Fasten Your Seatbelt (No. 18)
From his talk, Peacemakers Needed
Part of the President Nelson Series
All blue quotes by President Russell M. Nelson (unless otherwise noted).
Today’s quote sounds a bit like a Sunday School manual, and it was part of the talk I paid less attention to…until today. Now, I realize President Nelson was directly pointing at our excuses.
My dear brothers and sisters, this should not be. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to be examples of how to interact with others—especially when we have differences of opinion. One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.
The Savior made this clear in His sermons to followers in both hemispheres. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said. “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” And then, of course, He gave the admonition that challenges each of us: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
What awakened me to the relevance of this quote? Let me share.
This morning, I read a comment online that fluffed away President Nelson’s whole ‘Peacemaker’ talk with some common gospel phrases which justified business as usual. To paraphrase:
(Gift of charity) Practice, practice, practice; as we practice, we may sometimes fall short… start again.
At first pass, this seemed like a comforting and innocent enough statement with the right gospel words, but I immediately felt funny about that comment and couldn’t put my finger on why. Something just felt off and missing.
Then the thought hit me – that’s the language we use when we don’t intend to change anything soon or for very long. Or when we want to excuse an ongoing behavior. We can practice until we die…right? How old are we all now? The idea of charity and compassion has been around for a long time. Haven’t we already been “practicing” and “starting over” for decades (some of us)?
We haven’t been called to practice. We’ve been called to repentance.
There is a sizable difference between the two, both in the effort made and the results.
In general, “practice” is the word that allows us to be comfortable with all our failures and go on indefinitely in the same uncompassionate way we have been. “Oops, I’m practicing. I’m a work in progress. Too bad if it affects you.”
Practice is necessary and beneficial for many things: musical instruments, arts, athletics, and hobbies. But practice has to become a precise skill for other occupations and pursuits—for example, a surgeon, a pilot, a programmer, and a sharpshooter. For them, practice is not a casual means to keep falling short of the mark. Instead, practice is a repetitive execution of exactness. Repetition creates muscle memory. Their efforts cannot miss the mark or be compromised.
In spiritual matters, practice (repentance) has to lead to exactness. As Sister Bonnie H. Cordon put it last Conference, “We want to create muscle memory of discipleship and testimony that will bring into focus our reliance on our Savior each day.”
Compassion, likewise, cannot fail or be compromised – or it ceases to be compassion.
If I could respond to that person online, I would say, “Practicing is not the same as being called to repentance and changing our ways.” The “rinse and repeat” version of practicing doesn’t consider how much we hurt and affect others and need to stop. It doesn’t resolve the repeating problems our uncompassionate moments create for others. Nor is it the same as acknowledging how far we’ve pushed Christ out of our lives. Rinse and repeat practice doesn’t qualify as a meaningful apology, nor make restitution. Practice isn’t the same as sinning ‘no more.’
In that context, “practice” was used as a self-comforting excuse and didn’t weigh our failures as seriously as the prophet has.
Higher and holier: We’ve allowed things to develop in our characters and natures that must be eliminated. We’ve been called to alter course radically.
(How’s that for “putting my finger on it”? Once I started typing, the words flowed.)
Sisters and brothers…we have been called to repentance. We needed that call too. Our culture and traditions condition us to accommodate the opposite of compassion and peace.
We can no more “practice” at failing to be compassionate than we can “practice” at not committing adultery. That’s not repentance.
We are either compassionate or we’re not. This isn’t about conversations and social mannerisms. This is about our nature within. This is about the tendencies, dynamics, and thoughts of the heart. Where are our souls at? What stature and capacity have we arrived at? What muscle memory have we developed?
President Nelson is telling us to turn over a new leaf and quickly. We can’t use the same formula we’ve been using for the past decade and expect different results.
True followers of Christ are compassionate. Compassion is an attribute and characteristic that governs and filters all responses. Without that attribute, all we’ll ever do is “practice” and repeat Satan’s playbook.**
Closeness With the Savior
The way to compassion is to align ourselves with Jesus Christ closely. That means allowing Him to become a large part of our day. Seek a close relationship with Jesus and pray to the Father (and Him) to change our natures.
Peace and compassion mark those who have worked out a closeness with the Savior. If we are not peaceful and compassionate during demanding, challenging, or vexing experiences – we haven’t worked it out with the Savior. It’s pretty simple. It doesn’t matter how many spiritual words one uses or what calling they have.
“One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.“
Many are called, and few are chosen.
We don’t get labeled as gracious because we are graceful when it’s easy. Shedding grace when it’s not easy is what makes us gracious. “Gracious” is a lasting quality – it comes from within.
We aren’t known as compassionate and peaceful because we are saintly when it’s calm. We earn the standing of “compassionate and peaceful” when it’s not calm. Compassion and peace are abiding qualities. They come from within.
Contrast and Opposites
Society wants you to be the OPPOSITE of what Christ nurtures you to be.
I pulled this list from the last post for a quick skim and to make a point. President Nelson says this is “a page from Satan’s playbook.”
- damage reputations
- pathetic and pithy barbs
- silent treatment
Here is the list President Nelson gave for Christ’s followers:
I couldn’t help but notice how that little word compassion eradicates everything on Loser-fer’s list. It undoes much of our culture, and what the public square says is sophisticated and relevant.
What’s the real message? It seems President Nelson is pointing to the one authentic way. To paraphrase him: Compassion is necessary right now, today. Repent. Make it a serious and studied pursuit. Seek Christ and pray for that attribute.
May we not be lulled away by the idea of the rinse-and-repeat cycle that can go on for decades and not get there. Only true repentance, love of Christ, and hard soul work within will get us to that enlightened, empowering level of compassion.
We are capable – please don’t let anyone convince you to settle or compromise on this attribute.
Therefore, ever-present, fortified, gifted compassion is the mark. I hope we all do the work to make it a natural part of our souls.
Plus, compassion is a prerequisite to opening up the more extraordinary powers of heaven.