I was recently introduced to a couple this way: “These were the first people to speak to us when we moved in. The first to invite us to dinner.”
It had been years, but this one gesture of friendship held a precious place in my friend’s heart, and this is the way they thought of that couple, to this very moment.
I was struck by the memory. It was something solid my friend had clung to, this proof that these were good people. While the hosting family probably had no idea how much it would mean, my friend placed tremendous value on being invited into their home. Against a backdrop of surface socializing, this gesture gleamed.
And I thought about moments when someone has been there for me, especially those times when I felt abandoned by all others. Like a drowning man coming up for air, those kindnesses really do become indelible; we cherish them, and turn them over in our hands like precious shells we’ve found on a faraway beach.
You never know how lonely someone might be, despite the appearance of having a big crowd or a huge family. In the quiet hallways of their heart, they could be wishing for someone to look past their mistakes and simply love them as they are.
So many people spend their lives serving and giving, yet rarely receive the thanks they deserve. How wonderful would it be to simply text a few words of appreciation (better yet, send a card they can save)? It might arrive on their bleakest day, and bring warmth and love into their life.
When new people come to church—members or not— it can be a bit daunting. Why not see if you can be the first to make a beeline to them, extending a warm welcome? I know it’s not always possible, especially for parents busy with little ones, but surely a quarter of the congregation could meet them, perhaps invite them to dinner, or get their phone number. Elder Neil L. Andersen once said, “Let’s open our hearts and our arms a little wider.”
How about when someone new moves into your neighborhood? Are you the first to welcome them and help them get acquainted? What a relief it would be for the parents of children, to find others their kids’ ages in the same block! So often kids are reluctant to leave their familiar schools and friends; this would ease the transition tremendously.
My husband is great at this, and twice people have let me know that his friendliness towards them made the difference at a crossroads when they were considering not coming back again. They credit him with their activity and even temple attendance, to this day.
Everyone wants to feel wanted. That’s the message—no advice, no preaching, just letting them know you’re so glad they’re here. One woman was afraid she’d never fit in because all the women at church seemed to have “perfect” lives. A wise sister invited her to a gathering at her home where everyone ate pizza and talked about their challenges. This sister realized she was not the only one who was divorced, or had a crazy upbringing, or struggled with the Word of Wisdom. She felt she was among real friends.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “The Church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth, or the height of our testimony.” This is a church that preaches inclusion, that we can have unity despite diversity. Here is where Jesus Christ’s teachings should be evident. We need to show it by welcoming every kind of person who walks through the door. It is, after all, the second great commandment.
I was recently honored to speak at a friend’s baptism and enjoyed reviewing the covenants we make at that sacred time, and when we partake of the Sacrament. These include bearing one another’s burdens, mourning with those that mourn, comforting those that stand in need of comfort, and standing as witnesses of God at all times and in all things. Alma taught that we must do these things in order to be called the Savior’s people. (Mosiah 18:8–9).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “Brothers and sisters, the service we provide when we bear another’s burdens is crucially important—literally the work of the Master. The number of letters received in my office underscores how much help is needed. That help is manna from heaven to those who struggle.”
It isn’t just newcomers who need our kindness. Sometimes we need to extend that loving care to people already there, but who feel overlooked. And older sister once told me she felt “put out to pasture” when she desperately wanted to have a calling and be involved. She wanted the younger women to speak with her and include her. Too often we gather with those who are just like us, instead of reaching out to the marginalized.
However, if you’re someone who feels left out, don’t be the person who waits for others to take that first step; reach out yourself. I once moved to a new city and took plates of cookies to the neighbors rather than waiting for them to bring ones to me—it was fun, surprising, and it helped us all get better acquainted.
When someone has been away for awhile and is tenuously dipping their toes back in again, make it easy. Don’t pump them with questions. Simply offer a smile, a handshake, and a sincere expression of how good it is to see them again.
Being first isn’t as important as simply being there. But if we put off the opportunity, we may not get another one. Let’s make it a priority to reach out and welcome all to the fold.
Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.