On Sunday, the discussion topic in our quorum of elders was “tender mercies.” Members of the quorum were invited to share the tender mercies in their lives, and some did. We also briefly considered the question of how to distinguish such tender mercies from simple coincidences.
I think that such a distinction is easy in a few cases, but rather difficult in many others.
I thought of several such tender mercies, one of which I’ve told here before:
In the days immediately before and just after my father died, back in 2003, the words of a hymn that had never been among my favorites kept recurring to my mind.
Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou, who changest not, abide with me!
I was somehow not surprised to hear the melody of that hymn come through the hospital sound system more than two years later, when, having made the wrenching decision to take her off of life support, I watched my mother’s pulse dwindle, more quickly than I had expected, to the thirties, then to the twenties, and, finally, to zero.
Was that coincidence? It’s certainly possible. I can’t conceive of the prolonged and complex series of events that would be required to deliberately orchestrate such a happening. But it was remarkable to me. A “tender mercy.”
There’s something else about the concept of “tender mercies” that I think worth mentioning here:
The phrase “tender mercies” (which originates in 1 Nephi 1:20) became extraordinarily popular among the Latter-day Saints in the wake of an April 2005 conference address by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was titled “The Tender Mercies of the Lord.” The phrase has remained quite popular ever since, as illustrated by its use in my quorum meeting on Sunday.
Along with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Bednar had been sustained as one of the Twelve just six months before, at the October 2004 conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Someone that I know and who has excellent contacts at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City told me, years ago, that President Gordon B. Hinckley had been very concerned when he was considering the two vacancies in the Twelve that he needed to fill. He wanted to get the choices right. He was also concerned about the aging of the quorum at the time, so he wanted to call at least one much younger man. But calling a much younger man would also mean potentially calling a future president of the Church.
When he heard Elder Bednar’s “The Tender Mercies of the Lord” and saw the reaction of the Saints to it, he was thrilled. These things confirmed that he had, indeed, gotten it right.