You may find the following steps helpful, in living your religion. Please note that I am fully aware these are all my stupid opinions, and I am being all opinionated when I express them. I am aware that I am far from perfect. But, I find myself in a unique position to offer some good advice, based on my very strong feelings and experience in this area. Please also note that I am aware that a small handful of you already know these things, and really don't need to hear it. (The sad part is that the people who really need to hear it probably will never read this. But, I need to get it out of me, so indulge me. M'kay?)
1. God loves His children. All of them. Even the ones who are different than you. (Which, by the way, is everyone else. In case you hadn't noticed.) He loves them all the same, and in exactly the ways that they need. Red, and yellow, back, and white, they are precious in His sight. He loves the gay ones, the bearded ones, the ones who smell like cigarettes, and/or alcohol, the ones who are trying their very best to appear to be perfectly perfect in every single way, the ones who are way ok with not being perfect. He loves the quirky guy who has to be first in line to bear His testimony. Don't have a stroke when I tell you this, but: He loves the librarian as much as He loves the Bishop. He loves the ones who stand out, and the ones who blend in. He even loves the ones who come to church dressed differently than you would prefer them to be dressed. And, He loves them all just as much as He loves you. Period. No qualifying necessary. Verifiable fact.
2. Because you are a baptised member, it is your job to love those people, too. All of them. As much as He loves them. It's your job, and you made a covenant with God to do it. It is literally your obligation to be loving to all of God's children. Further, it is something you should want to do. I could get all scripture-y, here, and start quoting prophets and stuff. But, I don't want to be too preachy. Suffice it to say the scriptures you claim to have a testimony of are chalk full of this advice. Some might even call it a "commandment."
3. Because it is your job to be loving, you should withhold judgement of other people. Completely. You know, the whole, "Judge not, that ye be not judged thing." That means, that when you look at someone, you don't automatically start to notice all of the things that bug you, about them. Instead, if I can make a suggestion, notice all the things that are awesome about them. Like how great they are at leading the music. Or, how fabulously they accessorize. Or, how they are always, always doing their best to be outgoing and friendly. Especially to new people. They are so very many great things to notice about people! It really shouldn't be too hard to ignore the stuff that we don't like about them.
4. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Always, always assume the best of them. Because we are human, we are not going to get it just perfect. We are going to notice differences, and we are going to be bugged. But, when someone does something different from the way you would do it or prefer it, assume they are doing it innocently. Because, as stated in step 3, it's not your place to judge. Say, if someone is wearing an outfit to church that you think is too casual. And you think to yourself, "WOW! That outfit is totally not ok to wear to church. They should be wearing their Sunday best!" Assume, instead, that it is the best they have. Assume that they are feeling pretty awkward in their too casual outfit, surrounded by all the people in much nicer clothing than theirs. Assume it, even if you think you know differently. Then, realize that, because they probably feel awkward, they are going to need a friend. You could be that friend. And, because you are a disciple of Christ, you should be that friend.
5. If you absolutely cannot give the benefit of the doubt, and must assume the worst of people, or are very certain you know their intentions and heart, there is still hope for you. When you see that outfit that you feel is too casual, and you make the assumption that the person wearing it is missing the point, or crossing the line, or walking the path to apostasy, or is struggling with their testimony, or apparently a godless heathen, you have choices. You can stand there, in judgement of them, wallowing in all of the things that bug you about them. You can gossip about it with your bff. You can take it to the Bishopric, and your God, and gripe and complain about that godless heathen in their clothes that you don't like, and all of the horribleness that is happening that is totally distracting you from the point of your own worship. Or, you can realize that you, too, are missing the point. YOU are missing the point. The point is, that if the very, very worst about the person you are judging is true, you have a job to do. And, that job is to LOVE. (Deja vu! I feel like I might have said this already? Well, it's worth saying again.)
6. Love. If and when you perceive someone different from you in any way struggling, you should put your arm around them. You should smile at them. You should ask how they are doing, and ask if they might be having a hard time with something. You should let them know you are safe person to talk to, because you also are not perfect, and struggle with things sometimes. You should call them during the week, to ask them if you can bring a meal by, or if they maybe want to go for a walk, just because you noticed they might be having a hard time, and you want to help them in the only way you know how. When we were baptised, we took upon ourselves the name of Christ. In the words of Alma:
...Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are adesirous to come into the bfold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are awilling to mourn with those that bmourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as cwitnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the dfirst resurrection, that ye may have eternal life— (Mosiah 18:8-9)
So, when someone in your ward family appears to be struggling (yes, even if something about them bugs, anger, worries, or upsets you, or somehow puts your own reputation on the line), put your arm around them and say, because you are my brother/sister, and because I love with the pure love of Christ, and because I care about you as a worthwhile child of our Father in Heaven, I want you to know that I am here for you, and I will do whatever I can to help you through your hard time. When we do this, we become true disciples. We become shepherds with the true Shepherd, helping others to know that they are part of our fold. That they need not do one single thing to qualify for God's love, or ours.
7. Stop nit-picking. Realize that every last person sitting in that sacrament room to renew their covenant is struggling with something. The woman sitting next to you may be fighting serious depression. Or, she and her husband may be fighting his addiction to pornography. There are teenagers sitting among you who struggle with that addiction. Or, are considering (or already dabbling in) experimentation with their sexuality, and/or with drugs, and/or alcohol. Statistics say that several people among us are experiencing same sex attraction, and are either too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone about their feelings. There are people who are struggling with their finances, and do not have enough. People who's marriages aren't working, right now. Children who don't like themselves, or are being bullied at school. Children who blame themselves for their parents' struggles. Every single member of our congregation has a struggle. We are all struggling with feelings of unworthiness for varied reasons. Because of a lifetime spent in the scorn and judgement of others, some actually believe that they must qualify for their Father's love, and the approval of their peers. They believe that they are not a part of the fold. Because they have never been made to feel as though they are a part. Or because they were made to feel they are not a part, by someone who persecuted them, instead of loving them. The greatest tragedy of our holding judgement against others is that it separates us from each other, when we are supposed to be one body in Christ. There are so many people struggling with so many things, who hide their struggles in shame, because they know based on experience that anyone with a struggle or a pain, anyone who is overtly different from the fold in any way shape or form, will be cast out and judged by the people around them. We all live in fear of being judged by the person sitting next to us. We live in fear of what people will do or say, if they ever find out what is really going on in our homes, in our minds, in our lives. It is a literal tragedy. We have got to stop nit-picking each other, and start putting our arms around each other. Our job is to love. Period. Verifiable fact.
Rant over. Love you all! -Tiff