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The Cheeriest Person in the Universe



Recently I met with a young woman who is trying—sometimes half-heartedly and sometimes earnestly―to move from a substance-filled, cohabiting, bar-scene life toward a saintly one. When she came to see me, we talked about what she has learned and ways she is finding joy—which is the sure marker of God.

She is trying to get her spiritual bearings. She has been sober for six weeks. She loves the scriptures. But she still smokes and drinks coffee and dislikes going to church. So, how’s she doing? That’s the question that weighs on her heart. “Am I acceptable to him because of the progress I’ve made or repugnant to him because of my continuing failures?” She can’t quite decide.

Heaven’s answer

Heaven pointed us to answers. We read from Heber C. Kimball:

“I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have his Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is―the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, ‘I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.’ That arises from the perfection of his attributes; he is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man.”

“A jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man.” I like that. I love that! God is the kindest, finest, cheeriest person in the Universe.

So we established that God is different from anyone she knows. We can look around our circle of friends and see hints of Him. But no mortal can compare with Him.

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Measuring our joy

If we look around sacrament meeting and average the apparent level of personal happiness among all those in attendance, the result might be disappointing―even dismal. But if you gather together the people in the room who know God and you asked them how happy they are, you had better be ready for an explosion.

I searched for a metaphor to explain God’s attitude toward her in her struggle to become better. I thought of some time I spent in the corporate world. When business got tough, they started talking lots about profit centers. Every department had to make money―be a profit center. It became the mantra.

But God doesn’t see us as profit centers. We are not little factories that must make a net profit. We are His children. He expects to lose money on every single one of us every day of our lives. He is okay with that. He has already set in store an infinite and eternal Atonement―so there is nothing we can do that will tax His resources. He has us covered.

A better mantra

So our discovery was that God doesn’t see us as profit centers. He sees us as His children. He wants a relationship with us. That is different from wanting to make a profit on us.

Most of us plug along doing a little good and making an occasional effort, but we loaf a lot—spiritually speaking. We do not remember him in all times and all places. We don’t jump up and help people who need us. We get casual in our relationship with the divine.

So, we imagine that He gets fed up with us and says: “I’m sick of your lack of commitment! You’re a consistently bad investment. I’m pulling out. I’ll put my efforts elsewhere.”

No. He says to us: “The rules of relationships are different from the rules of business. I’m not keeping a balance sheet on you; I’m building a relationship with you. May I tell you about sneaking into your room last night and watching over you as you slept? May I tell you what I am doing to bless and teach you? May I share with you the joy I have in the world I’ve given you?”

As He has often reminded us, through Isaiah, His hand is stretched out still. We are even written on the palms of His hands.

Holding back

Yet there are large chunks of her life that she is not ready to turn over to Him. She said, “I want control of my life. I don’t want to turn everything over to Him.”

While God wants us to become fully consecrated, I don’t think He is in a hurry. When we hold back most of ourselves, I think He calmly says: “Okay. Give me what you are ready to give me. I will bless it for you. Every time you trust me with a small part of your life, I’ll turn it into pure gold. I’m willing to take small installments over long periods of time. You have a guarantee. Whatever you give me, I will bless. Someday you will be ready to give me everything. When you do, you will know fullness of joy.”

God asks that we be converted—that we turn from Babylon, our natural destination, toward the bright lights of the city of God. Some people drive very nimble vehicles. When God invites them to turn toward heaven, they turn readily and efficiently. Unfortunately, most of us trace a meandering arc turning more toward God but reluctant to leave the world behind.

Maybe we’re not so different from Peter, to whom Jesus said:

“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

I think Jesus may have been saying, “Peter, you are one of my dearest disciples. We’ve been together for years. You have a great heart. And you still have much to learn. When you are ready to fully turn toward me, you will experience great power. I will be ready to take and transform as much of your life as you will give me.”

His message to each of us

Maybe that is exactly what God says to each of us who is at least toying with the idea of fuller discipleship. “Wally, I love you dearly. I have bought you with an extravagant price—the sacrifice of my Beloved Son. You often resist full discipleship. Yet I am grateful for all the parts of your life with which you have entrusted me. As you are ready for thrilling spiritual adventures, give me more.”

His love and patience provide no cover or excuse for return trips to Babylon. Yet, as long as we are trying, hoping, struggling to point ourselves toward heaven, He stands at the gate and waits—just as He did for the prodigal, that wasteful son who turned from home and returned only out of starvation and desperation.

“But when he 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).

As Elder Maxwell taught us in a general conference many years ago: “his relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs.”

Thank heaven for that loving patience. He makes it possible for imperfect mortals to make it back to His presence.

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Stepping Out of the Time Line



We mortals are so immersed in time that we rarely glimpse timelessness—or eternity. We see fantastic movies where people hopscotch from place to place in time but, in our “real” lives we plod along our time-bound path with no sense that it is possible to do otherwise.

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In 1892 my great-grandfather, Ben Goddard, left for a mission to New Zealand. He left behind his wife, son, and occupation. In his journal he said of his parting “Twas a hard struggle and only a sense of sacred duty would have reconciled us all to make the sacrifice.” For more than three years he traveled New Zealand, struggled with the language, taught the Maoris the Good News, conducted meetings, and sang hymns of praise. He even taught language, literature, and math in night school. He came to love the good people of that country far from his home in Millard County, Utah, or his first home in Huddersfield, England.

Lately I have been reading Ben’s journal, yearning to know his soul. His entry for April 2 had a real impact on me: “I received a letter from Mother but no letters from my dear family & on this account I was very sad & uneasy.” I pictured my beloved forebear far from home feeling anxious and lonely. I desired to send him a letter. My heart proclaimed: “I will write him!” even as my mind wondered how to send a message to the past.

If I went back to 1892 to write him a letter, I undoubtedly should not disclose that he would lead an important church work for 27 years after his mission. (We mortals are kept focused on today and faith by being shielded from a view of the future.) I hardly need tell him how much reason his only child, his beloved son, my grandfather, would give him to be proud. (He already adored his boy!) He would hardly have believed the number of descendants he would have only 70 years after his death. (I cannot count all the people!)

Maybe I could just tell him that I love him and that his devotion and testimony have blessed my life. Maybe I could tell him how his expressions of faith and life of service have blessed all his descendants. Maybe I could tell him that a file filled with his letters and journals are among my most cherished possessions.

But how does one predate a letter almost 110 years? I do not know the answer to that question but I felt that, if I made the effort, my message for my great-grandfather would not be wasted. I might—even now—write him a letter and both of us would be blessed by the effort. Time is no barrier for the work of God.

Elder Maxwell (1980) wrote about time: “Even now, time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves impatiently wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course. Whereas the bird is at home in the air, we are clearly not at home in time—because we belong to eternity. Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here” (p. 220).

As Alma observed, “time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). God lives outside of time. While we impose our clockwork chronology on life, somehow God surveys all creation and employs the goodness in one corner to the blessing of all. “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). God seemingly can make our actions retroactive, sending goodness rippling through all of eternity.

We have a friend who has gotten the help of a therapist to work through her bad feelings for her parents. Her therapist suggested she mentally bring back her deceased father and unload on him; let him know how hurt, betrayed, and neglected she felt. Tell him off. After doing just that she sought my feedback. I did not want to interfere with her work with her therapist but I suggested that sometime she may want to try a different exercise. I suggested that some day she might again use her imagination to bring her father back from the grave. I suggested that she kneel at his feet and invite him to describe what he would have done for her had his health and knowledge been different. How might he have supported, encouraged, and loved her? What great times together would they have had if he had not been bedridden? In that interview, they could create a new relationship, a new history. Even as I shared the suggestion with my friend, I felt invited to travel across time, making improvements on my marred life story.

The past may be more malleable than we think. The Lord has said that He can make what is crimson as white as wool (Isaiah 1:18). When He removes the stains from our past, He does not leave a void, a vacuum, a gaping hole in our fabric of our lives. He, with our cooperation, creates a past filled with purposeful living and specific goodness. As we become a new creature in Christ, we get a new history filled with all those things we would have done if we had had the convictions we now have. We indeed are changed.

Even now our choices to understand, obey, love, and bless can ripple both forward and backwards through time. Our choices can change eternity. They can bind the hearts of children to their fathers and the mothers to their scarcely known ancestors.

With the tunnel vision of mortality, we do not glimpse the ripples of our choices. We march along mortality gritting our teeth, grieving yesterday’s losses, and dreading tomorrow’s ambushes—unless we have that transcendent faith that lifts us above the worries of mortality. With that faith we know that a perfect Father will backfill the sinkholes of our life histories with love, purpose, growth, and joy. In eternity we will inherit the wisdom gleaned from our own experiences and the wisdom He has given as a divine gift. He can repair anything, even the past.

Brigham Young gives us a glimpse of total trust in the Lord in instructions he provided to missionaries:

When you pray for your families . . . you must feel—if they live, all right; if they die, all right; if I die, all right; if I live, all right; for we are the Lord’s, and we shall soon meet again ( sel. Widtsoe, 1954, p. 324).

For now the veil keeps me from seeing my beloved great-grandfather, but my heart knows that we are bound together eternally in a bond of love. I may not understand just how to capture his eye with my long-delayed letter, but I know that we are connected. I will write him a letter and date it April, 1892.

April 1, 1892

Dear Grandpa,

Oh! How I love you! Thank you for your letters, pictures, and journals that have provided me a view of your life and commitments. Thank you for dedicating your life to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your sweet devotion to your family. Thank you for your example of using all your gifts to advance God’s work and bless His children. You will bless generations far beyond your mortal sojourn.

May peace and purpose fill all the days of your mortal ministry. May glory crown your immortality. Even as you receive this message, there are those who rejoice in your whole-hearted offering.

Love,

Your great-grandson

I hope that somehow Ben’s loneliness in that distant day and land may be healed by my message written 110 years later.
But wait, even now Ben sends a reply filled with love and encouragement for his descendent who is still stuck in time. I cannot discern all the words, but I feel its spirit. I bask in the warmth of his appreciation.

“Thank you, Grandpa. It is so good to hear from you.”

Reference

Maxwell, N. A. (1980). Patience. In Brigham Young University 1979 Devotional and Fireside Speeches. Provo, UT: University Publications.

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

Smith, J. F. (Compiler). (1938). Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

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O Lord, Have Mercy and Deliver Us from Our Strengths!



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We know instinctively from childhood that we must contend against our weaknesses. If we are wise and determined, we make some progress over the decades. If we draw on the power of the Redeemer we can make quantum leaps. After subduing many of our weaknesses, it is a surprise to find that there is a very different temptation awaiting us on the road of eternal progress: overcoming our strengths. As Elder Oaks (1994) has observed in his insightful message, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall”:

But weakness is not our only vulnerability. Satan can also attack us where we think we are strong—in the very areas where we are proud of our strengths. He will approach us through the greatest talents and spiritual gifts we possess. If we are not wary, Satan can cause our spiritual downfall by corrupting us through our strengths as well as by exploiting our weaknesses. (p.12)

We admire people—in fact we may marry them—for their compassion, cleverness, ambition, organizational ability, or charisma. But those strengths can be a curse, especially in close relationships. The compassionate may become consumed in serving neighbors or the homeless or a charitable cause while neglecting spouse or children. The intellectual may reduce people to a scrap heap of motives and distort the meaning of life to a hopeless quagmire. The ambitious may become so focused on climbing that they fail to be available to God when He has an errand for them. The orderly may reduce life to a planner. The charismatic may find the conquest of new territory to be an addiction that keeps them from tending the home fires.

My own experience agrees. Nancy claims to have been attracted to me because of my enthusiasm, positivity, and self-assurance. I have always loved her for her peacefulness, goodness, and practicality. But there are times in a close relationship when my enthusiasm can feel demanding, impatient, unreasonable, and self-serving. There are times when her practicality seems confining and negative. I can insist that “I gotta be me!” Or I can learn the great lesson of life: to love as Jesus loves. I am happy to report that almost-three-decades of marriage have made me much better at listening to Nancy’s sensible, wise ideas. And I am immeasurably better for it.

If we rely on our strengths, no matter how amazing, we will never make it. Using our strengths to resolve problems that were created by our strengths has a predictable result. Ultimately there is only one power that saves. It is not compassion or cleverness or charisma. It is the Lord. King Benjamin advises us to:

[become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. Mosiah 3:19

We must submit to the divine way. Whatever our strengths, it is still true that we are dependent upon Christ for everything of eternal value.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. 2 Nephi 31:21

The qualities He gives us—faith, hope, and love—have enduring value.

How do we keep our strengths from becoming a stumbling block? Elder Oaks emphasizes humility as the essential ingredient.

How, then, do we prevent our strengths from becoming our downfall? The quality we must cultivate is humility. Humility is the great protector (p.19).

When we gloat about our strengths we clearly have forgotten who the great Giver of gifts is. Thus the talented may have a distinct disadvantage in the eternal journey. They can seemingly carry off this mortal struggle on their own. Yet it is the weak and meek who inherit the earth. It is the lepers, lame, and blind who were healed physically and spiritually. In God’s plan the humble have the advantage. They know they cannot rely on their own strength. They know to what source they must look. They know they cannot progress without constant infusions of goodness from heaven.

In the close relationships of family life there may be another gospel resource in addition to humility that is vital for balancing our strengths. Consider these examples:

One man is tranquil and gentle while his wife is enthusiastic. He will feel plowed over and she will feel unsupported and lonely—unless they manage their strengths. Another woman is a devoted mother and her husband is a remarkable businessman. Often he feels neglected by her and she feels betrayed by his lack of devotion.

No matter what strengths a person has, they will be a source of chronic friction—unless they are softened by charity.

Charity is the essential lubricant in family relationships. As the wise marital therapist, Daniel Wile (1988) has observed:

There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. . . . Each potential relationship has its own particular set of inescapable recurring problems (pp. 12–13).

There is nothing that makes us quite as contentious as the belief that we are right and need to correct others. The final and ultimate act of consecration is to put our knowledge, our ideas—all our strengths—on the altar for Him to do with as He will. In almost all cases He will be less interested in our being right than in our being good. We want to win arguments. He wants us to conquer divisions with love. There simply is no relationship remedy like charity. John Gottman (1994), a therapist and premier researcher on marriage, has said:

One of the great paradoxes in therapy is that people don’t change unless they feel accepted as they are (p.184).

With humility and charity we are prepared to be worthy family members. We can learn to give our partner the benefit of the doubt. We can listen better. We can work to understand our partner’s point of view. We can beseech heaven for the gifts of patience, gentleness, and meekness. We can seek the mighty change of heart that will make us more like our perfect exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ. He can lift us above not only our weaknesses but also our strengths. He can make us divine.

References

Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail and how you can make yours last. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Oaks, D. H. (1994, October). Our strengths can become our downfall. Ensign.

Wile, D. B. (1988). After the honeymoon: How conflict can improve your relationship. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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The Economic Principles of Heaven



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In the marketplace, we trade something we have for something we want. This system is built on the ancient premise that you can buy anything in this world with money—or gold or land or . . . . Those who succeed in this system are those who have (and control the distribution of) something that others deem valuable. Contrast this with the Lord’s management of His resources:

Come, my brethren, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea come buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Nephi 9:50 (also Isaiah 55:1)

It is obvious that a market system is vulnerable to distortion, corruption, and manipulation. Prosperous operators inflate the perceived value of goods or create high prices by limiting supply. It is intriguing to look at those who have been business heroes in our country. Many who were splashed on the cover of newsmagazines with titles of adulation are today facing lawsuits and humiliation.

Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. 2 Nephi 9:51

In capitalist societies we suffer an interesting moral quandary: Are people who make the most money the ones we admire most because of their success at capitalism, or the ones we disdain because of the moral and personal compromises they made along the way? Our admiration for business leaders rests on the unsteady ground of selective perception.

The ungodly are described as those who “. . . preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor” 2 Nephi 26:20.

Capitalism thrives on the supposition that more is better. When grundles of stuff fail to satisfy, we set our sights on still more stuff. Or we distract ourselves with empty amusements—before we return to the mall. Materialism is the hunger that is never satisfied, the thirst that is never slaked.

One remedy is to control our wants. Should such lack of desire become popular, traditional capitalism would stall—unless we actually became a Zion society and began to produce for the sake of those who cannot buy. But, then, that isn’t capitalism. Some might call it Christianity.

And all that believed were together, and had all things common. And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Acts 2:44–45

The most famous test of moral development is a story created by Lawrence Kohlberg called the Heinz dilemma. In the dilemma, a pharmacist has developed an effective medication for cancer. Heinz is a poor man whose wife has the disease. The pharmacist will not provide any medication without first exacting an exorbitant price which Heinz does not have and cannot borrow. Should Heinz allow his wife to die? Should he steal the medication? What should he do? Kohlberg examined a person’s reasoning in the dilemma to decide that person’s moral maturity.

It is probably no accident that moral dilemmas often pit our free-market rules against human well-being. The most common real-world form of the dilemma today may be in balancing work and family. “How can I make a good living (or progress in my career or pay for the new car or . . .) and still have time for my family?” It is harder to imagine a better test for whether our focus is mortal or eternal.

. . . and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; . . . 2 Nephi 9:42

Socialism has claimed the moral high ground over capitalism because it professes to value people over money. Unfortunately, research has shown that socialism’s professions have not been effectively operationalized in socialist countries; the inequities there are as glaring as those in capitalist countries. Apparently power, greed, and self-interest are the natural inheritance of mortals. They define our fallenness.

Roy Baumeister, a psychologist with keen insights, has observed an even further decline in values in recent times: “Modern economic life is based on the individual, rational pursuit of self-interest, which gradually came to replace the older patterns that were based on the cooperative, moral pursuit or the collective welfare” (1991, p. 96). Has this Earth’s history gotten us to a better place as we increasingly cast all decisions in self-serving terms?

Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)

God’s kingdom runs on different principles from those that govern capitalism. We are only prepared to enter the kingdom when we “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, [and] comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18: 8–9). In fact, any who hold back graciousness in the name of undeservingness are warned that they have “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” (Mosiah 4:17–18).

While a forgiveness approach may not work well in the accounts receivable office, it clearly is the guiding principle for the kingdom of God. Maybe the only ones who will qualify for God’s presence in the eternal worlds are those who can practice the law of abundance in a world focused on competition for scarce resources.

There is a keen irony in Satan’s “victories.” Every time he wins a mortal to his realms, he loses power (since every mortal who follows him will have a body and therefore will have power over him). Every time he wins in his foul purposes, he loses. The one who is obsessed with gaining power is perpetually losing it. That must be hell.

In contrast, every time God wins, all of His followers win. All of His disciples are enlarged by the blessing of adding more souls to the heavenly realm. We rejoice with those who rejoice.

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 that same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38

It is noteworthy that this invitation to abundance is offered in the context of counseling us to have mercy and to forgive rather than to judge and condemn. Love is the stock in trade in heaven.

It is intriguing when good science confirms the Lord’s counsel. Martin Seligman, the prominent psychologist, has made a recent summary of research related to happiness. He concludes that the pleasant life is the result of “a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past, and future.” It is filled with appreciation of beauty and pleasure all around us.

All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart. D&C 59:18

Still better than the pleasant life, the good life derives from “using your signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life.” As we are counseled in sacred contexts,

Fill the measure of your creation and have joy therein. See D&C 88:19.

But, says Seligman, “a meaningful life adds one more component to the good life—the attachment of your signature strengths to something larger. The meaningful life [entails] using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are” (Seligman, 2002, pp.262–63).

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25

When we live for ourselves, we will never enjoy the blessings available to those who dedicate themselves to God, His children, and His work. While the journey can be pleasant even for those who are not fully committed to service, fullness of joy is reserved for those who lose themselves in something larger than themselves.

This defies the laws of economics. But, it seems, everything of eternal value transcends those pedestrian laws. Turning again to Seligman’s observations about happiness:

The tedious law of homo economicus maintains that human beings are fundamentally selfish. Social life is seen as governed by the same bottom-line principles as the marketplace. So, just as in making a purchase or deciding on a stock, we supposedly ask ourselves of another human being, “What is their likely utility for us?” The more we expect to gain, the more we invest in the other person. Love, however is evolution’s most spectacular way of defying this law” (pp. 185–86).

We love in families. We love at church. We love in the community. Love is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is not even a profitable business investment. It is evidence that we believe in something beyond the tangible. It is the living evidence of our understanding of God’s plan.

There is a well-established spiritual pattern in human affairs. When someone is flooded by the Spirit, his or her immediate concern is the welfare of brothers and sisters (2 Nephi 6:3, Enos 1:9, Mosiah 25:11). That is the influence of heaven. In contrast, priestcraft is scripturally defined as seeking gain and praise instead of the welfare of Zion (2 Nephi 26:29). Ah, ZION! The place where we can be

. . . of one heart and one mind, and [dwell] in righteousness and there [will be] no poor among [us]. Moses 7:18

The communal spirit defines heaven just as self-service defines fallenness. The true believer yearns for the well-being of all God’s children.

In mortality, we all make a choice between the two ways. We may follow Satan’s system in which we greedily grab for more—and every gain is a loss. Or we may follow God’s plan in which we are enriched by giving away. Of course the perfect example is Jesus Himself. He laid down everything and now rules in eternity.

. . . he descended below all things . . . that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth. D&C 88:6

In everything that really matters, charity trumps capitalism, discipleship transcends profit, goodness overcomes fairness. We must never let the philosophies of humans keep us from the blessings of Zion. Many of those who are preeminent in this world will be obscure in the next, while those who reign with Him will have quietly dedicated themselves to succoring the weak, lifting up hands which hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees (See D&C 81:5).

. . . save they shall cast [learning and riches] away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. 2 Nephi 9:42

Jesus made a very unbusinesslike proposition to the young rich man. It underscores the process by which any of us find our eternal home.

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:21

Those whom Jesus holds up as moral models are children, the poor, the heartbroken and humble. Undoubtedly there is a lesson for us in that: Money is useless where He dwells. Love is the currency of the realm.

References

Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.

Kohlberg,

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.

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Blessed are the Merciful


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In a rural Utah town some years ago, a young man with a burden of life challenges added one more: a premarital pregnancy. As if it were not enough to be poor, bashful, poorly educated, and have a speech defect. The neighborhood response was to avert attention; the situation was embarrassing but might be less painful for all if it were ignored. The young couple planned to marry quietly and set up housekeeping with his parents.

The young man’s bishop had another plan. He invited the young man and his girlfriend to meet him at the chapel for an interview. Unknown to the young couple, the bishop had arranged for ward leaders and friends of the family to be in the cultural hall with gifts to help the couple launch their new life together. More important, they were to be there to offer love and support to an almost hopeless couple.

The informal reception went well. The couple felt loved and supported. But within days there were rumblings in the ward. “The ward doesn’t put on a reception for our children.” “Why should we reward their immorality?” “How will they learn to repent if they don’t suffer?” Somehow it seemed reminiscent of an older brother who protested the outpouring on his prodigal brother:

Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf (Luke 15:29–30).

I feel a real discomfort when we begrudge the “undeserving” any blessings that may befall them. A very wise king has reminded us that we are all beggars, that we all depend upon our Heavenly King for all we have and are. There is an ungracious presumption in begrudging others their blessings from heaven. The Lord put it in clear relief when he taught about an unforgiving debtor who refused to forgive his debtors their $15 debts after having been forgiven his billion-dollar debt.

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Luke 15:32).

Perhaps we show immense ingratitude when we judge others harshly while we ourselves are dependent upon His merits, mercy, and grace. The proper attitude toward those who are shown grace is, “Thank God for His boundless mercy!”

And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done (Mosiah 4:22).

Just as God gladly grants pardon, so, if we are to be on the heavenly path, we must be prepared to give to any who have need. If we are to retain a remission of sins, we “should impart of [our] substance to the poor” (Mosiah 4:26).

Satan bedevils us: “If you are gracious to the sinner you will be rewarding evil!” God counsels us to be busy at loving and to leave judgment and retribution with Him.

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. Peace be with you; my blessings continue with you (D&C 82:23).

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds (D&C 64:11).

The great, new commandment is to love as He loves. Even (or especially) in the family arena, love supersedes judgment. We have a friend who failed a high school math class. She had often had trouble with math. Her mother was frustrated and was tempted to preach: “How many times are you going to fail math? When are you going to take it seriously? What will it take to get you past your laziness?” Her mother knew better. She showed compassion and a respect for the daughter’s agency.

“That must be a horrible feeling.”

“Yeah. I’m disappointed.”

“And maybe you’re worried. Have you decided what to do? Do you have a plan?”

“I think I’ll take the class this summer when I have more time to study.”

Perhaps the most painful offence against heaven in all of this world’s history is the mountain of judgment, recrimination, and accusation that family members heap on each other. Modern research is clear that the most satisfying family relationships come from seeing each other in positive ways, giving each other the benefit of any doubt, and allowing family members to speak for themselves and to use their agency to make choices.

“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” (Brooks, 1948).

What could please God more than family members who are talent scouts, who are on alert for every goodness, and are gracious and appreciative. Anyone who has ever had such an advocate knows what a lasting impact that person has. Our only hope in eternity is that we all have just such a heavenly Advocate.

Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom (D&C 29:5).

In all human relationships there is a great power in graciousness and generosity. Just now we are reminded of this truth by a generous semi-retired businessman in our community. He asked me to help him load a lovely piece of furniture into his truck so he could deliver it to another businessperson in town. I asked him how much he got for it. His stammering confirmed my suspicions: he was getting nothing for it; he was providing it to that person simply because that person could make joyful use of it. The same graciousness has characterized that man all the time we have known him. It is one reason we love to be with him.

We tend to filter our happiness for other’s accomplishments through our own provincial sense of their deserving. Wouldn’t it be better if we rejoiced anytime we witness wholesome happiness? A memorable line from an inspiring Homefront spot observes: “Whenever someone somewhere serves someone else, there is truly cause to celebrate.”

Even when it comes to dealing with sin and error, the remedy is not confrontation and accusation but advocacy.

“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 people 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” (TPJS, p. 240).

Mortality is a training ground for compassion. Those who enlarge and practice their compassion and mercy are preparing to join Father in His Heavenly Work of advocacy. “And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (3 Nephi 12:7).
Reference

Brooks, V. W. (1948). A Chilmark miscellany. New York: Dutton.

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Fix One Another As I Have Fixed You



“I can’t tell her about my trouble. Even if I begged her not to tell, I know she would tell everyone she talked to. And the story she told would be an awful distortion.” A saintly friend spoke of a family member she had learned not to trust. “I wish I could trust her. Should I confront her about her gossiping?”

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That is the beauty of family life. We are regularly pressed against people whose faults we have come to know only too well. We try to be patient but only so many assaults against fundamental values can be tolerated. We chafe.

Generally there is at least one family member who is matchlessly irritating to us. That person efficiently does just the things that hurt, offend, and annoy us.

It would seem that we have just two options: We can allow ourselves to be misused or we can confront the offender. The first option does not help the offender and leaves us injured and resentful. It just doesn’t seem right.

The second option has historically been very popular. In this option we study the offender’s offenses and weave them into a pattern. Almost immediately the character implications become clear. We put a label on the diagnosis. We prepare our speech. We lie in wait. At the next provocation, our considered analysis gushes out. Of course it is all done with the intent of helping our loved one grow.

But there is a problem in this popular approach: “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger” (Franklin P. Jones). Humans are pained and dispirited by criticism. It commonly makes people feel hurt, lonely, confused, and hopeless. And it does not help them grow.

Returning to the woman who has learned to mistrust the family member, she could lovingly confront the gossipy relative hoping for a ready reformation. Yet I am confident that the offender would be deeply hurt and numbingly confused. I think she would respond: “I thought we were friends. I have always loved you and wanted to help you. You are one of my favorite people. Why are you so angry with me?” No amount of fair and reasonable dialogue could clarify the corrective message. It would simply feel like an attack, a counter-betrayal.

For every offense and every offender there is a sterile, brittle interpretation and there is a sympathetic interpretation. The woman who has a problem with telling stories can be seen as a gossip who barters secrets for attention. She can also be seen as a person who has been bashful from childhood and never had anyone in her life who helped her understand others and who talks about bad situations as part of her effort to understand them.

Of course, there is probably some truth to both versions. Thus we get to choose. We can choose to dwell on the light or the dark. We can choose to focus on the annoyance or to focus on good intentions. Whatever we choose to focus on grows. Thereby we increase the light or increase the darkness.

When we study people’s offenses with even a glimmer of compassion, we make a startling discovery: the root of the offender’s behavior is humanness. We all offend and we all do it because we are human. We all grieve heaven with our narrowness, meanness, and lack of wisdom. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:7). My mortal, human imperfection is something I share with all fellow offenders. In the poetic expression of Edward Sill (1906), “These clumsy feet, still in the mire, / Go crushing blossoms without end.” I can enlarge the world’s supply of pain by responding to humanness with my own provincial humanness. Or I can move us toward the divine by responding with the divine. I can respond with charity.

Charity is a choice—a choice with eternal consequences. “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind” (Becker, year). We are commanded to pray with all the energy of heart for the blessed gift of charity (Moroni 7:47–48) so that we can swallow offenses without getting indigestion.

The bitter irony in correction is that most attempts at correction make troublesome problems worse. They add fuel to the angry fires. The woman confronted with her “gossiping” will go running to find someone to help her make sense of the painful attack. In the effort to overcome her gossiping, she will extend it. That is why Paul warns of one of the chief dangers of being human: “O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1). When we judge, we become worthy of condemnation. When we fail to forgive offenses, small or large, we are guilty of a greater sin (D&C 64:8–11).

Judgment is such a delicate matter that it is to be handled only by those who know everything and love perfectly. That disqualifies most of us. “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). “Ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee” (D&C 64:11).

Jesus has begged us to stay out of the judging business since we are so poorly suited for it. His metaphor of motes and beams provides physical hyperbole but spiritual understatement: Humans can never see each other clearly. Nowhere do we see through glass more darkly than in our assessment of those who have annoyed us for years. We do not see that even annoying family members come “trailing clouds of glory, from God, who is our home.”

So Jesus directs us away from judging and toward charity, toward seeing as He sees. Wedged between His washing of the disciples’ feet and His giving His life for them, Jesus delivers the breathtaking new commandment: We are to love as He loves. He does not command us to repent one another or to fix one another. He commands us to love just exactly the way He loves: with perfect redemption. Such a commandment stretches us beyond human capacity. We simply cannot love as we should love unless we are filled with Jesus. Under His influence, we can view each other with compassion. We can make the good parts of our relationships more central, memorable, and common. We can carefully guide each other around our weaknesses. We can pray for each other. But we can only do it when we are filled with Him.

There is no simple answer about how much the woman should tell her talkative relative. That is the province of wisdom. She might provide a simple story of events. Or she may choose to avoid sensitive subjects with her gossipy relative. Irrespective of what she chooses to disclose, it is clear that she should strive to love and support her relative. Since that “offending” person has a knack for organizing, she can invite her to help organize her family history. She can make appointments for fun time together. She can cherish positive memories. God knows that love liberates goodness. If we all loved each other, the paradisiacal state would flood in on us.

Years ago it became clear to me that I do not have the right to correct anyone I do not love. There have been times when I have looked with compassion on a brother or sister and Father has entrusted me with a message for that person. Of course, at such times my “correction” felt more like celebration and encouragement than judgment, reproof, or scolding.

Researcher and therapist John Gottman (1999) reminds us that we cannot change people until we love them as they are. Of course once we love them as they are, the compulsion to correct is replaced with the desire to bless. “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. . . . if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” (Smith, 1938, p. 241)

So how should we react when we are pained by the thoughtless and selfish acts of another? We should pray that God will heal our wounds and then fill us with Him so that we can “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

His message is love.

References

Becker, I. in Reader’s Digest (1975). Pocket treasury of great quotations. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest.

Gottman, J. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.

Sill, E. R. (1906). Fool’s prayer. Poetical works of Edward Rowland Sill. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Smith, J. F. (Compiler). (1938). Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

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Calling Evil Good


Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light,and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!—Isaiah 5:20

Satan is the master of inversion. Where God offers light, Satan provides darkness. God confers joy, peace, and love. Satan dispenses lies, misery, and bitterness. Satan’s latter-day lies stand in contrast not only to heavenly revelation but even to good research on families and human development.

Being Married

The world suggests that being married is just one rather old-fashioned and unprogressive way of living. Rates of cohabitation are exploding. Divorce is epidemic. Both cohabitation and divorce are offensive to God. “Marriage is ordained of God unto man” (D&C 49:15). The wisdom of God’s commandment is supported by decades of research. Cohabiters who later marry are more likely to divorce (and be violent in the relationship) than those who do not cohabit. Cohabitation is not an effective testing ground for an enduring relationship. The multitude of benefits of marriage for both men and women is sustained by Waite and Gallagher’s (2000) book, The Case for Marriage.

Married people live longer, have better health, earn more money and accumulate more wealth, feel more fulfilled in their lives, enjoy more satisfying sexual relationships, and have happier and more successful children than those who remain single, cohabit, or get divorced.

Meanwhile, the long-term damage of divorce to children is underscored by Wallerstein’s (2000) longitudinal work reported in her most recent book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. Both Wallerstein’s book and the Waite and Gallagher book are enormously unpopular with some progressives in today’s world but both are based on good science. More important, they agree with the timeless truth given by God.

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Success in Marriage

Satan has promoted a medical model of marriage: Notice anything that is wrong with your partner, think about it, talk about it, and invite your partner to fix it. It seems so reasonable. Many marriage programs have been based on skillful communication of discontents. But God recommends a different approach to building relationships: personal repentance and love for our partner. When we cover our own sins, gratify our pride, or exercise control over our partner by shifting attention away from our need to repent and to our partner’s faults, the heavens withdraw themselves (see D&C 121: 37).
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [spousehood], only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—D&C 121:41–42.

The best new research in marriage makes the same point. John Gottman’s (e.g., 1999) remarkable program of research on marriage recommends editing (some things don’t need to be said), more positives (kindness), and self-soothing (gentleness). In successful marriages, partners value the relationship over being right (“repair attempts”). Gottman has found the pattern of marital conflict to be remarkably predictable. (Satan is not creative.) But happy couples are wonderfully unpredictable. They make the creative use of differences, work to build their relationship, and actively invest in their love.

I cannot find any place in scripture where the Lord commands us to carefully catalogue our partner’s follies. Nor can I find any place where he directs us to fix our partner. He does command charity, that pure love of Christ that transcends any ordinary definition of love. It is not surprising that research is coming to recommend kindness as the essential ingredient of healthy family relationships. The Lord and His servants have always recommended kindness, patience, and love. Joseph F. Smith (1998) counseled:

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 [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? (pp.180–81)

Chastity and Fidelity

Satan has portrayed chastity and fidelity as provincial, boring, and even lowbrow. But the Lord delights in chastity. (See Jacob 2:28.) He commands it even in today’s sexualized world. What does excellent research find?

Those having the most sex and enjoying it most are the married people. The young single people who flit from partner to partner and seem to be having a sex life that is satisfying beyond most people’s dreams are, it seems, mostly a media creation. In real life, the unheralded, seldom-discussed world of married sex is actually the one that satisfies people the most (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994).

Hollywood is wrong. The joys of married life have always been superior to the excitement of a swinging lifestyle.

Raising Children

Satan has parents looking for some magical combination of rules, consequences, timeout, and rewards that will teach their children to be good citizens. Heavenly Father provides a simple directive: “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).

“Light and truth” suggest to the mind love, compassion, heavenly inspiration, and the teaching of gospel principles. Decades of research on parenting confirm that nothing matters more than love. Urie Bronfenbrenner (1977, May) said it eloquently:

“Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her . . . There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her, and whom he or she loves in return.”

Love also sets the context for moral development. Hoffman (1983) suggests that children develop in their commitment to goodness and concern for others as we love them, set good examples, reason with them, and help them understand how their behavior affects others. That is bringing them up in light and truth.

Relationship With Self

Satan’s greatest coup may be in the area of our relationship with self. Old Scratch insists quite reasonably that “you cannot love anyone until you love yourself.” But the Lord has always recommended the opposite course: “And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come” (JST Matthew 16:28). Self- discovery comes through forgetting self.

Even scholars have been concerned about the modern western emphasis on self. Baumeister (1991) has observed a revolution in the way people find meaning in life. “Love and work are regarded by modern Americans as means of cultivating, exploring, and glorifying the self, and if they fail in this they lose their legitimacy. A relationship that stifles the self ought to be broken off; a job that fails to foster self-expression or growth should be changed” (pp. 104–5, emphasis in original).

The new emphasis on self has caused a redefinition of morality. “For centuries . . . each individual made his or her major life choices between the conflicting demands of self-interest and morality. . . . Virtue meant conquering the various forms of self-interest, including greed, lust, laziness, and cowardice. . . . Vice, in contrast meant putting the impulses and desires of the self first and acting on them even when such actions ran counter to the community’s needs, wants, and values. The hero exerted and suffered for others, and in the process the hero helped the community. The villain indulged his or her own selfish appetites at the expense of others. . . . [But] in the 20th century . . . morality has become allied with self-interest. It is not simply that people have the right to do what is best for them; rather, it has become an almost sacred obligation to do so. The modern message is that what is right and good and valuable to do in life is to focus on yourself, . . . Once it was a virtue to place the best interests of others ahead of your own. Now, instead, there is an increasingly moral imperative to do the opposite” (p. 113).

Krauthammer (1993, June 28) has observed that “the reigning cliché of the day is that in order to love others one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation . . . is a license for unremitting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless.” (p.76). Satan must laugh as Americans obsess on self-love and never quite get to loving God or neighbor.
When meeting our own needs becomes the moral standard in all our decisions, marriage suffers, children suffer, communities suffer, eternity suffers. What trend could better fulfill the promised latter day doom: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:1–2).

God does not provide commandments as an arbitrary test of our willpower. They simply define the path to happiness. That God who created us and gave us life knows how to bless us. God enjoins marriage, love, service, and unselfishness. Such commandments look like restrictions to the natural man but the spiritual person recognizes them as guides to love, joy, and peace. Truly we can choose misery or we can choose joy.

When we choose to obey Satan he pays us in the currency of his realm: misery. “The devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60). When we obey God, we receive “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom” (Luke 6:38).

God’s way is always better.

References

Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977, May). Nobody home: The erosion of the American family. Psychology Today.

Gottman, J. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.

Hoffman, M. L. (1983). Affective and cognitive processes in moral internalization. In E. T. Higgins, D. N. Ruble, & W. W.

Hartup (Eds.). Social cognition and social development: A sociocultural perspective (pp. 236–275). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Krauthammer, C. (1993, June 28). Beware the study of turtles. Time.

Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O. & Kolata, G. (1994). Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston: Little, Brown.

Smith, J. F. (1998). Teachings of the presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Waite, L., and Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage. New York: Doubleday.

Wallerstein, J., Lewis, J. M., & Blakeslee, S. (2000). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. New York: Hyperion.

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Personality and Perfection


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We all have different personalities. Each personality type has its characteristic strengths and vulnerabilities. For example, those who have an exploring type of personality are open to learning and constantly seek greater insight into gospel principles. But in their attempt to achieve greater insight, they may be tempted to weigh truth according to whether or not they accept it. They may sometimes find excuses not to follow certain commandments.

Those with a conscientious personality type may be very good at accepting and keeping the commandments. But in their effort to be faithful, they may neglect compassion and charity towards those who are still struggling to achieve the same level of obedience. And without charity we are nothing (2 Nephi 26:30, Moroni 7:44, 46).

We could take any personality description and make a similar analysis. Each has strengths and each has dangers.

Which is the better way?

As a person who studies personality I have wondered if one personality profile is more highly favored of the Lord than another. We may admire and favor people with certain personalities. Does God?

God’s surprise

I think that God’s answer is a surprise. As we look at those around us, our job is to have the mind of Christ. Consider Brigham Young’s words:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. Let no man judge his fellow being, unless he knows he has the mind of Christ within him. We ought to reflect seriously upon this point; how often it is said “Such a person has done wrong, and he cannot be a Saint, or he would not do so.” How do you know? We hear some swear and lie; they trample upon the rights of their neighbor, break the Sabbath by staying away from meeting, riding about the city, hunting horses and cattle, or working in the canyons.

Such behavior would certainly evoke unkind judgments from those who take the commandments seriously. Brigham warns against that reaction:

Do not judge such persons, for you do not know the design of the Lord concerning them; therefore, do not say they are not Saints. What shall we do with them? Bear with them. . . . Judge no man. A person who would say another is not a Latter day Saint, for some trifling affair in human life proves that he does not possess the Spirit of God.

Note that this cuts both ways. The conscientious might be upset by Sabbath-breaking. But the creative become upset with the conscientious “because they don’t care about people.” Satan laughs. Everyone is judging everyone. Brigham has wise counsel for anyone who looks on others judgmentally or condescendingly.

Think of this, brethren and sisters; write it down, that you may refresh your memories with it; carry it with you and look at it often. If I judge my brethren and sisters, unless I judge them by the revelations of Jesus Christ, I have not the Spirit of Christ; if I had, I should judge no man. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.277 p.278, emphasis added)

Ouch. If I have the Spirit, I would judge no man! God says that judgment and vengeance are His alone (Mormon 8:20).

In dealing with imperfect people as in all things, Jesus shows the way. He seemed to be instinctively drawn to those who met two criteria:

1. They had conspicuous needs–physical or spiritual.
2. They knew it.

Jesus was drawn to people not because they were sinners but because they were sinners who wanted to be made whole.

Do we meet the criteria? The first condition is universal for mortals. All of us are desperately needy. The second condition is highly variable. Sometimes some of us recognize our desperate need. Often we don’t.

Ironically, some of those who take spiritual things most seriously have the hardest time with the second condition. The Pharisees are a prominent example.

Our gift to God

Repeatedly God asks that we offer Him a broken heart and contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:20, 12:19). Why does God want us to be humble? When we recognize our need we are more likely to be sympathetic to others in need. We are more likely to see others redemptively. And we can forget ourselves and turn ourselves over to Him.

G. K. Chesterton expressed this idea very eloquently: “How much larger your life would be if you could become smaller in it. . . You would begin to be interested in others. You would break out of this tiny. . . theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

A beloved example

Sister Marjorie Hinckley described the condition in which she hoped to arrive in heaven:

“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with grass stains on my shoes from mowing Sister Schenk’s lawn. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

It is not a certain personality type that will be welcomed most warmly into heaven; it will be those who recognize their dependence on Jesus and learn to think as He does—who see needs and gladly act to bless. When someone irritates us, God invites us to see the need behind the offense. Jesus invites us to join Him as Saviors on Mount Zion.

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Wally’s thoughts:



Thanks to all who share their thoughts and questions.

Thanks to Candleman for sharing his book recommendations. From his suggestions I have added to my list of books to order and read.

I would like to respond to Mark’s searching questions. “I read an article on forgiveness that asserted that we humans are ‘hard-wired for revenge.’ What do you think?”

My answers to that question are yes and no. Yes we are wired with strong self-preservation instincts. Anyone who threatens us is likely to evoke a strong reaction. Just as King Benjamin observed, the natural man–unchanged by the divine influence–is an enemy to God.

The no part: We are also hardwired for empathy. When we take the point of view of the offending other, our reaction is softened. This is what psychologists call moral development and God calls kindness and pure knowledge. The yearned-for end-state for this inborn empathy is charity–when we love as Jesus does.

Mark asked another question: “Also, if we are too quick to forgive before the transgressor feels remorse for his error, are we helping them to possibly ‘short-cut’ and minimize their understanding of what they have done?”

Phew. That’s deep. My thought is that we are required to forgive (See D&C 64:8-10). It is God’s job to dispense any needed “vengeance.” Only One who loves perfectly and understands infinitely can be entrusted with exacting payment.

However, we may inadvertently encourage thoughtlessness by over-excusing sin. For example, the doormat spouse might say, “You’re right. I deserved that. I’m sorry I’m such a bad person.” There is a more balanced response. While we do not hold the offender accountable, we can say, “Ouch! That really hurt. You must feel awful to say/do such a thing.” We do not withhold forgiveness but we do not disguise the pain caused by the offence. If the person is open to repentance, he or she may feel empathy and may repent.

-Wally

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Satan’s Shell Game



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Satan may not be intelligent but he is certainly strategic. He strikes at the most vital functions of society. Even then he is not content to get us acting foolishly; he prods us to celebrate foolishness. He is able to do this with even the brightest among us. Let me provide some examples.

A commitment revolution

A few years ago a small group of professors who care deeply about families met to develop a national curriculum for marriage. Some of us suggested that commitment is the foundation to strong relationships. We must have a resolve strong enough to keep us connected to a partner through dark days and stormy nights.

A couple of team members objected strenuously to the idea of commitment: “Too many women have been held hostage in bad relationships by commitment.” One went farther: “I don’t even like the sound of the word.”

They made a good point. There are extreme and unwise forms of commitment. There are women who have been destroyed in the process of trying to rescue a relationship with an abusive partner. That is not right.

But there are also healthy forms of commitment. Commitment is the foundation of trust, of covenants, of growth. We might well ask ourselves, is our overall society suffering from too much or too little commitment?

Many social commentators and scholars have observed that we moderns are a flighty people. I agree.

Built on sand

After hitting a logjam on the idea of commitment, one of the team members suggested a different foundation for our marriage curriculum: exchange theory. You may or may not be familiar with this theory. It is based on economics. It suggests that each person is constantly weighing options, looking for the best bargain for him or herself.

Imagine how marriage based on exchange theory would operate! Every day I would ask myself whether my wife is the best I can do and whether the costs of the relationship outweigh the rewards. When attractive options come along, I investigate. If the benefits seem genuine, I would drop my “commitments” in favor of the better deal.

Does this fit with God’s plan for relationships? Is this how God wants us to learn patience, goodness, integrity, and character? No. It is the perfect antithesis.

There is a good reason that God warned us. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Sacrificing sacrifice

Our group met again a few months ago. Most of us had previously attended an international marriage conference.

At one of the conference sessions a renowned researcher had described an unexpected research finding. He found that people who made sacrifices in their marriages reported higher marital satisfaction than those who made fewer sacrifices. The finding was counterintuitive. Exchange theory would predict the greatest satisfaction when costs are low and rewards are high. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ would predict that satisfaction will be highest when we do what is right even when there is a cost associated with the choices.

As our curriculum team met to refine our work, a couple of team members objected to the word sacrifice as used in our evolving document. They returned to the familiar issue: “Too many women have already sacrificed too much.”

Again, they are right. Partly. Some have sacrificed too much–their dignity, their safety, their humanity.

But the vast majority of us have sacrificed too little. Too many of our decisions are made on the basis of immediate reward over long-term rightness–whether the choice is the number of servings of dessert or the willingness to help our spouse around the house.

Our team had a lengthy discussion about the need to teach healthy sacrifice while discriminating against unhealthy forms. All to no avail. Two or three people out of twenty were quite determined that we not use the word sacrifice. The word was sacrificed on the altar of sensitivity.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in sensitivity. I teach it. I try to practice it. But it is not the only value that God recommends. He also recommends obedience (a part of commitment), and sacrifice. They are foundational to character development.

Where from here?

In making these observations I am not making a resigned shrug. I am not willing to concede the battle to Satan. Rather this is a call to action. I invite myself and all who believe that God is the ultimate source of rightness (even higher than social convention), to speak up for goodness. Our voices should be neither combative nor strident. They should be gentle but persistent. We can invite sensible dialogue.

We can be true to Truth.