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Let your light so shine or do your alms in secret?

By Michelle Lehnardt

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I’m looking for a vibrant group discussion today. I hope you’ll contribute your thoughts.

Lately I’ve been ruminating on and talking to my friends and family about Elder Bednar’s message to “sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth.” His message is full of excellent guidelines, but putting his words into actions seems to be creating a lot of confusion. I’ve interviewed some very savvy young people to initiate our discussion.

Let’s start with my 22 year old son Ben, a student and Italian 101 teacher at BYU:

“I had to go to a training for my stake’s digital mission today. The idea is to improve the church’s presence on social media in size and quality. Some of it seems pretty cool, like creating blogs, but other actions seems pointless: liking church stuff and trolling for comments that mention missionaries. I’m still kind of at odds with social media. I’m totally fine with other people using it and I’m actually kind of interested in what some people post, but a lot of the time it seems superficial and fake and even damaging. Think about the way it’s changing our definition of social? How is working for “likes” changing the way we express ourselves? I’m still trying to understand how the church is so on board with all this stuff. Being encouraged, at a church meeting, to “live your life openly on social media” (that’s a real quote) just seems kind of funny. Live your life on social media? How about live your life in the real world? I’m still processing it all.

Social media can easily be such a waste of time. Just as small and simple things can bring great things to pass, very little and perhaps badness also is brought to pass by small and trivial things. So many people are wasting so much time on social media. I’m guilty of this too.

I don’t criticize the church at all for trying to take advantage of new technology, especially as it does have so much power to reach so many people. What I worry about though is that just as much as social media has power to do good it has equal power to do bad. And from where I’m sitting I see a lot of bad.”

*****

At my house, we’re sorting out living a gospel centered life and while embracing modern media. Thanks to the internet, we’ve made friends across the globe and had numerous missionary opportunities, but we’re also constantly working to protect our time together as a family, our virtue and our ability to hear the spirit.

Recently, my third son was asked to get a Twitter account because of his role in student government. As parents of teenagers know, Twitter has become THE way to disseminate information. He doesn’t have a smart phone, so he used both my phone and our family laptop to access the site, posting reminders about football games and other school activities. More than once he expressed disgust at the messages in his feed but one day he called me over to the computer, showed me the page filled with profanity, salacious photos and links to what Miley Cyrus did on stage and said, “Don’t ever let me get on twitter again.”

My son was only following classmates and apostles. He can let his light so shine, but I think he’ll have to do it elsewhere– at least until he’s out of high school.

*****

Anna Sam, 23, Editor of the University of Utah Chronicle shared her thoughts,

“Right now I’m at the U studying languages and literature. I’ve been thinking (and praying) about this a lot lately- as the Editor of the Chrony I’m constantly encouraged to spend more time on social media – both the paper’s accounts, and my own. But I noticed that in doing so, I’m less sensitive to the Spirit, and generally feel less happy – you never know what you’re going to run across. A week ago, I felt the impression and made a goal to only check social media sites with the express goal of sharing something uplifting, or anxiously seeking something uplifting. Eleanor Porter, author of Pollyanna, pointed out that “people radiate what is in their minds and in their hearts.” What if we approached “sharing” this way? If we both honestly share the joy, gratitude and faith in our hearts, when appropriate, and seek things that will gladden our hearts and enrich our spirits? I think we can and should share that, share of ourselves, but only to the degree that it feels authentic to us, because letting OUR light shine is the key here, and if it’s forced, I don’t think it has the same power. For some, this might mean writing a (very) public, monetized blog, while others will share their light best through personal interaction. However we do it, make sure, first and foremost, that we protect and nurture the goodness within us (and our children, friends, and family.)”

*****

and from David, 23, student at Columbia University:

“1) A lot of the “goodness” that’s being shared completely misses the point. The point is that the “goodness” to be shared is YOU – the gospel is about you, so share yourself. “Goodness” is struggling through bad days, seeing silver lining in tough situations, sharing happiness, consoling sadness, being cheered up, and being consoled. Maybe this is an invitation to be more transparent and less presentational? “You don’t have to pretend to have it all together: you’re good. Share that.”

2) I agree that this counsel is for people who are already active (in a healthy, well-rounded way) on social media. If I follow you on Twitter, I want to follow YOU … I can follow any number of official and unofficial church Twitter accounts if I want a never-ending flood of Mormon memes/messages. I feel like a lot of people have reacted to this message by joining social medias and posting exclusively religious material. As far as missionary work goes, I think that leaves a negative impression.

3) I also think that Matthew 6 is relevant: when we are publicly religious (praying on street corners/#SharingGoodness), are we acting “to be seen of men”? Jesus was pretty clear about that being a bad thing, right?

4) Several of my friends have interpreted this message to mean that “delicate” church issues (Ordain Women, gay marriage, etc) should not be discussed in a public settings. I disagree – I believe that the church has nothing to hide or any reason to be apologetic.”

Many members are going to post appropriately and genuinely, but the way Pres. Bednar’s challenge is being disseminated can be troubling. If people get the message-“It’s your gospel prerogative to spend time on social media” they are in real danger of justifying a dangerous waste of time and a loss of the spirit. I’m also searching for the balance myself. Do I have a responsibility to try to reach more people? Can I remain my authentic self when looking for “likes”?

I keep thinking of Christ walking the dusty roads, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and exhorting his disciples, “tell no man.” He never sought the glory of men. Yet, the stories of Christ needed to be recorded, shared and spread throughout the earth. But only a few. As John said, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books which should be written.” John 21:25

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

25 thoughts on “Let your light so shine or do your alms in secret?”

  1. Michelle, thank you for starting this conversation. I love the wise thoughts above. And especially the demographics from which you pulled them. Incredibly insightful.

    All of social media, I'm afraid, has the potential to derail us from important things that really matter. Like healthy, undistracted time with our families, and time in the scriptures. Years ago I wrote about the physiology of the brain and how, once it is exposed to certain images (blogs, FB, and other feeds), it begins to crave those images on its own.

    https://segullah.org/daily-special/the-battle-in-our-brains/

    Carving out time to read the scriptures with the increasing demand of social media has become a greater challenge for me. Something I think about daily and try to keep in check.

    Your mention of doing "alms in secret" I absolutely believe is still Jesus' way. There are methods for sharing light and goodness that do not tout alms or toot personal horns. Tenor is so important. WHAT events and HOW we post them matters.

    I think, 1 – We need boundaries. And we need to hold to them fiercely, once we've determined what is best of our spirit. 2 – I wonder if there is a way the church could establish better "standards" or mores for social media? Like when it's appropriate to be on a screen and when it's not. (I loved Randall Ridd's talk in the priesthood session about smart phones not making you smart.) I think we could benefit from more discussion about the use of social media – like what's appropriate to post and what is not. (Sometimes I see posts by young people on Instagram and wonder if their parents are aware of what they're posting and how it makes them look vain, self-absorbed, or may exclude other children). 3 – We need to reinforce the importance of scripture study as a daily priority. 4 – Encourage sharing on whatever medium when inspired. With the motivation to bless and spread light.

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  2. I'll admit to rolling my eyes at this talk. It strikes me as just one more "checklist" item that Good Mormons will feel obliged to take care of. "Gotta post some gospel messages on Facebook before I head to bed!" Of course, that doesn't HAVE to be true at all. I think the best way to share is by being clear but not fanatic and also not embarrassed/afraid. I've got a tumblr, and like all tumblrs, I use it primarily for gifsets of the Avengers 😉 but I also casually reblog Mormon posts if I like 'em and share my personal thoughts if I feel like it.

    I think "casual" is the right term, actually. Casual sharing shows confidence and steadfastness, because you're not nervously overcompensating by being super pushy, nor are you being super defensive and putting up walls for fear of coming under attack. Sincerity is key if our missionary work is to do any good at all.

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  3. It is a balancing act. I am finding myself I need of less media time and more quiet meditation, and yet here I am on the internet again, but being fed by your good words. It's so complicated!

    I was fasting one Sunday when I felt strongly I needed to write something about my feelings about being an LDS woman on my (oh so neglected) blog. I did. And then I felt promoted to share it on Facebook, which gave me great pause. I am not one to share my spiritual feelings on Facebook often, as so many of my friends are not LDS. But I prayed about it and did it, and felt good about the respectful responses I had from many friends. It certainly put me out of my comfort zone, but I am pretty sure it was inspiration. I am still not likely to throw my faith onto my Facebook wall super often, but I guess I am willing to continue to work to be an instrument in God's hands, in whichever medium he asks.

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  4. I appreciate your willingness to start this conversation and bring it to the forefront. Like Ben, I am also a student at BYU. I'm studying Family History and Genealogy, so much of my time is spent on the computer doing research. By the end of my research days, the last thing I want to do is jump on Facebook or Instagram because my brain needs a break and a chance to calm itself.

    I've struggled with finding the balance of "sharing goodness" online with developing happy, healthy relationships with roommates and peers. Too often, I walk across campus and see my peers staring down at their phones to check social media. There is less interaction, less "hellos" and shared smiles. By eliminating those simple actions, I wonder how we are weakening ourselves.

    I also wonder how much I'm really strengthening the gospel when 98% of my friends and followers are members of the church.

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  5. I think Elder Bednar addressed this topic in his talk:

    " Too much time can be wasted, too many relationships can be harmed or destroyed, and precious patterns of righteousness can be disrupted when technology is used improperly. We should not allow even good applications of social media to overrule the better and best uses of our time, energy, and resources. These perils indeed are real, but so too are the extraordinary opportunities."

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  6. Thanks so much Cath. I was hoping you'd link to that article. I think about it all the time. And I love all your points. Especially 3. I was talking to Ben this morning and he said parents have NO CLUE how bad it is out there. Just because you have good kids doesn't mean they are safe on social media.

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  7. Thanks for your comments Annie.

    I've seen that kind of walk across campus, and at the doctor's office and dance recitals… we are missing a lot of face to face interaction.

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  8. You're absolutely right, R. Elder Bednar did address it in his talk. Every word of his talk was perfectly balanced. Still, I think discussing it among ourselves can help with personal application. Sometimes we listen to a talk and only take away the soundbite version– I hope we can apply all of his counsel to our lives.

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  9. President Hinckley shared the story of a Protestant minister asking him why there were no crosses after he toured the Mesa Arizona temple.

    “I responded: “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian colleagues who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.”

    He then asked: “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”
    I replied that the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.

    Sharing our lives both in real life and online, being authentic, is the best way to #ShareGoodness. It makes the memes and Conference talks and anything else we share more impactful when people can see we truly are living those truths already. They aren’t just some nice thoughts but actual actions we implement in our daily lives.

    I think of any social media platform as a tool. Not all tools need to be used all the time. A carpenter's tools will be different than an accountant's tools which will be different from a teacher's tools but they each have a specific purpose. Why would I use a hammer when a screwdriver is what is needed or maybe it's a computer instead of an oven?Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, etc. each have different functions and knowing when to use them and when NOT to use them is important. We also need to know which ones are better for us and which ones aren't. That's a personal choice we each need to make and teach our children (mostly by example) to do the same.

    P.S. I love, love , love The Battle in Our Brains post!

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  10. With my blogging, professional writing, historical transcription, and historical/genealogical research, I'm on the computer 15 or 16 hours a day. I also have no family and only distant coworkers, so face-to-face interaction is scarce. I keep my social media accounts running in the background, and pop over from time to time with probably the same frequency another office worker might pop into a coworker's office or stop at the water cooler. I don't think that time is wasted. It is, most days, the only social contact I get.

    I'm somewhat choosey about who I follow and who I friend, and I don't have any trouble whatsoever with inappropriate content in my feeds.

    My social media contacts, most of whom I have never met in person, are responsible for making me a better student of the scriptures and a better Sunday School teacher. Previous to social media, my scripture reading was little more than running my eyeballs across the text. Having scripture scholars as FB friends has taught me HOW to study the scriptures and where to find helps to understanding; it gives me people with whom to talk in depth about the scriptures, and not just the shallow Sunday School manual questions.

    Most of my friends and followers are LDS, but I don't think that is at all a detriment to "sharing goodness" or providing fellowship or even serving as a missionary. More Latter-day Saints than many of us realize, and, I think (judging from personal mail in response to my blogging) especially those who turn to social media for religious discussion, need the strength and reassurance and goodness of other internet-using Latter-day Saints. It's so easy to think you are alone, that maybe it isn't cool to be a Mormon, that maybe all those people speaking so knowledgeably about the deadly faults of Church history and doctrine, are right — they need the companionship of those of us who have faced all those challenges and still love the gospel and the Church and can confidently bear testimony, to remind them that the path laid out by the evil-speakers isn't the inevitable consequence of scholarship or of internet use.

    Helping someone with a testimony hang on to that testimony is, I believe, as valid an act of missionary service as helping a convert develop her first testimony.

    I am grateful every day for living in an age where I can reach out and make friends and bear testimony this way.

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  11. I have to agree with Ardis. I rely hugely on social media for social contact, especially religious social contact. Social media, especially blogs, have made a difference in my religious life and I'm grateful for it.

    But it's not the chipper quotes or the crisp movies that help me, it's posts like those on Ardis's blog that highlight real lives and real struggles of so many members of the church, the discussions that happen at Segullah sometimes (since this site comes closest in my mind to holding a middle ground right now), insights into the scriptures and church history on so many different blogs, and so much more. And I need the camaraderie so much since I usually can't get it at church.

    I don't think social media is for everyone like Montserrat said and I don't think anyone should feel obligated to use it in any certain way, but it can be one tool to do what Dave at Columbia University is quoted above saying. I love all 4 of his points and I appreciate their being posted. I can do better at what he encourages.

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  12. I rarely "use" social media (I only have a Facebook account) and see no reason to add more to my life. I like Kerri's approach, though — to follow the Spirit, even when it leads to uncomfortable vulnerability. That's the key. Use what's available, as directed by Spirit.

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  13. I also love Kerri's comment. What we do we should do (particularly things that are out of our comfort zone or desire) because we are acting on an impression to do so.

    I'm not a shining example of a missionary- it doesn't come naturally to me. But I've had so many friends that have linked or liked or mentioned things that I've written here on the blog that make me feel like my efforts (although not traditional) to talk about my faith matter. I felt so unburdened when a missionary informed me that this openness online is a form of meaningful missionary work by opening up my life and experiences with faith in this way. I guess this is what works for me.

    Love your quotes- what a thoughtful group.

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  14. I find this whole shift on social media personally hilarious; at one point about six years ago a stake president encouraged all of his stake to delete their Facebook accounts. Does anybody else remember the anti-blogging anti-facebook stuff that was coming from local pulpits?

    It amuses me the most because I was obsessed with social media. I heard from church sources that these were a waste of time. I pitched it all overboard and started focusing on living my life instead of obsessing over other people's perception of my life, and now we're being told to use social media.

    Thanks but no, thank you. If social media is a part of your life, of course the church wants you to use it wisely to share your testimony; but if you're living authentically you probably already are doing that.

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  15. This is quite long, but part of my passion, so here goes . . .

    I've had a public affairs calling in my stake for the last five years and recently had the chance to speak on this topic in stake conference. I don't think that my perspective means I have any answers for anyone else on this, but I have had some positive experiences that show the relationships that can be built over time with individuals through this new medium. Why the Internet and social media you might ask? My neighborhood in Minnesota in the day time is a ghost town. People are living in just physical communities anymore, they are also living and working in virtual ones.

    I work as a freelance writer and editor. I find clients and jobs online and often socialize there, too. Recently, I received an invitation to write a profile for a man who lives in upstate New York. When we talked on the phone about his project, he said that he chose me because my profile listed that I attended Brigham Young University and he knew I was a Mormon. Then he said, “I learned to fly at the Palmyra Airport many years ago. And I would take my breaks at the Sacred Grove. Other than the Holy Land, there is not a more sacred place than that.”

    I was simply present in this online world being true to who I am. He sought me out because of the light he felt in another time and place that stayed with him and he trusted that feeling and recognized it again in me. A relationship began. These types of sharing relationships in broader communities absolutely changes perceptions and allow others to openly see the light of the gospel at work in our lives.

    I love the counsel given over the years by Elder Ballard and Elder Bednar and others on this topic. It echoes the counsel our general leaders have been giving in other venues at the same time. That we live in an era when seeking the companionship of the spirit to apply doctrine and general counsel to our specific circumstances is absolutely essential. What a trust we are given! We will make mistakes and flail around, yet the promise and blessing is that as we do so, "That we may see the possibilities and the pitfalls and increase our capacity to use these inspired tools appropriately."

    My way to do this is by using a basic written social media plan. Your voice + community + time = your social media plan. That may seem more forced to some than casual, but a plan causes us to define boundaries of time, place and content. And by content I don't mean the sanitized version of we want others to see, I mean giving some attention to sharing who I am–weaknesses, challenges and all. For me, since I started a blog in 2007, I've had a horrible financial crisis and this year I was diagnosed with cancer. This is all apart of what I share. It has opened me to new communities where my voice of coping with my trials is a simple explanation of faith and hope, and that uplifts many.

    If you haven't watched the BYU devotional by Scott Swoford, BYU Broadcasting creative director, a few weeks ago does so. He shared how to authentically represent ourselves and our faith without coming across as false. He said, “Flawed characters are okay. Our state of striving should be part of our reflections online.”

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  16. What I've come to loathe online is the extreme points of view. I feel attacked on both sides and find myself withdrawing more and more into myself and a small group of friends. I find it disheartening to know that when I try to be Christlike in a conversation, it's rejected by the extreme points of view, to the point where my input is completely invalidated in their eyes. It hurts. I don't write anything unless I feel compelled and have given it a lot of thought, and it's written off as not enough. I've come to the conclusion that social media is best used in my life for keeping up with my family and friends, which was the original point of it all. I miss the original days of facebook, the ability it gave me to connect with people I had moved away from. Now it's jut another facet of our soundbyte nation.

    Sorry, I'm not usually so pessimistic about things. I think I'm just tired of it all. Especially with my kids getting older and having to think about what on earth we're going to do about media they want to be involved with. So far they are limited to PBS and parentally-controlled youtube and school sponsored learning programs and none of their friends have a cell phone (I live in some sort of amazing bubble of like-minded parents), but change is coming soon and it's overwhelming to know the things they will be inadvertently exposed to. There are so many things I need to prepare them for that it's hard to know where to start.

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  17. Michelle, thank you so much for this post. My intent here is not to drive people away from your post but my thoughts ran long and your post inspired some scripture study tonite that I wanted to record, so I wrote a post to contribute to the conversation.

    The short version is that I struggle a lot with balance and this wrestle. I think truth is often found in the tension and I think you have engaged that tension with such important questions. The one thing I have been thinking a lot about is how and why Elder Bednar focused so much on hashtags. Was that just passing fancy, or is it possible that there really is potential hastening power in those simple tools?

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  18. p.s. I also really love how you brought in the perspectives of young adults. This! This is the work we did in the second EPIK meeting that you weren't able to attend that I think you felt missing from meeting #3. 🙂 We would love love love to have more input from youth along these lines (and I think we are heading toward developing some data gathering tools to make that easier to gather). The input we are seeking is with a secular lens, yes, but I think LDS youth have so much to offer because they are being so directly encouraged to use tech for good, and have so many (too many?) tools given them to do so.

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  19. Just one other thought. After using my MW Twitter account one night to look at what friends and teachers were posting, my son thanked me for not letting him have an account…not because of anything bad he saw, but because he felt the draw and the potential to waste so much time. I'm a social media enthusiast to say the least, and my kids to this point (ages almost 16, 14, and 13) still don't have smart phones, don't have FB, and don't have Twitter accounts. I am praying about this right now, wrestling with it, since missionaries are using handheld devices all over the world and youth are invited to use it. My reasoning at the moment is that is that if they can make it through their teenaged years without getting addicted to social media, they won't have as much of a problem using it appropriately if and when the time comes that they are asked to use it as missionaries or they decide to use it as adults. I dunno. So conflicted about it all.

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  20. I need the flexibility of working online to help me manage family commitments. I teach graduate classes on aging online, and I maintain a blog about aging. I work with Twitter daily to connect with people in the field of aging all over the English-speaking world. Yes, sometimes I spend too much time reading other blogs about active aging and elder care, but I also have made positive and productive connections with nationally recognized experts (one had me write a guest post on his blog), with authors of dementia memoirs (who send me free copies for review), and with PR people in great organizations (like the head of NIH's PR who had me promote events about Alzheimer's research). And I follow about 65 news feeds on Twitter from quality sources, like the New York Times, The Guardian, the Washington Post. I don't pay attention to the nonsense just as I have to filter the offerings on the radio, TV, movie theatre, and library. Also, I have lived in 8 different states, and I have family in 5 different states, so FB helps me connect with them. But again, sometimes I can be on FB too long and neglect other commitments, so I have to work on time management. (Just as my mother could be on the phone too long with her gal pals at times.) Good, Better, Best.

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  21. I try to remember that a flood is made up of many individual raindrops–it helps to take the pressure off. Each of us is one drop and we need to find the best, most comfortable way for us to express what living the gospel does for us. We do not each have to single handedly share the gospel with everyone in the world. President Uchtdorf spoke in our stake years ago and said that if we would just live the gospel the rest would follow. As for social media, if I find something that particularly resonates with me and I feel good about it, I share it on facebook, otherwise I don't. Balance is always a trick. I feel like I HAVE wasted time sometimes but other times I have greatly benefited from social media. As for our kids, we let them "come out" when they are 16 (i.e. get facebook accounts) but they have to be friends with us. We try and talk to them about what they face in school and on the internet and hope that by limiting their screen time, but not eliminating it, they will learn self-regulation about it before they leave home.

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