Courage in the face of hate.

Sorry, I have been MIA this last week.  We have had some things going on, which I may or may not touch on in this blog post.  But if I don’t, I’ll let you in on it later.

Copyright:  Karen Larsen photography

Today, in many of the blogs I read, I have heard a common theme and since it is one I have really, really struggled with, I decided that would be the topic of my conversation today.  It is just this:  Haters are gonna hate.  Stephanie Nielson touched on people ‘hating’ her on social media and being mean to her regardless of what she posts, what they wear, what they do, what her religion is, etc….  Heather from Women in the Scriptures received a not-very-nice, anonymous letter from one of her neighbors about their ability to keep up their yard.  One of Heather’s readers referenced this blog post by Kate, which I have also found accurate, and  Misty wrote about all of the negativity and meanness happening across the globe and what she is planning on doing about it.  Her post really touched me!

I have to tell you, the things these women posted about are all things I have struggled with too.  I shy away from being too personal in social media because I am a sensitive person and even if I do not know you, I want you to have a good opinion of me.  It really hurts my feelings when people are unkind, even in a ‘constructive criticism’ kind of way.  I try to let comments roll off my back, but most of the time, I just can’t do it.  Instead of being brave like Heather or Stephanie and just crying because people are not nice, I have tended to just eat.  I am getting better about that though, and now, in the moment, I can cry, so that is improvement.

I struggle to stand up to people in public meetings and just say, “This is what I think and this is why” because I am so concerned that someone is going to disagree with me and berate me or be mean to me in public.  I have had plenty, plenty of experience of people being mean to me.  It is hard for me because I try really, really hard to be kind to everyone, to see things from their perspective, and to lift people.  So when people are directly mean to me on purpose, it is so hard for me.

Here is what I have learned:  There are mean people out there.  I cannot control them.  I can control whether I allow what they say to hurt me and how long it hurts me.  Most of the time, when I reflect on what they have said, and evaluate the validity of their gripe, it is usually unfounded, misunderstood, taken out of context, or is a direct reflection of where they are at the moment.  As I have tried to figure out how to manage my relationships with these people, because for me, most of them are in my immediate circle of social interactions (not friends, mind you, just people I have to interact with, constantly), I have had to pray to act more like Christ.  I study how He and the prophets have behaved when they were treated badly.  How did they say what they needed to say and stand as a witness for the Savior, for themselves, for their beliefs, without lowering themselves to ‘meanness’?  Because, I recognize that when I am mean back, that is where I cross the line and I sin.  I have to pray for help.  I pray for them, like Misty suggested, because it really does soften my heart and help me to have compassion for them and understanding.  I pray to see them as God sees them, not because I want to know all of their sins, but I do want to understand their struggles, and challenges so that when I interact with them, my heart comes from a place of love and not hurt.

Sometimes, I do stand up and say something that is valid, constructive, and calls them on their bad behavior.  But most of the time, my job is to heal my wounds, forgive, and learn not to be mean back.

What do I think about the reasons I get to endure such treatment?  Well, first and foremost, it is one of my weaknesses.  I don’t tolerate others’ meanness well, personally or in how I treat them in return, even if I use indifference.  How does that change anything?  Second, I think God wants and needs us to be able to discuss conflicting values and interests in the face of attacks, because let’s face it, that is the tool the adversary uses to diminish the discussion–when good people say nothing because of fear.  Our Father in Heaven needs us to be articulate, educated, kind and courageous.  The best way to build that kind of faith and determination in a spirit like mine, who is afraid of conflict and ridicule, is to allow me to receive it once in a while and then teach me, line upon line, how to handle it and how to respond to it, properly—the Lord’s way.  Then, when I am so armed, I can teach it to my children and others, and I become much more serviceable in the kingdom.

Listen to the words of Sister Sheri Dew in her book, No One Can Take Your Place:

We too need unflinching moral courage.  A recent experience demonstrated this vividly to me.  To my great surprise, in March 2003 I found myself at the United Nations as a White House delegate to an international commission focused on issues relevant to women.  The setting was entirely new and quite overwhelming.  New people.  New language, as it were. New motives to discern.  And an entirely new system to understand.

From day one, I observed something that seemed curiously incongruous.  Women who impressed me as God-fearing souls in search of honest solutions to their problems often lobbied for the same things as women who had blatantly evil designs.  I struggled to know if there was a way, apart from spiritual discernment, to detect the motives of these women.  I listened carefully to what these two varying groups said and at night searched the scriptures for insight.  But it was a puzzle.

Then one evening as our U.S. delegation held a briefing, angry lobbyists began to attack us about the President’s position on HIV/AIDS.  These women were vicious.  They were mean!  In fact, if you don’t mind me saying so, they were as unattractive (read: ugly) as any women I had ever met.  As I prayed silently to know what to say when I took the podium I had a clear impression:  “Sheri, don’t you see?  The mean ones are the evil ones.”  My fear vanished instantly.  Now that I knew how to identify those on the opposing side, I wasn’t afraid, because I learned long ago that Satan never backs up his followers but the Master always does.  The power of Jesus Christ is always stronger than any power emanating from the dark underbelly of the adversary.  Believing the Lord would fill my mouth if I would just open it, I plunged in, at first uncertain how to both teach truth and support the administration……

…..What did I learn at the U.N.?  I learned that vigorous differences of opinion can be discussed respectfully, but when people become vicious, they are likely working for the adversary.  I learned that even in a spiritually hostile environment, truth is truth, and there is power in truth.  I learned that when we have faith in the Lord, we like Paul “may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:6).  And I learned that the gospel is so practical.  During two weeks, I heard no issue debated that couldn’t have been resolved by applying truth.  The gospel of Jesus Christ has the answer to every conflict in our lives, our families, and even our nations.  His truths heal hearts and bridge cultures.

And they also inspire courage.  The courage to stand alone.  The courage to open our mouths when prompted.  The courage to prepare the greatest generation of missionaries, mentor the greatest generations of youth, and share the gospel in any setting.  Unflinching moral courage.

Every time we exercise our faith in the face of fear or discover a doctrinal insight in the scriptures or the temple, we are better able to build the kingdom of God.  Every time we discard a sin or a self-serving motive, every time we keep a trust or gain another glimpse of who we really are or speak truth, we are better able to build the kingdom of God.  Every time we help someone else strengthen faith or resolve, we build the kingdom of God.  In short, every small step we take to develop  our God-given attributes of faith, knowledge, obedience, purity, integrity, identity, and courage makes us better able to build up the kingdom of God.

Isn’t that amazing and inspiring?  Now, I do not necessarily think or believe that those who are unkind to me are working for the adversary.  In my case, they are just people, like me, who are trying to do the best they can and they make mistakes in their daily interactions with others.  Sometimes their behavior affects me or my family and my feelings are hurt.  Mostly, I can manage my feelings by forgiving them, dismissing their comment as unintelligent, or uninformed, or just judgmental.  Just because someone thinks or believes something about me, doesn’t make it true.  If I learn to live my life by looking through the lenses of truth, I don’t have to be hurt by others beliefs or comments.  If they are true, then I can work on changing those things about me.  If, as in Heather’s case, I am doing my best to manage my work load within my circumstances and people still have an attitude, then I just have to let them have their attitude and recognize that I am doing the best I can, whether they like it or not.

The Spirit said something to me the other day the bears repeating, “I don’t ever have to feel bad about the responsibilities on my plate, because the Lord put them there.”  Here is how that applies for me:  I didn’t ask for nine children.  I didn’t ask for my husband to serve as the Bishop, twice.  I didn’t ask for the attitudes who live at my house and require all of my time and ability.  I didn’t ask to have all of my time taken by people, in and out of my ward and my family and have zero time left for yard maintenance or household projects.  I have plenty of those things to do and I really enjoy doing them.  But the Lord has given me a different work, and it is alright, because it is His work, and He gave it to me.  And that means nothing judgmental toward any of those people who don’t have that many children and spend their time doing yard work.  Good for them.  Sometimes I wish that was me.  But most of the time, I am happy in the work He has given me, even when that includes loving people who hate me.

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