Readers’ Forum: A quest for belonging

Elias Johnson, left, Erik Johnson, middle and Adam Johnson, right, go snowboarding together. Loving our neighbor is difficult enough. Feeling love for those that we find disagreeable can only happen through Christ. (Photo Courtesy of Adam Johnson)

When I started at BYU I was eager to make friends and to find “my people.” I went to Ballard Center lectures, joined student groups, and attended sporting events to try to find people that were like me. I met kind people and made a few friends, but into my first semester, I still hadn’t found the kind of people that I was looking for. Instead, I felt alone and tired.

As a last-ditch effort to find a place I belonged, I joined BYUSA and I was assigned to work with the clubs chapter. BYUSA Clubs helps students start and run clubs where they can meet other people with similar interests. BYUSA works to build communities within BYU. This seemed like the very framework that I had assumed would help me find my people. Yet, in some ways I felt even more isolated.

In the early days of the Church, the Savior provided this instruction to His saints, “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” The Savior didn’t ask His followers to gather themselves into groups with similar interests, similar backgrounds, similar incomes, or shared ideologies; rather, he asked each person to become one in Him. This completely changed the way that I thought about belonging at BYU. I wanted a tribe, but the Savior was offering something more. God doesn’t ask us to segregate at BYU (or anywhere). Instead, I think he invites us to make all people at BYU “our people.”

Too often at BYU we try to create, join, and promote groups with the intent of helping others find their place. Clearly, we do this with good intentions. Unfortunately, this misses the mark of what the BYU community could be.

BYU could be a place where we are bound together, not by our interests, by our majors, or even by the shared mission of the university, but because we are all children of God and disciples of Christ. The world would have us find our identity in a tribe within BYU, or even as a tribe called BYU. The Lord would have us see each other as His people.

So, how do we create a singular, inclusive community at BYU? As a start, it will take empathy. Each of us will need to reach beyond ourselves–to give up what comes easy for us–and to spend time truly being with those who we perceive as different from ourselves.

Elias Johnson, left, and Adam Johnson, right, go rock climbing together. When I started at BYU I was eager to make friends and to find “my people.” (Photo Courtesy of Adam Johnson)

Charles M. Blow said, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding is sufficient.”

Christ invites us to see through His eyes, to listen through His ears, and to act as He would in our treatment of others. To those who already feel a deep sense of community at BYU, extend your reach. Your first thought might be to invite others to become just like you. Resist this thought; instead listen. The great choir of Christ that Elder Holland spoke of has many voices. “Remember it is by divine design that not all the voices in God’s choir are the same. It takes variety to make rich music.”

For some, the invitation to embrace different voices will seem impossibly hard. It will almost certainly lead you to new places. You may feel uncomfortable. Loving our neighbor is difficult enough. Feeling love for those that we find disagreeable can only happen through Christ. He will change us.

As self-focused individualism takes hold of so much in our society, we need a real community now more than ever. I learned that finding a tribe isn’t enough. We must come to embrace our differences, rather than conceal them. Perhaps as we do, each of us will come to know that there are 30,000 other students at BYU that are incomplete without you. This should be our vision of belonging at BYU.

-Elias and Adam Johnson

-Woodland Hills, Utah

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