Last month at our Bishop's Youth Fireside the topic was "honesty." I can't exactly remember the context, but the speaker pointed out that Heavenly Father loves all of his children, regardless of the mistakes they've made; that he loves the righteous and the unrighteous completely and totally.
"He does?" said one incredulous teacher-aged boy, as if hearing this particular factoid for the first time. When the statement was backed up with an explanation and a scripture, the young man's response was still complete surprise, and, I hate to say it, he acted a bit gypped.
I'm sure that this young man has been taught the truth somewhere along the way. I'm also sure that fifteen year old-boys (and I'm sorry to say, maybe this one in particular) aren't the most compassionate creatures in the world. I'm also sure that you are teaching your children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews that just as they are children of God, so is each and every person they come in contact with. As much as this qualifier makes the words almost meaningless, each person is unique; each person is special.
We get so busy telling the kids that they are amazing, reserved to come to earth at this time and the strongest. spirits. ever, that we sometimes forget to be as forthcoming with the realization that with great blessing comes great responsibility and expectation. And not just with all that they are required to do. I think this is more about the internal achievements of self-control, empathy and sincerity. Who they become. Who they have the potential to become.
While I don't think I am teaching my kids that they are any more loved by their Heavenly Father than their friends or our neighbors, I realize that I have to be careful about my own behavior in this regard. I think as LDS people we sometimes see the world in too much black and white. Now, I'm not talking about what is right and what is wrong here, I'm talking about how we tend to categorize people as "righteous" or "unrighteous," as if there is some magic threshold you cross and BOOM you are righteous.
In nearly every conference, at least one apostle makes mention that the wickedness in our time is worse than in any other time. I'm not sure about this. (Follow me here before anyone protests.) There have been plenty of evil to the core societies throughout recorded history. Many of these civilizations didn't even have a Christian population to balance the more base aspects. Egypt. Rome. The Celtic era in the British Isles. Africa (various nations in every generation). . . . I won't go on, but you get the idea. I would much rather be alive now than, in say, a Hun-conquered territory. It may be true that certain states allow homosexual marriage, but it has to be better than burning sodomites at the stake in the public square.
This weekend I attended a neighborhood Christmas tea and cookie exchange that the ladies in my neighborhood host every year. It was absolutely lovely. The food was nice, the company was delightful, and I didn't feel a whit out of place. The women, many of whom have lived on my street for years, spoke about children now grown and the wonderful memories of when their kids were young together. Many of these women are new grandmothers, and spoke with true affection about how good parenthood had been for their children. A couple of the mothers closer to my age lamented fifteen year-old daughters thinking about dating and how nervous they were for this to start. Several expressed to me how glad they were that a family with young children had moved into the block, joking that it would be wonderful if they could "borrow" my kids for the holiday because they are just so cute. After a pleasant 90 minutes I came to the valuable realization that if I will step outside my front door a little bit more often, and not just to run over to the church again, then I could have a wonderful support system right here.
Yesterday in Sunday School our lesson was about the Proclamation on the Family. During the lesson there was much talk about the evil "out there." I don't disagree that there is evil. I also acknowledge that our media (which has always been at the extreme edge of what is appropriate) has allowed much into our homes that shouldn't be there. But I think that to separate the world into the people we know at church vs. what we think the world is based on what we see on sitcoms and the news, then we are limiting ourselves in both friendship and potential to do good. In one of the Harry Potter books, Sirius Black says to Harry, "The world isn't divided into Death Eaters and members of the Order of the Pheonix." He didn't tell Harry that there wasn't ultimate evil that should be fought, but he was counseling him to be careful about judging people without understanding their experience.
Our Sunday School discussion of worldly evil centered a lot on homosexuality and a re-definition of marriage. One sister, pregnant with her sixth, spoke about how critical "people" had been of her large family. But I bet there are just as many people who look at her and think she is brave and wonderful and cool. Maybe those critics are just the vocal ones. I have to believe that there are still loads of people--atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews--not of of our faith who believe nuclear families are foundational to a functioning society, that unfettered sexual activity before marriage leads to heartache and baggage, that children are to be gloried and celebrated and that responsibility for your family should be at the top of your priority list. If I begin to believe otherwise, despair for raising my little brood will consume me until I'm afraid to leave the house.
Leaders of the Church, please warn and caution, but don't paint things with such stark imagery that I have difficulty looking to others with some measure of trust and faith. I don't want to be defensive when I approach somebody not of my faith. I want to see them as potential friends, mentors and sisters. (Or brothers, as it were.)
Our excellent teacher allowed people their various comments and incorporated them into a a positive discussion, yet at the same time she helped us see the "big picture" with this sacred document. Defining marriage, encouraging child-bearing and the specifics are only a part of it. At its heart, the Proclamation is about the love and responsibility we should have toward all of God's children, if for no other reason than they, like us are children of God. Obviously my husband and children should take my first priority, but I think I need to consider a little bit more closely who my neighbors are.
Our generation (or the one before, or the one after . . . ) might be "chosen," in that we are here at this time in the history of the world because we have been saved for a time of wickedness. But if I am to truly embrace this birthright with the humility it demands, then I must likewise choose to serve, love and do to the best of my ability. Or maybe better, trusting that the Lord can expand my abilities beyond what I can currently see.