Quick intro: This talk isn’t by me, this time. Denisa was asked to speak yesterday, and I thought it was great, so I got her permission to share it with you all. So here you go!
I grew up in a family and culture that used language pretty directly and without many of what linguists call “hedges”. Hedges are words we use to soften the message we are trying to get through like when we want someone to do something. For example, instead of saying: Help me with this job. (5 words). Adding some hedges would sound like: When you have a minute, could you possibly help me with this job? (13 words). I am pretty positive, many would judge the first version as at least somewhat rude and the second one as polite. Left to my own devices, I am quite likely to use direct language, rather than hedged language. Because of this directness that comes from growing up in my family, and in Slovakia, I can often shrug things (such as criticism directed at me) off, but sometimes words of others can really hurt.
This became evident in my life some time ago when words of another person really cut deep. Someone I knew made it their mission to tell me how wrong I was. Now, I know I am not always or even often right; I make mistakes just like the rest of us. In this particular example, harsh words were used to make “my wrongness” stick. For several days after this interaction I couldn’t think about anything but the cutting words. If I was doing something that required all of my attention, I was fine, but as soon as I did something that allowed my mind to roam freely, it would go back to what the person said and I would keep replaying this in my mind. I noticed even things that I normally do to clear my mind and help me relax like walking our dog, or working in the garden, became stressful. It got so bad that I could almost not think of anything else. It was at this LOW point that I decided I needed to get serious and turn to God to pray for help. In one of my prayers I asked him to take the hurt and the pain away–in fact I was asking for the Atonement to take effect in my life. Christ didn’t only die for our sins, but also for our pain, hurt, and anguish as we learn in Isaiah 53:4 “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:”. In his wisdom, God knew that some of our experiences would be beyond what we could bear ourselves.
Elder Bednar in a devotional in 2001 explained the powerful role of the atonement in our lives. It is not there for us to ask to simply change what is. He said,
“As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon.”
When I first thought of praying, I thought of immediate relief. I wanted to feel good NOW, but what happened was that with passing time and my continual praying (and prayers of those around me who knew about this challenge in my life) I gradually started to feel better and had more strength to take my mind away from thinking and rethinking about the sharp words that were making me so sad. I received the boost I needed to change the situation I was in.
Our words, whether spoken, hand-written or typed, have power. They can take down or build up those around us. They can be remembered for years by those we hurt and by those we lift up. They can destroy confidence and make life miserable, or they can inspire people.
President Nelson in his recent General Conference talk titled Peacemakers Needed challenged us: “Today, I am asking us to interact with others in a higher, holier way. Please listen carefully. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”10 that we can say about another person—whether to his face or behind her back—that should be our standard of communication.”
President Nelson adds, “The Savior’s message is clear: His true disciples build, lift, encourage, persuade, and inspire—no matter how difficult the situation. True disciples of Jesus Christ are peacemakers.6”
About 35 years ago, when I was a teen, I had the opportunity to meet some church members at a yoga camp. This was still during socialism, a time when many churches were not allowed to operate in Slovakia, in fact, going to any kind of church could get the attention of the authorities who could make your life difficult. The church members I met couldn’t speak about the church or anything religious. But, if you paid close attention, you would notice that their countenances were glowing. They were happy, kind, and peaceful people. As I got to know them more, I could feel that they were also joyous about something. It was the gospel, precisely what they couldn’t talk about. I watched their interactions with others and listened to what they taught. Without knowing they belonged to any kind of an organization (besides that they practiced yoga), I wanted to be like them. I didn’t know this at the time, but thinking about it now, I know they behaved like followers of Jesus Christ would. They emulated the kind of behavior that the Prophet invited us to embrace.
Just a couple of days ago I had the opportunity to learn about the process involved in obtaining the land and the permission to build the first stake center in the Czech Republic. The church member who spoke about the process was a friend, a leader from those old yoga camps–Martin Pilka–one of the people I remembered watching, wondering how it was that he was so peaceful and glowing. He is now a newly called Area Seventy. As he told about the 23-year-effort to secure land and to get permission for a stake center to be built in Prague, he spoke of many interactions with government and civic leaders who were not always friendly or happy to be approached about our church. He conducted himself with faith and worked on growing relationships that could allow him and the church he represented to reach the big goal. The process wasn’t straightforward and included several times when great effort and faith were rewarded with disappointment. He could’ve chosen to get bitter or overreact, instead he continued in faith knowing that God was leading this work. His peaceful countenance I noticed 35 years ago undoubtedly helped him get through the many challenging situations the process brought.
Ever since those yoga camps and meeting the first church members, I have wondered what people who meet me by chance would remember about me. Would they be impressed with my own personal light, or would they catch me arguing with others peppering them with sharp words? President Nelson’s invitation to be peacemakers is simple, yet it can take great effort to do. He said, “Let us as a people become a true light on the hill—a light that “cannot be hid.”23 Let us show that there is a peaceful, respectful way to resolve complex issues and an enlightened way to work out disagreements. As you demonstrate the charity that true followers of Jesus Christ manifest, the Lord will magnify your efforts beyond your loftiest imagination.”
It is my prayer that I can be a peacemaker. Those who know me, might know that it is not my natural inclination, but I know I can do better.