Soon after I was divorced, I got myself into school so I could provide a better life for my kids and I. For one of my courses (public health), I was required to do some service hours in the community. I chose to spend some time at the local homeless shelter. From the moment I arrived, I was feeling so much compassion for the people using these services. I also felt a great deal of gratitude for all that I have. As I was working in the pantry, I saw a paper on the wall that listed the income limits for those eligible to live at the shelter. My heart dropped when I realized that I qualified to stay there. Whoa, what? I had no idea I was that poor. The word "humble" doesn't really begin to describe what I was feeling.
On my way home, and for days following, I reflected on this. Why was I in such a better situation when we had the same financial resources? I concluded that it came down to choice. After all, when I was there working, quite a few people were sitting around picnic tables smoking cigarettes, gossiping, and just hanging out. In contrast, I was actively seeking a better life and willing to work for it. I was taking advantage of available opportunities such as finishing my education to obtain a better way of life. These people have the same choice, right? I thought this was lesson I learned that day - that it's about hard work and self-reliance. Although I strongly believe in those principles, there is a completely different and more meaningful lesson I have come to understand.
Fast forward a few years to a night when I was reading my scriptures and came across the words, "perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery...his punishments are just." This is essentially the conclusion I had come to through my experience at the homeless shelter. As I continued to read, it said that whoever says/thinks this about others, "the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God." (Mosiah 4:17-18). Uhm, punch to the stomach right there! I felt awful for weeks realizing where my heart was. The thing is, and as it points out in the next verse, "are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God for all the substance which we have...?"
In that moment, I realized every blessing that God has given me that has allowed me to get where I am. Yes, I have done my best to work, but without His help, I would still be nowhere. You see, I have a great support system. I have wonderful family and friends who have been there for me this whole time. I am physically and mentally healthy. And greatest of all, I have a knowledge of who I am and where I am going. I understand, believe in, and use the Atonement. I have hope!
I didn't know any of those people. Maybe they have no one or feel they have no reason to try. Maybe they have illnesses that prevent them from attaining education or employment. Maybe they have never hoped for anything better. I don't know and that's the point.
It is my prayer and hope that we can withhold judgments, serve freely, and realize where the true source of all that we have comes from. I hope that we can "succor those that stand in need of succor [and] administer...substance unto him that standeth in need." (Mosiah 4:16)