On January 1, I was lucky enough to give the lesson in Relief Society at Church. Frankly, I was a bit saddened at the sparseness of the group. Sure, it was New Year’s Day and we had switched to the 9 a.m. time slot, but still. I figured by Relief Society even the people who forgot about the time switch would make it to church.
But I suppose it doesn’t really matter how many people are there. What does matter is that the Spirit is there and that the right message is being conveyed and received.
Hopefully those two things happened. All I know is that I had a general lesson plan and then started reading the January Ensign the night before my lesson, and President Uchtdorf’s First Presidency Message, Aiming at the Center, was shockingly perfect and right along the lines of what I wanted to discuss.
What is the point?
To begin, I asked the ladies to write down on a sticky note what they thought was the goal of the Church and the Gospel. We had a lot of good, expected answers, including family or maybe eternal life or things like that.
Then, I countered with a story President Uchtdorf mentioned from Matthew 22, where Christ was asked about the greatest commandment. He responded, of course, in verses 37-40 of that chapter:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
President Uchtdorf then goes on to say that loving God and loving our neighbor are the most important and the ultimate goals of the Gospel and the Church. If we focus on and attempt to accomplish those two things, we will be doing what God wants and expects of us. We will be successful.
Challenges and promises
Looking around in our world today, people have a seemingly impossible time caring about—let along keeping—these two commandments. Instead of love and empathy, our world is chock full of hatred and accusations. Instead, if we focused on those two simple laws, President Uchtdorf promises that:
“We will learn to see beyond labels. We will resist the temptation to accuse or judge others by their sins, shortcomings, flaws, political leanings, religious convictions, nationalities, or skin color.
We will see every one we meet as a child of our Heavenly Father—our brother or our sister.
We will reach out to others in understanding and love—even those who may not be particularly easy to love. We will mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.“
I think we could each think of a good number of people we know who are not particularly easy to love. We could probably list labels by which we categorize others. We might be ashamed at how rashly we judge and accuse others.
Mental illness is one of these labels, sure, but so are so many other opinions, characteristics, or personality traits. Why do we want others to earn our love rather than giving it to them freely? Why do we lash out in hate almost automatically but find it so hard to forgive?
Falling on deaf ears?
Maybe we need to be reminded of those gospel targets of which President Uchtdorf wrote.
I was talking to my husband about how hard it is to see people repeat and enforce stigmas or misunderstandings of mental illness over and over again. We discussed how frustrating it is for me to write blog posts and hope that the message gets through to people but then to see them doing the same thing or labeling or stigmatizing in the same ways again and again. My husband commented that those feelings of sadness and frustration are probably how the Apostles and church leaders feel, speaking in General Conference or writing articles about such important topics and then seeing all of us scramble around, not following their clear counsel.
Of all counsel I hope we can follow, let it be this counsel about the greatest commandments in the law: to love God and love our neighbor. So simple but so difficult—and so important.