First of all, Merry Christmas! May this be a day of joy spent with loved ones. In all the hubbub and fun, I hope we are able to make time for pondering the birth of our Savior and the great significance that holds not just for Mormons and our fellow Christians, but for the entire world.
After 24 days of incredible articles supporting Light The World, it falls on me to close us out, which at this point I see as something of a solemn responsibility! We’ve been blessed to learn about how to provide potable water to developing nations, remembered that refugees are our fellow brothers and sisters and how to get involved with helping them, encouraged to avoid judgment of others, reiterated the unique value of children, wrestled with forgiving those who have wronged us, rejoiced in the service of others when one is sick in a foreign land, learned to position ourselves to empathize with the mourners, understood the literal value in clothing God’s children, experienced catharsis and joy from burying a grudge, reminded ourselves of the importance of finding joy in life, realigned our priorities so as not to focus on material wealth as a measure of success, learned alongside a mother coping with her daughter’s eating disorder, and so much more. The past 25 days have shown me the incredible goodness and faith of the people who surround me. As the editor-in-chief of this publication, I count myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn from so many others throughout this process, and I hope the many Light the World articles we’ve put together have been, and will continue to be, useful for you.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged us to be a light unto the world:
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
“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.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Scholars have actually debated for years whether these verses were directed specifically at the Twelve or at the people overall. Thankfully, the Lord added a direct admonition to the people when he visited the Nephites in the Americas following His resurrection:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”
Not only are we to lead and live by example, we are to do so unabashedly. That’s a strong twofold commitment. The Lord expects us to set ourselves atop that distinct hill, our light illuminating the ground below for all to see. We are meant to be conspicuous, not in the way we carry out our alms in Lighting the World, but in the way we carry ourselves and represent ourselves as disciples of Christ.
If you’ll permit me, a few life experiences come to mind where I have learned about the value in living the example, not just proclaiming it.
Obligatory Latter-day Saint Mission Story
In spring 2003 I had spent about six weeks training a fresh missionary in Spain (or maybe-someday-soon-to-be independent Catalonia). I was soon given the opportunity to serve as a district leader, which in Latter-day Saint terms meant I was in charge of organizing and reporting on the work of a small set of missionaries, in this case just the four of us who shared an apartment in our beautiful, seaside city dotted with Roman ruins.
Despite over a year of mission time under my belt, I’m sure I felt like I had somehow earned this responsibility, as if it was a manifestation of my excellence. However, the common Latter-day Saint refrain “A call to responsibility is a call to repentance” eventually applied here, where I learned some hard lessons.
Quickly I found that although I was preparing regular motivational lessons and doing my best to keep my fellow missionaries enthusiastic and focused, I was doing it more with words than actions. I found myself keen on the big moment, on telling what to do, on hoping my words alone would drive missionaries to something more. I completely forgot the simple power in being my best self, loving those around me, and finding the joy and purpose in the work for myself.
Eventually, the situation came to a head. I had struggles with other missionaries in my district, both professional and personal. I realized I was going to great lengths to keep up the veneer of leadership while not actually leading. In short, I was a sheep herder and not a shepherd. These experiences were difficult, but they reminded me that my shining light was far more valuable than whatever clever or brilliant turns of phrases I came up with in my mind. The remainder of my mission would have been folly had I not had the opportunity to grow during this period, and I’m forever grateful for to God, for his abiding love and influence, as well as a patient mission president and long-suffering fellow missionaries as I figured things out.
The Struggling Elders Quorum President
As we fast forward a number of years, degrees, and locales later, I found myself called as an elders quorum president. I like to think I had matured a bit by this point in my spiritual journey. I was far removed from the more zealous days of missionary work, and I wanted to bring an openness and moderation to the way I managed the affairs of the men in my congregation.
Nevertheless, I often found myself in a thorny spot common for those who have shared this calling: finding the balance between leading by light and good works and being overt and involved. Both matter, but it’s quite easy as an elders quorum president to fall into a trap of mentioning home teaching constantly with the hope that your motivational words will make a difference. On the other hand, it is tempting to take the adage of “teach correct principles and the people govern themselves” to the extreme and sacrifice accountability in the name of more passive leadership.
I’m not sure I ever found the perfect balance for this in the many years I had the calling, but I realized early on that true success was found in loving those under my stewardship and knowing them, not just expecting results every month because of a sermon I happened to give. Christ’s light is that of love, and love is the greatest motivator. Love those you serve, wherever that may be in an organizational hierarchy. Know them and care for them. It might sound hokey, but it works.
Latter-day Saints Are the Best Employees!
I just made a bold statement in that paragraph header. Latter-day Saints are the best! Guess what? There are members of my faith who are truly the best. There are also others who are, shall we say, “best-challenged”? That said, in my professional experience, countless individuals have been interested in hiring me or partnering with me in no small part based on the LDS brand alone. When you’re in a job interview and the CEO says, “I’m not supposed to say this, but we’ve had Mormons work here before and they are incredible,” a certain pride burns within me. It just makes me glad that there are enough folks trying to be good Christians out there that the word “Mormon” alone is strong currency; that it implies trust and reliability. To be sure, Latter-day Saints hardly have the market cornered on being predictably good, but to the extent the stereotype fits, it works.
How great would it be if we carried that idea into all of our faith and social communities? “Muslims are outstanding members of our community. I’ve always loved working with them.” Or “Knowing someone is a true Christian means something of value to my organization.” Or “World of Warcraft enthusiasts make fine employees.” Imagine a world where our various labels inherently carry a positive connotation. Think of the light that carries. Think of how that glorifies God and not us.
Be the Light
Aside from mere example, I hope that Light the World has shown us the actual areas where we can exert effort every day to lift our brothers and sisters, both temporally and spiritually. God loves us enough that he has given us great tools to succeed on the earth even as he does not force our hand. It’s up to us to choose each day how to serve and where. Maybe you can carry some change in the event someone needs it. Maybe you can buy a beggar a meal. Maybe you can volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter (preferably outside of the Christmas season, when they are already buried in volunteers). Maybe you can be a little more patient with your family. Maybe you can find the good in your colleagues instead of seeing them as hurdles to your professional aspirations. Maybe you can read your scriptures with greater earnestness. Maybe you can find it in your heart to forgive even when the other party will not reciprocate.
Christ showed us the way on all of these fronts. On this day, Christmas, we commemorate His birth, which was the first mortal step in the most marvelous life that would grace the very earth of His own creation. Go forth with your light shining, maybe just a little bit brighter and a little bit higher each day.