Second, I listed true charity.
We never felt like a "project," which is just incredible to me with how many times we were reached out to during our struggles over those years. When ward members reached out, we knew we were loved without judgement.
Let me ask two questions. 1. What is my motivation if I reach to those who are struggling?
2. Why do I not reach out when I hear someone is struggling?
Let's look at the first questions here. I had never honestly asked myself this before the inventory in 12 step, but my motivation actually came up quite a bit not only in general, but specifically as to why I was trying to serve those around me. It was interesting to me to discover that on the surface, it looked like I was such a great person because I was always reaching out to others around me. Once I looked deeper and honestly, my motivation wasn't because I was filled with charity. Often I brought in dinner because I was hoping that if I did then someone would bring dinner when my kids were sick. Sometimes I did my visiting teaching because I knew I would feel guilty when the district leader called me. We can serve out of a sense of duty, guilt, hope of a reward, or even praise of others. It was incredible to spot this pattern in the inventory and to work to address it. I am grateful for the examples of ward members who served me and my family out of love for God and being filled with charity. Notice that when we speak of charity it is something that is in us, but not of us. If I fill up a cup of water, it is being filled by an outside source. Christ fills us with that love if we seek it.
I love that "service" is step 12 of the 12 step. I am finding that once I go through the efforts of steps 1-11 to allow Christ to walk me through clearing away sins, desires for worldly things, resentments, letting go and forgiving, (working the steps of repentance, having a mighty change of heart, and healing), NOW there is room to hold love, peace, and joy. I am not ready to serve with true charity unless I seek this process. That cup can't be filled with water if it is already full of the dark mud of hate and resentment or filled with the rocks of heavy burdens or sand that blows around like acting on impulse.
The amazing thing I am learning about love and charity is that is can have an impact that our own efforts alone cannot. I have heard it said that "love is the most powerful force in the universe." Love is an attribute of God, for not only does He love, but He literally IS love. If I am reaching out to those in my ward family (or within my circle of influence) because I love God, I can reach in a way that is more effective than just tossing some casseroles (which sometimes that truly is what is needed, don't get me wrong), saying "if you need anything let me know," or even just to engage in the neighborhood gossip of being in "the know" about individuals and their circumstances.
Consider this scriptures:
"Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling" (The footnote offers a Greek translation of "vain jangling:" "vain, idle, fruitless discussion). 1 Timothy 1:5&6
When I found these verses they jumped out at me. I read it to mean that if I don't have Charity, it is easy to "[swerve]," and rather than serving as God's instrument, I am wasting my efforts in discussion that never actualizes into something helpful for the individual. We can talk all we want about people and their circumstances, but until we are filled with Charity, we are missing the action that could be the answer to having that person's needs met. Again, I reflect on our experiences that because of others, we not only weathered through those storms, but were pointed to Christ and a deep conversion of The Gospel.
How about the second question: "why would I NOT reach?"
Although as humans we are wired for connection (Berne Brown), it isn't always our first reaction to reach out to others when we know of their struggles. I have written about shame before and would submit here that shame can be a big reason we may not reach. I would assume that for many of us, this shame reaction is something that we aren't even aware of on a conscious level. Maybe we feel shame because we don't know what to do or say. (I will hit more on that in part 3). We fear saying the wrong thing so we don't say anything. Maybe it reminds us of situations in our own life and so we feel unable to "sit in it" with that other person because it hits too close to home. Sometimes hearing of others' struggles can stir shame because even though we may not mean to, our knee-jerk reaction is to create a barrier between their experience and ours. Unknowingly, we try to create a "reason" as to why that happened to them and why it won't happen to us. Truly though, we are all just one divorce away from a broken marriage, one terminal illness away from those afflicted with such, one "wayward" child away from what we picture as our perfect family, etc. That is all that separates "us" from "them." When we are truly filled with Charity and seeking to build zion, there can't be "us" and "them" as shame so masterfully creates. If we are seeking to be of "one heart and one mind," we must take a difference approach. Now hopefully you aren't feeling shame from reading about shame. :) Just an awareness and an encouragement to practice the counter to shame---which is connection. When we respond at all rather than keeping our distance for fear of the wrong words or fear of "catching it..."
(by the way I just have to throw in good humnor: addiction, divorce, loss of a loved one, children who struggle, terminal illness, infertility, same-sex attraction, faith crisis...and any of the other fiery trials of our faith aren't contagious.:) We don't suddenly "catch" any of those things like we could some germ just because we associate with those who are struggling. )
...when we not only respond, but respond with empathy, that is when we can rise about the "vain jangling" and actually connect in meaningful ways. When I say empathy, I mean that although we may not have the same life experience as those around us, we all know what it feels like to be rejected, feel disappointed, grief, hurt, fear, frustration, confusion, etc. As I reach to those around me, although I may not be able to relate exactly, I can recall a time when I had an experience that stirred similar feelings for me. For example, although infertility has never been our struggle, Mark & I know well the frustrations and heartache of not being able to have children when we were expecting to and having Dr. appointment after Dr. appointment. I can't even pretend to know exactly what someone is going through as they actively struggle with the difficulties of infertility, but because of my own experiences, I can meet them with empathy. Hopefully you get the point!
Now, I acknowledge that not everyone earns the privilege to hear the details of our personal struggles. As we come with the motivation of love, our hearts will be known. When love of God is our motive and we are filled with Charity, it will be felt...just like it will be felt if we are "a project" for the ward. Even if we have love as our motive and Charity as our guide, not everyone will be receptive. That is okay. We can face God at the end of the day knowing we have done all we could on our end to reach. Who knows what seeds may have been planted or what future interactions will be opened up because of our efforts for that day.
I cannot emphasize enough that we cannot just "white knuckle it" hard enough to suddenly desire to respond differently. We cannot muster up Charity on our own. As we turn to God and seek for help in doing it different, He will guide us through the steps we need to take to clear a space to hold Charity and to fill us with His love. Others around us can feel God's love reflected through us.
I have learned that charity isn't something I can just produce. I must seek to be FILLED with it. Consider studying Moroni 7. Also Elder Holland gave a talk as a BYU devotional HERE. Elder Renlund had some great point about charity in this talk as well.
This post is finished in part 3.