To Mourn With Those Who Mourn

Be an instrumentI remember sitting in a lesson at Church talking about trials and difficulties and hearing the comments of my fellow sisters (LDS people often refer to each other as brother and sister). We were all in our twenties, some with young families, some newlyweds. Some women spoke about the financial difficulties of gaining an education, some talked about stress with trying to balance work, school, and a new marriage. Some expressed the difficulty of raising young children and the exhaustion that comes along with it. After this, some shared the pain of not having young children and the sorrow that comes along with childlessness.

I felt the inner frustration experienced by so many when their lack of a blessing is perceived by others as a trial. But I also felt the frustration of mothers who felt a need to talk about the very real burdens they were experiencing. I thought to myself how very difficult it is to weigh sorrow and to measure grief.

We have been told that part of honoring our baptismal covenants is trying to provide comfort to those who need it. In the Book of Mormon, we read, “Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:8–9)

We have been told by our Savior to “come unto [him], all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and [he] will give [us] rest” (Matthew 11:28). He even goes so far as to tell us that “[his] yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). In reviewing the life of the Savior, it is clear that his life was anything but free of hardship and grief. He experienced intense trials and suffering during his life, only to endure the agonizing pain of the Atonement and his Crucifixion. In describing the atonement, we read that Christ experienced “suffering. . . [which caused] 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 [he] might not drink the bitter cup and shrink” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). Christ has experienced more suffering than anybody, and yet he has asked us to come to him with our burdens. He desires to lift them for us.

When we come to him with our pain and sorrow, does he tell us to suck it up because look at what he has experienced? Never. He gives us comfort and hope. When we are acting as the Savior, we will mourn with those who are mourning and provide comfort to those who stand in need. We are not the ones to decide if their trial is worthy of comfort. After all “The Son of Man hath descended below [all things]” and yet provides us comfort, “[Are we] greater than [him]?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122: 8).

I think it is a very real and very human thing to feel the need to compare. However, it is important to love each other and give comfort to another because he is struggling and not just if we deem it an appropriate reason to struggle. I have found that every experience I have had has given me a greater understanding for those who have been down the same path. I am given a new empathy. I imagine that the trials and experiences I haven’t suffered are similar– there is just so much we don’t understand.

A while back my sister experienced a miscarriage. She was feeling pain and sorrow and as she was talking to me she let me know that she felt a lot of guilt about sharing her feelings with me. She said that it seemed selfish when she knew she could still get pregnant and I was unable to. I appreciated her thinking about me, but also felt sad that she would ever feel guilt about letting me mourn with her. Our experiences are different, but they both involve pain and hardship.

An important part of improving the body of Christ is becoming more like the Savior. As we each strive to invite others to cast their burdens upon us and as we mourn with those who are mourning and comfort those who are in need of such comfort, we will all be strengthened by the love and compassion of our fellow saints. I have been buoyed up by the love of so many of you in our experiences this past year. I have also felt the happiness of people rejoicing with us. I hope to be that same comfort to any who need it, no matter their circumstances.

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Some Thoughts on Repentance

What does repentance mean to you?

Near the beginning of my LDS mission, I was going door to door with my companion (missionaries typically travel in twos. They have another person to work with, and to exchange encouragement, help, & support). We were in a neighborhood and we weren’t really experiencing much success–there really weren’t many people interested in our message that morning. As we were going from house to house, a woman in her garden started talking to us. I didn’t understand everything she said, but I did understand her basic message, which was:

“I don’t like religion. Religion tries to change the person you are. Why can’t I just be happy with who I am? Why does someone have to change me?”  ** (note at end)

I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation, but that thought just stuck out to me. I thought about it again and again. It made me contemplate my own views on repentance and change. Something within what she said resonated.

I started to recognize some thoughts and feelings I had experienced toward repentance that weren’t necessarily true.

Growing up as a Christian, particularly as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, repentance and forgiveness was a frequent topic. This whole theme is crucial to Christianity. Somewhere along the way, I think I lost sight of why that is. Instead of treasuring repentance and using it to help myself progress and become better, I started viewing it as a hindrance, an obstacle, a punishment to be avoided. Instead of recognizing and forsaking mistakes, I started avoiding and justifying them. I started looking at repentance as a tool for the sinful–which is something I didn’t want to be. The less I used repentance, the better–this meant that I was a better person and needed it less!

During my mission, my mindset and attitude toward repentance shifted. Richard Heaton, director of the Missionary Training Center, visited our mission and said something that I still think about frequently. He said, “After I die, I hope that I’m in the ‘Repentance Hall of Fame'” That struck me as odd initially–wouldn’t that mean he had a lot to repent of? Then it started to hit me–we all have a lot to repent of. Repenting frequently isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength.

What are we on this Earth to accomplish before we die? I believe it is to become more and more like our Savior, Jesus Christ–to continually become better and better people. I believe it is to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little more understanding as time goes on. I don’t think our main goal is to accept ourselves the way we are. If a concert pianist had done that back at square one, he wouldn’t be a concert pianist. Changing is hard. Recognizing our areas of weakness is uncomfortable. I understand that on a very personal level. However, continual and forward change is the goal.

We will falter every. single. day.

That is the good news of repentance! That is the blessing of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We will falter. We will stumble. In His mercy and grace, we can use those mistakes and build on them. We don’t have to hang our hands in despair. We can do better. It doesn’t matter where we are starting from–it only matters the direction we are going in.

**You can be happy where you are! In fact, Heavenly Father & Jesus Christ desire this for us! We shouldn’t feel content or “finished” with our progress, but we should very much be happy for the place we’re in now and excited to continually progress.

Lord, is it I?

Christ washing His apostles' feet at the Last Supper

Christ washing His apostles’ feet at the Last Supper

Toward the end of Christ’s ministry on Earth, He had one last Passover meal with His disciples—a meal that is now referred to as the Last Supper. During this meal, He noted that one of His disciples would betray Him. The following verse reads, “And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?” (KJV, Matthew 26:22).

Several years ago, when I was reading this story, this verse struck me. I wondered to myself if something similar had happened at my dinner table how the story would have gone. Had one of my parents said that one of us would do something wrong, would we have turned toward introspection or toward blaming?

In his book, The Peacegiver, James L. Ferrell notes that the reason we judge others, gossip, blame, etc. is in an attempt to cover up our sins through focusing all eyes (including our own) on the sins of another. Christ taught this principle in the Bible: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (KJV, Matthew 7:3-5). The only one without sin, Christ, is the only one who can judge fairly—as His own sins don’t cloud His view. Because of His sinless state, He makes no vain attempts to cover His sins by gossiping or blaming others.

We sometimes think it is okay to judge certain people, because surely their sins outweigh ours! Maybe the scriptures had it backward—I have the mote and my neighbor has the beam! However, are we truly the right ones to judge the magnitude or weight of sins? By thinking that in the first place, are we just trying to soothe our troubled consciences? We may think, “I may have sins, but certainly not like that guy!” Who are we helping with this comparison? Does it bring us closer to Christ or help us forsake our weaknesses? No, it provides us with a false sense of righteousness and leads us further from the path of repentance and change. In addition, it leads us to more sin through condemning others and may aggravate our brothers and sisters further from Christ and His love. No wonder we read, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (KJV, James 1:26-27).

I know, through personal experience, that this is much easier said than done. It is a daily struggle to relinquish pride, recognize our own weaknesses, and continue to strive to change in a positive way. It is so much easier to feel complacent and hide our sins away while we focus on the sins of others. I encourage myself and others to follow the example of the apostles and ask ourselves, “Lord, is it I?” When I start to feel myself dwelling on someone’s mistakes or wanting to discuss them with someone else, I hope I can ask myself what are the weaknesses I am currently trying to forget? Lord, is it I?

Two additional quotations that I like on this subject are:

“Worrying about the punishment we think ought to come to others is self-defeating to us. Brigham Young counseled that unless we ourselves are prepared for the day of the Lord’s vengeance when the wicked will be consumed, we should not be too anxious for the Lord to hasten his work. Said he rather, ‘Let our anxiety be centered upon this one thing, the sanctification of our own hearts, the purifying of our own affections’ (in Journal of Discourses, 9:3).’” (Elder James E. Faust, Unwanted Messages, 1986).

“I always am uptight when somebody says, ‘You don’t understand Tony. . . I love the sinner, but I hate his sin.’ I’m sure you’ve heard that line over and over again. And my response is, ‘That’s interesting. Because that’s just the opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, “Love the sinner, but hate his sin.” Jesus says, “Love the sinner and hate your own sin. And after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you can begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life”’” (Pastor Tony Campolo, taken down from a recorded interview found here: http://www.upworthy.com/if-youve-heard-someone-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-you-should-share-this-with-them-5)

On Love and Mercy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

     When I was a kid, I was a little punishment-happy and vengeful when it came to my siblings. I was a semi-naughty kid and would lure my siblings into a trap of doing something that I knew they would get into trouble for. I would then look at my dad or mom and say, “well, aren’t you going to punish them?” I remember my dad would say—“what do you think I should do? Should I spank them?” I would gleefully respond, “Yes! Spank them! They deserve it!” I felt that justice would be served once their proper punishment had been meted out to them. Of course, my dad could see right through my barely disguised joy and take time to talk to all of us.

Luckily, I’ve since improved and no longer seek to get my siblings into trouble. However, I’ve been reflecting on our human attitudes about justice and mercy and it seems that, at times, we all revert back to our childhood days. As much as we crave mercy, forgiveness, and understanding for our own weaknesses and faults, we demand justice for the weaknesses and faults of others. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an apostle of the Lord, said in a recent address, “Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves?”

I have noticed this a lot recently, but in a slightly different way than we typically discuss. I have noticed, in the name of justice, a lot of hate being thrown at hate. Oftentimes, it seems the only appropriate response. During the Civil Rights Movement, many felt that Dr. King’s ideas were just too passive—the environment was too unjust and hateful—they had to fight it. However, now we look at his ideas and actions, along with Gandhi’s, as the right thing to do. Why? As Dr. King said, you can’t fight hate with hate—only love.

Christ taught us the same thing—he said to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5). He goes on to imply that it is not that commendable to love those who love us—that’s easy, everyone does this! The real task—the one that Christ did so well and has asked us all to strive for—is to love those whom it is difficult to love.

While it is true that there are those who hate and discriminate unfairly, how do we improve the situation by turning around and hating them? Isn’t it ironic to hate someone because they hate someone else? I believe that people should stand up for their beliefs and try to correct injustice where they see it—however, doing so in a spirit of love and compassion is the only way to do it if we are to stay consistent and true to what we are, in essence, arguing for.

In Matthew 5, verse 20, the Lord states, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” Here is where I think we could plug in “bigot” or “hater” for “scribes and Pharisees” and take away the same meaning. If we are fighting hate with hate and darkness with more darkness, are we then more righteous than they?

jesus-christ-1138511-gallery

To read/watch/listen to all of President Uchtdorf’s wonderful address, entitled “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” here is a link:

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-merciful-obtain-mercy?lang=eng