Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Best of EFY

My calling in the Young Men's program at church is kind of weird. Most of the time, I don't really need to do anything, except be where the youth are going to be. Today was one of those days. Every year, our stake participates with 8 other stakes in something called "The Best of EFY".

EFY is "Especially For Youth", and is basically a summer camp for youth in the church to attend for a few days to hear speakers talk about gospel topics and to spend time with other fellow youth in the church. It usually happens in the summer, and usually caters to those who live along the Wasatch Front in Utah. However, on a rotating basis, one of the 9 stakes will sponsor a few of the EFY speakers to come to Southern California to visit with the youth and share with them a few topics on a given Saturday. It's rather small in comparison to the real thing, but it is wildly popular to the local kids and they love attending.

Today, our stake sponsored two speakers to come down, and coupled their talks with dinner and a dance, as is tradition. My wife had been asked to lead a youth choir between the two speakers, so she was able to be in attendance through the first talk. We sat together, which was great.

The first speaker, a fellow named John Hilton III, gave a talk titled "Dare Not to Compare". He spoke about how we need to be less concerned about what others have or what we look like. He cited several things that the kids seem to be focused on, such as grades or clothes or makeup. For the boys, they also tend to be worried about who is most athletic or who has the best skateboard or who has the newest gadget.

He shared the story from Matthew 13, about a householder who hires people throughout the day, each for the same wage, and how at the end of the day the ones who labored the longest complained that they didn't get paid more than those who arrived at the end. This he likened to the "It's not fair!" syndrome that is so easy to identify with. Each of the laborers had happily agreed to the terms of the work and the compensation to be received, yet at the end of the day, those who saw what others had received for their work felt that it was unfair. We each would probably feel similarly, but this comparison to others can be destructive.

He also said that pride can also lead to unwise comparisons. When we compare ourselves to those who may be "below" our standing, we often fail to realize that less is often expected of those who have received less, and thus we feel "better" than them. Conversely, when we compare ourselves to those who are "above" our standing, it is easy to fall into the trap of not appreciating those things which we do have because another may have something that is nicer.

A few interesting comments or references he made that I noted:
  • If we break the rules, the rules can break us.
  • The Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7)
  • The grass is almost never really greener on the other side.
  • We should avoid the traps of "can't wait until ...", "I wish I was ...", or "Wouldn't it be great if ..."
He encouraged the youth to not put themselves down, but instead remember who they are as children of God. He indicated that we should each work to build ourselves and others up, rather than wreckers who pull both ourselves and others down. Then he issued a final challenge: we should each try to spend the next 48 hours not comparing ourselves to anybody, and see how that goes. Hmm, interesting!

The second speaker was a man named Hank Smith. He was really quite funny and, ironically, compared his own name as being somewhat unsophisticated to that of the previous speaker, John Hilton III. It was rather silly, and I'm not sure if it was intentional, or just plain ironic, that he would spend the first few minutes of his talk comparing himself to the previous speaker. He also made a joke about how tomorrow, the first Sunday of the month, is going to be fast and testimony meeting, but how it would be totally awesome if there was an "e" in the fast, to make it "feast" and testimony meeting. If that were the case, I'm certain that many people would happily and eagerly pray and "feast" for others' well-being, something a little tougher to do when prayer is coupled with "fasting".

He then began talking about great break-up lines. A few samples:
  • We need to talk ... (You always know where that conversation is going ...)
  • It's not you, it's me. (Ditto.)
  • Roses are red, violets are blue, trash is dumped, and so are you!
  • I think it's time you know ... I'm Batman!
  • How will I know if I want to spend eternity with you unless I date other people?
  • (This one's to be sent via text.) Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You!
  • You're like a lava lamp. Fun for a while, but not very bright.
  • There's only room for two guys in my life, Ben and Jerry.
  • (This one is a scripture reference.) You draw near unto me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.
Then he started talking about how, to the culture of the world, you can never have enough. You can never be pretty enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. There is always some way, in the eyes of the world, that you will be found inadequate. Compare this to the Savior, who always accepts us as we come to Him, and "hath purchased [you] with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Then he spoke about sacrifice. He shared the story of Abraham and how he really had only one thing that was so special to him that it would be difficult to give up: his treasured son Isaac. And yet it was this that the Lord asked him to sacrifice for Him, not because He needed him or even wanted Isaac to be sacrificed, but because He wanted Abraham to demonstrate a willingness to give up anything that the Lord may ask of him.

In this same way, we are asked to give up things as well. Not our children, as it may be, but instead we are asked by the Savior to give up our sins. The speaker challenged us to find something in our lives that is inconsistent with the teachings of the Gospel and to give it up, whether it be some form of clothing, music, media (pornography especially), energy drinks, moral behaviors, etc.

By giving these things up, we make a commitment to ourselves and to the Lord, hopefully permanently, that we will never do these things again. He shared the story of the Lamanites, who were a bloodthirsty and war-making people, who buried deep their weapons of war once they were converted unto the Lord, and committed that they would never take them up again, even when faced by enemies who would not have mercy on them and would slay them. This kind of commitment to turn our backs on our sins is what the Lord really wants of us.

The speaker reiterated that the Lord does want each one of us, unlike the world that will always find us wanting. He paid for all our sins, and calls us His people. The speaker urged us to not buy into what the world says, that looks are everything, for the world offers nothing but loneliness and sorrow, where the Lord says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Good words.

It was a great evening. Following these two speakers, it was about 6 pm and they sent everybody outside to each sub sandwiches (I had a turkey sub). The youth swarmed the food tables, and there wasn't anything left by the time the dance started at 7:30.

For me, being at the dance was an interesting experience. The last dance of this nature I'd been to was back in college, almost 12 years ago. There, I was with my wife and we most certainly were being goofy. Here, though, I was an "adult leader" (when did I get old enough to be that?!) and expected to monitor the kids.

Truth be told, there wasn't anything for me to do. I'm kind of a mother hen to the boys in my teacher's quorum, though, so I wandered around and challenged each one of them to dance with somebody they normally wouldn't dance with. I'm not sure if they did, as I ended up leaving just after 8 pm (again, there wasn't anything for me to do and there was plenty of adult supervision), but my heart was warmed as I witnessed each one of them out on the floor dancing (and with girls!). One of the boys did arrive late, showing up after the dance started, but he immediately waded into the fray and found people to dance with. I was so proud I was grinning from ear to ear. My boys, dancing with girls!

A few observations, though:
  • Teenagers today dance differently than we used to. They gather in groups (even the boys), and don't ever really pair off unless it's a slow dance, and even then sometimes they don't.
  • It was quite funny to see people flee the room when a slow song started, both boys and girls. (However, each of my boys stayed in the room!)
  • I'm not familiar with much of the music of today's youth. Apparently much of it was from Radio Disney, or was Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, or other young artists.
  • It was so loud I could hardly understand the words, but the kids were singing along to it and seemed happy.
  • They raise their hands over their heads when they dance. I don't get the purpose of that.
  • There was a TON of cute girls there. Being who I am today, I would've been in heaven having all those options to ask to dance with me. However, I get that the boys were shy -- I was, too. What they say is true, "Youth is wasted on the young ..."
All in all, it was a very interesting evening. I am very glad that I went, and I look forward to more of this kind of stuff with the youth in the future.

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