This past Saturday I had the opportunity to speak at Stake Conferance (kind of a joint gathering of many LDS Single Adult congregations). My greatest fear was that I would not end by my 5:45 pm cut-off time limit, thus cutting into President Barney's talk. My time-allotment was extended to 15 minutes, and I ended right on time (phew!!!:) I loved the other talks given, and learned a lot in preparing one myself. Overall, I really loved the experience!
Two weeks ago during a stake Rodeo dance, our 2nd Counselor, President Skinner (who BTW is awesome--he dressed up as dwight from The Office for Halloween!) pulled me aside and asked if I would speak. He told me he felt impressed to let me pick my own topic, and wanted me to think it over. That's when I felt true intimidation from an assignment! I jotted down some ideas, but during sacrament meeting, one idea stood out clearly in my mind. I've learned to start trusting those clear first impressions, so I went with it! The thoughts that came to my mind after, and the scriptures that accompnied them have touched my heart. I wanted to share some of the insights here, in hopes that they might touch another heart as well. Because I didn't have time, I didn't go into as much detail at the pulpit as I had written down when the thoughts first came. Here I'm going to expand though... :) ***Note: I recommend either turning the sound off, or scrolling down to the bottom and choosing "Nearer, My God to Thee" by Lex de Azevedo to listen to...George Strait & Rob Thomas just don't seem like really approrpriate back-ground music for this! :)***
STRENGTHENING ONE ANOTHER THRU FRIENDSHIP & SERVICE
LUKE 22:32 "When Thou art converted, strengthen thy bretheren"
D&C 108:7 "Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversations, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings."
I have noticed the theme of many conferance talks lately have been pep talks about enduring trials and hard times. This theme strikes a chord with singles. During this time, our testimonies are being tested & tried--by the world, by peers, & even sometimes by family. We are in a stage of life where we have gained independance from parents, but not quite moved on to co-dependance with a companion. We can experience some of the toughest "trials" during this period because we are dealing with matters of the heart. We cannot hide from lonliness or the sadness this can sometimes bring in quiet hours. We often cannot escape the sorrows of broken hearts. During this time of choosing our Eternal Companion, it is a time of trial & error, learning & growth, highs & lows. These years though, are so vitally essential to our eternal development. We cannot escape them, nor should we.
However, the thought kept coming to me was not to speak about how to get ourselves through our own trials, but instead to focus on how we can help others through their trials. Why should we strengthen our brethren? And how do we do it?
Why do we have trials?
I had an experience in the temple over the summer. I had a simple desire to go, but no driving reason: I was at peace in my life and very happy. It seemed like just a normal temple visit. However, for a reason I did not understand at the time, my mind was opened during the temple session, and it was as if I had a teacher sitting beside me showing me each trial in my life, and what specific thing I had learned from that trial. I was filled with understanding, even to the point of complete gratitude as I began to see each "trial" as a true blessing in my life. They became blessings because I saw how they each brought me to the point of happiness I am at today.
At the end of this out-pouring of instruction, I realized that each sorrow in my life had carved out a hole in my heart, that (when I allowed) the Savior had been able to fill with his love. I began to understand that these trials had helped me grow in my capacity to feel compassion and the Savior's love towards others. I wondered why I had received such instruction right then?
A couple of weeks later, I was called to be Relief Society President. It was shared with me that while I was sharing my testimony of the above experience, both the Bishop and his 1st counselor knew I was to be called. I now found myself caring for the welfare of 120 young women, the majority of which were much younger than me...and all of which were going through the struggles of single's life. I have since thought back to that temple experience many times, and drawn upon the memories of my own "trials" as I have tried to offer compassion and comfort to sisters in the ward.
I remember having a discussion with a mission companion once, who felt she had had no major trials in life. (I personally think this was just her eternal optimism showing thru! :) As we heard story after sad story of the hard-times going on in investigator's lives, she often felt it was hard to relate, and felt she lacked the words of comfort to offer...to the point that she felt not having "trials" had been a trial in her life! I have found now that I am greatful to be able to remember past trials & the ways I wanted to be comforted, when approaching sisters now that are going through the same thing.
We often wonder what Heavenly Father wants us to learn & gain from a trial as we go through them. I have come to believe that we pass through some trials to prepare us to serve others who will pass through the same. The Savior experienced the greatest "trial" of His life in Gethsemane, so that he could know how to comfort each of us in our hour of need.
Two stories came to mind to illustrate this. I only had time to share 1 in conferance though. I think the other was just to help cement the concept in my mind :)
Story #1) My first week on the mission was a major culture-shock. Mainly with the amount (or lack of) food we ate. I went from eating 3 hearty meals a day in the MTC, to 1 cup of rice a day in the mission field. We walked all day with a bag over one shoulder. I understood nothing of the language. I was exhausted, bored, and constantly hungry. I questioned a million times why I had come out to a country clear on the bottom tip of the worldb where I knew NO ONE, just to smile at people all day and starve to death! I felt miserable, and one night while praying, just could not take it anymore. I remember the hunger pains cutting so deep that I began to cry...I think the exhaustion is what kept me crying. In this moment of complete dispair, forcably came into my mind the words, "I will not leave you comfortless!". My crying abrubptly stopped, and a peace of pure comfort spread through my body, like a warmth, and made my whole body tingle. I basked in it! I later found that the verse was from John 14:18. (I also discovered a grocery store within a few days and solved the lack of food problem :). The experience was a turning point for me--from that point on, I knew I was where the Lord needed me to be, and that He would not leave me alone to do His work. The Savior became a very personal friend to me in that moment. It made me wonder though, how was he able to comfort me so completely? How was he able to extend that loving hand of mercy in my hour of need?
Story #2) Fourteen months later, during my very LAST week of the mission, my question was answered. The elders had handed us an investigator who had already received a first lesson. We went in to teach her the second, and she was clearly not that interested. She had her own religion and felt satisfied, she said. She had invited us in to be open-minded, and because her father had just passed away and she wanted the comfort of prayers said in her house. She invited us back, so I went to leave her the typical reading assignment from the Book of Mormon. Into my mind came the thought, "leave her Alma chapter 7 to read". My face scrunched up in confusion--Alma 7 is a bold invitation to be baptized. This woman was not ready for that, it made no sense. I ignored the thought, and left her a light-and-fluffy neutral passage about faith instead.
My very last day--in fact my very last hour as a missionary with an assigned area, we stopped by her house for a follow-up visit. I had been invited to dine with a dear friend and neighbor to bid farewell, and was tempted to reschedule the appointment. Something though pulled at my heartstrings with this woman, and I had to go visit her. We followed-up with her regarding the passage, and she kind of blew it off, saying she had read it, but it was nothing new. After a while, she confessed to us with painful eyes and heartfelt words that she believed her father was in a better place, and that she believed she would see him again one day. That did not, however, change the hurt she was feeling right now at loosing him. She wanted comfort.
Again, even stronger this time, came into my mind Alma chapter 7. I flipped it open, and saw that the verses about baptism were indeed verses 13 & 14, but the verses the Spirit wanted me to share with her were verses 11 & 12 that speak of the Savior Jesus Christ:
"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptaions of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
"And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities"
In Greek, the word for bowels means "the tender affections of the heart; compassion". So, if we substitute that in, the scripture says, "he will take upon him their infirmities, that the tender affections of his heart may be filled with mercy..." I love that!
I then testified to that dear woman that she had a personal Savior, who had not only died and been resurected so that she may one day see her father again, but he had also suffered through her present afflictions. He had taken them upon himself, so that he could now fully comfort her. A light came into her eyes as she grasped this concept, and she expressed deep gratitude in learning this new truth about the Atonement of Jesus christ. I realized in that moment, as the Spirit filled the room, that her savior loved her so much, he had sent his servents not to baptize her, but simply to help her understand that she had a Redeemer waiting to comfort her in her hour of need. 10 minutes later, I was in a taxi, and starting my journey back to America. I will never forget the lesson I learned that day, of feeling the intense love and compassion God has for each of his children. I knew in that moment that He knows us each individually, and what we are going through. He stands ready, waiting for us to turn to Him for the strength and comfort we need to pass through trials. [note: Mosiah 3:7-9 also illustrates this point: "And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer...And lo, he cometh unto his own that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name."]
I came to understand during those last tender moments as a missionary, that Christ suffered physical, mental, and spiritual trials in order to have the capacity for the kind of compassion that leads to mercy. He fulfilled the law of justice with his death, but he is able to extend the hand of mercy to us because of the deep compassion he has for each of us. I am forever greatful for that compassion!
The concept that really struck me while preparing this talk is that through baptism, we have covenanted to take upon us the Name of Christ, to become like him, and to "mourn with those that mourn, yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9). If we are truly to become like the Savior, we must have the capacity to comfort & strengthen others in their time of need. How do we extend that comfort to others, when we have not yet gained the capacity to do so? Trials are a catalyst to developing that capacity!
[sidenote: today while watching a biography on the life of Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th prophet of the LDS church, I learned that he lost his mother at an early age, and the older sister who then raised him died early as well. He also went through multiple health problems that should have taken his life, including throat cancer, 2 brain surgeries, and open heart surgery. In the biography, they said that these experiences deepened his compassion for the thousands of people he conuseled during his lifetime of service. He continusly drew upon them.]
How do we strengthen our brethren?
Through service! Service is to trials what advil is to a headache: it dulls the pain and allows us to feel happiness in life again! I have gotten to the point where I absolutly crave a service project when going through a difficult time, because I know it will get my mind off my own sorrows, and get me through the ordeal quicker. It's like a little eraser that just takes away the pain for a bit.
How do we serve one another in a single's ward setting?
1) Magnify our callings! I cannot think of one single calling in the church that does not give us the opportunity to serve someone else. Every calling is designed to help us serve others, and build friendships. We can use our callings to creatively serve others, and get to know them. Our callings can be used as "excuses" to go outside our comfort zone and meet others. I used to feel funny doing this in meetings, but now have had to do it so often that i think it's odd we don't all do this more often. It's so easy to just go up to someone and say, "Hi, I work with the Relief Society and don't think I know you yet, I'm Beth. What's your name? What do you do?", or "Hi! I'm a district leader and your in my district! What was your name? Oh! Are you going to school?" etc.
2) Pray for one another. We love those we pray for and serve. It's a simple, yet profound truth. In the RS Presidency, every week we each pick out a girl to pray for that is going through a difficult time. We then will include that girl in our daily individual prayers. I have been completely amazed at the miracles I have seen happen with this simple approach! I wish I could go into more detail, but lives, hearts, and attitudes have changed the very week these individual prayers began. I have also seen a change in myself, as I have come to feel a deep love for the girl I am daily praying for. Prayer is a powerful tool we can use to strengthen one-another!
3)Practice friendshipping skills. A true friendship helps brings others to Christ. We can do that by helping others feel loved and cared for, inquiring after them and showing concern about what is going on in their lives. If we don't feel comfortable talking to people due to being shy, not knowing what to say, or simply just not really caring---practice!! Fake it till you make it. The more we practice "small talk" conversation skills, the easier it will come to us. In the church, we are to ask each other how we're doing: "And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls" (Moroni 6:5). Initiaing friendships is a way to strengthen one another. (also I have written down here Hymn #293...I'll have to find the words later, I think it talks about friendships that bring us closer to Christ).
4) Lonely? Find some someone lonelier and make a friend :) Get invovled! Friendships are usually made outside of the 3-hour block of church. Go to FHE, do your visiting teaching/home teaching, and go to, or host your own game nights! By building these friendships, we will find opportunities to serve, thus making both us and others happier! :)
5) Speak positive words, words of affirmation. We are surrounded by "put downs" in today's media and American humor. We should be builders, not wreckers of self-esteem. Complment others. When we notice the good in them, point it out to them. It's a sure-fire way to make friends, strengthen others...and probably even get a few extra dates out of the deal :)
In closing, I read my favorite scripture. It is regarding serving our fellowman (Docterine & Covenants 81:4-5)-
"And in doing these things thou wilt do the greatest good unto thy fellow beings, and wilt promote the glory of him who is your Lord.
Wherefore, be faithful: stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees."
I then bare my testimony that I know our burdens will ligthen as we serve others, and strengthen one another. I bear testimony that there is a Savior who knows and loves each of us, that these things are true. And close it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Again, I apologize for my lack of brevity, but it's what has been on my mind for 2 weeks! If you've made it this far though, I would love to hear your own thoughts and insights. My understanding of the topic has increased as people have told me the thoughts they had while I was speaking. (like that it just makes you feel 10 times better when someone knows what you're going through, and can say that). I'd really love to hear your thoughts! And....on 2nd thought...that Rob Thomas song below actually goes pretty well with this whole theme. it says "Call on me, I'll be there for you, and you'll be there for me!". Haha, no wonder I like that song so much! :)
(Added the below in 2016 after a friend posted - felt it went with this theme)
3 weeks ago