There’s a fun science experiment that teaches an important gospel lesson. In fact, it’s a great activity for a Family Home Evening. All you need is half a dozen raisins and a glass of soda.
Make sure the raisins are separated, then drop them into the glass of soda. Wait a moment, and you’ll see the raisins sink to the bottom because they’re more dense than the soda pop. But, as the drink releases carbon dioxide bubbles, they attach to the rough surface of the raisins. Soon the bubbles become little flotation devices; they make the raisin more buoyant, and up it floats to the top again. But now the bubbles pop. Suddenly the raisin falls back to the bottom again. Up and down they go, until your soda is flat.
Now let’s assign some symbolism. Let’s say the raisins are church members. We want them baptized, and then to stay active and deeply committed. We want them deep in the glass, comfortably immersed in the gospel.
But then, inevitably, someone says or does something rude. This continues, until the fresh raisin is covered with gas bubbles of offense. Finally, the person succumbs to this, decides to leave the pack, and floats back up to the surface. Dang—where’s Brother Raisin? Gone again?
Sure enough, Brother (or Sister) Raisin has decided to visit the margin again, at the furthest boundary possible. However, with time they get over the offense (the bubbles pop) and they return to church activity. Whew! But wait—now they’re gathering offenses once more and floating away again!
This is literally how some people are. I spoke to a returned missionary who said the entire country he served in does this. People stay active for a time, but then they get offended and stop coming for a while. Sooner or later they try attending again. It becomes a revolving door. Retention becomes the biggest problem in the mission.
We want better results. We want these people to stay fully committed, to grow and serve and enjoy the blessings of the temple. We want them to happily share their testimonies. We want strong families who can stand firm against today’s temptations.
But sometimes it seems like retention is a losing battle, trying to pop the bubbles and keep them from taking offense again. Like the little boy trying to stop a flood by putting his fingers in holes in the dike, we dash about trying to salvage someone’s activity, to mend fences and get them to come back.
Here’s the deal: Taking offense is a choice. Yes, we all need to do better at being careful and considerate. When we blunder and say the wrong thing, we need to be swift and sincere with an apology. But some people allow petty and careless comments to determine their entire future! They pull away from Priesthood blessings and the sacred taking of the Sacrament because someone else had a lapse in manners.
Elder David A. Bednar said, “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. You and I cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Please remember that you and I are agents endowed with moral agency, and we can choose not to be offended.”
First, we need to resolve not to be a raisin. We mustn’t allow someone else’s unintended—or intended—slight to impact our testimony and our journey along the path to exaltation. Remember this wonderful quote by Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
This helps us reframe the offense and see it as evidence of that person’s weakness or problem–not ours. Instead of internalizing the criticism, we can see it as springing from an unhappy heart. We can even help that person. (And yes, of course there are times we need correction and should humbly consider it.)
If the raisin is someone else, we can continue to fellowship them, love them, serve them, and invite them back. Learning to disregard gas bubbles sometimes takes time. But we can show them that this is a safe place where they can find others to support them.
Remember that President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Every convert needs a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God.’” Let’s try to provide all of these, in hopes they will remember their testimonies and come back. After all, God did not offend them; an imperfect mortal did.
Far too often in life we allow someone else to hurt us twice. First, when they said or did the wrong thing. And the second time was when we gave them even more power and allowed them to become the ongoing excuse for our lack of spiritual growth. How sad, to hurt ourselves in the effort to “show them how much damage they did.” This is never a good idea, and always costs us too much. When we carry grudges and resentments we miss out on covenants, blessings, relationships, even our health.
Our activity in the church should not be based upon anything to do with other members. I know that sounds broad and sweeping, but think about it. If you were the only member in the congregation of some remote branch, you’d still go. You’d want to take the Sacrament, to worship God, to learn, to hear inspiration. In areas where membership is high, we have bustling wards and stakes (well, during the pandemic lockdown we are not quite so bustling). And it’s tempting to forget the purpose of our attendance. It’s to renew our covenants by taking the Sacrament. Yes, the talks and lessons are wonderful, the songs inspirational, the socializing fun and heartening. But the real point is your relationship with your Father in Heaven. Why jeopardize that by giving so much power to someone who had a lapse in judgment?
This New Year gives us a chance to make resolutions, to evaluate our lives, and set goals. How about we set the goal of never being a raisin? And as a secondary goal, how about we do our best to rescue the floaters, and bring them back? These are troubling times, and we need the connection and strength of our gospel friends. We need to help one another stay where we belong, and not drift away. Unity will do it. In fact, if you can find a clump of raisins stuck together, guess what will happen? They’ll stay right at the bottom of the glass where they belong.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.