I will be the first to admit that I am not a scriptorian. One of the main reasons I love the Sunday on Monday podcast is the fact that many of the guests (and the host) are scriptorians, former Seminary or Institute teachers, and—especially this year as we study the Old Testament—much more versed in the Hebrew text and cultural subtext of those ancient bible verses and stories.
As I’ve been preparing my Primary lesson and assisting on other articles for LDS Living, I kept finding myself accidentally typing virtual when I meant to type virtuous when referencing this week’s Come, Follow Me lesson covering the famous verse in Proverbs 31: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (verse 10).
This simple mix-up got me thinking: What would it mean to be a virtually virtuous woman or man? (And let’s see how many times I can type that correctly the first time.)
First, I watched the Five-Minute Fireside from Sunday on Monday host Tammy Uzelac Hall on what it truly means to be a virtuous woman. Hall very quickly pointed out— and corrected—one common misconception about this famous proverb: the word “virtuous” does not just apply to modesty and chastity. In Hebrew, the word virtuous actually translates to “possessing strength or power,” and that power comes from God—it’s priesthood power through covenants. And that blessing of priesthood power, that virtuous strength, starts for both men and women when we make covenants at baptism.
Strength and Power Online
This newfound definition caused me to reframe my original question: what would it look like to show that we possess the strength or power of God in our online interactions with others? Although it’s not as much of a fun alliteration as my original inquiry, that version sounds a lot like “not hiding my light under a bushel” to me (see Matthew 5:15).
This story from Sister Sharon Eubank’s October 2017 conference talk is a great example of what I think it might mean to be “virtually virtuous”:
Earlier this year, there was a post on my Facebook news feed that disparaged Christianity. I read it and I was a little annoyed, but I shrugged it off. But an acquaintance who is not a member of our faith responded with a comment of her own. She wrote: “[This is] the exact opposite of what Jesus stood for—he was … radical [in] his time because he … equalized the world. … He [spoke to] prostitute[s], [he ate] with … tax collector[s]…, befriended powerless women and children …, [and] gave us the story of the Good Samaritan. … It follows that … true Christians would be striving to be the MOST loving people in the world.” When I read that, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I write that?”
Each of us needs to be better at articulating the reasons for our faith. How do you feel about Jesus Christ? Why do you stay in the Church? Why do you believe the Book of Mormon is scripture? Where do you get your peace? Why does it matter that the prophet has something to say in 2017? How do you know he is a real prophet? Use your voice and your power to articulate what you know and feel—on social media, in quiet conversations with your friends, when you’re chatting with your grandchildren. Tell them why you believe, what it feels like, if you ever doubted, how you got through it, and what Jesus Christ means to you. As the Apostle Peter said, “Be not afraid …; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
Elder David A. Bednar’s 2014 address “Flood the Earth through Social Media” is also a great resource. In it, he outlines ways to use social media to convey gospel messages. Three of those guidelines were highlighted recently on the Church’s Strive to Be Instagram account:
1. Be authentic and consistent
“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate. We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”
2. Edify and uplift
“Our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”
3. Be wise and vigilant
“Only say it or post it if you want the entire world to have access to your message or picture for all time. Be wise and vigilant in protecting yourself and those you love.”
► You may also like: Elder Bednar’s 3 social media guidelines for sharing goodness
The Magnify community is also a beautiful example of sharing goodness online and exhibiting virtual virtue. As a community of sisters, Magnify encourages women to cheer, inspire, and embolden each other to live as daring, courageous, visionary women who use their influence to help fill every corner of the world with Christ’s love. Their website and social channels include stories and equally inspiring messages by women, for women. Their summer 2022 theme was “Share Him,” which included messages and physical resources for members to refine their ability to articulate their faith. You can find them on Instagram at @magnifycommunity and on their website at magnifythegood.com to learn how to get involved.
What about Perfection?
Invitations and stories aside, if we take another look back at Proverbs 31, the invitation to be a virtuous woman (or man) can be more than daunting. These verses paint a picture of a very impressive and saintly woman—I imagine she’s an ideal wife and mother, volunteers, sews her own clothing, dresses fashionably, stays up late to take care of her family, cooks phenomenal meals, works out, has a side hustle to earn extra money, and is a tireless advocate for all that is lovely or praiseworthy. Looking through that lens, the question “Who can find a virtuous woman?” becomes less rhetorical and more realistic: “Seriously, who can find this all-star of a woman?! I’m not sure she exists in the real world!”
And our personal efforts to be virtually virtuous can fall prey to the same types of comparisons. The full description of a “virtuous woman” from Proverbs 31 could sound like almost every influencer on YouTube or Instagram today—too perfect to be real or achievable. Social media is rife with “the best of the best,” and often, only the good, happy, exciting, glamorous, polished, and ultra-filtered—society-deemed perfection—gets shared online. Our consumption of such constant perfection can make us especially prone to comparison and discouragement, and it can be easy to think, “How could sharing about my imperfect life have any impact on others?” But as Tammy Uzelac Hall wisely points out in her video, “There is no mention of the word perfect in this proverb.”
In his April 2021 conference talk, Elder Gerrit W. Gong shared, “Perfection is in Jesus Christ, not in the perfectionism of the world. Unreal and unrealistic, the world’s ‘insta-perfect’ filtered perfectionism can make us feel inadequate, captive to swipes, likes, or double taps. In contrast, our Savior, Jesus Christ, knows everything about us we don’t want anyone else to know, and He still loves us.”
Along with his guidelines for sharing goodness online, Elder Bednar also points out that our efforts to do so do not need to be perfect or grandiose.
“We need not become social media experts or fanatics. And we do not need to spend inordinate amounts of time creating and disseminating elaborate messages. Imagine the impact we can have as hundreds of thousands and millions of members of the Lord’s restored Church contribute in seemingly small ways to the rising floodwaters. May our many small, individual efforts produce a steady rainfall of righteousness and truth that gradually swells a multitude of streams and rivers—and ultimately becomes a flood that sweeps the earth.”
Small and Simple
I truly believe there are small and simple ways to be virtually virtuous. Being a virtuous woman or man doesn’t always have to be overtly bearing testimony. When those opportunities arise, of course, we should take full advantage, but I believe being virtually virtuous is so much more than that. It is sharing the light and the goodness we have been given through our covenants, our knowledge of the plan of salvation, and our understanding of God’s love for each of us.
We often hear stories of friends not of our faith who can sense “something different” when they interact with members of the Church. Even without us needing to outright testify or share any kind of gospel message, people can feel a kind of light or happiness, something unique and intriguing, and captivating. I believe that light—the light of the gospel, the light of being a covenant-keeping child of God, the light of being endowed with priesthood power—can also shine through just as brilliantly as we share our light and everyday lives online.
I believe that the mother who shares her love for her daughter with Down syndrome on Instagram is virtually virtuous. The man who posts a video of his aging grandmother or his newborn baby is virtually virtuous. The father who expresses gratitude for prayers on his son’s behalf is virtually virtuous. The mother who creates online mental health resources for kids is virtually virtuous. The friends who share touching mission stories, the neighbors who offer heartfelt advice or condolences after tragedy, and the online strangers who are kind in the face of contention are all virtually virtuous. I believe that the stories and experiences we share don’t have to look polished or perfect, but the light of Christ that shines through and touches the hearts of others will be prized far above rubies.