Tommie Farrell currently serves as 1st Counselor in the Abilene Texas Stake. He has served as ward mission leader, elders quorum president, and bishop. Favorite callings of his past have been primary teacher, temple ordinance worker in the Lubbock Texas Temple, and as a scoutmaster just prior to his current calling. He has been married to Karen Farrell for 28 years and they have four fantastic children at ages 26, 21, 18, and 14 with two sons serving on missions at this time. They especially enjoy being “Pops” and “Boo” for their 6-month-old grandson. Tommie has been a physician for 22 years with 17 years of these dedicated completely to the field of Hospice and Palliative Medicine where he takes care of patients and families with critical illness and end-of-life care.
Our prophet called for peacemakers in our April 2023 conference.
“One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that the person treats other people.”
His entire talk instructs well on how we do this. I don’t believe our prophet’s words need any addition, but some of us following the prophet will be at different levels of ability and comfort at being compassionate in our communications with others.
The Seeds of Compassion
I work in a field of medicine in which being able to express compassion is a core skill set. One of my favorite speakers on the subject of compassion, Joan Halifax, states a belief I share –
“the seeds of compassion are present in all humans.”
If we have the desire that seed can be nurtured, and we can learn to express ourselves more and more compassionately.
In this article I will share some of the principles we aspire to in my field and connect these to gospel truths. This may help those who struggle to communicate as compassionately as they would like or those who want to hone this skill better. Of course, I believe that the best teacher on this subject is the Holy Ghost. Following the Spirit can lead a person to have charity and express compassion better than anything you can learn from the writings of a man. I hope that these words help connect to the Spirit.
One way I have become better at my compassionate communication is following the principles of therapeutic presence. When we meet others, it is rarely a neutral event. We will either help them feel better about themselves and their relationship with God, or worse. The principles of therapeutic presence attempt to place you in the best emotional, mental ,and spiritual position to be a positive influence in every interaction. Some of the principles you may find easy and natural, especially if you have spent a lot of time in serving others. Some will be more awkward. They all fit naturally into the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Principles of Therapeutic Presence – Grounded and Connected
In order to be therapeutic with others we have to be in a good place personally with our emotions, mental state and spirituality. For those who are in the Lord’s service, we have the clearest direction on how to do this:
“And now, my sons, remember, remember that is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation…” Helaman 5:12
We also know the best way to build on this strength.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
To walk in His light and show his light to others, we have to follow Him and be connected with Him. The daily actions of prayer, scripture, repentance and all the activities in building the kingdom of God of sharing the gospel and temple attendance give us the connections that bring us compassionate power. We can have confidence when we are connected to the Lord that He will bless our efforts.
Respect for Others
You can’t help another if you don’t respect them. In the gospel we have the best perspective in thinking about our fellow man. We have been called to:
- “love thy neighbor as thyself,” Mark 12:31
- “love your enemies,” Matthew 5:44
- “let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:45
For those I train at work I use the goal of holding an unconditional positive regard for all those we see. To love others is aspirational, but we can at least make the decision to not judge others before we know them well.
An experience from my personal life that impacted me was from my time as a young missionary for then Church in Michigan. I remember that in conversations with fellow missionaries it was easy for us to drift into negative conversations in regards to particular faiths. One group that we discussed on one occasion was members of the Jehovah Witnesses. I remember discussing with my companion afterwards that we didn’t see how we could ever share the gospel with members of the Jehovah Witness faith if we harbored inward prejudice towards them. We decided to speak differently and work on feeling differently about members of that faith.
Nothing happened at that time, but months later in my mission I had the blessing of meeting Jack and his family. They had been members of the Jehovah Witnesses. Sister missionaries found them at the right time in their life and my companion and I had the blessing of completing the lessons they needed prior to baptism. Jack and his wife and children became devoted members and my relationship with him was one of my favorites from my mission service.
Being Fully Focused on Others
This may be the hardest of the essential elements of therapeutic presence. We are naturally focused on ourselves. Most of us who serve are juggling needs of our work, callings, and family. Our minds can be filled with responsibilities and tasks. But to communicate with others in the most compassionate manner, we must be focused on them and their needs in the moment. This requires practice and intention.
We keep all our thoughts on the encounter and the person before us. We don’t let technology get in the way. We take a moment prior to the encounter to ask for the Lord’s help in our intention to be compassionate and loving to the person with whom we are interacting.
This also includes blocking the negative emotions of others. When someone is going through a difficult moment, they may become defensive and even lash out. The natural response is to react defensively as well. Here is an example.
Imagine someone you are visiting with gets upset that you recommend a solid gospel principle to help them and they state, “you don’t really care about me, you care more about me going to church so you can feel good about yourself.”
How would you react? The natural response is to be offended and defend yourself with a response such as, “of course I care about you… I just spent all this time with you… “.
Regarding a moment like this, President Nelson teaches,
“The Savior’s message is clear; His true disciples, build, lift, encourage, persuade, and inspire – no matter how difficult the situation… Charity is the antidote to contention. Charity is the spiritual gift that helps us to cast off the natural man, who is selfish, defensive, prideful, and jealous.”
When practicing true compassion, consider that this person is hurting. Don’t internalize the negative emotion that they are directing towards you. Instead attempt to explore their feelings. Recognize that they are expressing an unmet need. This would be the true way to turn the other cheek.
In the example above, the person could feel judged by the gospel-centered recommendation. They may have had other well-meaning people give the same advice.
So going back to our response when they state that you don’t really care, how could we respond better? Consider the principle taught by the Proverb “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:45
Here is how one could respond.
First apologize even if you did not intend the offense – “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”
Don’t give a qualified, defensive apology, such as, “I am sorry you took my advice the wrong way?” Then after the apology seek to understand more. Some possible ways you could say this could include,
- “Let me listen more”
- “Help me understand better what true caring would look like to you?”
When I started this approach, I was surprised how often a sincere apology and caring response opened up previously unopened doors. I have had people apologize for their previous statement and say to me that they can tell I really care and thank me for listening.
Again, this skill of being able to focus on another and not internalize any of their negative and hurt feelings is not natural. Be patient with yourself when you don’t get it right. Every time you react the wrong way, reflect on how you could have done better, pray for the Lord’s help and be more determined to do better the next time.
I have gone through this cycle truly hundreds of times in my career and am grateful at how much more natural it has become for me to respond with compassion.
Monitoring Your Emotional Reserve
As many of you already know, service can be overwhelming at times. It is a natural part of this mortal existence to become drained while providing compassionate service. This last principle is very similar to the first one discussed.
When feeling that your own emotional reserve is low, be sure to take care of yourself. This can include a variety of techniques based off your circumstances and the moment.
Taking time for yourself, developing personal talents or hobbies, and journaling are practices we endorse in our professional training. How grateful I am in particular to journal writing as an encouragement of our faith tradition and I rely on it heavily.
On particularly heavy days or after a particularly intense emotional interaction with others, we need ways to get through the day since we still have to be pushing on with the activities of work or service for that given day. It is appropriate to take a pause in the activities and do something that connects you back to those things that bring you strength in the Spirit. I have three favorite ways to do this.
- Send a text to one of my children or to a sibling. Feeling connected to my family strengthens me.
- Say a quick prayer asking for the additional strength I need for the day.
- Think about a memorized scripture.
I especially like the memorized scripture because it is a practice I learned from the October 2011 talk by Richard G. Scott . He taught that the scriptures are “stalwart friends” and when we memorize a scripture it “is to forge a new friendship… who can help in time of need.”
I have some favorites that I say to myself when I need increased emotional reserve:
- From the Book of Mormon prophet Alma – “…never be weary of good works, but be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.” Alma 37:34
- The other is a prayer from the Catholic Saint Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”
Now the prophet, in his April 2023 conference talk, has added a new passage to memorize and use when I need to pause in the day. He did it in the form of a blessing:
“I bless you to replace belligerence with beseeching, animosity with understanding, and contention with peace.”
The Grace to Do Better
In conclusion, we have been called from a prophet of God to be peacemakers. Our Father in Heaven can grant us this gift. The Savior’s Atonement makes it where we can keep repenting and asking for His grace to help us to do this better. The Spirit will guide us through the process of becoming better peacemakers. The principles above are some ways to consider applying specific practices to increase your ability to be a peacemaker and have compassionate conversations. They are only as important as the Spirit has guided you in how to apply them.