9 November 2014
This weekend Audubon High School put on a delightful production of Beauty and the Beast. Watching it brought back memories of participating in roadshows and plays when I was in high school. Members of a cast become close from spending so much time together working on an exciting project; lifelong friendships form and precious memories are made.
I’ve always liked the story of Beauty and the Beast for the way their relationship unfolds. This is one story where it is not love at first sight. Negative first impressions are displaced as acceptance of differences and good communication grows into friendship, and then further into love as time spent together and activities shared reveal the beautiful inner person to each other. Common interests are found, new subjects explored and personal sacrifices are made for the comfort of the other.
This story is a good template for building relationships. At first glance many of us don’t seem so attractive by worldly standards, or seem just too different to want to get to know. Many of us feel shy, or are reserved in nature, not wanting to open up to others exposing our vulnerability; we may feel inferior or defective in some way. However, the gospel teaches us that we “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;” (Eph. 2:19) As members of that household of God we are brothers and sisters, spirit children of the same Heavenly parents. No one is inferior who claims the title “Child of God.” The Lord proclaimed, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10)
Maybe the first step, like Belle’s was, is to look beyond outward appearances. The Lord certainly does, as he said to the prophet Samuel, when he was looking for the next King, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; . . . for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)
As members of the human race we certainly come in an astonishing variety of colors, shapes and sizes; but we are, underneath it all, brothers and sisters, children of an Eternal Father. We can look beneath the outward appearance and find that common thread to begin weaving a relationship. Can we swallow our shyness, our fear, our pride, and reach out to someone who may feel just as awkward as we do about getting to know someone new?
Most of us live extremely busy lives, full of work, school, children, church callings, extended family responsibilities and activities of every kind; it’s difficult to think about adding even one more thing to our schedule. Unless. Unless we make different choices; because isn’t that what life consists of? Choices in how we use our time? Alma taught his son about the purpose of our mortal life saying, “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.” (Alma 42:4)
In both the Old World and the New, Jesus taught his followers, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” (3 Nephi 13:33) The Book of Mormon Prophet Jacob taught, “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.” (Jacob 2:18) The choices we make about how we use our time will determine the quality of our lives, especially our life after we graduate from the boarding school of mortality and return to our Heavenly Home. The Prophet Joseph Smith was told, “And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7)
What are these commandments? They are the rules, terms and conditions for entering into the Kingdom of God. In the Old Testament alone there are over 600 commandments known as the Law of Moses. Of course, Moses didn’t make up these laws, they were named for him as the Prophet who received them from Jehovah.
During his mortal life, Jesus Christ, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, was asked which of all the commandments was the greatest. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God will all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” For the second greatest commandment he quoted Leviticus 19:18 “. . .but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:” Then Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 35-40) He also taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Wise and benevolent, King Benjamin taught his people, “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.” (Mosiah 2:17)
Service takes time. Mostly it is best done in person. Service takes many forms. A listening ear, an encouraging word, a task completed, a burden lifted, a joy shared.
Now that we’ve looked past appearances, and decided to spend time with someone, communication is next.
As my children tell me, I grew up in the “olden days”, in the days before computers and smart phones and social media. We communicated in three ways: in person, by telephone, or by mail, the kind delivered to a steel mailbox by a mailman in a white vehicle with official decals on it. Visiting a friend was the way to catch up on the news of their life; post cards and letters were exchanged with family and friends far away. Phone calls were made to arrange dates and activities together. It was a different world.
Do you know that one of the reasons the Amish resist new communication technologies is that it detracts from and gets in the way of personal, face to face interaction. Visiting each other in their homes, helping with work projects, hosting activities of all kinds are a vital part of their community life. They aren’t too busy “surfing the web” or viewing a virtual reality to participate in real life with real, live people. They understand that people are more important than things. I envy their resistance to technology and their persistence in putting relationships ahead of things.
To illustrate the rest of the principles, that is, finding common interests, exploring new ones and making personal sacrifices, from the story, Beauty and the Beast, may I share with you an experience from our family.
Brother Thoelke was not a member of the church when I married him. He was a good man in my eyes, handsome, employed, wanting a family, fun to be with. He had desirable qualities that set him apart from other men I knew. From the time we were married I prayed that we would live in a place where he could join the church. After a couple of years he was transferred to Washington state, where after about six months we were able to buy a home in the town of Mount Vernon. Although a small town of about 15,000, Mount Vernon had two wards. I had called ahead to ask for help unloading our moving truck and members of the Mount Vernon First ward obliged. One of the families that assisted us made a decision for which we will be eternally grateful. The Futrelle family decided to take us under their wing and welcome us into their family. At the time we had Elizabeth who was almost two, and Paul who was just six months. Brother and Sister Futrelle’s children were older, but they treated us like long lost cousins; inviting us into their home on holidays and including us in many of their family outings to the mountains and for picnics. The Elders Quorum in the Mount Vernon First Ward welcomed Steve and included him in almost everything they did. When there was a service project they called to invite Steve to work with them; when they formed a softball team to compete in a city league they called Steve to come play with them. The Bishopric came to our home to meet us and begin to get to know us. Home teachers were assigned and they came faithfully month after month, helping us with projects, playing with our children, teaching Steve principles of the gospel through their actions. An older man found out that Steve likes to golf and invited him for a round at the course. It became a fairly regular outing for them. Bro. Walker patiently answered Steve’s questions, took an interest in our children and was a beloved father figure for Steve whose own father had died more than ten years earlier.
Steve did not attend church on Sunday with me until we had our third child, Joseph, and I asked for his help because I had run out of arms to hold children with. When he came to Sacrament Meeting he was greeted by good friends. Men and women who had gotten to know and love him as their brother from time spent together in our home and theirs; at church socials and on the ball field.
When Joseph was five months old he contracted spinal meningitis. From the hospital emergency room I called Steve to ask if we could have the home teachers come and give Joe a priesthood blessing. Steve gave permission and then contacted them. From all the time we had spent together Steve knew them and trusted them. Joseph was miraculously healed and about four months later Steven was baptized.
I will always be grateful for the brothers and sisters of the Mount Vernon First Ward who twenty-three years ago looked beyond Steve’s non-member status, took time to get to know him, learned to love him and through their actions and words taught him the gospel. Twenty years ago this year was when Steve was baptized. On the day he was baptized the Futrelles told us a secret. From the day they met us until that day they had prayed as a family, every day, and in every prayer, that Steven would be baptized. They were truly “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” (James 1:22) because in addition to all of their prayers they spent time with us and served us in every way they could demonstrating that “faith without works is dead”. (see James 2:26)
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.
Would you like to feel that joy? I know that it is possible. It takes faith, diligence, and patience. Success doesn’t come in a day, a month, or even a year sometimes. What it takes is a season, and only God knows how long the season is. This is what is meant by enduring to the end.
Brothers and Sisters, look around the room. Are there other brothers and sisters not here who could and should be here?
On average less than one fourth of our members are here at any Sacrament Meeting. Would we be satisfied with only one fourth of our family at a Family Reunion? Would we think that acceptable or would we work hard and smart to reach out and help family members overcome challenges to attending the reunion so we could all be together? I believe we would. Could we do the same for our branch family?
How can we reach out with the hand of fellowship and help our brothers and sisters back to the fold?
Often we are forced by assignments of visiting and home teaching to get to know someone we might not have chosen as a friend. Other times we follow the promptings of the Spirit to seek out a wandering lamb. Sometimes it is a member of our own family who needs fellowship.
I enjoy hearing about sisters in Relief Society who invite others to their home to share a meal. I’m so glad they are spending time together. Time is a precious gift which, when used wisely, gives us more. We gain more enthusiasm for life, more friends, more skill or talent, more beauty, more completed tasks, more love and joy.
Not everyone in our Branch lives near their own family; some of us live half a continent away from loved ones. A few are even farther away. Do you know how comforting it is to be invited over on a holiday? Or included in a family celebration, even if it’s not your own family? I can assure you that you feel much less of a “foreigner or stranger” when an invitation comes to spend time in someone’s home.
Not everything has to be a party, though. Offering to help with a project, large or small, is another way to spend time together. What skill do you have that you can offer to another to ease their workload? I guarantee if you’ll keep your eyes, ears and heart open you’ll find ways to serve all around you. Serving is a great way to get to know both those you work with and those you serve.
Branch activities and socials are another way to spend time together. Sunday’s are often too structured and busy to allow the kind of time and conversations necessary for getting to know someone. In a more relaxed setting of interaction we get to see a previously unknown side of our brothers and sisters. When we attend branch activities and socials our presence supports both the organizers of the activity as well as the other attendees. And their presence gives us strength and acceptance too. I encourage you to participate fully in the activities of the Branch, again, stepping out of that proverbial “comfort zone” to serve as a personal fellowshipper to someone who needs you, but doesn’t know it yet.
President Monson says, “ Fellowshipping, friendshipping, and reactivating are ongoing in the daily life of a Latter-day Saint.” (April 1997)
We keep our covenants by reaching out to others, walking the gospel path with them, encouraging them, helping them bear their burdens, rejoicing with them in their successes, and contributing to the growth of their testimonies.
None of this has to be difficult or tedious. Little by little, one choice after another we can make fellowshipping a way of life; we can live a Gospel of Jesus Christ centered life.
The time we invest, the faith we exercise, our diligence in serving and our patient persevering will bring the dividends of friendship, love and joy to our lives and the lives of those we serve.
When we are discouraged, when the adversary whispers that it’s too hard, we’re too busy, or it’s not worth it, let’s remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I testify that Our Savior will give us the strength to accomplish His work. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to be faithful. He wants to be able to say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” “. . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (See Matthew 25:21, 40)
I want to hear those words! Which sounds to me like an invitation to live happily ever after.
I pledge to give my best effort to this cause, and invite you do to the same.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.