“I Think It Helps Them”: A Young Boy with Cancer Teaches Us About Service, Duty, and Patience with Naughty Children

Steven J. Lund’s talk at the recent October 2020 General Conference focused on “Finding Joy in Christ.” It began with a story from his young son, a deacon, who lost a long battle with cancer. While in severe pain, when his family expected him to simply rest and not try to attend Church, he insisted on going, for he had an assignment to pass the sacrament that he wanted to fulfill. When encouraged to stay home because others could take his place, he answered, “I see how people look at me when I pass the sacrament. I think it helps them.” This pure and simple awareness of how his service could help others, though at great pain to himself, moved me deeply. A child with such knowledge, such a Christlike desire to serve others, is one of the fruits of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that inspires me to see the world in a different way. 

After pondering this story, I recalled my own surprise this week while talking with an even younger granddaughter. A few months ago I had been worried for her after seeing her lose control repeatedly over her emotions. But for the past few weeks, all that has been gone and she seems to have been going out of her way to be peaceful and do kind things for others. So I simply asked while visiting the family if something has changed that has led to her being so helpful and nice to everyone. To my surprise and delight, this young girl began telling me how much she loves Heavenly Father and how she wants to do her duty on earth. She told me that she has been fasting and praying for a relative she is close to who is not a member of the Church, and said that she wants her home to be a place with the Spirit there always so that her relative can always feel it when he comes over and will want to have it in his life. So by staying calm, being kind, and having the Spirit in her life each day, she feels that she can do her part to make the world a better place. 

This young child floored me with that answer. I just about melted in wonder. I asked her permission to share this conversation with her parents and others. How I wish I had been like that at her age. I hope  can be like that someday. What a wonderful thing it is to find young people who don’t just know about the Gospel, but who have decided  to actively live it and follow Jesus Christ. I love these fruits of the Gospel that spring from the hearts of those who allow the seed of the Word of Christ to flourish.

Here is the told by Elder Lund, to whom I am very grateful for sharing this personal and tragic story for our benefit:

A few years ago, our little family went through what many families face in this fallen world. Our youngest son, Tanner Christian Lund, contracted cancer. He was an incredible soul, as nine-year-olds tend to be. He was hilariously mischievous and, at the same time, stunningly spiritually aware. Imp and angel, naughty and nice. When he was little and was every day bewildering us with his shenanigans, we wondered if he was going to grow up to be the prophet or a bank robber. Either way, it seemed that he was going to leave a mark on the world.

And then he became desperately ill. Over the next three years, modern medicine employed heroic measures, including two bone marrow transplants, where he caught pneumonia, requiring him to spend 10 weeks unconscious on a ventilator. Miraculously, he recovered for a short time, but then his cancer returned.

Shortly before he passed away, Tanner’s disease had invaded his bones, and even with strong pain medicines, still he hurt. He could barely get out of bed. One Sunday morning, his mom, Kalleen, came into his room to check on him before the family left for church. She was surprised to see that he had somehow gotten himself dressed and was sitting on the edge of his bed, painfully struggling to button his shirt. Kalleen sat down by him. “Tanner,” she said, “are you sure you are strong enough to go to church? Maybe you should stay home and rest today.”

He stared at the floor. He was a deacon. He had a quorum. And he had an assignment.

“I’m supposed to pass the sacrament today.”

“Well, I’m sure someone could do that for you.”

“Yes,” he said, “but … I see how people look at me when I pass the sacrament. I think it helps them.”

So Kalleen helped him button his shirt and tie his tie, and they drove to church. Clearly, something important was happening.

I came to church from an earlier meeting and so was surprised to see Tanner sitting on the deacons’ row. Kalleen quietly told me why he was there and what he had said: “It helps people.”

And so I watched as the deacons stepped to the sacrament table. He leaned gently against another deacon as the priests passed them the bread trays. And then Tanner shuffled to his appointed place and took hold of the end of the pew to steady himself as he presented the sacrament.

It seemed that every eye in the chapel was on him, moved by his struggle as he did his simple part. Somehow Tanner expressed a silent sermon as he solemnly, haltingly moved from row to row—his bald head moist with perspiration—representing the Savior in the way that deacons do. His once indomitable deacon’s body was itself a little bruised, broken, and torn, willingly suffering to serve by bearing the emblems of the Savior’s Atonement into our lives.

Seeing how he had come to think about being a deacon made us think differently too—about the sacrament, about the Savior, and about deacons and teachers and priests.

I wonder at the unspoken miracle that had impelled him that morning to respond so bravely to that still, small call to serve, and about the strength and capacities of all of our emergent youth as they push themselves to respond to a prophet’s call to enlist in God’s battalions and join in the work of salvation and exaltation.

Yes, such faith, such commitment, and such love for others in the hearts of those who accept the Gospel, even our young children, is a remarkable and sweet fruit of the Gospel. Thanks to all the parents who are giving their children the chance to be transformed by the power of Christ. They may bicker and falter many times along the way, they may be mischievous and often naughty, but keep teaching and loving and sharing the Word, knowing that it will help and at some point may yield a surprising bounty of joy.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

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