The last nine months, I’ve been studying the scriptures with a study buddy. We use an online site that gives us a daily reading assignment with a question to answer. We do the reading separately and answer the question. Then we discuss our answers and talk about what we read.
Recently, we had an interesting discussion about Alma 7:15: “Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you. . . .” The study question was: “How does fear affect the repentance process?”
My answer: “It is terrifying to think that in attempting to lay aside every sin that you will fail. It is actually easier to keep the status quo and accept the fact that you are not going to heaven than to think about failing in the attempt. Fear also affects our repentance when we fear man more than God. We fear what our peers think of us, and how our family perceives us.”
My study buddy asked me what I meant by this. My response: “When I was inactive, I had myself convinced that I wasn’t going to heaven. I was actually fine with that because it was easier than going back to Church. I know that sounds amazingly weird, but quite often that’s the way inactive members think. It’s excruciatingly painful to even consider coming back to Church, so you just accept the fact that you are not going to heaven.” (Note: I know that it is politically correct to say “less active”, but as a former “inactive” member, I personally think the term “less active” is annoying at best, and possibly patronizing or even condescending. I’m a woman who tells it like it is—which gets me into trouble a lot, but it is what it is. Let’s not beat around the bush.)
It is extremely difficult for an inactive member of the Church to explain his/her feelings to someone who has never been inactive. If you have never been in that position, you have no concept whatsoever of the thoughts and feelings of someone who has left the Church. That is why it is a sticky wicket for us to try to reactivate people. We must reach out to them, but it has to be done in friendship and love, not with accusations.
In the hummingbird article, some observations were noted.
- Often, as we reach out to the less active, our efforts don’t seem to make a difference. But the love we offer does slip into the cracks—like the nectar into the unmoving beak of the hummingbird—providing spiritual nutrition that one day may produce results.
- At times we can’t go further on our own; we need a kind, caring hand up.
- Sometimes people get tangled in the cobwebs of sin or addiction and need the help of a friend or priesthood leader and the Savior’s assistance to get free.
- We need regular spiritual nutrition in order to endure, else we run out of spiritual strength and fall victim to evil influences.
- The hummingbird kept hanging on. Literally. Hanging on made all the difference. At times, we must simply endure in faith as we deal with the painful and sometimes horrible challenges of life.
(William Hoggan, “The Hummingbird Rescue”, Ensign June 2015).
These are all very good points. I would add that the worst thing you can do is to make someone your “project”. Be a friend because you want to be a friend. If you are not sincere, you will make matters worse and add fuel to the fire. Don’t be a short-term friend who goes away in six months because you don’t see progress being made. It took me 20 years to return. I could spot someone who wanted me for a project a mile away. Don’t be preachy; be a friend. Don’t love on condition that they return to Church; love because they are children of God.
The “hand up” and “spiritual nutrition” referred to above don’t mean lectures and criticism; they mean sincere help—sometimes it’s just a shoulder to cry on. If you are a trustworthy friend, sometimes the person will ask to talk to you about a matter of spiritual concern. When that happens, make use of the opportunity to discuss gospel principles without making light of the person’s feelings. Remember that no question or concern should be belittled, and no child of God should be made to feel small, stupid, or inadequate.
Inactive people are usually “hanging on” for dear life. They don’t know what to do or where to turn. Just as they are hanging on, so must you as their friend. Hang on to them for dear life because they are drowning. If you saw someone dangling from a rocky cliff 100 feet above a rushing river, your instincts would demand that you grab an arm, hold on, and don’t let go. Those who are not attending on Sunday are literally dangling from that cliff. Please don’t be the one who stands by taking pictures of the fall with a cell phone and posting to Facebook, “Gee, that’s too bad.” Drop the phone and grab an arm.