I am currently serving as the RS president in our ward. Basically I have spent the last almost year pining and waiting for things to get back to normal, but lately I have been thinking that maybe that is not at all what I want. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait until we can leave the house without masks and can be with people without it, you know, ending in death. But I’m also realizing, what better time to shake things up a bit?
Firmly believing that if you’re going to do something you might as well do it big, and in honor of this year’s study of the Doctrine and Covenants, our Relief Society is going to put forth a concerted effort this year to create a Zion community, and we want to think outside of the box to do it. For example, many people think Zion is a place where everyone can be accepted, but it’s also a place where people are not free to hurt each other. There have to be some firm boundaries of accepted behavior. How do you see boundaries being implemented while at the same time appreciating diversity? What problematic behaviors do you think are deserving of patience and what ones cannot be tolerated under any circumstances? I have a million questions and I would love to get some ideas from you all. I would truly love to know what you picture when you think of what Zion could look like in your own home/ward/neighborhood. What are some specific experiences or ideas of what Zion is/could be to you? What do you do when another’s idea of Zion differs? Please share your comments to help me think outside of my assumptions!
(The following is an email I sent out to our Relief Society board to give you some idea of the direction we are going.)
I am so excited about this year and to see what comes from it. I have been thinking and praying and fasting about what we can do to facilitate our year of Zion building. There are a few things that we need to consider.
I think that it is intentional that the teachings surrounding Zion in the scriptures are both specific and vague. There are certain laws that are universal to Zion communities. Service, consecration, kindness, forgiveness, sacrifice, generosity, doctrinal understanding, etc. are all necessary and fundamental. These laws are what make Zion work. However, there is a lot that is not taught about Zion—like how do we incorporate diversity? How do we know what and how to give, whether money, time, or other forms of help? What if not everyone in our community agrees with our world view? How do we handle tension and disagreements? There is so much that isn’t specified and I believe that is because our Heavenly Parents and Savior want us to be active participants with them in creation. We are working with them to create a Zion that can meet the specific and varying needs of the specific and varying communities of Christ all over the world. As creators we do not always get to choose the material we get to work with, but we can work with our Heavenly Parents in taking what we have and striving together to make something beautiful. The doctrine that all things can work together for our good needs to be foundational to our work, and this means we will have to be willing to think outside of the box in creative and bold ways. For example:
- Our community has a ton of mental health challenges. Often those experiencing this in themselves or family feel like their life is on hold until they can heal or at least get it under control. However, sometimes these are lifetime struggles. Even when they are not, mental illness takes up a huge chunk of time and energy when it is experienced. How do we incorporate these (and other) struggles into Zion rather than just wait for them to go away? How do we help the sisters who are suffering to realize that they are not a burden everyone else has to serve, but that their experiences and perspectives are actually a valuable addition that help others in unique and profound ways?
- One of the most common themes I hear from sisters that holds them back are feelings of unworthiness and just not having enough knowledge or experience to make their voices or understanding valid. How do we help the sisters see that the life we are living now is part of eternity, and all the things that they are learning and experiencing have eternal significance and practical use for both themselves and others?
- There are many inactive, non-member, and former members in our community. There is no indication that most of them are interested in changing that. How are we genuinely appreciating them? Are we seeing and valuing them for who they are right now as opposed to the person we think they should be or want to change them into? Are we aware of the contributions they make to our community and are we making room for them to be involved in ways that they are comfortable with with no ulterior motive on our part?
- A lot of sisters are deeply uncomfortable asking for help. How are we creating an environment where we don’t only encourage service, but also encourage being served? How are we associating both sides of service with gratitude and grace and joy and connection and not just with being saved?
- How can we step up our revelation game so that the sisters can see God being revealed in prayer and scripture and people and the world around them right now? How can we help the sisters to hear God speaking to them in the current events and struggles and successes in their lives? How can we help them to realize that it is their privilege as daughters of God, just because they are daughters of God, to speak with God and have the heavens opened to them today, not just to help them with lifestyle questions, but to actually know and understand their Heavenly Parents and Savior?
Another thing to take into consideration is what we can do to make sure that we don’t fall back into bad habits of going through the motions. It is so easy to act as if “man was made for the Sabbath”—that our job is just to go through the obedience check list for which obedience God will hopefully save us. But the purpose of the gospel is to help God to live in us, and us to live in God. This is incredible! What can we do to help the sisters to experience a living relationship with God, as opposed to a check list? For example:
- In our lessons/discussions/talks are we asking questions that require a reflective rather than a reflexive response? Are we encouraging the sisters to see from a different perspective or are we just encouraging the perspective and responses we have come to expect? Are we focusing on how principles and laws connect us personally to God and each other right now? Can we listen to struggles, especially faith struggles, without feeling defensive and threatened? Are we helping sisters to think with hope? Even audacity? (Cause let’s be honest, the gospel of Jesus Christ requires some audacity. It is a bold doctrine!)
Without overstating our situation, we are in a wonderful position to help create something life-changing. We will have to be willing to take faith-induced risks. There will be times that we will have to act even though we are not sure how it is going to turn out, but we can have faith that it will all be turned together for our good! We will need to be willing to act on inspiration, which means that we will need to be willing to think and act in different ways than we have before. This will take effort and momentum because it’s going to be very easy to fall back into old habits. Over the next few weeks please pray, fast, study, and consider specifics of what our Zion community can look like and we will get together to create a plan. Think outside the box! Be daring! Let’s really go for the best, most amazing possible scenario we can imagine and see what happens!