Waiting anxiously for each rock

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session of the April 1977 Conference.
During this project we've read through several of these Welfare Sessions now, and it's hard to avoid a sense that they are all the same! Because the subject matter is so tightly focused, I guess, there is a lot of repetition and it's hard (for the speakers, apparently, and certainly for me!) to think of anything new to say! There are lots of practical matters addressed: how to set up the Bishop's Storehouses, what kinds of commodities wards can produce, etc. I assume many of these details have changed over the years. Then there are spiritual themes that come up repeatedly: work is ennobling, service and charity are essential, generosity blesses both givers and receivers…the same principles appear in these sessions again and again.

But although, through so much repetition, it would be easy to lose sight of the value of those principles, it's always the stories that remind me what church welfare is really about. Sister Barbara B. Smith told this one, which on the surface isn't even about welfare. It's about a husband and wife that went to buy landscaping rocks for their yard. The rocks were big and heavy, and they were collected at the top of a hill, and the husband started complaining about how much harder this would make everything. So, his wife said she would go up the hill and roll the rocks down to him.

The husband described how his wife started noticing things about each rock she chose. She seemed excited about the merits of each one, and she would describe them as she rolled the rocks down to her husband:
"Soon she called out, ‘Here comes the first rock. Here comes another one.’ Then she said, ‘Oh, this rock is a beauty. I hope this one won’t be too heavy for you to carry.’
“I said, ‘I’ll carry anything you roll down.’
“Then she said, ‘Look at this rock. It has real character. Here comes my favorite.’”
He said, “She actually had me waiting anxiously for each rock!” And then he said, “In this endeavor, as in many other of our projects together, she had given me not only the help I needed but a perspective that often eludes men.”
As I read this I thought about how the concept of "church welfare" sounds kind of boring and abstract and administrative. It sounds just about as boring as "going to pick up a bunch of rocks." :) But my kids love rocks! And as we've studied rocks together, we've experienced the same thing as the wife in the story above: once you start really looking at rocks—picking them up, examining them, turning them toward the light—they become beautiful! Every single time
When we're out collecting rocks, there are usually huge piles of them. From far away they all pretty much look the same. But after just a few minutes of careful looking, the kids have found favorites. And they've become attached. If they happen to drop a rock after "choosing" it, they'll look anxiously for it on the ground. They'll carefully check through our collection buckets to make sure their special rocks don't get left behind. And that's just how welfare, real welfare (or I guess not necessarily just official church welfare—but charity in any form) works. The scope of "helping all God's children" is huge and impersonal and daunting. But as we serve in our own little spheres, our own Relief Societies and neighborhoods, this is the real-est kind of reality there is! It's the place our religious ideals actually coalesce into something tangible. It's where we learn to show love to people we have no "obligation" to. It's where we get to know our neighbors and they become dear to us. It's where people come to feel, on more than an abstract level, that they are of worth to God. The people in my ward who have been bringing me dinner since the baby was born are doing it for ME, and for OUR FAMILY, not for abstract principles. And we—personally, specifically—are the ones who feel their love as we eat it. 
Every time recently that I've heard a story of someone who helped others after Hurricane Harvey, or read about relief efforts in Mexico City, it's the specifics that make me emotional. Same with the church membership reports: they read the statistics in Conference about how many new converts have joined, and it's mildly interesting, but every time I read a real person's conversion story, no matter how small, I feel determined to share the gospel more readily and be more fully converted myself. 

So this talk was a good reminder to me: If you find "church welfare" boring, it's probably because you're not participating in it. Because when you are part of a charitable cause—when you're connecting with real people, helping or being helped, giving and receiving love—there is no tedium and no indifference. The people we serve become beautiful and meaningful in our eyes, and we are anxious about the well-being of each one. As Elder J. Richard Clarke said in this same session: "These are not statistics, brothers and sisters; these are real people with real needs."

Other posts in this series:


  1. Love your comments and perspective. When we were the recipients of Bishop's Storehouse orders at a trying time in our lives we included in our prayers expressions of great heartfelt gratitude for the many individuals who had made possible our meals at that time. The welfare work we do does make a difference to individuals and families in a very personal way. Collectively our small efforts make a big difference.

    1. It's so true. When something is done for YOU, you realize what a BIG thing those small things can be! I'm so glad the church has helped me learn that (and keep learning it!).

  2. Such a great perspective! Of course. Generalities might seem boring, but actually doing something for SOMEONE! That's how i need to rework my mind to think.


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