I want to tell two stories that happened to me which have stayed in my mind for many years and even now are teaching me lessons I need.
The first one happened when I was 6 years old. Our music chorister in the Hunter 5th Ward was Sister Beverly Whitley. I realize now she was probably not even 40 years old, but she had teenaged children and seemed very mature and wise to us in the junior Primary. She was fun and treated us as if we were mini adults, and we liked that. We admired her and wanted to please her. She would tell us that we could sing out so big that our parents could hear us in the other room. Not to shout—but to really sing! And we sang with all our hearts. She also taught us a song from the adult hymnbook, saying she knew we were mature enough musicians to be able to memorize the difficult words. And then she explained what all the words meant so we would understand. She taught us that every song has a special message just for us and, if we thought about the words, we would find the message that was especially for our own lives.
That Christmas, I tried to apply what Sister Whitley had taught us, and I learned all the verses to “Silent Night.” Now, I apologize in advance to the translators because this will be tricky. As a 6-year-old, I thought hard about the words in the third verse, but I didn’t understand the punctuation. Instead of singing “Son of God, love’s pure light,” as in Jesus is the expression of light that flows from pure love, I understood it to say that the Son of God loves pure light—He adores anything made from pure light. Thinking like Sister Whitley, I tried to figure out how I could “love pure light” the way Jesus does.
The second story happened when I was 9 years old. Like a lot of kids, I was taking piano lessons. I wasn’t particularly talented, and, maybe to encourage me, my bishop asked if I would play a Christmas song at the sacrament meeting on Christmas Eve. I decided to play “Silent Night.” My piano teacher helped me prepare. My parents listened to me play it literally 100 times on our black upright piano that was in our basement. Someone mentioned that perhaps I could memorize the song and not use the music, but I was so nervous about playing in front of everyone in my ward that I couldn’t memorize the music. Instead, I came up with a plan. I would take the music with me, but instead of putting it up on the piano, I would lay it on my lap. I could look down at my hands and see the music, but it would look like I had memorized the music. This plan worked beautifully for 20 seconds. I had put the music on top of my taffeta Christmas skirt, and as I began to play, the skirt fabric was very slippery and in the middle of the first verse, the music slid off my skirt and disappeared completely underneath the piano. I was completely stuck. There was no way to get the music back, and my mind was a blank. I gritted my teeth and tried to do the best I could. It was a complete disaster.
I painfully plunked wrong notes, and I could see people cringing in the audience. I blundered through the second verse. I wisely omitted the third verse and rushed down the aisle with a red face trying not to cry. My parents whispered, “What happened? You knew the song so well.” I couldn’t wait to get out of church. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone; I was humiliated and embarrassed. As the meeting ended, my elderly Sunday School teacher, Sister Alma Heaton, approached me. I tried to dodge her, but she took my hand. Instead of telling me how good it was, which everyone knew was a lie, she said something that I will remember for the rest of my life. She said, “Sharon, it doesn’t matter how it turned out. Everyone could see how much effort you put into it, and we love you whether you can play the piano or not.”
That was the honest truth. But it didn’t sting as much as I expected it to. The truth was I had worked hard, and they loved me even though I couldn’t play the piano. I smiled a little smile and she gave me an old lady hug, and suddenly it was all fine.
Now, Beverly Whitley and Alma Heaton did nothing extraordinary. They didn’t write anything down in their journals. Nobody in their families knows these stories. They were simply teaching little children how to sing and how to understand the gospel. What could be more mundane? Except it wasn’t. If you ask me what it looks like when a person “loves pure light,” it looks like Beverly Whitley. It looks like Alma Heaton. Each of them could recognize the “pure light” of a little child trying as hard as she could and love her for it, even if it didn’t work out perfectly.
Our Heavenly Father is exactly like this. He sees us, His little children, trying. Our efforts don’t always succeed, but He knows how hard we are working—sometimes gritting our teeth and plunking through a disaster—and He loves us for it. For all of our dissonant, out of tune, unrecognizable music, He sent His beautiful Only Begotten Son, who is love’s pure light. Jesus Christ will repair every bad note and redeem every sour overtone if we turn to Him and ask for His help. Because of the birth, the Atonement, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can all “sleep in heavenly peace.”1
How happy I am for this Christmas season to sing songs that have a special message from the Savior of the world for those with aching hearts. I promise you the same thing Sister Whitley promised the Primary. If you think about the words you sing this season, you will find a divine message tailored especially for you that will lift and comfort you. Here is one that found me this Christmas season. I’ve been fretting about all the people our humanitarian aid can’t reach and how the nations sometimes make it difficult for us to reach brothers and sisters who suffer. And then just this morning in Relief Society, I paid attention to the song that we sang:
I testify the Son of God loves pure light; He is love’s pure light. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.