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Friday, July 18, 2008

Talk - Be Not Offended

Talk on “Be not offended – Forgiveness of Others”
My talk today is based on a talk by Elder David A. Bednar from the most recent General Conference. It is entitled “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.”
Story about Elder Bednar visiting Less-Actives
Elder Bednar shared that one of his favorite activities as a priesthood leader is visiting members of the Church in their homes, especially talking with members who commonly are described as “less active.” Often he would work with bishops to prayerfully select people to go out and visit together.

On their visits they were quite straightforward. At some point early in the conversation Elder Bednar would often ask a question like this: “Will you please help us understand why you are not actively participating in the blessings and programs of the Church?”
They made hundreds and hundreds of such visits. Each individual, each family, each home, and each answer was different. Over the years, however, a common theme was detected in many of the answers. Frequently responses like these were given:
“Several years ago a man said something in Sunday School that offended me, and I have not been back since.”
“No one in this branch greeted or reached out to me. I felt like an outsider. I was hurt by the unfriendliness of this branch.”
“I did not agree with the counsel the bishop gave me. I will not step foot in that building again as long as he is serving in that position.”
Many other causes of offense were cited—from doctrinal differences among adults to taunting, teasing, and excluding by youth. But the recurring theme was: “I was offended by …”
Most of these less-active members had a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. However, they were not presently participating in Church activities and meetings.
Then Elder Bednar would say something like this. “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” Many times people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.”
The bishop and Elder Bednar would then extend an invitation: “Dear friend, we are here today to counsel you that the time to stop being offended is now. Not only do we need you, but you need the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Please come back—now.”
Choose Not to Be Offended
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly people in the church sometimes do say or do things that would allow us to take offense.
The idea that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else. We must choose to be offended or not to be offended. Heavenly Father gave each of us agency which gives us the power to act and choose how we will respond to hurtful or offensive situations.
Personal Story: Sometimes it is hard to do. I had an experience years ago where a lady in my ward publicly humiliated me by yelling at me at a church event regarding the behavior of one of my children. It took me by surprise and I maintained my dignity, but after a few minutes my blood started to boil and I was so angry with her that I never wanted to speak with her again which wasn’t possible of course. I continued to dwell on the encounter and how she was so wrong to have behaved that way toward me. I avoided being around her. She on the other hand didn’t even seem to remember the event. Finally, I realized that it was my issue and that it was only hurting my soul to be dwelling the event. I began to pray to have my heart softened. After a while the answer came to me that I needed to do some service with her. So I called the RS President and asked her if she could assign me and my offender to an Enrichment Night Dinner Committee together. By serving together the walls were torn down and I felt that I could get over being offended. I remember this situation and have promised myself to never damage my own soul again by allowing myself to be offended.
Forgiveness required to protect our own souls

President Joseph F. Smith said “It is extremely hurtful for any man holding the gift of the Holy Ghost to harbor a spirit of envy or malice, or retaliations or intolerance toward or against his fellow man. We ought to say in our hearts, ‘Let God judge between me and thee, but for me, I will forgive.’”

A story that reminds me of the importance of forgiving quickly is this one:
A woman was patiently waiting in the mall parking lot for a parking spot with her blinker on. Someone else drove up at the last minute and stole her parking spot and then proceeded to obliviously and happily go on with their shopping. The wronged party continued to stew and fume and damage herself by holding on to the anger for the rest of the day. I made the decision that I do not want to be the person who holds on to anger and who damages herself.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “To be wronged or robbed is nothing unless you continue to remember it.”

Losing the parking spot was not a big deal, but the damage from dwelling on the offense was the big deal in this story. Most of us will have situations that will be far more challenging than just losing a parking spot, but the same principles apply.
The Savior is the greatest example of how we should respond to potentially offensive events or situations.
“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Ne. 19:9).
Through the strengthening power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, each of us can triumph over offense.
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165).
A Latter-Day Learning Laboratory
Paul taught the Saints in Ephesus that the Savior established His Church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Please note the use of the active word perfecting.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “the Church is not “a well-provisioned rest home for the already perfected.” Rather, the Church is a learning laboratory and a workshop in which we gain experience as we practice on each other in the ongoing process of “perfecting the Saints.”
We are here to learn and grow together. A visiting teacher learns her duty as she serves and loves her Relief Society sisters. An inexperienced teacher learns to be a more effective teacher by teaching.. And a new bishop learns how to be a bishop through inspiration and by working with ward members who sustain him, even when they realize that he is human and can make mistakes too.

Here’s a newsflash - In some way and at some time, someone in this Church will do or say something that could be considered offensive. This will happen to each and every one of us—and probably more than once. Most people may not intend to injure or offend us, but they nonetheless can be inconsiderate and tactless. In fact, chances are that we will unwillingly offend someone at some point too. And I can only hope that when I make that mistake, the person will choose not to be offended and will overlook my weakness or thoughtlessness.
We cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Remember that you and I can choose not to be offended.
Story about Patient Pahoran
A good example of this is found in the Book of Mormon in the book of Alma. During a perilous period of war, an exchange of letters occurred between Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armies, and Pahoran, the chief judge and governor of the land. Moroni, whose army was suffering because of inadequate support from the government, wrote to Pahoran “by the way of condemnation” (Alma 60:2) and harshly accused him of thoughtlessness, slothfulness, and neglect. Pahoran might easily have resented Moroni and his message, but he chose not to take offense. Pahoran responded compassionately and described a rebellion against the government about which Moroni was not aware. And then he responded, “Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. … And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:2, 9).

One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others. A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but you and I can choose not to be offended—and to say with Pahoran, “it mattereth not.”
Story about my miscarriage
Before we had our boys, I was pregnant and had a miscarriage. I had not announced my pregnancy yet, so no one knew that I had the miscarriage. That Sunday at church a man in the ward came up to me and said “So when are you going to have a baby?” I told him I’d just had a miscarriage. The timing was very poor for this question, but I chose not to be offended. Rather, I thought, he must like Thane and I so much he’d like more members of our family in the ward or that maybe he just wanted us to experience the joys of parenthood. This man ended up being one of our treasured friends. I was grateful I chose to not take offense.
Story about Dishwasher and Change of Perspective

I was loading the dishwasher a while back and dropped a little child’s sippy cup insert from the top tray. I went to look for it on the bottom shelf and could not see it. I looked and looked and could not find it. I decided to try looking at it from another angle, took a step around to the other side and saw it immediately. This reminded me of forgiveness. Oftentimes when we are involved in a disagreement, have contention with someone, or take offense we only look at the situation from our perspective. If we can just take a step and imagine how the other person might perceive the situation and where they are at in their life, then that will be a good step toward resolving things and restoring harmony. When we strive to have charity, it is almost impossible to be unforgiving. I only wish I could have the perspective the Lord has.

Two Invitations
Elder Bednar issued two invitations to us in his talk.
Invitation #1
I invite you to learn about and apply the Savior’s teachings about interactions and episodes that can be construed as offensive.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. …
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
“And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:43–44, 46–48).

Interestingly, we are instructed to “be ye therefore perfect” immediately after we are given counsel about how we should act in response to wrongdoing and offense.
We will all have tough situations that challenge us in this area.
If a person says or does something that we consider offensive, our first obligation is to refuse to take offense. If we need to we can then communicate privately, honestly, and directly with that individual. By taking this approach we will be able to keep the Holy Ghost with us and resolve things.
Invitation #2
Many of the individuals and families who most need to hear this message about choosing not to be offended are probably not participating with us in conference today. I am sure each of us knows someone who is staying away from church because they have chosen to take offense—and who would be blessed by coming back.
Will you please prayerfully identify a person with whom you will visit and extend the invitation to once again worship with us?
Closing
I bear my testimony that each of us, through the strengthening power of the Atonement, is capable of refusing to take offense. I am grateful for my Savior who was the perfect example to us in this situation and in every situation. I challenge you to take the invitation of our church leaders and 1) refuse to take offense when the situations arise and 2) Seek to help someone who has been offended to come back and receive the blessings of the gospel.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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