Monday, May 28, 2007, Observation:
I am in my 16th consecutive year of teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in our ward. The poor members of the ward who have lived in its boundaries as long as I have, I am sure, will be exalted in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom for having endured so much punishment for so long at my hands. The fact is they haven't needed me as a teacher but I certainly have had a great need to teach. Wonderful bishops over the past 16 years have recognized this need I have, and out of love and kindness have permitted me to press forward with this choice assignment.
Physically I can do very little -- let's be honest, I can't do anything except breathe, eat, and drink -- but thankfully I can still think and talk and hopefully contribute in a positive way to others' lives through home teaching, writing, teaching, speaking, and giving patriarchal blessings. I especially enjoy the opportunity of preparing a lesson from the Scriptures each week. It keeps my brain working and alive and hopefully growing as I constantly search for new ideas and insights. The day after I teach a lesson I immediately delete it from my computer. I don't want to be tempted to ever teach the same lesson twice. When I teach the same book of scripture I taught four years ago, if I cannot find new insights and eternal principles embedded in those Scriptures then I know, or will know, it's time to give up teaching and start watching American Idol reruns on TV.
I believe one of the things I enjoy most is discovering a new truth or principle in Scriptures I have read countless times. I had such an experience this week. We have been studying this year, as you know, the life of the Savior as contained in the four Gospels. I have always been impressed with the healing miracles performed by Jesus -- probably because of my own situation. I am sure we are only given the tip of the iceberg in the Gospels regarding the number of people Jesus actually blessed and healed in one way or another. The thought that came to me this week as I have been reading the Gospels is that never, when asked for help, did Jesus ever offer money as a solution to the problem. He always gave of himself in a very personal, powerful and hands-on way. To me there was a lesson of life in this thought.
I know it is not a very profound or earthshaking insight -- I am sure many others have noticed this -- but I think the Savior is trying to teach us all something through his example of serving and blessing others. I am not saying that we should not give money to bless others through fast offering, the perpetual education fund, humanitarian outreach programs, and etc. I guess what I am saying is that if giving money is our only effort in blessing those in need we have overlooked an essential ingredient in our quest to become true disciples of Christ.
In Matthew 25 the Lord teaches how he will separate the sheep from the goats -- his true disciples from his pretended disciples -- at the Judgment Day. "Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand [his sheep], Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25:34-36]
Of course his listeners wanted to know when they had performed these acts of service and love for Him. His answer reflects his own ministry in mortality as well as the challenge he gives to all who would strive to become like Him: "...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40]
Of course it takes money to buy meat, drink, and clothing, and making sure there is an abundance of these kinds of things to bless the lives of those in need throughout the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the generosity of its members, is able to alleviate much suffering in the world. But visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming the stranger, and giving of ourselves to the "least of these [our] brethren" seems to be what Jesus is asking us to do in a very personal and hands-on manner, even as he did.
I suppose a legitimate question is who are the "least of these my brethren?" I believe there are many categories or levels of "the least" amongst us, but as I have grown older I am beginning to believe that "the least of the least of our brothers and sisters" are those who suffer from brain damage or mental impairment of some kind. The purest and most Christ-like service to others I can imagine is the way we treat the mentally impaired.
Two of my heroes are Kay and Gloria Groom. We have lived in the same ward together for over 30 years now. Kay and Gloria had two normal children born to them and then their last daughter was born with severe Down Syndrome. They have loved their daughter and been a great blessing to her these many years, but they went the second mile to bring into their home another girl with Down Syndrome to be a companion to their daughter and to bless her life as well. These girls are approaching 40 years of age now and I don't think it has ever been especially "convenient" for Kay and Gloria to have shouldered this responsibility for so many years. Going on vacations, spending leisurely and luxurious days on a cruise or at a time share, I don't think for the most part, have been a part of their lifestyle. I don't believe they have ever felt burdened down by this responsibility however, and in an eternal sense are certainly two of those "sheep" who ultimately will be ushered into the presence of the Savior, and on his right hand. Surely as they have administered to the needs of these girls they have been doing it to the Savior himself.
I know of so many others who have given their lives in service and love to those who are mentally impaired. Oh, giving money to support foundations and research is so important, but will never measure up to giving of oneself in hands-on service to someone who is incapable of even thanking us for what is being done.
True disciples of Christ ultimately will have lived lives described by the Savior when he said: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25: 35 -36] Thankfully, opportunities to perform this kind of service present themselves to us each day of our lives if we are perceptive enough to see them and then are willing to respond to them.