The tension was palpable as I entered the Relief Society room after finishing playing the piano in Primary. It was clear I was walking into a lesson that had been hijacked. One sister was asking, “But what do YOU tell the Bishop?” Another tried to put that to rest with a firm, “I think that should stay between you and the Bishop.” The teacher tried to move the lesson forward. It was about weaknesses.
Others made some comments but then the first sister said, “But what if you have REAL weaknesses?” As she said that, her voice became a plea. The sister teaching was a master teacher, an incredibly kind soul, but I could see from her shaking hands she was getting flustered and the energy in the room had shifted to protectiveness for her.
“And one of the Pharisees desired [Jesus] that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:36-38)
Our talkative sister experiences mental illness and addiction. Her time at church is a brief respite that she shamefully endures just to be there and have two hours of peace. But she does not bring peace. She is a hot mess. She cannot stop talking. She will tell you her most personal things, her sins, her weaknesses, in the first 30 seconds of conversation, even if she has told you the same many times before. Her narratives have no chronology and there are no logical if-then statements or thoughts.
It was in the midst of the congregate annoyance, when her voice changed, that I flashed to the Pharisee’s house. I pray every day to be more like Jesus, but faced with this interruption, I felt like the Pharisee – hey we are just trying to have a nice dinner with Jesus here, or in my case, just a nice Relief Society lesson with Jesus, please take your interruption somewhere else. And like Peter, swearing he would go anywhere with Jesus, he would kill those who were after him, Jesus turned and said, you really can’t go where I go, you don’t have the patience, the foresight, or let’s face it, the healing powers. Because if I could just reach out my hand and calm her scattered, fraught mind, I would do it.
So as with Peter, Christ has to tell me three (plus) times – feed my sheep. I am millennia from the healing powers of Jesus, but He doesn’t ask that. Just feed my sheep. Just take her some literal food, or text her a reassuring scripture or give her a ride to church. Or, as I saw done the next week when I came in from Primary, give her a part in the lesson. Have her read the passage and assign her a part. Let her in to the feast, and give her a seat.
Illustration: women_wiping_feet available at www.ChurchofJesusChrist.org