While I've had a relatively privileged life, I've also had times when I've had to worry about nutrition, food, paying the bills, providing for my children. I've had to worry about my physical safety, being attacked in my own home, my house and car being destroyed, my children being taken from me. Not as much as some, doubtlessly, but enough to know what fear feels like, what poverty feels like, what it is like to be helpless.
With this in mind, I find it amazing how people automatically ask me why I didn't go to the state for assistance in my times of need. Or if I discuss how lonely it was with someone, they assume all I need is to find another husband.
I do it, too. Often when people come to me with their problems, I first think of all the solutions provided by other people or institutions they should turn to. Next, I think of what I might do. Third, to my shame, I often think of reasons why I can't do it. Then I go back to #1. It's awful.
People often say we should "fake it 'til we make it," or "keep a smile on our face," when we are mourning or find ourselves in a bad mood. But what this ignores is that it is the BAD things in life that draw us together. Shared hardship, compassion, is what binds one heart to another. I could have gone to the government when I needed food. But it was my bishop who offered. It was the Church who helped me bridge the few months I needed to get back on my feet. And it is the Church I see doing real good. Not the State. Perhaps because the Church is personal, face-to-face.
How often do people who support government welfare programs engage in real, face-to-face charity? Anyone with some extra money can donate to an institution to do it for them, but how many are personally out there, looking for ways to exercise charity? Not just GIVING of MONEY, but heart-to-heart love, the kind that creates bonds?
To me, tithing and fast offering donations have little to do with charity. They are impersonal. They are about fulfilling my obligations to God, and what happens to them is not my problem. But while they are good for other reasons, they don't show the "pure love of Christ" that I have been so earnestly seeking over the last few years (and which seems so elusive to me.) Paying tithing doesn't help me open my eyes up to others in pain. Fast offerings don't help me crack the bubble of self-containment that I so rigidly construct so as to not allow others to see my vulnerability. Neither captures the essence of the ministry of Christ.
We love to demand that "the Church" or "the government" do MORE, more to solve the problems we see, whether those problems are our own, or those of others. But I see very little self-reflection; what can I do to serve those who are in my sphere of influence, how can I allow someone close to me to help? We have some very serious global problems. But we also have some very serious local problems that we aren't even noticing. And I think that until we can see ourselves as the solution, we have no hope of truly effecting change.
All too often, we see what we want to see. We feel we have done all we can when we drop a few dollars into a charity, or when we agitate for change in others. But I don't think that is really it. It isn't personal enough.
The Good Samaritan didn't travel on to the inn, then pay someone to go back and retrieve the man in the ditch, or petition the government to increase security on the roads, or exhort the Church to do more about healing those who had been attacked. He personally lifted the man's broken and bruised body, personally treated his wounds, and only then turned the care over to another.
Don't get me wrong, speaking up about ills in the world is not a bad thing, educating people on how they can help is vital. But demanding that others don't do enough to meet them saps us of our own capacity to serve, and completely misses the point. How much more powerful is to share our own personal experiences of tragedy, and plead for others to help? If I see a need, how much more does it serve God to take responsibility for helping that person, rather than assume someone else should do it?
You can't legislate charity. You can't bully institutions into "doing more" in order to absolve yourself of the need. I would like to see more people tell of little acts of kindness, of how they have been helped to solve their own problems, of how they have reached out to help someone else bear their burdens. I would like to hear about how they see a need in their community, and turn to their bishop or Relief Society president to help THEM meet that need, rather than just tell already overworked leadership to take care of it.
A former Relief Society President once explained to me how many people call her up and say "so and so needs help, do something about it." Very few say, "so and so needs help, I've done this and that, but can't do it all myself, do you know of any one who can help me do this?" The first resource we should access to solve the world's problems is our own. If we see a problem, WE should do all we can to help, not complain about how others are too blind to see the same problem. If they are ignorant for not seeing it, what does that make you, who sees the problem, and does nothing constructive to help but try to bully others?
I don't think that's what Mormon described when he urged us to seek charity. The "pure love of Christ" is personal ministry, perhaps through, but not merely institutional organization.