Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shining as a Nightlight

“We need a nightlight,” my husband said.

“A nightlight?” I repeated blankly. We were grownups—I hadn’t had a nightlight since I was about five. “Uh, honey,” I asked, “are you afraid of the dark?”

“No, no, no,” my husband replied. He explained that we needed something so neither of us ran into anything if we had to take a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

That seemed logical. In our newlyweds’ studio apartment we only had windows in the living room. The bathroom around the corner was completely dark at night.

The next day I bought a nightlight at the grocery store. When my husband got home that evening I realized that the least expensive nightlight might not have been the right choice. He looked at the package, and his face fell with disappointment.

“Will it be enough light?” he asked.

His question was just. The nightlight was round and very small, small enough to plug in the wall and not block the second electrical outlet.

“Well,” he said, “we can try it anyway and if it doesn’t give enough light then we’ll just have to buy something else.”

It was still early evening in the summer and very light outside, but we plugged the nightlight in the bathroom anyway. My husband was right. The little nightlight was feeble, even pathetic. I chalked the whole experience up as a lesson to improve my inadequate homemaking skills and tried to forget about it until I would have to go back to the store and buy a better nightlight the next day.

However, my second trip to the store to buy a nightlight never happened. We went to bed as usual that night, and I was grateful that my housekeeping failure didn’t keep me from sleeping soundly through the night. When we woke up in the morning, my husband was beaming at me.

“It’s great!” he said happily.

“What are you talking about?” I yawned.

“The light!” he said. “It works!”

I slightly stumbled to the bathroom. The nightlight was still there and still gracing the room with its feeble orange glow. “It looks the same to me,” I said, “pathetic.”

“That’s because it’s morning!” my husband replied triumphantly, “but in the dark it’s just what we need!”

The next night, when I had to make my own nighttime pilgrimage, I learned for myself that the nightlight was a brilliant success. When the rest of the world was light, the nightlight looked too weak to be helpful at all, but in the middle of the night, when it was the only source of light in sight, it was just want we needed.

Thinking on this experience, it’s important to remember that the nightlight’s glow never changed. Even though at night it seemed as if it was brighter, in actuality its light was the same at all hours of the day; only its surroundings, and the circumstances that we perceived it in, changed between day and night.

We have used this trusty nightlight in three different apartments now. Whenever we move, it’s one of the last things we pack and one of the first things we unpack. I never think about that nightlight during the day; during daylight hours it’s just a regular thing plugged into our bathroom wall, almost unneeded. At night, however, that nightlight is a trusted, helpful friend.

As I crept past it back into bed one night, I realized that there are many friends, people, and things in my life that I often take for granted when the sun is shining but that, like my nightlight, are always dependable and keep me safe and comforted whenever darkness falls.

In the New Testament, Jesus talks a lot about light. In Matthew 5:14 he says this well-known verse: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” Although I’ve always loved views of city lights at night, I’ve never felt as strong or brilliant as an entire city. My nightlight has reminded me that that’s not what Jesus expects of me or what that verse really means. Verse 15 is also important: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”

We don’t use candles as our primary source of light anymore, but we can still draw some meaningful conclusions from Christ’s analogies about light. Putting a candle under a bushel doesn’t just hide it from view; under a bushel, the flame won’t have enough oxygen to burn and will go out. Additionally, a short, stubby candle gives a lot less light than a long, tapered candle on a candlestick. A candle under a bushel gives very little light (and eventually none). A candle on a candlestick gives as much light as its solitary flame can. On a candlestick, the candle is reaching its full potential of light.

What Christ teaches in these verses about light, how each of us can shine to light the world with truth and goodness, brings my thoughts back to my trusty nightlight. There are so many people in my life that have been nightlights for me—always plugged in. Even though by themselves they aren’t an entire city to shine on the dark horizon, and when the sun is shining they don’t seem that important, there are many of these individuals whose constant shine has comforted, guided, and protected me when darkness came into my life.

One person that has been a nightlight in my life is a friend I grew up with. We lived in the same ward as long as we both could remember. Although we sometimes hung with different social crowds, I knew that I could always rely on this friend, especially spiritually. Even though I felt like a shy caterpillar where she was a social butterfly, we still talked about everything. We went to church and young women’s together every week. We both were faithful in our seminary attendance, even if we weren’t in the same class every year. We talked about our dating standards and every other important decision we had to make in our teenage years. We relied on each other and knew that we could be strong and choose the right if for nothing else because we knew that the other would.

There are other people in my life that have stood as faithful examples, constant nightlights, for me—family members, ward members, mentors, and other friends. When all other lights seem to go out, or even if I was feel a little dim myself, these nightlights have shown through the darkness when I needed comfort and guidance the most.

What is a lighted city on a hill? It isn’t just one person; it was never meant to be. The lighted city that Christ talks about is a simple candle on a candlestick, or a steady nightlight, shining out from every home. One nightlight at a time makes up that shining city on the hill. In the daytime, when there is a greater light all around, the smaller lights don’t seem that important, but at night, all together, they make a huge impact on the skyline. Banded together, we can each be a light to the world as each of our homes shine together in our wards, stakes, communities, and nations. Individually we can each be nightlights to each passerby when we follow the Savior’s words to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Scripture Study in the Car

Never a Sunday goes by when we aren’t reminded how important daily scripture study is for us as individuals and families. Our leaders teach us how important scripture study is to keeping close to the Lord, His Spirit, and the personal revelation we need so badly to navigate ourselves and our families safely through a troubled world. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated, “I sometimes think that one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open the door to the receipt of revelation” (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 243).

When my husband and I were first married, we knew that taking time for scripture study early in the day was important for our family, but we struggled to find time for it. It seemed we were always running late to get to school or work on time.

Elder Nelson has taught that “time for scripture study requires a schedule that will be honored” and that “you [should] shape the style of your study to fit you” (Russell M. Nelson, “Living by Scriptural Guidance,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 16–18). As a couple, we brainstormed and decided that our time and style of daily family scripture study would be possible in the morning in the car on the way to our daily tasks. My husband could drive while I read from the scriptures, Church magazines, or Church manuals. Although it was sometimes short and maybe not ideal, for the first time ever, our family scripture study became consistent. Sometimes we only read a few verses or a small part of a lesson or article, but as scripture study in the car became part of our routine, some amazing things happened.
We started savoring every minute we had to read the scriptures together in the car. In fact, traffic was no longer a problem because slow-downs just meant that we would have more time for scripture study. In addition, we started valuing the time we could make to discuss what we were reading as much as the time we had to read. Soon our scripture study discussions continued as we crossed the parking lot after we finished driving. Then we started coming back to the discussion during our lunch break and throughout the day. Eventually we started reading scriptures in the car on the way home and making more time for scripture study at home. These gems of family scripture study experiences helped us glimpse what Elder Nelson and his wife felt when he said “We shudder to think what might have happened if we had quit trying [to have family scripture study]. We all need guidance through life. We obtain it best from the standard works and teachings of the prophets of God.”
Simply starting and committing to a habit of family scripture study immediately blessed our family and made us excited to do more to make time for gospel study as part of our family’s habits. Elder Oaks has said that by reading the scriptures “again and again” in daily scriptures study, “we obtain access to what our Heavenly Father would have us know and do in our personal lives today” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan 1995, 7).

Scripture study in the car has been a small and simple thing that has taught us the value of consistent scripture study and discussion in our family and encouraged us to find even more time for family scripture study. As Elder Bednar has said, “Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results” (David A. Bednar, “More Diligent and Concerned at Home,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 17–20).