Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

Peace in the Storm- Ephesians 4:31-32, Matthew 5:39, 1 Peter 3:9

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

COMMENTARY

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you
There are many who criticize and condemn those that are religious. They call us naive and brainwashed. They accuse of us being hypocrites, teeming with repressed sins even as we condemn others. Some even call for violence against us.
This creates a very real storm of prejudice and mockery around us. There is no shame in saying that one feels affected by these attacks. One feels hurt by actions that are hurtful, that is obvious and natural.
Also natural is the desire to respond in kind. Many that are religious therefore rush to bash their attackers right back, to rage a storm of their own that will drown out all the others.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another
Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing

If we respond to the buffeting of the world in kind, what then is different between us and the world? If we become just as impolite and heartless as the faithless, then what good did our faith do us? There is a strong irony if one preaches love, but is quick to hate anyone that calls them a hypocrite.
Religion only has a leg to stand on if it advocates a different way. Christ’s injunction to turn the other cheek is not only nice, it is essential.
Truly we prove the reality of Jesus by allowing the storm to rage outside, but remaining tranquil and loving within.

Knit Our Hearts- Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

COMMENTARY

Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.