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Cover image: Corinth, Southern Greece, the Forum and Civic Center, painting by Balage Balogh/www.ArchaeologyIllustrated.com.
Unity Through Powerful Shared Experiences
My family lives in a nice little cul-de-sac with a lot of kids their age. It has been a delightful place to live for the last two years. Our hearts are heavy as we prepare to move. We have this one neighbor who was the first to introduce herself when we moved in. She is the type of neighbor that makes sure she has everyone’s contact information. She and her husband regularly host cookouts and parties at their house just for the neighborhood. They have hosted Easter-Egg hunts, Memorial Day BBQs, birthday parties, and on Halloween they put out extra snacks and glow sticks for our street which has about fifteen kids.
This felt unusual to me at first because I’m usually a very private person, and I lived in an area for eight years where this kind of hospitality was almost suspicious! It took us some time to warm up to our neighbors and felt a little awkward going over. But, since we all have kids around the same ages, I couldn’t keep our family away. We started attending these little get-togethers, and started getting to know our neighbors more and more each time. Two years in, and I’m finally starting to feel my walls coming down and feeling more comfortable. I’m starting to feel like we are a community.
In church, our Relief Society lesson was about the different ways we feel love based on Elder Cook’s talk from this past General Conference. Our teacher shared that she is counting down the days until she picks up her son who is serving his mission. He just had his last Zone Conference and listened to the departing missionaries share their testimonies. These were the men and women he’d had the privilege of serving with for the last two years. He wrote in a letter to his family that as he listened to their testimonies he felt a deep love and camaraderie with these brothers and sisters he served with.
As our teacher shared this letter, it reminded me of when I first got home from my mission. When I got home, I was watching The Lord of the Rings movie, “The Return of the King” when Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return from their epic journey. They are sitting in their local pub in the Shire and no one around them has any clue what has just happened! I started bawling because that is how I felt after coming home. I grew up a lot on my mission and I felt a real bond with the women I served with who understood what I’d just been through!
I realized that there is a powerful resource here for showing and feeling love, and strengthening unity. When we have these kinds of epic experiences together, we feel an overwhelming bond and affection for those people we experienced them with. These kinds of shared experiences are imprinted on our memories as life-changing, and those people will forever be a part of who we are.
Then, I started thinking about the implications of having shared experiences for the cultivation of unity and strength in our families and communities. I thought about my neighbors and their deliberate efforts to bring us together in shared experiences of fun and celebration. I was reminded of traditions in my own family around holidays, road trips, and family reunions. I thought about youth activities designed to give us powerful spiritual experiences: Girls’ Camp, Youth Conference, and Especially for Youth. This could be one reason we are commanded to “meet together oft” (3 Nephi 18:22; Moroni 6:5-6). This not only gives us the opportunity to renew our covenants by taking the sacrament, but also to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the gospel.
I also started to think of all the ways we are strengthened and unified when we read the stories of our parents, leaders, and ancestors. Their stories become our stories. They become a part of our identity. They become our shared experiences. In an article written in the New York Times about the power of stories and family history I learned, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative…The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness” (Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us”). This “Do You Know?” Scale can be found on familysearch.org.
That article also explains the significance of knowing the stories of an organization or institution. When you know their history and stories, it engenders loyalty and devotion. You develop a camaraderie and kinship with your predecessors. Think of your alma mater, the mission where you served, the city you grew up in, the teams you root for, the athletes who compete in the Olympics, the politicians you vote for, your favorite candidates on reality competition shows, the characters in the books you cherish. You love them, you root for them, you vote for them, you are devoted to them because you are invested in their stories, and they have become part of your identity. Plus, it’s hard not to love someone when you know their backstory.
“At the Naval Academy, Commander Smith advises graduating seniors to take incoming freshmen (or plebes) on history-building exercises, like going to the cemetery to pay tribute to the first naval aviator or visiting the original B-1 aircraft on display on campus.
“Dr. Duke recommended that parents pursue similar activities with their children. Any number of occasions work to convey this sense of history: holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers, even a ride to the mall. The hokier the family’s tradition, he said, the more likely it is to be passed down. He mentioned his family’s custom of hiding frozen turkeys and canned pumpkin in the bushes during Thanksgiving so grandchildren would have to “hunt for their supper,” like the Pilgrims.
“‘These traditions become part of your family,’ Dr. Duke said.”
I recently watched the movie “Forever Strong” about the Highland rugby team. One of the practices the coach did to strengthen his team was to give them a letter from a former player who wore the same jersey number. Knowing the person they were representing by wearing that number created an identity that bonded the players together. I feel that same connection when I hear stories from leaders recounting trials and victories in their lives. These stories create shared experiences. They create culture.
This is why we focus so much on learning the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our leaders. Not only do we feel a connection with those people, it helps us feel a deep loyalty and devotion to the Lord’s church. Studying these things is not superfluous. Some other religions encourage a pilgrimage to create this kind of unity. That becomes their shared experience. Studying the stories of the Church is meant to adhere us to the identity of the Church, whether ancient or modern, and form a Zion culture. In the scriptures, we are not only invited to do this, we are commanded:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” ( 1 Corinthian’s 1:10-17).
“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-11).
“And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
Jesus Himself said: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). And in Doctrine and Covenants 38:27, “Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” Ephesians 4:3–6, 11–13 claims that this unity is for “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
My invitation to you is that we all start investing ourselves in each others’ stories. That we recognize that we are all part of the Lord’s Church even if we have varying levels of activity and faith. Make a commitment to participate in activities that will foster shared experiences with the members of your Quorums and auxiliaries. Look for opportunities to minister to the members of your ward and community privately so that you all feel a part of something bigger than yourselves.
To accomplish God’s work, I need the wisdom of God
This section feels very personal to me. As Michael and I read the story of Peter leaping over the side of his boat to walk on the water toward Jesus a few lessons back, we knew we needed to do something drastic in our own lives. This led to our decision to walk away from a corporate job and commit ourselves fully to being self-employed. All the logic and reasoning inside us told us it was risky and stupid. Because of this decision, we have struggled and gone without many luxuries. The next step in our journey is to sell our home and move in with my parents for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
People around our age seem to be thriving in their careers. They are buying beautiful homes, traveling to exotic and scenic places, getting promotions, driving nice cars, and their children have gotten scholarly recognition. Everything we have learned growing up is that having a secure corporate job, saving, and investing in the stock market to prepare for an eventual retirement is the best way to live. On this path, you are successful as long as it looks like you’re doing well and climbing the ladder. That path failed for us, and we found ourselves at a dead end. We’ve also learned that this path is not guaranteed anyways. We have had to learn how to write our own script for a new path.
Michael and I have often felt like Nephi being asked to build a boat “after the manner which [the Lord will] shall show [us]” (1 Nephi 17:8). But, the Lord didn’t tell Nephi how to build that boat all at once. He told him where to find ore to make tools. Then, “the Lord did show [him] from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1). This has taught us as Paul taught, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) and that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:17-25). You can’t explain to people why you’re making a difficult decision without acknowledging that it was a choice inspired by faith. Michael and I have made this decision out of faith in our Savior and His power to deliver us both temporally and spiritually.
Michael and I took the leap off the side of our proverbial boat toward the Savior. We have found that we have more confidence when our gaze is fixed on Him than when we get distracted by the waves of criticism and doubt. Even Nephi faced this kind of opposition when Laman and Lemuel said, “We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work” (1 Nephi 17:19). It was a great work that Nephi accomplished when he “did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did [he] build the ship after the manner of men; but [he] did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto [him]; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2). It was a great miracle for Peter to walk on water. There is opposition and trial. There are naysayers who “complain against [us]… [and are] desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:18).
This defiant attitude is prevalent whether we are trying to start a business, homeschool our kids, lose weight, quit an addiction, pursue a passion, or nurture our faith in Christ and His church. Everyone has a calling to pursue a path that will fulfill their mission and purpose in this life. Always, this calling will be a divergence from the status quo because it will require a shift in your paradigm. Just as we need to be united in Christ and His church, we must identify ourselves with those things we believe we are called to do. We take upon ourselves the name of Christ and become one with Him. We have a “point of no return” experience when we commit to living a new life in Christ just as we would if we made the commitment to become entrepreneurs, homeschoolers, thin/healthy, sober, authors, creators, and disciples. This commitment requires the faith that demands sacrifice. Our faith in Christ can accomplish any of these things. We just need to put our trust in Him.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
“But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).
At the same time that we feel like are trusting the Lord to build a new life, we also feel like we are going through a season of pruning. Just like the story of “The Currant Bush” that Hugh B. Brown taught, this pruning is a purging of our will so we can accept God’s will, follow His Spirit and His design for us. This has allowed us to accept new growth and a new life. Like Elder Brown, I have felt “a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails [on the train] seemed to say, ‘You are a failure.’ …I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, ‘How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?’ I was as bitter as gall.
“And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.’ The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness” (Hugh B. Brown, “The Currant Bush”).
Sometimes this spiritual pruning is necessary to align ourselves with Heavenly Father’s plan for us. It hurts. It’s scary. It requires more humility and faith than I thought I could manage. But, just like Elder Brown, I know that the Lord is the gardener, and He is guiding my path. It doesn’t align with what I thought I was supposed to do. It doesn’t align with what the world tells us we are supposed to do. Michael and I have done everything we thought we were supposed to do. We have learned to give up our concept of “supposed to” to start aligning ourselves with His plan for us.
My Body Is Sacred
I have often pondered the importance of keeping our bodies sacred. I studied health promotion in college, and I believe that the sanctity of our bodies is a spiritual law. When our bodies are clean, then we are more receptive to the Spirit, we are more sanctified to receive spiritual blessings, and our conscience is clear. But, I have to acknowledge, this is the source of deep trials for most of us, if not all of us.
The Word of Wisdom is clear to me that we are to abstain from anything that is harmful to our bodies, but there is debate over what is harmful and healthy when it comes to nutrition and other substances that aren’t as explicit in the doctrine. This is why we need to be sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit to help us navigate the differing opinions. Bear in mind, the reason we have the Word of Wisdom is stated in Doctrine and Covenants 89:4: “Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.” These “conspiring men” are looking for ways to ensnare us in all kinds of addiction, and lull us to give up resources that would otherwise be used for more useful purposes. Messages in the media are designed to be polarizing, to make us feel inadequacy and scarcity, and they are designed to be addictive.
Just as I have learned that I need to make a commitment to have a new life in Christ, I believe that it’s important that we take a stance to keep our bodies sacred as we commit to discipleship. In the “Gospel Topics” section under “Chastity” I learned about counsel to help us navigate the temptations we face to help us overcome them. The Apostle Paul declared, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The first counsel is, “decide now to be chaste.” Decide now to keep your body sacred and holy. When you make a decision ahead of time, you don’t have to rely on your self-discipline or willpower to make a choice when it is presented to you. You will get decision fatigue going back and forth asking yourself whether you should or should not. Staying true to our covenants requires complete commitment and a complete transformation. Make a decision now what commandments you simply will not compromise on, and you won’t have to ask that question again when temptation arises.
The next counsel is, “control our thoughts.” In the book Psycho-Cybernetics, I learned that our imagination is incredibly powerful. Author, Maxwell Maltz claims there are studies that prove that our physiology cannot tell the difference between things that are real or imagined. He also says, “A human being always acts and feels and performs in accordance with what he imagines to be true about himself and his environment…For imagination sets the goal ‘picture’ which our automatic mechanism works on. We act, or fail to act, not because of ‘will,’ as is so commonly believed, but because of imagination.” Our thoughts have power to shape our behavior based on the thoughts we dwell on most! Think good thoughts, and thoughts of a better future! Envision yourself eating healthy food, having a healthy relationship with your body, and a better outcome will result.
The third advice, “stay away from pornography.” In a discussion I had with author and creator of Protect Young Minds, Kristen Jenson, I learned about the devastation pornography has on our culture. Kristen taught me that we need to teach our children how to recognize pornography when they see it, that it is dangerous, and to have a plan for when they see it. When we view pornography, our brains produce the same chemicals as any other chemical addiction. Be sensitive to all the media you consume because there are subtle messages everywhere that are hyper-sexualized, demeaning, and depraved.
All temptations that are related to our bodies are temporal. We will be given strength to endure them. We will receive immediate blessings, if not deliverance as we face adversity and temptations. When we are committed and make the decisions to stay (or return to) physical sanctity, when we dedicate our thoughts to purity and progress, and avoid addiction the Savior will give us strength through His infinite mercy. That is a promise. Just reach out to Him. This life is a time to be tested and tried, and put off the natural man (Mosiah 3:19), and “therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:13-20).
Applying this Lesson
- “Participate fully in Relief Society” and Elders’ Quorum (President Russell M. Nelson “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel”).
- Initiate personal and collective interaction with members of your ward and community.
- Take an inventory of your family traditions. What can you do to improve or revise them?
- Write out your story. Take time to write out mini memoirs of different aspects of your life experiences. For example, write out your experience with getting an education, starting a family, or your conversion.
- Ask someone else to share their stories with you. Don’t judge.
- Study the stories of your ancestors.
- Learn the stories of the early Saints.
- Read the biographies of modern Prophets.
- Find out the history of your Ward/Branch and Stake.
- Study the stories of the scriptures as though they are your own family history.
- Organize get-togethers for people you want to develop a connection with: your neighbors, brothers or sisters in your quorums or Relief Societies, parents whose children share the same class with your children, etc.
- Learn the history of your geographic region, your local school and organizations, and the leaders of the institutions you belong to.
- Take inventory of the things that you are complacent or resistant to give up to the Lord. What are your “pet sins” or those things that keep you from making progress. Make a commitment to let them go.
- Check out my podcast episode with Kristin Hodson, LCSW about how to have safe conversations with your family about sexual health.
- Look at the Church’s resources about talking about sexual health
- Establish principles and boundaries for yourself and your children to make prior commitments to keep your body sacred.
- Recognize that everyone is facing temptation of one kind or another. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others and become an advocate for someone who might feel confusion or is looking for hope to overcome past transgression.
- Put up pictures of temples and loved ones to keep an image of sacred things in your space and in your mind.
- Cultivate a powerful vision of a life of success. Visualize your day-do-day activities as you wish them to occur beforehand.
- Meditate on the vision you have for your legacy. Your subconscious will lead you on the path toward its fulfillment.