Brooklyn Bird is a student from Evergreen, Colorado, attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She is majoring in editing and publishing with plans to study immigration law after her graduation in April, 2021. Her experience in Church leadership includes a full-time mission in Sweden as well as various callings within Relief Society presidencies and activities committees. Along with writing, Brooklyn loves running, reading, making music and food with her husband, and spending time with friends and family. Her desire to lead by following the Savior is what brought her to Leading Saints and keeps her passionately listening to and sharing its messages.
Almost all of us have felt like outsiders at some point in our lives. We are especially vulnerable to such feelings when we try to find our place in an organization—and wards within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are no exception. What can we do to feel connected to our wards when we feel a lack of community?
Start with Faith
We might normally think of faith as it relates to faith in Christ, faith in miracles, or faith in the restored gospel. But if “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), then perhaps we can have faith—and hope—that community within our wards is possible, even if we do not yet see that community that we hope for.
The scriptures suggest that we can become “all one in Christ Jesus”—united members of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28, see 1 Corinthians 12:12). No matter how marginalized or forgotten you feel, pray for the faith, hope, and vision to believe that unity and community is possible. Faith is a principle of power, and we can only take positive actions toward what we want if we believe that what we want is possible.
Serve—and Be Served
It can be easy to look at ward members who appear to be the most popular and successful and compare yourself to them, thinking that the differences between you will never allow you to fit in. But if you feel like you’re on the outskirts of your ward, you’re probably not the only one. Seek out those who might also feel left out, and you may be surprised by the diverse experiences and backgrounds of those in your ward.
One Leading Saints follower shared how she felt for many years that she did not fit the typical demographic of her ward: she was not the classic married, stay-at-home, high-income mom. Over time, she learned to shift her focus “to the many, many people in [her] ward who also [did]n’t fit this profile.” She explained that she has “been able to learn and grow so much from these dear people who[m] [she] wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.”
It’s important to recognize that real relationships built on service are not one-way streets. Service-centered relationships are not made up of one who serves and one who is served. They are not environments in which one ward member is pitied and belittled while the other checks off his or her righteousness checklist for the week. Rather, true service promotes trust: a relationship between equals. Service feels renewing and satisfying. It melts away differences rather than highlighting them. It requires a great depth of humility from all parties involved, for all must feel comfortable enough to ask for and give help. The ultimate goal of service is unity and connection, which can only be achieved when the service goes both ways.
If you are unsure of where to start serving—or receiving service—talk to your relief society president or elders quorum president. They are often eager to connect ward members to help those in need, but even they sometimes don’t know where to start themselves. Your humble plea for help or sincere offering of service could be the answer to a relief society president’s question of who can help or be helped. Perhaps even more significantly, you could be the answer to another ward member’s prayer for the same connection that you yourself seek.
Distinguish between Fitting in and Belonging
Recognize that belonging does not mean that you need to fit someone else’s idea of who you should be. Trying to fit a mold is actually a recipe for preventing true belonging: no matter how many people “accept” you, you will always be aware of the fact that you are not being authentically you. You won’t be able to feel accepted, because you will know that others are only “accepting” a fragmented and incomplete version of yourself.
To belong, you simply need to be you—and that includes all of your imperfections. By being yourself, you give others permission to be themselves as well. By admitting and embracing your imperfections and differences, you give others space to be imperfect and different as well. This is true belonging, true community, and true connection.
Turn to the Lord
No matter what you are struggling with, the Lord is eager to help. As you focus on practicing faith, developing service-based relationships, and being true to yourself, petition the Lord often for His enabling power. Ask Him to guide and strengthen you in your efforts. Let Him open doors for you. Be responsive when He provides promptings and opportunities to connect with His children that surround you. Remember that Christ’s goal is Zion—a people who are of one heart and one mind. He will work with you to develop the sense of community that you long for and desire.