The following are notes that were taken from my ward’s Relief Society lesson on Chapter 22 in the Lorenzo Snow manual titled Doing Good to Others.
I really liked the direction that our teacher took this lesson. It seemed to come more from the heart and was an underlying message that I didn’t necessarily see when I read the manual. I don’t know it if was just the teacher or if it was what I personally heard, but the message I took home was one of love, inclusion, and understanding. To me, that is what a Christ centered church is all about and is a lesson topic that I wish there were more of.
The first quote from the manual I have in my notes is the following: “…try every day to keep a little more faithful, that we may try to be a little better to-day than yesterday, that we may try and have a little more love and affection toward our neighbors…”
We need to extend our friendship to everyone. I would add that this needs to be done out of friendship and not with an underlying motive. It has been interesting as I have been in a Relief Society presidency to see the differences between sisters who feel like people are just trying to be nice versus a genuine interest in them. One is certainly not as helpful as the other. It is important to be sincerely interested in the sisters and neighbors that you visit.
I think one of the great blessings of visiting teaching is that you have people who, despite being “assigned” to you, often become genuinely interested in you. When we were new in Texas, I had a woman assigned to me who lived in my neighborhood, was close to my age, and had kids similar in age to mine (which wasn’t hard in that ward as there were 26 babies born in one year). It was such a blessing to be able to feel comfortable enough to call her to see if she wanted to go somewhere or get together with the kids when I had no other friends or family around.
I was assigned to another lady who had a baby just younger than mine and it was so fun to get to know her. We remained friends and continued doing things even after she moved to a neighboring city. I honestly would not have made those friendships had there not been an obligation to visit them. I have had other deeply touching experiences with visiting teaching and visiting neighbors since being in Utah.
Visiting teaching and home teaching is a great motivator to extend our friendship to our neighbors. It is so easy to get caught up in your day to day life that for many people, being social and cultivating relationships with neighbors is not a high priority. But we also need to try to just be that way without being assigned to.
Back to Texas, it was a beautiful picture of neighborhood relationships outside of a religious community. I had one friend that lived on a loop of houses and I think almost every woman on that street were friends with each other. On our street, we had one neighbor help my husband replace his brakes. Another neighbor invited us over for dinner. We felt comfortable asking our muscular neighbors for assistance, and down the street, other neighbors frequently hung out in each other’s garages watching sports and drinking. When most of your neighbors don’t attend the same church as you, you are forced to find friends and it’s nice if they live near you.
With all of that said, the next part of the teacher’s lesson really touched me.
She talked about what she called “difficult Mormons”. These could be anything from very conservative members to more unorthodox members. The teacher talked about how when we serve others, we often are serving those outside of our orthodoxy. Often when someone decides to join in Sunday worship or other activities, they are met with harsh judgement.
She stated the following that I just love, “Her/His faith is none of my business”.
Can someone come if they enjoy wine or coffee? If they don’t fully believe?
Of course! ALL are welcome. What a refreshing message!
And it is so important that we love and accept each of them as they are. While we may feel the inner need to “fix” them so they conform to Mormon standards (which also vary from member to member), we need to readjust our thinking. There is nothing to fix and it is not up to us. We can simply be their friend and love them just as they are. We need to put away the hard line and remember that some aspects of the gospel just don’t work for people as we are all individuals. We are absolutely allowed to pick and choose and live according to our personal conscience which is often integrated with feeling the spirit.
One of my favorite things the teacher said, which I think helps people to step outside what sometimes feels like a very narrow view of the gospel “standards”, was that all of the members in any congregation are all at different levels of spirituality and have all had different life experiences.
I would add that the term “levels” should not imply that someone is higher or lower than someone else depending on what they can or can’t check of on the list of righteousness. There is no need to compare and rate people as being better than another depending on their outward and visible spiritual commitments or what you deem to be a lack of visible spiritual commitments.
We should love and embrace and support each person rather than judging them for all of the things that we perceive as them doing “wrong”. While having high expectations of people is a common refrain, I’m not sure that we need to have religious expectations for people in our ward and even in our own families. Instead of focusing on the details and trying to measure what level they are on, it is more important to look at the bigger picture. Are they a good person? Do they serve others? Are they acting in a Christlike manner?
And even if they aren’t, if it’s not effecting you, does it matter?
Our teacher closed with this quote from the manual, “Our happiness increases when we help others find happiness”. I think as we focus on building good relationships with those around us and are able to look at the bigger picture of what kind of people they are, it is deeply beneficial to both parties. I think being able to see people with a Christlike love (not sympathy or in need of fixing) helps create more meaningful relationships, which is important to have in our wards and neighborhoods. Look at the bigger picture and focus on happiness.