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Natalie Gochnour

Natalie Gochnour

13 Mar. 2017

Transcript

A Unique Way to Light the World

That was lovely. I’m delighted to be with you today. And President Richards, thank you for that very kind introduction. I’m appreciative that he mentioned families because that’s a big part of what I want to share with you today. I just can’t help but tell you what a privilege it is to be here in this beautiful Assembly Hall and to share with you the Spirit that is felt here.

This isn’t completely familiar to me because I spend a lot of time in my profession, and on Tuesdays I’m typically working on something that deals with public policy in this state. And I’m really happy to leave public policy outside of the building today. You probably could tell form my background and introduction that I spend a lot of time in politics, and I’m going to just leave that outside. How does that sound? Good time to do that.

It’s the Christmas season, and I’m going to share a message today that complements this joyous season of the year. Over the next three-and-a-half, we will feel the Christmas spirit in numerous ways. There is snow on the ground; I love that. There’s a chill in the air. There are lights—thousands of lights everywhere we look. And Christmas is the season of light.

Today I want to share a little light with you by speaking about your place in God’s family. I was very pleased to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints select the theme “Light the World” as the Christmas message this year.[1] We read in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

As most of you know, this Christmas message will reach a worldwide audience. The Church will share content on its social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram. The Church will also share the light of the world, or the Light the World message on billboards in New York City’s Times Square; in Los Angeles; in Johannesburg, South Africa; in the Philippines; and in Mexico. The video accompanying the message has been translated into 33 different languages. Those of you who have served missions know that it will provide a lot of great content to share with God’s family. It’s clear our faith is a global faith, reaching all corners of the earth.

Today I want to build upon our global faith and the Light the World message by talking to you about God’s family, our Church family, and your place in both.

First, let’s get our definitions right. God’s family includes everyone. We are all children of God. Each of us—and I do mean everybody—has an esteemed place in God’s family as sons and daughters of heavenly parents. I think it’s important that we recognize and acclaim God’s entire family.

Now, let’s define our Church family. Our Church family includes people who share our faith as demonstrated by their desires, thoughts, and actions. We invite everyone to be part of our faith family, but not everyone has been asked and not everyone has accepted the invitation. Our Church is a subset of God’s family.

And here’s the key: everyone, whether part of our Church family or God’s full family, is a recipient of God’s love. God loves all of His children, and He expects us to do the same.

In October, our Church released a series of seven videos titled “A Little Better.” The videos featured five apostles and two general women leaders who offered counsel on diversity, inclusion, and love. I took note. The videos shared some very interesting counsel about the varying perspectives all parts of the human family bring to our faith community.

Let me quote a few excerpts just to get you thinking. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “The diversity we find now in the Church may be just the beginning, frankly. I think we will see greater and greater diversity . . . and it’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake, but the fact that people can bring different gifts and perspectives.”[2]

Very interesting. It’s a wonderful statement. He is emphasizing that we are a global faith. Our Church family will incorporate even more of God’s family. We will grow in diversity and variation and perspective.

He then went on to say: “The wide range of experience and backgrounds and challenges that people face will show us what really is essential in the gospel of Christ.” In the same sentence, he continued by saying that the things that are more “cultural than doctrinal can slip away and we can really learn to be disciples.”[3] Just think about that for a minute.

I found the comments very interesting. He’s reminding us of the need to focus on the essentials of Christ’s gospel, of reconciling ourselves with God through the Atonement, faith, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. He’s encouraging us to lead Christ-centered lives of love and inclusion. He is suggesting that the cultural things that tend to exclude people can and will slip away.

In another video as part of the same series, Sister McConkie put an even finer line on the message of inclusion. She said: “I know people who come to church every Sunday so that they can be inspired and uplifted, and who just simply walk away feeling judged and unloved, unneeded, like there is no place for them at church.”

She continued: “We need to do this differently.”[4] Sister McConkie is reminding us that Church is for the healing of souls. It’s a place of inclusion, not exclusion. Her comments reminded me of the comments President Uchtdorf made in his October 2014 General Conference talk titled, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth.” I encourage you to read it and look it up.

In this inspired talk, President Uchtdorf reminded us that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place for people with all kinds of testimonies. He said, “There are some members of the Church whose testimony is sure and burns brightly within them. Others are still striving to know what they believe.”[5] Perhaps we have some of both in the room; perhaps we don’t. But we know we have some of both in our Church family.

President Uchtdorf said: “The Church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, ‘Your testimony must be this tall to enter.’”[6] Some of you remember that.

He concluded by saying that “the Church is for people like you and me. [It’s] a place of welcoming and nurturing, not of separating or criticizing. It is a place where we reach out”[7] to people and lift them. It’s a place where we share God’s love with the entire human family.

I see in the statements of Elder Christofferson, Sister McConkie, and President Uchtdorf a yearning for all of us to get a little better—maybe even a lot better—at loving and including all members of God’s family in our faith community.

I’d like to share a personal family experience with you that will magnify this message of inclusion and God’s love. God’s family and our Church family are both large and diverse. I know a little something about large and diverse families because, in addition to marrying into a family of eight children, I was raised in a family of eleven children. They are talented and high-spirited and large. Large means we almost always ate buffet-style. Large means we sometimes had three to a bedroom. Large means we owned one of the first Suburbans in the Salt Lake Valley. Large means we once had two homes right next to each other to fit us all in and a buzzer system to share a common phone line. It’s really complicated; just don’t worry about it.

And it’s more than just large—I’m the youngest, which means I spent most of my formative years trying to be hurt. Yes, it’s overwhelming to be raised in a very large family of boisterous and talented siblings. My spirit was completely dominated by my older siblings, including seven brothers. That’s right, seven older brothers—Wynn, Wayne, Robin, Rick, Ike, Mike, and Talmage. Just to give you their names, so you can picture this.

Looking back, I can remember being placed inside a suitcase and being carried around just for fun. I can remember being given a stale Snickers bar for smelling my brother’s dirty socks. I can remember not knowing how on earth I could fit in or find my worth. Everything I could possibly imagine to be in life was already taken by someone else—an artist, an athlete, a 4.0 student, a beauty queen, a musician. And that’s just half of them. I struggled to find my place. And to be perfectly honest, it took me several long decades to feel at peace with my place in my extraordinary family.

There is a lesson here. Sometimes when we are part of a large fold, we can struggle to fit in. We can feel lost. We can struggle to find our voice. We can search to know how we can contribute. We can not ever feel truly secure in the contribution we make. We can feel silenced by those around us who are able to achieve more. We can struggle to take what is uniquely ours—our talents and our God-given worth—and contribute to the greater whole.

I would like to relate my experience in my family to that of your place in God’s family and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We need to talk about both families—God’s family and our Church family—because both are important.

I don’t know you well. I have a nephew who attends LDSBC, but I don’t see him here. So I don’t know any of you very well, but I can look out and I can see that you have different genders, you have different races and ethnicities, different hair colors, different ways of dressing. And while I can’t see it, I know that each of you come from different backgrounds and possess different talents. Many of you come from another country with a different language and culture. You all come from different family situations—some supportive, some challenging.

Many of you are returned missionaries, and you are trying to take that holy experience and apply it to the day-to-day task of living in the world. It takes skill. Some of you have a multi-generational history in the Church; others are new members, still learning how to fit in. Some of you have been blessed with good health, while others struggle with physical and mental health challenges.

Let’s talk about your talents—the gifts you possess and share with others. Some of you are artists, writers, accountants, draftsmen, interior designers, social media experts, entrepreneurs, sales people, medical coders—many other things. I could go on and on simply to establish the diversity of gifts present in all of you. And here’s what makes it so wonderful: God has a plan for every one of you that celebrates the full variety of talents and backgrounds and perspectives you bring to the human family and to our Church family.

He has a great and marvelous plan to take your talents, your life experiences, your hardships, your blessings, and direct them to a glorious purpose. This is your light to share with the world.

I would like to share with you a few observations about how God views us with all of our rich diversity. First point: God loves us for our differences. I hope you believe that.

President Uchtdorf has been very clear on this point. Quoting from his April 2013 talk titled “Four Titles,” we read: “Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God.”

He continues:

This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. . . . We are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

And then he concludes: “The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”[8]

Okay. So coming from a large family, I find this line of thinking very helpful. Growing up in a family of eleven children, my job was not to replicate or try to be like someone else in my family mold but rather to find what gifts God had given me and then let them grow and express themselves in the world. It’s not about comparing. It’s not about being the same. It’s about being you.

The Church thrives when we bring our diversity of gifts to our faith community. I like to think of the human family, my family, and my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ as a very large symphony. The string section is important. The first violins need the second violins, just like they need the violas, the cellos, and the basses. And the strings would be incomplete without the brass section. I love the sound of the French horn, and the tuba keeps things soft and low.

Woodwinds contribute. The gentle sound of the flute, the clarinet, the oboe—they comfort me. And every symphony needs percussion: cymbals, a snare drum, and chimes punctuate the rhythm and bring it all together. All of these different instruments bring their own tonal qualities to the greater whole. If they were all the same instrument, it would ruin everything.

Unfortunately, too often we let our differences divide us and place some of us in a lonely place, even a dark place. You should never feel lonely because of your differences. If you are different, you are not lost. You are loved and welcomed and needed in God’s family and in this Church.

This brings me to my second point. If you feel in any way lost because you are different, turn to your loving Heavenly Father who loves you without condition. He loves all of His children. We read in 2 Nephi, “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God.”[9]

He didn’t invite some; “he inviteth . . . all.” We all have a seat at God’s table of goodness, as it said in the scripture. “All are alike unto God.”

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, in the May 2008 Ensign, shared insights about the importance of our diversity one with another. He shared comforting words for people who may feel lost because they are different. And he too used a symphony as a metaphor for the beauty and depth found in the full spectrum of human variety.

He said this:

Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

He continues:

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world.

That’s pretty good.

Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.[10]

Okay, I hope you liked that. He said, “The Lord didn’t people the earth with a vibrant orchestra [of talent and perspective] only to value the piccolos of the world.” Very interesting. So, we all have our own beautiful sound, and each sound contributes to the music. So, how do you find your sound? How do you know if you are a clarinet, a trumpet, a violin, or a chime?

I have a little exercise for you to do. It looks like you all have booklets, so you can write this down. You’ve probably heard of, and all have, a résumé. It’s a short summary of your academic background, your work history—it will say all sorts of important things, formal things, about you. Eagle Scout, what your GPA is, maybe you speak Spanish, and so on. A résumé.

Résumés are important because everyone looking for a job needs one. But I want you to go home tonight, or sometime this week, and create an anti- résumé. Anti- résumé. It’s similar in size, but instead of presenting all of the typical, almost superficial things about you, it will say who you really are. It’s all the things that truly capture your essence.

Let me give you an example. Mine would say I am the youngest of eleven children; I’m a survivor. Mine would say I am quite independent. I stand on my own two feet, in part because that’s how I learned to cope in a large family setting. Mine would say I come from a marvelous heritage of faith and family. I’m the product of a great ancestry. Mine would say I’m a woman of action. I have trouble slowing down. Multi-tasking not only comes naturally to me, but each task actually turns out better when I do a variety of things at once. Go figure.

Do you get the sense of this? It’s talking about not this kind of, “I have this degree, or this certificate”; it’s really talking about what are you good at, what can you do, what do you love. Mine would say I love mother earth—mountains, rivers, red rock, forests, big open sky. I feel a strong connection to the feminine divine through nature.

Mine would say I’m an optimistic person who believes in positive energy. This is a gift I received from my mother. I can find the good in any situation. And mine would say I am grounded by the simple things in life—my wonderful husband, incredible children, remarkable son-in-law, and my beautiful yellow Labrador named Marley.

One of my favorite quotes is by Goethe, and it says to “[love] few things . . . and love them dearly.”[11] Okay. That’s a little bit personal, but it gives you a sense of what an anti-résumé is. I want you to create an anti-résumé of yourself that describes who you truly are. In that way, you can discover something about you. You are more than a job listing or a Church calling or an educational degree on paper. You are a remarkable creation of a loving God. When you know yourself, you can let your inner self shine.

This brings me to my final point. I will need to get quite personal on this one. You can imagine that coming from a family of eleven children, I must have had an amazing mother. It’s true. Marsha White Egan, my mom, carried with her a flare and a goodness and a completeness that inspired all who knew her.

About a year and a half ago, my mother passed away after 93 years of life. For reasons I don’t have time to explain, her passing was a magnificent experience to me. A huge part of the magnificence is that my mother had lived a nigh perfect life. She gave of herself unselfishly. As we read in 4 Nephi, “the love of God . . . did dwell in [her heart].”[12]

At the time of my mother’s passing, the symphony of my family, in all of our diverse richness, came together. We bonded together to honor this great woman’s life. There was no comparing; there was no judging; there was no feeling lost. Everyone had their place. Everyone brought their best—the talents God had given them—to the glorious endeavor of honoring our dear mother.

The anti-résumés in all of us took center stage. We were exactly who we are—no more and no less. There was a complete harmony as we celebrated her selfless life. The experience helped me then, and helps me now, to understand how we will have our place in contributing to the greater whole. We don’t contribute the same thing; we contribute different things. And that’s the point.

God created us. Our variety is His genius. He wants all of us to fulfill our potential, not someone else’s. There is no mold.

I want to be clear. There is an iron rod, and there are doctrines and a call to obedience. Being who you are doesn’t mean you can run around doing anything you want. Quite the contrary. You are created in God’s image. You are designed to live a righteous and faithful life. And as you are obedient, you are also diverse.

As a body, we represent a mosaic of personalities, proclivities, and abilities. In our great human family and our blessed Church family, there is love for exactly who you are, today, tomorrow, and always. God wants you to be you.

In the Light the World message, two scriptures are highlighted. The first I have already quoted—John 8:12, which says, “I am the light of the world.” The second scripture turns to each of us, in all of our glorious diversity. It’s found in Matthew 5:14. It says, “Ye are the light of the world.”[13]

We are a light for Him. Indeed, we are all God’s light—God’s creation and part of God’s genius. God is the author of our vast human diversity. He created us in His own image to grow and learn and thrive. He loves all of us unconditionally and wants us to take the light within us and let it shine bright for all to see. He values the entire human family and asks us to do the same.

He loves those of us who are members of His Church. He expects us to keep our covenants and shine a bright light unto the world—a light of goodness, and tenderness, and love.

This Christmas season, as we help “Light the World,” may we remember we are all a creation of God. May we remember to revere God’s family and appreciate everyone for their contributions in this life. May we remember we are a global faith, increasingly connected with others on this earth. This brings with it a responsibility to respect and honor differences.

May we remember to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples. May we take the time to craft an anti-résumé that helps us understand our unique gifts and who we truly are. And may we remember to take these gifts and be a light unto this world.

In Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 we learn about the Light of Life and how it blesses us. It reads: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

It’s my prayer that we can take the light in each of us, the light that is uniquely ours, and share it with God’s family here on earth this Christmas season. I say this in the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[2] See D. Todd Christofferson, “Is There a Place for Me?” Mormon Channel,  https://youtu.be/SHq1HCiDbCI?list=PLAYgY8SPtEWGdk48FbKS9nIJ4mEcj_U5x.

[3] Christofferson, “Is There a Place for Me?”

[4] Carol F. McConkie, “Lifting Others,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZCpRddEXZM.

[5] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Oct. 2014 General Conference.

[6] Uchtdorf, “Receiving a Testimony.”

[7] Uchtdorf, “Receiving a Testimony.”

[8] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Four Titles,” Apr. 2013 General Conference.

[9] 2 Nephi 26:33.

[10] Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Concern for the One,” Apr. 2008 General Conference.

[11] Goethe, quoted in Chris Anderson, Edge Effects: Notes from an Oregon Forest, University of Iowa Press: Iowa City, (1993), p. 146.

[12] 4 Nephi 1:15.

[13] Matthew 5:14, emphasis added.