From time to time throughout my life, I have had friends and acquaintances confide secrets in me — usually the kind I could have lived the rest of my life without knowing. I have sometimes wondered why I would be so lucky, but I still don’t have a good answer.
Anyway, depending on the nature of the secret, I may feel it’s appropriate to give ongoing support and offer myself as a sounding board — as a rescuer who is willing to guide and counsel and point the way back out of the mess that the friend has managed to get into. I’ve never really felt to judge, because I’ve had enough colossal blunders that I have no fingers left to point. I just want to be sure that the person I care about doesn’t get lost in the bustle of mortality. I’ve never been a perfect guide, but I’ve always given it my best shot.
One thing I’ve noticed is how deeply I am affected because of my concern. I somehow feel like I’m taking on their burdens. I worry, I pray, I even fast when I feel it’s called for. I have to fight the urge to give so much advice and “encouragement” that it smothers those I’m trying to assist.
The Real Problem
In thinking about, praying for, and identifying with a friend who is struggling, I sometimes find myself sliding backwards. This realization seemed odd to me, until I really started thinking about it.
When there is a natural disaster, anyone who goes to the rescue has to get into the mess. There is no way to stay in a warm, comfortable, clean place and reach out and do anything of significance. Going out of the way to help someone means that you have to go plunging through the muck to right where they are.
I think it may be the same when the problem is spiritual. I could stay at home, in church, and in the temple: praying for help for those who are hurting and struggling, hoping all gets put back together somehow. I would stay clean and sterile, but I would be completely useless to the people around me. The only way to really make a difference is to get outside my comfort zone and get messy.
Like a natural disaster, it then becomes important that I stay safe, take care of myself, and make sure I clean contaminants off regularly. That means kneeling in intense, honest prayer multiple times daily. It means I have to spend a little more time immersed in God’s word. The only way to clean spiritual muck and mire is to go to the source of spiritual cleansing. That’s where I can gain the strength to guard my thoughts and focus on what is real and good. That’s the only way I can maintain my spiritual health and be strong enough to help someone else.