The Unspeakable Gift

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by Bonnie

Eggsravaganza 2012I was buffeted by images of people recoiling in their living rooms, glancing sideways at one another and rolling their eyes, as Elder Christensen told the story of his young son’s experience at a temple open house. The tender innocence was almost painful to consider; I felt almost protective. Intellectual arrogance is such a staple of our age.

My thoughts rolled on: a great but unintentional violence we do to our own children in our homes is to allow a sarcastic media culture to make our tender ones proud and condescending toward wide-eyed innocence. I wondered at the blunting that our conversations, dripping with little ironies, do to the fragile receptors of the spirit we otherwise try in all our family activities to keep sensitive. Are the staged conversations we merely overhear, perched on the edges of our seats to be entertained, a subtle acid eating away at their spirits?

What is the first reaction our children have toward innocence, cooked in a culture of sour savor?

craig-c-christensen-10A sure witness from the Holy Ghost carries far more certainty than a witness from any other source. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “the Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth with greater effect and understanding than the truth can be imparted by personal contact even with heavenly beings.”

Will our children be able to hear the voice of the spirit over the inner voice of a jaded sarcasm?

The Holy Ghost is also known as the Comforter. During times of trouble or despair or simply when we need to know that God is near, the Holy Ghost can lift our spirits, give us hope, and teach us “the peaceable things of the kingdom,” helping us feel “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”

When they need help, will they be able to accept a gentle voice, or will it not be sharp or acid enough to make an impression, even in their profound need?

The Holy Ghost is a teacher and a revelator. As we study, ponder, and pray about gospel truths, the Holy Ghost enlightens our minds and quickens our understanding. He causes the truth to be indelibly written in our souls and can cause a mighty change to occur in our hearts. As we share these truths with our families, with fellow members of the Church, and with friends and neighbors in our community, the Holy Ghost becomes their teacher as well, for He carries the message of the gospel “unto the hearts of the children of men.”

I suppose this seemed so profoundly important to me because I will send two of my sons on missions in the next six months. Will they teach with power? Are they stripped of pride, or does it hang on them like a cheap sitcom or a Saturday matineé?

Handsome Surfer Guy

A friend today commented that “words are a distillation of the spirit of the person who wrote or spoke them.” I find great truth in this. Indelibly stamped into our words are our attitudes, spoken or not, the dust of many thoughts clinging to our ideas, our judgments of each other bleeding through, even as carefully as we may try to mask them. I think it’s unlikely that we can teach with power when our thoughts are polluted with sarcasm and disdain, a willingness to mingle our devotion with our embarrassment that our leaders are naive or simple. I think it likely that we offend the Holy Spirit when we try to minister with condescension.

Through the gift of the Holy Ghost, we receive added capacity and spiritual gifts, increased revelation and protection, steady guidance and direction, and the promised blessings of sanctification and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. All of these blessings are given as a result of our personal desire to receive them and come as we align our lives with the will of God and seek His constant direction.

My word for this year is meekness, and this business of aligning our lives with the will of God has been foremost in my mind for some time. I realize that I’m better at working on this in my own life than at teaching my children to do this. As we entered the new year, I thought long and hard about our culture at home. I decided that although we don’t have television, seldom attend movies, and we aren’t given as a family to sarcasm in our interactions, I wasn’t sure that the dust of our thoughts that clung to our words was always pure.

I also wasn’t sure that we were good listeners. Do each of us engage in conversations with our minds already decided, merely waiting for opportunities to prove our opinions? Have we created a culture of exploration, or surety? Will my children fail to hear the Holy Spirit when another speaks, because we are in the habit of valuing our own thinking so highly?

We made some changes, including Sunday Evening Devotionals, which are our quiet time to discuss things of the spirit all together, especially things I’ve taught earlier in Sunday School. No activity sponsored by the Church will take precedence over our family SEDs. And a staple response to a conversation that is quickly going south is, “Could the Spirit get through to you now if the Lord needed to message you?

As I reflect back on my experience with Ben in the Bountiful Utah Temple, I have many sweet feelings and impressions. One clear recollection is that while I was absorbed in the grandeur of what I could see, a small child near my side was recognizing the powerful feelings in his heart. With a gentle reminder, I was invited not only to pause and kneel down but also to heed the Savior’s call to become as a little child—humble, meek, and ready to hear the still, small voice of His Spirit.

This is what I want for my family. Wide eyes and all.

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

9 Responses to The Unspeakable Gift

  1. Liz C says:

    Excellent things to think about! I have to be careful to watch for the border between cheerful wit, and sarcastic disdain, myself. Witty? LOVE witty. Witty is humorous, and clever, and brightens the day. But it’s so easy to fall over the edge into the sarcastic, mocking, disdainful, belittling “funny” that does saturate so many things now.

    Dang it. This “overcoming the natural man” stuff keeps getting more complex. :)

    • Bonnie says:

      No kidding! But seriously, I used to have such a hard time with this. When I was in college, Murphy Brown was popular and then my favorite apostle, Elder Ashton, gave a talk about “bashing.” It was a hard, hard habit to break. I’m so glad I did. I still have a light heart, but it’s not so often a mean heart anymore. Self-deprecation is my salvation!

  2. Jae says:

    Excellent article. I have had these concerns for a very long time. The seemingly “clever” conversations of my children and those of this generation woke in me the worry that we, as a people are in trouble. I have felt there would be an accountabllility on my part if I did not try to share my concerns about their supposed witty choice of language. There is a sharpness to their tone I don’t think they realize. It saddens me.

    To the other point you made; if we are at a time when tender moments embarrass us — that is scary thought. What sets us apart as members of the Church is the frequent opportunities we have to feel the spirit. What a blessing that is in the day and age. To roll the eye or squirm in the seat when a sacred or tender experience is being shared is tragic. So many questions come to mind on this issue.

    I do know, from conversations with various members that priesthood meetings tend to carry a bit of this issue (at least in areas where I reside). If the breathern use “jokes” as a way of buffeting their uncomfortableness that explains a lot to me about where some of these issues also rest.

  3. Lisa says:

    Let us remember that “men are that they might have joy”. We can certainly be witty without the sharpness and sarcasm, though. This is something that I, myself, have to remember. Sharpness and sarcasm creates walls and toughness. Definitely not conducive to feeling, hearing and obeying the Spirit.

    I love that your word is Meekness….Mine is Grateful

  4. MSKeller says:

    The epistemology of Sarcasm contains in part to ‘flay the flesh off of’ -( “to strip off the flesh,” from sarx (gen. sarkos))- I’ve never been a fan, and have long hoped that it would not be a visitor in my home. Unfortunately not always have I been successful, but just the knowledge of what one is truly doing when they are using it seems to have made an impact. Sometimes it is just a matter of not understanding what they are really doing.

    I’m extremely visual, thus when certain phrases are used, I literally see the act vividly in my head and it is often NOT pretty. Explaining what certain comments and colloquialisms do to my spirit has really helped just by gently making others aware of what they invite with certain words, and thus they adjust their language.

  5. I had an experience a couple of years ago that taught me how close to the Spirit children really are and how callous, or hardened, I had allowed myself to become. I had ordered a new music CD {Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God} and we were listening to it as we traveled the 30 minutes into town. It was beautiful and touching. We stopped at the $1 store to get some things. We were there for only 30 seconds when my 8 year old came up to me and said, “Mom, this music is making me feel yucky inside. Can we go?” I realized I had noticed the music, had even thought, “That’s an awful song.” but didn’tdo anything about it. It took my daughter asking to leave to get me to recognize I could take action myself and not just keep on listening.

    One of my favorite talks of all time {seriously I read it at least once a month} is Elder Douglas Callister’s Your Refined Heavenly Home. He said, “The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things.” I believe that. I’ve seen it in my own life and in my own family as we’ve tried to create an atmosphere where we are surrounded by beauty and try to act with refinement so we can feel the spirit more readily in our lives.

    I must say I love your response when a conversation isn’t quite what it could be. “Could the Spirit get through to you now if the Lord needed to message you?” What a great reminder for all areas of our life.

  6. Paul says:

    Bonnie, the issue that you and Elder Christensen raise is one that is dear to me, in part at least because I have some children who struggle to hear the whisperings of the spirit. I have just in the past few days thought again about my part in teaching them how to listen (or how not to).

    I like the notion of aligning ourselves with God’s will. It’s another subject that I’ve considered a great deal in recent years, largely because of my increased awareness and involvement with 12-step programs for which that alignment is a key element.

  7. Our culture IS steeped in irony, as you say.

    It takes work to keep an attitude of genuine-ness (if that is a word). It’s not necessarily sentimental (since “sentimental” is usually unearned emotion), neither is it manipulative. It is tenderhearted and openhearted and willing to participate fully.

  8. Brenda says:

    When we first moved to rural Texas four years ago the culture shock was stunning. The folks here don’t use sarcasm much and don’t find it humorous. They take things quite literally. After accidentally insulting several people I came to the harsh realization that my speech was drowning in sarcasm and inside jokes. This came somewhat from the intellectual arrogance that Bonnie spoke about as well as the culture we left up north. I learned that sarcasm is just a mean spirited way of placing ourselves above others. It all boils down to that old sin of pride. Thankfully, living here has made it easy to purge much of it out of my system.

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