Originally from West Valley City, UT, Mike Brady currently resides in Chubbuck, ID, adjacent to where his amazing wife Chelsie grew up. Together they have five children and have heard every “Brady Bunch” joke in the book. Among other callings, Mike served as a full-time missionary (Japan Tokyo South), early morning seminary teacher, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, and multiple bishoprics despite his large, young family. His BA in International Studies doesn’t do much in the IT industry where he works as a software product manager for Salt Lake City-based Samaritan Technologies. His passions include dating his wife, playing with those five aforementioned children, NBA basketball, and writing long emails to his bishop.
In this article, Mike mentions an example of how an LGBT youth may have questions. We wanted to remind you of the GREAT resources that are available in the non-profit, North Star. Their annual conference is coming up March 15-19 with Saturday (16th) including a free leadership session for lay leaders of the Church. THIS IS A MUST ATTEND OPPORTUNITY! We can’t stress enough how much this free leadership event would enhance your ability to lead. If you are in a realistic travel distance you will not regret making it a priority on March 16th. To attend the free leadership session you must REGISTER HERE.
North Star is a faith-affirming resource for Latter-day Saints addressing sexual orientation and gender identity, and who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. North Star has been a remarkable partner with Leading Saints to help leaders better understand the experience of LGBT members of the Church.
There are times when we try to be “The Fixer”. You know, that person who sees a problem and assumes all responsibility to take charge, identify solutions, and make assignments, saying things all the while like “lift where you stand” and “He never said it would be easy, He only said it would be worth it.”
As leaders, we are oftentimes expected to act as “The Fixer” of all problems. Consider that time when two organizations miscommunicated and both reserved the Primary room for the same time; or when the assigned teacher forgot to bring the sacramental bread. There are absolutely situations when an experienced decision maker is needed, and it is appropriate to channel our inner fixer.
A sensitive leader knows that this is not always the best course of action. A good leader can sense when dispensing advice and counsel and scriptural references is the way to go, but she/he also knows when spouting advice and scriptures could be disingenuous, and that the person simply needs to be heard and held.
So, when is a bad time to be “The Fixer”? Consider these situations:
- When a youth confides to you that she struggles with the church members’ treatment of LGBTQ+ daughters and sons of God.
- When a ward member you barely know invites you to lunch to tell you that he is an alcoholic, and has been unfaithful to his wife.
- When a friend confesses his smoldering anger at Heavenly Father for the death of his mother, many years prior.
- When you receive a text message from a friend informing you that her baby suddenly died.
Here are some common characteristics of these situations:
- Each person was in a great deal of pain.
- They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, which was the gift, and responsibility, of trust.
- The communication was one-on-one and in private.
- Whether it was sorrow, sadness, anger, or denial, the emotions were high.
If you find yourself in a private setting discussing the real pain of a person who has selectively shared their story with YOU, the probability is high that this is not a time to be “The Fixer”, in the sense that we are discussing.
Please resist the urge to start quoting churchy sayings, however true they may be. To the mother who lost her child, a reminder that we have the knowledge of the gospel tends to be more condescending than comforting, no matter how well-meaning the pronouncement.
While saying things like this might bring comfort to us who may not know exactly what to say, in these moments, it really isn’t about us–it is 100% about them, and knowing how to minister appropriately will help our friends take a step or two or ten toward the succor they need, which can only be found in Christ.
So I say again: no, these are times when we should not be “The Fixer”, and at the same time, know that it is still very much an opportunity to rescue.
Below are some additional principles which may help us all strive to be more discerning in our efforts.
Understand That the Grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ Is the True Source of All “Fixing”
Instead of feeling that as the [Young Women class advisor, ministering brother, next door neighbor, bishopric counselor, Primary music leader, friend, etc.] it is your right and your job to be “The Fixer”, please consider this.
Years ago I had been fasting and praying for my sisters, both of whom had left the Church and were engaging in extremely spiritually precarious behaviors. One evening after a particularly heartfelt prayer, I received this message in my mind, clear as day: “They were my daughters long before they were your sisters. They will be fine. My Son is called ‘The Savior’ because He saves, and He is good at what He does. Your job, though, is to learn how to love.”
There is already One whose job it is to fix and save and redeem. He has even literally been given titles of “Savior” and “Redeemer”. Once we know that it is not our job to do these things, we don’t need to burden ourselves with roles that are above our capabilities, nor is it appropriate to try to step into them, unwitting as we may so do.
Let the Savior save, and understand that our role is to point others to Him. One friend, a Church Educational System Seminary and Institute Coordinator, once referred to himself as an usher, whose job is to say to his students, “Jesus Christ is right this way…right this way…right this way…”
Yes, our job is to learn how to love. Though we know that each person experiences and interprets love in different ways, there is one action we can do that is universally loving, which brings us to the next point.
Listen, and Do so Without Judgment
First, just listen to the person.
We will all have the experience of being misunderstood at some point in our lives. Do you remember the suffocating feeling, and the compelling need to explain, re-explain, and justify yourself? Do you remember feeling dismayed that your relationship with the other person might be damaged? Then as you were given the chance to truly be heard, it felt like life was breathed back into you, sorrys were said, and life moved forward.
The simple act of sharing with a trusted friend can lighten the load immensely. The “something” is no longer confined to one person’s thoughts and perceptions. I have experienced this myself, and maybe you have too.
How you respond to the person will also make a huge difference in their ability to cope, trust, and experience the healing that should come through Christ’s Atonement. In my past service opportunities which included elders quorum president, ward executive secretary, and bishopric counselor–and even when I had no calling–I found myself on the receiving end of confessions which could and should have gone to the bishop. Maybe the person was scared to do so, maybe they were trying to figure out how to confess, and maybe I was simply somebody they felt safe with. But as their words concluded they would almost always look to my face, to my eyes, almost wincing, as if they were awaiting some judgmental comment or reproachful church teaching.
What would you have done? What would you have said?
When you find yourself in a sensitive conversation, remember, it took a lot of courage for this person to come to you. They are in pain. Depending on the circumstance, they are already burdened with guilt and shame. They see you as one who can help. They have hope in you.
Passing immediate judgment, even with a look, may reinforce fears and contribute to further anguish on their part. Even if they have sinned, I suggest that the first thing any leader and friend should do is offer love. Tell them you love them, that you are proud of them, that you are there with them.
For non-bishops, if they want to focus on how to repent, do what you can to lovingly encourage them to speak to their bishop. But first and foremost: love and withhold judgment.
For bishops, it might not be helpful to focus immediately on the repentance, though the Spirit will help you discern, and each situation should be examined on a case-by-case basis. But in that first meeting, you could choose to focus on building that person up and helping them feel love and hope. You will have plenty of subsequent opportunities to help them navigate repentance, but the wrong comment or look could keep them from coming back in at all.
The LDS Living website published this story in August 2018 about a missionary who came out as gay for the first time to his mission president. To use the words of the missionary, he said that he “was so nervous,” and that he “felt like an abomination.” He continues:
“I had poured so much energy into being the perfect kid my whole life (grades, athletics, grooming, seminary, eagle scout, etc) in order to cover up who I really was, in order to not be cast out by family, friends, and church. I knew that I needed help. I also knew that if my family found out, they would disown me (my family is a whole other story). But I needed to tell someone. I needed help. We had our interviews for our zone with our MP [mission president] one week and I was really struggling. But I had to be honest, and it only made me feel like I was perpetually dying. I walked into the room, sat down across a table from my MP, and put my head in my hands, and said, ‘President, for as long as I can remember, I have only been attracted to other boys. President, I’m gay.’ I started weeping. Cause I couldn’t believe I had said it out loud.”
Can you see this scene in your mind? A young, broken man, sitting across the desk from his ecclesiastical leader, sharing something that he had never told anybody about himself, and in fact put in an exhausting effort to conceal it. He was in pain, and the dam finally broke. There is so much beauty in how the mission president responded:
“My mission president darted his hands across the table and firmly grabbed onto mine. ‘This is who you are,’ he said. ‘And we love you. We love you. We would never think any less of you. We love you.’ And I was sobbing, and I couldn’t stop. And I remember not being able to tell if I couldn’t stop crying because I had finally told someone, or because somebody I loved and revered was finally seeing this part of me that I had hated for so long, and this person loved and revered me still. I just kept weeping, and he kept saying that over and over. ‘This is a part of who you are. And there is so much hope for you. There is so much hope.’ I’ll never forget the incredible amount of love I felt from my mission president.”
The mission president had learned to love, he had learned to listen, and he had learned to withhold judgment. His response opened the door to healing. The young man concludes with these words of counsel to you and to me:
“The impact of my MP’s incredibly warm and positive reaction was important because it prepared the way for me to be able to handle the incredibly, overwhelmingly negative reactions I would get from… every… other… priesthood leader… and family member I came out to after. But that little interview was the beginning of something so much bigger. I had other challenges I needed to face and overcome before I’d be able to completely sort out my sexuality, but my MP’s positive response saved my life. I know that. He is still one of my heroes. Please friends, if any of your friends or siblings, or family members (ward or biological) trust you enough to come out to you, please follow the example of my mission president. You will be remembered by them forever. Please make the decision to love and support them. Epilogue: The love I felt from my MP helped me later come to understand and know my Heavenly Parents. They are love, mercy, and grace personified. I still have an intact testimony in large part because of the loving response and example of my MP. I know them. I love them too.”
Second, listen to the Spirit. Don’t just draw on your own experience, though there will certainly be times when you were given one experience or another for the purpose of mentoring and counseling. The Holy Ghost can help you draw on every experience, even if they are not your own. Listening to the Spirit will help you know how to proceed. There are many stories out there where a person was literally speaking words that were given to her/him as if their mouth had taken over. I have had this happen to me a couple of times. Seek and use that guidance. The Lord is extremely interested in conversations like this, and through the Spirit can give you the ability to have empathy, even in situations with which you are not wholly familiar.
Defined, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. If appropriate, briefly sharing your own experiences can help the person know that you understand how they feel, but take caution that you do not make it about you. The purpose of sharing these experiences is to reinforce to them that you understand where they are. This will bring further hope to their hearts and will strengthen their trust in you and your relationship with them. Also be careful not to disclose anything that you wish to keep private, including your own past sins or mistakes. Use discretion, but follow the Spirit here, too.
It’s Okay to Ask
There are times when we will rely both on our experience and inspired spiritual guidance, that it is clear what words we should say. Then there are those times when after the person says what they have to say, you don’t know how to proceed. You may not fully know what they’re looking for in telling you. If you don’t know how to proceed, the default response is already given above: lead with love.
A lot of how to care for others depends on their personality and needs. Some people prefer “tough love” where you can give it to them straight. Some need it, whether they prefer it or not, so use wisdom in meting out dosages there. Some require a more delicate touch.
I spoke with a friend once, a fellow ward member, whose father was a former bishop of that ward. The current bishop was my priesthood mentor, and both of them were my friends and examples. My friend and I were discussing the differences in how each approached their calling as a bishop. Said my friend: “My dad was the kind of bishop who, when he saw a person in need, would sit in the gutter beside them and let them cry on his shoulder. Eventually, when the person was ready, he’d help them to their feet and out of the gutter. The bishop now is the kind of bishop who loves and wants to help, and how he does so is by throwing a rope to the person in need, but leaves it a foot short, forcing them to stretch and grow and participate in the process of receiving that assistance.”
There is a time and a place for both of these approaches. There are variants and hybrids of these approaches and many others that you can take. It is best to have as many in your toolbox as possible, enabling you to draw on any of them as needed.
But when it is not clear, it is okay to ask: “What do you seek from this conversation?” They might say:
- “I just need to know that somebody cares.”
- Or, “I don’t want to feel guilty anymore.”
- Or, “Simply telling this to you has helped more than you can know.”
- Or, “I need you to help me be accountable.”
If you don’t know what they seek, please ask. It will help you determine what they need at that moment.
Take It One Step at a Time
I have observed and experienced in our church culture that many feel that they must be perfect NOW, otherwise, all hope is lost. This Satanic lie has us focus solely on “by ye therefore perfect”, and simultaneously shrouds the fact that perfection, like conversion, is a process, and not an event.
When applicable, remind these friends, who trust you so much, that there is wisdom in taking things one step at a time. While perfection in the celestial kingdom is the ultimate goal, none of us will achieve this feat overnight, nor will we do it without Jesus Christ. Rather than focusing on a goal that is impossible (without Christ), our thoughts and goals should be oriented toward doable steps that, when taken in a logical order, will help us eventually achieve that perfection in Christ. Who, after all, is the Master fixer.
Don’t forget to REGISTER HERE for the free leadership session at the North Star conference on March 16, 2019. You can also register for all of the conferences at a leader reduced rate.