Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Seek Out the Forgotten

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Mother Teresa

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”
Mother Teresa
Do you know someone who is hungry—hungry for friendship, for a smile, for a kind word? Sometimes we concentrate on relieving the physical suffering (hunger and financial difficulties) since it is easier to see and maybe easier to measure. “I delivered three casseroles this week.” Or “I gave $200 to charity.” Those are admirable and necessary, but as Mother Teresa said, there is a poverty that is worse than having no money or food and that is feeling alone and “forgotten by everybody”.

What can we do about that? I certainly have room for improvement with this every day, but I do try to reach out to those who seem to need a friend, even though it is not easy for me to do. I am a bit shy and quiet and sometimes don’t know what to say to people I don’t know well (especially when I’m trying to speak in Spanish), but usually it doesn’t take much to get a smile back. And most of the time, I can find something for them to talk about since many people who feel alone just want someone to talk to. It is often as simple as saying hello to someone in the hall or at the store, especially if you use their name. I’ve seen so many eyes light up because they realize someone knows who they are. Or I sit next to them in church meetings and ask how they are, but actually look at them and listen, not just the casual, dutiful, “How are you?” with an immediate loss of attention.

Another approach to help people feel wanted and important that I have tried is to visit people at home. In my last ward, it was funny because the ladies would usually ask me, “Are you my visiting teacher?” and I’d say, “No. I just came to see how you are and to drop off these treats.” (I’m always making treats so I kind of have an excuse to be there and most people like treats, right?) Sometimes people just say “thank you” and I leave, but other times people let me in and we talk for a short time and get to know each other.

In this ward, my husband is the Bishop and many sisters see my visit as a visit from the Bishop’s wife. Once I visited a sister I hadn’t seen in a couple of months and she insisted on apologizing for not coming to church and telling me that she knew she should come back… I really just go as me, Valerie, no calling and certainly not to check up on people. One single sister invited me in and we talked for quite a while and when I went to leave she said, “I’ve never had a visit from a Bishop’s wife before.” I think that’s so funny. Whoever they see me as, many times the sisters have thanked me for visiting, saying that no one from the ward has visited them, not even visiting or home teachers. I do want others to feel our Heavenly Father’s love for them, but it does help me too. I often get so wrapped up in my schedule with children and the house, that I isolate myself at home. It really does feel good to go out and connect with other people and often they talk about their problems and it really helps me to see my life in perspective and be able to count my blessings.

In one ward, I was a counselor in the Relief Society and tried to start a SWAT team---Sisters With A Treat. I’m sure I read about it online somewhere and liked the idea. I don’t get creative ideas like that on my own. It was supposed to be a small group of sisters and we’d get together once or twice a month and each of us would bring a few small plates of treats and we’d visit different sisters from the ward or non-member neighbors just to say hello. I even made SWAT tags for us. It was a flop! No one wanted to do it with me. The sisters who I approached about it said that it was all they could do to do their visiting teaching each month. I was so sad. I was doing it on my own, but it sounded like more fun with other sisters! I have thought about trying something like that in my current ward even though I don’t have a calling in Relief Society, but I can’t come up with anything in Spanish. (I’m in a Spanish-speaking ward.) Anyone out there speak Spanish and have an idea? I'd love any suggestions on ways you have helped others or someone has helped you.

If you’d like some inspiration on what you can do to help make a difference in someone’s life, I recommend this great blog. http://womendoingmore.blogspot.com/ In almost every post, it has inspiring true stories and then suggestions about how we can do something similar for others.

But like Mother Teresa said, we need to start in our own homes with our own families. Most of us have at least one sibling, or child or grandparent, someone who needs something from us. A letter, a compliment, some time having fun together, even a loving push in the right direction. Let’s start by examining the needs of our loved ones and then radiate outward. It’s amazing how much light and warmth is radiated back.

(From our trip to Oregon this summer)

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