Sunday, November 09, 2008

On Smelling Cigarette Smoke in Sacrament Meeting

Some recent discussions have reminded me of something I have heard more than once...something along these lines:

"We should smell more cigarette smoke in sacrament meeting."

I recently heard a story about a woman who, as a child, was shunned by ward members because her dad (not active) smoked, and therefore the children smelled like smoke.

This should not be!

Of course, there are many other things we could include besides Word of Wisdom problems that may test our ability to withhold judgment and instead reach out in love. We are probably all aware of people who struggle because they feel different and/or inadequate in some way. The list could be endless, I'm sure (people might feel different because they are divorced, or single, or infertile, or struggling with mental illness, or struggling with physical illness, or "liberal," or doubtful, or....)

Elder Marlin K. Jensen spoke at our regional conference about this, and reminded us that, in some way or another, at some time or another, we will likely all feel 'different.' I was so moved by his talk because of how often I have felt different. (I still have yet to write about what his talk meant to me that day; it was a direct answer to prayer. Maybe someday I will.)

We really are all broken, and that's part of the plan, part of the purpose of mortality. And a significant part of our Church membership and activity is to learn to love and work with and reach out to imperfect people and remember that we are all inadequate, all beggars.

Pres. Hinckley once said:
There are so many young people who wander aimlessly and walk the tragic trail of drugs, gangs, immorality, and the whole brood of ills that accompany these things. There are widows who long for friendly voices and that spirit of anxious concern which speaks of love. There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast again at the table of the Lord.

More recently, Elder Wirthlin said this:

Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

This is something that Elder Wirthlin has talked about at other times as well:

The Church is not a place where perfect people gather to say perfect things, or have perfect thoughts, or have perfect feelings. The Church is a place where imperfect people gather to provide encouragement, support, and service to each other as we press on in our journey to return to our Heavenly Father.

Each one of us will travel a different road during this life. Each progresses at a different rate. Temptations that trouble your brother may not challenge you at all. Strengths that you possess may seem impossible to another.

Never look down on those who are less perfect than you. [And I would add, how on earth can you know where someone really is on the road to perfection compared to you?] Don’t be upset because someone can’t sew as well as you, can’t throw as well as you, can’t row or hoe as well as you.

We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

One way you can measure your value in the kingdom of God is to ask, “How well am I doing in helping others reach their potential? Do I support others in the Church, or do I criticize them?”

If you are criticizing others, you are weakening the Church. If you are building others, you are building the kingdom of God. As Heavenly Father is kind, we also should be kind to others.

We live in difficult times. There is much opposition for all of us, which means there will be much of struggle and opportunity to exercise agency and learn by experience, which means we will all make mistakes. As I ponder the words of our prophets and leaders, I feel them calling to all of us to open our hearts to each other, to show Christian courage -- to not respond to others as the natural man would want to respond (defensively, unkindly, selfishly) but to
truly pray for charity and seek to be more like the Savior. No. Matter. What.

As my husband and I talked about this tonite, I mentioned this idea of smelling smoke in sacrament meeting. We reflected on this concept, which we have heard more than once from people whom we admire, reminding us of the importance of opening our hearts to others.

But my husband captured another facet of this issue, also so important to remember. He said, in essence, "Yes, we should rejoice when we smell cigarette smoke in our church meetings.

"However, we cannot change the Word of Wisdom to help them feel more comfortable."

Therein lies a tension in all of this. At times, people have wanted to equate love with changing doctrine and commandments. Or, sometimes people are afraid to say something doctrinal because they might offend someone whose life doesn't match the ideals that the doctrine teaches.

This should not be, either.

I'm not saying that we should ever use doctrine as a weapon, throwing it in someone's face in a confrontational way. I have written before about how we should not judge each other in a vacuum against gospel ideals. But we cannot and should not shy away from these ideals, either.

Our meetings are a place to nurture each other, not just in love, but "in the good word of God" so we can stay "in the right way." It is only through truth that we can truly be free. It is only in following the Savior's doctrine that we can fully become His disciples and truly come to know Him.

In that beautiful talk by Elder Wirthlin, he reminded us of the importance of doctrine when he said:

To those who have strayed because of doctrinal concerns, we cannot apologize for the truth. We cannot deny doctrine given to us by the Lord Himself. On this principle we cannot compromise.

I understand that sometimes people disagree with doctrine. They even go so far as to call it foolish. But I echo words of the Apostle Paul, who said that sometimes spiritual things can appear as foolishness to men. Nevertheless, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

In truth, things of the Spirit are revealed by the Spirit. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

We testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ is here upon the earth today. He taught of His Father’s doctrine, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

But again, doctrine should never be used as a weapon. As Elder Hales recently said,

As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate. Our heartfelt testimonies are the most powerful answer we can give our accusers. And such testimonies can only be born in love and meekness.

The most effective way we can help others is for us to be founded in truth.

And a key part of that truth is about how the Savior expects us to treat one another. I hope we can each strive to do our part to bring more love and light and truth into others' lives.

And to those who feel different, I would say: You are not alone. There are many who care and want to reach out, but may not know how, or may be clumsy -- perhaps even careless or clueless at times -- in their efforts. Please be patient with the weakness of those around you. Help others know how to help you. Pray for a friend who can listen and love.

And most of all, know that the Savior is aware of you, and that line upon line, you can work through whatever you are facing, with His help. In the end, that is why we are all at Church -- because we all need Him so desperately. We are all beggars. We all have our 'cigarette smoke' even if it's not all equally apparent.

As we all strive to be more loving and patient with each other (regardless of where we are on the path, regardless of whether we feel like we belong or feel different), I believe we can each become better at being more like Him, line upon line. The more we open our hearts to each other, the more He can fill our hearts with His love -- and His healing power and mercy.


Rosalie Erekson Stone said...

Beautifully said, M & M. Thank you for this timely post with timeless counsel.

Anonymous said...

This posing struck close to home for me. As a teenager I was the only active one in my part-member, totally-inactive family. Both my parents smoked and as a result, I smelled like cigarettes. My wife also grew up in the same ward. After we were married she told me that once one of the kids made a comment when I wasn’t around that I smelled like cigarettes and they didn’t like it. Someone else spoke up and said that I couldn’t help it if my parents smoked. They also pointed out that I was active and kept the WoW. All it really takes is one person to inject a little reality in the conversation. I wonder if I ever went to church smelling of weed because of my brother’s habit.

After my son died, a member of the church started a rumor that my wife had had a nervous breakdown. The RS president didn’t come to see how she was doing. The bishop didn’t check on us. Our HT and VT were AWOL. The HT even commented that he didn’t want to come over until we were “over it”. “It” being the death of our son. The only member of the church to actually show any Christian caring upon hearing the gossip about my wife was an inactive teenager. He came to the door smelling of tobacco. There was a piercing in his eyebrow and a tattoo peaking above his shirt collar. As we talked he told us of his out-of-wedlock son. But, out of our entire ward this young man was the only one who acted as a Christian should. The day will come when I stand before the Judgment Bar and beg for mercy for this young man. He is a modern-day Good Samaritan. (As a post-script, my wife tracked the gossip back to its source and kicked that “sister’s” butt, verbally that is.)

When I smell smoke in church, I rejoice.

Anonymous said...

This is really nice, m&m. Floyd, thanks for sharing your story as well.

--sister blah 2

m_and_m said...

Thanks, all, for your comments...especially you, Floyd, for sharing your tender experiences.

Anonymous said...

I recall that President Kimball said that the sweetest smell he smelled was tobacco in sacrament meeting. He probably said it a little more eloquently and I haven't been able to find the quote again, but that made quite an impression on me.

Very nice post.

Jennifer B. said...

Thank you for your beautifully expressed thoughts. I admire you and your sincere compassion. Bless you for speaking out in love. I hope to be a better example of what you preach and practice so well.

SilverRain said...

Thank you for this post. I admit I find it hard to smell cigarette smoke in sacrament because I'm allergic. It gives me hives. I find it hard to smell it anywhere.

Clark Goble said...

Reminds me of my old nice leather coat. We'd gone to a few concerts which, unsurprisingly were at smoke filled venues. Well it's hard to get the smell of smoke out of a coat. (Nigh on impossible) So when I wore the coat to church...

Interesting the reactions.

m_and_m said...

David, Jennifer, SilverRain, Papa D, Clark...thanks for your comments.

SilverRain, sorry to hear about your allergy. That adds an interesting twist to your how you would handle someone sitting next to you. So would you just say: "I'm sorry that I'm moving to another pew, but I'm allergic to cigarette smoke!" ?

Clark, there's yet another example of how important it is not to judge, eh? Thanks for stopping by.

(And Jennifer, I have a long way to go, but I am trying! Thanks for your kind words and for your example as well.)