“Cleave unto Charity”

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As Mormon described it, charity refers to a Christlike motive behind acts of kindness. In the following accounts, members share experiences that help us learn how to acquire charity.

The world uses the word charity to mean material aid given to those in need. Latter-day Saints focus on the additional meaning of “the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ” (“Charity,” Bible Dictionary, 632). That kind of charity often changes hearts and lives, as members recall here.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Russell

Home Teaching to the End

Often our Church assignments place us in ideal situations for developing charity toward others. My father had the same home teaching assignments and the same companion for many years. He and his companion grew to love their families deeply, and the families came to rely on their friendship, especially as they grew older, their children moved away, and in some cases they lost spouses. What had started as priesthood assignments became great bonds between them, so strong that none of the people involved would ever think of breaking them.

In his old age, my father had severe arthritis and had difficulty walking. Yet he and his companion, who by now had trouble seeing and could no longer drive, still got together to visit their old friends. The companions would joke that the two of them combined made up a whole person. My father drove and made the phone calls; his companion helped everyone when a more steady step was required.

As my mother relates, one evening they stopped the car at the house of a sister, but my father could not get out onto the curb or make the climb up the steps to her front door. He said to his companion, “Why don’t you walk up and have her come out to the door, and then I can wave to her.”

His companion slowly made his way up the steps and told the sister to come to the door and wave to my father. Although she was disabled and could not easily leave her house or walk, she said, “I should say not. After all the years that you two have been visiting me, I will walk down to the car this time to visit with you.”

The two of them helped each other out the door and down the steps to the side of the car to visit my father. My father opened the back door of the car, and together the three of them talked in the twilight until it was too dark to see. The three of them loved each other because of so many years of giving aid and also receiving it. That was the last time my father and his companion went home teaching. By the next month my father had died, followed shortly by his companion and then that sister.

As my father committed himself to serving others, befriending them, respecting them, and staying with them literally to the end, he provided me with a wonderful example of how charity develops through home teaching.Malcolm W. Watson, Weston First Ward, Boston Massachusetts Stake

Stripped of Spiritual Blinders

One sister in our branch had many serious problems. Her life appeared to move from crisis to crisis, and each crisis required attention. Someone in the family was always ill or something was always putting strains on the family budget, taking up the time of my husband, the branch president. Because of these frequent upsets, she often missed fulfilling her Church callings, obligating others to substitute for her with little or no notice. She and her husband were beset by debt and financial worries, yet by all appearances they spent money freely and impulsively on things they didn’t need.

I asked myself, Why can’t she make some changes, live more frugally, and be more responsible? Things don’t have to be that bad. My exasperation with what I perceived to be her inability to take charge of her life persisted and even began to fester into a tight-lipped feeling that perhaps she deserved her problems.

At the same time, I was also painfully aware that my attitude toward this sister did not square with the gospel principle of charity. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind,” Mormon reminded me, “and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moro. 7:45). The words wouldn’t go away, pushing their way into my mind to confront my impatience. I recognized that my feelings toward this sister were unkind and uncharitable, as corrosive to my spirituality as they were damaging to her identity. How could I change my un-Christlike attitude?

I started with prayer, each day asking Heavenly Father to help me want to change, to want to feel charitable toward this sister. Day by day I sought help to do what I could not do alone. And eventually help came. After some weeks I found myself thinking about this sister in nonjudgmental terms. Moved, I thanked Heavenly Father for His gift, for this change in attitude, and began entreating Him to help me see my sister as He saw her.

As I continued to pray, an interesting thing happened. Her strengths began to be revealed to me: her compassion toward others, the pains she took to minister to their needs. I began to notice her homemaking talents, skillfully and industriously applied, and her sense of humor, bubbling and buoyant. But most of all, I began to see her gift of charity, her ability to accept others as they were, to see the good in them, to enjoy and value and affirm them. Charity! I had thought to take this gift to her, but instead I found her bringing it to me!

I began to love this sister, to care about her struggles, to rejoice in her successes and gratefully accept her gifts to me. It was humbling and yet exhilarating to be stripped of my spiritual blinders and to experience the profound influence of the Holy Ghost. I began to resonate to Alma’s words: the principle of charity “beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28).—Name Withheld

On a Snowpacked German Road

On a cold January night in 1945, German guards entered our room and told 18 prisoners to be prepared within an hour to walk to another prison camp. The worst blizzard in 80 years had swept over the region, choking the road to Spremberg, a railway terminal about 75 miles (121 km) distant. Unwashed, unshaven, and unkempt, we passed through village after village, our frostbitten and blistered feet leaving blood on the snow. This spectacle was viewed by curious villagers lined up on both sides of the road. No communication passed between onlookers and prisoners, only silence.

After we had walked more than 50 miles (80 km) with little food and rest, an old woman detached herself from the crowd and began to walk alongside us. She walked by my side for a moment, and then her hand slipped into my pocket and left something there.

The woman was my enemy, so I hesitated to put my hand inside my pocket to discover what she had deposited. When I finally reached inside, my hand felt a small, round object. It was a potato! I didn’t wait to wash it; I ate it immediately.

Measured by the affluence of today, the potato was nothing. But measured by the circumstances of that time, it was everything. That elderly German woman bound up my wounds with a small potato. It warms my heart when I remember her charity in a world that often seems bereft of it.Vernon J. Tipton, Springville First Ward, Springville Utah Stake

A Friend in Time of Need

Two days after school started, our seven-year-old son, Robbie, came home early complaining about a pain in his leg. Thinking he was just tired from a run during gym, I thought little about it. When his leg continued to ache the next day, my husband, Larry, took him to the doctor. The pediatrician could find nothing wrong but suggested some blood tests.

That evening, the doctor called and told us to bring Robbie to the hospital immediately. The blood tests had revealed an abnormally high count of white blood cells. Robbie was started on antibiotics, and two days later the suspected diagnosis was confirmed: our son had a severe case of osteomyelitis, or bone infection. Untreated, it could result in the loss of his leg.

To comfort Robbie during his treatments, Larry volunteered to spend nights at the hospital, and I stayed with our son during the day while Larry watched our other two young children at home. To add to our stress, consulting engineer work for Larry was scarce at that time, and our savings were soon depleted.

When Robbie failed to improve, the orthopedic surgeon said he would have to scrape the infection from the bone. The morning of the surgery, I dried my tears and went to the hospital to wait with my husband. Several hours later we learned that the operation had been successful, but more hospital treatment would be required. My relief was counterbalanced by a terrible weariness that left me feeling drained and weak.

An unexpected call came early that afternoon from a friend in the ward named Sandy Christiansen. “Can I come and stay with Robbie in the hospital while you and Larry go out this evening?” she asked.

My words of thanks were muffled by tears that threatened to spill over. I stuttered a grateful yes. Sandy’s call came when I was at an emotional and physical low. With sensitivity and perception, she realized that what Larry and I needed most was an evening away from the hospital. We returned from our date with renewed energy and optimism. Sandy accepted our thanks quietly and acted as though we had done her a favor by allowing her to spend four hours with our son.

The following week, Sandy continued displaying a quiet empathy for our needs. Rather than saying, “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know,” she made specific offers of help. She put herself in our position and asked herself what she would need in similar circumstances. Realizing that asking for help does not come easily to most people, she anticipated our needs and made it easy for us to accept her assistance.

I thought our troubles would be over when Robbie came home from the hospital, but our trials continued. Daily visits to the orthopedic surgeon, worry about medical bills, and health problems related to the baby I was carrying compounded to drain us of strength and faith.

Depressed feelings hovered frighteningly nearby. As time went on, Sandy listened to my hurts and complaints with genuine understanding. When our baby arrived two weeks early, she arranged meals and baby-sitting.

Sandy’s charity was manifested not so much through words as through quiet doing. Her acts of love exemplified the Savior’s words: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).Jane M. Choate, Big Thompson Ward, Greeley Colorado Stake

A Daughter of Heavenly Father

Driving down a street in a dangerous part of Phoenix, Arizona, I felt a strong hunger come over me. But it was only three in the afternoon, and I had eaten a larger-than-normal lunch at noon. Why was I hungry again?

I told myself I could control my appetite for a few more hours until suppertime. But as I continued down the street, the hunger pangs grew worse. I wondered if maybe I was getting sick. The hunger was stronger than I could ever remember feeling. When I spotted a fast-food restaurant, I decided I would give in to my discomfort and buy a small cheeseburger.

I guided my pickup truck toward the drive-in, but then I decided to park and go inside. As I walked toward the restaurant door, a woman in ragged, dirty clothes stepped out from between two parked cars. Her long hair was stringy and matted, and her arms bore the marks of a drug user. I changed direction to avoid her.

The woman staggered a little and continued walking toward me. I hesitated, unsure of what to do. She stopped in front of me and looked at me with bloodshot eyes. She was probably in her late 20s, but something about her face seemed much older. She started to speak, but then she hesitated and swayed on her feet. I reached for her arm to steady her, but she pulled away.

“Would you please buy me something to eat?” she mumbled. I told her I would, and then I went inside the restaurant. At the counter, I decided to buy the woman a large sandwich, french fries, and a drink. For myself I ordered a small cheeseburger and a drink. I carried the two bags of food outside and gave the woman the larger bag. She mumbled her thanks and moved away to sit under a tree and eat.

Back inside my pickup, I opened the cheeseburger. As I brought the sandwich to my mouth, I realized I was no longer hungry. The smell of the food made me feel completely full. Confused, I put the sandwich back into the bag to eat later. As I drove away, I felt puzzled about the odd events of the past half hour.

Late that night, I woke up and started thinking again about what had happened. As I lay there, an understanding came over me. Every day I had been praying I would be guided to people who needed help I could provide, and my prayer had been answered in a completely unexpected way. Reflecting on the experience, I sensed how important the woman was to Heavenly Father. I knelt in prayer to express thanks for the lesson in charity I learned that day.Leroy Hale, Ironwood Ward, Gilbert Arizona Greenfield Stake

“Elva, We Did It!”

With three Primary-aged children, a husband whose career as a school administrator was accelerating, a demanding Church calling, and my efforts to complete my university education, I was feeling overwhelmed. Then came the request on the telephone: Would I please visit Elva Anderson in addition to my other visiting teaching sisters?

How in the world can I add more? I thought. I really didn’t know Sister Anderson because she had been housebound as an invalid for almost seven years. She was old enough to be my mother. What would I talk about with her?

On my first visit, I learned she had a severe heart condition that caused oxygen deprivation. In spite of her affliction, I found strong evidence of her sense of humor and sharp wit. Our visit was unexpectedly refreshing.

On my next visit, Elva coaxed me to talk about myself, and I revealed my frustration about an English literature class centering around the poet John Milton. I found the course content deep and elusive, and I was unable to participate in study sessions after class because I needed to be home when my children returned from school.

Elva called the next evening as I was cleaning up after dinner. She had asked her professor husband to pick up a copy of my literature text, and she had read the current assignment. While I washed dishes, we discussed the difficult sections of Milton. Our telephone conversations continued throughout the semester, and frequently I would drop in for a brief visit with Elva on my way home from school. In addition to her assistance with my studies, she helped me put my periodic anxieties about one or another of my children into a more mature perspective, and she encouraged me to keep going when the load felt engulfing.

After that semester’s final exams, I raced to her home and said, “Elva, we did it! I got the highest score on the literature final.”

Gently, with a smile, she took my hand and said, “Sit down. I also have something exciting to tell you.” She explained that a noted doctor had accepted her for heart bypass surgery. She expressed her fears that she would not survive, but she said she was determined to go ahead with the operation. We quietly hugged each other.

One week later Elva’s husband called from the hospital to say she was doing well in the recovery room. But two days later she suddenly passed away. Although her heart was functioning well, her arteries had given out due to increased pressure.

Part of me felt ripped away. When we are called to visit someone, we usually expect to work on developing feelings for that person. But this time the tables were turned, and I marveled at how an unwelcome assignment had turned into a great blessing of friendship for me. Demonstrating her charitable heart, Elva had become my academic companion, my friend, my resource for encouragement, and my substitute mother. How grateful I am that I did not neglect the opportunity to become her friend!Lillian Woodland, Bloomington Third Ward, St. George Utah Stake