When I go to Church I am among my fellow saints. I am comfortable. Like a lion I stroll the halls of the building with long strides, confident in my direction and full of courage in my mission. I know where I am going, what I am doing, and I’m not afraid to speak up.
I can stand in front of the congregation and give an impromptu talk or teach a lesson in gospel doctrine on a moment’s notice. I taught Gospel Essentials (Gospel Principles) for more than a decade and faced all kinds of questions. I play the organ/piano for Church meetings and conduct the music on occasion as well, often with no prior notice.
Sunday meetings is my happy place. Nothing scares me. I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. I’ve been doing that quite comfortably for many years now. So what is it about missionary work that causes me to become a shrinking violet?
If I ride a bus and sit next to a stranger I don’t seem to have much problem with striking up a conversation and talking about the weather or where they are going or what brought them to this point in their day. If I am standing in line at the bank or in a grocery store, or heaven forbid, am alone with someone in an elevator, I know that most people like to keep to themselves and not make eye contact.
I am comfortable with these social niceties. I can be kind to waitresses/waiters, cabbies, porters, secretaries, runners in the park, all kinds of people. Smiling comes easily, and stopping to help someone with some packages or to open a door for someone is done without thinking. So why, with all these other skills already in place is it so difficult for me to get out of my mouth a simple question like, “What do you know about the Mormons?”
My wife and I have noticed that in some wards we have lived in before talking about missionary work got watered down so far that if you said hello to your inactive child you could pat yourself on the back because you were participating in missionary work by fellowshipping your own flesh and blood.
Don’t get me wrong, things like fellowshipping our inactive family members, ward members, and others we know who have wandered from the faith is, in deed, missionary work. But just being nice to them shouldn’t really count. Is it really missionary work if we never bring up the gospel message? Can it count as doing missionary work if we don’t ever invite them to come with us to church or attend our Family Home Evening, or offer to pray with them?
It is this simple line between being sociable and being an influence that helps move someone closer to God that turns so many of us gospel extroverts into being extreme introverts.
I was reading the lesson from the Relief Society/Priesthood manual (President Hinckley) on missionary work (lesson 21). He made an interesting statement.
I invite you to become a vast army with enthusiasm for this work and a great overarching desire to assist the missionaries in the tremendous responsibility they have.
This quote begs two questions. What kind of enthusiasm do we have for missionary work, and what kind of desire do we really have to assist the missionaries with their work?
Many of us would prefer to hide in our homes and hope our LDS neighbors will do the work of actually talking about the gospel to their neighbors so we can bask in their reflected glow of missionary work. Often we are able to convince ourselves that we are participating in missionary work because we feed those who are actually doing the work. This is like salvation through association.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing any fingers at anyone else that are not already pointing directly at my own heart. This has caused me to think of some things I could do to help me be better at this intimidating thing called missionary work.
Missionary work for the timid
1. Learn to be overtly friendly with everyone you meet. My 82 year old mother can’t get out much, and can’t do the kind of missionary work she used to be able to do, so she makes it a point to talk to everyone she meets. This is not just a social nicety conversation. She wants to show them that someone is genuinely concerned about their day and about their welfare. She asks them about their shopping in the store or about their children/grand children, or about their errand they are running. She offers to help them in some way.
If it is a mother in a line at the grocery store my mother will entertain the children in tow so the mother can get through the checkout. Anywhere she can open her mouth and demonstrate the love of God, she does. This took courage at first, but has become second nature to her now.
2. Pray to the Lord to send you someone to serve in His cause. Again I will use my saintly mother as an example. She prayed for some time for someone to help, and finally slipped up and made the mistake of promising that she would do anything the Lord required of her if He would just show her whom she could serve. He took her at her word.
That is when she was introduced to a young mother who had been raised in an offshoot of our church. She was trying to find her way out of a very bad situation in the religion of her family, and had a number of children, including one with very special needs. Mom was the Sunday School teacher, and this young mother approached her for special help in learning the doctrine of the Church and to help her develop her testimony.
My mother’s involvement with this family took a good ten years of devoted time. The change in this young mother’s life and that of her children has been nothing short of a miracle to watch. Her boys have served missions and are marrying in the temple.
We never know when we ask the Lord for help to serve Him what he will send our way. But if we don’t ask for it, often we won’t see the opportunities for service when they are right in front of us.
3. Ask someone about their faith. This may sound backwards, but many of us don’t really know much about what other faiths teach. By learning about someone else’s faith and what they believe, we can grow to appreciate the depth of their personal faith in God and in their religious customs.
You don’t need to worry about being converted to another faith if your own testimony and practice of daily honoring of covenants is healthy. Some things that will really help with this assignment is to be sure you are reading your scriptures daily. Reading the Bible is especially helpful if you are befriending another Christian. You may have a great testimony, but if the only scriptures you are comfortable with are found in the Book of Mormon then you will come across to your new friend as ignorant of the most basic teachings in Christianity, those from the Bible.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Unless you were raised among and associating with those of other faiths, chances are that you are pretty clueless as to what they really believe. This is related to the last point. Show them you care about them by learning about what is important to them, their faith.
Some we want to befriend don’t currently have a professed faith. It is a great opportunity to learn from them how they formulate their values. When confronted with a moral dilemma, try to learn how they decide what is “right and wrong.” This will open a whole new way of thinking of the world for you.
Did you notice that none of the four suggestions I came up with require that you become a lion chasing gazelles down the streets of your town? These suggestions are ways that we can learn to be more Christlike in how we live and interact with our neighbors.
Once you have become friends with someone you can worry about how to take the next step. But if we only associate with like-minded people then we won’t ever experience the joys that come with getting to know and love our other brothers and sisters who are passing through mortality without the privileges we have because of the covenants we have made.
If you have had an experience where you simply took the time to talk to someone or help someone, and had a great opportunity to make a friend, please share your experience in the comments. Perhaps you can inspire someone else to be more brave as well.