Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I Didn't Say

 “Just try to stick to Elder Oak’s conference talk on testimony,” Brother Wallace’s voice message said when he gave us our speaking assignment for the following Sunday.

I was excited about the topic because I had benefited a lot from that talk in the April 2008 General Conference. But, on the other hand, I had a really great idea of how to teach from Alma 32 about planting the seed to allow faith to grow into testimony. As I started preparing my talk, however, I felt prompted to only talk about Elder Oaks’ talk and not Alma 32.

I followed that prompting. I re-read Elder Oaks’ talk and took notes on things that stuck out to me. I started outlining. My husband and I decided that I would cover the first half of the talk and he would cover the second half. I took my reading notes and chunked the ideas into three main points. I thought of personal experiences I could share for each point and I decided on the main points that Elder Oaks had made that I wanted to share with the congregation. My outline was two pages of bullet points and looked great.

But a few days before Sunday, I still didn’t feel like I had the right talk. I had studied, pondered, and organized everything and thought I had a great talk outline, but I still didn’t feel settled. I looked at my printed outline and started crossing things out. I really felt like I should chop down my content by two-thirds, even if that meant that I wouldn’t fill up my time. Even just before Sacrament meeting started on Sunday, I was circling and crossing out all over my outline.

When I got up to speak, my talk only covered one of my bullet points. I kept all my personal experiences in and related them to that one point. I felt guided as I spoke, even in details such as where in the congregation to look and where to pause.

But even though I felt like everything went well, I was still a little disappointed. Why did the Spirit tell me to leave so much content, the specifics of Elder Oaks’ instruction, out? I found the answer to that question when I went to Relief Society. It was a fourth Sunday Teachings for Our Times lesson, and the bishop had asked that the teachers teach from Elder Oaks’ conference talk on testimony, the same that my husband and I had been assigned to speak about in Sacrament meeting. I don’t know if the bishop knew that his counselor had assigned us the same talk, but because of the Spirit, this double arrangement worked perfectly. In my talk I had given personal experiences that talked about the importance of testimony and how we should be seeking to gain testimony in everything we do—in every lesson and every personal scriptures study session. Our Relief Society teacher, however, spent the lesson time talking about the more specific points of Elder Oaks’ talk, like the different types of knowledge and ways to learn.

As I sat through that Relief Society lesson I was so grateful for all that the Spirit had told me to cut out of my talk. If I had tried to cover what the Relief Society teacher wanted to cover, I would have ruined her lesson and the sisters, including me, would have been bored with going over the same talk twice within the three-hour block of church. Instead, the Relief Society built on what I had said in my talk. Further, the specific points of Elder Oaks were discussed much more productively in a classroom setting than I could have done from the pulpit.

My sacrament meeting talk was a teaching miracle to me. Only the Spirit could have told me and the Relief Society that we were both preparing lessons on the same General Conference talk and had it work out as perfectly as it did. I hope that I can always seek the Spirit to help guide me with what I should and shouldn’t say in a talk.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shining as a Nightlight

“We need a nightlight,” my husband said.

“A nightlight?” I repeated blankly. We were grownups—I hadn’t had a nightlight since I was about five. “Uh, honey,” I asked, “are you afraid of the dark?”

“No, no, no,” my husband replied. He explained that we needed something so neither of us ran into anything if we had to take a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

That seemed logical. In our newlyweds’ studio apartment we only had windows in the living room. The bathroom around the corner was completely dark at night.

The next day I bought a nightlight at the grocery store. When my husband got home that evening I realized that the least expensive nightlight might not have been the right choice. He looked at the package, and his face fell with disappointment.

“Will it be enough light?” he asked.

His question was just. The nightlight was round and very small, small enough to plug in the wall and not block the second electrical outlet.

“Well,” he said, “we can try it anyway and if it doesn’t give enough light then we’ll just have to buy something else.”

It was still early evening in the summer and very light outside, but we plugged the nightlight in the bathroom anyway. My husband was right. The little nightlight was feeble, even pathetic. I chalked the whole experience up as a lesson to improve my inadequate homemaking skills and tried to forget about it until I would have to go back to the store and buy a better nightlight the next day.

However, my second trip to the store to buy a nightlight never happened. We went to bed as usual that night, and I was grateful that my housekeeping failure didn’t keep me from sleeping soundly through the night. When we woke up in the morning, my husband was beaming at me.

“It’s great!” he said happily.

“What are you talking about?” I yawned.

“The light!” he said. “It works!”

I slightly stumbled to the bathroom. The nightlight was still there and still gracing the room with its feeble orange glow. “It looks the same to me,” I said, “pathetic.”

“That’s because it’s morning!” my husband replied triumphantly, “but in the dark it’s just what we need!”

The next night, when I had to make my own nighttime pilgrimage, I learned for myself that the nightlight was a brilliant success. When the rest of the world was light, the nightlight looked too weak to be helpful at all, but in the middle of the night, when it was the only source of light in sight, it was just want we needed.

Thinking on this experience, it’s important to remember that the nightlight’s glow never changed. Even though at night it seemed as if it was brighter, in actuality its light was the same at all hours of the day; only its surroundings, and the circumstances that we perceived it in, changed between day and night.

We have used this trusty nightlight in three different apartments now. Whenever we move, it’s one of the last things we pack and one of the first things we unpack. I never think about that nightlight during the day; during daylight hours it’s just a regular thing plugged into our bathroom wall, almost unneeded. At night, however, that nightlight is a trusted, helpful friend.

As I crept past it back into bed one night, I realized that there are many friends, people, and things in my life that I often take for granted when the sun is shining but that, like my nightlight, are always dependable and keep me safe and comforted whenever darkness falls.

In the New Testament, Jesus talks a lot about light. In Matthew 5:14 he says this well-known verse: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” Although I’ve always loved views of city lights at night, I’ve never felt as strong or brilliant as an entire city. My nightlight has reminded me that that’s not what Jesus expects of me or what that verse really means. Verse 15 is also important: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”

We don’t use candles as our primary source of light anymore, but we can still draw some meaningful conclusions from Christ’s analogies about light. Putting a candle under a bushel doesn’t just hide it from view; under a bushel, the flame won’t have enough oxygen to burn and will go out. Additionally, a short, stubby candle gives a lot less light than a long, tapered candle on a candlestick. A candle under a bushel gives very little light (and eventually none). A candle on a candlestick gives as much light as its solitary flame can. On a candlestick, the candle is reaching its full potential of light.

What Christ teaches in these verses about light, how each of us can shine to light the world with truth and goodness, brings my thoughts back to my trusty nightlight. There are so many people in my life that have been nightlights for me—always plugged in. Even though by themselves they aren’t an entire city to shine on the dark horizon, and when the sun is shining they don’t seem that important, there are many of these individuals whose constant shine has comforted, guided, and protected me when darkness came into my life.

One person that has been a nightlight in my life is a friend I grew up with. We lived in the same ward as long as we both could remember. Although we sometimes hung with different social crowds, I knew that I could always rely on this friend, especially spiritually. Even though I felt like a shy caterpillar where she was a social butterfly, we still talked about everything. We went to church and young women’s together every week. We both were faithful in our seminary attendance, even if we weren’t in the same class every year. We talked about our dating standards and every other important decision we had to make in our teenage years. We relied on each other and knew that we could be strong and choose the right if for nothing else because we knew that the other would.

There are other people in my life that have stood as faithful examples, constant nightlights, for me—family members, ward members, mentors, and other friends. When all other lights seem to go out, or even if I was feel a little dim myself, these nightlights have shown through the darkness when I needed comfort and guidance the most.

What is a lighted city on a hill? It isn’t just one person; it was never meant to be. The lighted city that Christ talks about is a simple candle on a candlestick, or a steady nightlight, shining out from every home. One nightlight at a time makes up that shining city on the hill. In the daytime, when there is a greater light all around, the smaller lights don’t seem that important, but at night, all together, they make a huge impact on the skyline. Banded together, we can each be a light to the world as each of our homes shine together in our wards, stakes, communities, and nations. Individually we can each be nightlights to each passerby when we follow the Savior’s words to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

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