Ron, 16, sat in his early morning seminary class wondering what to do with feelings of discomfort that were welling up inside him. He had attended this class for about two months. His dislike seemed to grow day by day.
Ron took seminary because he knew that his parents wanted him there. He didn’t want to disappoint them. His bishop had also encouraged him to be actively involved in the program. Even so, he was unhappy and uncomfortable in class.
As Brother Jones talked about the gospel of love, Ron didn’t really listen. He could only think of the times he felt Brother Jones had put him down in class because Ron’s ideas had not seemed to agree with his. Ron also knew that some of the other class members felt this same way, but no one seemed to know what to do about it.
On the other hand, some of the members of the class seemed to be perfectly at ease and quite comfortable. Ron often wondered if something might be wrong with himself. He knew he shouldn’t judge others, but little by little his dislike for Brother Jones grew. In moments like these he felt guilty for his feelings toward his seminary teacher.
This situation is not fictitious. Too often young people find themselves having similar feelings as they attend various Church functions and meetings. As seminary teachers (both regular and early morning) we have observed similar situations many times. The reasons may be different, but the uncomfortable feelings are the same.
Is it wrong to feel uncomfortable when you are supposedly doing what the Lord wants you to do? What causes such negative feelings to develop in the first place, and how can a person control these feelings? Such are some of the questions faced by some of the youth in the Church today. There are important reasons for these feelings and ways in which to deal with uncomfortable situations.
Being out of Tune Creates Discomfort
Being out of tune is usually associated with the field of music and refers to discord or the clashing of musical sounds and lack of agreement between notes in a chord. One can also be out of tune with life. In these instances it may be defined as a clashing of beliefs and attitudes. You can feel out of tune with yourself if you believe one way and behave another. Your behavior and your beliefs will lack agreement, and you will experience discomfort. In some instances we find ourselves faced with ideas, behavior, and attitudes from important people that clash with our own. Ron, the seminary student, is experiencing being out of tune. He senses discord and lack of agreement between himself and Brother Jones.
Every person attempts to put himself in situations that are in agreement with the way he feels about himself and the way others feel toward him. This reduces the uncomfortable feeling. When a person finds himself in a situation where there is disagreement between his own feelings and the feelings of others, he will often want to escape from it. Ron does not see any possible escape from the seminary class, and so he sits, feeling more and more uncomfortable. The more frustrated and confused Ron feels, the more distance he feels between himself and Brother Jones, and the more uncomfortable he is. What should he do and what are some of the possible consequences?
In life there are very few situations where an individual has only two choices. Usually if we take the time and do some thinking, we can come up with several. Some of the choices may be better than others. Ron’s is such a case. There are several ways he can move to rid himself of the discomfort he is experiencing.
He may simply drop the class or refuse to attend. By so doing he would not have to face Brother Jones and feel the discomfort every day. A social scientist would refer to this way of handling discomfort as “flight.” There are some disadvantages to this choice. Should Ron choose to drop the seminary class, he may hurt his parents by disappointing them. He may also cause some concern for the bishop, to the point that the bishop might call Ron in to find out why the change was made, thus putting another kind of pressure on him. Yet Ron can choose to drop out in spite of these consequences.
Another choice open to Ron is to rebel against Brother Jones and to act out his frustrations and feelings right in class. This method of solving problems might be referred to as a “fight” process. This choice may tend to relieve Ron of some of his discomfort, or he may have even more discomfort as a result. Such a choice might cause Brother Jones to resort to the use of power, and he might dismiss Ron from the class. Should he do this, Ron would face the same disadvantages and consequences as he did with choice number one.
As a third choice he can simply attempt to ignore the feelings he is having and to stick it out. The disadvantage here is that Ron hasn’t been able to ignore his feelings, and they are, in fact, becoming worse from day to day. If Ron chooses to do nothing, we can predict with a good deal of confidence that his attitudes toward other teachers and Church programs will become more negative. (This very real danger is illustrated in a recent study that examined some general attitudes of a group of early-morning seminary students toward the Church programs and teachers. The study indicated that if a student had some feelings of dissatisfaction in one area of the Church, these feelings tended to carry over into other areas.)
A fourth alternative to Ron’s dilemma is for him to work out a way of dealing directly with the problem so that his uncomfortable feelings will be reduced. There are several possible ways of doing this, but before discussing some of these, let’s examine some other ideas for working out problems.
Something Has to Change
When we come into contact with an idea that agrees with the way we feel, we can easily accept it. If, however, we come into contact with an idea that does not agree with the way we feel, someone needs to make some changes. We either have to change something about the idea itself or change our attitude toward it. If neither changes, we begin to feel quite uncomfortable. Ron is in this situation right now. He is very uncomfortable. If he fails to accept the situation with Brother Jones, he will remain in this uncomfortable state, and things will likely get worse. He must do something, but from what we have discussed, he is not able to drop out of the class because such an action will not solve the problem nor really relieve the source of the negative and uncomfortable feelings.
Joseph Smith, a Good Example
Let us, for a moment, digress from our case study and talk about a young man who felt uncomfortable in a different situation. As a boy, Joseph did indeed feel some discomfort when he was nearing the age of 14. These feelings were brought to light because of his involvement with the many religious groups that were seeking converts in his area. Joseph’s family was quite involved in the revival meetings and heard many conflicting interpretations of scripture from the different ministers and missionaries. He was seeking the truth but could not find it from listening to the arguments of the revival speakers. He must have felt uncomfortable inside. He was confused, and he knew that he had to do something about these feelings. He describes his feelings in this manner:
“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions [referring to the battle between the different sects in his day], I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
“While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.” (JS—H 1:10–13. Italics added.)
Joseph sought to accept his feelings, but this was not possible. He couldn’t ignore the feelings, nor did he attempt to fight against them. He recognized feelings of doubt and confusion and went to a source he could rely upon. Is there not a lesson in this for us? And for Ron?
Doubt and Confusion May Be Good
Sometimes we may feel guilty or think we may be losing our testimonies when we feel confused due to negative feelings about some aspect of the gospel. The confusion we experience may not be bad in and of itself. Feelings of confusion and doubt can have a positive effect in our lives if we allow them to serve as a starting place rather than as a stopping place. Where would we be today if Joseph Smith had not doubted the existing teachings or had not felt uncomfortable about the religious teachings of his day? It is not the presence of negative feelings that is important, but what we do with those feelings.
Ron’s feelings are real. His problem is real. He wants to do the right thing, but he just doesn’t know what that right thing is. He wants to be in seminary, but he finds that he is very uncomfortable there. Something has to change. In Ron’s case he can change his attitude or change the seminary teacher, or change both, but Ron should realize that it is difficult to change another person very much. Even in the face of the difficulty of changing self or another, Ron must realize his best course of action is to act.
Getting It out into the Open
We cannot give Ron specific solutions to his problems. We can, however, offer some suggestions. It is up to each individual to determine the direction of his personal efforts. In this case prayer would be a good first action. Ron should do as the scriptures suggest and “ask of God.”
Another suggestion that might help Ron find the comfort he is seeking is for him to express his feelings. He needs to go to the other person and there seek to solve his problem. The Savior suggested this process in his Sermon on the Mount when he told us to go to the person with whom we are having problems and to make things right with him before attempting to do other things, even though these other things need and ought to be done.
Matthew records it this way:
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23–24.)
For Ron this means that perhaps he should find the opportunity to approach Brother Jones and discuss with him the feelings that are there. If this is too threatening, perhaps Ron can go to his parents and share his feelings. On the basis of their acceptance and understanding, he can then approach Brother Jones. If Ron wishes to seek further counsel, he may seek the help and understanding from his bishop or priesthood leader.
Another solution might be for Ron to take a good look at himself and see where he might possibly change his attitude and behavior. Again, the scriptures give us evidence of this type of approach. The situation is not the same, but the process can be applied in both instances. When Christ was questioned as to whether or not he was preaching his own gospel, he responded with these words: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17.) If we apply this to Ron’s situation, we are suggesting that Ron should examine his basic attitudes toward Brother Jones long enough to really attempt to gain something out of the class. He should attempt to find out what Brother Jones’s will is with respect to him as a class member. Next, Ron should attempt to do Brother Jones’s will and see if his negative feelings leave. He may well determine that the problem is due to his own attitudes and not just to the behavior of the teacher.
Another positive approach open to Ron is to attempt to determine in his own mind what is wrong with the class in general, rather than with himself or Brother Jones. Once this determination is made, he may be able to approach Brother Jones with some suggestions on how the class might be made more enjoyable for more of the students. If this choice is followed, Ron may find that he can be a real asset to the class and improve the relationship between himself and Brother Jones at the same time. If Ron were to accept this challenge, he might learn for himself the great truth found in the Savior’s words that a person can find his life by losing it in the service of others.
Something Must Be Done
One thing is for certain: Ron must do something. The longer this situation is allowed to go on, the more complicated it becomes and the greater the danger that this negative attitude will carry over into other areas of his life. Ron must make a decision of some kind. Suggestions have been made for positive and constructive choices. He should make his choice(s) on the basis of his own feelings and thoughts. Once the decision is made, he should then take it to the Lord for confirmation. Such were the directions given to Oliver Cowdery in section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and they can be just as applicable for us today. If this process is followed, Ron can be assured he has made the right decision, and the “I’m uncomfortable” feeling will vanish.
In conclusion let us remember that feelings of doubt and confusion about certain situations and people are not abnormal, even in areas concerning the gospel. These feelings can be very beneficial if they are used as starting places rather than stopping places. But if nothing is done about these feelings, they will likely grow and cause us to have negative feelings in other related areas. Whenever we sense these uncomfortable feelings, there are usually several choices of action open to us. After we have identified the source of our uncomfortable feelings, we should devise a solution and take it to the Lord for confirmation. If we do this, we will grow and develop spiritually and socially in our Church-related activities.