Saturday night, several talks of the General Relief Society Broadcast addressed charity. I was left with the general impression that we should want to cultivate feelings of charity towards others, and that as we desire to have charity, we will gain it.
I carry a sketch book and pencils with me. An adult only church meeting like the Relief Society broadcast is the perfect place for me to sit quietly and sketch portraits of the people around me. I like to study faces and postures, to see the effects of life written on the body. I like to look beyond the damage and wrinkles to the child who was, unblemished and innocent, full of hope and potential. To see other people in this way is to mourn the troubles that have shaped them and recognize the strength of character that has allowed them to triumph. It is to see others charitably.
I agree that we should desire to feel charitable, that we should cultivate that way of seeing others contrary to our selfish natures. But I also believe that charity may come on us unasked for, as a grace.
It happens in a breathtaking moment, when you suddenly see a glimpse of another person as God sees them, flawed, yes, but also vulnerable and beautiful.
I distinctly remember one kid in my Hebrew class at BYU. He was one of the most annoying people I have ever met in my life. He was very smart, but socially inept. He consistently made loud, obnoxious comments and drew attention to himself with jokes that fell flat. As a result, he was universally disliked. We would pointedly not respond, snicker behind his back, make snide comments, and mock him outside of class. And we felt justified because he really was that annoying. I was no better or worse than my classmates.
But one day, this kid was talking about his upcoming birthday and the party he was planning for it. And I suddenly realized that nobody liked this kid and nobody was going to his party. I saw him in that instant as a little child who desperately wanted to be liked, to be respected, to have friends. Everything he did to draw attention to himself was a plea for someone, anyone to see him, to know him. And it broke my heart to realized that he was alone and I had mocked him for it. I saw him as a child that God loved, but I didn’t. It broke my heart open, and I was humbled, shamed to my core.
I was changed that day. This kid wasn’t suddenly different, but the way I saw him was. I started talking to him and listening to him when he spoke. And once someone finally acknowledged him, he toned down the desperate attention seeking behavior and was less annoying to everyone in our little class. Because I broke our wall of derision to talk to him, the attitude of the class changed.
In the broadcast, Sister Silvia Allred shared a quote from our founding prophet, Joseph Smith:
Speaking to the sisters, the Prophet Joseph said, “Don’t be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor’s virtues. You must enlarge your souls toward others if you [would] do like Jesus. As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand—let them be enlarged towards others—you must be longsuffering and bear with the faults and errors of mankind. How precious are the souls of men!”
The kid still had faults, no doubt. But they no longer grated on me. I saw his faults and loved him for them. That was the beginning of charity, and I have no doubt that is a grace that came unbidden.