Different and Hard Things with #LightTheWorld
Like many of you, my family and I are doing the #LightTheWorld. Last year we did it as well—things were a bit different then, as we were too far remote from other church members to attend church weekly, so we did home church. When we did attend a branch which was about three hours’ drive away, the missionaries gave us a calendar with recommended activities.We had already began our #LightTheWorld challenge, but we had downloaded a calendar from somewhere online. Our calendar was different, yet similar to the one the missionaries were instructed to share. Over the holiday, we visited others who were also doing #LightTheWorld, but again, the calendar was somewhat different—each calendar had days in which different services were highlighted and suggested, such as visiting retirement villages, donating food and so on—but for one calendar, December 7 was a day to volunteer at a shelter, whereas on another calendar it was suggested on December 15.
I am positive that our service was righteous and blessed us over the holiday, but it did disappoint me that we felt somewhat disconnected to what other church members, though few in number, were doing in the area. The feeling of disconnect between me and the church is strong sometimes, so though the #LightTheWorld calendar was a small thing, the divide felt more tangible over Christmas.
This year, the calendar choices are more uniform, yet flexible. Each day is presented with a scripture, and the church website includes suggestions with corresponding video messages. Better yet, the corresponding video reflected those who are local to me, and who I call my people at this time, compared to the church global site (which is beautiful in it’s own right) which is reflective of the seasonal hemisphere of church headquarters. It is a small thing, but my Christmas worldview is different, and that is okay, and a good thing.
This better sense of unity, as well as the feeling of being recognised (at least in a hemispherical way)—has inspired me to do more this year. Maybe try a little harder. Be a little better. It’s felt good– and though I am overwhelmingly busy with the end of the school year, summer plans and everything else, I want to do #LightTheWorld as best as I can.
But. I knew one item would be on the calendar that would challenge me. It would on any choice of historical, regional or natioonalise versions of #LightTheWorld, so I could not escape it. And this year…. it haunted me with a deep personal challenge: December 18: “Forgive Men Their Trespasses.” Every year, the same thing comes to my mind…. And yet, every year I put it aside, sometimes more quickly than I probably should. Often more quickly than I probably should.
“Not this year. I can’t. I’m still angry,” I tell myself, as a way to make it acceptable to not forgive. The, as years passed, the thought changed, “I forgive and money part. The not speaking to me thing is her choice, not mine,” I tell myself, putting the whole thing on her shoulders.
So let me explain: More than a handful of years ago, I hired a friend who I’ll call Christine, to do something. Christine really wanted to do it, and it was a big job! I had been praying for a church member to do the work, as I thought a church member might be superior to a legal contract alone. So I hired her. It was a legal contract written by an attorney as per legal requirements. She began the contract with integrity, but soon had personal issues and began complaining of increased stress. After months of this, and with compassion– I offered to pre-pay her about $2,000 to help relieve some of the stress. My husband and I had put the money aside, so I reasoned that this would be no issue to us, and would help her to do the job better. You can guess the result. She took the money, spent it, but yet was unable to deliver the product that she had contracted. She did give a good effort, but could not complete the contract.
Out of frustration, I blurted something bitter about not trusting church members. She was hurt, and did not respond. I asked for a refund, and offered a payment plan—and she stopped all communication. Immediately, my husband said, “We’re never going to see that money again.” And dropped it.
But I didn’t. I was angry and felt betrayed. In my imagination, she was hiding from me. But maybe she wasn’t. I knew Christine felt horrible that she could not complete the contract. Her own marriage and thus her children, had been under strife and our money had helped her. I even wondered as years passed, if she felt justified in keeping the money. We were no poorer as a result of the loss—not really. My husband and I are good at squirreling away money, and have been blessed financially. We had saved it once, and could save it again. The loss—the real loss—that haunted me was the loss of friendship. I was bitter at the betrayal, and angry that all communication had shut me out.
But my husband spoke of it no more. I asked him once about filing a claim, but he told me to just forget about it. “It’s not worth it,” he said. My husband’s response reminded me of the poem Forgiveness Flour by Marguerite Stewart:
When I went to the door, at the whisper of knocking,
I saw Simeon Gantner’s daughter, Kathleen, standing
There, in her shawl and her shame, sent to ask
“Forgiveness Flour” for her bread. “Forgiveness Flour,”
We call it in our corner. If one has erred, one
Is sent to ask for flour of his neighbors. If they loan it
To him, that means he can stay, but if they refuse, he had
Best take himself off. I looked at Kathleen . . .
What a jewel of a daughter, though not much like her
Father, more’s the pity. “I’ll give you flour,” I
Said, and went to measure it. Measuring was the rub.
If I gave too much, neighbors would think I made sin
Easy, but if I gave too little, they would label me
“Close.” While I stood measuring, Joel, my husband
Came in from the mill, a great bag of flour on his
Shoulder, and seeing her there, shrinking in the
Doorway, he tossed the bag at her feet. “Here, take
All of it.” And so she had flour for many loaves,
While I stood measuring.
I have the poem having in my kitchen, reminding me to dole our forgiveness in copious measure. And yet…..
In the poem, the husband, Joel, is meant to represent God- who freely and fully forgives—and moves on. My husband had done this, and as Christine and her husband had not really ever been his friends, he felt no loss. He simply moved on, knowing his financial acumen and integrity would waste no time in fretting over money that he was at ease to not see again.
Could I do this in my situation? Like the voice in the poem, I had been measuring out “forgiveness flour” in exact, measured doses… partially in dealing with the loss of the contract, the loss of the money, and the loss of the friend. But in truth– I feared retaliation—what if she sued me for some reason? Blamed me for her stress? The thought had haunted me, keeping me trapped in a defensive stance.
But gradually, after years– I was reminded that I had not broken the contract. Christine was the one who was in the precarious situation. She was likely protecting her family and could not repay it– she had never been good with money, often relying on pyramid schemes and products sold at “parties” to supplement her income. Still, there is a risk of vulnerability and a history of humans being vindictive and litigation-happy.
Enough came from the situation that I am sure I would never think of her as a close confidant in this lifetime again. What seemed to connect us as college friends had all but disappeared as we grew to have lifestyles, different views on women, womanhood, and motherhood…. We also have dissimilar manifestations of pride (yup, I’m prideful). In many ways, we were both right, and we were both wrong. It seems that then, offering forgiveness was dependent on money. I felt that her repaying the money, or at least asking to repay the money in installments, or telling me she could not repay the money– would show enough integrity that I could forgive her. “Could” forgive? What was stopping me? After all, just like the church videos, my wold view is different, and that is okay, and a good thing.
Earlier this year, as I was travelleing through the outback parts of Australia, I met an LDS missionary couple. For reasons I cannot recall, the couple told me that they had paid for a deposit on a house in St. George, Utah—intending to call it home. But they were then called on mission, and felt so strongly to do that they withdrew their offer and lost their deposit. I quickly did calculations– a 10% deposit on a basic house could have been as much as $30,000. I was flabbergasted, but kept silent. “It’s all the Lord’s money anyway,” the grey-haired missionary shrugged. “So it wasn’t my loss.”
His simple frankness and utter faith – (shared with a shrug!)—astounded me. And I have carried it with me since. Could I think of Christine’s debt in the same way?
I have determined to do so. So I have chosen this as my December 18th goal this year, and though it is weeks away I am fretting. It is hard to be vulnerable. It is terrifying to contact someone out of the blue after years of hurt and betrayal. But this is the least I can do to a fellow woman, and a fellow Christian, no matter how different our lives are and no matter how much the disconnects hurt.
Thus I am grateful for #LightTheWorld. Its application will look different to me that it looks to you, just as my global lds website looks different to those on another LDS websites in different regions, hemispheres and countries. But in the end, it is all about Christ. Jesus Christ—the champion of women, the champion of feminists, the champion of me. (1)
Are you doing #LightTheWorld? What has #LightTheWorld inspired you to do this year? What might be hard for you in #LightTheWorld?
(1)James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 475.