Today our family was asked to speak on friendship and fellowshipping in the gospel. What a fantastic topic to discuss among you, my friends!
When I was growing up I suffered from a painfully shy personality. I didn’t know how to talk to people, I felt intimidated by just about everyone, and making new friends was a terrifying idea to me. Because of this, I usually sat in the corner during church classes and activities. I’d watch the other girls in my young women’s classes, and wonder how they were able to be so confident, and so cool ALL. THE. TIME.
Now, my parents moved into the ward that I lived in for most of my childhood, when I was about 5 years old. I started kindergarten with the same group of kids that I would later graduate high school with. These were not new kids in my universe. Yet my ability to be friends with them was hampered for years because of my intense shyness.
This of course, made mutual activities and even at times church itself, less than fun. The other kids were never unkind to me, they just overwhelmed me with their fabulousness.
And then finally in about 8th or 9th grade, something changed. I remember attending a fireside by a popular CES speaker at the time. I don’t remember the details of his talk, but one thing he said, stuck with me. It’s something I still think about today, and it was the first thought that came to me when I was assigned this topic.
He said, talking about the gospel, quote: “It seems to me we’re supposed to be friends.”
In that moment my perception of who people were, and who I was, changed. With friendship put into the gospel perspective, I saw people – my peers, my leaders, even strangers, not as people who were way beyond my cool zone, but rather as my literal brothers and sisters, part of my eternal family.
And as part of that eternal family, we were supposed to be friends.
Over those last years of mutual I finally was able to develop friendships with the other youth in my ward. Those friendships were key to my teenage gospel health, and I still think about those girls I grew up with with deep appreciation in my soul for how they were able to help lift me in the gospel during my teenage years.
And then I graduated from mutual into Relief Society!
And all women will say that that transition is uncomfortable.
But time came and went, and soon enough I was in the thick of Relief Society life. Soon I was a young mother with a few unruly children who couldn’t get through a sacrament meeting without someone launching a paper airplane over the benches in front of us. And it was Brother and Sister Beverly who sat in front of us.
Every week I would apologize for the circus that was my bench, and every week they would chuckle and tell us it was ok. But I never really felt like it was.
Then one week we had a lesson in Relief Society about something or other. Again, I don’t remember the details of the class, but I do remember Sister Beverly raising her hand to comment. She said that we young mothers were doing so much better than we thought we were, and that our children were good, and that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, because we were doing just fine.
I want to read a quote by Sister Hinckley, she said, about our Relief Society friendships:
“We are all in this together. We need each other. Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young, and hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old…We need deep and satisfying and loyal friendships with each other. These friendships are a necessary source of sustenance.Marjorie Pay Hinckley
OH, how sister Beverly’s friendship sustained me that day. And it has sustained me through many a challenging sacrament meeting. I often think back to that comment made in Relief Society and take courage as I wrestle a baby through another meeting.
Now, I’ve shared some examples of how people have befriended me, and how those friendships and words of kindness have sustained me in the gospel, but how do we take this beyond our ward family, and share that goodness that we have with those who don’t share our same faith, lifestyles, or habits?
Anyone who’s attended a Sunday School class that I’ve taught has probably heard me bemoan the overwhelming concept of member missionary work. To me it is most certainly not natural. But as I’ve thought about the experiences I’ve had with friendships that have carried me in the gospel, one core common thread to those friendships is that they were based in real and heartfelt reality. There was no pretense. My friends accepted me in my weakness and reassured me that I could improve.
President Hinckley talked about the importance of each member of the church, saying
Every convert [and we are all converts] needs “a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God.
The first element he listed was a friend. If we can share our friendship – without pretense, without judgment, reassuring others that they can improve, but that they are loved where they are right now – if we can share that sort of friendship with our neighbors or family members, they will naturally gravitate toward improvement.
Many years ago, here in our own ward we had a year where we had several convert baptism and/or reactivations in the ward. Some of those are still here in our ward, some have moved away. I remember watching that year unfold with absolute amazement. Living in Salt Lake, I sometimes have the bad attitude that everyone here already knows the church and what we’re all about, and anyone who wants to be a mormon, is one.
But I remember watching my neighbor, Yolanda Briganti, befriend another new neighbor down the street from us, Daisy Warburton. The three of us all moved into our homes within about a year of each other, none of us were well established in the neighborhood. Daisy was recently married, but spoke very little English. Yolanda, being herself (and those of you who remember her, will smile when I say that), jumped right in and began visiting Daisy every day, giving her English lessons. I don’t know the details of those visits, but I do know that Yolanda didn’t have a pretentious bone in her body. Her smile and optimism and love for the gospel was as real and genuine as anything.
And the next thing I know Daisy is being baptized into the church, and her husband, Mark, who had been inactive since his mission 20 years earlier, was being reactivated. Within a few years, short years, they were sealed in the temple, and I remember attending a small reception for them here in this very building. They moved away a few years ago, down to Draper, where they are still active to this day.
I’ve thought at times about Yolanda and Daisy. I was right there, right across the street from Daisy and Yolanda and all that transpired. But because of my shyness, or attitudes, or busyness or oblivion, I missed out on the opportunity to share the gospel with a woman whose heart was willing to listen. What an example Yolanda was to me of seeing beyond the very temporal noise of our lives, to the important souls who are all around.
Bishop Trelease has said before, people tend to rise or fall to the expectation put upon them. If we love our friends, seeing them as their very best selves, they will rise to the occasion.
At the same time, if we expect the very best of ourselves in the type of friend we are to others – warm, non-judgemental, and sincere in our friendship, we will improve as well, becoming more Christ-like and better able to simply love our eternal brothers and sisters.
I pray that we will remember that because of Christ, we are supposed to be friends. I hope we will all find time to practice our friendship skills, being better friends to Heavenly Father’s children – to our Brother’s and Sisters, wherever they are on the road to returning to Him. This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.