DELIVERED AT WOMEN'S CONFERENCE: EYES TO SEE ON MARCH 11, 2023
Last summer, I was in NYC with my 17-year-old son Davis. We were coming out of a busy Subway station when I made eye contact with a woman at the bottom of the stairs. Something about the expression on her face caused me to blurt out, “Do you need help?” A look of relief washed across her face and she said that she wasn’t able to carry her luggage to the top of the stairs. I said, “well my son would love to carry that for you”. Davis grabbed her bag and we followed her up the stairs. When we go to the top, I asked her if she needed any additional help to get wherever she was going. Instead of answering my question, she looked at me and said “you’re not from around here are you?” (wondered if it was my accent?) I said, “no we’re visiting from Utah” and she responded, “ya, people around here aren’t that nice”.
When I was asked to speak today on the topic “Eyes to see others” I thought back to this day in New York and wondered about that woman. How long was she standing there? How many people passed her by? She was of the opinion that “people around here aren’t that nice” but I don’t actually think that was the problem. My guess is that most people would have been happy to help her with her luggage. I think the problem is that no one noticed.
So, how can we improve our ability to notice? What can we do to have ‘eyes to see others’? I’ve come up with 4 ideas to consider.
First, and probably the most obvious, is to pray for opportunities to see and notice others. Elder Bednar shared this story in a devotional given at BYU:
Before attending her sacrament meetings, Sister Bednar frequently prays for the spiritual eyes to see those who have a need. Often as she observes the brothers and sisters and children in the congregation, she will feel a spiritual nudge to visit with or make a phone call to a particular person. And when Sister Bednar receives such an impression, she promptly responds and obeys. It often is the case that as soon as the “amen” is spoken in the benediction, she will talk with a teenager or hug a sister or, upon returning home, immediately pick up the phone and make a call. As long as I have known Sister Bednar, people have marveled at her capacity to discern and respond to their needs. Often they will ask her, “How did you know?” The spiritual gift of being quick to observe has enabled her to see and to act promptly and has been a great blessing in the lives of many people.
I love his reference to “the spiritual gift of being quick to observe”. This is not a spiritual gift that I have ever thought about before. Imagine the impact we could have if we attended our meetings each week with a prayer in our heart that we could be prompted to see another’s needs.
Another way we can notice others is by assignment. You might think I’m referring to the church’s ministering program. And, that would definitely fit. But, in my case, I’m referring to an assignment from my parents. Many years ago my parents told us kids that they didn’t want any more gifts on holidays. They felt like they had enough ‘things’ and didn’t want to add to that. So, my mom said that for birthdays, Mother’s day, Father’s day, we were off the hook. She then asked if at Christmas time, each family would do some act of kindness and then at our family Christmas party we could all share what we did. One particular kindness that stands out to me was something my brother and his family did.
It had been a particularly cold December and they went down to SLC, around 4th South, where there are many homeless people. They got out of their car and walked through the park handing out hand warmers and talking to people. I am assuming that many people in the homeless community feel unseen. In fact, I know that I have been guilty of looking the other way when I see someone on the street. My brother’s kindness did not solve their problems in the long term, but in that moment, he helped them to feel seen, acknowledged, and hopefully a little bit warmer – even if only for one night.
Over the years, I have learned to appreciate this assignment from my parents. I have realized that one of the blessings from this is that I am always on the lookout for ways my family can lift and serve others. This assignment has helped me to have ‘eyes to see others’.
The next idea that came to my mind is that we can be more direct and specific when we offer help. Three years ago, my brother-in-law passed away at the age of 43. He left behind his wife and 2 young children (ages 5 & . As an extended family, we tried really hard to offer help and support to my sister-in-law. However, I noticed that most conversations ended with “if you need anything, please let us know”…and we really did mean that. But, the problem was that my sister-in-law never “let us know”. So, one day I decided to approach her in a more direct and specific way. I texted her that my family was available on Saturday and that we would be coming down to do yard work. I told her if there was anything specific she needed, to make us a list. Otherwise we would just come and do whatever we could see needed to be done. She responded that she did have some garden beds that she couldn’t keep up with anymore and that it would be great if we could take them out and cover them with sod.
I didn’t know it at the time, but me learning to serve my sister-in-law in a direct and specific way would be needed even more when she was diagnosed with cancer in Sept 2021. She fought a hard battle for one year and passed away the following Sept. During that year, I tried to offer help in all kinds of ways. Some she would accept, others she would not. I will say that there is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying. It’s possible that I may have crossed that line. But, I like to believe that whatever her experience is on the other side of the veil, that she knows that my efforts were genuine and sincere.
My last idea is to ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I have borrowed that idea from Steven Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People." I think the book was written for the business professional, but this same principle is confirmed in James 1:19 “be swift to hear, and slow to speak”.
There was a pivotal time in my life when I was on the receiving end of this counsel – ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’. 12 years ago I sat across from my bishop, pouring out my heart over an issue within the church that was deeply troubling and personal to me. I expected to be met with the doctrine and a list of reasons why I shouldn’t be feeling the way I was feeling. Instead, this kind bishop listened intently and then responded in such a kind and compassionate way. The way he treated me in that moment changed the trajectory of my membership in the church. I realize that sounds dramatic. However, I had gotten myself to a place in my mind where I was believing that because I have a difference of opinion on this particular issue, that maybe there wasn’t a place for me within the church. I have reflected often of that interaction with my bishop and have had the thought that I should write him a note to let him know how profoundly he influenced my life. I never got around to writing that note, until today. I was hoping that Pres. Erickson would be here today so I could deliver this note (finally ).
In summary, as we work towards having ‘eyes to see others’, we become more like our Savior Jesus Christ. And the more we become like Him, the better we become at noticing others. So, we create this beautiful forward progression that moves us along the covenant path.
Just as you are actively seeking to notice others, God is actively placing people in your life who will see you. We are not meant to do this journey through life alone. We are meant to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, lift up the hands that hang down…and we do that when we have ‘eyes to see others’. As I look out at all of you today, I feel a collective strength knowing that we are all genuinely trying to do our best. We live in such a great community where there are so many people who want to be disciples of Christ, and for that I am so grateful. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.