Sister missionaries weren’t supposed to jump rope, right?
Years ago, while serving a full-time mission, my companion and I received a referral for a family who was interested in learning more about the Church. We immediately called and arranged a time to come and teach them the gospel.
A few days later, we pulled up to the house and said a quick prayer. We wanted to be open to the Spirit, to say and do the things that representatives of Jesus Christ would do.
Then I saw them.
Kids playing jump rope in the front yard.
Without thought, I approached the kids and, within seconds, found myself jumping rope with them. That’s my personality. See jump rope, must jump.
After a loving reminder from my companion of the purpose of our visit, we knocked on the door and were let inside.
We met with the family for weeks afterward, and, just as we had hoped, our conversations went well. Their baptism day was a glorious one for all of us. But I had another reason to smile that day.
A few days before the baptism, the father pulled me aside and asked if he could tell me something. I remember him telling me that the first time my companion and I had come to meet them, he heard us approach and was planning on sending us away. They’d been having some marital problems, and between the call and our arrival, they’d changed their minds. But when he looked out the window, he was surprised to not see a missionary standing reverently at his door, but one jumping rope. In a skirt. With poofy, curly ’90s hair.
I recall him saying that he was struck with the feeling I was different, and something told him he should listen to me. My unique personality drew me to jump ropes, which drew him to me.
I believe God loves diversity—diversity in color, nationality, and, yes, personality. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland likened our differences to the harmonious parts of a giant choir: “Once we have accepted divinely revealed lyrics and harmonious orchestration composed before the world was, then our Heavenly Father delights to have us sing in our own voice, not someone else’s.”
We each have our own way of doing things, our own blend of introversion or extroversion, our own laugh, our own talents and gifts, our own unique us, that Father delights in.
Not only does He delight in it, but He counts on it. Sometimes He needs a daughter who’ll jump rope in a skirt.
I love the simplicity of this explanation: “A veil covers our memories of our premortal life, but our Father in Heaven knows who we are and what we did before we came here. He has chosen the time and place for each of us to be born so we can learn the lessons we personally need and do the most good with our individual talents and personalities.”
A look at the scriptures will show you the rainbow of personalities, all different and needed to fulfill their respective responsibilities and roles: The earnestness of Peter, the fire of Paul, the eloquence of Aaron, the inquisitiveness of the woman at the well, the soberness of Mormon, the boldness of Abish, the resolution of Captain Moroni. Each is unique in their personalities. Each had just what the Lord needed to do His work.
Our personalities are, in part, what make us unique and wonderful. And, as with anything that makes us wonderful, Satan would have us see it as a bad thing. He loves to whisper things to us, telling us we are weird or strange, and that being different is bad.
He loves it when we compare ourselves to others as proof we aren’t enough, or, in some cases, too much. He wants us to feel shame for who we are, to not like ourselves, and especially not love ourselves. He wants us to feel we have nothing to offer and maybe, just maybe, things would be better off if we were different, or not even here at all.
The adversary would also have us believe that if we feel different, there isn’t a place for us in church. If we don’t feel like we are like the other brothers in Elder’s quorum or the sisters in Relief Society, we don’t belong—we have to be homogenous to be harmonious. But that is a lie Elder Holland firmly debunks: “Believe in yourself and believe in [God]. Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable.”
Our God-given personalities make us unique. I don’t believe God wants us to change them. I believe He wants us to embrace our personalities, love what makes us unique, and worship and serve in our distinctive ways.
However, part of the purpose of this mortal experience is to learn and grow and, yes, change. Are there parts of our personality we can improve, rough edges we can smooth out? Of course. This will happen naturally as we focus on what God wants us to change—our character.
Our character is the part of our soul that can become like the Savior—like our heart. We will never have His personality. In fact, we don’t really know a lot about His personality. But we do know about His character—His patience, love, tenderness, honesty, humility, and meekness. It’s these things—these characteristics—that the Lord wants to develop and strengthen as we follow Him.
Peter taught what it takes to become a disciple of Jesus Christ: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7) Nowhere in there does Peter mention being an introvert/extrovert, a natural leader, or even jumping rope.
Heavenly Father doesn’t want pews filled with identical children. He wants homes, churches, and temples filled with our unique selves who share a common desire to be with and become like Him. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said we are foreordained to “be conformed to the image of his son” (Romans 8:29). I wonder if this might be, in part, what Jesus meant when He prayed we would be “perfect in one” with Him and Heavenly Father (see John 17:23).
There are a few different ways our character can change. One is found in what we choose to pursue and do, love, and let go. Sometimes our personalities (and genetics) can draw us towards things that move us further away from a Christlike character.
In those times, we can seek the Lord's help in making big and even small adjustments that can shift us toward the character of God. Sister Becky Craven shared that “We can adjust our habits, alter our thoughts, and refine our character to become more like Him.”
I love that word: Refine. It means to purify, cultivate, or enhance. This goes back to the truth that we are divine people, young potential deities. We have elements of Father’s character in us already. But, as with our heavenly parent’s plan, what we do with what we’ve been given is up to us. We don’t need to change from a “bad character” to a good one. Our innate character is godly, just . . . young and moldable. And it’s our privilege to decide what comes of it.
Sometimes that privilege is challenging, even uncomfortable. The hard truth of it is that trials provide the painfully perfect soil for refinement. On more than one occasion, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke of the growth opportunities trials can afford: “I know this for a certainty: it is often in the trial of adversity that we learn those most critical lessons that form our character and shape our destiny.” And, “We all must walk through difficult times, for it is in these times of adversity that we learn principles that fortify our characters and cause us to draw closer to God.”
This life is about closer to and becoming like our heavenly parents. Not like everyone else.
It’s not about sterilizing what makes us unique. It’s about allowing God to use our uniqueness for His purposes and finding joy in that.
And life isn’t out being perfect in performance or even character.
It’s all about growth. We are mortal creatures with the DNA of deity in us.
We don’t need to change our personalities to fit in or to belong. We simply need to be ourselves, moving toward Them as our characters are refined.
I love this simple, yet sweet invitation from an apostle of the Lord, “Come and belong.” If you ever feel like you don’t belong at church, know you do. You’re wanted. You’re needed. So, come.
Bring your weirdness, your jump ropes, your love of kittens, your baking skills, your loud laugh, your jokes, your questions, your shyness, your doubts, your fidget spinners, your insecurities, and your confidence.
Bring your quirky, awesome, bland, serious, playful, crafty, brainy, fun-loving, ornery personality. Bring your ever-refining character. Just come because you belong.
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