I struggled writing this. First of all, I didn't want to come off as jaded. Second, I didn't want to sound like I was trying to encourage discord within ward families.
We are all members of the Church, but we are also human. I've seen unintentional and intentional offenses, short tempers, and frankly, people who just can't stand each other attend church together. I think we all have. The fact is, everyone at some point in time has not enjoyed being around EVERYONE in their ward.
For a while, I really wrestled with these feelings. At the time, I was nursing some bad wounds after fellow ward members I had trusted hurt my family. It wasn't the worst offenses, but they still cut pretty deep, deep enough to really make an impact on a few of my family members and their testimonies.
I struggled with feelings of anger and hurt for a long time. I knew that we were commanded to love one another and be united as a Church, but I felt so wronged and it was difficult to see past my hurt. Going to church and being around people I couldn't stand and who couldn't stand me was difficult, to say the least.
Eventually, I realized that I had a choice. I could stop going to church or I could keep going. It was that simple. I knew deep down in my heart that I shouldn't let all these offenses get to me. After all, I wasn't going to church to be around these people. I was going to church because I wanted to be where my Heavenly Father wanted me to be. But that didn't make the solid knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach go away every time I walked down the halls of our ward building and passed the people who had treated my family so awfully.
It was about this time that Elder David A. Bednar gave his general conference talk "And Nothing Shall Offend Them." This particular passage stood out to me:
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else. . . .
Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.
I didn't feel like I was making the conscious choice to be offended. I wanted to be able to stand to be around these ward members. But I felt the Spirit when I listened to these words and I knew I needed to act on them.
It isn't just a one-time choice to choose not to be offended. And it was usually a very lonely experience to go to church knowing that some of our ward members didn't want to be around me or my family. But I couldn't change how they felt; I could only change how I felt. I could only look at the real reason I was going to church—to strengthen and maintain my relationship with Heavenly Father—and stop focusing on how badly I didn't want to be around these people. By no stretch did this excuse their actions or their words, but I knew I couldn't keep going to church without making the conscious decision to look past these offenses.
Looking back, I'm not always so sure what gave me the courage to keep going and to keep forgiving and to keep looking past what was being said and done. The only explanation I can think of is Heavenly Father was blessing me when I put forth any effort, even when it was just a small one.
I know I'm not the only person to ever feel this way about their ward members and I'm not saying that I am somehow better than others for doing what I did. Not everyone in my family reacted as I did. Some became inactive, but I know that I still love them and Heavenly Father definitely still loves them. If you find yourself in this same position, where you honestly can't stand the people you go to church with and they can't stand you, here are some things that might help you.
1. Know you are not going to church for them.
While building long-standing and beautiful friendships with other Church members is ideal, it may not happen with every ward member you encounter. And if encounters with these members turn hostile, it's important to remember they are not the reason you are going to church. In these circumstances, it's important to go back to the basics. Here are a few points of the gospel to focus on during this time as described by Elder Uchtdorf in his October 2015 general conference talk "It Works Wonderfully!"
Brothers and sisters, living the gospel doesn’t need to be complicated.
It is really straightforward. It could be described like this:
Hearing the word of God with earnest intent leads us to believe in God and to trust His promises.
The more we trust God, the more our hearts are filled with love for Him and for each other.
Because of our love for God, we desire to follow Him and bring our actions in alignment with His word.
Because we love God, we want to serve Him; we want to bless the lives of others and help the poor and the needy.
The more we walk in this path of discipleship, the more we desire to learn the word of God.
And so it goes, each step leading to the next and filling us with ever-increasing faith, hope, and charity.
It is beautifully simple, and it works beautifully.
In order to hear the word of God, follow Him, and walk in the path of discipleship, we need to go to church. That's why we should be there. A pleasant social atmosphere at church, while an ideal that should be strived for, isn't necessary for our worship. The basics are. So even though it can be extremely uncomfortable and even emotionally painful to go to Church with people who can't stand you and you can't stand them, focusing on the basics can help ease that pain and discomfort. It will also help you progress spiritually and develop a spirit of charity.
2. Maintain a spirit of charity toward those who might offend you.
Charity is the pure love of Christ, and we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, including those who can't stand us.
President Thomas S. Monson iterated this perfectly in his 2010 general conference talk "Charity Never Faileth."
Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.
I couldn't change how others were treating me, but I could change how I reacted. And one of those ways was through charity. And that didn't mean I had to do some big, grand, gesture of service toward those ward members. Sometimes it just meant looking past the insults and seeing them as Heavenly Father saw them—as children of God with divine potential. Other times, it meant to do as Sister Linda K. Burton advised in her 2016 general women's broadcast address "I Will Bring the Light of the Gospel into My Home."
One of the most significant ways we can develop and demonstrate love for our neighbor is through being generous in our thoughts and words. Some years ago a cherished friend noted, "The greatest form of charity may be to withhold judgment." That is still true today.
Simply withholding judgment and speaking kindly to and of those ward members who treated me poorly was a significant form of charity. It wasn't easy or comfortable at times, but it helped make it easier for me to forgive others.
3. Give yourself time to heal and forgive.
While you're extending a spirit of charity to others, it's important to give yourself some time to heal and be patient with your efforts. You may not be able to forgive right away. You may not be able to withhold judgment right away. You may not even be able to speak with kindness toward them right away. But keep trying. Forgiving others is a process that takes time. As Elder Bednar said in his talk:
Paul taught the Saints in Ephesus that the Savior established His Church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–13).
Please note the use of the active word perfecting. As described by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, the Church is not 'a well-provisioned rest home for the already perfected' (“A Brother Offended,” Ensign, May 1982, 38). Rather, the Church is a learning laboratory and a workshop in which we gain experience as we practice on each other in the ongoing process of “perfecting the Saints.”
You're not perfect and the people in your ward are not perfect. It may take longer than you thought to forgive them, but the gospel can help you get there. You will need to turn to the Savior and ask for help to heal, and that's okay. Do whatever you can to heal, even if that means taking it slow for a while as you work on forgiving others.
Lead image from Getty Images
For more powerful insights from Elder Bednar, check out One by One
In this book, Elder David A. Bednar offers a compelling look at a pattern the Lord uses to bless His people: He works with us on an individual basis, one by one. Demonstrating that pattern as it occurs throughout the scriptures, in the lives of many Church leaders, and in his own ministry, Elder Bednar invites us to open our hearts to the Lord's love. He also teaches that by ministering as the Savior does, one by one, we can be more powerful instruments in His hands to accomplish His purposes.