Thinking beyond “What Would Jesus Do”

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A while back, I went to the grocery store early in the morning. As I walked toward the store, a junky car pulled up driven by a hollow-looking man.  The passenger door squeaked open and a woman emerged. She could not have been more than twenty years old.  She looked physically ill and weary. It was evident that this man and woman were acquainted with multiple types of poverty.   The woman entered the store and collapsed into one of those motorized shopping carts and I hurried past her to do my shopping.

Within a few minutes I was finished and I approached the checkout where I saw this woman struggling to put her few items onto the conveyer belt. As she did so, her purse tipped and dozens of coins spilled onto the floor. I knelt down to pick them up.  She made no effort to help, but thanked me, adding that she had spent the night in the hospital and was not yet feeling well. When I was on the floor, I noted some baby items that were on the base of her shopping cart, hidden by a blanket that was draped over her lap. She did not put those items onto the conveyer belt.  The cashier rang up her other things, which the woman paid for all in coins. She then turned to drive her cart away.

At that moment I fully understood this woman was shoplifting and I had only a split second to make a decision.

What would be the right thing to do?

What would you do?

I have often heard the counsel to consider “What would Jesus do?” But I, myself, have been bothered by this question. It seems to me that Jesus acted in a role and with a level of knowledge that I do not possess. He was the Savior of the world, and as such had a special stewardship over all people. And, being a god, he had perspective about the circumstances wherein every event took place and he truly knew the hearts of those involved. I knew very little about this woman’s circumstances and nothing of her heart. It seemed presumptuous to claim knowledge of what Jesus would do.

And so after saying a quick prayer, I acted almost unconsciously, calling to the woman and hurrying toward her. I moved her blanket and took the items she had hidden, saying, “It looks like you forgot about these.” I then quickly paid for them and returned them to her, attempting to diffuse any awkwardness from the woman or the bewildered cashier. My heart was racing, but I felt content that I had received spiritual guidance, and so I took some deep breaths and tried to forget about the whole thing.

But it is impossible to forget and it is impossible to escape. We will encounter challenging situations. They are part of our experience here on earth. And, because Jesus is our perfect exemplar, we are commanded to look to him for understanding and inspiration.

In the accounts we read of Jesus’ life and ministry, we see him react to interpersonal situations in diametrically different ways.  He responded to all with great love and respect, but to most he offered encouragement, forgiveness and compassion while others he censured and rebuked. We see the difference in his approach to the woman at the well and to the rich young ruler; to the woman taken in adultery and to the scribes and Pharisees; to the soldiers who crucified him and to the merchants who set up shop at his holy house. In each case, it was within the Savior’s role or stewardship to perceive the heart and to judge. But very seldom is it our role or stewardship to do so.

If we casually ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” in any given situation, we could be self-satisfied in acting in a manner driven by our own pride. We could rationalize improper actions by finding justification from Jesus’ own life as if the question were really “what would I do if I were Jesus.” I have, on occasion, heard individuals justify their inappropriate anger by saying, “Even the Savior cleansed the temple.”

The devil seeks to confuse us. He mingles truth with error, often in a manner tailored to our own weaknesses.  If we want to make appropriate choices in difficult situations, we must recognize that the question “What would Jesus do?” is a spiritual rather than a cognitive question. It is a question that, if asked sincerely, will invite the Holy Spirit to show us what we should do.

When we sincerely invite the Spirit to guide our actions, we will be amazed by the things we are inspired to do.  I certainly would not have thought to handle the shoplifting situation in the way I did. But that is the beauty of it! Rather than relying on our limited intelligence, we can tap into the problem-solving capacity of a perfectly loving and all knowing God.

In Gethsemane, the Savior gave us the ultimate example of submitting his desire, his will to a higher authority, that of his Father God. We can follow this example by letting go of our stubborn ideas of how things are and should be, and instead asking in each thought and in each situation, “What would Jesus have me do?” As we do so we always remember HIM, and in turn, invite the Spirit to be with us continuously.

The question “What would Jesus do?” is not an invitation for us to think, but rather an opportunity for us to feel.

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  1. Angela says

    Great thoughts Shawna! made me think of Jean ValJean and how the simple act of a loving priest changed his life!!

  2. Rachelle says

    Wow Shawna! This was so very well written and touched my heart. Thanks for the spiritual inspiration halfway through the week!

  3. Kassie says

    Quite the thought provoking read. I have to say that this lady, Shawna Morrissey is a rockstar!!! I do not belong to her faith but she has been a quiet, persistent example of true Christian behavior in my life. If you know the Morrissey’s then be grateful! The entire family is a bright light in a world that can be gloomy, faith testing, and dark.

  4. Michelle says

    Can you please submit this to the Ensign? I would love to use this for an upcoming lesson. Great insight Shawna.

  5. Ubermom says

    I’ve changed this thought for myself too, but mostly because I sometimes find myself in situations Jesus would never have been in because it was my own mistakes that got me there; mistakes Jesus never would have made. So when tying to figure out the right course to take in that or any situation, I’ve thought, “What would Jesus have me do?” Its that same idea of turning to the Lord for real time, personalized guidance instead of just speculating.

  6. Anita says

    This is exactly why I have changed the statement to “what would Charles Ingalls do?” He always seemed to know what to do.

    But seriously, I love the idea of asking the Holy Ghost to guide us, instead of thinking through it. And I have felt the same way about people “cleansing the temple.”

    Thanks for writing this. You are inspiring!

  7. Hillary says

    I agree that you should submit that to the Ensign. What a great lesson you taught me. You’re a wonderful writer.

  8. sarah says

    I have stumbled upon your blog. I love your words, your insight. I have read a few posts and they are inspiring! I can really feel your testimony and love you have for the Savior and the people around you. Thank you!

  9. Michael says

    I happened upon this article from earlier this year and you bring up some good points and reminders for people to question how they treat others regarding reasoning and justification. That is a problem that few people address. When individuals are justifying they are using their physical-driven thinking skills and not acting on spiritual guidance (as you said not really thinking), which is how Jesus conducted himself. Many would dispute Jesus rebuked anyone and those statements may well be the result of man’s translation and rationalizations. As you said, when we invite the Spirit for divine guidance granted in a state of grace, actions can be introduced that as people say ‘come from no where’. And the wonderful thing about inviting the Spirit is that it is available to anyone at anytime who is willing to request true Divine insight. Good post.

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