In the October 2020 conference, Sister Eubank invited us to “keep each other’s names safe”1 and quoted Joseph Smith who said, “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls—[we feel that we want] to take them upon our shoulders and cast their sins behind our back. [My talk is intended for] all this Society—if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”2
I’ve thought a lot about that invitation and how easy it is to accomplish—when things are straightforward. When our feelings are hurt, however, or we have misunderstood another’s actions, that becomes harder to do. Equally, when we are busy and involved in the business of just living our lives, how easy is it to find the time for compassion? Being a member of a society that seeks to offer relief can be a wonderful challenge and a soul-stretching experience.
A few days ago, I went to a local supermarket, quite late at night. I had had a long day. Working with clients and then studying, my day didn’t finish until 10 p.m. I decided to just run in and grab a few items.
The night was cold, and I was glad to finish and load my shopping in my car. As I did so, a woman approached me and asked me for some help. I imagined that she wanted a coin for a trolley or something like that. She looked a little dishevelled. She began a long explanation about not having any money, and that she and her partner had hoped to purchase £5 worth of petrol for their car, because this particular petrol station made a charge on cards 24 hours later and they didn’t have any money until the following day, only to find that the petrol station was closed. Now they would have to travel further to buy what they needed, with no funds available.
I explained that unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash or my cards with me. I only had my phone. I was aware that the night was dark and cold, and I knew I wanted to help, but felt I couldn’t. She then asked me if I would transfer some money into her bank, using my phone. I admit, I did not want to do that! Now I was having to really ask myself what kind of human being I was. I had to balance my wish to just go home, to let myself off the hook, with my desire to be helpful. I could reassure myself that my intention was to be kind, but honestly, transfer money into a stranger’s bank account? What if this was a scam? What if I was being tricked?
Then she asked me if I would call her partner, to allow him to give me his bank details (he was in the supermarket, trying to find a solution.) Everything in me wanted to say no, and yet another part of me said, “it’s cold and dark, you can’t just leave them here.” I wanted my faith to be convenient! In my version of this story, I would give her £5 that I happened to have in my purse (that I had not left at home), and then get on and feel good about myself. I wanted her to accept that I didn’t have any ready cash and go away. I didn’t want to stand about getting cold and feeling anxious and worry about whether I was doing a good thing or being taken advantage of.
Yet through it all, I kept thinking, “it’s cold and dark.” I had to let myself know about the times when I have been cold, in the dark, with no one to help. None of this was easy, or quick, or convenient.
So, I transferred the money and wished them well. I thought about Elder Holland who paraphrased Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) as saying “Lord, give me all thy choicest virtues, but be certain not to give me grief, nor sorrow, nor pain, nor opposition. Please do not let anyone dislike me or betray me, and above all, do not ever let me feel forsaken by Thee or those I love.”
He went on, “My beloved brothers and sisters, Christianity is comforting, but it is often not comfortable.”3
The point of sharing this is not to tell a story about giving someone money, but rather to describe the journey I went through. I learnt that if I really wish to offer relief, I have to be willing to be inconvenienced by my faith. To stretch myself to see the other as loveable and of immense worth. I have to know my own worth and my own place in this work. I have to trust that I was placed in her orbit, just as she was placed in mine.
It’s made me think about the tapestry we are all weaving together. Each with our own colour, our own particular thread. We cannot see the picture we are creating as we weave in and out of each other’s lives. Only our Heavenly Parents have the perspective to see the wonderful, messy, exquisite design.
Sometimes things are in knots, sometimes we wish we had a different colour, or were situated in another part of the tapestry. All we can do is trust that we are exactly where we need to be. How wonderful it is to be a part of this grand tapestry of sisters. To bring relief, consolation, joy and encouragement for our journey together.
Happy birthday, Relief Society.