I love irony — even when it is the irony of a Thanksgiving hymn that sums up some of the deepest thoughts with which I have been wrestling over the past several months.
In “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” there is a line which states:
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown.
For a long time, I thought that the field in the parable was the world. That’s not too hard for me to digest and accept — some people will look really good on the outside, but they’re not true followers of Christ, and so they will not actually be part of the kingdom when the world ends. However, lately it occurs to me that the Savior might not have been talking about the world in general, but about His church specifically. This changes the paradigm significantly.
If the field in this parable is the church, then there are people I go to church and worship with every Sunday who have never truly understood the Atonement or truly felt the love of Christ in their hearts. They know all the right words to say and they sound like everybody else, but they are just going through the motions. Some of them may even be hiding deep, serious sins and just keeping up appearances.
If ever there was a chance to come off as arrogant and judgmental, this would be it, but that’s not what I feel in my heart. What truly bothers me is that there are people I know and love — with whom I have regular interactions — that have never felt the joy and peace that I experience almost all of the time. They don’t recognize the strength that comes from using the Atonement in their lives. And, when the final judgment comes, they will know exactly what they could have had. People I know and love may be missing the mark.
I’ve wondered, then, about what I can do. The parable says that the wheat and tares must grow together, because pulling out the tares would kill the growing wheat. I wouldn’t want to start “kicking people out” of the church, anyway — where would they go to have any chance of learning the truth? I’ve wondered what my responsibility is. I’ve wondered what I might be able to do for members who need a good “testimony boost.”
I’ve come up with a few ideas:
- Make sure that I am NOT a tare. It may seem a little odd to make that the first thing, but if I am living as a hypocrite, ignoring and denying my faults and weaknesses, trying to convince myself and others around me that I am “good enough,” then I am not going to be any good to anyone else. I can’t lift someone if I am not on solid, higher ground. I need to make sure that I am confessing my sins and repenting, praying for strength to overcome my weaknesses, seeking to be filled with charity, studying, praying, and fasting — all of those basic things that we are taught will strengthen testimonies and lead us closer to the Savior.
- Lift and encourage. I have yet to truly be motivated to improve by someone who is constantly harping on my faults, tearing me down, and making me feel like a second class citizen. When I have unintentionally made others feel this way, they have reacted as negatively as I do. While the Savior did have harsh words for those who pretended to be righteous and should have been doing better than they were in secret, He reached out with love to those who wanted to follow Him. In our case, it is very rare that we truly know the hearts of others. Unless prompted to do something else by the Spirit, I would lean toward reaching out in love, lifting, and encouraging.
- Use the power of prayer and fasting. I’m still trying to completely comprehend the power of faith that goes with prayer and fasting, and I’m still trying to understand how something as simple as consulting with Heavenly Father and requesting blessings for someone else or missing a couple of meals and praying for someone to be blessed has any real power. I can only come to the conclusion that it does because of the power of faith and because Heavenly Father has decreed that these are the acceptable ways to call down the powers of heaven in behalf of someone else. I have learned to avoid praying in a way that puts my will above Father’s, and I have learned to avoid praying for things that would override someone’s agency. Even so, I can still pray in a way that will bring blessings of heaven to them, and I have a strong testimony that faith, prayer, and fasting work.
- Remember that metaphors only work so far. As humans, we have no power to change a weed into a productive plant. We cannot go down to the cellular or even molecular level and change the nature of a living organism. God CAN. That’s why it’s important to seek His guidance and to always be open to the hope that people will change.
I guess, in the end, that there are no easy answers to the wheat and the tares question. In fact, trying to figure out who is “wheat” and who is a “tare” is giving in to the way Satan would have us do things. It steals love and unity from our hearts and replaces it with segmentation and suspicion. I guess I can only accept that there will be people that I know and love who are not as committed to their faith and their God as I would believe them to be. I can still love them, I can still pray, and I can still honor them as brothers and sisters. If God allows me to do anything else for them, that’s just the cherry on the top.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has prepared some amazing videos on the life of Christ. This is the segment where He gives the parable of the wheat and the tares.
- “Becometh as a Child” — a talk given by Neal A. Maxwell in April 1996
- Commentary from an LDS church manual on Doctrine and Covenants 86, an explanation of the parable