Bailing Water and Building Souls

A sage and revered man asked a question in our high priest group meeting: “We believe in helping people. We helped the Jones family when their basement flooded. But it floods every few years. When do we stop helping them?”

In the group were past bishops and stake presidents. For them the question was very real; they had faced the same or similar issues while representing the Lord in their wards and stakes.

There was a lively discussion with very different recommendations. Once again two true principles came into tension. Compassion versus responsibility. Caring versus stretched resources.

One brother asked whether the ward was robbing the family of growth opportunities by jumping in to help with basement repairs. “When will Brother Jones learn to sheetrock if we keep doing it for him?”

This is the clash of the titans. We believe in choice and accountability. The war in heaven was fought over agency. Yet, on the other side, is compassion. Jesus kept surprising and scandalizing His contemporaries by showing compassion where they were inclined to slap sanctions or pile penalties. The woman taken in adultery. The injured man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The woman at the well. The lepers.

I don’t believe that a brutal battle between compassion and responsibility is the way to settle this continuing struggle. I recommend two different solutions.

Making creative use of tension

In the research on marriage, one of the stock recommendations is to make creative (rather than destructive) use of differences. Rather than batter our spouses with their “inadequacies,” we can learn from our different strengths. But this will only happen when our hearts and minds are right.

Curiously absent from most marital battles and many discussions of helping the poor is life-giving creativity. We are tempted to settle challenging issues with petty rule-applying. Sometimes a smallness of soul is evident in our harsh judging of folks who are facing hard times.

Yet God is supremely creative. When we get His spirit, we are too.

In the group discussion about flooded basements, one gentle brother jumped in: “The best way for Brother Jones to learn to sheetrock is to do it with us.” That is one creative solution.

There is still another way creativity might be applied. Rather than periodically repair the Joneses’ basement, maybe we could draw on the resources of the ward to come up with a long-term solution. Rather than complain about the repeated repairs, maybe we could find a way to divert the water that has periodically flooded the basement.

Creativity keeps surprising us. One brother in the group told about an Eskimo woman he knew in Alaska. Her utilities were often shut off. The church would rally to get them turned on again. Yet it wasn’t long before the utilities were again shut off for non-payment. It finally dawned on the ward members that this good woman was used to living without utilities. She was used to chopping wood and hauling water. So they provided different help. They supplemented her wood supply. As she aged and her body began to fail, they provided more wood and helped her haul water.

A young couple in our ward is without regular work. They are trying very hard but keep falling short. So when Kroger’s has a sale on cases of peanut butter, we buy a case for us and a case for them. Food was never better stored than in the soul of one of God’s children.

Like many people, I worry about giving to panhandlers who ask for money because they are hungry. We have all heard stories of money poured into alcohol and scammers who prey on the gullible. I am tempted to ignore my responsibility by issuing a summary judgment on their souls. Yet I have known for years that I am dishonoring Jesus when I do that. So, in an imperfect attempt to be both creative and compassionate, I have started carrying a few jars and cans of food in the car. I do not know if the panhandler is genuinely hungry or merely idle, but I can be prepared to feed those who claim to be hungry.

Being gracious

My second recommendation is to be gracious. We who must repeatedly cross the bridge of mercy should not blow it up for others. We should thank God who built it and we should thank all who maintain it every time we cross it.

Those of us who have lived relatively safe and privileged lives should be very cautious about judging and condescending toward those for whom life has been a relentless struggle. We might become like Pharisees shivering at the sight of a leper. We might start to drink the Calvinist punch that wealth and well-being are signs of God’s approval.

We who are less than the dust of the earth should be constantly grateful for the breath that God lends us, the sacrifice He made to rescue us, the mansions He labors to prepare for us. It is painfully ungracious to judge ourselves as deserving while judging others as undeserving. Is it possible that the Jobs among us are enrolled in spiritual graduate school while God allows many of us to repeat 3rd grade until we are ready to advance a mere grade? We who take untold years to learn the basics ought not to judge harshly those who groan under the demands of advanced training.

Heading toward Zion

And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)

Along with creativity, we need a change of heart. If there are no poor in Zion, it must be because all people work together. We are of one heart and one mind. When a tree falls on any house, it is felt in all souls. When water fills any basement, it calls all neighbors to action.

I remember when Nancy and I suffered another in a series of miscarriages. A family in the ward brought us dinner. We did not really need the food. Yet we wept with joy because of their compassion and graciousness. We were lifted by their love.

If we are to be followers of Jesus, we must lead with compassion. Responsibility is the framework; compassion is the heart and soul of a saint.

I do not believe that we should create dependency; I believe in responsibility. But only an inspired priesthood leader has the right to regulate the flow of church resources. My personal responsibility is to do all I can to help God’s children. My job is to be a messenger of hope and grace—to have a giving heart and ready hands.

God does not expect me to run faster than I am able; all things should be done in wisdom and order. Yet I have learned that, as I am more willing, God makes me more able. How many times would Jesus want me to bail and repair the Joneses’ basement?

Maybe seventy times seven.

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  • Reply Lynn April 17, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Here’s my “amen!” from Texas. I will not give cash to the panhandlers at the train station, but I am thankful to (now) be in a position to use my debit card to fill somebody’s gas can, or to buy them a combo at the drive-through.

    I remember what it felt like to be the one in need. I remember the many kindnesses. [I also remember the condescension from some ward members; it helps me to remember to be kind, myself.]

    I am still struggling to unlearn some of the less-effective coping skills I picked up when I was poor, but overall those years of poverty have proved to be a blessing. And it is so much fun to finally be in a position to give.

  • Reply Candleman April 17, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I love the idea of creativity.

    We had a poor couple in our Ward who, off and on, needed financial help. This went on for years until and creatively inspired Bishop called a very successful local business man to counsel with them.

    The business man put them on a budget which included saving and even investing. The couple never called upon the church for help again. They retired with a surplus and served two missions supported by retirement funds which had accrued despite a late start.

    I also know of a Relief Society who, year after year, assisted a Sister with canning peaches, even though they knew she wasn’t really sick every year, as she claimed, but over whelmed by the huge load of peaches she had secretly contracted to can for someone else. Perhaps the sister was fraudulently taking advantage of her sisters, but they, in a Christlike manner also knew she craved their love and companionship and knew no other way to obtain it.

    As with everything, the Spirit, if sought in humility, will tell us how best to serve those in need.

  • Reply Mark April 23, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Lovely and of good report!

  • Reply Diana Moody April 27, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  • Reply Janet May 21, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for this article. I am in a new marriage after a 27-year span of waiting (divorce was in 1980). My husband is a convert and has a very negative attitude about life, as learned from his non-member family – as we drive down the road, he hurls insults at drivers, criticizes people walking on the street or shares stories about how he got even with someone before we married. The negativity is really getting to me – and sometimes I give in to offering “advise” on how to see life positively and let go of caring about what others are doing. It doesn’t help of course and I’m not sure where to go with this issue – but I know trying to “fix” the man is not the key. Perhaps, as your article recommends, lead by example is the only way. He’s a good man with a good heart who wants to do right; he’s just learned so many poor ways of coping with the world.

  • Reply Jeanne May 26, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you very much for this blog. I am so very much in need of the compassion and graciousness of others at this point. For the most part, people are kind to me. However, there are those few who insist on requiring me to do things the world’s ways instead of the Lord’s. He is schooling me now in the art of patience.I am unemployed, yet have enough money to live for several months. He is asking me to wait for the correct time, place and situation He is preparing for me. This waiting is made much more difficult by those who insist that I run around, filling out job applications and having interviews instead of waiting, listening, meditating and finding deep in my soul the right place for me. I am used to doing the rushing around, but now is the time for me to do things the Lord’s way. Oh, that others could think creatively and realize that the Lord sometimes wants us to wait for the good things to come. I have not been idle by any means. I have been able to put my entire family pedigree on the new FamilySearch. I have been able to do research on more difficult branches and finding people who needed to be found. I have been able to attend the temple more regularly. I have been blessed spiritually to serve and love and make friends as I haven’t for years. I am grateful for this time of waiting. It has been a great benefit to me. The Lord has richly blessed me during this time. I try to concentrate on these things instead of the few people who think that there is only one way to accomplish a goal. I’m not supposed to be looking for a job during this time of unemployment, I’m supposed to be learning to wait on the Lord.

  • Reply Cheri June 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I had to hold back my tears. As this is a problem I am faced with many times.
    My brother 1 1/2 years ago was diagnosed with Leukemia, it wasn’t genetic. It came out of the blue when least expected as they had already been suffering from a business loss and deaths in the family. Especially for my sister in law.
    They pretty much lost everything and just had enough to get another house in a city farther away from my brother’s new workplace.

    Siblings have helped him out, but now the help has fallen on me and my husband’s shoulders. Due to our financial position or maybe our charitable heart.
    As we have already gone that route in our very first year of marriage when my husband was young and dumb, and against my wishes.

    Several General Authorities books on trials helped me to have faith and the book, ‘Drawing Upon The Powers of Heaven’ was one of the most powerful, besides Neal A. Maxwell’s books. This was 31 years ago.

    We have struggled for many years but blessed in our trials, to finally get to the point where we are financially able to help others and have time to do so. We aren’t wealthy, but frugal.

    Anyway, we have moved this brother and his family to a house that we own that soon will become commercial property.

    They had lost their new house they had bought with a large down payment from selling the house they lived in before to survive. Then right when things were getting back together, that is when the Leukemia showed up and my brother could not work anymore to make pmts on this newer house.

    It was very devastating to them and my brother has been inactive since leaving home and his wife is a non-member. So their values aren’t the same as mine and they have no contact with an LDS church for help. So they were isolated from most social activity at the church they use go to as well. They were ashamed at their circumstances because they have always taken care of their needs.

    Anyway, I was able to have some Missionaries see my brother in the hospital and give him a blessing. Also, a set of 6 missionaries helped to load up our cargo trailer and box truck to move them out of California. This was when my brother was allowed to leave the hospital and state to meet up with a cancer Dr in Idaho.

    I can only compare it to the pioneers having to leave Nauvoo, but without the blessings of friends. While getting treatments in Idaho, the only solution was to get a stem cell transplant from a matching brother at LDS hospital in SLC, UT. Seattle was another source but farther away from us and Utah is full of our relatives.

    We also helped move my brother’s adult son, his girlfriend and their little boy. They were in a bad situation as well and it was hoped that my nephew would be a help to his parents and hisr disabled adult brother who was living with my brother.

    Okay, so I’m thinking all this time, that maybe the family would convert. I learned the hard way, that wasn’t going to happen. So long story short…my brother had a successful transplant not without pain and trials. I would put his name in the temple and pray for them, visit, email etc. to keep my sister in law going. They were also given a house in Park City to live in free of rent from an old employer of my sister in law, so that my brother can recover without germs. He needed to be isolated.

    All of the blessings they received, was after a trial of their faith and prayers. Now my trials were the complaints from my brother’s wife about the house in Idaho. This house was my son’s first home and he had fixed it up the best he could with the time he had as he was able to find another home near us, a fixer upper, for his new wife and baby girl. So anymore repairs was left undone as this was on commercial property and we would be moving our business over to it.

    Another trial was that I have other siblings that weren’t pitching in, some did at certain times. But the burden fell mainly on my family and there were complaints from my own children. I think they felt taken advantage of and was frustrated as you wrote about the Pre-K trials vs the big advantage schooling of trials.

    My husband and I were fine with helping out as best we could, but we were worn down by the bystanders. I was disappointed that my ward or the ward the house is in didn’t help out. My brother is still a member but not active and of course not paying tithing.

    Plus my brother’s family were stubborn to the LDS church. Very frustrating as I am the active LDS sibling helping them out. So I had to just turn it over to the Lord and not worry so much about them. Because the Lord was blessing them and making them stretch. I became the reminder of the answered prayers.

    When they would lose faith I would just recall how their prayers had been answered by family or their friends left behind. They also did lose friends in this crisis as well.

    So bottom line, is my brother is okayed to work in certain type of jobs, but not really the one that was saved for him back in California due to their economic problems.

    They had to make a decision on how they would move back to California, and how difficult it would be and they didn’t have the income to even by a trailer.

    So I would just write how I felt about the situation and the help we could & couldn’t give. I learned to not be so helpful and let them work it out and look at all scenarios. I think this is the main problem of helping someone is the control.

    We are ahead of them in trials and wisdom. So to keep my sanity, I had to really let go and even get help for it, as my soul was slowly taken away from me and my family. I was working with desperate people that didn’t have the religious background and reservoirs of faith as I did, to keep them looking for the good, as they would dwell on the bad.

    Anyway, they decided to stay in Idaho, the people are nicer, they have us, their one son just finished schooling in a medical service program and now have their own condo to rent. And after an externship will have a career that will bless his little family and help his parents and brother.

    My SIL went to some schooling, but her biggest school was taking care of her husband while surviving leukemia. She had done well in all her trials and nursed him to health and the cancer Drs would tell her that she should become a nurse.

    Well in her pursuit in some government schooling she did receive a certificate to help the elderly, but this was a stepping stone to what she really wanted to do. She finally after several applications, got a job working at a hospital admitting patients. Right up her alley, and will give her a social life, and income to provide for herself and husband.

    She wants to become independent and get some type of living accomodations, but is not able to at this time and worries about living in our son’s house. My husband and I tell her she has time to get her finances in order and the house is closer to her work than her son’s condo and that will save on fuel and still give them space than sharing a condo.

    I even told her I would miss her if she moved back to California or even another town. Also, I was pleased that she wants to live in a town with a lot of Mormons running around. So the Lord knows more than me and the big picture.

    One more thing, we have been blessed financially and always have the money needed to help them out. We have sacrificed for them, but for what price. I have a loving brother who is alive, and 2 adult nephews a future neice and a little cousin living nearby for my granddaughter and grandson to play with.

    As for my other siblings, they are having their trials now, and one is blessed from suffering from a very long trial, it is his turn to rest and have some happiness and fun.

    The Lord’s timing is not our timing and we can be made painfully aware of this.

    So Bro. Goddard you have hit the nail on its head and I appreciate the other posters comments.

    PS-In my counseling, I have relearned to protect myself from people that take advantage of me to the point that I’m so stressed that it is a burden to me.
    Also taking advice from people that do not have the full picture and think that when a family is in trouble that selling an old car is going to solve the problem. It is so easy to give advice, without lifting a finger.

    Also, I have learned to be careful of manipulations. and that some people manipulate instead of asking for what they really need. It is really important to have the Holy Ghost with you all the time.

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