If there’s one dependable sign that it’s Christmas, it’s the sudden appearance of poinsettias in every display window and on every piece of Christmas decor. Our office here at LDS Living recently had some of these festive plants appear in the lobby of each floor of our building. However, after only a week of being placed there, when I came in on Monday after the weekend, I noticed that the poor plant on our floor was looking very . . . limp. I immediately thought, “Oh, they must have forgotten to water it over the weekend.” I immediately poured a bit of water into the dying plant, feeling good that I had helped save our living Christmas symbol.
However, a little later in the morning, I heard a group of people from my floor pass the plant and remark on its sad state. A little more water was promptly poured on the plant. This happened a few more times throughout the day, and I quickly realized that maybe the plant, rather than being neglected, was now drowning in attention from many well-meaning waterers. Perhaps that’s what really accounted for its drooping leaves. In any account, the drooping plant was not nursed back to health and lasted only a few more days until it was replaced.
Plants aren’t the only living thing whose troubles can be misdiagnosed, however. Sometimes, I think we misdiagnose people, too.
How many times have you had a problem that you told someone about—spiritual or physical—and they said something like “Oh! All you have to do is do more x, y, or z and your problem will be solved!” Or maybe you’ve done this to others. You see someone in your ward or circle of friends who is struggling and think, “If only they would read the scriptures more, attend the temple more, pray more, etc., etc., their problems would be fixed!” You share your advice and go merrily on your way, feeling like you did something to help. I know I have. But sometimes even those who have the best of intentions jump to conclusions instead of taking time to find out what is really wrong and the correct way to fix or comfort a problem or burden.
Let me share one more plant analogy I’ve experienced lately that turned out differently than our poor poinsettia. I recently acquired a succulent plane. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it and would water it here and there. But when it stayed alive longer than a week or two (which is about when every other plant I’ve owned has shriveled and died), I found myself becoming more and more invested in the plant’s well-being. I started researching a bit about succulents and learned to my surprise that they need very little water. I learned the signs to watch for if a succulent had too much water or not enough water. I learned how much sunlight it needs and moved it to a better spot in the house where it could access the light it needed. I carefully cleaned away any dying leaves and worried when it started growing crooked. The little plant is still alive, and I find great joy in watching it grow and thrive.
As I’ve thought more about this, I’ve realized that my experience with my succulent and my office poinsettia are very similar to what my experience should hopefully become as a ministering sister.
Like these two plants, some people need different things than other people. More scripture study might not help a sister struggling with depression, but maybe having a few minutes of more quality study time with a friend (you!) might help. Or simply getting out of the house, or knowing that someone cares. But the fact of the matter is, if we don’t take the time to investigate a little—to study out what kind of things and how much of them will truly help an individual thrive and learn the warning signs to watch for when things are not going well—then we run the risk of thoughtlessly suggesting or doing things that might cause more harm. On the other hand, if we do take time to get to know those we minister to or live around, even family members and friends, through even small acts of learning about who they are and what they love by following them on social media, or taking a few minutes every once in a while to send them a text or drop something off for them or simply talk to them, we have the potentially to find joy in watching another person in our lives thrive and grow.
As Sister Jean B. Bingham reminded us earlier this year,
After all is said and done, true ministering is accomplished one by one with love as the motivation. The value and merit and wonder of sincere ministering is that it truly changes lives! When our hearts are open and willing to love and include, encourage and comfort, the power of our ministering will be irresistible. With love as the motivation, miracles will happen, and we will find ways to bring our “missing” sisters and brothers into the all-inclusive embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As the Christmas season winds to a close and a new year beckons to us with new motivation to change and set goals, I hope we can all find new ways to care for the precious souls around us and find joy in watching and helping them grow.