The majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live in branches or wards. The ward family and the ward organization play major roles in our lives. In the various meetings ordained and organized for us, the gospel is taught — those eternal principles of truth which enable us to learn, to take sacred covenants, to serve and to grow.
There is the gospel, and there is the church. The gospel is perfect, because it is the Word of God, a plan of salvation established and approved long before we came to this earth. What of the church? Sometimes it seems to compare poorly, and in frustration we ask, why is that?
We tend to forget that the LDS Church's organization is the vehicle through which we practice the things we are learning. It is the vehicle through which we come together, loving, forgiving, helping and sustaining one another. It is made up of imperfect people who have gathered, in faith and obedience, to improve and perfect themselves.
We are asked to accept, assist and sustain over and over again those who are placed in positions in the various organizations — those placed in authority over us. What does it mean to sustain?
Definitions include beautiful, meaningful words such as: bear, carry, shoulder, uphold; lend, supply, maintain.
Rather strongly reminiscent, aren’t they, of the powerful, poetic counsel of Alma when he tells his people: “... and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God ....” (Mosiah 18: 8-9.)
We all feel these things, we all espouse these things. When is it then — and how is it — that we forget?
Sometimes it happens when we cannot bear the dull, lackluster teachings of a new and struggling Sunday School, priesthood or Relief Society teacher. Sometimes it happens when a person is called to a position of “importance,” and we see that person's weaknesses and (assume he) is, therefore, unworthy. Sometimes it happens when we ourselves are secretly coveting or longing for a particular position and are passed over and another is given that precious calling instead. This can be especially true in the case of a bishop, for this calling is powerful, all-inclusive and, in times of need, spiritually personal.
In his challenging, insightful book “Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel”, Eugene England says the following:
“Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, the physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, even when we are disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be stretched and challenged. Thus it gives us a chance to be made better than we may have chosen to be — but need and ultimately want to be.”
There is the reminder we need — in all the beauty and promise of its reality.
Love generates love, and desire matures into the power to look upon others with tenderness and true charity. But, can we still fall short of our possibilities? I like the shrewd, discerning challenge in Brother Brigham Young’s remarks:
“Take a man of the weakest intellect of any in a ward and ordain him a bishop, and then let every other man in that ward be filled with the power of his holy calling ... their faith is concentrated upon him; they pray for him early and late, that the Lord will fill him with wisdom, enlarge his understanding, open the visions of his mind, and show him things as they are in time and in eternity. You all know that even such a man would become mighty in the house of Israel, if he had the faith of the Ward.” ("Journal of Discourses," vol. 7:278.)
With that powerful witness as an impetus, we never again have to say within ourselves, “How could the Lord have possibly chosen him? This doesn’t seem like inspiration to me.”
Oh, how choice and wondrous are our possibilities as Saints of God, busy in the workshop that teaches us how to follow the Savior, how to try out for ourselves the things he has urged us, by example and precept, to do and to be. We are practicing our religion; we are becoming doers of the word.
If we think of it, we should be happy to have our place in the kingdom, our chance. When the system works it is wondrous to behold: A qualified, gifted teacher sits in a Sunday School class listening to a woman who has never taught a lesson before struggle through the material before her. He accepts her efforts and learns what he can from her. He gives her his encouragement and support.
A Mormon bishop who has held power in his hands for several rich and meaningful years not only passes that power on willingly, but humbly accepts his next calling as a Primary teacher. He understands; his conversion and commitment are intelligent and complete.
Promote, favor, champion, relieve — sustain one another in this work, which goes forward under the direction of our all-powerful and all-loving Father. Miracles take place at the hands of flawed, imperfect mortals as this process unfolds. When we are united, it brings us joy to see the growth and unfolding of others. And the forces of evil, the forces of the world, have no power against us.
The LDS Church — serving and magnifying the gospel; brothers and sisters serving and lifting one another — with Brigham Young’s sweet, gentle admonition in mind:
“God bless the humble and the righteous, and may he have compassion upon us because of the weakness that is in our nature. And considering the great weakness and ignorance of mortals, let us have mercy upon each other.” ("Journal of Discourses," vol. 9:158.)
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.