As you probably already know, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am grateful for that fact, I feel very blessed to have the gospel in my life and have been blessed beyond measure by my Heavenly Father (which I believe comes to people who are trying to do good whether they are members of this church or not...after all, most churches preach goodness and Christlike-ness (??) in different degrees and living righteously cannot help but bring blessings into your life although the fullness of the restored gospel can only be found in this one, true church).
I got a new calling in my ward this week (that's a sort of job or set of responsibilities for all you non-LDS types out there) and have had the chance to spend some time in the homes of some people who are members of our ward but aren't really participating in church much at all. It has been nice to get to know these people and try to help them feel God's love for them as I work to dribble my love on them as well.
At one home I met an extended family living together and struggling to get by. I told this sweet family that we missed them in our ward and I invited them to come to church on Sunday. I know from experience that the more you do to show your faith and trust in Heavenly Father the more He can then bless you and they could use some blessings (well really, who couldn't?).
The wife looked concerned and told me that they did come one time and sat in the very back of the chapel. A few rows ahead of them someone leaned over and said something to their neighbor during the meeting and this woman was sure that they were talking about her because her clothes were not perfect and she doesn't live in the nicest house and she doesn't come to church often and whatever else. She felt so hurt and unwanted that she hasn't been back since.
This is a rough spot because while I don't doubt her feelings I also am not entirely convinced that people in this meeting were whispering about her. After all, people do talk during church and they often do it in whispers. She didn't hear what was said, she just felt unwelcome.
I tried to sympathize and let her know I understand how it feels to be unwanted (yeah, been there), but I also tried to let her know that as a ward we DO want her and her family there. I told her I hoped that whoever she had seen whispering was talking about something else and we laughed together when I said that it was easy to avoid that problem -- just sit on the front row next time so she couldn't see people whispering. If not that, I told her she was welcome to sit with me and my family. We can be pretty loud and we get plenty of stares of our own due to our exciting weekly antics so maybe she'll feel like she fits in with us.
The whole idea made me think of a favorite story that I read years ago. You can find it in the middle of this talk.
I came home from that visit thinking how sad it is that so many people miss out on the blessings of the gospel because they feel superfluous or like they don't fit in. Let's be honest, none of us really fit in. We are all weird in one way or another. We are all awkward or uncertain or tentative about something. We each have some quirk or foible that leaves people rolling their eyes about us. That's just part of being human.
But on the other side, does it make us horrible when we notice someone is different? No. It makes us normal. What we do from that point on is what matters. Do we ridicule and condemn those difference or do we embrace them and look forward to extending our love and understanding.
What if the people whispering that day were talking about how they'd like to go meet that lady that they didn't know? What if they were commenting on how they were so grateful she came to church and how they would like to invite her over sometime.
Now, realistically, probably not. Probably the wife was reminding the husband that they needed to put gas in the car tomorrow or he was mentioning that he liked the bishop's tie that day or who knows what. But here's the point. When we let our opinion about the actions of others drive us away from goodness the person it hurts most is us. We are then the ones to miss out on blessings. We are the ones who end up secluded and alone because our perception (which may be right or may be un-right) keeps us from attending meetings or being with people or just doing things that will bring us joy.
Mostly, I guess what is on my mind is that we are all children of God. We are also all sinners and imperfect beings and that's just how we are. Most of us are working on that, trying to become better (whether we are church-goers or not), but every single one of us has a long way to go. It's a rough road. There are lots of bumps and sharp corners and slick patches. I hope we won't miss out on blessings and help that are available to us because someone else doesn't welcome us the way we would like.
And then, I hope we all remember what it is like to be neglected and unloved (because we've all been there at times) and we do all we can to pull others in and let them feel wanted and needed...because they are. Anyway, it's something for us to work on.