In a rural Utah town some years ago, a young man with a burden of life challenges added one more: a premarital pregnancy. As if it were not enough to be poor, bashful, poorly educated, and have a speech defect. The neighborhood response was to avert attention; the situation was embarrassing but might be less painful for all if it were ignored. The young couple planned to marry quietly and set up housekeeping with his parents.
The young man’s bishop had another plan. He invited the young man and his girlfriend to meet him at the chapel for an interview. Unknown to the young couple, the bishop had arranged for ward leaders and friends of the family to be in the cultural hall with gifts to help the couple launch their new life together. More important, they were to be there to offer love and support to an almost hopeless couple.
The informal reception went well. The couple felt loved and supported. But within days there were rumblings in the ward. “The ward doesn’t put on a reception for our children.” “Why should we reward their immorality?” “How will they learn to repent if they don’t suffer?” Somehow it seemed reminiscent of an older brother who protested the outpouring on his prodigal brother:
Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf (Luke 15:29–30).
I feel a real discomfort when we begrudge the “undeserving” any blessings that may befall them. A very wise king has reminded us that we are all beggars, that we all depend upon our Heavenly King for all we have and are. There is an ungracious presumption in begrudging others their blessings from heaven. The Lord put it in clear relief when he taught about an unforgiving debtor who refused to forgive his debtors their $15 debts after having been forgiven his billion-dollar debt.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Luke 15:32).
Perhaps we show immense ingratitude when we judge others harshly while we ourselves are dependent upon His merits, mercy, and grace. The proper attitude toward those who are shown grace is, “Thank God for His boundless mercy!”
And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done (Mosiah 4:22).
Just as God gladly grants pardon, so, if we are to be on the heavenly path, we must be prepared to give to any who have need. If we are to retain a remission of sins, we “should impart of [our] substance to the poor” (Mosiah 4:26).
Satan bedevils us: “If you are gracious to the sinner you will be rewarding evil!” God counsels us to be busy at loving and to leave judgment and retribution with Him.
Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay (Mormon 8:20).
Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. Peace be with you; my blessings continue with you (D&C 82:23).
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds (D&C 64:11).
The great, new commandment is to love as He loves. Even (or especially) in the family arena, love supersedes judgment. We have a friend who failed a high school math class. She had often had trouble with math. Her mother was frustrated and was tempted to preach: “How many times are you going to fail math? When are you going to take it seriously? What will it take to get you past your laziness?” Her mother knew better. She showed compassion and a respect for the daughter’s agency.
“That must be a horrible feeling.”
“Yeah. I’m disappointed.”
“And maybe you’re worried. Have you decided what to do? Do you have a plan?”
“I think I’ll take the class this summer when I have more time to study.”
Perhaps the most painful offence against heaven in all of this world’s history is the mountain of judgment, recrimination, and accusation that family members heap on each other. Modern research is clear that the most satisfying family relationships come from seeing each other in positive ways, giving each other the benefit of any doubt, and allowing family members to speak for themselves and to use their agency to make choices.
“How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere” (Brooks, 1948).
What could please God more than family members who are talent scouts, who are on alert for every goodness, and are gracious and appreciative. Anyone who has ever had such an advocate knows what a lasting impact that person has. Our only hope in eternity is that we all have just such a heavenly Advocate.
Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom (D&C 29:5).
In all human relationships there is a great power in graciousness and generosity. Just now we are reminded of this truth by a generous semi-retired businessman in our community. He asked me to help him load a lovely piece of furniture into his truck so he could deliver it to another businessperson in town. I asked him how much he got for it. His stammering confirmed my suspicions: he was getting nothing for it; he was providing it to that person simply because that person could make joyful use of it. The same graciousness has characterized that man all the time we have known him. It is one reason we love to be with him.
We tend to filter our happiness for other’s accomplishments through our own provincial sense of their deserving. Wouldn’t it be better if we rejoiced anytime we witness wholesome happiness? A memorable line from an inspiring Homefront spot observes: “Whenever someone somewhere serves someone else, there is truly cause to celebrate.”
Even when it comes to dealing with sin and error, the remedy is not confrontation and accusation but advocacy.
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When people manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind” (TPJS, p. 240).
Mortality is a training ground for compassion. Those who enlarge and practice their compassion and mercy are preparing to join Father in His Heavenly Work of advocacy. “And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (3 Nephi 12:7).
Brooks, V. W. (1948). A Chilmark miscellany. New York: Dutton.