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January 2008

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The Economic Principle and Parenting Programs


Photo Courtesy: www.morguefile.com Author: Octavio Lopez

There is a general law that you get what you pay for. It seems that cheap chips are less flavorful. The price of an inexpensive car is multiplied by the costs of repairs. A discount wig may look like road kill.

Even such ephemera as love have a high price. Love is not the spontaneous flood of emotion portrayed in popular media; meaningful love is the result of serving, adapting, appreciating, and forbearing—over the course of years and difficulties.

Great love is built at great cost.

There are, however, notable exceptions to the general rule of economics. I can think of none more conspicuous than in the area of parenting programs. Some of the best programs cost the least.

Many commercial parenting programs were developed by business people. They are supported by effective marketing and skillful persuasion but many of them are filled with high-sounding nonsense. They offer simple solutions with strong assurances.

But there is no magic parenting wand. Time-out is no panacea (in fact it is commonly misused.) Consequences are no better than punishment when used without wisdom and compassion. Rewards are often counterproductive, damaging the internal motivation that we hope to encourage in children.

What are the touchstones for assessing the quality of a parenting program? I think there are two that are vital. The first relates to the theme of all Jesus’ teaching: Love. He tells us that the characteristic of love will be the measure of any follower: “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). I think Jesus would put love first on His list of parenting recommendations.

Not surprisingly, research has found that loving children is the single most important thing parents can do for their children. Not only does love have direct effects on children but it also mediates or moderates the effect of all other parental behavior. Everything a loving parent does is more effective than if that parent were less loving.

The best parenting programs recommend love as the foundation, guiding principle, and informing spirit to all parenting efforts. They provide specific counsel on taking one-on-one time with children. They may even recommend specific methods for discerning children’s individual languages of love. There can be no good parenting without love.

The second vital element in parenting is a healthy attitude about agency. Agency was the core issue in the war in heaven. It is also the core issue in most family skirmishes. It is not helpful to grant children unlimited freedom nor is it productive to be overly controlling.

Devoutly religious people at different points in history have thought it was their job to teach children to submit to them in preparation for submitting to God. Such a noble rationale has cloaked centuries of unrighteous dominion. It is plausible but wrong. God’s message to Elijah was that the Divine was not to be found in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the still, small voice (I Kings 19). We can help children submit to the holy inside of themselves as training for lifelong submission to God.
The most exciting new research on moral development teaches parents to activate their children’s empathy. Compassion, more than control, rewards, or guilt, is the basis of morality. If one grants that empathy is one of God’s messages to our souls, then this recommendation is exactly the same as the recommendation to point children to the holy inside themselves.

Excellent parenting programs teach parents how to point children to their inner messages. Rather than manipulation and punishment, they teach parents to use persuasion, long suffering, gentleness, and meekness (see D&C 121:41). They teach parents to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Effective parenting requires more than the right attitude; it requires wisdom and inspiration.

When the two characteristics of great parenting programs, love and respect for agency, are combined, agency is taught lovingly, compassion is taught by example, loving is taught as the highest use of agency.

Where are the best parenting resources to be found? Some of the best are very affordable. For example, the best parenting book ever written (outside of scripture) may very well be Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott. Though it is currently out of print, millions of copies were printed. It can often be bought at used bookstores for less than a dollar. (My judgment on the merits of that book may be tainted by the fact that I am currently working on a revision of the book that will be released in 2003. However, The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books places Ginott’s two parenting books on the short list of all-time great self-help books.)

John Gottman’s Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child, though limited to styles of guidance, is a wise and balanced book—available for about $12. It can help parents set bounds with compassion. Gottman calls it emotion coaching.
Another choice: you can buy The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life at www.deseretbook.com. (Disclaimer: I wrote it.)

But there are even greater surprises. Many people do not know that the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) that provides counsel on pruning trees and canning tomatoes also provides research-based information on family life. CES is not in business to make money. The organizational mandate is to get the very best research information to the citizens of the country.

For example, family specialists in Utah have gathered excellent web resources on marriage at the web site www.utahmarriage.org. All the information is free. Of course it takes real effort to put it to work in our lives. But the great ideas and solid principles are available without cost.

Chuck Smith at Kansas State University had been very progressive in his development of family materials on line (http://www.ksu.edu/wwparent/wondhome.htm).
O

ne of the parenting programs I know best is the one I wrote for Auburn University. The publications in that series are available at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/indexes/hefcd.tmpl#infants. The units can be read online or ordered for a dime each.

Recently, Steve Dennis and I have created over 60 family units on subjects from marriage to development, from optimism to traditions. They are available free online at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service web site www.arfamilies.org (click on Family Life).

A broad array of family resources can be found at the Children, Youth, and Family Education and Research Network (http://www.cyfernet.org/). All are free, of course. Many commercial web sites also provide useful family guides.

There are times when an appropriate program is costly. Counseling and residential treatment cost more than information just as surgery costs more than aspirin. Yet, as a general rule, if you are paying lots of money for a parenting program, not only are you spending unnecessary money, you are probably getting an inferior program. The best parenting programs in the world are some of the least expensive.

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The Natural Leader is an Enemy to God



It is hard to imagine Jesus nagging the apostles: “You guys need to get out there and spread the word. My ministry is half over and we haven’t reached our goals. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!”

Yet when we want to “inspire” better performance in any church or family endeavor, we commonly scold, chide, admonish, chasten, and lecture. It is only natural. “Natural.” It is good to remember that our instinctive or natural actions make us enemies to God (Mosiah 3:19).

Maybe we chide and scold because such methods seem to work, at least in the short run. But the Lord suggests that they are not effective. And they are not right. He instructs us to use persuasion, gentleness, kindness, and love (D&C 121:34–42).

I have a dear friend named Myke. Some years ago he was a district scout leader. Part of his responsibilities included periodic meetings with troop leaders. Because of his determination to do his duty with honor, he did several things to be effective. He would send reminders to those who should attend. He was always well prepared to provide good material at the meetings. When someone did not come to the meetings, Myke would organize sets of materials from the meeting and visit the home of each of those people and share the materials.

One of Myke’s fellow scouters in district leadership chided him: “You’re only teaching them to be irresponsible when you take the materials to their homes. They’ll never come to your meetings if you keep taking things to them.” Myke rose to the challenge. He invited his colleague to make a test: “You use every means you know to get leaders to your meetings. I will continue to use the method I use. Let’s see who has better attendance.” Over a period of months each used his method. Would it surprise you to know that Myke’s attendance improved over time while his co-worker’s meeting attendance declined?

There is a “natural” interpretation to Myke’s delivery to non-attenders: “Well, if you don’t come, I’ll run everything over to your house. Don’t worry if you don’t want to come.” But the non-attenders seemed to get a different message: “When you don’t come, you are missed. Your work is important enough and the materials I prepared are important enough that I will bring them to you.” I think Myke was also saying, “I will do everything I can to support you in your vital work.” Such messages translate into better performance.

Sunset in Amorgos

Jesus taught the same kind of leadership when he counseled us to “leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matthew 18:12). Was Jesus worried that the ninety and nine would wander off, hoping for the extra attention that was given strays? Apparently not. Maybe Jesus hoped the ninety and nine would follow His example and become rescuers of lost sheep. Maybe scoutmasters who have been supported reach out to scouts who are lost.

Rather than scold the straying sheep, Jesus carried it upon his shoulders. Yet think of the many times that we scold one another. “Brethren, the month is half over; you need to do your home teaching.” “We now have a temple in our area and we aren’t using it as we should.” “SHHH! Be reverent!” We do a lot of scolding.

I know a bishop who had a monthly interview with the ward elder’s quorum president. One of the regular items of business in their meetings was to review home teaching. If there were any brethren who had not regularly contacted all their families, the quorum president would make a note and arrange to visit with them. If they did not improve their home teaching within the next month or two, the bishop would make individual appointments with the home teachers. The bishop and home teacher would begin their meeting with prayer and then the bishop would say: “As a priesthood home teacher, you are the vital link between God’s church and some of His precious children. Some of those children are not getting visited; what can we do to support your home teaching?” If changes needed to be made in companionships or assigned families, they were made. But that was rare. Usually the erring home teacher simply needed to be reminded how important his work was. He needed to be invited to be a partner with God.

Inviting is better than scolding. Inviting is what God does. “His hand is stretched out still” is the repeated message of scripture. Our bad deeds may bring on calamity that can humble us. Yet He always invites us to return to His Way of Life:

“Every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

Scolding, especially in groups, poisons the spirit of the gathering. It does not motivate spiritual behavior and it may engender resentment. For example, a high councilman assigned to talk about home teaching might use his sacrament meeting time to review the ward’s dreary statistics, threaten eternal consequences for slackers, and urge reformation.

There is a better way. Recently I heard a man tell about his home teaching. He said that he was teaching a brother who used to be a bishop but has not been to church for years and does not live the Word of Wisdom. The man reported about his home teaching: “I don’t know how it happens. We visit the man. We talk about his projects. We share our message. We have not gotten him to come to church. I don’t know if we’ve done him a bit of good. But we sure do love him! God has given us a love for that man that I cannot comprehend. I look forward to every visit.” Such a message could make a great talk on home teaching. It is more effective than the customary scolding.

The first principle of leadership is love. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). During His mortal ministry, many people responded to Jesus because He reached out to the blind, He touched the leper, He wiped away tears from the sorrowing, and He saw beyond sin in the confused. If we want to motivate better performance, we must first love. Love for God, His work and His children, is both contagious and energizing.

Recently our stake president made an appointment with Nancy and me. He invited me into the office first and asked if I would support Nancy as the new stake relief society president. I didn’t know whether to groan or to laugh. Nancy does not like to be on stage. She does not like to boss people around. She does not like to make lots of decisions. She simply wants to help people in need. That is why she is such a great leader! She does not care for any of the trappings of leadership. She only wants to love and serve.

Effective leadership is motivated by love for those served and for the work. Meaningful home and visiting teaching is energized by the same love. Inspiring classroom teaching is animated by love for students, for God, and for His sacred messages.

Of course our most significant leadership roles are within the family. An acquaintance at work once asked me how to deal with her 4-year-old having scratched a neighbor child. I asked what she had already done. She said she had scratched her daughter and isolated her to her room for three days. I still remember the mother’s words: “She must learn that it is not acceptable to scratch.” I am confident that the 4-year-old learned many things in that encounter. I doubt that she learned not to scratch.

My personal reaction to such behavior has been mellowed by my grandparental stage of life. I recommend that the mom comfort the injured neighbor child and then take the offending child to a quiet place. The mother could hold the child close as they rock together. She could soothe the child with gentle strokes. She could hum a favorite tune. She might even call on her deepest feelings to express love to the child. Would kindness after misbehavior convey to the child, “I just love it when you are a terrorist!” I don’t think so. I think they would convey, “I love you, Dear. I’m sure you’re very confused right now. I’m sure you feel bad about hurting your friend. You must not hurt people. I want to help you get to that place in your soul where the holiest impulses can be found. From that place will come all the right actions.”

That seems to be Jesus’ message to us in the story of the prodigal son. Though the son had been ungrateful, wasteful, and immoral, his model father responded to the son’s return with love: “when [the son] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The second principle of leadership is love. So are the third and fourth. That is not to say that there is nothing else that matters. Somewhere around number 73, other principles show up: wisdom, stewardship, delegation, etc. But if we have not charity, the pure love that comes from Christ, we are nothing (see 1 Cor. 13:2, 2 Nephi 26:30, and Moroni 7:46.).

As Myke says, “Sheep herders scold and drive. Shepherds lead and love.”

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The Great Presumption



A bright, sensitive young man told me about his recent battle with his brother. Harsh words and threats were traded. The young man told me, “If he apologizes sincerely, I will forgive him. But I rather like being estranged. It is nice not to have him around.” It seems that all of us enjoy some occasional recreational resentment. We love to nurture our grudges and culture our complaints.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9).

Sometimes we’re tempted to accuse God of hyperbole. He couldn’t possibly mean that, if someone commits a grievous sin against us—perhaps murder, rape, theft—that we will be guilty of a still greater sin if we do not fully forgive that person. Maybe He is exaggerating for effect.

There is another possibility. Maybe unforgivingness is a presumption of epic proportions. Maybe the failure to forgive suggests that we think we should be able to regulate the flow of His grace. “No one should be redeemed unless we approve.”

Perhaps God is telling us in that remarkable scripture that we do not have veto power on His acts of redemption. When we presume to declare someone undeserving, we show our pettiness and ingratitude. We clearly do not understand our own dependence on His grace.

Thus, when brilliant Jesus teaches about a debtor who was forgiven a vast debt (estimated to be billions of dollars in today’s money) who would not forgive a puny debt (estimated to be pocket change), the ungracious man incurred divine wrath.

And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:34–35).

Lately the Lord has blessed me with opportunities to view the significance of forgiveness. In one case, a young couple found themselves divided, resentful, and at the brink of divorce. The young man revealed that his attitude toward his bride had been severely damaged when she revealed a past indiscretion. He punished her for months with sullenness, harshness, and absence. To his eternal credit, he finally recognized the error of his ways. He admitted, “I need to fill myself with the gospel to change my attitude and behavior.” It was marvelous to see the transformation as he turned toward the light.

In another case, my sweet companion was asking me about making copies of the tape of our daughter’s mission report. Not having taken time to understand her request, I misunderstood her need. We swapped misunderstandings until I reacted impatiently. It is amazing to me that I can so quickly become impatient with the kindest, most considerate person I have ever known. I am sorry, Nancy.

We all have just cause for resenting each other. In a telestial world, we are all offenders. Whether we do or don’t resent the offenders around us is the measure of our conversion. Loving the undeserving is the evidence of our change of heart.

When our view of life is limited to our own puny needs and peevish complaints, we begrudge others any good fortune or heavenly grace. But when we understand the great gift that has been given us, the gift of His loving sacrifice, we are filled with love and patience for the entire human race. Judgment is transformed into charity.

It is popular for us to soften the boundaries of the commandment “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1; 3 Nephi 14:1) by invoking the seemingly more liberal Joseph Smith translation “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (JST Matthew 7:2). Apparently we are free to judge if we do it righteously. And so humans from the beginning of time have smote one another with the commandments: “He is a sinner.” “She falls short.” “They are no good.” (What an irony that we smite each other with the commandments that God designed to bless us!)

The trouble with the broadening interpretation of the judging commandment is that it does not account for several other scriptures, including these two:

Behold what the scripture says–man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay (Mormon 8:20).

Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay (D&C 82:23).

How does one reconcile the different counsel on judging? There is actually no discrepancy between the seemingly more restrictive (“Do not judge”) and the more liberal commandments (“Judge only righteously”) if we understand them rightly. None of us is righteous (see Romans 3:10). Our telestial minds are not capable of righteous judgment.

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But when we are filled with He who is truly righteous, we can see rightly. When our only judgment of others is His assessment of them, then we “pass righteous judgment.” In the final analysis, only One who knows everything and loves perfectly has the right to judge.

It is supremely appropriate that we are judged on the same principle that we judge. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2).

If we see others through the lens of His love and compassion, we will be seen in that same way. If we apply our shriveled, shrewish judgments to others, we will be judged in that way. If the grace and goodness of Christ is not our standard as we measure, it will not be the standard when we are measured.

It is not hard to tell when we are imposing our own miserable sentences on one another and when we see with the “mind of Christ”(I Corinthians 2:16). The indicator Joseph Smith gave us is compassion: “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241).

There is one scene in literature that still haunts my weak efforts at charity—the bishop’s candlesticks from Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. The kindly Catholic bishop of Digne gives shelter to an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, much to the dismay of his housekeeper and sister. He feeds and gives a bed to the brooding man. In the dark of the night, the troubled Valjean rises, makes his way to the silver, fills his bag, and departs. On the morrow, gendarmes drag Valjean and the silver back to the bishop.

The bishop has every reason to be indignant that his kindness has been repaid with thievery. His word would send the man back to prison. He might have thought it gracious to recover his silver, deliver a lecture, and send the man on his way. But he holds a higher standard.

He greets the sullen thief: “Ah, there you are! I am glad to see you. But I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?”

Valjean was thunderstruck. He had only known a world of cruel legalism. He could not comprehend a man who heaped goodness on his tortured and undeserving head. That act of grace transformed Jean Valjean’s life and rippled through the balance of his years.

If we think of God’s commandments as a ruler, they are intended to chart our course back to Him. They were never intended to whack fellow travelers on the head. In the press of daily commerce, how often do we rap heads with the ruler of our legal judgments when we could change history by following the perfect example of one who taught forgiveness? He invites us to the highest standard.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–4).

God invites us to join Him in the sweet process of blessing His children.

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Big Acts in a Small World



THE MAGIC FROM A WINTERS MORNING  2 (WINNING  PHOTO WINTER CHALLENGE  29 01 2008 )

Life in mortality is filled with petty complaints and surly jostling. In fact, mortality is designed to challenge the best in us. Our spirits yearn for peace yet face a tangle of annoyances, disappointments, and injustices. Our spirits are pained by being immersed in a world where thorn and thistle choke out flowers and vines.

I remember reading the story of an elderly woman who showed up every morning at the grocery store and bought only a few items—about enough food for one day. The clerks thought her behavior was odd and speculated about its cause. Did she have no refrigerator? Did she have no room for storage or no place to live? Did she love to shop? Did she go shopping for exercise? They found no persuasive answer. One of the bolder clerks determined to ask her. The next morning as the older woman was checking out, the clerk asked, “Ma’am, every day you come in and buy just a few items. Why is that?” The woman sighed. “You might not know that I am a widow. I live with my nephew. I hate his guts. When I die, I don’t intend to leave him any extra groceries.”

That is the spirit of mortal smallness. We tend to meet badness with badness. We reflexively become filled with petty jealousy, anxiety, small-mindedness, hoarding, and resentment. We are neither at peace with ourselves nor with others. And mortal smallness does not readily relinquish its grip on our souls.

But there is another message inside of us. Our spirits whimper, “God can transform all this dusty ore of mortality into the pure gold of eternity.”

Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord” (D&C 98:3).

In some way, quiet, unexpected, and mysterious to mortals, God will take our disappointments, pains and transform them into blessings if we turn them over to Him. We may be tempted to cling to our grievances; He invites us to surrender them.
Van Wyck Brooks has described people who rise above smallness: “How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.”

In each of our lives God places many proximate if imperfect models. I think of Greg, who suffered painful family disappointment and still gives thanks and praise to a perfect Father in everything (see D&C 98:1). I think of Barbara, who resolutely serves in the Church in spite of personal doubts. I think of sweet A. Theodore Tuttle who, dying of cancer, resisted the prayers of loving church members. “I have had a good life and am ready to go Home. If you have faith and goodness to spare, direct it to the poor people of South America.”

The ultimate model of graciousness is the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only absorbed our sins and paid our debts but went the extra mile and voluntarily bore our griefs and carried our sorrows so that His compassion for our suffering would be fully informed (see Isaiah 53 and Alma 7:12). No one has ever been as gracious as He. No one has ever done so much for so many. No one has ever been so resolute in the commitment to bless.

There is a distinctive spirit to work inspired by His goodness. It is filled with light and kindness, which greatly enlarge the soul (see D&C 121:42.). “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.240).

Greatness of soul is captured in a story of a kindergartner who showed up at school one day with a note pinned to his jacket. He wore the note proudly. The teacher eventually spotted the note and asked the boy, “Would you like me to read the note?” The boy responded, “Yes, I would.” The teacher removed the note and read: “My son was unhappy this morning because his sister had a note and he did not. Now he has a note and he is happy.”

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“Have ye any that are sick among you?”



Some time ago we were visiting a ward in a distant city. I do not remember the subject of the lesson in the high priest group that day. But I clearly remember a comment by a brother. He faulted some missionaries who had been in their ward some years previous. Their misdeed had been to go for the “easy baptisms” that now were a hardship to the ward. “Our unit has been burdened by all the handicapped people that a few overzealous missionaries brought into the Church. How can our ward beexpected to carry so many burdens? We had to back off those missionaries.”

My spiritual hair stood on end. Something felt terribly wrong. Something whispered within me that the “lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or . . . withered, or . . . deaf, or . . . afflicted in any manner” are a great treasure in any ward or branch. The idea was so involuntary and so foreign to logic that it had to be true.

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The people in our congregations with the biggest challenges may be our greatest blessings. They are a constant reminder to us that Jesus always favored the broken honesty of the humble to the polished assurance of the prominent. He was “a friend of publicans and sinners.”

Chris is hampered by cerebral palsy but every Sunday he inspires ward members with his cheer. For more than 30 years he has been confined to a wheelchair—and he reads with difficulty—yet he blesses the sacrament. His father lifts him to his knees. Chris slowly and deliberately recites the prayer, mostly from memory. He enunciates every syllable the best he can. His father prompts him when he falters. Every heart is touched by his valiance.

Chris also leads the music in priesthood meeting. His father wheels him to the front of the gathering. His arm will not move far, his hand will not open fully, and many words are difficult for him to pronounce, yet he leads us. His face radiates the joy that is only known by the pure in heart. I am grateful to Chris for a weekly reminder that joy is the natural fruit of service and goodness.
I remember years ago visiting a rural Utah ward sacrament meeting with a friend. The Sunday I visited happened to be the first Sunday that 12-year-old Tommy passed the sacrament. He had the timidity and awkwardness that is common in 12-year-olds. In addition he was completely blind. He struggled along, carrying the sacrament tray and feeling the ends of the rows to get his bearings. He was not smooth nor confident. But he was sincere.

In our current ward we have more people with disabilities than any ward to which we have ever belonged. What a blessing! We are regularly blessed by those who are “lame, or blind, or halt, or withered, or afflicted in any manner.”

One sweet sister in our ward is completely blind. She lives alone and cares for a horse, three dogs, two cats and two birds. She is a faithful visiting teaching supervisor and stake missionary. She trains other blind people how to adapt. I remember a Sunday when she was sitting at the end of a row near us. When the deacon offered her the sacrament, she did not respond. She could not see it. Then someone noticed. A sensitive sister nearby came to her aid and drew her hand to the tray. I resolved to be less blind to others’ needs.

Due to the wide array of physical and emotional disabilities in our ward, members regularly reach out to guide, sustain, encourage, and love each other. Several give rides to the car-less. Some push wheelchairs. Many offer heartfelt love. What a great tutorial in compassion! This is an environment where Christ-like charity can flourish. Each of us in turn leans on that compassion as we make our own halting spiritual progress.

My life is blessed by many “disadvantaged” people I have known over the years. George has very few good teeth, very little education, very little reliable work, and only a hut to shelter him and his family, but he stands ready to help anyone in need.

Clif may not have much, but he provides his roof, his old truck, his tools, and his time to any troubled traveler. Most importantly, he offers encouragement even when he is despairing.

I have studied the people to whom the words “thy sins are forgiven” have been spoken in scripture. In some cases the recipients were sinners who yearned to be better. We are not surprised that they were granted cleansing for their repentance. But other recipients were lame or diseased. It catches us by surprise that Jesus should offer spiritual healing for physical maladies. What qualified them for the sweet blessing of having their sins removed?

The man sick of palsy is a case in point. When he sought healing, Jesus remitted his sins. For the benefit of the disbelieving scribes; Jesus also healed his palsy. But we ask, “What was it about the palsied man that qualified him for a forgiveness of sins?” The answer is central to the gospel message: He had humility.

Disability often ministers to our humility. And humility is the gate to heavenly goodness.
As those with disabilities struggle to do the ordinary, they may experience sustaining grace and come to know—better than most of us—our universal dependence upon God.

And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).

Jesus holds up the broken and misshapen as moral models to those of us who glide through life. I would not be surprised if a scientific study found that there is a direct correlation between the number of disabilities in a ward and that ward’s spiritual strength. Any pre-resurrection city of Zion is likely to have more wheelchairs than sports cars.

Perhaps those who limp through life volunteered in an earlier life to take more conspicuous and painful limitations than the rest of us. Perhaps they are the best among us. Perhaps they have special claim on the promise that the last shall be first.

They are poignant reminders that we all bear infirmities and none can be healed without divine ministrations.

. . . he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).

To be aware of our disabilities can lead us to the Healer. Those who appear unflawed may go unhealed.

I thank God for the sweet souls who have taught me so much. How we should welcome those with disabilities—financial, educational, emotional, physical, or spiritual—to our number! May Heavenly Father send us more of the sick and troubled and make us equal to the lessons they will teach us.

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Misunderstanding the Messages



The great danger for humans is that we will walk by the light of our own understanding.

We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men (Isaiah 59:9–10).

There are innumerable areas where we fail to comprehend divine truth. Yet we may expect our shortfall to be greatest in the areas of truth that are most exalted and sublime.

At some point in mortality most of us find ourselves in the clutches of crude, small, selfish acts. We detest them even as we cling to them (for the natural man craves stimulation at all costs). Sometimes we wonder how we got so far down a vile road. We resolve to get ourselves out of the filth. But mortal messes accumulate faster than we can remove them.
More than once along the mortal journey we are likely to be threatened with a dreaded confrontation with a judge, either mortal or immortal. It is natural to lie and contrive in order to avoid the painful accounting. We hardly need to add accusation and moralizing to our already-heavy burdens.

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Here is one of life’s great surprises. When the woman taken in adultery was dragged before the Lawgiver, the Judge, the Holiest of all, He did not accuse her. The scribes and Pharisees accused her. And they nettled Jesus to take a stand against her unholiness. He, the model peacemaker “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (John 8:6).

When they continued to pester Him, “he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (v. 8). The irony is breathtaking. The “defenders of the law” were guilty of noxious sin but anxious to prosecute anyone guilty of different or more disagreeable sins. He was the only one in that gathering or any other mortal gathering who was without sin. But He threw no stones.

The errand of the keepers of the law had taken a nasty turn. They were disqualified as judges and executioners. Yet even in their viciousness, He did not accuse them. Rather, the law that they used to batter fellow travelers became their accuser. And they were left without basis for accusing Jesus. They departed discontent at the outcome but apparently unwilling to repent.

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (vv. 10–11).

Satan’s name literally means “accuser.” That is a vital point. It is he and all those who do his work who do the accusing. We may tell when we are under that evil power when we are anxious to find others guilty and make them suffer.

Satan’s fundamental lie is to transform Jesus in our minds from friend and Savior and advocate to judge and accuser. By so doing he transforms the Good News into everlasting bad news. If we let Satan pull his dirty trick, we are left with dread rather than hope.

When we find our consciences nagging us, we naturally assume that God is upbraiding us: “Why haven’t you been reading your scriptures? You should not use harsh words with your family. You have been neglecting your prayers. Your church service has been disappointing.” He has every right to be irritated with us. He has given us so much and we perform so poorly.

But such upbraiding is almost never the voice of God. He who commands us to treat each other with love does not resort to chiding and scolding to motivate us. It is Satan who points the accusing finger for, in his perverse strategy, he knows that shame paralyzes rather than energizes. While the evil one scolds us and cajoles us to do better, he laughs because he knows that such scoldings discourage us. His message is to do good but the effect of his message is to do nothing.
Satan and God approach us very differently. Satan points the accusing finger at us while God’s hand is stretched out to us.

Those are very different gestures. Satan accuses. God invites.

The scriptures describe Jesus as our advocate who is pleading our cause before the Father (D&C 45:3). He offers His sinlessness, His blood, His sacrifice to heal us (D&C 45:4). For those who show even the least disposition to repent, He invites “come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal [you]” (3 Nephi 18:32). For those who scoff at repentance, humbling tribulations are offered. But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:6).

If we see God as a hostile accuser, we avoid encounters with Him at all costs. If we see Him as a loving Redeemer, we seek His refining embrace. Perhaps father Lehi was describing that blessing when he summarized his life by saying that “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).

We may judge whether our self-scorning is evilly or divinely inspired. “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

What a surprise. Years of cajoling that we assumed to be heaven-sent may indeed have been devilish if they left us wan and listless. How many less-active Latter-day Saints remain outside the warmth of His goodness because they assume that He will chide and berate them if they approach Him? How many have felt their gloom deepen as they mistake Satan’s accusation for God’s invitation? How many have concluded that they are beyond His redemptive reach because of the burden of so many sins?

Richard L. Evans observed that “our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience” (Conference Report, October 1956, p.101).

Rather than flee from God as our accuser, or hide from God as our judge, we should run to God who is our Advocate. Because we have an high priest who is touched by the feeling of our infirmity, we should “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

During the time that I served as the bishop of a student ward I consistently began interviews with the question, “How are you getting along with your Heavenly Father?” The responses followed a predictable pattern: “Well, I am trying. I am so busy with school and work that I am not doing as well as I should. I could read the scriptures more.”

It seemed to me that many of the college students avoided Heavenly Father the way we might avoid a cranky parent. At the time of greatest need they avoided their greatest resource and friend. My counsel was to make Him a part of their lives. “Talk about Him as you drive to school. Hum a hymn as you walk to class. Let your heart be filled with thanks to God.” The remedy for darkness is light.

Accepting His offering of love and goodness has a powerful impact on all our relationships.

The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs (J. F. Smith (Ed.), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938) p. 241).

When we are filled with divine love, we are more gracious parents, more helpful partners, more considerate friends. It is clear why Satan would like to block the flow of heavenly goodness into our lives. The good news is that we can learn to respond to any darkness in our lives by turning toward the light.

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Abandoning Anger



Under the banner of honesty, anger has been made into a virtue. Under the banner of psychological well-being, the expression of anger has been made into a necessity. From the beginning, it was not so.

Years ago when I was serving as a branch president, a young adult in our ward came to see me. She explained that she had just been with her therapist. The therapist was helping her work through many issues including a feeling that she had been neglected and deserted by her father. The therapist invited her to take part in an unusual exercise. She invited the young woman to mentally bring her now-deceased father into the room. Sit him in a chair before her. And give him hell. Tell him about her pain, disappointment, and years of loneliness. “Tell him just how you feel. Let him have it.”

After she described the bitter confrontation to me, she paused. “What do you think of that idea?” Perhaps she asked me because she knows that I relentlessly test every idea by the teachings of Jesus. I did not have any preconsidered response to her question, but I had an impression. “I think it depends on what your object is. If you want self-justification, there is nothing as useful as blame. But if you want peace, I recommend a different course.” I told her that, like her therapist, I recommended that she mentally invite her father to sit in front of her. But rather than stand and berate him, I suggested that she kneel at his feet and invite counsel from him. She might ask, “Dad, if you had not been sick, if you had not been overwhelmed by mom’s demands, if you had been able to do what was in your heart, what might we have done together? What daddy-daughter dates might we have had? Tell me about the times that we might have stayed up late laughing, snacking, and talking. Tell me about the shopping and movies we might have shared. Tell me how you love me.”

Le loir, entre La Fleche et Angers

If our souls will be peaceful, our minds can hear the words of comfort from those who love us from the other side of the Veil. If we let them tell us all that is in their hearts, our pain will be swallowed up in assurance. Immortals gladly do what weak mortals struggle to do.

Any time we presume to judge another person we are usurping the role of God. “Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay” (Mormon 8:20). The Lord’s discussion of motes and beams (see Matthew 7:1–5) underscores the mortal risks of such an undertaking. Criticism is always presumptuous and ungracious.

And that is the problem with anger. It presumes that my view is the standard of truth. It exalts my needs while dismissing yours. It fills me with indignation in my least righteous moments. It assumes that the best way for me to help you is to paint your errors in vibrant colors.

“When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other” (Jeffrey R. Holland, 1984).

Years ago Heavenly Father taught me that I did not have the right to correct anyone I did not love. That seemed reasonable enough. Little did I realize the trap at the time. When I feel genuinely loving toward someone, I lose interest in correcting them. I just want to love and bless them.

“All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 241).

The prophet’s observation is elegantly harmonious with God’s ultimate commandment as expressed in Luke:

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36–38).

When we are filled with judgment and anger we make our worst moments into some ultimate reality. We forget charity and love and eternity. Today’s indigestion defines eternity’s relationships and truths.
It is true that God gives us permission to reprove with sharpness—but only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost (D&C 121: ). We only have the right to chide and challenge when we are His messengers with a specific commission. And we must be willing to “[show] forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (D&C 121:43–44). That does not describe our routine bouts of anger.

“Let all Latter day Saints learn that the weaknesses of their brethren are not sins. When men or women undesignedly commit a wrong, do not attribute that to them as a sin. Let us learn to be compassionate one with another; let mercy and kindness soften every angry and fretful temper, that we may become long suffering and beneficial in all our communications one with another” (sel John A. Widtsoe, 1954).

Brigham Young challenges us to keep angry feelings and words out of our homes: “In our daily pursuits in life, of whatever nature and kind, Latter day Saints, and especially those who hold important positions in the Kingdom of God, should maintain a uniform and even temper, both when at home and when abroad. They should not suffer reverses and unpleasant circumstances to sour their natures and render them fretful and unsocial at home, speaking words full of bitterness and biting acrimony to their wives and children, creating gloom and sorrow in their habitations, making themselves feared rather than loved by their families. Anger should never be permitted to rise in our bosoms, and words suggested by angry feelings should never be permitted to pass our lips” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp.203–204).

The Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, makes keen observations about anger: “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you” (Wishful Thinking (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) p.2).

It used to be thought that Type A or intense personalities were at greater risk of heart disease. Research reported by Redford Williams showed that it was not the intensity that killed people. It is hostility and cynicism. In fact, he aptly titled his book, “Anger Kills” (1993). When we feed and celebrate our anger, when we see others in the worst light, we are destroying our own hearts. Anger is like taking poison and waiting for that hated person to die.

The doctrines of the world teach us that we must get our anger out or it will fester and come out in monstrous forms. It will destroy you!

But research tells a different story: Expressing anger is not cleansing and it is not cathartic. It is addictive. The more we talk about our anger, the angrier we get.

When we are flooded with anger we have more than one option. Rather than spewing hot lava on the heads of offending humans, we can seek the divine gift of forgivingness. We can beg heaven for compassion. We can cry out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18). Replace this fretful clog of humanness with divine grace. Help me to see as Thou seest. Teach me to love.

The best research on marriage shows that even the best marriage partners get angry. But partners in the best marriages are better than those in poorer marriages at soothing and bounding their conflict. They are better at accepting influence from each other. They see each other in gracious, forgiving ways. They show more kindness. Maybe we never entirely overcome the impulse to anger in mortality. Yet we never stop trying.

Again and again we are reminded of that new commandment Jesus gave for those who be true disciples. Between His washing of the apostles’ feet and His inexpressible agony in the garden, He commanded us, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Anger is not the expression of some unhappy but real truth that must be shared and discussed. It is one of Satan’s ancient tools to eclipse love with indignation. If we learn to give family members the benefit of every doubt, reason patiently through every problem, and keep their greatest strengths always central in our minds, we still fall short. Only when heaven opens and gives us a glimpse of the eternal stature of those who are our partners, brothers, sisters, and children do we understand the great honor and trust that we enjoy. The great truths always come from Heaven.

References:

Holland, J. R. (1984). A robe, a ring, and a fatted calf. Brigham Young University 1983-84 fireside and devotional speeches (Provo, UT: University Publications), pp. 51–58.

John A. Widtsoe (1954). Discourses of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

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The Trouble with Competition: When Winning is Losing



Nairobi Marathon

I remember riding in the car years ago with my beloved Grandpa Wallace. I was only a boy at the time. My brother, Alan, and I sat in the front seat with him. Grandpa took a pocketful of coins and divided them between my brother and me. I suppose that Grandpa wanted to provide us with a little spending money. My first instinct was to count up Alan’s take and compare it with my own. I still remember being anxious that I got my fair share.

That is the mindset of mortality. Comparison. Score-keeping. Competition. But it is not the mindset of heaven.

A Challenging Parable

In a parable that challenges our mortal mindset, Jesus tells of a householder who hired laborers for a penny per day (Matthew 20:1–16). Apparently the laborers were glad for the work and accepted the proffered wage as reasonable. The householder also hired laborers at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours with the understanding that he would treat them fairly. At the end of the day, when those who had worked only a few hours each received a penny, those who had worked all day hoped to receive more. When they got only a penny, they complained. The irony is they got exactly what they had contracted for. They had been treated fairly. Their discontent was aroused because others got just as much for fewer hours. They begrudged the short-timers their good fortune. So the householder asks: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15).

God seems to ask: “Would you feel richer if others got less? Why would you begrudge someone else his good fortune? Do you want to set limits on my goodness? Are you glad for the grace that saves you but resent the grace that rescues others?” The Prophet Joseph observed that: “It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty” (Smith, 1938, p. 320).

Jesus concludes the parable with this observation :“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16).

Are We Truly Followers of Christ?

Could Jesus be saying that the final test for those who have labored many years in the kingdom is the grace they offer those who are latecomers? Could He be challenging us to be glad when a soul repents? Is it possible that the final test for entrance into His kingdom is that we are gracious in the same spirit He shows? Is it possible that many who were first in the earthly kingdom will fail this heavenly test of jealousy? Could the ultimate test of our discipleship be a recognition that all of us are paid far more than we deserve and, therefore, our deserving is insignificant in any formulation of pay?

Elder Holland has powerfully challenged us to overcome our shrewish envy in his discussion of a parable of two brothers, one of whom we call the prodigal: “Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies. It is Lucifer, our common enemy, whose cry down through the corridors of time is always and to everyone, ‘Give me thine honor.’ How can we overcome such a tendency so common in almost everyone? For one thing, we can do as these two sons did and start making our way back to the Father. We should do so with as much haste and humility as we can summon. Along the way we can count our many blessings and we can applaud the accomplishments of others. Best of all, we can serve others, the finest exercise for the heart ever prescribed. But finally these will not be enough. . . . So we pray that They will help us, that They will ‘come out’ to meet and embrace us and bring us into the feast They have prepared” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 62).

Returning Good for Evil

A colleague and I recently worked on a joint project. When the project did not go in the direction she preferred, she became upset. I tried to find a mutually agreeable solution. She balked. She tried to have the project shut down. Our leader concluded that there was still merit in the project. It seemed that I was vindicated.

And there is the test. Will I smugly laugh at her misfortune? Will I gloat over my victory? Will I arm myself for future battles? Will I talk of her with colleagues to undermine her power base? If there is a turn of events, and my pet approach loses favor, will I be bitter? If I do any of these things, I am demonstrating clearly that the doctrine of the Atonement has not reached my heart. If I act in any of those ways, I may spout the words, but I do not live the redemptive doctrinal truth of the gospel.

In contrast to small-minded responses, Jesus set the terms for true discipleship. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have heard it said that Satan does not have the gift of discernment. He knows our individual weaknesses because he hears us talking about each other’s weaknesses endlessly. We open the door for Satan’s work when we speak ill of anyone.
Living with Grace

When that colleague and I work together again, am I prepared to bless her with graciousness and heartfelt kindness? Am I willing to yearn for her good fortune? The task is daunting. Having been personally hurt and offended, I confess that I cannot do as I am commanded. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). I can only act as I should if I am filled with Him and His goodness.
It is not enough to merely love the loveable. “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so?” (Matthew 5:46–47).

God has a higher standard. Much higher! “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Or as Luke expressed the goal: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

A More Perfect Way

Fortunately God is a Heavenly Father rather than a Heavenly Accountant. The more we become like Him, the more we will wish well to all people, even those who are different from us or who persecute us.

It is easy to see that a culture filled with competition, trophies, hierarchies, and double elimination tournaments may not help us think the way God does. That does not suggest that competition should be done away. But the more we understand the gospel, the more likely we are to be glad for excellence on all teams. We appreciate good ideas from all political parties. We value good ideas even when they undermine our preconceptions. We are genuinely glad for any goodness regardless of the source. We must be gracious just as God is. Exactly as He is. For we are to be filled with Him.

Richard L. Evans described God’s exemplary attitude. “Our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience” (Conference Report, October 1956, p.101).

I confess that I am surprised to find myself still so unskilled at so central a task so late in life. I am a 55-year-old toddler. Yet I know to what source I must look. I know that this vital lesson can still be learned if I let Him teach me.

May we all seek the mind of Christ (See I Cor. 2:16) that we may see each other—even the annoying—with love.

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Are We Not All Beggars?


christ played by bern kubiak

The older I get—and the longer I live in the South—the more I admire King Benjamin.

“And now, for the sake of . . . retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26, emphasis added).

King Benjamin seems to see our care of the poor as the sure indicator that the doctrine of the atonement has seeped into our souls.

Learning from the Poor

We first met the man I will call “H” some weeks after we had moved to a southern community. I was invited to speak at his baptism. Since we knew neither of the candidates for baptism, I supposed the missionaries were desperate for a speaker. Little did I know what lessons God had in store for me from this humble new convert.

H is a young black man with a scrawny, twisted body. Every step is a limp. Those are some of the effects of his cerebral palsy. In spite of his physical limitations, he speaks well and thinks with a lilt.

We got to know H better as he attended a Sunday school class I taught. He listened attentively whenever he was there. Occasionally his hand would shoot up. I would call on him and he would make comments that might be described as offbeat. They were insightful, usually delivered with an ironic chuckle, and they always looked at life and the gospel from an unexpected perspective.

Over the years, we had H over for dinner or took him out to dinner a few times. I took him to a movie once. I can’t remember why I was giving H a ride when he told me some details about his childhood. His mother died when he was a child. When he was 12, his father equipped him with a gun and sent him out to sell drugs. His father was ashamed of his son’s twisted body, so he ultimately had him committed to an institution. H felt desperately lonely there. But there was nothing he could do. I was amazed at the string of pains he endured.

When Nancy and I visited H’s apartment in a reputedly dangerous neighborhood, we were always amazed at the way he felt honored to have “the priesthood of God” in his home. He spoke longingly of the day when he would receive the priesthood.

A Trip to the Hospital

One day when we checked our phone messages, we found one from H saying that he was in the state mental hospital. We went to visit. While H has had recurring bouts of mental illness, the main reason for this confinement was a disagreement he had with his father. He had asked his father to vacate his apartment because he was selling drugs and causing trouble. Words were spoken. His father called the police and told them to pick up his son because he had gone crazy again. While H was in the hospital, his father cashed and spent H’s disability checks, leaving all bills unpaid.

H taught us a vital lesson in appreciation as we sat in the modest visiting room of the state hospital. He said that he had gotten pretty discouraged. Then he realized something that helped: “I won’t say my life will get any better. It can’t get no better than this! You can change your scenery but breathin’ is ‘bout as good as it gets.” I was amazed. He rejoiced in the blessing of breathing as he sat clutching the hymnbook we brought him, sitting incarcerated, uneducated, unemployed, and disabled.

One day on the way home from the office I felt that I had to stop at H’s place. It had been too long since we visited him at the state hospital. I wondered how he was doing at home. I found his place and went to the door. I knocked. No answer. I knocked again. A gruff and round black woman came to the door. I asked for H. She walked away. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to follow but I did. She marched into a back bedroom where H’s shriveled body lay on the bed facing the wall. When I greeted him he rolled over, “Hey, Brother Goddard.” The black woman with her handsome little boy stood nearby.

The woman kept threatening to hit her little boy. H introduced the woman as his fiancée.

Trying Hard and Not Making It

Since his dad spent all his money while he was in the hospital, H had no money to pay his bills. His house (for which he paid $20 per month rent—you can imagine the place) had no gas. No water. He had no phone except a pager. A charity paid his electric bill. He is unable to work because of his disabilities. He had tried college classes but found it hard to figure out the system. He was discouraged. But he brightened to have “the priesthood of God in his home.” I gave him three things: the money I had in my pocket, the appreciation for him that flows naturally from my heart, and a promise to call the Relief Society.

As soon as I got home I called the Relief Society president. She suggested I call the elders quorum, which, in my view assured that nothing would be done—we have a wonderful elders quorum president who is badly overloaded. I called the elders quorum president, who promised to work with the bishop to help H.

Then I left on a trip. Twelve days later, back at work, H called me and told me that he was staying at his uncle’s place because it was hard to live in the winter without water and heat. He and his girlfriend were breaking up. He wondered if he could borrow a few dollars from me. I asked if he had heard from the Church. Not a word. I sighed. Sometimes the priesthood of God doesn’t deliver. I met with our bishop the next morning about getting some help. I continue to suspect that none of us are doing enough.

And H is not alone. There are H’s in every community, awaiting those who respond to the Master’s call. They are, as much as anything, our rendezvous with Jesus. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Conflict of Values

It seems to me that Latter-day Saints are caught in a mighty clash of values. We believe in helping the poor. Yet we also believe in self-sufficiency. Sometimes those two can co-exist fairly peacefully—unless you live where poverty and discrimination are common.

H tries very hard, but in the race of life he has a twisted body and a crushing burden. He keeps trying, but sometimes he gets discouraged. Our experiences in the South have taught me forcefully that my appreciation for self-sufficiency does not justify keeping the poor at arms’ length. We must help.

“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:16–19, italics added.)

Indeed, we are all beggars. None of us will feel self-sufficient when we face God at the judgment bar.

The Challenge

God expects us to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). Many of us are tempted to use the self-sufficiency argument to excuse ourselves from our Christian duties.

Of course self-sufficiency is a true principle. We believe in being anxiously engaged in a good cause. We are to cheerfully do all we are able. But it is not my job to impose self-sufficiency on another person. My obligation towards others is charity and benevolence. That is one of the central messages of the Book of Mormon. It is one of the great latter-day challenges.

  • Do we gladly give whatever resources we have—time, money, or expertise—to help the poor?
  • Do we give all we are able to give to fast offerings, humanitarian aid, and the perpetual education fund? (Remember President Kimball’s challenge to give 10 times the cost of 2 meals, where possible?)
  • Do we move back from the edge of coveting so that we have more room for giving to the poor?
  • Do we appreciate the abundance we already have rather than racing endlessly on the acquiring treadmill?
  • Do we gladly contribute goods to Deseret Industries and other organizations that help the poor?
  • Are we as mindful of the needs of the poor as we are of finding tax deductions?
  • Do we note the frequent scriptural warnings to those who are prosperous?
  • Do we look beyond the shabbiness of poverty to appreciate the God-given gifts of the strugglers?
  • Do we seek counsel of those whose life experiences have been filled with pain and disappointment?
  • Do we recognize that many of God’s greatest have been poor?

The Final Judgment

If any of us turn away from the poor, we may feel quite lonely on judgment day. Joseph Smith’s words will ring in our ears: “. . . if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” (Joseph Fielding Smith (Ed.), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), p. 241).

After all, “a man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Smith, 1938, p.174).

I thank H for the lessons he has taught me about gratitude, determination, and life. I know that God expects me to do more than I have to help him.

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In Good Company



When I read my old missionary journal, I blush. I am sorely tempted to burn it. I am amazed how naïve I was! My fad diets were a nuisance to companions and the members who fed us. I was inconsiderate of companions and unwise in many decisions. Truly I was young beyond my years.

Yet recently I got a letter from my dear mission president—the man who had to sort out companionships and try to keep us all focused on spreading and living the Good News—in which he wrote: “you were a fine missionary and you deserve every blessing that you stand in need of.”

I had a jolt of joy. It was powerful. I stood and basked in his comment.

The jolt of joy wasn’t because I was convinced by President Rudd’s comment that I was a much better missionary than I remembered being. It wasn’t because I concluded that he didn’t remember my faults. It was because I felt his graciousness. He has forgiven me for being a nuisance. He has apparently filtered out the impurities from our experience and credits me with being earnest. He rummaged through our challenges and found some good.

christ n little girl

The Power of Grace

What my mission president showed is grace, sweet grace. Even decades after my mission my mission president continues to teach me the message of the Master as He treats me as if I were somehow remarkable.

For years we lived in Vernal. I have felt the same amazing grace when Nancy and I attended the temple there. In a small town there are always plenty of reasons for people to have unenthusiastic feelings about each other. The temple workers who dotted the path knew enough to judge me and resent me. Yet, many times as I climbed the stairs to the ordinance room, I fought back tears because of the graciousness of old neighbors who embraced us with love and warmth in that sacred place.

I knew I didn’t deserve their good will. So it was an act of grace when they chose to look beyond my fallenness and appreciate some hint of earnestness.

Lesser, Higher, and Heavenly Ways

In the course of our normal lives, we hurt, disappoint, and offend each other. The natural response is to fight back—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, until we are all blind and toothless. This is the law that governs international relations and family feuds. It is driven by the logic and emotion of hell.

The better course is to be fair—to give due credit but also just condemnation. We are good to our friends but tight with the untrustworthy. This appears to be the higher road because of the tight logic and apparent objectivity. This is the logic of the legal system.

The City of Zion operates on a different law, one given by Jesus: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus’ governing principle is grace.

Where is the Power?

In the great revelation on proper influence, God promised glorious rewards to those who do two things. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men (1), and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly (2) . . . .”

Charity and virtue draw a flood of heavenly blessings: “. . . then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45–46).

I think that Father is telling us that the simple and consistent practice of charity and virtue will reap us the greatest rewards in all of eternity. It’s a simple formula.

But it’s not very popular among humans. We are often ungracious with each other. We often offend both charity and virtue as we size each other up and resent each other. Even in our more objective moods we assess, judge, measure, evaluate, and thereby minimize our fellow travelers in the journey toward Home. “Well, he’s a nice guy but he sure isn’t very reliable.” “He’d be a good boy if he only did his chores.”

In this mortal world, no noble deed goes unsuspected.

Latter-day Saints should be familiar with damning by faint praise. Our accomplishments are often begrudged or discredited by those who see us as peculiar. It is rare in this world to receive wholehearted appreciation.

But the Lord teaches us that there is great power when we look beyond the layers of sludge and humanness to see goodness. While God has not asked us to be gullible, He has asked us to be appreciative. Joseph F. Smith’s words are a continuing challenge to me: “We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? . . . Is it not better to drop [weaknesses and faults] and say nothing about them—bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better? (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), 180–81.

Seeing the Better Side

God recommends “kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul” (D&C 121:42). That recommendation is in stark contrast to the human tendency to analyze and categorize each other.

Traditional psychology feeds the monster. We have diagnostic categories for myriad disorders and our language is filled with labels for foibles. But Martin Seligman, a respected leader of the positive psychology movement, has said: “I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” (Seligman, 2002, p. 13).

Our greatest successes as individuals come from using our strengths; our greatest unity in groups comes from appreciating each other’s strengths. We can justifiably see each other as flawed, diseased lepers. But when we have charity we see each other as beloved miracles.

Recently I was pained when a friend in the state hospital became very angry with me and treated me harshly. Fortunately I was still basking in the warmth of President Rudd’s praise so I prayed for the grace to respond with meekness and understanding. I tried to understand the difficulties of this man’s life and struggle. In spite of my hurt, I chose not to throw gasoline on the fire of indignation. Two days later he called and apologized. On my next visit we embraced again as brothers.

I hope God will teach me to be less objective and more gracious. Every time we show grace in our homes, neighborhoods, or wards, we bring our community a little closer to the City of Zion. There is great power in grace.

May we bear one another’s burdens and cheer for each other’s successes. May we, in our small ways, be messengers of the kind of grace exemplified by our Great Redeemer and Advocate, Jesus Christ.