This blog is not a place for sermons, and I don’t want it to be. Even as I acknowledge and embrace that standard of mine, I have been reminded this week of the reasons I take my faith seriously and cleave unto a church I view, as I think we all should, as far from perfect. I want to share that. I hope this is an appropriate way to do so.
Due to a strange and somewhat miraculous series of events – and I don’t use the term “miraculous” lightly – I have found great comfort and inspiration through the principle of charity this past week. Life has reminded me of the healing power of Christ’s core teachings, even in times of lingering anxiety and pain, and for that I am deeply grateful.
I have learned that while my opinions of the LDS church – and life, and politics, and the people around me – might be important and worthwhile, they are not especially helpful to my soul.
As much as I love thinking and analyzing and judging and considering myself “different,” it didn’t take me long to realize I was missing out on some of the most important aspects of Christ worship in my state of introspection.
Enter charity, reintroduced to me through a Book of Mormon lecture on YouTube, because this is 2016 and the Lord works in mysterious ways. It focuses on serving the poor and needy, which is absolutely a worthy goal we should all improve upon. But witnessing such a thoughtful interpretation of the book of Mormon, and the emphasis on treating every person in the way they deserve, as children of God, especially struck me. This lesson of charity as discipleship was exactly what I needed to hear, and I didn’t even know that until I found myself crying at my laptop at 10PM on a Saturday.
It arrived like an old memory, drowned beneath insecurity and spite for far too long, finally bobbing to the surface in an unexpected, though welcome, return. I suddenly knew with certainty that it is my duty, and every Christian’s duty, to acknowledge the worth of the human soul. It is my responsibility to see those around me as Christ might see them, even if that feels impossible at times – and believe me, it does feel impossible at times. With the light of Christ within me, I must ensure that my fellow men are treated with dignity, respect, and service.
I was missing that for nearly a year. I became deeply absorbed in the very real, lasting pain brought on by some of the church’s recent decisions, and the effects of that lingered even as I worked past the initial struggle. I disengaged. I went to church, but never wanted to. I performed my calling, but didn’t find joy in doing so. I distracted myself through Sunday school and Relief Society if I went at all, and felt bored or angry more often than I felt the spirit. I convinced myself I did not belong among those people who largely think differently than I do. I separated myself, in every way I could as an active member, and no longer felt joy in my place of worship.
And I don’t completely regret that. Contrary to popular belief, I could not have simply willed myself into feeling whole again. These things take patience, and help from divine sources who don’t always work as fast as we might like. Something within me needed to feel that emptiness, and work with myself to reveal more about who I am and what I value. As much as I prayed and read the scriptures, which admittedly was never quite enough, I never received enough comfort to restore all that had been lost. It had been so long that I almost forgot that I lacked anything. I merely existed, trying my best to remain faithful while slipping deeper into spiritual apathy.
But this week at church, not unlike any other Sunday, I felt different. Sacrament meeting sat well with me that day. The spirit touched me in one of those rare tangible-epiphany moments, and I truly felt like I was in the right place for the first time since last November. Of course every talk that day was on charity. It’s rare I feel smacked in the face by a gospel message, but what can I say; Heavenly Father is not always subtle.
As soon as I realized what I was missing in my disengaged state, I found within myself a renewed capacity for charity, both in my perception of others and my participation in the world as a follower of Christ. “Love them anyway,” has been my go-to mantra for the past several days, and while I can’t say how much it has impacted any one person, it has certainly helped me realize the places where I need to broaden my capacity for compassion.
Someone gives a talk in church and describes [insert literally any gospel topic here] in a doctrinally incorrect, potentially damaging way. Love him anyway.
Far more than a reasonable number of women in relief society nod in agreement when someone openly disparages feminism as a blanket anti-family concept. Love them anyway (and buy each of them a copy of The Feminine Mystique for their birthdays).
The Sunday school teacher has the nerve to be less engaging than a professional educator and/or inspirational speaker. Love her anyway, and pray for new Sunday school manuals with better lessons.
It works outside of church, too.
Your Geology professor asks a girl from Portland if she is a liberal, in jest. She says no. He says, “good,” diminishing increasingly-touchy campus political tensions not at all. He proceeds to make one too many cleavage jokes during his lecture. You feel weird. Love him anyway.
Your kitchen coworker repeatedly tries weighing liquids. This is frustrating. Love her anyway.
There is someone bicycling on the sidewalk beside you. There is a biker’s lane less than two feet away. Love him anyway.
I do not think that love itself is the same as charity, but the act of choosing to love is indeed one of the most charitable things we can offer. Christ chose to love us all, and we owe it to Him, and ourselves, to attempt the same. I have chosen to love in ways I would have thought impossible a few months ago. Instead of resorting to anger or frustration, I try – key word, try – to remember who I am, and who all of these equally-human people are: imperfect, good-at-heart, diligent, trying-their-best children of the same unconditionally-loving God.
In turn I have found many blessings, and the kindness of others has been revealed to me in new and beautiful ways.
I’m not particularly good at being served, and never have been. Visiting teachers often make me uncomfortable, I apologetically cringe if the compassionate service committee brings me soup when I’m sick, and I’ll hardly take a cookie from a friend’s kitchen table when it’s been offered to me.
But this week I have been witness to lovely, small acts of kindness that have remained with me since, to remind me that goodness truly is all around if you have the eyes to see it.
When I stopped by my professor’s office to discuss some Difficult Church Things, I was uncomfortable at first. I’m bad at reaching out to people, especially authority-type people I respect and kind of idolize (as if I’m the only person to have ever fangirled over a professor – there are DOZENS of us. DOZENS).
“This is weird, and I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” I began, unsure of what to say.
Without a moment’s hesitation she reached for a box of tissues and said, “Well I do this kind of thing all the time, and I love it!”
After we talked for a bit, she asked me if it would be weird if she gave me a hug. I laughed and said of course not. She gave me an excellent hug, one that I needed that day, and we proceeded to have a wonderful discussion that made me feel warm and fuzzy and validated.
Earlier this week I made a Big Social Decision at work. I’m going to remain frustratingly cryptic to avoid embarrassing myself, but as a socially anxious person I was already feeling weird about it immediately following said decision.
My boss, who knew exactly what was going on because that’s how things work there, responded completely appropriately when she said, “I know you’re not happy for you yet, but I’m happy for you.”
It was such a small, silly thing to say, but I needed to hear it, and I needed to be able to laugh about it because I take many trivial things WAY too seriously. Another tiny kindness, filed away for an unspecified time in the near future when it will be helpful.
When I donated blood a couple of days ago – for charity! – my phlebotomist was really friendly, and extraordinarily good at drawing blood. That’s a double-kindness for anyone who has ever been hematoma’d.
Yesterday my brother texted me and asked if I wanted some pulled pork. Of course I wanted pulled pork, so I drove to his house and spent a lovely evening eating smoked meat, relaxing with him and my niece, and even took home some beets from the garden. Family kindness is some of the best kindness there is.
Two of my professors brought food to class one day. I’m still not sure if this is a normal thing in college or if kind Mormon women are just especially good at providing refreshments, but I cannot begin to emphasize how exciting it is to get sugar from a teacher as a full-grown adult. I bestow major kudos upon professors with treats.
This morning my coworker saw my face and told me I was looking good. I wore no makeup, did not get enough sleep, and – as is typical when I work the morning shift – had spent the first two hours with a perpetually furrowed brow. But it was a nice comment, and I realized she was right. I was looking good. Something had been lifted, some gnarled, stubborn tension that existed within me for so long that I forgot it was there to begin with.
I know I still have a long way to go. So far I’ve made baby steps by reducing my judgmental tendencies and building more appreciation for small kindnesses directed toward me. I have been blessed with a sense of belonging in the church, and have done my best to act on that blessing. When presented with chances to serve more conventionally, I have tried my best to do so. I still need to join the ward choir and should attend more of the activities that my fellow LDS singles have so carefully planned. I should figure out ways to serve in my community and help those who need it most. With diligence, this will become a lifelong endeavor.
I hope and pray that this upward trajectory leads me to bigger, brighter, happier things, because this year has been a challenge. I am not sure I will ever be comfortable with the LDS-Church baggage that led me to that dark place, but I have found ways to renew my faith in the good of Christ and the importance of His gospel despite that darkness. It is those deep-rooted testimony seeds that will keep me attending church and striving to remain tolerant in even the most trying of circumstances, and I believe that Heavenly Father has guided me here with His own hand, because he truly is a loving, merciful God watching out for every one of His children.
He created us with intentional differences, and He knows how to teach us as individuals, within the workings of our own minds and spirits. This narrative might not fit within the bounds of “things taught in Sunday school,” but I have felt it, and I know it to be true. It may have taken time, but I do not feel I have been punished, judged, or chastened for my upset; instead, I stand up today as a lamb of God who spent some time alone near the gate, welcomed back into the fold after a spell of seemingly-unshakable, necessary darkness. He brought me light, and has since illuminated a path ready to show me through the shadowed patches that undoubtedly await me in the future, and I am gratified.
He has been so charitable to me. I can only hope, within the bounds of my own imperfect humanness, to return that celestial favor.