As most of you know, I'm a Mormon. And every six months, the leaders of my church present a collection of sermons in a massive three-day conference, which is then broadcast to the entire body of the Church. It's like a TED for Mormons. We call it General Conference. In fact, we just finished the latest conference last weekend.
Sometimes, the words of the speakers reaffirm that I am living my life the way I have committed to God. These talks feel like a little pat on the back for me. Most times, the speakers help me realize what I need to change about my life to be a better person. While it's always nice to feel validated, it's far more productive to get a little "kick in the pants," so to speak. There's always room for improvement.
On Sunday, one of the speakers, Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, gave a talk about a church member who stopped actively participating in Mormonism for a time but eventually came back. She discussed her friend's journey and noted what helped her friend return. Some of my dear family members and friends are currently struggling with certain historical facts and doctrinal teachings of the Church and have distanced themselves from Mormonism. This talk did give me hope they might find their way back, too.
However, I appreciated more when Sister Wixom quoted Elder Dieter F. Uchtorf, saying:
"We are all pilgrims seeking God's light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright and true."
Did you catch that? "We nourish and encourage ALL LIGHT."
Immediately, I realized what I need to improve on, and that is finding the light within others and encouraging it, whatever it may be.
Do you ever walk into a room and notice how dark a particular corner is? Do you think about what's underneath the bed or the couch? Do you wonder about the absence of light behind a closed cabinet? Probably not. Instead, you are drawn to the light. Your eye catches those things that are illuminated and bright, not the things residing in the dark. So, why then do we so often focus on the less-attractive attributes of others instead of admiring their light sources?
I sometimes get so caught up in the choices others make, especially the ones I don't agree with -- the "dark" ones. I find myself doing this less as I get older, realizing it's often impossible to change someone's mind and also learning that what works for me may simply not work for someone else, and that is OK. It is their right to experience life however they want to. Even though I know this, I still sometimes focus on what I perceive to be the negative aspects about others. I allow people's different personal choices to make me feel sad, frustrated and even angry sometimes. I see their pictures on social media and remember that THING I don't like instead of thinking about them as a human being with feelings and thoughts as real and valuable as my own. I'm basically looking under their bed instead of admiring the lovely painting hanging on their wall. Sad way to live, isn't it?
I know I am not alone in this, though. I know it because I catch the snide comments people make about my faith, I see the passive-aggressive (and sometimes plain ol' aggressive) posts on social media and I know others feel the same way about my choices, too. I know there are people who want me to "wake up" and leave Mormonism and all its cultural affiliations behind, just as much as I want those same people to come back to Mormonism. Plainly put, both sides are struggling to accept that people are going to choose what they will, and they likely aren't going to be persuaded with some antagonistic comic on Facebook or anything else of that ilk.
So, when I heard Sister Wixom relay this quote, I knew what I personally had to do:
Stop finding fault in others. Find their light and encourage it.
For example: A friend of mine has left the Mormon Church. She has a lot to say about it, much of which hurts my feelings. But she's very intellectual and a great writer with a gift for communicating. So, I read and comment on her blog posts. I "like" the intellectually-stimulating articles she shares on social media. I don't have to like everything she does and says, though. I can still live authentically. I choose to ignore the things that hurt. I find her light and encourage it.
Another example: Let's suppose you are a former Mormon or currently not practicing, and your sister keeps posting Conference quotes that really annoy you and may even hurt your feelings at times. But she's so talented and giving. And you like that about her. So, you compliment those gifts. You don't have to like the things you disagree with. You can choose to ignore them. Just find her light and encourage it.
"But! I have to stand up for what I believe in! I can't let people go around thinking things that are JUST PLAIN WRONG!"
If you feel you must correct the bigoted/unrighteous/sinful/hateful/ignorant opinions of another person, find a way to do it lovingly and without attacking. Skip the sarcasm, the passive-aggressiveness and the rudeness. Say what you need to say and then move the heck on. The message will be received just fine. Probably better than if you had yelled it at them with some choice insults.
I've realized I can't continue to let people's actions upset me. Granted, I will hear and read hurtful things from others for the rest of my life, but I can let the pain pass. I don't need to internalize it to the point I feel depressed or ill. It is NOT my burden to bear. The healthier and far more uplifting approach is to focus on the good in that person and then foster it. Take the moral high road. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, we can all agree that kindness is king.
So, my new motto is this: Find the light and encourage it. Find it in your right-wing neighbor, your radically liberal co-worker, your zealously religious sister, your non-religious brother. It's there -- light is within everyone. And you don't even have to look very hard to see it.
I'm now committed to living a life filled with positivity and love for others, regardless of their choices. I want others to afford me the same courtesy. I think about how the world has become such a divided, antagonistic place lately, and I think this is the solution. Accept that others will make choices I don't like; then, find their light and encourage it. Stand up for my beliefs when needed. But most importantly, "never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved."