Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Relaying God's Love

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from the April 1973 Conference.
When I was running track in high school, occasionally I'd be called upon to run one of the relays. My track and cross-country experience was an interesting one because I was a rather average runner, but I ran with two girls who were consistently the fastest in the country. They went on to Olympic Trials and NCAA Championships and all sorts of fame. What's more, they were smart, cute, nice girls who weren't stuck-up and who didn't mind running with me! And my senior year, we had a freshman girl join our team who rapidly became just as good as the older girls who had just graduated. So I was constantly surrounded by greatness. Anyway, when I had to run a relay with these amazing runners, my main thought was…JUST DON'T MESS IT UP! I knew we would probably win. My teammates would ensure that. But I had a great fear of falling SO far behind that EVEN THEY couldn't get us out of it—so I would be sick to my stomach and praying like crazy at the start of every relay. Please, please, just let me keep the pace, let me just get the baton safely to the next runner so SHE can bring it on home.

I've been thinking about that this week in connection with the idea of bringing God's love to His children. In Elder Marion D. Hanks' talk, he says of the Savior:
So closely is he tied with his fellowmen that in one of the most powerful parables he taught that bread given to one of the least of his brethren is bread given to him, and so is any kindness or act of grace or mercy or service. To deny help to one of the least of his brethren, he said, was to deny him.
Elder Hanks goes on to say that if we want to be like Christ, we too have to feel these close ties with our fellowmen. We have to seek such connection with others that we, like Christ, feel what they feel. And yet, it's obvious that we CAN'T do this to the extant that Christ does. He felt the pain of each person. He knows each person intimately. And we, even when we have similar experiences to others (and we often don't), frequently have a hard time truly understanding what they feel! Elder Hanks says:
A cherished friend who works with little children who have difficulties told me recently of a nine-year-old girl who has lived in 17 foster homes. She needs someone to cry with her, and laugh with her, and teach her, and love her. 
There are so many who are not—or feel they are not—understood…
[But] there is one who always understands, and those who seek to become the manner of person he is must seek to understand.
As I read this, the phrase "or feel they are not understood" stuck out to me. Of course people are never TRULY alone in their suffering! As Elder Hanks affirms, "There is one who always understands." But if someone doesn't FEEL understood—if they don't know or believe that there IS anyone else who knows their feelings—well, then they aren't much benefitted by that understanding.

So, the problem becomes for us, how do we convince others of Jesus' love for and knowledge of them? How do we help them feel the reality of His understanding? It seems clear that there has to be a transfer of love, from God to an individual. Of course He is able to do His own work. But often, there is an intermediary in the transfer from Christ to His children. WE are given the responsibility to bring HIS love, to them!

And just like when I used to run relays, I am overcome by that responsibility. God the Father, who loves us so much, embodied that love through His son. And Christ was a perfect reflection of His Father's love, bearing it intact to the world. The Holy Ghost, in its turn, testifies and affirms that love in individual hearts, converting and teaching Christ's followers. But now the baton passes to the weakest link in this chain—to the imperfect believer—in short, to ME. It terrifies me to realize how inadequate I am to bear that love. I DON'T understand everything my fellowmen are going through. I DON'T know their inner pain. I'm NOT able to forget myself completely in their service. And yet this is the charge I am given, as a follower of God. 

How can I do it? Luckily Elder Hanks gets to that:
They who would follow him and be the manner of person he is will, as he did, lift up the repentant who suffer and sorrow for sin, and bless them with love and forgiveness. 
Of course, all honest men on occasion feel their weakness and groan in the face of their inadequacies and ignorance and pride... 
But Christ will lift us up and help us to become as he is as we do as he did; as we love our Father and give him our lives; as we love each other and all men, and learn to live and teach his word; believe in the worth of souls and let our lives be the warrant of our earnestness; mourn with those who mourn, and bring hope to them; understand and comfort those who weep; cry unto the Lord.
It's obvious, I guess, that the way I can be the best bearer of God's love is to imitate Him as much as possible. To do what he did, as Elder Hanks says, and to "cry unto the Lord" for increased capacity. And there's another component, too. As often happens, when one of these talks brings up questions in my mind, another talk begins to answer them, and Franklin D. Richards' talk on the Holy Ghost made me think about His role in all this:
President Brigham Young stated: “The Holy Ghost … opens the vision of the mind, unlocks the treasures of wisdom, and they begin to understand the things of God. …
They comprehend themselves and the great object of their existence.”

Thus we see that the Holy Ghost is a witness of the Father and the Son, a comforter, a teacher, and the bearer of valuable gifts of the spirit, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, discernment, and direction.
If I'm continuing the relay analogy, I guess I'd say this makes me think the Holy Ghost doesn't give up the baton completely after testifying to our hearts. He runs alongside us, and as we try to pass God's love on to others, He is there assisting with the transfer.

And so I've been thinking about how I could, of course not replace the Holy Ghost, but emulate Him. Since He does such a perfect job of conveying God's love, how could I look to His example as I try to do the same? I love the ideas in the quote above: open the vision of the mind, comfort, teach. Back in Elder Hanks' talk, he gives another clue:
Christ in our lives is not meant to grieve us or weigh us down unto death because we have been imperfect. Through him we may be lifted up by accepting his gifts and his mercy and long-suffering.
It's true. I've learned this through experience: the Holy Ghost always speaks with hope and positivity. As a bearer of "wisdom, discernment, and direction," of course He doesn't encourage us to ignore or deny our own sins! But He speaks truth in a voice of hope.

Franklin D. Richards gives an example of an Air Force cadet who was discouraged and failing his classes. He learned about the church and soon got baptized. Elder Richards says:
He bore witness that upon receiving the Holy Ghost he felt its influence quicken his mind and understanding and refresh his memory, and that thereafter he had no trouble in getting satisfactory grades. His feelings of discouragement left him, and a spirit of peace and comfort came over him. This was a most inspiring and impressive testimony of the great value of the Holy Ghost.
Could I do this? As I attempt to convey God's love to those who don't yet feel it, could I imitate the Holy Ghost's hopeful perspective? Could I, like Him, be both teacher AND comforter to those in my charge?

As President Harold B. Lee gave the concluding talk of this conference, he gave his listeners an invitation: "Take to your people out in the far reaches the feeling of love that we have for all of them," he said.

I keep imagining Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit urging me to do the same. "This baton of love has passed through us to you," I envision them saying. "You've received it. Now it's your turn to run with it and take it to the rest of the human family." And even though I want to protest, knowing how likely I am to be the slowest and weakest in this race, I also know that all I really have to do is keep going, holding on tight to that love I've been entrusted with. I don't have to be the fastest or the best. I just have to get that love, somehow, into the hands and hearts of those around me, and the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost will do the rest. And with them on my team, how can I fail?

Other posts in this series:

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