I've said before that this area is challenging for me. We are the only members (active) of the church in our town, and we are far from our families. We are our only support, my husband, me and our children. One evening in December at the close of a Youth Christmas activity our youngest son began to give the closing prayer. He paused for second to collect his thoughts and in that moment of quiet the three or four year old son of one of the youth leaders deliberately made a noise (you know how young children are), my son cracked up and in a second other youths were giggling. The little boy glanced around appreciatively at his audience while my son tried to regain his composure. I looked for the father to step forward to help his little boy be quiet, but he didn't and no one else did either so I stepped over to the boy and bending over him said "You need to be quiet while we have prayer," as I folded his arms and gently held him. As I did that the Branch President attempted to stop me saying "That's not your job." I ignored him and stayed bent over helping the boy remain reverent. Another youth took over and said the closing prayer. It all happened within a few seconds. When the prayer ended I complimented the little boy on his reverence and let him go. No one said anything to me and it's a good thing they didn't because I was shaking with anger. My sons and I helped clean up for a few minutes then we left. I drove home with tears streaming down my face. I can't remember a time when I felt such anger and humiliation. If it wasn't my job, whose was it? The father didn't step forward, the Branch President who was closest to the boy didn't, Sisters who have the boy in Primary didn't step up, neither did the teens who were sitting next to the little boy. How is a child to learn proper behavior in the church unless someone shows him. The father is a recent convert, divorced, only has the boy every other week. He isn't an experienced Dad. So, thinking I was helping, I stepped over to help both the boy and his father. Apparently that wasn't the right thing to do.
On the way home in my mind I said "I'm never going back to church there." As I said that, the word of the Lord came into my mind saying, "He isn't the reason you go to church there, he won't be the reason you leave," and a measure of peace came into my heart. That's right. I didn't search for a congregation with a Pastor I liked who makes me feel good for coming to church. I go to church where I'm assigned by geography and I'm not going to let a mere mortal stand between me and my Savior.
For just a moment I could understand how and why people choose to leave the church, refusing to attend because of an offense. The members of this little branch struggle with offenses, giving and taking. The Relief Society President won't speak to me because I offended her last year. I had no idea! The only reason I found out is because our husbands work together in the Young Mens and my husband said to hers that when we first moved here I thought I had found a kindred spirit in her, and wondered why she no longer spoke to me; he said to my husband, "I know, I tell her to just let go, that it is in the past, but she won't." I have no idea what I did, which makes it difficult to offer a sincere and specific apology, but I will try nevertheless.
Yesterday, I called out a Seminary student for some deceitful behavior and this morning she didn't show up. Even after I apologized! Her family is one of the few strong and active families in the branch. I even emailed her mother asking for help and advice to mend the fences. She never answered. It makes me crazy!!!!!
Should I not attend church so I won't offend anyone by my presence, actions or words? Should I attend but not interact with anyone so I won't offend? Is it better to not have any callings so I won't offend? What is it about me, my actions and my words that offends others? This is a perplexing situation. I have been very careful to refrain from saying "Well in Utah (or VA, or WA, or CA where we've lived) we did things this way." I think I'm friendly and open to all, not cliquish or cold. I attempt to help in any way I can, without waiting to be asked. (Except now I don't go anywhere near that little boy because "it's not my job.")
There are a few things of which I am certain:
1. I do not deliberately set out to cause trouble and offend people.
2. I apologize when I know that I've offended and I attempt to resolve and rebuild the relationship.
3. No matter what happens, I know that the Gospel is true and that Jesus is my Savior and I won't let any hurt feelings that I have stop me from attending church and participating in the ordinance of the Sacrament. I need the strengthening influence of the hymns, prayers, lessons and ordinances.
I have had my feelings hurt, been offended by actions, looks and words, throughout my life, even by priesthood leaders. I chalk it up to ignorance of the situation or bad manners, but never deliberate malice. Why do others regard me as a malefactor, and hold grudges? And why do so many members stop attending church when they are called to repentance, either by a leader or by their own guilt? Makes me wonder how strong their testimony, faith and commitment are.