You know that analogy from Elder Ballard where the Church is a boat? It’s all about how we need to stay in the boat, especially when the waves start rolling and the winds start blowing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that boat and that water lately. Obviously, when you’re in a boat the goal is to stay dry. But when a storm is brewing, some of us are going to get smacked in the face with waves we never saw coming. Some may just catch a cool mist on their face while others will get drenched from head to toe. At the very least, there is a good chance that everyone is going to get seasick at some point and find themselves holding on to the edge.
Many will be completely knocked off the boat and have to work to crawl back on. Climbing back in the boat can be a slow process. A process that involves that awkward predicament where you’re very much exposed to the wind and waves but also doing your best to cling to the side of the boat . . . which honestly is really a hard place to hold on to where you don't feel secure. To those on the deck, it may look like you are barely trying because you only have the energy to make progress up the side between wave beatings. Even then, when you make it up the side exhausted and are drying out on the deck you can get slammed once, twice, or seven times more.
This process is guaranteed to be difficult and can take a lifetime. When people are fighting the waves and doing their best to hold, one of the last things they need is for those on the boat to comment on how wet they are. When people are doing their best to show up to church and live the gospel, let's not focus on what makes them different. Let's focus on how hard they are trying and how much we love them for it. Jesus spent his time encouraging and supporting those hanging on to the side of the boat and didn’t care what it looked like to anyone on the deck.
Rather than being concerned about the puddle they may make on the deck, let's be the ones reaching over the edge and pulling people up. Maybe we’ve climbed that path before and can give them some pointers on good footholds to use. Let's take time and listen to what they learned in the process rather than focusing on what they missed. Because honestly, any of us could be the next one knocked off the edge, and we’re all going to want someone standing at the top with a warm towel when we make it back into the boat. (P.S. If you've never put your towel in the dryer while you’re in the shower so it is hot when you get out, you haven’t lived.)
One last note. Some people choose to get off the boat and swim or to get in a different boat. They too deserve our continued loved and support. President Uchtdorf taught:
"Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.
"Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
"In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves."