Emptiness not forever

There is an emptiness now. Sunday dinners and other family gatherings haven't been the same since Grandpa left. It's as if there is an empty chair just waiting for him to come and sit down.

For six years, at every family gathering, there was a special, revered place for him. Every Sunday afternoon he would be there for dinner. At first he drove his old red and white Pontiac, bringing his elderly wife with him. And then after she died and he became too old to drive himself, his son or daughter-in-law or his granddaughter would pick him up. He was always ready, often looking out his window and anxiously waiting for them.Being with his family were highlights of his life. At dinners, he usually had a hearty appetite and often requested seconds. After dinner, he would rest on the couch and fascinate his grandchildren with tales from his long and storied past, or play them a game of checkers. He enjoyed talking, and his grandchildren enjoyed listening. Grandparents and grandchildren have a special relationship, and his grandchildren never grew tired of him telling what it was like on his mission in Germany after World War I or how difficult it was living through the Great Depression. Although he told the same stories over and over again, his grandchildren never let on. They wouldn't have hurt his feelings for anything.

Having Grandpa to family gatherings was as natural as anything could be. His place at the dinner table was always set; his chair at other family functions was always ready for him.

But his chair is empty now. He reached the point he could no longer enjoy family activities. He could no longer go to the home of his son and daughter-in-law every week for dinner. When he didn't feel well enough to go, his Sunday dinner was brought in to him, but it wasn't the same. After dinner there were no colorful stories of the past. Only a returning to bed. Then one cold winter day, the ambulance came and took him to the hospital. He never returned to his home.

Five months later he slipped from mortality into immortality. His voice was silenced. Sunday dinners and other family events weren't the same after that.

An empty chair at the dinner table.

An empty chair at other family gatherings.

A sadness that he is no longer here; a longing to be reunited with him some day; a grateful heart for the legacy he left.

Eventually each of us will leave behind an empty chair because death is as much a part of this life as is birth.

How tragic it would be if that empty chair was permanent, that we could not ever be reunited with our loved ones. But because of the atonement of Jesus Christ and by our living the commandments of God, the empty chairs of mortality, brought about because of death, can become the filled chairs of immortality.

President Ezra Taft Benson has often spoken of no empty chairs in our eternal home:

"God intended the family to be eternal. With all my soul, I testify to the truth of that declaration. May He bless us to strengthen our homes and lives of each family member so that in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there - father, mother, sister, brother. . . . Each chair is filled. We are all back home." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 493.)

Families are to be eternal. The separation at death should only be for a short season. God's plan, without a doubt, is for eternal families. President Spencer W. Kimball said in his October 1980 general conference address, "We have always understood that the foundations of the family, as an eternal unit, were laid even before this earth was created."

Yes, it is God's plan that families be together throughout eternity, but it is up to us to see that it happens.

The scriptures provide the blueprint:

"Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh. 24:15.)

The words of the prophets help us to follow the blueprint:

"Fortunately today," said President Benson, "we are not left in darkness. We have a guide - not only the Holy Bible, but added modern scriptures. And of the utmost importance for us today, we have the counsel and direction of living oracles. This counsel, this direction - in fact, the messages of the fulness of the restored gospel - is being carried to the world by ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 40.)

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