What I say, what you hear

I live and work in the same compound, which means that I never really go home. I work, eat, socialize, and cannot avoid the same group of people. The other night I was in the gym and ran into a colleague. He looked at me and incredulously asked “What are YOU doing here?” “Um, um, um” I stammered for a bit… “I’ve been having some trouble with insomnia lately, so I’m trying to work out…umm…” He looked horrified and said “I meant, what are you doing here at this job, I thought you transferred to Washington D.C.” Oh.

I am continually fascinated by the thought that we are the instruments in God’s hands for serving one another, for mourning with those who mourn, for comforting those who stand in need of comfort. We’re so naturally lousy at it. Let’s put aside the actual intentional harm we cause other people…the pettiness, the gossiping, the sniping comments. Let’s just consider the inadvertent idiocy that we sometimes wallow in. In this case, the misunderstanding was cleared up fairly quickly, and we both laughed and moved on. But I can’t count how many times I’ve been simply mystified by the things that people have said to me in church, and I certainly can’t count the times that I’ve been well-meaning but misunderstood. Why, when God is perfect, does he place such faith in those of us who are undeniably, and awkwardly, imperfect.

Yes, we need to use this mortal experience to learn and grow, and it would be impossible to do so without interacting with other people. We need these awkward experiences for our growth, but they come at such a high price to others. We’re all familiar with the familiar refrain, heard alongside every lesson on forgiveness, that many leave the church because of real or perceived offenses. Surely there should be a better way to nurture others–to save them from the pain that we inadvertently cause. But God, in his infinite wisdom, doesn’t seem to think that there is a better way. He seems to think that we should try His way. Which leads me again to the conclusion that gospel principles are intricately related–or put another way, the gospel is a compound in one. My commandment to serve necessitates another to learn a lesson in forgiveness. My commandment to learn kindness leads another to patience. Others’ imperfect attempts to live the gospel necessitate more faith on my part. This plan is much messier, and there are some casualties, but I think I would be a much different person without it.


  1. Just this past week I was stuck in a frusttrating funk. I seemed to have lost enthusiasm…for everything. My stake president is a member of my ward (he was my former bishop and I was his bishop) and he works close by so I called him up and invited him to lunch. We bought some sandwiches and went to the nearby park in downtown Washington to enjoy one of the few really beautiful days so far this year. We had a good discussion and shared ideas and we thoroughly enjoyed the environment of our discussion. I’m not sure that he answered my questions but I felt great after our visit. The very next morning I was logged in here at BCC and read Sam MB’s comment about a book his wife, Kate Holbrook, had authored/edited. That post and a related comment from Amri lead me to a talk given previously by Kate as she and Sam prepared to leave Boston. In that talk I found so many answers to the things that were bothering me just a day or so before. I shared the talk with my stake president and acknowledged that it said almost exactly what he was trying to tell me. I love the way the gospel (the Lord) gives us answers to everything we need if we patiently wait and listen. And I love how each of us plays a role as God’s agents here on earth.

    Karen, I have no idea if my thoughts relate to your post but I thank you for reminding of that recent blessing in my life.

  2. Thomas Parkin says:

    I immediately thought of Elder Bednar’s comment in last conference, to the effect that we are ‘in a lab, practicing on each other’ I laughed, but not till after I’d winced.


  3. Great post. I’m so glad you write periodically from so far away.

  4. Thanks Karen — I always enjoy reading your thoughtful posts.

  5. Gilgamesh says:

    This topic has always fascinated me. We have a tendency to filter words through our previous experiences. I wonder if part of what needs to occur for progression is the ability to “check out” those filters. In other words, somebody says something to me that offends me – I am then responsible to check and see what was truly meant by the comment. Or, I say something benign but it seems to offend somebody. Again, I am needing to learn to recognizes that and check in with the “offended” to clarify with them. I feel that until we can recognize and address our feelings of hurt with others, we cannot truly become one in Christ.

  6. Sterling says:

    It seems like an amazing laboratory we are in. I wonder how much of the test is based on our communication. Understanding each other is apparently a scriptural command. Part of me wonders if cultivating empathy in our communication is also part of the test. I wonder if it is just “other people” that God intended for us to interact with. Perhaps he has put certain people in our path who are most likely to help us grow through “akward experiences.”

  7. Eric Russell says:

    This is a good post.