Friday, June 8, 2007

The Pain of Charity

I've stayed away for a couple of days because I've been hurting. I'm still hurting, but I feel ready to write again.

My grandfather passed away June 1st, 2007. He was a pillar of the community, often giving succor to those in need. He was a great man. One of my earliest memories of him was down in his basement. He had a container of black walnuts and taught me how to crack them so I could extract the nut whole. In that same visit, he took me across the street to his neighbor's house and let me help him pick apricots. In an even earlier memory of him, I remember going to his flower shop. I remember little of the sight and sound of that shop, but I remember the sharp tang of moisture, roses and greenery. That smell means beauty to me. I believe it has something to do with my affinity for green, growing things. I remember wanting to design a flower arrangement, though I couldn't have been more than five years old. I remember wanting to emulate his artistry. Perhaps that is what helped me discover my love for color and form. Though my grandfather was a somewhat more distant figure than my grandmother (who passed away in 1999,) his paradigm of service and duty has shaped my life.

I attended the funeral yesterday. Grandpa was surrounded by grieving friends and step-family. It was clear he would be sorely missed in the community. Observing this and listening to the eulogies, I began thinking of myself. I came to some hard realizations. The first was how very selfish I am. Through much of the funeral, I hurt because I wished I had had some part in it, something to give the man who contributed to my life. As I analyzed my own feelings, I realized I had very little place in Grandpa's life, so it was only fitting that I would have no place in his death. Unlike my grandfather, I do not connect with people. At my funeral, there will be many fewer grieving faces.

As I thought about it, I also realized that I do not connect with people by choice. I have actively destroyed any but the most superficial ties to anyone. I'm not sure why I do this. I know I am afraid, but I'm not sure of what I am afraid. I think it may be that I am so afraid of hurting someone - I am so afraid of failing - that I minimize my connections. The ironic aspect of this is that the isolation hurts me. I know that I am hurting myself more than rejection and failure would hurt me, but I don't know how to change. This is what brings me to the topic of this post.

In The Princess Bride, the Man in Black tells Buttercup that "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." In my estimation, charity is pain. There are two types of "charity." The first is characterized by "alms to the poor." It is simply giving because you know you should give or, in other words, because you gain something from it. I believe it is this brand of charity to which the world subscribes. It is giving because you feel you will gain a reward, whether heavenly, socially or financially. This sort of charity is not evil per se, but I don't believe it is the sort of charity of which the Lord or His prophets speak in the scriptures. It is not this sort of charity that is the "greatest of all" virtues. It is not this sort of charity which "suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." It is not this sort of charity which, as the Relief Society motto states, "never faileth."

The type of charity Christianity teaches is much more difficult because it inevitably leads through pain. This charity is the "pure love of Christ" which "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 . . . ." It is the charity that enabled Christ to atone for the sins of all mankind. It is the charity that is a cause rather than a symptom. It is love, not for glory, reward or honor, but for the cruel, beautiful, glorious children of God. It is love that gives, knowing that it will be hurt. It is continually building relationships despite the pain, despite the fear, despite the loneliness of rejection.

I know in my heart that God has granted me a great capacity for this kind of charity, but I am too terrified, too bound up in the cords of Satan to utilize it. I feel that this is my purpose on the earth, to love God's children, to be a place where "The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety." I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to let go of my fear of pain and give. I don't know how Christ continued ministering, knowing the pain He would suffer at the hands of the ignorant. I know I need to learn.

Perhaps when I do, I will be happy.


  1. Silver, this is an incredibly powerful post. I hope you develop this more and more for us as you learn about it yourself. Blessings.

  2. Amen. This was beautiful.

    I can tell you have so much to give. I think the key is somehow to let Christ carry the pain (since He already has) and let HIM be the source of the love...where you become more the vehicle, not needing to provide it on your own. It's HIS love that is charity, and it truly is a gift. Once in a while when I have caught a glimpse of that reality, I have felt a million pounds lighter and have felt power beyond my own. Faith in HIM can replace our fear. It's so hard when we're in the middle of it. I know. I do fear a lot in my life, too. But I know He's the answer. To everything.

  3. p.s. In all my pontificating, I realized I never said simply I'm sorry for your loss. I still ache sometimes for Grandpa, years later. What a blessing to have had him for this long in your life. But that makes the pain more intense, I found. Hugs.

  4. SilverRain, I sincerely hope that you are being consoled in your loss by the happy memories you have of your grandfather. It is a blessing to have an ancestor who has influenced so many for good.

    As one who has attended funerals of grandparents and parents who were great contributors to their communities, and who had forged ties of service and friendship with hundreds of people over their lifetimes, I have also had occasion to reflect upon how comparatively few close friends I have, and how there may be no one to attend my funeral other than my relatives!

    In my case, the combination of moving frequently and a naturally reserved nature seems to have resulted in a paucity of close relationships outside of family.

    I used to be worried about lacking the talent to make friends. Fortunately, over the years I have found other ways of serving that take advantage of talents I do have; and thus I worry less about my dearth of friends. :)

    Your thoughts on the relationship of charity to pain are very interesting, and thought-provoking. I tend to agree with m&m that the answer is to learn how to "let Christ carry the pain."

    Easier said than done, but when I have managed to do that, I have glimpsed a bit of how our pain can transformed as we bring the "enduring power of the Atonement" (as Elder Bednar has phrased it) to bear on our situation.

    Perhaps you are underestimating all the charity you are already extending. Certainly there are many (including me) who look for your comments on the Bloggernacle because they can feel your loving, faith-fulled spirit as they read them.

  5. I am sorry for your loss. I think that as you risk that you will find that many will be receptive. I think much of the pain that you anticipate will not be there. I hope you will find much happiness.


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