I spent the past week at the birthplace of Joseph Smith for Girls’ Camp, a religious summer camp for Mormon girls ages 11-18. Camp was centered around being BRAVE (an acronym for Be Righteous and Valiant Everyday), standing up for what we know is right, even if we have to stand alone. The theme was superheroes because they are not afraid to be themselves. Below is a talk gave during devotional the first night:
Being righteous and valiant everyday is not easy and it’s not popular. If it were, everyone would be doing it and we wouldn’t have true free will. That is why President Monson tells us to, “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”
But choosing the right is easier than we think. Choosing the wrong is only easier for a minute. We have the rest of our lives and then the rest of eternity to live with our decisions and in the long run, being righteous and valiant is easier, happier, and fulfilling.
My entire life is a testament to this. I was not raised in the church. I was baptized two years ago. Growing up I struggled a lot with depression and suicide attempts. I was a hot mess and I burned through every kind of therapy until I reached utter rock-bottom and my parents grew desperate enough to drag me from our home in Maryland to the middle-of-nowhere Georgia to see some old white guy that called himself “The Real Love Company.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this old man, Greg, is a member of the church. He taught me an entirely new way of living and not one of his suggestions was easy to follow.
First Greg asked me to trust that he cared about my happiness unconditionally. I was a very cynical nineteen-year-old and this is the weirdest and hardest thing that anyone has ever asked me to do: trusting a complete stranger to love and teach me. Accepting love is not typically seen as a brave or valiant decision, and that makes it even harder to do. I’d had no experience with that kind of love, no guidebook to follow. My parents cared about me a great deal, but even they became disappointed when I didn’t meet their expectations and here was this man telling me that his love would not waver no matter what I said or did.
I jumped in headfirst and trusted him completely. I made a hard decision, but what was the alternative? Greg has told me that if I chose to ignore him, I would have ended up dead or permanently institutionalized. He’s right. He’s the one that finally diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. It would have been easier to fight him or disregard him for a moment, but it would have cost me my life. I think I made the easier choice.
Greg then taught me how to care about other people. I REALLY didn’t like this part. I was an expert at manipulating people and could get whatever I wanted. I convinced my parents to buy me first a cat, then a dog, then a car. It was a good system. I’d never cared about anyone but myself. That was the culture I was raised in and it was perfectly normal to me. It was how everyone lived. All of a sudden this man comes into my life and tells me that if I want to be happy, I don’t get to use other people, blame them for my problems, or take out my anger on them. Way harder in the short-term to care about another human being instead of sucking them dry for whatever I want, but way harder in the long-run to be alone and miserable.
But this story is not about me, and it’s not about Greg. It’s about the decisions we all have the opportunity to make. At some point I learned that Greg is Mormon, that he wasn’t making up the rules as he went, but was just drawing on the love from his Heavenly Father. Being a flaming liberal atheist myself, I took the easy route and conveniently ignored this fact for three years. Then I finally asked him to tell me about the church. Instead of the 30 second elevator pitch I was expecting, he sent the missionaries to my house.
I don’t know how most people gain a testimony, but this was NOT easy for me. The sisters started off by telling me the parable of Jesus and the lost sheep. I felt the truth of this story, but the extent of my knowledge about Jesus was that some Jewish guy got nailed to a cross a long time ago. Now I knew he also liked sheep. It would have been easy to send the sisters away and pretend that never happened. But I’d spent my entire life digging for truth, for my purpose, for an overarching plan and here I had two young women in front of me answering every question I’d ever had about life. So yes, it was difficult for me to think about God as an actual being with an actual body,but it would have been so much harder to turn away from truth once I finally got a taste of it.
I got baptized immediately. Difficult decisions don’t get easier with time.
Even after I joined the church, things did not become easy. The missionaries would visit months later and ask me how I was doing with prayer. I’d say, “Yep, still awkward. Still me kneeling on the floor and having a nice one-on-one with myself. Don’t think anyone else is listening… Except my husband, who by now thinks I’m sick in the head.”
At times I felt that God was real. I had evidence of it in my life. But it took me at least eight months after joining the church to feel like I wasn’t utterly alone every time I prayed. It was unbelievably difficult to continue praying on faith, but if I hadn’t, I would still be alone today. Instead I now feel the individual love of my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and I have the Holy Ghost with my always, providing answers and support as I need them.
So I gave up alcohol, and the delicious chai tea that my mother makes to become a part of this church. That was fine. Then I heard about the modesty standards for women’s clothing. This was a real struggle for me. I am very much into fashion and could not think of a single compelling reason for me not to wear sleeveless shirts in the summer.
I decided to follow the church guidelines anyway. Everything I learned from the church so far had been true and I had no reason to think otherwise regarding the modesty standards. While I’m still not crazy about sweating like a hot pig in summer, it has brought unexpected blessings into my life. I feel confident and comfortable with my body when I’m not worried about my dress riding up too high. It’s actually liberating and widens the range of things I can do. I play more freely with my daughter because I’m more likely to be wearing pants instead of short skirts. Most importantly, it focuses my life on obedience to the gospel and I love the clarity that comes with that.
I know members of the church that choose not to follow these standards of dress, and their lives are fine. Perhaps I would be fine without them as well. But I don’t want just “fine.” I want to be as peaceful and loving as I can be in this life and Heavenly Father has given me guidelines on just how to do that.
I have a million examples of times I have chosen the harder right and it has paid off, and two million examples of times I have chosen the easier wrong and paid the price later. I’m not going to bore you with those because you’re smart and you get the idea.
I’m a huge fan of superheroes, but true bravery is not about rushing into burning buildings or taking bullets for strangers. It’s about making quiet decisions that nobody will notice. You ladies have figured out by now that when you screw up, people notice. Try alcohol, get too frisky with a boy, you can bet you’ll be hearing from Mom and Dad, your Young Women’s leader, maybe your bishop depending on how serious the mistake is. But for the other 364 days of the year when you are silently striving to do the right thing, 99% of the time, no one will notice. No one will give you an award or a sticker or even a pat on the back.
Do the right thing anyway. Do it because it’s the right thing. Do it because it will make you happy.
And for the times when you feel alone and frustrated and tired of watching your nonmember friends parade around the pool in cute bikinis, remember that Heavenly Father notices. He is holding your hand and gently guiding you towards a happiness you can’t dream of. Being a teenager, I think, is the hardest part of life. The decisions you make now seem unimportant, but they are important and they will set the course of your life. Choose well.
Jesus Christ turned water into wine, cured leprosy, and rose from the dead, but his greatest superpower is a perfect love for humanity, no matter how he is treated. Be that kind of valiant. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.