Elder Lynn Robbins’ wonderful talk this past General Conference challenged us to face God, rather than man, to worry about pleasing God rather than pleasing man. In the past, when I have shared this same principle with my children, my young women, or with my clients, they respond, “But that is really hard!” or, “That’s easy for you to say; you’re old.”
Recently I asked a group of missionaries why they were timid about sharing the gospel. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I said. They looked at their companions, laughed, and responded, “Getting shot at!” I suppose getting shot is a legitimate fear for missionaries who serve here in the South. However, the things the rest of us fear, when asked to face God rather than man, are of far less consequence than getting shot.
Whether you live in the South, the NorthWest or throughout the world, it is more likely that the worst thing that can happen when we face God, rather than man, is we will be criticized, ridiculed, ostracized, left out, gossiped about, made fun of, or excluded.
A few weeks into the school year my 10th grade son came to me in tears, “Mom, I don’t have any friends.” The boys he had been friends with on his football team had elected to join a worldly crowd and had left Tanner behind. I tried to think of other young men who would befriend Tanner. Our small ward had no youth is age and I could not think of anybody. He was right. He truly didn’t have any friends. We spent lots of time as a family that fall, so Tanner could hang out with his older brothers.
Before the end of the football season a couple of miracles occurred: First, one of the boys who joined the worldly crowd stood up for Tanner. “Coach,” the boy said to their defensive coordinator, “Tanner doesn’t swear, and it offends him when other people do.” The coach stopped swearing from that point on, and by the time Tanner graduated, the coach thanked Tanner for his standards. Second, two of the boys on the football team, that Tanner didn’t know at all, heard about Tanner’s standards. They asked him what he did for fun on the weekends (since he didn’t party with the rest of the team). “Well,” he hesitated to share the truth, “I build forts in my backyard.” These boys, so delighted to find someone with whom they could have good, clean fun, became Tanner’s friends until he graduated, spending their weekends with hammer and nails, and cooking around a fire pit in our backyard.
My patriarchal blessing includes a line, “At times you will stand alone, as far as your associates are concerned…” I am so grateful for that warning, as I have often stood alone in my lifetime. I often received scathing criticism when I first took a stand on teenage romance. Even though I used prophetic counsel to support my contention that pre-missionaries should not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, I received all kinds of personal attacks.
“You’re trying to change the world.”
“Yea, that will never happen.”
“You’re depriving youth of experiences they need. Youth need to get their hearts broken.”
“You’re taking away your kids’ agency.”
A few of the attacks stung so sharply I was tempted to quit writing. Fortunately, the criticism waned when The Era published the article, “Unsteady Dating” based on my book “Unsteady” and almost ceased when in 2013 For the Strength of Youth changed its section on “dating.”
Standing up for what is right becomes painful not because of what men can do to you. I didn’t care if the critics didn’t invite me to speak at youth conference. I didn’t care if they didn’t buy my books. Criticism becomes painful when you wonder (even for a brief moment) if your critics have a point. Regarding my stance on teenage romance, I asked myself, Was I indeed wasting my time? Was I too strict? The voices of the critics created self-doubt and that hurt. Was I teaching true principles? Would my counsel bless others, rather than harm them? Returning to the words of the prophets, the scriptures, and personal prayer reassured me that I was facing God. Even when men threw rotten tomatoes at my back, I did not need to succumb to self-doubt when I faced God.
The same thing has happened in my life when I advocated modest dress even at the beach, when I discouraged satanic costumes at Ward Halloween parties, when I campaigned for our ward to restore its youth program to the one designed by the Church, when I wouldn’t attend a study group on Sunday. We’ve been criticized because we won’t work in our yard on Sunday like the rest of the neighborhood, when our Bunco group played for small gifts rather than money, when we wouldn’t allow our 11-year-old to celebrate his team’s winning season at Hooter’s, or our 16-year-old have a girlfriend. I’ve been called names: “proud,” “stuck up,” “Molly Mormon,” “goody-two-shoes”. As I’ve been pelted in the back by the world, I’ve focused ahead to make sure I’m seeing clearly the directions of God.
Getting pelted by the world certainly stings. But, like I asked the missionaries, when you face God, what’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s 2014 so I probably won’t get shot. I’m not running for public office, so I don’t need a majority vote. These critics can’t hire me or fire me or deny me a loan. They probably won’t beat me up or key my car. I probably won’t get invited to their cocktail parties but I can live with that.
I have compassion for those who have faced God and faced truly great challenges. Some who stood up for Proposition 8 in California a few years ago actually did loose their jobs. I know a man that bears a scar on his upper lip where 30 years ago he was cut with a knife when proselyting as a missionary. Throughout history martyrs have literally given their lives because they faced God rather than man.
As cruel as it may be to be punished by men, it is a far better alternative than being punished by God. As much as God loves us, he will punish us if we fail to face him. He has told us he cannot let any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of heaven. When faced with whose approval we will seek, God’s or man’s, it often takes a thick skin to seek the approval of God.
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance, available at www.amazon.com