Yesterday I spoke to our congregation. I was to prepare a ten minute talk on the topic “Charity Never Faileth.” I spent a lot of my spare time thinking about what I would say and then a couple of hours actually writing it. It wasn’t until all was said and done that I realized that my talk could be a good start for an essay. I had not really considered writing much about my religion because I often feel it is so personal and not something I want to put out for people to say whatever they will about, but I am starting to feel that it is a conversation I might not mind having a voice in.
I wrote out pretty much word for word what I wanted to say, but when I spoke I tried not to be too tied to what was written on the page, so for those of you who were there, I apologize if there are some parts that are written here differently than you remember them. Also, I cut out my little introduction because it mostly makes sense if I am speaking in front of a specific group, so it begins somewhat abruptly. And for all of you, I hope you enjoy my remarks. And always, if you have any thoughts or feedback or questions or anything you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. (Also, I realize that there is some terminology that may be unfamiliar to some of you. If I were to revise this for publication, I would, of course, rewrite or define those terms.)
When Micah and I were engaged, we were students at BYU. When we met, we were living in neighboring apartment complexes and were in the same ward, but after he proposed, he moved from the apartment he had been living in with his brother and a friend, to an empty space in an apartment next door, which two of my brothers shared. It was just the three of them: my brothers and my fiancé, and I took full advantage of that. When I got home from class or work, I would immediately go over to their apartment, start my homework, use Micah’s computer, and sometimes nap on the couch. Micah’s car had a broken muffler, and when I heard it pull into the parking lot as he came home from the job he had just started in Salt Lake City, I would start getting the Pasta-Roni ready for dinner.
One day I was alone at Micah’s apartment. It was November or December, and cold outside. I was doing whatever it was that I was doing that day – homework or resting on the couch, and daydreaming about my fiancé and our upcoming marriage. I wondered if Micah and I shared such a connection – if I loved him enough – that I would know if he was ever in trouble and needed my help. Unfortunately, the phone ringing kept interrupting my daydreams. I checked the caller ID and didn’t recognize the number, so I let it go. It wasn’t my apartment, after all, I didn’t like talking on the phone, and if whoever was calling wanted to get ahold of someone who lived there, they could do it just as quickly by leaving a message on the machine as by giving me the message since neither I nor the machine would be seeing any of the apartments’ actual residents until they got home. So I continued daydreaming and ignoring the phone.
Ten or 15 minutes went by and Micah’s brother, who lived in the apartment next door, came over to say that Micah’s car had broken down, and that he’d been calling the apartment trying to get ahold of me. He needed me to borrow my brother’s car and come get him from the park-and-ride lot in West Valley. In the very moment I had been wondering if I would know if Micah was in trouble, I had failed to recognize his calls for help.
Contrast that with a story Micah told me about his mother. One winter day when he was in high school, Micah had left his car parked at the school overnight in the teacher parking lot after volleyball practice. His mom drove him to the school in the morning so he could pick up his car and drive to early-morning seminary and then back to school. Mom Heiselt dropped Micah off at his car and drove away so she could get to work. It was only after she was gone that he realized he didn’t have his car keys. This was before every high school student – or even every mother — had a cell phone, so he couldn’t call her to tell her what had happened. But as he stood there trying to figure out what to do – he couldn’t leave his car parked in the teacher parking lot during the day – his mom pulled back into the parking lot. She said she was about to get on the freeway when she had a feeling Micah needed help and that she should go back and find out what was wrong. She was able to give him the extra key she had and they both went on their way.
I will get back to those stories at the end, but for now, on to the topic at hand: charity never faileth. The Relief Society motto is so engrained in my mind that I hardly ever think about what it actually means. It sounds nice and is concise, which, as a write, I definitely appreciate, but aside from that, those three words pack a lot of punch.
Charity is the pure love of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that without charity, our thoughts, actions, and words are essentially hollow – we are nothing if we do not fill ourselves with charity – no matter how good our deeds appear to men.
He goes on to say that even though prophecies fail, and languages cease to exist, and knowledge vanishes, charity will still be there – and will be succeeding in our society. It will not fail us as knowledge and language and prophecies do – which we have seen again and again as we continue to learn, as we cannot find the words or message to convey the most important – or even the most basic – things, and as we are continually subject to “prophecies” or projections that our world will end, or there will be no more fish in the sea, or our earth will reach absolute capacity in a few short years. If we put our efforts towards solving these things, we will be let down, but not if we put our efforts into developing charity. If we do that, we will not and cannot fail.
But what does having charity actually look like, and how do we develop it? I remember first becoming aware of what “charity” was through books and movies I read and watched as a child. I witnessed ragged women with half a dozen children hanging on to their skirts, standing at the door of a rundown house on the outskirts of town as a nicely dressed woman or man presented them with a basket of food or clothes or other necessities. “We don’t take charity,” the ragged woman would usually say. “We’re poor but we take care of our own.” And the door would slam shut.
Those lines and images are what stuck in my head throughout my teenage years, especially as my very large family often woke up to find bags or boxes of clothes from well-meaning neighbors who wanted to help us out, and as we often became the “dumping ground” for any extra food left over from church activities. It always left me with an uneasy, somewhat shameful, feeling.
Of course, my books and movies were unable to show what true charity is. As Sister Silvia Allred noted in her most recent conference address, “Charity is not a single act or something we give away but a state of being, a state of the heart, kind feelings that engender loving actions.” She notes that Mormon teaches that charity purifies those that have it, and it is bestowed upon the Lord’s true disciples.
President Thomas S. Monson taught “Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weakness and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they are. It is looking beyond physical attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”
Sister Allred also says, “When we have charity, we are willing to serve and help others when it is inconvenient and with no thought of recognition or reciprocation. We don’t wait to be assigned to help because it becomes our very nature.”
As with so many spiritual attributes, charity can be developed — first as we have a true desire for it, as we pray for it, as we seek for opportunities to love others. And, as with so many spiritual attributes, it takes time and effort to develop. But as we do so, our pride, selfishness, desire for recognition, our greediness, our grudges will fall away. It will change us – it will help us mature and become more like Christ because we will be filled with his love.
This brings me back to my original story: me, sitting on the couch, ignoring the phone and daydreaming about my love for my fiancé, versus my mother-in-law, pulling off the highway to go help her son who was in trouble.
My “love” for Micah, at the time, was rather immature. Yes, we were getting married, but our relationship was still very young. As was my understanding of what true love is. I had an idea that when I truly loved Micah, I would know when he needed help, and I would know how to help him. But it didn’t occur to me that that love would also overcome my fear of answering the phone, my selfish desire to stay in the warm apartment, or my enjoyment of having the apartment all to myself.
In retrospect, my daydreams were probably the closest I’d ever gotten to the Spirit yelling at me, but I didn’t recognize it. My thoughts were more selfish – wondering if I loved him enough – and fearful – of answering the phone – than they were of love and concern.
On the other hand, Micah’s mom, who is in all honesty one of the most charitable people I know, did not hesitate to turn around, retrace her steps, be late for work or whatever else, to find out if Micah was okay. The inconvenience was not an issue. She did not doubt her feelings. She simply acted out of love for her son.
This is what I imagine true charity to be like: to be able to recognize the needs of others and unquestioningly, without excuses or concern for myself, act to fulfill them.
Despite my past failures, I draw hope from verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
My actions that day that I sat on the couch as Micah tried to call me for help, were childish. But I do have a desire to grow up and put away my childishness and to act with a mature, Christ-like love. As I learn how to do that, it is my hope and belief that even without a phone, I would hear the calls for help from those around me and not hesitate to act. I do not want to fail my family or those I love. And I want to express my gratitude for Micah and his charity and understanding towards me in my failings, and with his patience towards me as I slowly develop charity. I hope that by the time my kids are in high school, I will be more prepared to come to my family’s rescue in whatever situations they may find themselves in.