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Seeing the Divinity in Others

When our children were teenagers, whenever they would leave our home, my husband or I would usually say to them, “Remember who you are.”

If you asked them what that means, they would probably say a couple of things. First, it means that they are a Wadsworth and that there are certain behaviors and responsibilities that come with that. But, more important, I hope that they would say it means they are children of God. We knew that each time we sent them out the door, they would be faced with all kinds of decisions—some that were very difficult—and we wanted to make sure they were armed with the knowledge of their divinity.

I believe that knowing of our divinity changes the way we view ourselves and influences our daily decision-making.

President Boyd K. Packer shared the following:

You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!1

I love the counsel to “fix that truth in your mind and hold to it.” We need to be unwavering in our belief in our individual divinity. As President Packer described, we each have “a single line” that leads directly back to our Heavenly Father.

The power of that single line can be accessed through prayer, scripture reading, and church and temple attendance. Each of these seemingly simple steps are vital to seeking and receiving access to inspiration and revelation from our Heavenly Father.

I know without a doubt that He will answer your prayers when you are making decisions about things like marriage, raising children, and a career. He will even answer seemingly simple prayers. Prayer is the opportunity to ask for and receive guidance; it is an essential part of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

As we come to know and understand what it means to be a child of God, we also must come to know that everyone else on this earth is a child of God.

Look around you. You are surrounded by children of God. Every single person on the earth now and forever is a child of God. It doesn’t matter what their religious or political affiliation is, it doesn’t matter where they come from or the color of their skin, and it doesn’t matter if they are just like you or are vastly different from you—they are all children of our Heavenly Father.

If knowing that we are children of God changes the way we think and behave, how important it must be for us to acknowledge the divinity of others all around the world. I believe it will change the way we view and interact with them.

I would like to suggest seven principles that will help us in this process of becoming “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens.”2

Don’t Judge Others

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught in the April 2012 general conference:

This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:

Stop it!

It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick.3

It seems like he said it pretty eloquently and simply. Are we practicing his counsel in our own lives? Do we judge others who have different beliefs, values, or opinions? When we are tempted to judge another, do we just stop it?

Taking Elder Uchtdorf’s advice, we simply need to stop judging others—not because we don’t want to be judged ourselves but because as disciples of Christ we need to see others as He sees them.

Avoid Contention

President Dallin H. Oaks shared this counsel in the October 2014 general conference:

On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. . . .

. . . We should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.4

President Oaks then described:

The Savior taught that contention is a tool of the devil. That surely teaches against some of the current language and practices of politics. Living with policy differences is essential to politics, but policy differences need not involve personal attacks that poison the process of government and punish participants. All of us should banish hateful communications and practice civility for differences of opinion.5

You and I have both seen—and perhaps, more commonly, read—expressions and comments that bash those who disagree with the author. How can we justify this type of behavior if we know that the recipient of our bashing or contentious response is a child of God and a fellow citizen in the household of God?

Respect the Opinions and Beliefs of Others

Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said the following at a BYU forum in January 2018:

We live in a world that is coming apart, that is being pulled apart, so that the unity of community and respect for other people’s beliefs, tolerance of differences, and protection of the minority voice are being shredded. It is extremely destructive to all of us when everyone outside of our narrow clan becomes an enemy we vilify. As those forces in our society rise up, then so must an answering strong sentiment and skill set on the opposite side.6

So how can we answer the destructive pulling apart that Sister Eubank described—this lack of tolerance, respect, and protection? How do we develop “an answering strong sentiment and skill set on the opposite side”?

Let me share with you an official statement from the Church:

We remain committed to support community efforts throughout the world to prevent suicide, bullying, and homelessness. Every young person should feel loved and cared for in their families, their communities, and their congregations. We can come together, bringing our perspectives and beliefs, and make each community a safe place for all.

God’s message is one of hope, and we want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that they are loved, valued, and needed in His Church.

So much good can be done when a community comes together to address important issues. We appreciate the sincere efforts of many who are trying to prevent suicide, bullying, and homelessness among vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth. We are grateful to be a part of the work to find solutions.7

I love the reminder that “God’s message is one of hope.” It is a message of hope for all of us, and we can be the messenger of that hope in the way we interact with others.

Listen

We are counseled in James 1:19 to “be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

How often are we tempted to quickly jump to conclusions based on a very limited amount of information? The instant access to messaging that is now readily available in many forms makes it much easier to judge each other quickly and harshly. Practical advice regarding the use of social media is to weigh our thoughts and words carefully before we post our reaction online.

In July 2018, Elder Gerrit W. Gong spoke at a devotional at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. His topic was honoring our pioneer ancestors, particularly those who had crossed the oceans and plains. He then told the audience that we still need pioneers today and encouraged us to become pioneers who “[cross] school playgrounds, parking lots, and cultural halls. This kind of pioneer crosses any fence or wall of separation to build bridges of understanding, compassion, friendliness, and good neighborliness.”8

As we listen to others, we are crossing barriers that might divide us, opening lines of communication, and building bridges of understanding. May we follow Elder Gong’s counsel to be bridge-building pioneers who are so needed in the modern day.

Serve

At the fourth-floor entrance to the Tanner Building, there is a bust of President N. Eldon Tanner with this quote: “Service is the rent we pay for living in this world of ours.”9

Service is a basic principle of the gospel, and we have been taught and encouraged to serve. We serve family and friends in small, everyday ways and in big, significant ways. We serve our ward members through our callings and our ministering assignments. We serve our community by actively participating in voting, community projects, and other activities that make an impact.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

Make the world in which you live a better place for yourself and for all who will come after you. There is much to do. There are many challenges to be met. . . .

Yes, there are adversities to be overcome, not a few of them. There are trials to be endured. There is much of evil in the world and too much of harshness. . . . Do what you can to rise above all of this. Stand up. Speak out against evil and brutality. Safeguard against abuse. . . . Rise up in the stature of your divine inheritance.10

What are we doing to make the world a better place? Are we helping those who are hurting? Are we standing up and speaking out to protect our Heavenly Father’s children? What is our duty to mankind?

I am not suggesting that we “run faster than [we have] strength.”11 What I am suggesting is that we actively look for ways we might better serve the children of God. As we provide service and show kindness to others, we immerse ourselves in loving and helping rather than in judging and causing contention.

Love All People

I love the imagery of moving in closer [as we strive to love others]. Moving in closer gives me a better perspective of the people around me. As I step closer to you, I see more clearly what you are experiencing. My sight is more attuned to the nuances of your pain and suffering and your goodness and strength.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught:

If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.12

How do we move in closer? Our natural instinct might be to back up when we see people in difficult circumstances. Perhaps we don’t want to intrude on what seems like a personal matter, or we are unsure what to say or do. If this is the case, I challenge all of us to be brave and move in closer—to literally and figuratively stand with those who need us and to link arms with those who are suffering.

We can use Elder Ashton’s challenge to look into their hearts and understand their unique situation and perspective. Until I see you more clearly and understand you, I cannot truly love you.

Elder Uchtdorf described this process when he said:

The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.13

Pray

We are taught in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]; That [we] may be the children of [our] Father which is in heaven.”14

If we are honestly striving to love others, we must also pray for them, even if they are our enemies—maybe especially if they are our enemies. As we humble ourselves to earnestly pray for others, our eyes and hearts will be opened, and we will gain a greater love for them. I would suggest that we also pray for ourselves—that we might see others as our Heavenly Father sees them and that we might have a testimony of their divinity—so that through our actions we will treat others as children of God.

In the Book of Mormon we read about the four sons of Mosiah. After their conversion to the gospel, they turned down the opportunity to rule the kingdom as their father and the people wanted. Instead they decided to deliver the gospel message to the Lamanites. At this time in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were enemies of the Nephites.

So what did the sons of Mosiah do? They prayed, and their prayers were answered with the message that they should be comforted, and they were told:

Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.15

You will notice that they weren’t told that this would be an easy experience. They were instead told to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions,” which might scare off some potential missionaries. But these four young men took to heart the message of loving their enemies. They prayed and fasted for the strength and courage to serve and teach their enemies. And in so doing, they became instruments in the hands of our Heavenly Father in doing His work on the earth. Those who had been enemies were seen as fellow children of God.

Knowing that everyone is a child of God changes the way we see, think, and behave. If we internalize these seven principles of discipleship, then

  • we will be less inclined to judge others.
  • we will avoid contention and bashing.
  • we will respect the opinions, values, and beliefs of others.
  • we will listen more carefully with our hearts open.
  • we will actively look for opportunities to serve others.
  • we will move in closer to love all children of our Heavenly Father.
  • we will pray for others.

Simply put, we will behave as children of God and as disciples of Jesus Christ. As we do so, we will become more like Christ in the way we interact with and respond to others—especially those who are different from us—and we will be “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”16

_

Address by Lori Wadsworth
Artwork by Kathleen Peterson

This speech is adapted from a BYU devotional given July 31, 2018, by Lori Wadsworth, an associate professor and director of BYU Marriott’s MPA program.

Notes

  1. Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Women and Men,” Ensign, May 1989.
  2. Ephesians 2:19.
  3. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Ensign, May 2012; emphasis in original.
  4. Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” Ensign, November 2014.
  5. Oaks, “Loving Others.”
  6. Sharon Eubank, “Turning Enemies into Friends,” BYU forum address, January 23, 2018.
  7. “Official Statement: Church Applauds Community Efforts to Fight Suicide, Bullying and Homelessness,” Church Newsroom, July 18, 2018, newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/church-applauds-community-efforts-fight-bullying-homelessness-suicide.
  8. Gerrit W. Gong, quoted in Jason Swensen, “Elder Gerrit W. Gong Urges Today’s Pioneers to Build Bridges of Understanding, Kindness,” Church News, July 17, 2018, churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/elder-gerrit-w-gong-urges-todays-pioneers-to-build-bridges-of-understanding-kindness.
  9. Motto and part of the admission ceremony of the organization Toc H, founded in 1915 by Reverend Philip “Tubby” Clayton: “Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.” See also “Odds and Ends, Facetiae, Etc.,” Observer (London), October 19, 1862, 2: “Good words and good deeds are the rent we owe for the air we breathe.”
  10. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Rise to the Stature of the Divine Within You,” Ensign, November 1989.
  11. Mosiah 4:27.
  12. Marvin J. Ashton, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992.
  13. Uchtdorf, “Merciful Obtain Mercy.”
  14. Matthew 5:44–45; see also 3 Nephi 12:44–45.
  15. Alma 17:11.
  16. Ephesians 2:19.

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