Living Without Contention in Our Hearts by Katie Petersen
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Good afternoon brothers and sisters! My name is Katie Petersen. I moved into this ward back in September, so I’m still very new and still trying to learn all your names and faces. I hope you can be patient with me and continue reminding me of your name till I figure it out. A little about me: I’m a single mom, and I have four kids, ages 15, 10, 8, and 7. I’ve lived in Huntington Beach since 2002, which officially puts me as living here more than half my life. An expensive fact, but it is one I’m most proud of. I absolutely love Huntington Beach and have always felt that this is where my heart lies. I was born in Alaska, baptized in Hawaii, and graduated High School in Utah, and now I’m here!… – So I’m a “world traveler” thanks to my dad working in construction. My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary over the summer. I have 5 older sisters, and I complete the family as the 6th daughter. I was “supposed to be” their long-awaited son, but I have more than made up for it by becoming their favorite child. I’m so excited to be in this terrific ward, and I can’t wait till we’re all best friends. I’ve been in a lot of wards through all my traveling, and I can truly say that not all wards are made the same! I’m a big fan of hugging and singing, and I’m so excited about the opportunity with my new calling to be in the Primary. I love being in primary with your kidlets. It’s absolutely my favorite place to be.
I was asked to speak today, given the topic of ‘contention’. I thought, “Uh oh. He must not know I have a teenager in the home. This feels like a bit of an oxymoron.” But that’s okay! Even the imperfect get a chance to share their testimony and grow and learn about new, unheard-of topics. Just kidding… So… what is contention? The dictionary describes contention as a struggling together in opposition. A striving in rivalry, competition, or contest. A strife in debate, dispute, or controversy. In scripture we read how the Lord feels about contention: For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me but is of the devil who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11: 29.)
In my last ward, I was lucky enough to attend church with the previous Newport Beach Temple president, and his wife – Brother & Sister Borquist. Sister Borquist once gave a talk and shared a thought she had, from being in the temple regularly. She commented: “I have never seen an ugly face in the temple!” Haha! I have always loved that realization. I, too, have never seen an ugly face in the temple. We are all there, in the same clean, white clothing – with the same purpose in mind – and we are all there doing our best and seeking peace. In the temple, we are all equals. Can you imagine a world outside of the temple doors, where we felt the same way every day, that we do in the temple? If you haven’t had an opportunity yet to attend the temple – just try thinking of a time when you felt the most peace. Was it out in nature? You were probably alone. Just you and Heavenly Father and the vastness of His beauty. True peace. What if we were able to feel that same way behind the closed doors of our own home? Or at work? Or at school? Or on the 405? All together – doing our best, with the same purpose in mind.
So why is it so hard to keep contention away? I once had a conversation with an unmarried individual, who was lamenting about the complaints they hear from their married friends, who often complain about how hard marriage is. They said to me, “It just doesn’t seem like marriage should be as hard as people make it out to be!” I stifled my laughter long enough to articulate a response I felt would help them understand. I said: “Take, for example, the topic of your family Christmas traditions. Now – take the opposing party AKA – your new spouse, who grew up with family traditions that look different, or even completely opposite, of the ones you grew up with. Now: the two of you must decide together which traditions will continue on in your new union, and which traditions will cease. Because there is simply no time to carry on BOTH sets of Christmas traditions. You’re left with two parties, who feel contention, although neither of them is in the wrong for feeling the way they do.” How do you remove the contention? Believe it or not: the answer to most life’s questions are in the scriptures. I know it sounds so cliché – like telling teenagers about how cool it was to own the ENTIRE set of Encyclopedias… with actual facts when now they have the internet that solves all of their life problems. But God’s truth is not found on the interweb.
If you want peace – you have to seek out answers that come from God. In 4 Nephi 1: 15, let's read: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God, which did dwell in the hearts of the people. 16. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness, and surely there could not be a happier people … created by the hand of God.” But how do we get there? To be human is to have feelings and emotions. Feelings like hurt, anger, feeling disrespected, dis-valued, invalidated. I think – the switch likes in your own actions. Your own responses. To each of the feelings, I just listed – those things were probably caused by someone who, at that moment, was acting the opposite of how the Lord asks us to behave.
It may not be possible to live a “non-contentious” life… But it IS possible to live without contention in your heart. None of your responses to people’s “less than” behavior needs to be done out of revenge, or ill-intent. You can respond with forgiveness, with compassion for what they may be going through, or simply defending yourself in righteousness. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke at the October 2021 General Conference, in a talk titled: “The Greatest Possession”. He shares the lingering thought: “When the love of God sets the tone for our own lives, for our relationships to each other and ultimately our feeling for all humankind, then old distinctions, limiting labels and artificial divisions begin to pass away, and peace increases.” REPEAT: “When the love of God sets the tone for our own lives.” Brothers and sisters, I invite you to evaluate your relationship with God. Do we truly love Him? Do we love Him enough to fight against “human nature”… the “natural man”… and to behave in such a way that would make Him proud of us, even behind closed doors.
I keep a plaque in my room that has become a motto of mine for many years. I was once consumed with the notion that it was my job to make everyone happy. I needed to please everyone, and not mess up so no one would ever be disappointed in me. I realized, the brutally hard way, that people-pleasing is NO way to live. All people will never be pleased. The plaque in my room reads: “It does not matter what others think of us, so long as we know our Father in Heaven is pleased with us.” When we remove the contention from our own hearts, we remove just that much contention from the world. When you change your heart behind closed doors, for the better, you offer the world, and Heavenly Father – a more complete YOU. We cannot ask others to be on the same journey we are, at the very same time. All we can do is to focus inwardly. What will it take to remove the contention in your own heart?
It’s still January – which means you can safely add this to your New Years' resolution goals. Step 1: Focus on yourself. Changing you is a great place to start to change the world. Step 2: Remove contention from the world, by removing it from your heart. And I leave you with these thoughts in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.