I realized a few years ago that I needed to make some changes in this area of my life. It has been hard. I still feel a little nervous participating in non-church activities. I used to feel panic and dread so I guess nervous is an improvement.
Being around non-members has been humbling for me. I have asked myself more than once "What can I offer them that they don't already have?" Now, I know my LDS readers will instantly think of a dozen answers to that question but how would I say that to a non-member? We tend to attract people with activities and friendship. What if they already have that? What makes our friendship better than the ones they already have?
I have been surprised by the answer I have gotten as I pondered this problem. The Spirit has guided me from one thought to another over the past several months. I was sharing my experience with an LDS friend and suggested she join me in going to a non-church activity. She said, "I don't really need that. Relief Society is enough for me."
Now, I might have said that myself a few years ago. I fully understand that sentiment and I don't mean to sound critical of her or that comment. At that same time, I felt a rush of uncomfortable, upset feelings when she said that. I was surprised and I didn't really understand why I was feeling that way. I felt disturbed by my feelings.
I though "Why isn't Relief Society enough for me?" I felt disappointed in myself, as if I have rejected the gospel by seeking outside friendships and support. I spent several days reflecting on this. I realized that wasn't really true but I continued to wonder why I felt so compelled to associate with non-members.
I reflected again on the wonderful examples of faithful women I have come to know. They have motivated me to do better. I have become spoiled in the gospel. I really haven't had to work very hard and I have become lazier in my old age.
I was still thinking about this a few days ago when a story came forcefully into my mind. It is the story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. They were stranded in the snow on their way to Salt Lake City. The people were dying. Word reached President Brigham Young during General Conference. He immediately stood and said
“I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak to-day and during the conference, it is this, on the 5th day of October, 1856, many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with hand-carts, and probably many are now 700 miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be, ‘to get them here.’ I want the brethren who may speak to understand that their text is the people on the plains, and the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before the winter sets in. …I thought of the circumstances of this event. 700 miles is a long way, even today. It would take time to make preparations and reach those in need. Would it really matter if they had finished the conference? Would it really matter if they waited until the next day? Apparently it would. Every moment was precious to those who were starving and freezing. Their brothers and sisters in Salt Lake were not suffering. They could have continued to live their comfortable lives and left those pioneers to die. It wouldn't make a difference in their lives, would it? President Young did not mince words. Our faith means nothing if we don't exercise it. "Faith without works is dead."(James 2:17)
“I shall call upon the Bishops this day, I shall not wait until to-morrow, nor until [the] next day, for 60 good mule teams and 12 or 15 wagons. I do not want to send oxen, I want good horses and mules. They are in this Territory, and we must have them; also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, … 60 or 65 good spans of mules, or horses, with harness. …
“I will tell you all,” said he, “that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties, otherwise your faith will be in vain; the preaching you have heard will be in vain to you, and you will sink to hell, unless you attend to the things we tell you” (Deseret News, Oct. 15, 1856, 252). (as quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley, October 2006)
So, what does this have to do with having non-member friends? Everything! There are many struggling to reach the truth but they are often detained by the many unpredictable challenges of life. They would be here if there was someone to bring them in. They are in need of rescue, maybe even more than those early saints. Who will go out into the cold and dangerous wilderness to find them? It must be us, the faithful members of the church.
In the moment it took for all these thoughts to converge, I heard the words of my friend again. "I have it, I don't need anything else." The powerful response echoed in my mind "They need you."
This isn't the first time I have had the idea that others needed me to be an example and share the blessing of the gospel. I often dismiss this idea as arrogance. Who do I think I am? But I am coming to understand that I have been richly blessed, not because I deserve it, because I am so much better than someone else, but because the Lord has given me a mission and I need to get on with it.
I am still a big chicken. I know I must rely on the Lord to keep from having a panic attack every time I tell someone what church I go to. My hope is that I can get past that and do what the Lord would have me do. I hope that I can go to the rescue of those brothers and sisters in need and bring them safely to the valley.