IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

To Tremble Because of Pain

I introduced this idea in my post about my birth stories, but wanted to develop it further.

If you’re into birth stories then give it a read, but if you would like to be spared all of the TMI here’s the pertinent part of the story in a nutshell.

With my second pregnancy I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction at 10 weeks.  Which basically meant that I was in debilitating pain for the last 30 weeks (plus the 2 days overdue) of my pregnancy.  It was horrible and my doctor didn’t care/ wouldn’t listen.

The pain was sometimes mild and manageable but frequently jumped to excruciating, by the end it was mostly always excruciating.  But no matter what, it was constant.

I had a doctor’s appointment on my due date, which was a Monday and my doctor agreed to set an induction date.  He initially said Wednesday then changed his mind and suggested Friday.  I piped in, “Or Wednesday!”  “No, Friday will be better schedule wise.”  “Or we could do Wednesday.”  “Why Wednesday, what’s two more days?”

Anyone who would suggest that it’s just two more days has clearly never experienced chronic debilitating pain.  I mean he might as well have said, “What’s two more days in Hell?”  It’s 4 MORE days in Hell, is what it is, because Wednesday is 2 more days.

He settled on Friday, I felt powerless to argue, so that was the plan.  That’s not what ended up happening, but that starts getting way off topic.  She did end up coming on her own on Wednesday.

The thought of having to be in pain longer caused me to reflect deeply on a favorite passage of scripture.  This comes from the Doctrine and Covenants and is a revelation given to Joseph Smith in which Christ explains and details His life and mission.  He explains His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to being crucified:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

That phrase, “to tremble because of pain” has always struck me, but now it was striking with more meaning.  I felt like my pain was being disregarded, that I was being treated as weak or foolish for expressing that I was in pain, and yet the Savior, even God, TREMBLED because of pain.  I by no means want to compare my pain to what He must have gone through in that time, and yet, it was validating to realize that He was admitting to trembling in pain.  I realized on a very personal level that He understood what I was going through which made me feel closer to Him.

The biggest thing it did was make me thing about how we, “mere mortals,” react to pain in ourselves and to others.

No one will get through this life without experiencing some form of debilitating pain, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, or really any combination of the above, because really they are all connected.  These painful trials can become a stepping stone that allows us to draw closer to our Savior making them sacred experiences.  But what about when you are in the middle of it, or someone around you is in the middle of it, too often we try to just make it go away or make it seem less awful than it is, I feel that this can take away from the sacred nature of pain, and unfortunately can make the situation harder in the moment.

I want to take a look at some of the mistakes we make when dealing with pain both our own and others.  Like I’ve said in other posts, if you realize that this is something you have done to me or others, know that I am not upset, or holding a grudge.  I know that people are for the most part well meaning.  My hope is that we can learn together from these mistakes so that we can be more helpful to others in the future.

What not to do:

Putting things in perspective

Having an Eternal perspective is so important when dealing with trials.  Knowing that God is there and on your side and that “all these things shall give thee experience and work for thy good,” can be the only thing that keeps you going sometimes.  I feel like developing an Eternal perspective is something that you should be working on constantly, especially during the “down time” when you aren’t in the middle of a crisis so it’s there to get you through the crisis.  When the crisis comes, the Eternal perspective becomes a very personal relationship with God through mighty prayer and faith.

Sometimes people say things, well meaning of course, to try and spin the Eternal perspective, or put things in perspective during the crisis.  Things like, “Well it could always be worse….you could have….”  or “Well at least you have….”

Yeah, because when you’re in pain you definitely want to think about how things could be worse, that’s a pretty hopeful place to go.

I really can’t picture anyone saying to Christ in the Garden, it could always be worse, I mean you could have gotten YOUR ear cut off, or your disciples could have gone home to sleep instead of falling asleep in an uncomfortable garden.  You wouldn’t say that to Him.  And the only person I can see coming up with a “Well at least…” statement is Satan.  “Well at least you HAVE body.”

Those kinds of statements invalidate the experience.  And OF COURSE it could be worse, and people have gone through harder things.  I mean ultimately Christ experienced it ALL.  But I can’t for a moment picture Him coming and saying it could be worse, or at least you didn’t have to go through what he went through.  No.  He validates our pain because He experienced it.  He sends the Comforter to help us through.

I feel like in Mormon culture we don’t want to let things be bad.  And maybe that’s because we believe that ultimately we will be led to pure joy.  Or we have this idea that in order to be Christ-like we can’t admit to the struggle because He was perfect and somehow we think that being perfect means not having human emotions, reactions, or struggles.  And yet, he said, “Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.”

Was he showing a lack of Eternal perspective in that moment?  Was it sinful to show weakness?  No, but He was expressing His emotions and His pain freely to His Father.  Sometimes things are just hard, really hard and awful, and the cup can’t just be removed.  He had to experience it in order to fulfill His most sacred responsibility.  Likewise we have to allow ourselves and others to experience pain in order to fulfill our sacred potential and join the fellowship of Christ.  To try and remove it, or make seem not as bad would hold us back from being able to “overcome all things,” which is a characteristic of those who will inherit the Celestial Kingdom.

Find the deeper meaning or give an explanation

“He’s in a better place.”

“God must have needed her more on the other side.”

“Think of all the lives he’s touching.”

“If it’s God’s will….”

“I’m sure it will all be ok”

These platitudes, plain and simple, are not helpful.

As individuals deal with pain, grief, and loss and turn towards God, sometimes they receive answers that give meaning to what they have experienced.  Sometimes the personal revelation they receive sounds like some of the lines I wrote above.  HOWEVER, those answers are deeply personal, need to come from God, and need to come when they are ready to receive it.  While it may turn out to be true, to try and offer meaning or give an explanation is an attempt to receive personal revelation for the other person.

Also, don’t give assurances that it will be ok.  Again, that’s as if you have received personal revelation for someone else’s experience.  When I was 16 my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  For the 2 weeks between diagnosis and hysterectomy I lived with constant weight and fear of the unknown.  When I told people they frequently said to me, “It’s alright, your mom’s going to be fine,” “Everything is going to be ok!”  It was really frustrating because didn’t know if everything was going to be ok, I hadn’t received that answer from God.  The prognosis was good, but there was still the lingering fear of what could come, not to mention that even if they could get everything out with the surgery and no follow up needed, my mom was still undergoing major surgery and would be healing for several weeks.  (For the record, everything did turn out ok.  In fact, after the surgery they came back and said it wasn’t actually cancer, just cysts, and now 15 years down the road there have been no continuing concerns.)

When baptized in the LDS faith we covenant to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  Our job is to bear, mourn, and comfort, not to explain or reveal meaning, that is God’s job.

Comparisons

Don’t compare your pain.  Don’t compare anything for the matter, but really, don’t compare your pain and your trials.

As a missionary I started out with a chip on my shoulder.  I had myself convinced that I had sacrificed more than most of the other missionaries, so I really had a reason to struggle and have down days.  I did sacrifice a lot to be there, and I certainly had my fair share of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  But one day I was humbled with the seemingly obvious realization that at some point everyone would go through the hardest thing they have ever gone through.  That would be different for everyone and tailor made for them to grow and develop as needed.  I realized that I needed to allow other people to struggle, because while they weren’t going through the same thing I was, what they were going through was hard.

I had to learn this same concept but flipped when I went through my second pregnancy.  I was surrounded by people who were going through very very difficult trials.  A few friends experienced infant loss while I was pregnant, another friend was struggling with infertility (prayers for her recently implanted baby!).  And then there was me, carrying a healthy baby, and yet struggling so much.  Let me be clear that none of them did or said anything to make me feel guilty, I placed the burden of guilt on myself.

How dare I feel depressed when there were so many people around me going through something much harder.  Never would I ever wish to trade places with them.  So I tried to tell myself that I should just suck it up, and I should be so happy.  And of course I WAS happy to be carrying a healthy baby, that wasn’t what I was depressed about, but that’s what makes it depression.  I wasn’t really sad about anything, I was sad about EVERYTHING, and being in constant physical pain made it so much worse.

I finally realized, that yes, while other people were going through things that were harder than what I was experiencing, that didn’t mean that what I was going through wasn’t hard.  While I found joy in the hope that I would have a healthy and happy baby at the end (which isn’t quite how it went what with the NICU stay and all, but that’s a different story), it didn’t mean that I had to pretend to be enjoying my present circumstance.  I needed to validate my own pain and stop comparing it to others.

Another comparison we need to avoid is an attempt at an empathetic comparison.

A dear friend of mine lost her Father to a very long battle with cancer when she was only 19 years old.  I was her visiting teacher at the time and I’m sure I said some well meaning, but stupid things to her, but did my best to comfort while validating her pain.  At one point I started to say to her, “I know how you feel.”  Then corrected myself, and said, “Actually, I have no idea how you feel.”  She thanked me for saying that and told me that she found it a little frustrating when people said, “I know how you feel.”  And then a lot of them would follow it up with something like, “My grandpa died.”  Not to take away from the pain and sadness of losing a grandparent, but losing your parent especially at such a young age, is a very different experience.

On the flip side of that, the “I could never do that” response is another form of comparison.  Again it’s well meaning, and perhaps trying to highlight a strength that you see in the person.  Unfortunately it can feel like a wall being put up that makes them different.  The implications of the phrase, while in most cases not meant to be malicious can hurt the person who is doing their best to get through something difficult.  Often people experiencing loss (especially in extreme cases such as the loss of a child or untimely death of a spouse) feel guilt when they realize that their life is moving forward, especially in the moments when they realize they “forgot to miss them” or “forgot to be sad.”  Somehow they do have to continue with their life without letting loss consume them.  Comments like, “I could never do that” or “I would just fall apart” can increase that feeling of guilt, as if moving forward means that they didn’t love the person enough.  That’s of course not the case, but in the middle of loss our brains are not exactly known for being entirely logical and rational.

 

An empathetic response is wonderful, however an attempt at an empathetic comparison may leave the person experiencing the trial actually feeling less understood and less validated in their pain which can unfortunately end up causing more pain.

What TO do:

501px-gethsemane_carl_bloch

I feel like this painting really illustrates it perfectly.  Allow people to go through the experience, to grieve, to cry, to express themselves, and mostly just be there holding them, listening, and loving.

The angel isn’t saying to Him, “It’s gonna be ok.”  Because she knows it’s not, His trial and pain were going to continue and get worse.  I picture her simply saying, “I’m here, I love you, your Father loves you, I’m sorry you have to go through this,” and then crying along with Him.

In my experience, and from what I’ve observed with other people’s experiences is that in the middle of the trial they need people to just be there, to allow them to express the reality of their pain, to let them ugly cry when needed, and to just know that you are a safe person to vent to.

Rather than trying to give a positive spin or a comparison say things like:

  • I’m so sorry this is happening
  • That sounds so hard
  • I can only imagine

Don’t just tell them that God loves them, SHOW them by being an extension of His love.  Let them know that you will be there and help with whatever they need, give them ideas of what that means.  Tell them if they need to talk about it then your ears are open, if they need a distraction to get their mind off of it then you would love to get out of the house with them and not talk about it.  Offer specific service- can I bring a meal, do some laundry, mow your lawn, watch kids, donate to a fund, etc.

I feel like this quote from Spencer W. Kimball really sums this up:

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs… So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!”

Pray, and let them know you’re praying, but be aware that it can seem trite when someone says they are praying but doesn’t follow up with any action or dismisses what the hurting person is saying.

Send notes and text messages to let them know that they are on your mind.

Most of all just love and be loving.

To Those Experiencing Pain and Trials

I’m sorry, I hope you are able to find comfort.

Please keep in mind that people are trying to be nice so when they do make one of the mistakes from above, forgive them.  When appropriate you may want to find ways to calmly explain what types of responses are helpful vs. hurtful.

Let people serve you!  While on my mission, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did a mission conference for us and something that he said has really stuck with me.  He explained that while on our missions we had a very specific and important focus and we ought not to let Terrestrial, or worldly, cares get in the way of our higher calling.  That’s why they encourage members to feed missionaries, and ask missionaries to have simple wardrobes etc. so we don’t have to use too much of our precious time taking care of those earthly needs.  I feel like this applies to us when we are experiencing significant trials as well.  When in the middle of the trial you have much more pressing needs to take care of so let people around you take care of your Terrestrial needs as much as they can.

Most of all take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.  Surround yourself with positive influences and don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people.

And if you do need some good perspective, remember that this too shall pass.  It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

 

Kindness and Charity- Part 3- Breaking Down the Barriers

Now that we’ve discussed the definitions of kindness and charity, and the barriers that get in the way, let’s get on with how to break those barriers down!

ASSUME PEOPLE ARE DOING THE BEST THEY CAN

I recently read Rising Strong by Brene Brown.  Amazing book, definitely encourage people to read it.  She tells a story about part of her personal journey with how she views people.  It was brought on when her therapist asked her if she thought people, in general, were doing the best they can.  Her response was no, no way people are doing the best they can.  So she began asking other people she encountered the same question and got varied responses.  As I was listening (because when I said I read it, I actually meant I listened to it, ain’t nobody got time for reading!) I thought about the people I’ve encountered that I knew there was no way they were doing the best they could, and myself, I know there are definitely times when I am not doing the best I can.  But then as her story continued she changed her mind, and so did I.  She recounted getting together with a friend and asking the question, knowing that the friend would agree with her about people NOT doing the best they can, which the friend did.  The friend then went on with a rant about breastfeeding and how people just are not doing the best they can and if they weren’t up for breastfeeding then they shouldn’t have even gotten pregnant, and if they really loved their kids they would give it their all.  This hit Brene really hard, and it hit me really hard as well.  Sounds like Brene and I had a very similarly unfortunate experience with breastfeeding and the judgment, whether direct or indirect, at failing at it.  My experience was difficult, I didn’t produce well, and baby didn’t latch well, and it hurt, it hurt so bad.  It made me go to a very dark place so with my first I started formula very early on, and blessedly was able to continue nursing part time with him.  But when people would say things like, oh- you just gotta_____, or keep trying it will come, it made me want to scream, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!!!”  And for me that best was making sure he was fed and that primarily came from a bottle of formula.

Then I thought about other times in my life where looking from the outside it probably didn’t look like I was doing my best.  My second pregnancy was rough.  I was in debilitating pain from 10 weeks on, my energy level was non-existent, those things combined with the hormones put me in a pretty bad depression cycle.  My house was a horrible mess, and my son watched way more TV than I ever would have thought possible, and I was doing the absolute best I could in that moment.

Let’s think about others, now of course there are times when they are not doing their best, but put that aside for a minute.  You don’t know if they are battling debilitating physical pain, mental illness, a recent crisis, disease, addiction, the list could go on.  The lady that yelled on the phone, the student who didn’t get their homework done, the mom down the street that’s always drunk and letting her kids roam the streets- is it possible that they are actually doing the best they can in that moment?  Yes, it’s actually possible.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t help them or just let it slide.  In the case of a neighbor or someone in your life that is suffering from addiction or putting children in harm’s way, that doesn’t mean that you don’t make phone calls to appropriate resources at appropriate times.  That might be what they need to help them bring their best up to an appropriate level.  What it does mean is that you approach them differently, from a place of love and compassion rather than from a place of judgment and disdain.

SERVE AND BE SERVED

Serve

I have always loved doing service.  One of best friends and I started a club in Jr. High whose primary purpose was to support students in Nepal by paying their tuition for school.  The club is actually still around almost 2 decades later (that makes me feel really old).  To this day when I meet someone from Nepal I have this immediate love for them, which might freak them out, but serving them has made me feel connected to them across the globe.

More recently, as in last year as opposed to almost 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to serve a refugee family recently arrived from Syria.  I got connected with a group that arranged for meals to be brought in to families as they arrived.  There was not an apartment immediately available, so this family of 8 (the parents and 6 kids) were split between 2 motel rooms, they had limited finances, limited access to transportation, and their English was even more limited than everything else.  So I volunteered to bring them a meal.  They are Muslim so it needed to be Halal and it happened to be during Ramadan so it needed to be delivered after the sun went down.

This gave me the opportunity to do research on what Halal even meant (for those that don’t know, it’s similar to the Kosher laws that orthodox Jews follow), and to learn more about Islamic customs.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go and meet this family.  My only impression of Muslim men, especially coming from the Middle East, was unfortunately negative.  I pictured someone stern and oppressive, I thought I would need to keep my young son away and quiet as that would be the woman’s duty.  I assumed the wife would be quiet and afraid of her husband.  I had been programmed with a lot of misinformation, like I discussed in part 2.

My experience was so different from what I imagined.  The husband was incredibly welcoming, warm, and kind.  He did seem a little surprised when I put out my hand to shake his, but was not upset by the gesture.  He loved my son who was not quite 2 at the time.  He threw him in the air and tickled him.  He let him jump on the bed with their two young daughters.

Despite the very difficult language barriers (even with Google translate), we had a lovely visit with them.  They kept offering us food and drinks.  I kept refusing until I finally realized how much it would mean to them to serve us, to show some amount of hospitality as they would have done in their former life before war, oppression, and persecution took everything away from them.  We finally accepted a glass of coke and they were so happy to give it to us.  (Not being a regular caffeine drinker and being around 9 in the evening, I actually didn’t sleep at all that night- but it was totally worth it!)

That act of service, for a group of people I was so misinformed about, changed my heart.  It broadened my horizons.  It made me look at them as “brothers instead of others.”  It helped me develop charity.  It started me on a path with Lifting Hands International that has allowed me to continue serving in meaningful ways which lifts the hands of refugees but might lift my heart and my spirit even more.

I have found no better way to develop a bond with others besides selfless service.  Try it, in your community, in your family, in your workplace, and in your marriage.  Your love will grow for them as well as their love for you.  When I have served others that are going through a particularly trying time I feel invested in their trial and in their life.  We need to be more invested in the human family.

Be served

When I was the ripe old age of 20 I had an arch nemesis.  We’ll call her Jesse.  See at the time I had started dating a guy, we’ll call him, Jake.  We weren’t exclusive, but things were moving in a good direction, slowly, but I just thought that was sweet that he was a slow mover.  Jesse moved into our apartment complex the end of January and Jake met her briefly as he was friends with some of her room mates, nothing of consequence.  Valentines day was coming up and I was planning all sorts of cute things, like decorating his truck, baking cookies, and making a mushy card.  But the week leading up to Valentine’s day he became a little distant, and like I said nothing had been established that we were a couple so I got a weird vibe and decided to just give him a little Valentine like I was giving other friends.  I went to deliver it and Jesse was there with him, looking at his computer with him, but not just looking at something together, in the words of While You Were Sleeping, they were “leaning.”  I was a little rattled and confused and I think I spent the rest of the evening crying to my room mates.  Guys, less than a week later they were officially a couple and a week after that they were ENGAGED.  They had known each other less than a month and for two of those weeks he was dating me.

I didn’t like her and couldn’t take them seriously whatsoever. When word got around that her parents were not supportive of the wedding, I was like, gee whiz, can’t imagine why.  I avoided her like the plague and anytime she did come up I said her name like it was a dirty word.

Flash forward a few months, I was competing in an event called Dancesport at BYU (don’t get excited, I’m not a good dancer, but I was taking a social dance class and that allows you to compete with other people in the class).  Jesse actually was a good dancer, and was in some of the higher level competitions.  I ended up getting horribly ill the night before the event but was well enough in the morning to get there and dance in the first round.  A friend had driven me up there but I didn’t have a way home besides walking 2 miles which I was not looking forward to at all because I was sick and it was cold.  So who should happen to walk up at that time, Jesse.  I did not want to talk to her and I certainly did not want to accept any kind of help from her, part of me kind of hoped she was not heading home at that moment.  But she was, and she offered me a ride, and the practical side of me beat out the hateful side of me because I was really sick.

That moment, changed so much about my attitude.  Humbling myself enough to accept help from her, my arch nemesis, made me see her as a person and realized she actually was kinda cool.  We definitely didn’t become best friends, but I did stop saying her name like a dirty word and let go of the resentment I had been holding on to.  It allowed me to open my heart up and want good things for them, rather than sitting back and wishing the worst on them.  It allowed me to start developing charity for them.

Accepting help can be hard.  We’re stubborn and prideful, and there definitely is merit to being self sufficient and independent.  But what I said above about feeling invested in the human family, it goes both ways.

In the LDS faith, we believe that when we are baptized we make covenants, or promises, with God, one of them being that we will “bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”  We like to focus on bearing the burden and giving the comfort, but sometimes we are the ones that have a burden, are mourning, or needing comfort.  It’s great to be the one serving, but sometimes you need to be the one being served.  You need to allow others the opportunity to be invested in your life, allow them the opportunity to keep their covenants.  Don’t be selfish and keep all the warm fuzzy feelings that come from helping someone to yourself.  Yes, be self reliant, but also reach out for help when it is needed, it might just help you develop greater charity for others, and let them develop greater charity towards you AND others while they’re at it.

DO SOMETHING!

You can’t do everything, you can’t single handedly solve all the problems, and make everyone just get a long.  But you can do SOMETHING.

When Christ told us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc., he didn’t prescribe exactly how it had to be done.  It could include literally handing someone clothing or food. Have you ever given a homeless person a pair of socks?  I cleaned out my husband’s sock drawer and handed clean socks to pan handlers on the street, I got some of the most sincerely grateful looks and smiles I have ever been given.  It could also include giving what you can (money, time, goods) to charitable organizations.  Don’t have the extra room in the finances, socks in the drawer, or time in the day?  A smile and a kind word can go a long way to changing the hearts of everyone involved.

Do something to learn: have a conversation, pick up a book, or at the very least use the Google machine to get more information (from unbiased sources).  You don’t have to become an expert, but the more you learn about other groups the more you will love them.  Knowledge is power!

If all else fails, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all!  Think before you speak or share.  Ask yourself if your motivation is love, will it spread love, and will it help others feel loved.

Realize that charity and kindness are action words.  It is not enough to sit back and not do hateful things (although by all means if this is the first step you need to take, please sit back and stop doing or saying hateful things).  You must ACT, you must do something.

Bringing this full circle, back to post 1, where we defined charity as the pure love of Christ.  Christ did not become the embodiment of charity by sitting back and saying he loved us.  He developed charity by constantly acting out of love, and ultimately sacrificing his life because of his love for us.  If we are to develop anything remotely close to that level of love, we need to look around us and just start by doing something.

What will you do today to break down the barriers?