About 5 or 6 years ago, I began becoming increasingly interested in other religions and worldviews. Mostly I enjoyed hearing the stories and differing experiences that others have had. Sometimes, particularly in the church it can be easy to forget that we are not the only children of God, and that not only does he love all of his other children who are not in our church, which was evident as I heard the stories and experiences of others, but even that we are actually a minority in the world as members of the LDS church.
When I was younger I felt that the fact that I am a member of the church, while so many others in the church are not simply was evidence of how special I am, but as I have aged and come to a different understanding of the atonement, I am started to believe that although we do have an important role in the world, we are not the only people who will be able to benefit from the atonement.
Sister Okazaki has taught that “Christ did not come for a chosen few in favored circumstances. He is no respecter of persons. He has no quotas, no charmed circles, no special favorites. Each one of us is a precious and beloved daughter of God. Each one of us must meet and know and worship Christ as an individual, and each of us will eventually be called to account for our lives in situations where husbands and children and houses and jobs are just accessories to who we are as individuals.”
Remember that old object lesson of taking one stick and breaking it, and then taking two or more sticks together and trying to break those, which becomes much more difficult. I have heard that lesson regarding scriptures as well as many other things, but I would like to relate it to all of our marital relationships.
I love the advice to always attempt to be on the same team, and although some of us may have differing strengths, both of us in a relationship have incredible value and import.
I believe it is important and interesting to look at the ways other relate to each other and through this I have learned a great deal. I have seen relationships that I feel are valuable, healthy, and worthy of emulation. Others have taught me behaviors that I do not want to have in my relationships.
With that said I believe there are wonderful teachings that can help correct misunderstandings. For example some believe that the man is more important in a marriage, and although most will deny this some of us act like that is true instead of following the truths of the gospel that I see teaching us that we all are valuable and that both man and women should work together side by side.
Sister Okazaki has taught that “Sometimes women think that their part of the partnership consists of being silent, sweet, and supportive under all circumstances. Well, I have trouble seeing the relationship between a doormat and a pair of muddy boots as a real partnership. Instead, I like to think of partnership as two hands, working together. There’s not much that one finger can do by itself. It can point or prod or poke. But to comfort or hold or lift, it takes all five. (That’s why Relief Society needs all the sisters, by the way!) And there’s virtually no end to the good that two hands, gripping the same burden, can do.”
“Sometimes we hear the message that our strength is not desirable or wanted. Sometimes women feel that they should defer to others—that their husbands’ opinions are more important than their own, that the spiritual living teacher in Relief Society must be more spiritual than they are, or that their needs and wants should be sacrificed to those of their children. Should we retreat to being passive or weak or inadequate because the idea of becoming strong frightens us or someone else? No healthy marriage needs to fear a strong woman or a strong man in it.”
-Chieko Okazaki, Sanctuary, p. 141
I once had a church leader who I strongly resonated with as he was an extremely loving and compassionate person. This leader was once talking about what it meant for the savior to be meek. He stated that as a younger person he didn’t understand this because he saw meekness as being synonymous with weakness, and would ask why we would worship someone who was weak. However as he learned more he began to believe that this meekness of the savior took nothing away from the strength that was also prevalent in the Savior.
I think we often get this mixed up in ourselves as well. We see ourselves as needing to be humble and thus feel held back. There are many women (and men) who have incredible strength and power who could contribute an incredible amount to the church and all of our lives, but feel as if they should not move forward because they are to be humble, meek, and nonintrusive. I feel that this is an important misunderstanding that all of us need to shed. I believe that all of us have access to incredible amounts of power, and that we need not be afraid of that. We need to stop being afraid strength and should instead seek to validate and support those around us to reach our potential instead of correlating and holding each other back.
One of my favorite talks is from Elder Uchtdorf where he discussed the idea of lifting where you stand. He spoke about members of the ward moving in a huge piano which had just been purchased. The difficulty was that when only some individuals would lift, it would make the piano go off center and would make it impossible to move. The point was that everyone needed to grab the piano wherever they happened to be and to lift it together as they moved it to its proper place.
Because of the structure of our leadership I think that sometimes it can be easy to feel that our participation is not really that important as it is only a select group of individuals who are making most of the decisions. However I feel that this is the wrong approach as all of us may not have the decision making power for the ways things work on the corporate level of the church, but we all do have an important place and voice in this church. One of my favorite thinkers in the church has said asked “Whose church is this? It is the church of Jesus Christ, and the Church of the Latter-day Saints. It is our church and I believe that we all need to recognize that as we seek way to improve and grow together.
In teaching us about our individual worth and importance, Sister Okazaki shared the following. “Paul explained, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). Let me paraphrase with my own thoughts: In Relief Society there is neither old nor young, rich nor poor, valuable nor invaluable, feminist nor traditionalist, vigorously healthy nor chronically ill, serving nor served, for we are all one in sisterhood.”
It is not difficult to mix up differing teachings of the gospel. Common examples of this are the teachings about the atonement. We believe in grace, and we believe in the importance works such as keeping the commandments. I believe that there are valuable ways to understand that these two concepts can work together, but sometimes we have a larger focus on one of those than the other. Today in church we heard a talk focused on following the prophet’s counsel, and although there were various messages included that I feel are very important, there were also messages that I feel were so focused on one side of the commandments that they overshadow the power of the atonement. I think that this is the reason that some feel as if we are to earn the power of the atonement.
One of the reasons this concerns me is that these types of messages sometimes overshadow the beauty of the gospel and force many of us into shame and fear worrying that we will never be worthy of the saviors love, while I do not believe this can be done. Not only does Christ love us no matter where we happen to be, but he loves our whole selves.
Sister Okazaki taught this in a wonderful way when she said that “Jesus Christ is our loving Savior. He is not some distant person in robes and sandals. He understands about the carburetor in our car, about ACT and SAT tests for our high-school senior, about a missionary cautiously trying tofu for the first time. We can share our whole lives with him. He doesn’t want to see only the pretty, peaceful parts or the sections when we have a good day. Are there parts of our lives that we try to shove into the closet or sweep under the carpet when we pray or when we think we’re trying to be righteous? I want to tell you that Jesus wants our whole hearts. He knows our whole lives. He’s been through worse experiences than anything we have in our past. Do you remember when he told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail: ‘The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?’ (D&C 122:5-8).”
The topic of giving to the poor is so important while also controversial. Often while traveling through town you will see individuals on the corner asking for financial help. Many of us struggle with what to do in these situations as we are good people who want to help relieve the suffering of those hurting while also attending to the scriptures that direct us towards those actions.
On the other hand we also have parts of ourselves that have evolved and developed in a way to be suspicious of those not in our group and thus we also receive in our group and thus we also receive teachings that tell us to be careful which can cause us to feel excused from feeling the need to give money to those asking for it.
My point that I am hinting at is not that this is a simple issue that can be easily resolved, but instead I feel that it is important that we be aware of all those things that influence us as I feel that too often we allow one of those two sides win while I feel they are both valuable teachings. However many take one of them as an excuse to not think about how little they give.
My main thought is that whether you decide to give to panhandlers or not, I feel that we should not forget that there is really an incredible amount of suffering in the world. There are areas of the world where even members of our church do not have the nutrients they need. I believe that as members of our modern society we have the ability to help in incredible ways, and I hope we will also attempt to do so.
Cheiko Okazaki once taught that “No one is hungry in the next life; so if we want to share food with those who weep from hunger, we must do it in this life. No one is cold or naked. If we want to give a pair of shoes to a barefoot child, we must do it in this life. We know that the wicked suffer remorse, but there is no indication in the scriptures that there is grief or loneliness or sorrow among those in paradise. So if we want to give comfort and encouragement, we must do it in mortality.”
Some of us are born in unfortunate circumstance and are even forced to be in abusive and harmful environments. I have a friend who was abused by a family member and was forced to be raised in a home that was extremely problematic and harmful.
As this friend grew up and was seeking to improve and move passed their harmful past they struggled with the concept of forgiveness. Did this mean that because this person and their family were extremely harmed by a certain individual, that they would need to simply need to allow this person back into their life and to pretend that it never happened?
This is an extremely difficult situation and we all need to be extremely careful and kind when we are discussing these types of issues. I believe that Sister Okazaki provides some great advice and thoughts about this issue.
She said “Forgiveness is not the same thing as pretending that there’s nothing to forgive. Great wrongs inspire deep indignation. It does no good to pretend that we are not angry when injustice, cruelty, or sheer stupidity destroys peace and happiness in our families and communities. We should not pretend that something doesn’t matter or didn’t hurt us when it does matter and it did hurt.
But we also need to remember that forgiveness is one of the blessings that lies within God’s gifts. . . . All of us must learn how to forgive the wrongs that are inflicted on us. Our Savior will give us the means of fulfilling this commandment if we struggle to do our part.”