When I read my old missionary journal, I blush. I am sorely tempted to burn it. I am amazed how naïve I was! My fad diets were a nuisance to companions and the members who fed us. I was inconsiderate of companions and unwise in many decisions. Truly I was young beyond my years.
Yet recently I got a letter from my dear mission president—the man who had to sort out companionships and try to keep us all focused on spreading and living the Good News—in which he wrote: “you were a fine missionary and you deserve every blessing that you stand in need of.”
I had a jolt of joy. It was powerful. I stood and basked in his comment.
The jolt of joy wasn’t because I was convinced by President Rudd’s comment that I was a much better missionary than I remembered being. It wasn’t because I concluded that he didn’t remember my faults. It was because I felt his graciousness. He has forgiven me for being a nuisance. He has apparently filtered out the impurities from our experience and credits me with being earnest. He rummaged through our challenges and found some good.
The Power of Grace
What my mission president showed is grace, sweet grace. Even decades after my mission president continues to teach me the message of the Master as He treats me as if I were somehow remarkable.
For years we lived in Vernal. I have felt the same amazing grace when Nancy and I attended the temple there. In a small town there are always plenty of reasons for people to have unenthusiastic feelings about each other. The temple workers who dotted the path knew enough to judge me and resent me. Yet, many times as I climbed the stairs to the ordinance room, I fought back tears because of the graciousness of old neighbors who embraced us with love and warmth in that sacred place.
I knew I didn’t deserve their good will. So it was an act of grace when they chose to look beyond my fallenness and appreciate some hint of earnestness.
Lesser, Higher, and Heavenly Ways
In the course of our normal lives, we hurt, disappoint, and offend each other. The natural response is to fight back—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, until we are all blind and toothless. This is the law that governs international relations and family feuds. It is driven by the logic and emotion of hell.
The better course is to be fair—to give due credit but also just condemnation. We are good to our friends but tight with the untrustworthy. This appears to be the higher road because of the tight logic and apparent objectivity. This is the logic of the legal system.
The City of Zion operates on a different law, one given by Jesus: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus’ governing principle is grace.
Where is the Power?
In the great revelation on proper influence, God promised glorious rewards to those who do two things. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men (1), and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly (2) . . . .”
Charity and virtue draw a flood of heavenly blessings: “. . . then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45–46).
I think that Father is telling us that the simple and consistent practice of charity and virtue will reap us the greatest rewards in all of eternity. It’s a simple formula.
But it’s not very popular among humans. We are often ungracious with each other. We often offend both charity and virtue as we size each other up and resent each other. Even in our more objective moods we assess, judge, measure, evaluate, and thereby minimize our fellow travelers in the journey toward Home. “Well, he’s a nice guy but he sure isn’t very reliable.” “He’d be a good boy if he only did his chores.”
In this mortal world, no noble deed goes unsuspected.
Latter-day Saints should be familiar with damning by faint praise. Our accomplishments are often begrudged or discredited by those who see us as peculiar. It is rare in this world to receive wholehearted appreciation.
But the Lord teaches us that there is great power when we look beyond the layers of sludge and humanness to see goodness. While God has not asked us to be gullible, He has asked us to be appreciative. Joseph F. Smith’s words are a continuing challenge to me: “We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? . . . Is it not better to drop [weaknesses and faults] and say nothing about them—bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better? (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), 180–81.
Seeing the Better Side
God recommends “kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul” (D&C 121:42). That recommendation is in stark contrast to the human tendency to analyze and categorize each other.
Traditional psychology feeds the monster. We have diagnostic categories for myriad disorders and our language is filled with labels for foibles. But Martin Seligman, a respected leader of the positive psychology movement, has said: “I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” (Seligman, 2002, p. 13).
Our greatest successes as individuals come from using our strengths; our greatest unity in groups comes from appreciating each other’s strengths. We can justifiably see each other as flawed, diseased lepers. But when we have charity we see each other as beloved miracles.
Recently I was pained when a friend in the state hospital became very angry with me and treated me harshly. Fortunately I was still basking in the warmth of President Rudd’s praise so I prayed for the grace to respond with meekness and understanding. I tried to understand the difficulties of this man’s life and struggle. In spite of my hurt, I chose not to throw gasoline on the fire of indignation. Two days later he called and apologized. On my next visit we embraced again as brothers.
I hope God will teach me to be less objective and more gracious. Every time we show grace in our homes, neighborhoods, or wards, we bring our community a little closer to the City of Zion. There is great power in grace.
May we bear one another’s burdens and cheer for each other’s successes. May we, in our small ways, be messengers of the kind of grace exemplified by our Great Redeemer and Advocate, Jesus Christ.