True, Kind, Necessary? Rules for Speaking

true

Growing up, my sister and I drove my mom crazy for lots of reasons. One of her peeves is that while she taught countless YW and RS lessons, the only thing Angela and I seem to remember is her formula for deciding whether to hold one’s tongue. We came home from church and sat in the kitchen arguing for ages about whether the adage, “Before you speak ask yourself, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” was a good rule. Mom was adamant that unless words could pass this triple test, they were best kept to oneself. Angela and I made a case for a two out of three and 30 some years later, it stills feels right. Here is our argument.

I. True & Kind: This is an easy category. Someone does something well. Tell them. There’s a man in my ward that I adore. He does what I call the “insta-thank you.” If a sacrament talk moves him, he whips a note card out of his briefcase and immediately expresses in lovely specifics how your words affected him. Before you make it to the foyer he hands it to you. Sometimes he waits a day and mails it. Let’s be clear. This is NOT necessary but true and kind. It was so meaningful to my husband that he has taken up the practice and has sent kind notes to hotel staff and new deacons and members of the activities committee. I am often amazed at how hungry people are for genuine compliments.

II. Kind & Necessary: This one’s tricky. While I value honesty, there are times when I think other things trump the truth. As a parent you learn this lesson early and often. When a budding chef ventures into the kitchen and makes something they are so proud of, honesty is not your friend. My littlest discovered a few years ago that dandelions were edible so she filled a bowl with them and covered it in ranch dressing and served them to us for dinner. It was Hidden Valley lawn clippings soup. I gagged it down. But seeing the potential over the truth is kind and necessary for growth. And not just for novice chefs or violin players. I have been the recipient of words crafted to validate me when I have been fragile and finding my way. I’m not saying we should blow sunshine up each other’s wahoos 24/7. Ultimately that is NOT kind.  The art is in knowing when it is necessary to bless someone with the most positive version of a situation. The truth can be a sword and should be wielded with caution.

III. Necessary & True: This category can be hardest for me. In Meyers-Briggs speak I am an ENFP. The letter in the third position represents your decision making function. Feelers (F) like me are prone to privileging people’s feeling when faced with decisions while Thinkers (T) put more weight on impersonal facts and principles. When I have to tell someone something that is hard to hear, I need to be sure it’s important they hear it or essential I say it (unless I’m mad at them then all bets are off). As a Mormon woman, this is extra tricky because we are by very definition meant to be kind and nurturing and I find I am not well received when I enter into waters that are neither warm nor fuzzy. I’ve ticked off some of my leaders over the years when I’ve decided to share things I find true and necessary. And I’m not going to deny that the repercussions haven’t stung and made me more cautious. Recently I attended a meeting where the counsel given to the women in attendance felt not only out of touch but potentially harmful. And I said nothing. I justified that I stayed silent not out of fear but futility. I felt like it wouldn’t do any good. Any words of dissent would have been ignored by the speaker. I also rationalized that maybe her words were true for some. Yet I’m a little ashamed of that now. Because the other women in that room who were frustrated might have benefited from knowing they were not alone. I have been so relieved to have others speak up and share alternate viewpoints that either validated mine or allowed me to consider new perspectives. I see now that ultimately my silence was neither true, nor necessary, nor kind.

Despite what my mother thinks, I weigh my words carefully, trying to balance the needs of the individual with what is expedient and what is essential. Because I recognize that words are powerful and can harm as well as heal. But I also know that we can just as easily wound others with our silence.

How do you decide when to speak up and when to stay silent? Is honesty always the best policy? Have you sacrificed honesty for politeness? Do feminists have an added obligation to speak their truth?

 

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On Welcoming.

Welcoming

A few years ago, my friend called me up and told me about the beautiful testimony meeting she had just experienced, that left her feeling the spirit more strongly than ever before. The one detail I remember now is that a lesbian sister spoke from her pain and her faith. I was surprised to discover later that the same meeting that meant so much to my friend, caused other members to walk out of the chapel, audibly voicing their distaste. I thought of these things again after a somewhat unfortunate series of events re-demonstrated that words that may be a balm for some may be a source of discomfort, fear, or anger for others. It has made me wonder if this will always be the case, and how a real unity–allowing for real differences–may be developed. It also made me remember something that I wrote here before, about belonging.

In that previous post, I wrote about a friend who was confident of God’s love, but didn’t quite feel like she belonged in her ward, because she was over a certain age, with a PhD, but without a husband or child. I wrote too, about another dear person to me, who had a husband and many children, but similarly felt the not-belonging feelings because she was older than many in her ward. And then I wrote about me, and how I have felt the feeling before, too, including during the period when I biked to church alone, and didn’t know who I would sit by, because my husband was in another state, with a relative who was not well. In my own instance, a dear women literally made room for me by scooting over, and inviting me to sit with her family. I felt the welcome.

So when I was recently asked to speak to the women in my ward about fellowshipping, I wanted to speak to all of these things. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might not feel like they belong. One of them is that they may feel like their truest thoughts and feelings don’t belong. It is why I was so grateful for President Uchtdorf’s remarks in his talk, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth” at this last General Conference.

The printed version includes the subject heading “There Is No Litmus Test.”

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Young Women Lesson: Standing as a Witness of God and Using Spiritual Gifts

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For the lds.org lesson plan see HERE

young woman

How can I invite others to come unto Christ?

When Alma was baptizing the members of his new society, he taught them about the covenants they made:

“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—” Mosiah 18:9

What does it mean to stand as a witness of God?

In the last conference, Elder David R. Bednar shared a story of his young sons when they were playing one day.  The younger one got hurt and the older brother was trying to comfort him.  He bandaged up his little brothers wound. When he realized how happy it made him, he wanted to share that happiness with his friends, so he took the band-aids outside to share.  Elder Bednar relates this to us, because it is in our nature to want to share things that give us happiness and comfort with others.

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Childhood Myths

Childhood Myths

“…and that Mother Earth and Father Sun and Grandmother Universe will take care of us and watch over us…”

That was a line in the prayer my six-year-old gave for our nightly family prayer earlier this week. We go to church every week and my kids get the same standard Primary lessons, but I love how they interpret beliefs for themselves. My daughter has gone to a Waldorf class for over a year now and the teacher likes to tell stories about “Father Sun” and “Mother Earth” and the “star children” (us) who have come down to earth. Earlier this week, we had been discussing the Maya Creation myth and talked about the similarities and differences between it and the Genesis Creation myth. She told me she thinks the Maya myth is wrong and that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and Jesus made the earth. I smiled and said that everyone has their own story for how the world was made. While her beliefs have a Mormon base, they have a strand of her own understanding and interpretation.

Mother EarthOn the other hand, my four-year-old believes in a very different vein of Mormonism. Like he’s been taught in Primary, he believes he’ll be with Jesus in heaven after he dies, but that’s not where his vision of the after-life ends. It’s not uncommon for him to start a conversation with, “When I’m born again…” He believes in reincarnation and that after going to heaven, he’ll be reborn back to earth.

Both my daughter’s and son’s beliefs tickle me a lot. It’s amazing to see how the same teachings are interpreted through the minds of children. I know some parents would be quick to “correct” these sorts of thoughts, but I like giving them space to explore their own spiritualities. Why not believe in Grandmother Universe watching over us? Or that we’ll get another lifetime on earth to be with our loved ones? It reminds me of how I used to ask Heavenly Father to hand the prayer receiver to Heavenly Mother so I could talk with her.

The beliefs of children underscore the human desire to be connected and cared for by someone greater than us and to know that there is something for us after we die. I have one other child, who is too young to really share her beliefs (or have them?) but I look forward to learning what they are and to watch another person try to reach the divine.

Do you remember what your beliefs were when you were little? How have they shaped you? 

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November 2014 Visiting Teaching: Teacher’s Choice from Conference

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“I love how they all do that when they are done with the speech, you know? That thing they say at the end every time?” This was to me byjesus loves you my non-Mormon friend after she had just attended a Mormon funeral. I was a bit perplexed about what she was talking about.

Then it came to me. “You mean… ‘in the name of Jesus Christ, amen’?”

“Yes!” she said emphatically, passionately and with a devoutness not common to her manner of speaking. “It really sounds sweet…but it means something more, ya know? I can tell. I means something. I like that. A lot. The rest of the talking was just….whatever… but that ending part…. I really like that.”

“Yes…” I said, somewhat vaguely. I had never thought about the way we, as Latter-day Saints, close speaking assignments and prayers up until that moment. I’ve heard people discuss how to begin prayers, from the traditional “Heavenly Father,” to the more progressive “Heavenly Parents,” or “Heavenly Mother,” and even to “God, the father of Abraham,” all pending social, traditional, personal and political influences. I’ve often heard people stumped over how to start a speaking assignment. But no matter the start, the end-speak cadence is always the same: “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

I pondered this in consideration of the Visiting Teaching message from General Conference.

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Leaping

nov postAs a young teenager, I believed that every decision I made was eligible for divine intervention. I was cultivating my persona as Intellectual Mormon Mystic Saint and my general obsession with how to be a holy girl was channeled in a question and answer format. The model for my coming of age story was equal parts Nephi, Joseph Smith and Joan of Arc. If God had talked to these fourteen year olds, why not me? I just needed a dilemma, then to pray intently, and surely I would receive an answer stunning enough to start a religion or save France. I imagined an adolescence filled with dramatic crossroads and I read the scriptures voraciously for clues on how to ensure that my requests would result in a vision, voice or literal Liahona-type direction.

My favorite scriptures on how to make decisions were addressed to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. We often quote section 9, verse 8 and 9 which describe thinking through an issue and then asking for spiritual confirmation, receiving either a burning sense of right or a stupor of thought. Many scriptures in the first ten sections also offer comfort and encourage patience in the process. These words appealed deeply to my mix of 1870’s via 1970’s logic. I had to do my homework, then wait for revelation or the “go back and try again” confusion. I had hoped to use these verses to ward off temptations like cigarettes or to tell the bad kids that hung around Mack in Saturday’s Warrior that I would not be joining them in their “Summer of Fair Weather,” but I suppose my owl-eyed intensity scared away most peer pressure. I had to settle for discerning more mundane decisions like whether or not to audition for Show Choir or what to give a talk on in church. But I approached each day to day inquiry with the same fervor.

As I marched into adulthood, this formula led me to more questions than answers. Why, even when I felt right about a decision, was it never easy afterwards? There always seemed to be loss and gain, good choices did not mean happy endings. The older I got, the more complicated it felt to look at all the angles of an issue. How did I know if I had studied enough and what if my studying had left me with a level of fear and anxiety that felt a lot like a stupor of thought? And what if I felt one way about a question and someone else prays about the exact same thing and gets another answer? I was once engaged to a boy who believed that he was told to marry me while I experienced a sledgehammer stupor that practically yelled “run away.” Was one of us wrong? Heartbroken, he moved to a new city and immediately met his future wife, a much better match for him in every way. Both of us felt strong emotions and experienced true spiritual promptings, but the sorting out led us to different conclusions.

I realized as a young woman that I had clung to these scriptures as a roadmap to try and control the events of my life. I was hoping to be “told” where to step, every step of the way, reducing the risk of making mistakes. Over the years I discovered so many other factors at play. I was developing my own voice through accumulated history, relationships, and a growing peacefulness in how the world unfolds miraculously without much effort on our part. I began to think about living with an openness to the spirit and with an openness to experience.

Recently, I had to make a big decision. It could be life changing. People will depend on me and it will require time and energy layered on a job and family. I had to consider more carefully than I have in a long time. I compared the decision process of my youth to how I approach it now. I still study, talk to my friends, read, go on long walks. I still have the expectation that in my quiet moments I will discern rightness. But I have added other strategies. Sometimes I let time pass to see what resolves or becomes clearer. Sometimes I let someone else decide and the confirmation is about trust and support in another’s revelatory understanding. Sometimes I just leap – motivated alternately by scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. In Prince Caspian, Lucy and her siblings are lost and wandering when she sees Aslan down in a valley that seems impossible to access. When no one believes her, Lucy appears to step off a cliff to discover a hidden path down the mountain. Likewise, Indiana walks into an abyss and finds a bridge only visible from the vantage point of this first step. In both cases they take a leap of faith when there was no rational reason to move forward. And in moving, they gain insight for the path ahead.

In the case of my current decision, I am taking a leap. I spent less time trying to work out every detail in my head, less time waiting for a whammy sense of rightness and simply let my desire to do good work and be a part of something I have experienced to deliver good works guide me. I respect the holy girl that was me. I wanted to be not just good, but spectacularly good, and that required determining the absolute right in every possible action before taking a step. I also respect the wiser woman that is me. We teach each other. The girl tells the woman to be still and pay attention to spiritual knowing. The woman tells the girl that with this feeling, and our experience, we can step stone to stone or even off a mountain or into an abyss, and learn as we go.

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Relief Society Lesson 25: The Birth of Jesus Christ: “Good Tidings of Great Joy”

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Mary nativity

Mary nativity

 

To quote the Teachings of Joseph F. Smith manual:

“There is no story quite as beautiful, or which can stir the soul of the humble quite to the depths, as this glorious story can of the birth of our Redeemer. No words that man may utter can embellish or improve or add to the eloquence of its humble simplicity. It never grows old no matter how often told, and the telling of it is by far too infrequent in the homes of men.”

If I were teaching this lesson, I would do exactly – talk of the birth of Christ.  And not of the shepherds, or Joseph, or the wise men, but the person who was the intimately and physically involved in the birth of Christ: Mary.  In my experience at Christmas-time at church, we often want to gloss over the experiences of Mary as the mother and life-giver in favor of celebrating Christ and the meaning of his life and teachings.  I don’t think this is necessarily inappropriate, but since we (hopefully) devote the other 51 weeks of our Sunday worship to the teachings of Christ, I’d like to talk a little about the brave woman who gave Christ life.

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