Ministering to others with care truly requires walking that mile in their shoes

Glenna Christensen.
Glenna Christensen. Idaho Statesman

At the April general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell H. Nelson announced an increased emphasis on service to others, choosing to invoke use of the term “ministering” to reflect the Savior’s example of caring for and blessing others.

Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching, long-term programs to foster care and service to members of the church, have been modified and are now simply referred to as ministering. To help members more effectively minister to others, ways of serving and reaching out to others have been the topic of class discussions, articles in church magazines and talks in church meetings.

Ministering has many facets and requires thought, prayer and preparation to know how and whom to serve. Among the topics considered have been building relationships with others, learning to be a better listener, approaching others with compassion, and following the Savior’s example in dealing with others.

The importance of showing compassion rather than operating on preconceptions or judging on appearance is reflected by a story a friend posted online.

Driving to work, a woman noticed a sign in the back window of the car in front of her. The sign read, “Learning stick sorry for any delay.” Given that information, and having gone through that experience herself, the woman was very patient with the slow shifting, stalling and jerky starts. Actually, she thought the driver was doing pretty well.

Then she asked herself a tough question: “Would I have been just as patient if the sign hadn’t been there? I can almost definitely say no.”

The woman continued: “We don’t know what someone is going through. We don’t wear signs that illustrate our personal struggles. You don’t see signs taped to people’s shirts that say, ‘Going through a divorce,’ or ‘lost a child,’ or ‘feeling depressed,’ or ‘diagnosed with cancer’.”

If we could read visually what those around us are going through, we would definitely be kinder and more compassionate. Lack of awareness and unconcern are stumbling blocks to ministering.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland defines compassion as having an awareness of others’ distress along with a desire to lighten or relieve it. A covenant to follow the Savior is a covenant of compassion to “bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8).

To discern others’ needs and concerns, we must listen to them and truly hear what they are saying. Interjecting our opinions, offering advice or sharing our experiences prevents us from listening with an open mind and heart.

How can we develop compassion? First, pray to feel concern and to truly care for other people. Be less self-absorbed.

Next, practice. Listen to people and try to put yourself in their situation and consider what their feelings might be.

Third, if you have prayed to develop compassion, then pay attention to impressions or nudges you receive from the spirit. If you feel impressed to help someone, do it.

Finally, show genuine interest in people’s lives. As you listen (really listen) to people and care about them, you will have increased love for them and discover new ways to serve them. You may also build friendships.

Compassion and ministering are really about love. Sometimes we complicate things, but the Savior made it simple. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

When the driver ahead of you engages in incomprehensible behavior, before suggesting they park the car, get a horse or any of a dozen similar suggestions, try to think of 10 reasons they might have acted that way: Didn’t see the signal, you were in their blind spot, fighting children (in the back seat, but still ...), just received bad news, bad headache, choking on a potato chip, learning to drive stick, etc.

Give others the benefit of the doubt. Show compassion. Listen to them. Care about them. And where you can, bring a smile into their life.

Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.