The brunt of my talk is based on Moroni chapter 7. Moroni was the last Nephite prophet in the Book of Mormon. He was born and raised in a time of divisions, violence, and degradation. He was surrounded by war and witnessed his once powerful society fall into utter destruction. I imagine he felt a helpless grasping of loss when he heard his father, Mormon, sorrowfully cry, “oh ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the lord?” Moroni had intimate knowledge of what can happen to a great society, a once righteous society, when it loses sight of the simple teachings and promises of Jesus Christ. Moroni also had intimate knowledge of isolation and loneliness. He spent years wandering alone, most likely longing for human connection. I imagine his life experience of loss, coupled with painful seclusion, led him on one of the most profound existential journeys ever experienced by a human being. I imagine he spent years pondering the most critical elements of human existence.
Having no immediate audience, Moroni wrote for future generations. In Mormon 8:35 we read, “behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” From the wealth of his own spiritual life he assembled a collage of insights designed to have particular relevance to our time. Having witnessed the collapse of his own civilization, Moroni was conscious of the causes of social disintegration and therefore worked to record the principles necessary to reverse it. He wrote for the future, for he knew the day would come when other civilizations would also be marred by war and a separation of ideologies.
His writings reveal that he was interested in identifying the personal attributes that must be nurtured to avoid the onset of social decay. Let me say that again, he was interested in the personal attributes that each of us as individuals can cultivate to avoid the onset of social decay. Things we can all develop independent of our life’s circumstances, struggles, beliefs, or social pressures. Central to the writings of Moroni are the three interlocking virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Now, before I continue I would like to confess that I’m not good at faith, I have very little hope, and I have a lot of room for improvement in the charity category. So I do not speak to you from a position of expertise, I speak to you from a position of humble transparency where I openly acknowledge my own need for improvement as I focus on the third virtue: charity.
In Moroni 7 we read “charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”
I’ll be honest, as I have read this scripture over the years my inner sarcastic pessimist has always come to the conclusion that charity is an impossible expectation of which I may never achieve. I don’t suffereth well when it’s short, and charity suffereth long. I am also admittedly prideful, puffed up, easily provoked, I thinketh evil more than I should, I’ve been known to enjoy a little iniquity every now and then, and I do not always rejoice in the truth. I do not believe all things. I certainly do not hope all things. And as my inability to consistently eat vegetables has proven time and time again, I do not endureth all things.
Let’s be honest, pure, Christ like love, charity, is hard. I, you, we, are currently swimming in a sea of collective anxiety, angst, and division. Over the last few years it feels like we have been forced to take sides on numerous issues at the local, national, and international level. This has left many feeling divided and full of righteous indignation. We have cultivated a thus vs. them mental and purposely isolate with like-minded people. We pick and choose the groups that make us comfortable and struggle to understand those on the other side of the aisle. I do this, we all do this. My personal experience of this often leaves my chest and stomach twisted into knots. I feel ready at any given time to throw up my defenses and argue my side with spirited energy.
I grew up in the LDS church. I have heard the phrase charity never faileth a thousand times. But it was not until recently that this phrase started to mean something to me. Charity never faileth. The pure love of Christ never fails. Arguments fail. Trying to convince someone they are wrong fails. Pushing your agenda on someone else fails. But love. The scriptures tell us that love never fails. If ever there was a time when we needed a successful tool for healing it is now.
So what does this mean for us? How do we, imperfect and opinionated humans, have a love that never fails? Especially when we feel strongly about certain topics? How do we hold charity and disagreement simultaneously? How do we show love when we are full of fear and distrust for those who do not look like use, do not act like us, or do not believe like us? How do we love those we do not understand or even want to understand?
We follow what Moroni says:
1. We suffereth long. We engage in patient endurance under provocation. Love does not retaliate. We do not love someone only as long as they are living up to our standards and act how we would have them act. We love them even though their beliefs and actions grate against our own. There is no greater example of long suffering than that of our Savior. He lived among those who hated and despised him. He was ridiculed, tortured, and eventually killed by a group of people who misunderstood, hated, and despised him. Yet in the end he asked the father to forgive them.
2. We are kind. Kindness does not require you to like, agree with, or understand another person or their beliefs or actions. Kindness is simple. Kindness is choosing to make eye contact with a homeless person. It is offering an understanding smile to the older lady holding up the checkout line in Target while she writes a check. It is recognizing that life is hard and we all need the gift of kindness and grace on a daily basis.
3. We are not easily provoked. We work to keep our fear, anger, and hurts in check. We cultivate the ability to recognize and celebrate the imperfections in ourselves while connecting with the imperfections in others. We take a step back and work to see those we disagree with as human. We seek to find goodness instead of fault. This is not easy. Provocation instinctually triggers a fight or flight response. We are predisposed to fight back, to argue. But we must learn to override this natural instinct. We must seek to see the good, no matter how it is packaged and find some particle of humanity with which we can connect.
4. We beareth all things. We push ourselves beyond being tolerant. Tolerance is walking on eggshells with gritted teeth. Love is recognizing that we need and want someone in our lives. To quote one of my favorite authors**, “If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are…then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated”
5. We are full of hope. We hope in humanity. We hope in goodness. We embrace the stomach twisting knot of disagreement and we hope that God can handle the difference we struggle to contain. We hold to hope as we love in spite of our fears. We reach out to those we do not understand, those we despise, those that trigger our disgust, and we hope we can find within ourselves a well of kindness that is greater than our own discomfort.
6. We endure, in love. Meaning we practice loving, again and again, until we fully get it.
Fortunately, my life has have forced me to learn to love people in a way that I am not naturally predispositioned to do. I am blessed with the humble honor of listening to other’s pain, sorrows, and struggles on a daily basis. My prejudices, preconceived stereotypes, and judgements are constantly being challenged. I have endless opportunities to practice loving those who have drastically different beliefs than I do.
And what have I learned from practicing charity with those who don’t believe in god? Who are pro choice? Who are pro life? Who are members of the LGTBQ community? Who are uber liberal? Who are uber conservative? Who are refugees, immigrants, and grandchildren of the founding fathers? I have learned that loving others is the most sacred experience we can engage in. I have learned that the belief that I am motivated from a place of love while those who disagree with me are motivated from a place of hate is a holy war of ideology that keeps us polarized. I have learned that we can find commonalities in a sea of difference. I have learned that love never faileth. Loving someone is always the right thing to do.
To quote president Monson, “we cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey”. That is how we, imperfect and opinionated humans, have a love that never fails. We recognize that all of us are travelers on a mortal journey. To quote one of my favorite authors again**, “Life hurts and it's hard. Not because you're doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody.” And, “The only meaningful thing we can offer one another is love. Not advice, not questions about our choices, not suggestions for the future, just love,” and finally, “People who are hurting don't need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpful vigil to our pain.”
That is what it means to have charity. We stand in helpful vigil to others pain. And brothers and sisters, we are all in pain on some level.
In the October 2007 conference, Elder Wirthlin said, “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. It comforts, counsels, cures, and consoles. It leads us through valleys of darkness and through the veil of death. In the end love leads us to the glory and grandeur of eternal life.”
Have charity and love others sounds overly simplistic; but it is not. It is one of the most difficult challenges we have been tasked to do. None of us have the luxury of sitting in comfort knowing we have mastered charity. For all of us have room for improvement. At a time when the lines of division are starkly drawn by religious, political, and social ideologies let us use our shared imperfection as a starting point for connection. For it is through connection that family relationships are healed, communities are strengthened, and civilizations thrive.
Charity never faileth. Love never faileth.