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Youth Theme Insight: The Words That Helped Me Understand My Identity

Over the next several months, we will be sharing insights from authors Michelle Wilson and Dennis Gaunt on this year's youth theme, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Watch for them under "Lesson Helps" on LDS Living's homepage each month and share them with your teens!

It’s 1986. I’m a 14-year-old Mia Maid with a neon unicorn shirt and a bi-level haircut (#totalmullet), sitting in my Sunday Young Women class. The leaders are reading a new mantra that I am not only supposed to memorize but am supposed to repeat every week of my entire life. Okay—not my entire life, but when you’re 14, you feel like you’re going to be a teenager forever.

The leaders tell us it’s our new Young Women theme. It will remind us who we are and what we believe.

I wonder why I needed something else to remind myself of those things I’m already coming to church every Sunday, having family home evenings with the family, going to seminary, and my weekly activities. I had a lot of reminders of who I was. Isn’t that enough? And it’s not like church is my whole life. I’ve got school and homework, dances and friends, VHS movies, and a brand-new portable CD player. What more can a girl fit in? I mean, what difference will it even make?

A Daughter of Our Heavenly Father

Perhaps it didn’t exactly happen like this (though the mullet was a real thing) but fast-forward a few decades and I can tell you exactly the difference these words made.

All the difference.

Being a teenager is hard. Peer pressure, school stress, figuring out who we are and what we believe, navigating family and other relationships, planning for the future . . . You guys are in a wonderful but tough time of your life!

My teenage years were good on the external front: a good family, my dad was the bishop, I went to a good school, and had good health. My problems were mostly internal. I thought a lot. And those thoughts weren’t always nice ones about myself. I held onto a lot of self-doubt, and sometimes that self-doubt seeped into other areas in my life. Am I stupid? Am I worthy to be loved? Am I worthy to be forgiven? Am I invisible? Does God even see me?

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Every week I repeated the words, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him.” Every week I was reminded that I am a daughter of God. This knowledge of who I was was the only thing to keep me afloat through some pretty tough teenage times. I was a daughter of God, and He loved me, no matter what.

It was my life preserver in the sea of my teen years. That was a very big deal for me.

Learning to Love the Lord

Another set of words became a big deal to me too. I was learning that the Lord loved me and how He showed it. But I was also learning that I loved Him and I, too, was learning how to show it. At first, it was hard. I mean, we don’t pray to Jesus, so how do I talk to Him and tell Him? I found the answer from the Savior Himself in the scriptures:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

I love this verse. It’s a verse about love—the way we love and who we love. It’s a verse about choices. It’s more than just Sunday worship or weekday activities, but the choices we make every day. And not just what we do, but why.

Jesus Christ is at the center of all we do. He is the why.

And here’s a mind-blowing truth: He is the why, but we are the because.

All that He did and does is for us. E. V. E. R. Y. T. H. I. N. G. Period. He loves us, so He gave us Himself. And to simplify our lives, He tells us exactly how we can show our love for Him: keep His commandments.

You might be wondering what the big deal about commandments is. I mean, do you really have to keep the commandments to show your love? Maybe you’re thinking He knows you love Him no matter what you do. Or you might even be thinking that the commandments are lame and constricting, so you’ll simply have to find another way to show you love Him. I mean, you could tell Heavenly Father in prayer that you love the Savior. You could serve someone to show your love. Or you could learn about Him in the scriptures.

But here’s the thing. All of those these are commandments already. We are commanded to pray (Mosiah 26:39), serve (Mosiah 2:17), and learn (Matthew 11:29). My guess is you’re probably doing a great job at keeping the commandments and you don’t even realize it!

A Help, Not a Hinderance 

Every single commandment God gives us is to help us. Some people think of commandments like anchors on dry ground—heavy, unnecessary weights that hold us back. But I love the analogy I heard when I was on my mission: Commandments are like kites. More specifically, commandments are like the string that attaches the kite to the person flying the kite. Some people look at the string and think it limits the kite and keeps it close to the ground. But, think about what happens when you, the person flying the kite, let go of the string. The kite may rise a little bit, but inevitably, it will fall to the ground.

The kite needs the string to fly. It’s what keeps it in the air. The resistance, the force, the pull are all needed to allow the kite to fly and spin and soar.

The commandments are like the string of a kite. Some might view them as rules that hold us back. But in actuality, they are the things that will keep us from crashing to the proverbial ground. The commandments give us the push and power from heaven that we need to soar in this life. They are what keep us up and safe, flying and fulfilling the measure of our creation.

Keeping the commandments isn’t meant to be a burden but a goal. President Ezra Taft Benson once said that “when obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power” (Ezra Taft Benson, quoted in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge," Ensign, May 1998, 82).

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What an awesome quote! Can you imagine being endowed with power from God? All because we want to do what He’s asked us to do.

How many times have you heard someone you love say to you “What do you want for your birthday?” or “What do you want for Christmas?” Why do we do that? Because we want to give the people we love what they want. We want to make them happy.

Imagine what it would be like to meet Jesus on a regular day, like in your home after school or at the mall. After probably freaking out, what if I said to Him, “I love you. What can I give you that will make you happy?” I imagine He’d answer in the very words of this scripture: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

As we are keeping the commandments, we are not only making God happy, but we are making our Savior smile. We are showing our love for Him in the very way He’s asked us to.

Lead image from Shutterstock.
Michelle wilson

Michelle Wilson

Michelle Wilson is a wife, mom, best-selling author, and popular Latter-day Saint inspirational speaker. She speaks and writes to women and young women, striving to help them access confidence, peace, and joy as they strengthen themselves and their relationships with God and others. She is the author of A Perfectly Imperfect Mom, The Beautiful Balance: Claiming Personal Control and Giving the Rest to God, and Does This Insecurity Make Me Look Fat? 

You can find her at MichelleWilsonWrites.com.

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