A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak in our stake conference Saturday night meeting for the adults. I modified the talk a bit for a broader audience so I could share it with you.
I would like to explore what it means to 1) love those among us, 2) love those around us and 3) strengthen the faith of others as we share the good news of the gospel. My hope is that you will feel the spirit prompting you and that you will act on those promptings.
Love those among us
When Christ was on the earth, He was a gatherer of many different types of people. Fishermen and tax collectors began to gather around Jesus with the outcasts—beggars and lepers—as well as with the zealots and the social elites. Women were invited to take part in receiving the gospel in a deep and meaningful way, even though it was against social norms. Christ spoke with and loved the Samaritans as he did the Jews.
In short, the gospel of Jesus Christ was and is for all. In our efforts to share the gospel, if we want to create a welcoming place for others, we can first start by welcoming those already here among us, but who may not feel like they belong. This may begin with the simplest of things by simply loving those who do not look, speak, think, dress, or act in the same way as we personally do. If someone has come to join and worship Christ with us, we can be the first to make them feel welcome.
This means creating a place where others feel like their opinion is welcome and valid. A book I recently read explained belonging as the following: “A sense of belonging is not the same as feeling similar to everyone else…Belonging is when you feel safe and valued for embracing what makes you different” (Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work).
I love that explanation. One Sunday in my ward, I started looking around in Sacrament meeting. I was pondering on all the different experiences of the members of the ward. Senior couples struggling with health issues, exhausted parents with young children, exasperated parents with teenage children. Parents continuing to parent adult children. Adoptive parents, foster parents. Spouses bringing their children to Church alone without the other spouse’s support. Couples who are hoping to have children. Couples who are not able to have children. Widows of a few years or many years. Those who have experienced divorce. Those, like myself, who are not married. Immigrants to a new country and culture. And many people with significant challenges—just in case I missed anybody! But all in one ward!
How could we ever say that to belong means to be similar? Instead, it means we are safe and valued. We embrace who we are. We were all gathered that day because we love Christ and we know who we are as children of Heavenly Parents. And you know what? Some among us may even be struggling to know that, but they are choosing to be among us and they are welcome here in the struggle. And that makes my heart sing. I LOVE to be among those who are trying. As Elder Holland has said, “The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church…There is room in this choir for all who wish to be there” (“Songs Sung and Unsung,” April 2017 general conference).
When we can make our wards a refuge for those who have different life circumstances, yes even different political ideas, or yes! any other different way of thinking or being, we are beginning to create the type of environment that those around us would want to join. There are many in our neighborhoods who are looking for a place to belong—a place where their different ideas are safe and valued. We can make our wards that safe place where others can feel God’s love and receive Christ’s sacrifice.
Love those around us
Second, a few weeks ago, I was pondering about what I personally was doing to share the gospel. I actually kind of blanked on anything I was doing—yikes!— so I prayed to know what I could do to improve. Into my heart and mind, the Spirit told me, “Love and love and love on your neighbors.”
Let me share with you what this has looked like to me. This first starts with knowing who your neighbors are. I moved into the stake about 2 years ago. One of my neighbors is quite homebound. After a while of living next door, I started to bring in her garbage can each week from the street. When she noticed, she asked if I could take it out to the street if her kids didn’t come by to put it out. So I watch for the can and take care of it when needed.
This neighbor and I text a little bit and have chatted outside her home briefly. I take care of the garbage can, and she lets me borrow chairs. I have asked if I could come and visit sometime and she has been a little reticent. But, surprisingly, she recently invited me into her home for a visit. My only goal has ALWAYS been to help her feel loved—my love and God’s love. And its evidence was shown through a garbage can.
Another neighbor has not participated with us in a while. I texted her to invite her to hear me speak. She immediately called me back and I was nervous that maybe I had offended her. But she personally thanked me for inviting her even though she was not going to come. She said, “It means so much to be remembered.”
It’s good for us to remember that serving and ministering to our neighbors doesn’t ever have to be connected to whether they step foot in a Church building. It’s just…loving.
As the Primary song, “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” says:
“Love one another as Jesus loves you
Try to show kindness in all that you do
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought
For these are the things Jesus taught.”
And finally, let us strengthen the faith of others.
We often hear about people attacking the Church or sharing anti content. Perhaps we laugh when it happens, or maybe we just think it is rude.
But to be quite honest, sometimes the way I have acted is similar to that to others. In my attempts to share the truth of what I know, I have not always been kind about others’ faith. There were a few times on my mission when I basically told people what they were doing was wrong because it wasn’t our way, and I regret that. I wish I would have acted with more love. In some circumstances I wish I would have remembered President Hinckley’s counsel that we take the goodness others have and we add to it. We don’t do anything that could diminish the faith they already have.
In my neighborhood growing up, my parents have been an excellent example of supporting a good neighbor friend in his own faith. In my small effort to support, this past summer I asked to tour his congregation’s new church building and congratulated them on their work to spread the good news of Christ. Over the past few years, this neighbor has joined in a huge community service event that was largely organized by members of the Church, and he even offered up resources from his own church to help out.
The world is declining in religiosity and churches everywhere are struggling to keep members. Even as we desire for all to accept the fulness of the gospel, we can be supporters of faith and religion and join with others as we allow them to “worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith, 11). We are all better off when there are more people of faith. And when we honor the faith of others, we are giving them a chance to see what our faith really represents.
We can all do better to love and love and love those among us. And we can work to love and love and love those around us and support them in their faith. And as we do, when the spirit prompts, we invite. There are those right next door who want to be loved, who want to belong, and who the Good Shepherd is calling.
As you find ways to act on your promptings, take heart from the counsel given to Joshua in the Bible to “Be thou strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7). Take strength from the promise the Savior gives in the Doctrine and Covenants: “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88). And take energy from the beautiful epistle from Joseph Smith on the restoration. “Brethren [and sisters], shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage…and on, on to the victory. Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad….Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 128: 22, 24).
I am here in the gospel for so many reasons.
I am here today because when the gospel was restored 200 years ago, people shared it with their neighbors.
I am here today because when a newlywed grandmother was afraid to go back to the temple, a neighbor lovingly invited her to go with her—and my grandma never stopped going.
I am here because when my Catholic grandmother married my grandpa (who was a member of the Church but not participating at the time), my great-grandma—who was an amazing woman—lovingly invited them to come and join over the course of several years. And they did. And they stayed.
And I am here because although I may have different opinions or be in a different life circumstance than you do, I belong. And you belong. And we all belong because we believe in Christ. We believe the gospel is restored on the earth today. I look forward to a day when all will want to receive of and enjoy its blessings. I add my echo to the words shouted in the early days of the Restoration: “Hurrah for Israel!”