I have been pondering love and kindness this week. And really, it is something I have thought a lot about over the past three years.
I just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio to my students. It's a very touching book and I got choked up as I read the last few chapters. I really love what the middle school director, Mr. Tushman, says in his graduation speech. He says that we should be a little kinder than is necessary. In fact, he says, "“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you wil try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” So much truth in that simple statement. I know that I have felt God's love for me through kind acts of others.
Tonight, I attended our ward Relief Society Christmas dinner and program. It was really beautiful. A lot of thought and effort were put into making it beautiful and spiritual and wonderful. Our Relief Society presidency served us dinner rather than having us serve ourselves. And the singer Calee Reed spoke and sang to us. It was beautiful. At one point, Calee spoke a bit about missionary work and love. She shared John 13:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." She also shared a quote by Elder Holland, "Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet." And a great quote by Elder Hales (that I can't find) that related missionary work to love. We were challenged to find a way, even a small way...but an intentional way... to show love for someone each of the next 20 days between now and Christmas.
As I sat in the room listening to the beautiful music and words, I kept finding myself looking around the room at the women there. How I love those women! They are amazing and my life is blessed and enriched by knowing each of them. I have pondered lately how each person we meet has something to teach us or some way to bless our life. Each person has unique gifts, experiences and talents that can benefit us if we are open to learning from them. D&C 46:11-12 says, " For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby."
I was so blessed to spend two years serving the women of my ward as RS President. I know that my life was blessed and changed much more than any of theirs were. And perhaps one of the greatest blessings I received is that I was able to feel at least a portion of the Savior's love for each of them. And in feeling His love for them, it increased my love for them...and helped me to better understand and know how He feels about ME. I have had similar feelings over the past year as I have served with the young women. There have been times in the past three years when I have looked around at these YW and women in my ward and tears have begun to stream down my face because I am overwhelmed by my feelings of love for them...for the small glimpse into how our Father and Savior feel about each of us.
One of my dear friends recently remarked that I am the opposite of the Grinch. Instead of having a heart three sizes too small, I have a heart three sizes too big. I don't think that is really true, but I do feel deeply for others and worry for them. My stepdad has often said that I wear my heart on my sleeve. And as I was reading a talk by Marvin J. Ashton on spiritual gifts today, it mentioned that one spiritual gift is the ability to weep...that's definitely one that I have! (I don't always consider it a gift...sometimes I wish I was a bit more like Marjorie Pay Hinckley who said, "“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache." ;))
One thing I have pondered a lot over the past three years is why it seems that some women have many friends and seem to draw people to them and others do not. Certainly one factor is how outgoing and friendly the woman is. But that is not the only factor. And I am not sure what all of the other factors are.
Because I have experienced times in my life when I have felt very lonely and almost friendless and other times when I have felt overwhelmed by how many people I have in my life, I have pondered what makes the difference. I don't really have an answer. I know that I feel happier and more enriched when I reach out to others and serve them (even though I don't always find this easy to do. It certainly takes me out of my comfort zone sometimes.). But even then, I don't know why it seems some people are surrounded by those who love them and others seem to have to go it alone a lot more. Many of these who are lonelier are really lovely people with tremendous gifts. I know that there are some people who are content and happy with just a couple of friends, but I also know that many women in my ward feel lonely and excluded. I sincerely believe that most people aren't intentionally excluding others, and yet I watch and notice it happening. I see the goodness and genuine desire of the women in my ward to love and serve...and yet, sometimes we don't do enough to love and serve and be kind to those outside of our immediate circle. I guess it is, perhaps, one of the trials these individuals have to face and overcome. Here is what I am sure of, though. Our Heavenly Father loves His daughters (and sons...but this is a post about women, because I am one and have primarily worked with women). And none of us is more popular, more important or more loved in His eyes. President Uchtdorf gave a beautiful talk in October 2011 entitled "You Matter to Him." Here is just a little bit of what he said,
"... please understand that what you see and experience now is not what forever will be. You will not feel loneliness, sorrow, pain, or discouragement forever. We have the faithful promise of God that He will neither forget nor forsake those who incline their hearts to Him.21 Have hope and faith in that promise. Learn to love your Heavenly Father and become His disciple in word and in deed....
Brothers and sisters, the most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love.
God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season—He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him."
I know this is true. No matter what we face, no matter how unimportant or overwhelmed or lonely or discouraged or alone we might feel, we aren't really alone. We are loved beyond what we can really understand or feel.
And here's the other thing I believe to be true. If we truly want to call ourselves disciples of Christ, then we need to try to be a little kinder than is necessary. Reach out a bit more. Pray to be quick to observe.
I love what Elder Bednar said about his wife:
"Before attending her sacrament meetings, Sister Bednar frequently prays for the spiritual eyes to see those who have a need. Often as she observes the brothers and sisters and children in the congregation, she will feel a spiritual nudge to visit with or make a phone call to a particular person. And when Sister Bednar receives such an impression, she promptly responds and obeys. It often is the case that as soon as the “amen” is spoken in the benediction, she will talk with a teenager or hug a sister or, upon returning home, immediately pick up the phone and make a call. As long as I have known Sister Bednar, people have marveled at her capacity to discern and respond to their needs. Often they will ask her, “How did you know?” The spiritual gift of being quick to observe has enabled her to see and to act promptly and has been a great blessing in the lives of many people."I am not perfect at this. In fact, I have a long way to go. I sometimes envy others or ignore others or have trouble forgiving. I get wrapped up in my own family and life and don't always reach outside of myself. I lose my temper, often with those I love most. I sometimes feel sorry for myself or get overwhelmed or impatient. I am not as quick to observe or to follow through as I want to be. However, I have noticed that as I have tried to become quicker to observe over the past 3 years, I do notice more. I receive more promptings. Names come to my mind and I try to follow through by calling or sending a text or at least praying for them. It's easy to feel like if others are lonely it is their responsibility to reach out and to try to make friends, but I know that it isn't always that simple. I am trying to be a little more like my Savior. I am trying to follow the example of our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson to reach out and show kindness and concern. I am trying to remember that each person I meet is probably experiencing something in their life that is hard or heartbreaking or discouraging. I am trying to be a little kinder than is necessary. I have a long way to go to be who I want to be but I know with the Savior's help, I can become a little better each day and each year.