Several things in this last Conference signaled to me that times are changing, and the Church is also changing. It started with the emphasis given in the women’s session on the refugees. The quotes in this article are from Linda K. Burton’s talk, which focused on the refugees from around the world. But my focus is on the changes that will take place in our hearts if we actually step up and start to do what the leadership of the Church is asking us to do.
Our prior commitment
Let’s start by looking at our very first covenants we made with our Father in Heaven. It started at baptism. In Mosiah 18:8-10 Alma teaches the people at the Waters of Mormon what the Father expects of us if we are to have His Spirit to be with us more abundantly.
8. And it came to pass that he said unto them: 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;
9. 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—
10. Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
Less than two centuries later we learn in James 1:27 the definition of pure religion:
27. 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.
The verse in James is teaching the same doctrine as Alma taught, but with fewer words. Both prophets are saying that the heart of our religion is the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is by learning to love others as much as we love ourselves that we learn to properly show love for God.
I fear that sometimes how we show our love to those around us serves to demonstrate just how much we actually underestimate how much we love ourselves. If we truly understood how devoted we are to our own needs and wants, we might be a little more anxious to attend to the needs and wants of those around us who are in distress for one reason or another.
Sister Burton gives this example of a Relief Society president who performed a noble deed for those who were suffering in Kosovo in the 1990’s.
At the funeral services for a remarkable daughter of God, someone shared that this sister, as stake Relief Society president, worked with others in her stake to contribute quilts to give warmth to suffering people in Kosovo during the 1990’s. And like the good Samaritan, she went out of her way to do more as she and her daughter drove a truck filled with those quilts from London to Kosovo. On her journey home she received an unmistakable spiritual impression that sank deep into her heart. The impression was this: “What you have done is a very good thing. Now go home, walk across the street, and serve your neighbor!”
How often are we willing to do something grand, something noble, something notable, but only if it is public and praiseworthy? How often do we each fall short of walking across the street and serving our neighbor? This part of Sister Burton’s talk made me squirm a little in my chair. It hit home.
Our commitment to help those in need, be they refugees, or from some other category of those in need, began at baptism. The program recently begun by the Church to help us reach out to help those who have been forced to flee their homes is praiseworthy. But isn’t it sad that it takes a program to help us recognize what the scriptures have been telling us all along, that these people are our responsibility. We promised to mourn with them and to take care of them as our first act of covenant making with our Father in Heaven.
What does it take?
I would like to share with you a brief example of my own weakness in failing to live up to my baptismal covenant. This act has haunted me for almost 30 years now. I still weep when I think of how badly I failed in living up to my spiritual privileges.
When I was younger, married, and living in Salt Lake City, UT, USA, I met a man named John. John was a simple man. He was innocent in many ways, and was desperately in need of someone who cared enough to give him the help he needed. I was not well off, but I could provide him with friendship and rides, counsel, and love.
Week after week, month after month, John’s life seemed to go from bad to worse. He lost his job. His wife tried to hurt him with a knife. He became a regular in the Bishop’s office. He didn’t know which way to go or where he should turn to for help to get his life in order.
It was at this point that I grew weary of his shear neediness. He trusted me. I was his only friend. But one day when he came to me for help I expressed my frustration that he was always on my doorstep with another problem. Mind you, we both knew I couldn’t solve his problems, but I certainly had the capacity to be a listening ear. I just had lost the willingness to continue to give him even that.
Whatever I said that day hurt him to the core. I know I wasn’t cruel. It isn’t in my nature to be cruel. But that day he promised me that if I would drop him off at a certain location then I would never hear from him or see him again. I was both wounded and relieved at the same time. I took him to the spot and watched him walk away. I never saw John again.
I can’t tell you how many tears I have shed over the years pleading with the Lord to give me another chance to make up for abandoning John. When I hear stories of spouses nursing their loved one 24 hours a day for years on end, faithfully tending to their every need, I weep for my lack of compassion for John. I would give anything in this world to make it up to John.
Here is my point. After my experience with John, the Lord gave me a taste of my own medicine (He generally does). I lived for years as a needy person. My life was filled with pain and suffering over which I seemingly had no apparent control. Friend after friend abandoned me because I was never able to stop being needy. My neediness was all consuming. Have you met someone like that? That was me for many years.
It was a long time before the Lord helped me work my way out of my personal neediness. It has left me a different person. Here is the global lesson I learned from my experience. Let me express it through another quote from Sister Burton’s talk.
Several weeks later, President Brigham Young gathered the Saints again in the old Tabernacle as the rescuers and the handcart companies got closer to Salt Lake City. With great urgency, he pleaded with the Saints—especially the sisters—to nurse the sufferers and feed them and receive them, saying: “Some you will find with their feet frozen to their ankles; some are frozen to their knees and some have their hands frosted. … We want you to receive them as your own children, and to have the same feeling for them.”
Lucy Meserve Smith also recorded:
“We did all we could, with the aid of the good brethren and sisters, to comfort the needy. … They got their hands and feet badly frosted. … We did not cease our exertions [un]til all were made comfortable. …
Sister Burton referenced in her talk this scripture: “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.” (Leviticus 19:34) Helping others requires a commitment that often goes beyond that which is casual or convenient. Often times our commitment to help another person becomes a life-changing event.
In order to help some people we have to literally make them a part of our lives. They have to become like family. What will we not do for a family member? For family we sacrifice great things, and we do it without expectation of reward or recognition. But even for family, sometimes the commitment becomes heavier than we are able to bear. Here are two final quotes from Sister Burton’s talk.
Each member of this worldwide sisterhood has covenanted at baptism to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” Yet we must remember that none of us should run faster than we have strength. …
Sometimes reaching out is inconvenient. But when we work together in love and unity, we can expect heaven’s help.
Yes, we are expected to extend our personal limits in helping others. But at no point has the Lord ever commanded us to break ourselves trying to help when the need is greater than we alone can provide. But we aren’t alone. That is an important lesson we all need to learn.
I entitled this article “One Step Closer to Zion” for a reason. Zion represents the unity of God’s children. That unity is all about each of us viewing our time on earth, not as our personal playground, but as an opportunity to work together as a family member, a member of God’s family, to help our brothers and sisters return home to the Father of us all.
When we have a heavy burden to bear, sometimes we alone have to bear it. But most of the time we shouldn’t have to bear it alone. This is why our first covenant says that we will share one another’s burdens. This is how we represent Christ in all that we do. We take what is too heavy for one person and we each should be sharing in the service we provide to lift each other’s burdens.
We will all be a burden to someone at some point in our life. It is unavoidable. But as a people, if we unite in our efforts to be good to each other and help them mourn when they need to weep, and help them carry their burdens when their personal load becomes heavy, then is not this when we become a Zion people? Is this not how Christ’s yoke becomes easy to be born? We shouldn’t expect to do it all alone. We have each other. I hope we will all learn to be able to count on each other a little more, and be able to share the love we all have a little more. In this way we will truly be one step closer to Zion.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.