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Let’s give them something to talk about

By Heather Oman

We had our stake conference this weekend. Usually, I get almost nothing out of Stake Conference, as trying to keep two little kids sitting in a pew for 2 hours must qualify for one of Dante’s seven circles of hell. But this time, I was called to speak in the adult only Saturday session, so I got to get up close and personal with the podium, and actually heard what others had to say.

I love our Stake President, too. He is down to earth, direct, and teaches simple doctrine. Last Saturday, he said that one of his bishops was concerned about what he hears his ward members talk about.

He said that he walks down the halls in the church, and doesn’t hear gospel conversations. It’s friendly and cordial, but he is concerned that he hears the words “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” more than he hears about Jesus Christ, or stories from the scriptures. So, our Stake President asked us to be careful what we talk about.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I go running with a group of women in the morning, and I love it. We have great conversations, and between the endorphins and the philosophy and the ranting, it’s better than therapy.

I also like that we don’t gossip. We might inquire about somebody, ‘Hey, how’s so and so doing with such and such?’ etc, but I think we all take care not to use this time together to be catty.

But we’re not having spiritual conversations, either.

Occasionally, somebody will ask a spiritual question. Well, okay, it’s happened once. But for the most part, we talk about, well, books we’ve read (yes, Twilight has been brought up!), things we are doing, struggles that we have, either with our kids, our marriages, our bodies, our egos.

Today, we talked about our bodies again (one of the women was having problems with her shins and ankles), how excited another woman was to have her husband home (he’s been deployed in Afghanistan), how much we hate dealing with airlines, how our kids are liking their new classes, and where one woman wants to buy a house. No gossip, just friendly conversation.

Is it enough?

How much should conversation revolve around our Savior? Should our conversation always reflect what we are thinking, or are there times when we should keep quiet about spiritual things? Are there some things that just shouldn’t be discussed in a jog bra?

What do you talk about with your family and friends? How often do you bring up religious or spiritual thoughts? Is it an everyday occurrence, or something you reserve for a more sacred time and space? And while there are certainly appropriate times and places to discuss certain things, are we using that as an excuse not to engage in religious conversation?

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

36 thoughts on “Let’s give them something to talk about”

  1. I must be weird. I talk about gospel subjects all the time with religious and non-religious people alike. I think it's the way I'm wired. But I also talk about clothes and Harry Potter and buttercream frosting. My best friends are the ones that can skip back and forth from subject to subject with me!

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  2. Did your Stake President mean you should talk more about church stuff at church? I can see his point, although it can be hard to avoid the other stuff when the people at church are your friends and church is the main chance you get to visit.

    I don't think we should avoid religious turns in conversations, but I don't think we must always discuss religion. So if the jogging discussion turns to the atonement, that's great. If not, I wouldn't sweat it. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun …)

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  3. Michelle, I wish I could be more like you. On so many levels…

    Sarah, I'm not sure if he meant that we should talk about church stuff at church. I got the impression that he meant that we should be focusing on spiritual things more in general, church and jogging groups alike, but he didn't get specific. Actually, what he really said was, "Do we communicate like Christ?" and that was part of his point, among other things about Christ-like communication. That's another discussion entirely, I think…

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  4. I feel that all things that are temporal are also spiritual; obviously some topics are more 'junk food' than others, and therefore they do have a proper time and place. I think if we are at Sunday meetings at the church or at the temple it is appropriate to discuss things things that are more specifically spiritual. Honestly, part of the problem I think comes from lessons that are too rarely discussions and too often lectures. That's a topic for another post, but lately I feel like when I come away from Sunday School or Relief Society I haven't been asked any questions or challenged by anything. In our talks and lessons we should do a better job at asking questions, inviting pondering, and encouraging discussion. Many people I know feel have strong opinions about Harry Potter or Twilight, but I don't know if many of them have strong opinions about topics like their favorite book in the Book of Mormon. Obviously there are some forms of debate that will drive away the spirit, but I think at church we could use a little more discussion and sharing. I don't know if that's a thread-jack.

    As far as other, every-day conversations, like I said I think that many things can have a spiritual component that isn't always obvious. For me, there is a continuum between conversations that are totally uplifting and those that are totally detrimental (gossip, contempt, profanity, etc). As humans our various conversations will fall along that spectrum throughout the day. I think that many of the things you mentioned discussing with your friends fall into the category of supporting each other and building unity as a people. That's not a bad thing and I don't think it's inherently not spiritual.

    One more final thought; we should be careful not to assume that what is written in the scriptures is everything the Savior or the prophets ever thought or did. I'm sure they also had conversations about food, how their families were doing, etc. Probably not gossip, but I'm sure they talked about everyday things as well.

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  5. For a while, I was keeping a running total of the number of times Facebook was mentioned from the podium versus the number of times President Monson was mentioned. I gave up the count when Facebook outnumbered President Monson 10 to 1.

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  6. Interesting topic. I would be interested to know what that bishop meant. I tend to be like Michelle — I think/talk gospel more than anything. I think I may actually annoy some people in that way, to be honest.

    But I can also understand people wanting to connect socially, more casually, in the halls at church because they are friends. (I don't know that we get enough of that opportunity to just enjoy the lighter side of life w/ each other when our lives are so busy and focused so much on family and all the to-dos.)

    But I can see how thinking about what to talk about at church, even, could reflect on us as a whole (imagine someone not of our faith walking through the halls — what would they think about our faith?) and can possibly affect our personal lives. I think in general, trying to bring the spiritual in a little more is a good thing. I think there is so much where the spiritual can intersect the day-to-day that you don't have to delve into the deeply sacred to bring a lot more spiritual topics into even casual conversation.

    But again, that's kind of how I'm wired, and honestly, how I am surviving a difficult time in my life. If I couldn't think about and talk about the spiritual in the daily struggle, I would probably be more apt to curl up in a ball and quit.

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  7. That last comment is a bit scary huh? Facebook mentioned more in Sacrament meeting than President Monson?
    I wonder also if your stake pres was concerned about what we talk about in the hallways of the church. I remember the days when my sons were all little and I spent much of our Sacrament meeting in the halls. But those days were not wasted at all. I would often have spiritual conversations then, and would go home uplifted and renewed.

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  8. My sister left the church a few years ago for this very reason. She felt like there wasn't enough Christ in our church, so she left to join a "real" Christian church. I don't know, I've always liked to think that our faith in Christ is so secure as Mormons that we're able to move on to the other aspects of the Gospel, but she has a point you know, Christ should always be the center of our conversations, and not just in an unspoken way.

    As a result of my sister leaving the church, my mom told me she thought a lot about how often she discussed spiritual matters at home, and then made it a goal to speak of her faith and testimony often throughout the day. So we'd be talking about something and she'd insert a quick "That's why I'm so glad I have the Gospel…"

    In spending time with other Christian friends, I've noticed that they are quick to point out God's love in their life, or to relate a quick scripture, and I've really come to admire it. Maybe it's the call to be missionaries that makes this more difficult somehow, but I've wondered if whether when it comes to casually dropping Gospel topics into conversation we Mormons can be quite shy? Maybe we're afraid our company will think we're trying to convert them? When really, I think we should look at it as finding the Gospel in every aspect of our lives. You know, since it IS in every aspect of our lives.

    Good topic, this one!

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  9. I think it's safe to say that the Savior could and did converse on a variety of topics; his parables are a prime example of his cultural understanding of his contemporaries. I think that it is similarly possible to get into a great gospel discussion about agency and Twilight, light and darkness in Harry Potter and and all the joys and purposes of trials in mortality. I think it is utterly appropriate, as mentioned here, to focus our conversations and thoughts on worshipful topics when we are in church and in the temple. I also think that I could probably do a far better job to be more worshipful in my daily life, but by doing so I don't believe that means I (or any one else) should become a johnny-one-note speaking only of the Savior and the scriptures. The thought of it sounds a bit pharasaical to me.

    I have friends and family members with whom my conversations are pretty surface and therefore rarely gospel centered. I have friends and family members with whom I have tried to share gospel truths and by whom I have been burned and shunned, so perhaps I am more reticent to bring up certain topics in certain situations. I have kindred spirits with whom I can say anything and those are the relationships I treasure and try to replicate. I have had some very tender and sacred conversations in a jogbra too. I think there is something about sweat and early morning that strips pretense.

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  10. Interestingly, that's kind of why I changed my e-mail from Harry-Potter-ish to "recognizing the hand of God"- related. I realized that although Harry Potter was fun, my testimony was what I needed to share.

    I think as we sensitively make and share life-Gospel connections we can be tools in Heavenly Father's hands. I know that there are sisters who have been that for me because they weren't afraid to share their Gospel experiences.

    There is a time and a place, though — even on a great forum like Segullah, there are times I think of special experiences in my life that relate, but I don't share them because they are too sacred. Time and a place.

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  11. I have a pot-luck group that is similar, no gossip, mostly superficial topics, occasional spiritual discussion. I am completely happy with our balance, but I really like idea of focusing more strictly on spiritual matters when in a spiritual setting.

    I also liked what someone said about the need for questions and discussion in Sunday school and other classes. I love when a teacher fosters such a compelling discussion that we have to finish talking about it with our neighbors on the way out of class. Rare, but lovely.

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  12. If something is important for my friends to talk about that is important in their lives – be it clothes or buttercream icing or the talks at district conference – I'll listen whether I'm wearing a sports bra or no bra (I wouldn't be running in the latter though!) I agree with Angie f that sweat does tend to strip pretense.

    For the people I talk with the most, their faith – like mine – is the breath behind the words we speak. It is a fundamental part of how we live, what we do, how we think, and while we may not centre every conversation on Christ, trying to be more Christ-like is the theme and purpose to our lives.

    I'll share and discuss particular spiritual/religious/faith matters at appropriate times and places, but I don't let dirt or sweat or Church halls stop me from doing it then and there either.

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  13. and I wish I could be more like you, Heather O.!

    Another thought– the YM/YW theme this year is 1 Timothy 4:12 "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

    We've been focusing on the word and conversation parts this month; it's not only what you say but how. I might think about gospel topics a lot but I don't always express myself very well; I could really use a better filter!

    I respect people who know how to measure their words. And I think that your habit of refraining from gossip is absolutely Christ-centered.

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  14. Heather, you live in Utah, right? Cause this is the kind of comment that I can understand coming from a Utah ward. But when you live "in the mission field" (i've always hated that expression. like there's any place on earth that isn't), and the members are strewn across several towns, and Sunday in the halls are the only moments you have to catch up with people you see just once a week, and those are the moments that allow bonding one-with-another to happen, for friendships to grow, for keeping in touch…well that's when I don't see a problem with it.

    in fact, if people hadn't chatted with me at church when i moved to Utah from Vermont, i might not have made the transition very well.

    I love the gospel. it's the white noise in the back of my mind. it's always there, like the waves of the ocean that never stop. i'm grateful for this, because it allows me to connect the dots between my faith and my path in life.

    i welcome more discussion on any topic, and think it's a good thinking point for your SP to bring up…especially for moments like church or the temple when we have an increased opportunity to bring the spirit in and buoy each other up. there was a time when i yearned for someone to bear testimony about christ during testimony meeting. month after month i waited, anxiously hoping to hear someone share their faith, but no one did. this would be an especially useful time to consider topic.

    but like someone else said, all things are spiritual unto God. he cares about our worries, and how we're managing our lives when we leave the chapel every week too. but the conversations we have with one another are one of the most vital parts of fellow shipping, and i'd hate to see it censored or squashed. ♥

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  15. Blue-

    Um, no, I do not live in Utah. I live on the East Coast. Our stake also covers a large geographical area, and takes about 2 hours to get from one side of the stake to the other. I know our stake president lives at least an hour from the stake center. So no, this is not coming from a Utah ward.

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  16. Foxy J. really had some interesting thoughts.

    This, that Selywyn said, was great, "For the people I talk with the most, their faith – like mine – is the breath behind the words we speak." I love that it is the breath behind the words we speak. But maybe what your stake president is saying is that it needs to be more than that.

    Like Blue, I also wondered if you were in Utah. Because I live in the East and feel the drought of gospel conversation. So when I get together with 'the saints' I feel like a gusher! Letting out all my gospel lingo and conversation.

    Just this week I've started taking my 9th grade daughter to early morning seminary. During seminary I've been working on a service project with a few great women from the stake. They are more 'seasoned' than I am and are a great example. Our topics of conversation are varied but do generally hover around gospel topics. One thing I have really noticed is that they direct me away from complaining!! When I begin to talk about how this week has been a particularly intensive one, with meetings all weekend, seminary all week, youth night, temple trip this coming weekend… These women, with smiles on their faces, tactfully change the subject. They still love me and involve me, but are teaching me a better way to converse. And now I'm finding the blessings of seminary too 🙂

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  17. Thank you, Natalie, for sharing your insight about talking about the gospel and personal testimony in every day conversations with family. I needed that.

    This is a great post and I appreciate the other comments too.

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  18. I'd be glad if more of our ward showed up for church at all. I don't know what kind of conversation goes on in our halls because I'm in nursery and I can't linger in the halls. I think I could do more at home though. But I'm not sure where I could improve it. It's hard when your kids spiritual questions are limited to
    "Did Adam and Eve live before or after the dinosaurs"
    and
    "What does 'adultery' mean"?

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  19. I think there's a time and place for everything. I think it was an unfair assessment that the Bishop made. When you're in the hallway and you have 2 or 3 minutes to talk before you go to the next class, you're not going to talk about gospel topics that usually requires more than just a few minutes. Conversations in the church hallway tends to be light, surface stuff.

    Usually the time I have noticed people talking about gospel topics is immediately right after sacrament to comment on the talks or to comment on the lesson taught in Relief Society/Priesthood or Sunday School.

    When you're in the hallway your mind is centered on hurrying up to get to the next class to get a good seat or thinking about the lesson you're going to teach. When you see someone that you know very well in the hallway, sometimes you'll talk about what you learned in church and sometimes you have just that short window of time to see how they're doing.

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  20. I understand what Blue is saying as well. Our ward has pretty far-flung boundaries, and most of the women in my ward I *only* see at church. I'm in the R.S. presidency, and we've talked about how to foster a better sense of community and sisterhood in our ward. I'm not sure how we can do that if our only conversations are constrained to strictly gospel-centered topics. I'm not a fan of women skipping out on Gospel Doctrine or Relief Society to chat with friends in the foyer, but I can't see how chatting about life in general in the hallways can be bad, not if it is creating bonds of friendship between sisters.

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  21. Part of me is uncomfortable with specificity of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" without adding "football". I think I heard more about Bronco Mendenhall in the halls at church this month than Jesus, Edward or Harry.

    I also am uncomfortable with the idea that talking more about Christ makes you more like Him.

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  22. I think you need to discuss spiritual topics, but it's okay to talk about books you like and movies you've seen. My husbands parents only talk about the church, and several of the kids have left it! So it wouldn't hurt if they had other topics to discuss. I wonder if they heard something in Stake Conference 30 years ago…

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  23. I think what this Stake President and Bishop were getting at is…are our lives centered on gossip, books, movies, complaining about kids/husbands/struggles, worrying about what we look like, worrying about what other people are doing in their own lives…or are our lives centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? They and others like them are not saying we shouldn't fellowship, that we shouldn't discuss books, movies, and other wholesome activities…even at Church. They are asking is to think about our lives, what are we centered on? Do we put enough of the Gospel in our lives? Are we sharing that Gospel with those around us? Are our conversations edifying? Why do we as a culture (the LDS culture) try so hard to define things in terms of "letter of the law" rather than the "spirit of the law." That is what these good men were asking us to do…spiritually look at our lives and see where we are putting most of our thoughts and efforts. Chatting about general life in the hallways isn't bad, and they aren't saying that. But, is that all we chatter about? What if we had shared our testimony instead of talking about the last movie we saw? What if we had encouraged a friend to pray about a struggle she's having? What if instead of discussing the latest fad in novels, we let someone know that we cared about them and that the Savior cares about them? We never know when we are going to make a difference in someone's life. So, that is reason enough to watch what we say, and also to truly listen to others. Let the Spirit guide.

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  24. I have always loved to discuss gospel topics, but I rarely do. When my husband and I were dating, we discussed spiritual matters and doctrine often. We still do that occasionally, but it's become more of I ask a question and he answers, the end.

    I yearn for the kind of friendships where I can discuss deep matters. Not always things of a spiritual nature, but deep matters in general. Mental illness, death of a loved one, wayward family members, marital dischord, politics, AND doctrine. And Twilight and American Idol. :o)

    I yearn for the kind of home where those discussions abound. Right now I blame it on the fact that I've got two young boys at home, but it's just an excuse. Am I going to wait for them to be teenagers and suddenly it will be easy to discuss the gospel? Am I waiting for that dream daughter I will bond with, but who will probably be a drama queen for a good 15 years? Am I waiting for my husband to……..I don't even know on that one.

    I've just gotta start NOW. With me.

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  25. I've found one of my hardest things as a parent to be my ineptness at discussing the gospel with my kids. And I am someone who has always loved to talk about the gospel with others. Like Selwyn, it is the breath behind every part of my life.

    But, as has been mentioned, maybe it is too far hidden. I also yearn to hear more testimony of Christ from the podium. (I do get it in Sunday school because I am assigned to attend Gospel Essentials and the basics of the gospel are the focus on Christ).

    When I taught the Teacher improvement class it increased my desire to have every lesson make a verbal reference to Christ. Even a lesson on geneology, at heart, is about bringing people to Christ. But too often we omit the verbal acknowledgement–which would help strengthen our testimonies of the Savior and remind us what He's done for us–and even help others realize we are Christians!

    I think as Mormons we feel we shouldn't discuss our most sacred feelings as often, but Nephi said, "we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…that our children may know…" (2 Ne. 25:26).

    I agree that we could all improve in following Nephi's example. My oldest son was always interested in church-related things, but somehow I didn't develop the habit of gospel-centered discussions well enough. He has told me that I annoy and irritate him when I talk to him about church things. He attends Seminary and is a good kid, but it breaks my heart not to have a deeper spiritual bond with him.

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  26. I never noticed the lack of gospel related conversation among my LDS friends until I became friends with a couple of people who had recently converted to the gospel. They had truly had a change of heart and a change in their lives. They talked about the gospel all the time, in all types of situations.
    After that, I was determined to talk about the gospel more in casual settings. And it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Instead of sharing a special story in a testimony meeting, I'll share it with friends while jogging. When I tell someone that my kids are sick, I'll also tell them that I'm worried and praying hard. Sometimes if I read something great in the scriptures or in a talk, I'll email it to my husband or other family members.

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  27. Talking about the church all the time is probably one of the reasons so few Mormons have close friendships with non-Mormons. There is a perception that Mormons are trying to convert when they mention a religious topic.

    It also leads to non-Mormon co-workers feeling shut out when Mormons are discussing a church-related (though not necessarily gospel-related) issue in the break room and stop the conversation as soon as a nonmember walks in.

    I don't think God has any problem with our broadening our conversations out to include simple friendshipping (health, football, Twilight),as well as dialogue on a multitude of uplifting topics.

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  28. Let's get your Stake President to talk to our stake president. Ours talked about the BYU/Oklahoma football game that he travelled to (several thousand miles) and how much he enjoyed it with some of his sons. He did so AT the Saturday Adult Session of our recent stake conference.

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  29. Love this topic!

    For the most part I reserve spiritual conversations to times when I am with a good friend or a very small group. Having said that, whenever I feel that little internal shove (Holy Ghost) telling me to share my testimony, whether just by example, by conversation, or by directly testifying, I really try to follow that. I find it a giant turnoff when people throw God's or Christ's names around too casually. I don't take that as further devotion at all.

    I like one the person said about her sister who left the church though because I have the same situation. I like talking about things like that with her because it makes me a better teacher and member in general. Sometimes we get too caught up in the "traditions of our fathers" (or neighbors, etc.) and not in the gospel and Christ.

    I am in Utah, though not a Utahn, and I think there are the "best and the worst" members here. I get really tired of hearing about BYU and so many (not all, thankfully) BYU fans thinking BYU is the one and only source of all righteousness. And I went to BYU for part of my education, btw. Just sayin'….I think half the sacrament meeting talks are wasted during football season on BYU adoration.

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  30. The older I get (51) the more my conversations with friends during walks, over lunch do tend to be more about spiritual things. It feels good.

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  31. i have no filter. i just let it fly! so usually that means i talk about the gospel and Christ and God without really thinking whether it's appropriate. unfortunately, this also means i say a lot of things i might eventually regret as well.

    makes for lively conversation though, right?

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  32. Years ago when I was reading the Work and the Glory series I was struck by how often the characters made a biblical reference or spoke of testimony-building experiences with each other. Now, I know it's a work of fiction, but I was jealous. I don't recall quotes in conversation. Partly because I don't know many references. (I might know much of the text of what I'm thinking, but I couldn't tell you book/chapter/verse.) Also, like you said, the only real spiritual conversations I have are when my visiting teachers share the monthly message with me. As a primary worker, I miss the discussion in Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society. Maybe I should be generating more conversation outside of a structured setting. . . food for thought.

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  33. I'm OK with living the gospel, but I'm not much for spiritual conversation. I look back at a childhood where it seems there was plenty said about eternity, but not much help figuring out the here and now.

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