I have a good friend who joined the church when we were college roommates (a hundred years ago, give or take 80 years). She subsequently went through a long period of inactivity and eventually returned to the Church, just a few years ago.
I was chatting with her online the other day, and I did a little grumbling about some frustrating situations I'm struggling with as part of my calling. I was so stressed with worrying about some of the less-active new members in our ward that I didn't know what to do anymore. Her responses were very wise, and helped me get the correct perspective on some things that I'd been struggling with and worrying over for a long time.
Since her insights were so helpful to me, I thought I'd share them in case any of you might be having some of the same issues in your wards.
ISSUE #1- Taking things personally
I take things personally - when less-active members won't answer/return my calls, when people say they don't feel welcome at church after I've done everything I can to befriend them, etc. It makes me feel sad and I spend a lot of time wondering what I could have done better.
HER ADVICE - "I think taking things personally is equal to being sensitive...don't you? Being sensitive is actually a blessing and while I don't always react to those feelings in the best way, I am grateful for it because it brings with it an awareness of other's feelings, the ability to be more compassionate, and recognize the needs of others... I think those are really special gifts...and I think having those (gifts) is worth the hurt that happens every so often when I take something personally and have my feelings hurt"
ISSUE #2- Keeping Commitments?
I don't understand when people make baptismal covenants and then don't seem to have any intention of keeping them (such as never returning to church). I don't understand why they were baptized if its not an important commitment to them.
HER ADVICE - "You are right about commitment - living the gospel isn't "easy" if you don't really want it. And I think the hardest place to live is uncommitted, I know it was for me for years. But you can't bring their commitment to the table, so to speak. You can't be committed enough for them. I heard a quote the other day that said "Don't listen to the whine of those who want to live a mediocre life and want you to do the same so they don't feel guilty"
ISSUE #3- Why won't less-active new members accept my help/friendship?
I feel responsible for inactivity of new members, regardless of how much effort I have put in, because it is part of my responsibility to fellowship them. Many of these people claim they don't feel welcome, and I want to befriend & help them, but they keep rejecting me.
HER ADVICE: "Their whine about not being fellowshipped is an excuse not to live the gospel. You better believe when I was considering coming back to church I avoided ANYONE who had anything to do with it ... So I avoided calls, knocks at the door, etc, and it was hell. Because living uncommitted to what we know is true is hard work, but we want to pretend like it is easy. Converts become inactive because they choose to. I chose to make excuses because I was scared of living what I had learned.
ISSUE #4- If less-active new members won't come to church or let me visit them, how can I help them?
HER ADVICE: "My journey (back to activity) taught me many things and I came back... partly because of women in my life who didn't judge, but remained true and steady. Really what more can you do?"
I can't even tell you how much better I felt after our conversation... I was able to see what I can do for people who continually turn me away - don't judge, don't get offended, don't lose hope - remain steady and available for them. I don't need to drive myself crazy trying to figure out how to invent some new way to get through to people who aren't ready to come back yet. If I stay a true and faithful friend, I will be here when they are ready. Like I was for my college roommate. And thats not nothing, that's something. SOMETHING GREAT.