September 28-October 11
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So up until this point, Christ has been with the Nephites teaching about various subjects like baptism the house of Israel. As we jump straight into chapter 17, this is what we run into.
3 Nephi 17:1-3
1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.
2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.
3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.
Now there is a very specific principle that I want to pull out of these verses that can be very applicable to us in our day. What are these words telling us?
Christ follows the commandments of His Father, correct? When He leaves the Nephites, He goes to other lost tribes of Israel. This was something commanded of Him by His Father. What commandment does it reference in these verses?
“…all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time…”
When Christ visited the Nephites, He had been given commandments from His Father about what He needed to say while there. Christ always follows all of the commandments of His Father, but what did He do in this very specific case?
He read His audience, and He acted accordingly. Does He share all of the words that Heavenly Father wants Him to share? Of course. Did it happen in one sitting? No.
Why does this matter?
I believe it matters because we, as a people, are often very over-eager to do what we feel we have been commanded to do that we’re afraid to deviate in any manner. Let me give an example.
A few years ago, I had a friend come to me with an admission of guilt about a decently sized mistake they had made. This mistake affected my life. It wouldn’t ruin my life by any means, but I did have a big enough stake in the situation that I felt it was my duty to explain why their choice had directly affected me. I wanted them to know the gravity of the consequences because I wanted them to move in a different direction that would bring both of us into better situations. My own feelings and my loyalty to my beliefs made me feel duty-bound to say something to them about it.
As I opened my mouth to share (Mind you, I wasn’t even going to yell or anything. It was going to be a calm conversation.), the Spirit made me pause and I “heard” a voice whisper, “You don’t have to tell them.”
In that moment, I found my hand on their shoulder and then we hugged it out (which I’m not very good at hugging, so that was a big deal for me). I found myself telling them that it was okay. The Spirit flooded the room; it was intense. As our conversation drew on, I knew the Spirit had been right.
Let me give one more example.
I was assigned to minister to a sister. This sister no longer attended church and didn’t have any interest in doing so. She was fine with being friends, but the second I invited her to anything, she would completely retreat and I’d lose the friendship I had started to build with her.
So for the time being, I gave up on inviting or talking about the gospel.
This was immensely difficult for me. I remember sitting through conference as one of the speakers talked about how ministering is so much more than friendship; we have to share the gospel. I went back and forth over and over between feeling guilty over not pushing the church and my inclinations that my job was to just be her friend.
I finally and figuratively threw my hands up and decided that I would stop trying to invite or share church-related things in any manner with her.
I’d see her, and we’d talk. I followed my decision to just be friends though I was constantly asking myself if I was doing enough. One night I was rewarded with her story about why she left the church. Once again, I found myself leaving it at that. I simply listened, and I didn’t try to offer reasoning or excuses. I didn’t invite her and tell her it would be different. I just listened.
And it was so hard! I really felt guilty sometimes that I wasn’t doing enough. I was supposed to be bringing her back to the gospel, right??
I never knew whether we would just stay friends until one of us moved or whether an opportunity would come that she would be ready, but I did feel guided to just be her friend. So I ran with it. Eventually, she did accept an invitation back to church, but I almost hesitate to share that because the point I’m trying to make here is that we can follow the commandments to share the gospel while simultaneously reading our audience.
And I almost think it’s a relief for some people to learn that. They want to share the gospel, but they think they have to start or end the conversation with a Book of Mormon or it doesn’t count.
Christ was given a commandment from Heavenly Father to share specific messages with the Nephites, but He paused because they weren’t quite ready! I’ve given two examples of what this might look like in our day: a conversation in which I was prompted to share something other than a message about repentance and a ministering relationship where friendship was my immediate goal.
Now some of you might be rolling your eyes at me a little bit. Maybe it’s obvious to you that we should read our audience. Maybe it’s obvious to you sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be an all-out invitation to baptism. But this is not so obvious for some. I was one of these people. I was someone who felt like I had to explain doctrine when someone was struggling. I was someone who felt like I needed to help someone see the ultimate consequences of their decisions. It all came from a good heart. I wanted to explain doctrine so that they could feel at peace like I did. I wanted them to know how important their decisions were so that they could make decisions that would make them happy. But sometimes good intent is only going to get you so far.
A couple more scenarios.
Your child comes to you and tells you that they’re gay.
Your friend comes to you and tells you they’ve decided to leave the church because of a specific historical aspect.
The missionaries in your home seem to never actually leave the house.
What are your gut reactions to these situations? How do you want to respond when you hear them?
I want to tell you a secret about these people in these scenarios. Most of them have already been taught the doctrine. Most of them have already gone to leaders and heard what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Most of them have already heard your explanations and calls to repentance. Sometimes that is not the message they should be receiving. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes it is. Sometimes those missionaries should get called out. Sometimes you might have a perspective that a friend might not have previously seen that would help them feel at peace. Sometimes the right answer is to continue with the message from our Heavenly Father.
And sometimes there is a situation that calls for a different approach. We can know that this approach is a righteous approach because our Savior used this approach.
Not only did Christ pause from teaching intense doctrines, He went on to do something much more remarkable.
3 Nephi 17:5-7
5 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.
6 And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
7 Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
He healed the people. Our situations may not call for healing the leper, but the people we love will need healing in different ways.
The words your gay child will need more than any other words are, “I will love you no matter what.” The words “I love you,” share a deep testimony and carry spiritual healing.
The words your friend may need to hear include, “Yes, I’m sure that’s really confusing and it can be hurtful when you think about it.” I think those words scare us sometimes because it’s like we’re telling them they’re right and everyone should leave the church over it. That’s not what those words have to mean. Sometimes your struggling friend simply needs someone to acknowledge their doubts and concerns so that they have space to live with it. Sometimes we will be able to perceive that they won’t be able to understand all the words that Heavenly Father wants to give them in that moment.
The missionaries in your home may need a lot of things, and one of those things may be space. They already know they should be out and about. You don’t have to tell them unless you feel otherwise prompted to do so.
Sometimes the correct answer is to pause from our spoken testimonies and instead, give a hug or validation. Christ could have ignored their various hurts and ailments, and He could have continued on with the words He was supposed to give. But He chose to minister to their infirmities with compassion instead. Those people may have remembered most of the words given by their Savior, but they DEFINITELY remembered what it felt like to be healed by Him. We have the ability to offer that same healing to those around us.