Monday, December 11, 2017

Standing Up

Last Thursday . . .

This morning I had an experience that just won't stop nagging me. I was minding my own business at the far end of the gym, willing myself through an early-morning exercise routine on the elliptical when I couldn't help but overhear a conversation seven machines away.

Yes, seven.

I've learned some people go to the gym to exercise; some go to pretend to exercise (I'm afraid I fall into this category at times), and some go simply to socialize. There is a woman there nearly every day who most definitely goes for reason number three. Oh, she gets her steps in every day, but boy, can she can talk up a storm, I tell you. She hops on an elliptical and just starts chatting away and doesn't stop until her friends' machines do. Then, she often hops off, walks a few yards down and jumps on another one so she can start a new conversation with a new friend. I'm not sure how long she actually stays at the gym, but she's definitely got me beat!

I often smile inside as I listen to her banter. She talks about everything from how she broke her toe and can only wear two pairs of shoes for the next two weeks to politics to what realtor she prefers and why. She can talk on any topic on any given day, and boy does she have a definitive opinion on all of them! At first I was annoyed at her constant chitter chatter, but I guess I've come to accept it as part of my gym experience and I find I tend to miss it if by chance she isn't there one day:).

That is, until today.

I wasn't paying much attention to what she was saying until I heard the word "Mormon" come spewing out of her mouth like a cuss word. I couldn't help but tune in but immediately wished I hadn't when I heard her continue a long monologue about how awful Mormons are and how terrible the Mormon religion is, spitting out long train of negative words and opinions.

Immediately my heart began to race and my face felt flushed. I felt like crying right then and there. I know how silly that sounds, but the things she said were so offensive to me, and it hurt that she would rant and rave about a religion she obviously knew nothing about, a religion that from the depths of my heart and soul I know to be good and true. This woman's scornful feelings towards Mormons was obvious, and it wasn't hard to understand why as I heard her rant about what she appeared to believe was true about them and their religion. The problem was that she was wrong. She had tiny pieces of fact that had been terribly skewed and misrepresented to her in ways that completely changed the truth of what Mormons believe and what their principles stand for.

I was so angry for a moment. And then hurt. And then a whole new range of emotions flooded through me as I wondered what to do about the situation. The man she was ranting to was soaking it all up like it was the definite truth, as unbelievable as it was, and there were others working out all around her that I knew could obviously hear her if I could hear seven machines away. I began to feel a responsibility to set things straight, to stand up for what was right. And at first it was about me and my religion. But it immediately became about the Savior instead. I realized I could walk away and get over it. But it pained me deeply that this woman was scorning sacred things, that she was leading people to believe that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, followers of Jesus Christ, because that's what Mormons are, would really believe and do the things she was claiming we believe and do. That not only reflected badly on us as followers of Christ, but to me, it directly offended Him as well because we honestly try to follow Him and do the things He directs us to do. Of course we are not perfect at it. And of course there are Mormons who are not good at living their religion and who are not good people at all. But that is not because the religion isn't pure and true; it's simply because people are human and don't always live what they are taught.

I wanted so badly to say something--to do something! But I didn't trust myself. I knew if I went over to her, I would need to be Christlike, just as we are taught to be. I knew I would only prove Mormons aren't true followers of Christ if I stomped over to her and rudely set her straight. I would have to be kind and humble, and it was hard to feel that way in that moment. I offered a silent prayer for help. I took a deep breath. . . and that's when I realized they had moved on to a different topic.

Part of me was relieved and part of me was very disappointed. Mostly in myself. I couldn't help but think of my children and how many times they have been faced with similar situations. I always encourage them to kindly stand up for the truth. Yet I didn't do that. And then I thought of the Church's "Light the World" ( mandate going on right now throughout the whole world during this Christmastime, a charge to do something every day to be a light to others, to shine Christ's light to the world in some small way. And I wished all over that I would have had the courage and humility and faith in an instant to kindly walk over to this woman and say something like, "I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I happened to overhear your conversation about Mormons. I'm sure you have no ill intentions, but I've learned it can be easy to get misinformation about other religions and I'm afraid that has been the case here. I happen to know that most of what you have said about Mormons is not accurate. I would be happy to help you understand the truth about the topics you have been discussing if you are interested, but if not, I would simply ask that you be more careful in what you share about another's religious beliefs. After all, I don't know you, but I'm guessing you probably would not want me telling someone else nasty rumors I had heard about your religion without verifying what is really truth. I hope I haven't offended you in any way. But as a follower of Jesus Christ and a Mormon myself, I would hate for you to really believe and pass on the things you were saying. I hope you understand."

The question is, would it have made a difference? Would her heart have been softened or would it only have fueled her fire? I do not know the answer because I kept silent. And I can't help but keep thinking that silence often means agreement, and that just haunts me. I really don't care about being right. I don't care about setting her straight. In fact, I honestly don't want to make her feel bad. I genuinely want to help her gain a better understanding so that maybe the next time she hears the word Mormon, instead of thinking of awful people who believe everyone who doesn't do things their way will be, as she put it, "damned to hell," she will pause to remember they might be people who are trying hard to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.

And maybe--hopefully--the next time I hear someone misrepresenting the sacred beliefs of someone else, even if they aren't my own, I will be more prepared to add some light to the world by kindly standing up offering an invitation to learn the truth first.