Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mercy

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak in sacrament meeting today.   I spoke with Sara and Julie, our YW president and first counselor and two dear friends of mine.  It was a great meeting...they did such a great job.  And the songs were all perfect for the meeting... I Need Thee Every Hour, As Now We Take the Sacrament and How Firm a Foundation...all songs that went with my topic and theirs.  I think it's such a blessing to belong to a church that has us teach and speak to one another.  Every time I teach or speak, I learn important lessons...and often notice areas where I need improvement.  For example several months ago, I taught the young women a lesson on using appropriate language.  Before I began, I would have said that this was an area I was pretty strong in...but as I studied, I noticed several ways I could improve.  I think of that lesson often and try to apply what I learned.   Today's talk was no different.  I was asked to speak on President Uchtdorf's talk The Merciful Obtain Mercy.

Here's my talk, or pretty close to it:

I'd like you each to imagine that I am holding a giant stop sign.   President Uchtdorf said, “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
Stop it!
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”
So picture that stop sign.  What should we stop?    Hating.   Stop gossiping.  Stop ignoring others.   Stop ridiculing.  Stop holding grudges.  Stop wanting to cause harm…or causing harm!!   Stop it.

It’ s an easy trap to fall into.  Just this week, I saw an article talking about the vicious comments made by people toward an LDS celebrity whose actions some felt were not up to standard.  The article was reminding people of this very concept…that we are all in need of mercy and we should stop gossiping, finding fault, and wanting to cause harm.  I read the article and found myself as I read it start to think “But that person should have known better. And when they are in the public eye and they are known LDS, they should try to be a good example.”   So even in the midst of preparing this talk, I can see that it is easy, the natural man, to move to judgment instead of mercy and love.

I retold the parable of the prodigal son as told in Luke 15:  11-32  We are, perhaps,  both the older son and the younger son.  To a very real extent, we are in need of our Father’s forgiveness, to some degree or another, we spend our inheritance on "riotous living",  we have need of His mercy…and He extends it to us.  But we may also have a tendency to be like the older son and feel envious of the mercy extended to others.   To feel that they don't deserve the blessings they receive.  We shouldn’t feel that way and we shouldn’t judge…but we do.  I think if we remember this parable and remember our Father’s love for us and the mercy He shows us, it is easier to forgive others their trespasses.

President Uchtdorf said, “The doctrine is clear. We all depend on the Savior; none of us can be saved without Him. Christ’s Atonement is infinite and eternal. Forgiveness for our sins comes with conditions. We must repent, and we must be willing to forgive others. Jesus taught: “Forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not … [stands] condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin”3 and “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”4
Of course, these words seem perfectly reasonable—when applied to someone else. We can so clearly and easily see the harmful results that come when others judge and hold grudges. And we certainly don’t like it when people judge us.
But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.” 
President Hinckley gave a wonderful talk about mercy back in 1990.  He said, “How godlike a quality is mercy.  It cannot be legislated.  It must come from the heart….It is part of the endowment each of us receives as a son or daughter of God and partaker of a divine birthright.  I plead for an effort among all of us to give greater expression and wider latitude to this instinct which lies within us.”  …I love that idea…that mercy is part of our nature as a child of God, part of our divine birthright.  President Hinckley also said that how well we extend mercy is “an expression of the reality of our discipleship under Him who is our Lord and Master.”  If we truly want to be disciples, we will extend mercy.
President Hinckley says that if all were merciful, there would be an end to all the atrocities of war.  Think of that…no more need for war and hatred!  He also says that mercy would end violence, civil strife, abuse, and so many other evils of our day. 
I just read The Contrite Spirit by Bruce and Marie Hafen.   It's a wonderful book...one of my favorites in the past 5 years (and for me that is saying A LOT!)  

They tell a story of a young man they knew whose mother was killed by a young  drunk driver.  It was heartrending, but the family did their best to forgive the drunk driver and even did what they could to  help the drunk driver come back to activity in the church.  Several years later, the young man whose mother was killed was able to be in the temple with the young man who killed his mother as he was sealed to his wife.  The young man whose mother was killed said that as he was in the sealing room, he suddenly felt completely  healed of his pain and anguish.  Only through helping to heal another was his own healing to be found. 

Brother and Sister Hafen say, “If we haven’t known generosity and grace by being generous and gracious ourselves, and if we haven’t known forgiveness by extending it to others,  we won’t recognize those gifts when the Lord extends them to us. The gifts may  be right before us, and we won’t even see them.   That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. “  Because only those who have learned how to be merciful to others “shall obtain mercy”, not because he won’t otherwise extend mercy but because he can’t.  When He offers mercy to us, if we haven’t already offered it to others, we won’t feel it enough to recognize it and take hold of it.”

I think that is a profound concept...one I haven't heard expressed quite like that before.  Will I recognize mercy?   Have I extended it to others?

My mom is such a good example of extending forgiveness and mercy.  I remember that after my parents divorced, when I was 14, she had reasons that she could have been angry and bitter toward my dad.  He'd made some serious mistakes.  But I never heard an unkind word spoken by her.  She taught us BY EXAMPLE to forgive and to be merciful.  

When we choose not to forgive, we give power to the offender and the offense, allowing the action to hurt us not just once but over and over again.  That bitterness and anger can actually canker our soul.  And it is a choice.  We choose whether to forgive or not.  President Monson has said, “Blame keeps wounds open.  Only forgiveness heals!”

How can we do any of this?  I think there are two keys.  (There are probably more...but these are the two I focused on!)  First we recognize that we are in need of the Lord’s mercy.  Second, we pray for help,  use the power of the Atonement to help us change and use the power of the Holy Ghost to help us.
First:
President Uchtdorf said, “We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?  Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? My beloved brothers and sisters, should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven?”
I have many faults…I am so thankful for the mercy and grace that the Savior extends to me.  I truly need Him every hour.  So I must recognize that when I notice others’ faults, they, too, are imperfect and are in need of His mercy and grace. 

Second, we pray and ask for help.  Moroni 7:48 says, “48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ...”   I've had this experience and so I know that this can occur!


I taught a lesson on the Holy Ghost in YW two weeks ago and I am just so very thankful and overwhelmed by the power that the Holy Ghost  can have in our lives.  One thing that stood out to me as I prepared that lesson is that the Holy Ghost helps us be more loving and charitable.

Elder Eyring said, “"Only through the Holy Ghost can we see people and events as God sees them."  If we invite the Holy Ghost to be with us, through prayer and through living worthy of His companionship, then He can help us see others as well as the events that happen to us as God sees them.  When people hurt us or betray us or gossip about us, we can pray to be able to forgive and if we invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we can begin to see that person as a child of God who is in need of love and forgiveness, just as we are.  We can see that the sorrows we experience can help us become more like our Savior if we allow them to.

And listen to this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:  “Many times my emotions have been made tender and my feelings very sensitive when touched by the Spirit. The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender. We feel more charitable and compassionate with each other. We are more calm in our relationships. We have a greater capacity to love each other. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit. We are more godly in our character. As a result, we become increasingly more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and thus able to comprehend spiritual things more clearly.” (Ezra Taft Benson Ensign Apr 1988, Seek the Spirit of the Lord) 
*If we have the Spirit with us, we become more tender, more calm, more charitable and compassionate, more godly.  So perhaps we need to assess whether we are feeling tender, calm, charitable, compassionate, and godly…and if not, then we might consider assessing what we are doing to invite the spirit in our lives or conversely, what we are doing to drive the spirit away.
President Uchtdorf says, "In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”12
Brothers and sisters, let us put down our stones.
Let us be kind.
Let us forgive.
Let us talk peacefully with each other.
Let the love of God fill our hearts.
“Let us do good unto all men.”13
 

Let me end where I began, with President Uchtdorf’s words:  “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:  Stop it!”   Let’s love one another.

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A couple of other resources on this topic:

Where Justice, Love and Mercy Meet

I love this paragraph from Elder Maxwell:
"Real faith, however, is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process. As things unfold, sometimes in full view, let us be merciful with each other. We certainly do not criticize hospital patients amid intensive care for looking pale and preoccupied. Why then those recovering from surgery on their souls? No need for us to stare; those stitches will finally come out. And in this hospital, too, it is important for everyone to remember that the hospital chart is not the patient. Extending our mercy to someone need not wait upon our full understanding of their challenges! Empathy may not be appreciated or reciprocated, but empathy is never wasted."   It comes from this amazing talk:  Lest ye be Wearied and Faint in your Minds

Mercy-The Divine Gift

Joy and Mercy