Friday, May 16, 2008

Overcome Swearing: Thoughts on Singing and Missionaries

In my opinion one of the sweetest occasions I have ever had was listening to a group of missionaries sing at a mission-wide conference in Toronto Canada. There is something powerful about LDS missionaries singing about Christ and his living prophet on the earth today.

This last year I noticed in my calling in a young men's presidency that very few boys sing the songs of Zion without being told. I think they are following the example of their father for I notice that fewer than one quarter of the men in my wards have opened their mouths during a hymn. I have lived in eleven places in twenty-five years so I can only speak to what I have seen. I have even noticed this trend among many local leaders of the Church even when I lived in Utah. I don't know if it is because of embarrassment that they think they can't sing well or they just don't like to sing so many men don't sing or sing softly. Only a handful sing with much gusto. When a father doesn't sing he is setting a pattern in his home that causes sons not to sing and maybe even a few of their daughters. Whenever I neglect to sing and then tell my son to sing he says why should I sing when you don't, nothing like a little hypocrisy.

I have given singing a good try over the years since my wife has forced me to join a couple of local ward choirs and shoves a hymn book in my face every Sunday. I have never been complemented for being a fine singer in fact most people just ignore me. I think it is that way if you can just carry a tune you will get along just fine. Most choirs I sang in only had two or three exceptional singers the rest of us just blended together.

One of the few times in a LDS man's life in which he will sing and feel less conspicuous is probably during a mission. There are a lot of men that sing and enjoy it but I'm not one of them. Sister missionaries all seem to sing like angels and only rarely do you find one who can't carry a tune in a bucket. I'm sure their confidence level all ranges across the spectrum. My own wife when she was on a mission purchased a guitar and went around singing as a way to get in to homes and teach people. She was kind of like Sally Field's on the Flying Nun, all cute and perky serenading people in Quebec. I only knew a handful of elders who sang often and most others usually sang to carol during Christmas and did it to set an example for investigators.

Singing on my mission actually changed my life. When I was a boy growing up my family were not members of the Church. My parents had grown up during World War II and had lived life working in manual labor jobs. My dad a former sailor swore constantly. When my parents fought which was quite frequent they cussed at one another calling each other some of the foulest and most vilest things imaginable. Needless to say I heard profanity all my life at least a few times a day. I didn't really have a problem with profanity in my personal conversation but it was constantly in my thoughts. I would walk around and when I would think about my parents which I did on occasion I would replay their conversations about what a dirty so and so my father or mother was. My father had a serious problem with adultery and my mother would bring it out during their fights. It was pretty graphic and disturbing.

When I went on my mission I would remember these episodes at the strangest times like during the LTM when I would go to the temple each week or walking around on my mission some investigators would remind me of my parents but the most prevalent time was when I taught the law of chastity I would think about the bad things that were said or done by me or my parents.

One day on my mission I decided to wash my mind clean. I remembered Boyd K. Packer said: "Remember, young people, I want each of you to remember that this is your Church, and He is your Lord and your Savior who stands at the helm. His constant guidance and inspiration are available to you when you keep your mind filled to overflowing with the good, the beautiful, the inspiring. And this is one way to do it. Choose a favorite hymn or song, just as my pilot friend did, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration. There are many beautiful songs to choose from. Seek the guidance of the Spirit in making your selection. Go over the song in your mind carefully. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a simple song. Now use this as the course for your thoughts to follow. Make it your emergency channel.

Whenever you find shady actors slipping from the sidelines of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this CD, as it were. It will change your whole mood.

Because the music is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will slip shamefully away. For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light. In due time you will find yourself humming the music inwardly, almost automatically, to drive out unworthy thoughts. As you young people involve yourselves with righteous and worthwhile things, keep your minds filled with worthy thoughts, for as a man thinketh so is he, and you will have the ability to accomplish those things that will bring fulfillment to your lives."

I went around singing in Italian I Need Thee Every Hour. As I walked around on my mission and an inappropriate thought would pop in my head I would start singing my hymn. After several months I was able to overcome my bad thoughts or swear words that would pop in to my mind.

At the time I was assigned as a junior companion to Elder Andy Bavelas. He was known in our mission as a very spiritual elder. Many elders claimed Bavelas had the gift of prophesy and could tell them things that would happen to them. I was disappointed because in the few months I served with him I never heard him prophesy one thing. He would get all embarrassed when I asked him about it. The thing I remember best about him was he was the only missionary who ever requested me as his companion since I was noted as being a problem elder. Elder Bavelas and I went around spirit tracting we would wonder around until the Spirit would tell us to stop. The interesting thing was we had good success when we did that. The other thing was he had a Black Belt in
Taekwondo so used it to teach me to overcome my aggression. He had me find a smooth round rock that he had me beat on with the heel of my right hand. I walked around hitting the stone and singing. Every few weeks he had me break different size pieces of wood. It hurt like the dickens but he taught me to keep my hand and arm moving on impact. I could break a large tree limb by the time I was transferred. I never once swore when I hit the board wrong and broke everyone I ever hit.

I had one bad experience in trying to sing on my mission. Elder Ballard wanted to have a really good rendition of Ye Elders of Israel. My companion at the time was Harry Lodholm who sang fairly well. He convinced me to sing in the missionary group that was to perform. When Elder Ballard heard us sing he asked me and a couple of other missionaries not to sing since he thought we were a hinderence rather than a help to the harmony of the singing. It didn't upset me too badly since the Catholics had also thrown me out of the choir when I was eight because they said I sang like a bullfrog. These two episodes made it so I never really liked singing publicly. My wife had to spend years convincing me to sing publicly. After ten years I got to the point I could do alright. My family even sang in sacrament a few times during the past decade. I guess I can relate to why many boys and men don't sing as much as they could publicly. I have learned if people were kinder and more supportive more of us might sing in our meetings.

I overcame swearing and was a much more peaceful missionary just from singing a song whenever a bad thought came to me. Elder Packer's advice paid off in my life.


Kenji said...

Hi, Thanks for Adding my Site, Thoughtskoto to your site Aggregator. By the way, where do you live here in the Middle East? I am from Saudi Arabia, as you may already have known. Thanks for this great post about how to overcome swearing.

Dr. B said...

I am in Riyadh.