When I arrived as a new missionary in Lille, France, the missionaries of my zone were planning a bicycle trip to visit the WWI American Military Cemetery of Flanders Field and had already secured our Mission President’s permission as we would be traveling outside of our zone. My 3rd day in the mission field, I purchased my bike, a beautiful green Peugeot 10 speed, and on my 1st or 2nd P-day, we were on the road.
The topography of Western Belgium is very similar to the ground between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids–gentle rolling hills of fertile farmland. Almost immediately as we left the bumpy, slow-riding cobble-stone streets of town, I found myself at the end of the line of riders. Sometimes a very long line with them massed at the front and me far, far behind. I was not riding at the end to make sure everyone else was ok. I simply couldn’t keep up. The other missionaries were constantly having to stop and wait for me. They never said anything mean or derogatory, but every time I rolled up to them standing patiently beside their bikes, I felt embarrassed, weak and inadequate.
With the day passing faster than the miles and my frustration probably evident on my face, several missionaries slowed down to ride beside me. After a time, one of them suggested we stop and raise the seat on my bike. In my emotionally vulnerable state, I could have snapped back that I knew how to ride a bike. Fortunately, I swallowed my embarrassment, and we raised my bike seat about an inch. At first, I felt uncomfortably high but found to my delight that with every pedal-stoke I had more power in that last inch and had a split-second of rest with my leg almost fully extended. The other missionaries were still more accustomed to bike riding, but now I could pedal faster, longer and I could keep up.
Brothers and Sisters, we all will have challenges in this life that will give us opportunities to become more Christ-like. Some of those challenges will be times of weakness and pain to teach us faith, obedience, diligence, humility and forgiveness. Some challenges will be times of strength and plenty to teach us faith, obedience, gratitude, compas- sion, and charity. Sometimes we choose these challenges by our actions. Other times our challenges are the result of mortality or the choices of others. In both times of personal weakness or of personal strength, it is vital for us to remember that God has a greater purpose for us than the joy or sorrow of the moment. I am grateful for the few moments of focused attention my missionary associates gave to me on that bike ride long ago. Both they and I were immediately blessed for their gift.
In our life-goal of becoming more like God, we cannot afford to nurture feelings of anger, jealousy, or resentment. The Savior tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is like unto it: to love our neighbor as our self. When we refuse to forgive, we slow our own progression as we falter in keeping the second great commandment to “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Matthew 22: 37-39). However, “forgiving” does not mean we allow ourselves or another to continue to be abused. It does mean that we leave to God all issues of fairness or punishment while we move on to greater things. It does mean that we focus on improving our future rather than on how we were treated in the past.
We make judgments all the time, and almost always our judgments are based on faulty or incomplete information viewed through the distorted lens of our perceptions of the world around us. I assumed that the missionaries of my zone were impatient and irritated with me because I felt that way myself. Whether or not they were, they clearly spent some time trying to figure out if they could help me. We would be wise to always judge or interpret the actions and words of others in the best possible light we can imagine. We may be wrong occasionally, but I believe we will all be happier if we assume others have positive intentions.