Typically, I write a blog post when I feel moved by the Spirit. Having a deadline and structure to what I post is not my natural practice. But I felt that I should participate in the General Conference Odyssey, and it has been good so far. But this week, I had a hard time connecting to any of the talks from this session. Not that none of them spoke to me, but they spoke to me in ways I'm not entirely comfortable sharing. So I apologize if this post is a bit stilted. I'm sure it won't be the last like that.
While my children have never gotten along perfectly, as they age there seems to be a certain level of viciousness in what they sometimes say to each other. Few things break my heart as much as hearing one of the people I love most in this world being cruel to the other. It doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong as much as the viciousness.
I can't imagine it's much different with the Lord and His children. While it does matter who is right and who is wrong, I believe He must feel about His children's discord the way I feel about the arguments between my children. The talk "By Love, Serve One Another" by S. Dilworth Young was written decades before our current political and ideological battles, but as I read it, I was deeply impacted by how clearly he challenged us members of the Church, particularly those of us who don't have significant or time-hungry callings, to spend greater time serving the poor and those who mourn. "...Those who are not given great responsibility in the organizations have more time to seek out the poor, needy, and helpless. And this help is badly needed. All about us are those in need of encouragement, assistance, and help...."
"...There are many lonely people, people whose loneliness is hidden...." Is this not just as true today as 1971? The demographics of those who don't feel like they belong to the Church may have shifted a bit, but there are hosts of people who do not feel welcome. It is up to us as baptized members to reach out to them, no matter their circumstances. There is nothing that says "mourn with those who mourn for reasons we would mourn," or "comfort only those whom we perceive as victims," or "stand as a witness of God unless it hurts someone's feelings." I'd like to share a parable. Don't read too much into it, I'm just trying to illustrate a point.
"A certain woman was walking down the sidewalk. She was attacked, beaten, raped, and left for dead. A local environmentalist was driving down that road on his way to work, saw what was left of her clothing in the bushes, and became so frustrated with the litter on the side of the road, that he never noticed her body. A few hours later, a Mormon bishop was driving down the road on the way to ward council. He was thinking about several problems with people in the ward, and never even looked into the weeds at the side of the road. Much later, a man bicycled by and saw her body. He stopped the bike and called out to her, but she didn't move or answer. He didn't have a cell phone, so he bicycled to the next place with a phone and called the police. Meanwhile, a liberal feminist gay Mormon man was driving down the street when he saw her. He went into the bushes, kneeled by her, checked her pulse, got his first aid kit out of the car, and did his best to heal her until the EMTs came. He called in and canceled work, and went to the hospital until he knew she would be okay. He checked on her daily until she had recovered."
That is a ham-handed retelling of the Good Samaritan parable. You could swap any of the roles with any of the others. I'm not trying to make a political point, I'm trying to make a point that it doesn't matter the background or circumstances, the excuses or reasons. We are not the Samaritan in the story. Nor are we the woman left for dead. Nor are we the environmentalist, the bishop, or the bicyclist. We are all of the above. We are ones who get hurt by the actions of others. We are ones who become obsessed with our causes, or our busy schedule, or who shift responsibility for ministry onto others. We are also the one who puts another person's needs above our own.
The roles and political agendas don't matter. What matters is the humanity of the people who need us.
This Sunday, our church lesson was about the talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "It Works Wonderfully!" Last conference, this was a difficult talk for me to hear. My life often feels like trying to use my finger to plug a mesh dyke. I've simplified to the point of ridiculousness, but I still don't often feel the Church is "working for me." It has been a frequent source of increased pain and loneliness, guilt and stress. But I still go to church, because I have decided to take the question "does it work for me?" completely off the table. I have tried to do what Elder Young suggests: open my eyes and see the need of the people around me, and let God take care of my needs. I am not very good at it. I have a long way to go. I have a hard time letting people get close enough to me that they would let me help, or think of me when they need something. But I'm trying.
And that is where I have found an indescribable joy in my religion. In sacrificing my personal needs, desires, hopes and dreams, in giving up on the question of if it works for me and replacing it with an attempt to make it work for others, I am finding the glory of the gospel. I can say with quiet joy: "I'm not just spiritual, I'm religious!" It is by laying my hopes, dreams, desires, and even my needs on the altar of my Savior. Trusting Him to deliver me, not only from damnation, but from mortal fear.
There has been debate recently about what an Abrahamic sacrifice is, or if it is even really necessary.
To me, an Abrahamic sacrifice is one where your own reason, your own needs and desires are laid aside for the welfare of others, and the will of the Lord. Sometimes that act results in a sacrifice that others would find abhorrent, such as when Nephi killed Laban, or when Abraham nearly killed his own son. Those sacrifices can only be completely understood between God and the person who is being asked to make the sacrifice.
In "Sacrifice Still Brings Forth Blessings" by Hartman Rector Jr., he claims that "sacrifice, no matter how disagreeable it may be, is absolutely vital, for it is the only means the Lord has provided for his children to gain the faith and assurance necessary to successfully return to his presence in condition to enjoy eternal life."
I have found that to be true. There are two sides of the gospel coin that must be equally understood and yielded to in order to understand Christ. The first is to minister, the second is to sacrifice. They are the same coin, a complete whole. Jesus demonstrated this with His life, and with His death.
As my children lash out at each other, I try to take each and have them look at the other. When they truly see their sibling, the pain that they are causing in them, empathy often soon follows. There are those who would take advantage of us in our compassion, but there are many more in desperate need of some sign that they are loved, that they are important, and that they are seen.
I hope that I can take the tiny start I have made and become someone who can be a tool in God's hands, to serve by sacrifice.