Disarming Is Not the Same as Inviting

(Get it?!  Eh?  Eh?! ...Dis–Arm...!?)
When it comes to the Church and missionary work, I have always felt as though my natural ability to be transparent and unapologetic about my involvement with and love for the Church has been my particular brand of missionary work.  Coworkers, friends of other faiths and family members have always been aware of my activities with the Church–from what a calling is and why I perform it to when I was receiving my endowment and how that would affect my life.  I felt as though that my transparency, along with my ability to make Mormonism seem "normal," was the best PR I could create for the Church...and that, in turn, would disarm people from their prejudices against the Church.  And that, in my head, was always put into the same column as the activities the ward mission always asked us to do.  If I'm really honest, I probably felt as though what I have described was more...practical and effective and non-judgmental than traditional missionary activities.

I was in a missionary work ivory tower, if you will.

But I had a powerful thought burst through the missionary work barricades in my mind recently.  In all this time that I spent disarming others, I didn't realize that I had become like Venus de Milo (above) in that, to outsiders, I was interesting and an anomaly amongst my Mormon peers, but nothing about my approach invited others to draw nearer.  Sure, that made them feel more comfortable, but that comfort and my "good PR" strategy were both hollow.  My words and actions didn't reflect a metaphorical stretching forth of arms in order to welcome others to experience the joy that I have experienced.

Juxtapose this with a quite well-known painting of Christ (recently of Provo Tabernacle fire fame):

Or with the Christus found in many LDS temple visitor's centers:

In both, Christ's arms are outstretched, saying without words "Come, follow me."  Saying "I love you, and I care for you, and I just want you to be happy."  These outstretched arms are warm and inviting.  Indeed, these outstretched arms do disarm...but not through blasé rhetoric and not through wit and not even solely through transparency.  Through love.  And the results of said method are exponentially more rewarding to all involved.

And the thing is, that I do this in many areas of my life.  Mainly, I think, because I try to have as few expectations as possible of others.  I don't expect sameness from my friends and family.  I joy in the differences and learn from them.  So, how do I invite others to join me without betraying that principle that variance is good?  I'm not sure.   

With this in mind, this year I want to grow in this direction.  I want to practice opening my arms and not simply live with transparency, but also be as warm and welcoming as I can.  I want to create space around me for people to pull closer and to become better or happier or more fulfilled, not because of who I am, but because of how I share who I am.


Adam said...

Lauren, while I've had similar thoughts and frustrations, the Elders in my ward recently shared an interesting thought at a dinner appointment. They taught about the parable of the sower and the different kinds of ground. Here in the South, the ground is very hard and rocky and choked with weeds. So it's not practicable to sow a lot of seeds. First, we as members need to prepare the ground by removing those weeds and breaking up the soil. And the types of activities that they said that were most effective for those included being open and transparent about our faith so that others will see that we're not horrible cultists.

So while I generally agree that it would be great if people did more inviting, there is sometimes a lot of preparation work that needs to go on first.

Lauren Kay said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Adam! I definitely agree about the weeding out of prejudices, but still I find that for me, it is time to move into a more inviting and welcoming attitude - whether or not that actually means inviting people to activities. I am looking to change the way that I prepare people for the Gospel from using humor and transparency to disarm to using love to create inclusivity..

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