For psychologists and regular humans, one of the most interesting topics in the world is “How do we change?” We all wrestle with this and related questions: How do we break old habits? How do we nurture healthier relationships? How do we stop behaving in ways that don’t serve us well in the long run? How do we become better people?
There are various answers to these questions. Some would suggest that people don’t change. We are formed by early life experience. We merely try to manage our destructive impulses. We settle into austere, controlled resignation.
A different answer to the question is that we change through hard psychological work. We work through our childhood hurts. We get therapy and medication.
A popular answer to the change question is education. We get training for everything from driving safely to delicately expressing marital discontents. Public education, weekend workshops, and self-help books are based on this hope.
A Book of Mormon Model of Change
But the Book of Mormon teaches a different model of change. Vastly different. Note the themes in the following verses:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2 ).
And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true (Alma 5:12).
And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved (Alma 5:13).
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5: 14)
. . . their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil (Alma 19:33).
A Great Mystery
I would like to understand this mighty change. I have certainly experienced it at times. Many times. Sitting in a sacrament meeting or reading someone’s life-changing experience or testifying of God I have felt my soul flooded with holiness. At such times I feel a mighty change. I have no disposition to do evil. I yearn to do good continually.
But the natural man returns. Within minutes or hours I find myself once again chafing at human commerce and defending my interests at all costs. I am back to judging, blaming, and coasting. It is dismaying. I want to be better. Permanently.
I have wondered if maybe I’ve never really had the mighty change. But, as maturity settles in, I think it more likely that God intends that we choose goodness and holiness thousands of times in a lifetime and feel that sweet change thousands of times before we are finally blessed with the final change, before we are made not just partakers of the divine nature but full-fledged recipients of “the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16).
I wish I understood the mighty change better. I suppose that our extended adulthoods are intended specifically to give us opportunities to experiment with and become familiar with this change.
Recently, in visiting with secular colleagues who teach families how to strengthen relationships, I asked the question that has been resting on my soul: Why is it that we teach family members skills for relating to each other, but we almost never teach them a change of heart? Can we ever hope to make meaningful and lasting improvements if we only perfect our “I” statements and never soften our hearts?
So now, as I work on a marriage curriculum, I find myself focusing on those same principles Jesus taught: sacrifice, repentance, humility, faith, and charity. Only if we are blessed with changed hearts do we have any hope of having thriving, eternal relationships.
I also believe we can honor and use our best moments, our micro-moments of changed hearts. So I honor those times when I feel most generous and gracious as the truest. I discredit those times when I feel that I must defend myself or indict another as most false, dishonest, and deceptive.
The moments of changed heart show me what I am capable of being as I give my heart and purpose to the Lord. They encourage me to continue hopefully seeking to become a new creature in Christ.
In teaching of the mighty change of heart, the Book of Mormon invites us to look beyond mere mortal methods and fill ourselves with the divine. As we embrace Him, we are changed. I believe that is the only way to make meaningful and enduring changes. This is another vital Book of Mormon message and corrective for the latter days.