the emotion feel dismissed, discounted, and invalidated. THis may be because rationalizations do not acknowledge the emotions the person is ALREADY FEELING. They are already present intentional or not. This is especially true about strong negative (not bad) emotions. What this blog post talks about is a function of that.

  62. This exact thing happened at my grandfather’s funeral last year. I remember looking at the picture of the Savior on the program cover and thinking what a good example of the Savior’s love Grandpa had been. Then the final speaker delivered a buzzword-filled pitch for ‘hastening the work,’ and I honestly felt the Spirit leave the building.

    I wasn’t impressed, my ex-Mo family members weren’t impressed, and my never-Mo family members weren’t impressed, which really makes you wonder who the target market was.

    At any rate, I’ve informed my husband that no such shenanigans will take place at MY funeral, or I’ll haunt him forever.

  63. Suleyman says:

    Qeueno: The phrase in the handbook is the “Church does not normally encourage cremation. However, if the body of an endowed member is being cremated, it should be dressed in temple clothing if possible.” In my book, that means that cremation is acceptable. Instructions are also given for dedicating the place where the ashes are to be interred.

    And if any of you don’t like how your Bishop is handling the funeral, simply hold the funeral at the mortuary, a private home, city park, etc. The family then controls the content of the service. And the Bishop doesn’t have to take a day off work to conduct.

  64. livinginzion says:


    I was recently talking to a Utah friend and he mentioned he had attended a memorial service held at a local botanical garden. I’d never heard of that before. I would love, love, love that. Unfortunately my husband’s idea of a funeral is one that is done in the chapel at church.
    I really hope he dies first so I can throw him a wonderful service in a lovely place. I want to show others how meaningful and personal a funeral can really be.
    I have no expectation of getting anything other than the standard Mormon Missionary Moment funeral from my husband.
    I would love not bothering the Bishop with a loved ones funeral service. It would be nice to have him as a guest, though. I’d even throw in a decent meal for him.

  65. “And the Bishop doesn’t have to take a day off work to conduct.” If bishops care so little about the deceased that they wouldn’t bother coming to the funeral unless they were conducting, I don’t understand why bishops think they can dictate the terms of a funeral service or better yet, why we even let them.

  66. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything on the blogs that I agree with more.

    One of the unexpected logics is that if God weeps, and we are meant to become like Him, we must also learn to weep. The being that can both weep and laugh is more godly than the being that can only laugh, or only weep, or only stare serenely on.

  67. Jesus wept in sympathy for Lazarus’ friends and family, even though he knew that he would shortly resurrect Lazarus.

    I’d take Jesus as a role model over BKP.

  68. Tracy, I have only been to a few non-LDS funerals. One was my mother-in-law’s, which was a Catholic Requiem Mass–very impersonal, with nothing really said about the deceased because the priest didn’t know her. My grandmother’s funeral was in a Baptist Church in an area where many of her family lived, but she did not, so she was not known by the minister. Her funeral was brief, a couple of prayers and the reading of a psalm by the minister, a biography (the obituary) read by another reverend, a poem about my grandmother written and read by my mother, and a coupe of “funeral appropriate” musical numbers by members of that church who did not know my grandmother. Except for my mother’s contribution, a very impersonal funeral. The other was for a friend who didn’t really have a religion. It was held at the funeral home and was actually conducted by the LDS bishop in the area she lived. There were no formal speakers; the very small congregation was invited to come to the podium to give their remembrances of the deceased and a niece played on the piano a piece that was well-loved by the deceased. The bishop did say a few words, but they had nothing to do with the church or the Plan of Salvation, since this was not an LDS funeral.

    I planned both of my parents’ funerals and the bishop did speak at the end, but just a few remarks with their remembrances of my father/mother. While certainly mention would have been made of seeing our loved-one again in the next life.(which I don’t see why anyone would think that inappropriate), there was no “missionary moment” sermon preached at either of my parents’ funerals. Or at any other funeral in my ward, although appropriate remarks of the Plan of Salvation have been given.

    One time I attended the funeral of a former member of the Seventy (as a young missionary, he had labored in my small home-town in Canada and our family had kept in touch with him over the years). President Monson spoke at that funeral. He spoke of his remembrances of the deceased. Yes, I’m sure he also spoke about the Plan of Salvation (and again, I fail to see why people think that is not appropriate), but it was not a missionary sermon.

    Never in any funeral has anyone suggested that we should not mourn our lost loved ones. We celebrate their lives and we recognize that we will see them again, but our grief is always acknowledged and accepted.

  69. Matt Whiting says:

    Not even God is happy all the time. He grieves over our pains and sorrows not just our sin. Our doctrine does not paint God as vengeful, nor as apathetic, but instead as intimately involved, not just aware – a God who weeps, as well as rejoices.

  70. Matt Whiting says:

    Thank you for this post. I keep thinking about this topic. The more I consider it the more I see the Father and the Son showing themselves has having a wide range of emotions. “Vengence is mine, saith the Lord” comes to mind as does references to wrath, anger, joy, anticipation, gratitude, jealousy, envy, etc. You can certainly make arguments that these words applied to Deity mean different things than when applied to us, but I think we should be more careful than we sometimes are in dismissing them.

  71. Bruce Hamilton says:

    I liked the article, but I have always found it interesting how we judge all church members, all over the world, by our experiences gained right here in the Mountain west. Different cultures around the world react differently to death and grief. I have attended two viewing for men from Polynesian countries, they were very different from the typical Western Mormon Funeral. One young man’s viewing we attended, a great deal of food was served, the casket was on the low stage and palm fronds covered the floor and many people sat in chairs and shared their grief with those around them.

  72. k2peterson says:

    In the recent Women’s session of General Conference, Pres Eyring spoke about Alma’s well-loved invitation at the Waters of Mormon. I recognized that the counsel to “mourn with those who mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” are TWO separate injunctions. In the church, we often feel the need to “comfort those that mourn”– but that’s not what the Lord intends.

  73. Lynette says:

    At funerals, they are not trying to create a “missionary moment.” They are simply offering a way to cope, a path of comfort. As members of the church we understand that we will see the deceased again, that there is life after death. This is called “The Plan of Salvation” also called “The Plan of Happiness.” Christ died that we may live. I can understand that there are Bishops that might say the wrong things or make it seem like a “missionary moment” but you all are missing the whole point. To not extend the greatest gift we have (Plan of Salvation) to those who are suffering at a funeral would be completely selfish.

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