His Image in our Countenance
The other day I was speaking to a girl friend on the phone who told me of an experience she had. She is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her children attend the Catholic school here in town. Her husband works there and recently she began volunteering there. One day she was talking with one of the young female students. They got to talking about religion and my friend mentioned that she was a Mormon. Her little friend informed her that her mother told her that Mormonism is really more about ordinances and religious practices than it is about changing who you are inside. My friend was disheartened and explained that although she could understand how her mother came to that understanding, it certainly was not the case. Those who are truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ are trying to change who they are to become like their Savior and to emulate the things He teaches and the way He lives. (Use of the present tense is intended, as we believe He does still live, even though not mortally upon the earth, per se.)
I couldn’t help but to reflect on my friend’s experience. It is true. We have plenty, plenty of members who are more focused on the outward appearance of their faith instead of making internal changes to their personality and life. I think it is especially true where I live. However, I wanted to ask, what about you?
The church asks many, many things of us that are seen in our behavior—to attend our meetings, attend the temple, pay our tithing, participate in our callings, give service, help others, do our visiting teaching or home teaching, have family home evening, read our scriptures, say our prayers—all outward things. But the entire point of the outward behaviors is suppose to be reflective of inward desires. At the very least, it is to draw our attention to things that need to be changed on the inside.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson referred to some of these ideas in his address on The Divine Gift of Repentance in the October 2011 General Conference:
Our willingness to change is reflective in our behavior. The change is suppose to happen first, and the humble and meek spirit that accompanies repentance should continue. We are suppose to continue to change the things in our lives and hearts that are not in harmony with the teachings and example of our Savior.
It would appear to me that many of us would like everyone to believe that is what is happening in our hearts because our behavior looks the part. But inside, we have not made much effort. I think that is the impression the young student from the Catholic school came away with from her, or her mother’s, interactions with those of our faith.
How tragic is that?? To have those who are not of our faith, believe that the Church of Jesus Christ offers no real opportunities for change because of the example of those of us who profess that belief?? What a tragedy! Our lives should reflect the faith we profess to believe. That means sometimes, others will see us fail, struggle, work, change, fall and pick ourselves back up, and become successful in our attempts to really change who we are.
You need to know that you are not alone in this fight. I fight it too. I want my family to all be dressed in the right church clothes, with dark socks, on time for church, happy with each other, not fighting, kind to strangers, to always have the right doctrinal answer in church, etc… My idealist self wants my family to be the poster children who can be seen on the cover of the Ensign.
The truth is, we are not perfect. Please do not just stop by my house, it will not be clean. My children fight. My husband and I put in countless hours in emotional and spiritual counseling of our children to help them BECOME the kind of children and adults we hope for them. Sometimes I simply cry over my inability to help a particular child understand a particular concept. Sometimes I am not a kind person. I say mean things. It happens. I usually recognize it right away. I repent and ask for forgiveness from my children, my husband, and yes, even my ward members. But the point is, in my efforts, I recognize things I need to work on. I pray for help. I make effort, and I change. It …….takes……….a……..lot……of………..t….i….m….e…….
Some days, when I am in the right place and all the planets align and I am listening to the Spirit, and rereading my journals, guess what I find??? I have made progress, because real and lasting change, the kind spoken of by Elder Christofferson, is simply continued and sustained effort over a lot of time.
And if I have enough self-esteem to rip off the mask of perfection and allow others to see and share my struggles, then I have help along the way and I do not have to hide myself when the reality of my life clashes with the perfected expectations of others. Will others judge me? Yes. Will they have nasty things to say to me? Maybe. Will they talk about me behind my back? Probably. Why? Because they aren’t perfect either. Maybe, just maybe, I can choose not to let their personal struggles offend me and wound my self-esteem. Maybe I can provide them enough room to grow and learn too, so they can experience the lasting changes expressed in the doctrine of repentance we profess to believe.
I hope each of us serves to be a greater example of the doctrine of repentance our Savior teaches. I want others to be able to look at me and know that I am striving to really change who I am on the inside, not just that I participate heavily in my church community.
What do you see inside of you? Are there places you would like to change? Do others know you are trying to become like the Savior? Have you received His image in your countenance?
The previous video is from You Tube: His Image in Your Countenance, Nichelle Divelbliss.