Alright, here goes.
I have to gear myself up to say this, because…well, it’s not going to be easy.
You see, Mormons…we don’t corner the market on being good.
That might sound a little bit harsh, but golly gee, it’s the truth.
This past weekend I participated in an awesome experience. It involved me—1 Mormon, or Latter-day Saint, and 4 other women, all of whom are of different faiths. There was one Muslim gal, 2 non-denominational Christians, and another that is a practicing baptist. We all live on the same street and have been fast friends since the day I moved in.
My Muslim friend sent us all a text at approximately 12:30 in the afternoon requesting that if we could possibly donate items for young boys, she knew of two single moms who were in need of everything. Without a minute to spare, the three of us responded that we would go to work searching for used boy items.
Between us there are 10 little boys. If anyone had boy stuff to share, it would surely be us!
Soon texts were flying around that someone had found a baby bouncy seat and a washtub. Another lady had clothes and blankets and toys. Someone else had an extra car seat, but she would look in her attic for more stuff too.
I will admit, I had just had an overly exhausting week, not to mention a sweat-soaked morning sitting at football practice in the blazing hot sun in 100 degree Texas weather. All I wanted to do at that point was sit on the couch and knit in the calm cool silence.
But that didn’t work because my phone would not stop buzzing with friendly exclamations over what great stuff my friends had found to share. I began to feel a little bit guilty. Hadn’t I just gone through the toys with the boys and made a huge pile of things to get rid of for a garage sale? And wasn’t it yesterday that I went through all of the clothes that we had saved for the past 10 years with the express purpose of getting rid of the stuff that went unused?
I looked at my phone. I looked at my knitting. It was a no-brainer.
I got up. I climbed the stairs and looked around. Before me was a meager pile of toys, and an even smaller pile of clothes. It just didn’t seem like enough.
THE REAL DEAL
In the Book of Mormon, there is a story about one of my favorite people—King Benjamin. You can read about him in the beginning of Mosiah. I find it so interesting that we are introduced to him at the very end of his life, yet the testimony he shares of his adventures and life of service tell quite a story.
He declares to his people that he has never been a burden on them. In fact, he spent his days laboring for his own means of sustenance for just that reason. And you can tell that his people recognized his efforts because there are so many of them gathered together to hear his last will and testament that he not only has to build a tower to be heard, but he even sends out messengers to deliver written statements.
This guy is the real deal.
It is in this setting that King Benjamin utters one of the defining phrases of what I believe this life is all about:
“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom;
that ye may learn that when ye are in the
service of your fellow beings
ye are only in the service of your God.”
Let’s ponder this for a moment. These lines don’t just refer to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they encompass all mankind. Anyone can serve God when they choose to serve their fellow man.
“US” AND “THEM”
Growing up in western Canada, southern Alberta to be more specific, was like growing up in a tiny Utah. Southern Alberta is a mecca of Mormons. In the late 1800’s Mormon pioneers were sent north to Canada to help dig irrigation canals. My ancestors were part of this expedition. Suffering hardship and every kind of climate possible, the Mormon pioneers carved out a fertile home on Canada’s western plains. And the beautiful white marble temple in Cardston, Alberta is a symbol of this sacrifice and survival.
While I love my childhood home very much, and consider it the land of my heart, it did not prepare me very well for the real world. Surrounded by other members of the same faith, I did not have the opportunity to socialize very often with people of other beliefs. In fact, it was pretty much “us” and “them”.
Or rather—the non-members.
Perhaps you have used that phrase before. I have.
But I am trying to stop.
Because, after leaving my comfortable nest, and setting off into the world, I have come to realize this—there is goodness in everyone, no matter what religion, race, or background. Everyone has Christ-like qualities, even if you have to look hard for them.
It has become my mantra—the challenge that I give myself each time I meet someone new—everyone has a story. Everyone is worth a chance.
It is my job to help them feel Christ’s love by how I treat them.
When I first moved to Texas, it was hard. Our ward boundaries spread out over miles and miles. My home is 30 minutes away from church on a good day, and there are not very many members close by. Previously, I had kept my circle of friends to mostly Mormons. But here in Texas, if I kept to the same code, it was looking pretty lonesome.
I prayed for friends. I cried my little heart out for friends. I probably even whined and sniveled a bit.
I was so set on gathering up a group of church friends, that I didn’t even notice that God had already answered my prayers.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Or perhaps the flu.
We had been living in our home for just over a month. I was sick with the flu and my husband was out of town. It was just me and the boys and I was stuck in bed. I had no way of feeding them and no way of picking them up from school.
I prayed for help, and I was expecting my ward members to come to my aid.
But the first person to arrive was not a member of my ward, and is not someone who is even a practicing Christian. My Muslim friend, who I love with my whole heart, came to my door with homemade pizza. She had made too much and thought I would like some to share.
My dear, dear friend, who doesn’t share my beliefs but understands what love and service and humanity is all about answered my prayer. She is someone who is indeed in the service of her God. And she continues to remind me, through her example, how serving our neighbor is the same as serving our Heavenly Father.
TRY A LITTLE HARDER
Well, back to last Saturday.
Yep, the pile of clothes and toys just wasn’t big enough. I looked out the upstairs window and could see my neighbors had already begun gathering things in their driveways. I thought about their kindness and love, and their example.
How many times had they shared food and friendship and family with me? Too often to remember each detail.
I decided to try a little harder to make my pile a little bigger.
In the end, I found plenty of things to share. As I looked at each item, I reminded myself of King Benjamin and his words of comfort.
“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
So, on a sweltering hot Saturday afternoon, I found myself outside in the blazing white heat, carrying piles of things over to my friend’s house. As we met in the garage, we both looked at each other with tears in our eyes.
“We are moms, we just understand,” my friend said. “No mother should have to go without for her children.” Just like King Benjamin said of those who served others, my friend was wise indeed. And I was lucky to have her for a reminder of what it means to serve the Lord.
In the words of King Benjamin:
“I have not done these things that I might boast…
but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can
answer a clear conscience…”
I told you at the beginning that I really didn’t feel like serving others that day. If it hadn’t been for the wisdom of my dear “non-member” friends, I probably would have kept on knitting my afternoon away. It is only because of the example of my friends of different faiths that I got up and did something wise myself—entering into the service of my fellow beings.
And so I leave this challenge to you. Look a little closer at those around you from all walks of life. Don’t discredit someone because they might attend a different church on Sunday, or even none at all. There is good in everyone, but you have to give peace a chance and reach outside your comfort zone.
The Light of Christ is in all of us, and as those who have taken His name upon us, it is our duty to allow others let their light so shine too.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.