I was pretty excited as Elder Holland started out his 2017 April General Conference talk with “There is sunshine in my soul today” because as a generally happy person, I can relate to that; it’s easy to write about. However, as he immediately went on, he took me more and more out of my comfort zone when he talked about times it is hard to “smile and [feel the] ‘peaceful happy moments.’” There are so many things I could write about in relation to his talk: depression, suicide, unrealistic beauty expectations, stereotypes, war, being single in the Church, being childless in the Church, even times when we should keep sacred things to ourselves, but I’m not going to write about those today. The part that struck me were Elder Holland’s words about caring for the poor, which particularly made me think more about the homeless. I agree that with the staggering “economic inequality in the world, I feel guilty singing” of the blessings which I have.
A goal of the Church is to help people become self-reliant so that they can care for themselves and those around them. However, if people are unable to become self-reliant, we still need to do something to help. The First Presidency recently said it doesn’t matter how people became homeless, but our willingness to help them says something about us: “The causes [of homelessness] are varied, and solutions are often difficult, but whether homelessness stems from conflict, poverty, mental illness, addiction or other sources, our response to those in need defines us as individuals and communities.”
I admit, it is so much easier for me to help people who are on the road to self-reliance, and I struggle more helping those who don’t seem to want to help themselves. I believe this is a problem even people faced in Book of Mormon times. King Benjamin recognized this tendency: “The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just” (Mosiah 4:17). He says this is wrong and we should “impart of [our] substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26). It doesn’t seem to matter why someone is poor, it just matters that we help.
One recent Sunday, our lesson in Sunday School was on the Law of Consecration. The teacher admitted he did not want to teach this lesson. I’m guessing it was probably because he struggles, like me, with how much is enough to give and feeling like his earnings are his own. We know everything is the Lord’s and we are all brothers and sisters, but why is it still so hard for us to let go of our possessions? Moroni wrote, why do we love money and substance, and fine apparel “more than we love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted”? Why do we adorn ourselves with “that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” Why do we “cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground…” (Mormon 8: 37-40).
Those questions make me uncomfortable. Do they make you? How do we overcome this? How do we know when we’ve given enough? Where is the balance between wanting to keep and enjoy the fruits of your own labor, or wanting to care for others? What can we do individually to care for the homeless and others in need? What do you do to help the homeless? What solutions does your community have for facing homelessness? Is it okay to have luxuries when there are others in need?
I loved the recent words of, once-homeless, Dawn Armstrong (remember her from Meet the Mormons?):
We have got to recognize what charity is and what it isn’t. Charity is not going down to the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving and serving dinner, then snapping a picture for Instagram. Charity is not being willing to help those in need, as long as they stay out of our communities. That’s the worldly and human need for a social pecking order, with the elite always remaining on top. . . . True charity is sacrifice. True charity is giving to the point that it hurts a little bit, or sometimes an awful lot. That’s the very essence of Christianity: loving sacrifice. It’s what shapes our character and defines our hearts.
Because of this talk I have a greater desire to serve others no matter their reason for need. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also shows the kind of person I am. I’m grateful for the examples in the scriptures as well as wise people who better understand the plight of the less fortunate because it encourages the rest of us to do better.