Goodness not Guilt: “…if I had [time], I would give.”

All around it seems there are needs that beg to be acknowledged with at least a loving outreach.  During stretches where my own time is scarce, I am often left to stand by and watch a friend move with feeble knees, or see a sister inch forward under the weight of a suffocating burden.   My inclination is to reach out and respond to these sometimes silent petitions and it is natural for me to preface these thoughts with “I should call ……”  or “I need to…….”  Inevitably, as days wear on and my missed opportunity tally increases, I begin to feel the guilty weight of charity.  I don’t actually believe that it was ever intended to be this way but I am woefully familiar with the underbelly of this magnificent beast.  Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to change my phrasing to “I want to…” thus giving myself credit for the myriad good deeds that happen only in my mind :).  Instead of carrying around burdening guilt for an idea I never acted on, I try to remind myself of 1 thing:

My willingness and desire count for something.  Something substantial, and a generous spirit (even without actions to back it up) is acceptable to heaven.  King Benjamin, an exemplary leader in the Book of Mormon, was speaking to his people about the management of their resources.  In this particular verse, money was the object of his example.  He asked the people to maintain their generosity regardless of their ability to act on it.  “I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” I believe this idea applies to all of our resources, including time.  And expressing the thought this way feels like an acknowledgement, almost a prayer, of a desire to help.

The surprisingly beautiful thing is that in seemingly impossible situations, sometimes a way opens up and I am actually able to offer some small token of love or regard.  It may be different than the action I’d thought up but these seemingly miraculous opportunities seem like a little window to heaven, opened just for me and another.  They fill me with hope.   Hope that even a “desire” to lend myself to a situation or another soul can trigger enlightenment and enabling power.  Hope that my efforts, sometimes sluggish and sometimes spot on, are acceptable and appreciated.  Hope in occasionally finding that what heaven wants and what I want are the very same thing.  Hope that the Savior’s methods can be learned and understood.  And hope that maybe the fleeting times when I feel tethered to Deity for those few short moments or hours are, as my friend Anne Marie points out, a beautifully realistic goal for this mortal life.

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Beginning to Build part IV

A few weeks back I wrote about the parable of the wise man and the foolish man and the idea that we can do some recreating if we realize that our relationship with the Savior needs some shoring up.  We visited the lives of a few individuals who made changes in the way they viewed heaven and themselves.  There are a few more stories that I want to follow that share this theme.

We left off with Alma,  who would go on to have a son, also named Alma, who would stray from the teachings of His father and the Savior.  This man Alma the Younger, actively sought to destroy the beliefs of others.  As his father, and I’m sure countless others, pray for this soul, an angel visits him and tells him that it’s ok if he wants to destroy himself but the damage he is doing to others must stop.  At this point, after being made fully aware of the effect his misguided teachings on himself and others, Alma the Younger has to come to terms with mercy in a serious way.   In just a few moments, he realizes he has positioned himself quite far from Heaven.  One of the consequences of that is forgetting what the love of God feels like.  In those moments, Alma the younger realizes his own connection to God and in the same moment he realizes how far he has been from perpetuating love and goodness.  He knows he has hurt people.  He knows he has divided souls from heaven and the reality of that thought, as he is in the presence of a heavenly messenger, is almost more than he can bear.   He describes being wracked with torment as these realizations settle around him.  I imagine they’ve been swimming around somewhere in his consciousness but when the angel comes to him, truth breaks the surface with incredible force.   In the midst of this agony, a complete understanding of all his wrongdoing, all his failures, all of his shortcomings, he remembers his father teaching him that there is hope, always hope.  At that point he sincerely realizes his need and desire for grace and then comes a crucial choice.  He would later testify that a simple desire to believe in Jesus Christ is enough to invite the balm of grace into our lives.  I think it’s a relatively easy concept to grasp on a conceptual level.  He offers grace, we believe it, we receive it.  However, it’s so very hard to believe when one is in the throes of anguish or pain or sin.   In that moment, Alma could’ve said “No, not me.  My weaknesses, my sins, they are too great.  He doesn’t want me anymore.”  I think that’s really where we need faith to come to bat for us.  Our faith is what reminds us “Yes, even me, He even loves me” in the moments when it’s almost impossible to believe.   I think especially in our culture right now, it is Herculean to admit defeat, to show weakness, to bring anything less than perfect to the table and believe that Christ will accept it, just glad to see us.  But I believe He does and I am quite sure that He is glad to see us.  We have the testimonies of people like Alma and Paul to remind us of the poignancy of that thought.  I believe they are so intent on sharing His goodness because they don’t want anyone left in that awful, miserable place of believing they’re beyond grace.  But the very nature of that place is that it is lonely and when we’re there, we do believe He’s disappointed, angry and has gladly forgotten us.  We feel buried in our wrongdoings to the point that we sincerely believe there is no longer a way out.  But Alma the younger, who could relate to all of those feelings, came to that moment in the presence of an angel and he says once he grasped onto that thought, even just the thought, of the Savior and feebly reached out for His grace, there could be nothing so great as his joy at the mercy and forgiveness he was offered.   Can you imagine that contrast?

We can all relate to that on some level right?  Honestly finding ourselves in a moment, day, year or lifetime when we have been less than what we’d want or like to be?  Sometimes the realization of this is dramatic and pronounced like Alma or Paul.  Sometimes it’s more subtle and comes over time.  Regardless, can you relate to coming to terms with an overwhelming need for help?  And then receiving help in a personal and poignant way?  This man, Alma the younger, would go on to rebuild a life full of compassion, mercy and beautiful teachings about Jesus Christ.  He spent the rest of his life sharing his glimpse of heaven with people.  He offered his experience, testimony and understanding to anyone who would benefit from it.  I wonder if one of the primary tenets of his message was forgiveness and repentance because he understood the power inherent in that kind of change and he also understood the mountain of challenges that come when one undertakes such a change of heart, mind and life.  At the foundation of his words, he held dear his own intimate understanding of just how much the Savior loves us.   And he knew, past any glimmer of doubt, that that love extends to all of us, not just those who are currently seeking Him.