The Boleyn Sisters

In our spare time last weekend we researched the Boleyn sisters. Our interest was sparked by the current movie about them. We found that Mary Boleyn was Henry’s mistress for a time. Then, after awkwardly
dispatching his first wife, he married Ann who spent vast sums refurbishing castles and buying exorbitant furnishings. In fact, Ann had 250 personal servants and 50 maids of honor. She became quite irritated when Henry had affairs. He became irritated with her irritation and had her beheaded. He famously continued through four more wives and unnumbered mistresses. Their lives sounded unrelentingly miserable, filled with conniving and treachery. As I read about the Boleyn sisters, I felt that our simple lives are immeasurably blessed by comparison. I thought of Mozart’s statement: “We poor common folk must take wives whom we love and who love us.” I am one of those poor common folk. What a blessing!


Guiding Our Lives: Feelings and Fortune Cookies

Have you ever had a distinct and unexpected impression?

When I was a young Boy Scout—and I was very young for my age—I went to a week longe scout camp. I left home with a fresh face and a full pack. Early in our week in the mountains, a frightening impression settled in on me. I had the feeling that my baby sister had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Since our family lived in Emigration Canyon and since we often saw rattlesnakes around our home, the idea was entirely plausible. Because I loved (and continue to love) my baby sister, the thought was very distressing.

Every day from sunup to sundown I fretted about my sister. Camp was miserable. There was no phone service at our remote camp so I could not call to check on Lorene. I wondered about asking my scoutmaster to take me. All week long I fretted.

By the end of the week at camp I was quite sure that Lorene was either dead or hospitalized. The drive home seemed endless. As the truck pulled up to our home, I was filled with dread. I was quite surprised to see little Lorene riding her tricycle in front of the house. No snake had been seen all week.

Meanings and feelings

What did the feeling mean? Was heaven mocking me? Was I being tested?

My explanation is more simple: “That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (D&C 50:23). The impression I had was from Satan, not God. God does not mock, cajole, annoy, torment, or tease us. It is contrary to His nature. Satan is the father of lies and misery.

I learned an important lesson from that camp experience (though it took me decades to formulate it): Feelings and impressions are only creditable if they come with that signature lilt that testifies that they are from God. Otherwise they are no better guides for wise living than a fortune cookie at a second-rate Chinese takeout.

“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light” (D&C 50:24).

Low-grade misery

The principle of the rattlesnake has broad application. Satan likes to keep us in a state of low-grade unrest. He wants us bothered and fretful enough that we do not break into joy and goodness. But he does not want us irritated enough to take off our spiritual shoes and shake out the pebbles.

I have learned that a heavy sense of sadness is not some sure indicator of our spiritual failure. It often means that we are simply tired. It can also mean that Satan is trying to “interrupt [our] rejoicing” (See Alma 30:22).

One popular use kind of satanic misery is that subtle feeling of irritation, annoyance, or disappointment with our spouses. We brood silently. We mull over their shortcomings. We begin to feel cheated and misled. We begin to rewrite our relationship history with discontent as the theme. We have a low-grade spiritual fever. The diagnosis is chronic uncharity syndrome. What a quiet but grand triumph for Satan.

Satan also loves to have us feel irritated with our children, our bishop, our co-workers, and our lives. He relishes misery and he knows that the best way to get humans to consume massive quantities of misery is to subtly sneak it into our daily diet. One spoonful at a time, we consume tons of murk.

What to do with those feelings

So, are feelings to be distrusted or ignored? Will they only lead us into trouble?

A sweet Christian couple in a rural Utah town came to know and love a young man in their neighborhood. When he was preparing to leave for his mission, he invited them to attend his farewell even though they were not LDS. They attended. In fact, they felt warmed and blessed by the music and messages in the service. They later consulted their minister. “Why did we feel so good when we were at that LDS service?” The minister’s response: “You can’t trust your feelings. Never listen to your feelings!”

If that counsel were put into action, it would undermine one of God’s chief ways of communicating with us. It would leave us at the mercy of cold—and fallible—logic. It would leave us shivering.

God recommends otherwise. Paul listed the first fruits of the Spirit as “love, joy, and peace” (Galatians 5:22). Those fruits have a distinctly emotional character. If the Spirit is our sure guide and He primarily speaks to us through feelings, we must not discount feelings as a guide in our lives.

Yet not all feelings are created equal. Some are more trustworthy than others. Brother Dayley has wisely observed that “we know we are learning under the influence of the Holy Ghost if we are being edified. Edification is characterized by a perception of goodness, a noticeable enlarging of the soul, and enlightenment of the mind. Those who desire to learn by faith must continually reject darkness and seek light” (K. Newell Dayley, (1994). “And Also by Faith.” Brigham Young University 1993–94 devotional and fireside speeches. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University.)

Those impressions that edify should be honored with remembrance and action.

Spiritual checks and balances

The Lord provides spiritual checks and balances. In addition to providing the edification test for feelings, He has also provided the good-sense test for thoughts.

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2).

We can test any impression by its sweet, inviting nature and by its consonance with good sense. We should join our minds with our hearts in discerning God’s will. That can be a powerful combination. Our minds can provide a unique balance to our feelings.

It is logically unlikely that God will ask us to embezzle, cheat, or lie. He is not likely to ask us to hurt each other. Our minds know this. They can help us challenge those impressions that are not heavenly.
When our feelings and good sense work in heavenly harmony, the fruits of the spirit are the natural result. In addition to love, joy, and peace, there are long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22–23). These are sure evidence of God’s presence and influence.

There are rare times that God has commanded something contrary to logic. God asked Nephi to slay Laban. But He provided not only the spiritual impression but also the clear rationale: “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:13).

Cultivating spiritual sensitivity

If you are as good as I am at rationalization and self-deception, then you know the importance of cultivating spiritual sensitivity. This is a lifelong process. Most of my spiritual blunders were the result of listening too selectively to the messages of my emotions and treating logic as a servant to discernment rather than as a partner and friend. Our impulsive desires can get in the way of what the Lord wants for us unless partnered with good sense.

Managing emotions

What are the principles of emotional management? I recommend a selective attention to feelings. Ignore negative feelings. Go toward the light. Push away darkness. “Look to me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

There is an exception to the general rule of ignoring bad feelings. On special occasions God may send a warning feeling of foreboding. There is a way to discern whether it comes from Father. When darkness comes from Satan, it leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless. If Father sends a warning, it will be attended by clear and specific instructions for getting out of the darkness and into the light.

For example, as you enter a movie theatre, you may have a clear sense of dread. If your mind also tells you that the movie is unfitting for a Latter-day Saint, heed the feeling. Go do something else. Following our impulses over His instructions leads to spiritual blindness. “They are walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:6).

Most instances of gloominess settle over us without providing a clear message to our minds. In such a situation we can ask God, “Is there something you want me to know?” If He does not give specific instructions and if we are doing what we believe to be right, we should dismiss and dispatch the feeling. God is not the author of gloom. We can fight darkness with faith and gratitude. (Some people may need counseling and medication to deal with various biological causes of depression.)

I suggest that we learn to tune in to the subtle whisperings of heaven. Notice the gentle nudge to offer kind words. Enjoy the wisp of love that comes unbidden in our daily lives. Dwell on feelings of peace and spiritual reassurance. Be grateful for every hint of goodness.

When we are less experienced, Satan will try to block such impressions by telling us, “Maybe that is just your own selfish desires talking. It is all just self-delusion” Satan wants us to turn from light to darkness. But if, for example, we have asked God how we can better serve him and a clear impression comes that is consistent with what the bishop or goodly parent might ask us to do, we should do it. If, in the course of our day, we feel inexplicably happy, we should thank heaven.

The metaphor for my spiritual goal may not seem very lofty: I want to become like a trained horse. I do not want God to have to jerk my head with His reins in order to turn me to an appointed rendezvous with service and growth. I want to become sensitive enough that the slightest nudge will redirect me. Perhaps one day He will merely lean in the saddle and I will discern His intent.

“. . . and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).


The Great Discovery: Jesus as the Balm of Humanity

Sincere mortals have one central challenge in mortality, figuring out what to do with our persistent badness. We strive to be good and regularly fall short. We seek to be holy but we have holes in the knees of our jeans and stains on our elbows. This burdensome fact of mortality haunts our journey. “When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins” (2 Nephi 4:19).

The popular American treatment for persistent feelings of inadequacy has long been the self-esteem movement. We focus on our inherent worth and try to ignore or deny our weakness and shortcomings. “I am good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.” This approach has always been dishonest at best. Something must be done with the badness; affirmations can only persuade the weak minded.

Some brands of Christianity have celebrated badness. The themes in this tradition are depravity, corruption, perversion, and fundamental evil. Unfortunately advocates of this view (e.g., St. Augustine) have often applied God’s irresistible grace to deliver a select few from eternal torment. This remedy makes agency an immediate casualty—our choices have no impact on our outcome. This is a bad state with an irrational remedy.

Others celebrate meaninglessness. “The dignity of man lies in his ability to face reality in all its meaninglessness” (Martin Esslin). There is no sin because there is no law. Nothing means anything (see 2 Nephi 2:13). We live painfully and greet death with characteristic ambivalence. We live without meaning and die without purpose.

Amusement is another alternative. We distract ourselves from our quandary by dangling before us this bauble and that entertainment. When the novelty wears off, we shop for more toys. We live on the hedonic treadmill. It takes great discipline to keep this approach from collapsing in a heap of meaninglessness.


There is an approach that is especially popular among earnest Latter-day Saints. We emphasize our chosenness and divine nature. We work very hard to keep sin away while we work to be good and serve well. Clearly it is working for Sister So-and-so or President So-and-so. With just the right measure of denial it can provide superficial relief . . . but it leaves a gnawing spiritual desperation at the core. We don’t seem to be able to do as well as the So-and-so’s. And our persistent misdeeds are too real to be ignored.

Most of my life I was the dutiful boy, Aaronic priesthood bearer, missionary, BYU student, husband, and father. Some people may have judged me to be a pretty good Joe. I was aware of my lapses here and faults there but hoped that time and effort might subdue them.

In due course I was called to be a bishop. It seemed that the ward divided into three groups. Those bright-faced earnest strugglers like me who seemed to be making progress. Those wanderers whom we spent our time trying to reactivate. And then there were the sinners.

There was the prison parolee who was not meeting the conditions of the court (that included being current on his bills) and came to me for welfare assistance. There was the woman who had fallen unceremoniously into grim and unsatisfying immorality. There was the couple who quit the Church and began to teach against it.

We tried to rescue these fallen ones but usually had little success. How can we get them to change their courses? How can those driving south ever hope to get north?

Even now I am mining those experiences when I was bishop for new understanding. I remember the woman who confessed such a variety of misdeeds, betrayal, and corruption that I felt absolutely no hope for her soul. After spilling out her tale of woe she got to the dreaded question: “Bishop, what can I do?” Fortunately the Lord took over. He delivered specific counsel, words of encouragement, and clear statements of love to that desperate woman.

I was dumbfounded. I simply had no idea how much the Lord loves His children. How can He cherish such stained and fallen ones? How can He bring order to such spiritual chaos? What had she done to draw such grace?

In the course of my service, my favorite words became: “Bishop, can we talk when you have some time?” I came to know that when people become sick of sin and finally cried out in desperation, God delivered His greatest miracles. I was blessed to be His messenger for some of those miracles.

I wish I could say that in my adulthood I have been only a spectator of sin—using my opera glasses to observe the drama and tragedy from a safe distance. It is not true. I have been guilty of pride, meanness, thoughtlessness, selfishness, dishonesty, and a variety of sins of omission and commission that have hindered and buffeted my soul. The burdens have been too great for my “I’ll-just-try-a-little-harder” optimism. Self-sufficiency was crushed by reality.

I am fallen. No matter how hard I try, I do not measure up. Sometimes I cannot even keep up the veneer of civility. Even decades of trying hard will not transform me into the man I yearn to be.

The fish discover water last. Why did I think that I knew Nephi but had not noted that his self-loathing was transformed into heavenly rejoicing when he acknowledged the One in whom he trusted (2 Nephi 4)? Why was it so late in life when I realized the significance of Alma feeling crushed by sin to being vaulted into the heavenly courts by calling upon Jesus (Alma 36)? Why did the Savior’s definition of righteousness in the sinful publican elude my understanding for decades (Luke 19)? How did I miss Jesus’ frank forgiveness granted to the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7)?

Suddenly the scriptures are full of surprises. It seems that everything is turned upside down. The first are last. The last are first. Stained sinners are my heroes because they found the humility to throw themselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of him who is mighty to save.

I always thought my objective was to be righteous. Unfortunately I have never been able to do it. Now I see my objective as to follow the only One who is righteous. I still grieve over my faults, sins, and weakness. I still work assiduously to avoid sin. But I do not look to myself as the one who can fix weakness and sin—I am not God. I look to him who is able to do His work. My job is to become humble. His commitment is to perfect the humble.

So my attitude toward sin has changed. My old (and failed) attempts to ignore my weaknesses are gone. I join Corianton in the attempt to let my sins bring me down unto repentance (Alma 42:29). I keep my weaknesses as the backdrop to His remarkable goodness. In fact it is His goodness that awakens me to the soul-deep yearning to be something better. (See Mosiah 4:5.)

When I was young I imagined that the mural of my life was coming along nicely. But now I realize that it was nothing but darkness and confusion unless He was the central character. My life is nothing without Him.

The best I can do is point to Him. To paraphrase Paul, “I now glory in my weakness. It is clear to me and to all observers that any goodness that comes through me is heaven sent” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).

It is not surprising that Corianton—who strayed from righteousness and his mission—should get counsel from his father, Alma, to turn to Christ. But I note that even faithful Shiblon was counseled by their common father not to depend on himself but to turn to the one Source:

And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.

And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness” (Alma 38:8-9).

Christ is not a decorative touch on our lifetime resolve and finest efforts. He is our only hope. As I have discovered that central fact, everything is new. I comprehend sacred mysteries because He is my light. I accomplish things I can never do because I welcome him as my life. I feel a peace that passeth knowledge because He is my comfort.

So the solution of what to do with my persistent badness is quite different from anything I had expected. I do not conquer it. I do not ignore it. I gather it up and give it to Him. He gladly takes it away. (he has already paid for it!) Then, having cleansed me, He comes in and sups with me.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).

Every time I bring him into my life, I am better for it. It is He who can transform me. It is He who is my only hope. It is He who is the beginning and the end—not merely for the world but for me personally. President Benson described spiritual reality when he said:

Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life. (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Christmas Devotional, Salt Lake City, Utah, 7 December 1986; Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.361.)


Clinging to Misery

You’ve probably heard that the natural man is an enemy to God. (While there is less evidence to support the idea, it is probably true that the natural woman is also an enemy to God.) If we are not changed by the Spirit of God, we are enemies to goodness. We always have been and always will be (see Mosiah 3:19).

This “natural” tendency clearly applies to our behavior. We are inclined to be self-serving and self-centered. We “go crushing blossoms without end” (Edward Sill).

The natural tendency seems also to apply to human thinking. Just as my tongue cannot resist caressing a broken tooth even when it clearly is cutting up my tongue, so human minds will not leave alone the idea or feeling that disturbs them. Our natural way of thinking makes us enemies to God.

Anger is a good example. We tend to process our grievances endlessly. I cannot say it any better than Frederick Buechner said it:

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” (Frederick Buechner, 1993, Wishful Thinking, Harper & Row).

Recent research clearly shows that being angry or hostile magnifies our risk of heart problems. The Lord does not recommend anger. He has warned “that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment” (3 Nephi 12:21).

Worry is another example of “natural” thinking. We love to worry about all those things that seem to be national epidemics—based on the news. Dr. Leonard Sigal has perceptively written:

Lyme disease, although a problem, is not nearly as big a problem as most people think. The bigger epidemic is Lyme anxiety (New York Times,, Wednesday, June 13, 2001).

School shootings are another area of exaggerated concern.

71 percent of people responding to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll believed that a school shooting was likely in their community. In reality, there is a one in 2 million chance of being killed in a school shooting (May, 2001. “News Distorts Youth, Reports Say.” Youth Today, 10, (5), p. 6.).

Air safety is a popular arena for fear.

In the entire history of commercial aviation, dating back to 1914, fewer than 13,000 people have died in airplane crashes. Three times that many Americans lose their lives in automobile accidents in a single year. The average person’s probability of dying in an air crash is about 1 in 4 million. . . . A person is ten times more likely to die in his or her bathtub than in an airplane accident” (Barry Glassner (1999). The culture of fear. New York: Basic Books.).

The media put a magnifying glass on problems. Or maybe it is a telescope. A problem with miniscule probabilities soon eclipses everything else. But this is not a new human tendency. Parley P. Pratt is reported to have said that the Mormon pioneers suffered more from worry about hunger than they ever suffered from actual hunger.

It remains popular among humans to fret about the things we don’t have. It may be called envy, jealousy, coveting, or rivalry. “If I just made more money . . .”

Research suggests that having more money will not increase your happiness unless you have been going hungry. Money simply is not a source of happiness. In contrast, Csikszentmihalyi has suggested that optimal human experience happens when people challenge their abilities in some task. Whether it is a project at work or a hobby pursued at home, we can become so engaged in a task that we lose track of time. He calls it flow. Growth is better than wanting. Maybe that is why the Lord has recommended contribution over cash as the focus of our labors:

But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish (2 Nephi 26:31).

As humans we act as if we believe that Woody Allen had accurately portrayed our options: “More than any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

The Lord’s prescription for latter-day panic is surprisingly simple: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). What a remarkably focused formula. It is only by looking to Christ that we can deal with the desolating scourge of doubt and fear.

President Gordon B. Hinckley gave related counsel:

“I believe [the Lord] is saying to each of us, be happy. The gospel is a thing of joy. It provides us with a reason for gladness. Of course there are times of sorrow. Of course there are hours of concern and anxiety. We all worry. But the Lord has told us to lift our hearts and rejoice. I see so many people . . . who seem never to see the sunshine, but who constantly walk with storms under cloudy skies. Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “If Thou Art Faithful,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 91–92).

For a nonbeliever, this may all look like denial. The world recommends that we study and confront problems. The Lord recommends that we let Jesus change the kind of people we are.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh 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).

Satan must laugh as he keeps us worried about all the wrong things. We worry about airline crashes more than listening to a troubled child; we fret about world conflict more than our home teaching; we worry about money more than about prayer.

Perhaps anxiety, fear, resentment, and envy are all distractions to keep us from the power that can both guide us and save us. We might pray as Fosdick did, “Fill us with Thyself, that we may no longer be a burden to ourselves” (The Meaning of Faith, p. 213).


The Conspiracy of Nature: Are We Set Up for Failure?

Sunrise Sundogs

Nature conspires against us in many ways. In physics the conspiracy of nature means that there are limits to our ability to fully know and control nature and her doings. The law of entropy suggests that everything runs down. In biology, we are stuck with the problem of aging with its aches, pains, and death. In psychology there is the struggle for meaning and, even more fundamental, the problem of memory. We live in a world where everything seems to work against us.

Does this world conspire to blind and thwart us? Is mortality a senseless decline into death and oblivion? Are we set up for failure by our biology? Or is there some meaning and purpose to it all?

As with many big questions, we don’t have all the answers yet. But there are several tantalizing hints—areas where the conspiracy of nature can be seen as a blessing from heaven. In fact, when we learn to filter the perplexities of life through the lens of faith, we see God busily blessing us in every part of mortality.

“Habits hold us hostage.”

All of us have thrashed against one bad habit or another. It might be anger, lust, impatience, or any of myriad bad habits. After decades of resisting habits, we find that we seem to be held hostage to unhelpful ways of thinking and acting.

Yet most habits are just strong enough to make most actions automatic. An experienced driver doesn’t have to fret about every movement. Getting dressed can happen almost automatically. Eating takes almost no thought.

At the other end of habit strength, most habits are just weak enough that they yield to persistent effort. Almost all habits can be changed with the application of earnest and wise effort. Ultimately we will be what we choose to be.

Perhaps habit strength is not some biological accident. Perhaps it was carefully calibrated by a perfect Designer. Rather than being victims of biology, we are fruits of agency. (Of course changing our nature is a different task. It cannot be accomplished by mortal means alone but requires divine intervention.)

“When something doesn’t work, do more of it.”

When our automatic and unwise ways don’t advance our purpose, we do more of what doesn’t work. When anger doesn’t work, we move to rage. When yelling doesn’t work, we yell louder. When rationalization doesn’t work, we rationalize more creatively. As humans we tend to act automatically more than sensibly. We do what comes naturally even when it hurts us.

From the spiritual perspective, “the natural man is an enemy to God.” God invites us to notice when we are acting unwisely. If we strive to change our ways, we will discover over the course of a lifetime that we have many persistent and annoying tendencies. This could be a biological limit on our growth. Or it could be a reminder that we can only be fundamentally changed by Him. It is not necessary to say, “That’s just the way I am.” Instead we can say, “God—and only God—can make me into something Divine.”

“Human mortality is short.”

Many biologists who study aging scratch their heads over the fact that, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humans do not mature to reproductive prime and then quickly decline. Humans have extended adulthoods. Why?

The Lord gives a clear answer: “And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh” (2 Nephi 2:21). The Lord has perfectly designed the human experience to give us extended opportunities to learn from mistakes and to develop our character.

“Entropy is the norm. Everything falls apart.”

Apparently, change and decay are a part of everything around us. The house decays. The car falls apart. Arthritis cripples. Cholesterol clogs. The mythical fountain of youth mocks our earthly experience.

Yet every new life that enters mortality is a tribute to the One who sustains us from moment to moment by lending us breath and supporting all the functions of living (Mosiah 2:21 and 4:21). Scientists do not have a tidy theory to explain aging. Their best efforts employ a hodgepodge of multiple theories that leave large gaps in understanding the aging process.

Even so, the research by Carol Ryff, a scholar on well being in later life, shows that there are significant gains in later life. In my view, the only way to make sense of aging is to understand it as God’s classroom. He sustains us through a rich and diverse education. Later life is not senseless decline. Aging is advanced training for immortality, teaching us great lessons in patience and humility. One day, when we understand all that God has done to provide this mortal education to us, our knees will bow and our tongues will confess in stunned and grateful astonishment.

“Humans are basically bad, we are at odds with each other, and must keep up our defenses.”

In order to navigate the social world, we all develop implicit personality theories: Why do people do what they do? Tainted by the poisons of mortality, we put what we know of people’s histories together with assumptions about their inner workings and come up with ways of explaining their behavior that are typically quite bleak. We interpret people’s self-serving actions and predict their futures. We evaluate their achievements and scowl at their failings.

If we understand heaven’s purposes, we factor into our formulations the charity factor. We know that each person is much more than the caricatures we create based on mortal data. If we can see past the mortal crust, we know that there is a noble creature inside. In fact one of the challenges for sociobiology is explaining altruism: If self-preservation is the governing principle of human behavior, why do people sacrifice in behalf of others who are not members of their clan? Those who believe that God oversees the doings of mortality know that self-preservation is not the ultimate law in eternity.

So we soften our assessments of others knowing that we see only partially. The most important part of every human is hidden from our view. Because of that, God invites us to avoid the judging that is so automatic for humans: “Man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also” (Mormon 8:20). He enjoins us to love and support each other. “Succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

Since we do not know the souls of our fellow travelers, God invites us to leave judgment in His hands. Rather than fretting about defending ourselves against an enemy world, we are free to encourage and support each other.

“I can’t do it all.”

Most of us have the frustrating experience of being unable to do all we want to do—even all we think we must do. Is that a personal failing? Is it a biological limitation? In my view it is neither. It is a carefully designed reality that assures that we must make choices. If there were no competition for our time and energy, we would never learn to cherish the best and selectively neglect some good.

“Human memory is flawed and weak.”

We bemoan our imperfect memories. We find ourselves quite unable to remember where we put the keys or put a name to that person at the party. It seems that our memories conspire to humiliate us.

But perhaps our partial memories are a blessing. Do we really need to remember where we parked the car when we went shopping two years ago? Do we want the obscenities of passersby to remain bright and present in our memories for years to come? Do we want to retain the recollection of every toenail clipping? Who needs such a jumble of meaningless memory?

The fact is that most of us remember most of what is important enough to rehearse. Most forgotten ideas are forgotten because we did not attend to them or establish them in our memories. Most remembered ideas are those that got planted deeply.

People can cultivate false memories. People can construct and rehearse fragments of events and feelings and create specific (if false) memories. When combined with malice, this can lead to vilification. When combined with charity, this can lead to appreciation.

We all rewrite our histories by the choices we make about what to remember. If we assume the worst, we see ourselves surrounded by foul and selfish people. If we assume the best, we know that God is at work among us. Even memory is the servant of our agency.

“Pleasure seeking is the only way to have any fun in life.”

The spiritually naïve hope to enjoy life through hedonistic pursuits. They chase vanity, wealth, and pleasure. But, at best, these are only distractions. The path of pleasure leaves one with wilted and dried memories but no meaning. Some of the world’s best scholars decry the death march into narrow individualism (see, for example, Cherlin, Baumeister).

The Lord teaches us that wickedness never was happiness. The only way to be happy is to follow His path. He has not hidden happiness from us in a remote place so He can laugh at our searching. The truth is that happiness is the object and design of our existence and will be the end thereof, if we follow his treasure map (see TPJS, pp. 255–256). He knows how to get us there. But there is no other way. He conspires to make us happy. All we must do is follow His instructions, which include large doses of self-forgetfulness.

There are ample reasons to fret in this life. But we have the hints of peace and purpose in our souls that can be tended until they become the core of our lives.

A purposeful conspiracy

When I examine the evidence, I conclude that there is indeed an active conspiracy in nature. Carefully crafted by God, nature conspires to teach us, remind us, challenge us, and measure us. Will we plod along making a cosmic shrug or will we call down the powers of heaven to give meaning and direction to our mortal experiences? Nature conspires against us if we travel alone. Nature conspires to bless us if we travel with God.

Life can be legitimately seen as a painful tragedy or a purposeful triumph. Each of us must choose. I choose to see God at work blessing His children in wise and loving ways. The very fact that God has created a world in which everything can be seen in gloomy or glorious ways seems to be evidence that He honors our agency.

For those who believe, “the heaven declare the glory of God and the firmament is packed with testimonies of his perfectly redemptive purposes” (Paraphrase of Psalms 19:1). In far more ways than we know, God is busily at work preparing us to return to be home with Him.


Trusting in Ourselves

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)

I have been impressed by several features of Jesus’ functional definition of righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the temple to pray, there seems to be no question that Jesus sees both as sinners. But the publican is justified or set right because he knows he is a sinner and calls on God to cleanse him.

In contrast, the Pharisee does not seem to recognize his own spiritual limitations. He itemizes his bases for a positive self-evaluation: he fasts twice a week, and pays tithes on everything he makes. He is indeed observant! But he trusts in his own righteousness.

Any time we inventory our good deeds to prove our merit, we are showing our misplaced trust. Any time we trust our actions to save us rather than His merits, mercy, and grace, we demonstrate our spiritual ignorance and poverty.

But there is an added difference between the two characters: The Pharisee compares himself to others while the publican does not. Apparently, the Pharisee does not do his good deeds to show his earnestness to God, he uses them to bludgeon the publican, to prove his superiority.

It seems to me that Jesus is asking us with this parable to avoid judging each other. The same message can be seen in the introduction: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Jesus was challenging those of us who trust ourselves. We should not compare our goodness to that of others. We should call on God for mercy. It is God who will justify us. It is He who will save us. It is He who is our only hope.

Compare this idea with the counsel that Alma gives to his fallen son, Corianton:

And now, my son, I desire that ye should let [your sins and failings] trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance. (Alma 42:29, see also verses 30-31)

Alma, the great Book of Mormon repenter, recommends at least three steps:

  • Humility: Let our failings make us humble.
  • Repentance: Call on God for mercy.
  • Fruits: Serve God.

Our grieving is transformed into rejoicing when it drives us to the arms of Jesus to receive mercy. We do not need to compare our righteousness to that of any other person. We do not need to inventory our good deeds. We simply need to go to Him.


The Gospel at Odds with Self-Esteem

Photograph Courtesy of: Author: Scott Liddell

Picture a person with high self-esteem. Probably that person is talented and confident. Ironically, one of the ways that we may be sure that that person has high self-esteem is that we always feel inferior around him or her. We wish we were as impressive.

Traditionally self-esteem has been defined as our evaluation of our self-perceptions. The psychological imperative has been: You must love yourself. You must celebrate yourself. One man who seemed to have such self-assurance expressed it this way: “I happened to catch my reflection the other day when I was polishing my trophies, and, gee, it’s easy to see why women are nuts about me” (Robert Byrne, 1911 best things anybody ever said).

But how does such self-regard fit into a gospel perspective? Self-esteem is simply Satan’s attempt to clean up pride and make it respectable, even desirable. But the spiritually mature recognize that the world’s version of self-esteem is dangerously close to arrogance, boastfulness, cocksureness, conceit, condescension, egotism, haughtiness, narcissism, piousness, pomposity, presumption, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, smugness, snobbery, superiority, and vanity.

Let’s take Jesus as a test case. Did He have high self-esteem? When called “Good Master,” He protested: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). What does it mean for us that the most righteous person who lived on this Earth deflected all praise to His Father?

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).

Consider the following antonyms of pride and their application to Jesus and his disciples in all ages: common, humble, lowly, meek, mild, modest, plain, simple, submissive, unassertive, unassuming, unpretentious.

The scriptural descriptions of Jesus could be amassed to support the point. But His own words were: “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus simply fails as the model of the amazing, self-assured, modern man. A modern psychologist might have a diagnostic heyday with a person who said the things Jesus said. He appeared to have no self-esteem.

Isn’t torturous and counter-productive self-hate the only alternative to self-esteem? Only in the world’s misguided system. It is Satan who is obsessed with appearances and perceptions. There is a better way. Jesus describes it:

Let thy bowels also be full of charity [Ah! charity—that pure love that comes only from Christ] towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God [this is a special kind of confidence; not self-confidence but divine confidence]; and the doctrine of the priesthood [what is the doctrine of the priesthood—could it be the power to bless as He blesses?] shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion [gift that provides unparalleled serenity], 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).

Countless times I have heard people say of struggling teens: “They’re having trouble because of poor self-esteem. We need to build them up.” But when we build them up we are only distracting them from the Power that can change them, refine them, and perfect them. The person who told me that she was “continually keeping [her] thoughts centered upon the great worth of my soul” is no better off than the egoist admiring his own image in his trophies.

Rather than self-love and self-hate being polar opposites on a psychological continuum, they are really the same thing. Both are self-absorption. At the opposite end of the spectrum from self-absorption is self-forgetfulness. That is what God recommends.

Unknown to most people in the general population, the scientific community has had serious concerns about the self-esteem movement for almost twenty years. Research now verifies that improving children’s self-esteem does not motivate toward better school performance (Harter, 1983). Teens with high self-esteem may be so resentful of an attack on their self-regard that they are more likely to be violent in response to an insult (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). In the massive California study of self-esteem and its effects, self-esteem was found to be as predictive of bad behavior as good behavior (Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, 1989). Very often it did not predict anything.

Self-esteem has simply failed us in its promise to deliver us from self-hate and unproductivity and may create serious problems (Cudaback, 1992). In a thoughtful book by psychologist Roy Baumeister (1991), he observes that the modern American inclination to base the meaning of lives on the self has left us with a badly shrunken meaning in life. Self-esteem is a failed messiah.

It should be no surprise. The world’s fads are not well-suited to our eternal growth. Because we live in a world with a logic so different, so disconnected from the logic of heaven, irony seems to always be woven into our discoveries of truth. To find ourselves we must lose ourselves. To live, we must die. To conquer we must surrender.

The Book of Mormon is especially powerful and clear in its invitation to become healthy through the Lord’s unique process.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields [we do not take charge, we surrender] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord [we become fine and refined by Him], and becometh 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)

Those who have had even a modicum of success in this process of submitting can testify that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22).

And that is infinitely better than self-esteem.

The world will flounder for decades trying to patch up the failed notions of self-esteem. But Latter-day Saints do not need to wander in the wilderness. In 1831 the Lord revealed a program of gifts that is succinct, wise, and—supported by modern research. In the next installment, we will review the five points in the Lord’s program of gifts.


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

Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, (1), 219–29.

Cudaback, D. (1992). Self-esteem: Rhetoric and research, Part III. Human Relations, XVII, (1), 1–6.

Harter, S. (1983). Developmental perspectives on the self-system. In E. M. Hetherington (Ed.), P. H. Mussen (Series Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol. 4, Socialization, personality and social development (pp. 275–385). New York: Wiley.

Mecca, A. M., Smelser, N. J., & Vasconcellos, J. (1989). The social importance of self-esteem. Berkeley: University of California Press.


When Kings and Queens Come to Call

Imagine that you own a modest farm in rural Wyoming. You enjoy your work. You make just enough to get by. But one day everything is changed. You get a call from a powerful monarch. The king is inquiring whether you might allow the crown prince to come and work on the farm with you. “We want him to get some experience.” You are speechless. “We don’t expect you to change the way you live and work. Just be a good farmer and let him learn from you.” You mutter a weak assent.

Photograph Courtesy of: Author: Gracie Stinson

Thus it is with parenting. The heavenly King asks us to take a crown prince (or princess) into our home. At first we are unnerved by the responsibility. But as the weeks and months pass, the duties of the farm eclipse the awesome responsibility of mentoring royalty. In time our irritation over spilled milk and neglected chores exceeds our awe of office.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar;

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

(William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), p. 99.)

Viewing our parental responsibilities in an eternal perspective should change everything. Could I speak harshly and carelessly to my royal charge? Even after occasions of misbehavior, could I ever fail to see the nobility and potential in the growing child? Could I ever believe that a television program or magazine article was more important than a walk in the fields with the cherished guest? When his or her ideas are silly and childish, would I mock them? Or would I listen, understand, and counsel? In times of trouble would I shrug carelessly or would I beseech heaven with my whole soul in behalf of the errant child?

Enos paid high tribute to his father: “for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1). “Taught in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Our best loving and teaching is none too good for God’s children. In all things our teaching should point them to their eternal destiny.

In the last two years we have added two princes to our family. Those two grandsons, seen from the perspective of a man who has gained some experience since he raised his own children, are a heavenly gift. To hold them is an honor. To speak of them is a blessing. When our daughter called recently to tell us that their infant boy was ill and might require an operation, our hearts sank. As soon as the phone call was over we fell to our knees to plead for heavenly help. We would gladly give our lives to protect our cherished charges. God asks instead that we live our lives in loving and teaching them.

Maybe it is only in times of crisis that we fully recognize the blessing and responsibility of caring for the children of the divine King. In ways we don’t fully understand we are eternally connected to each other and to Him. “Say your prayers always before going to work. Never forget that. A father—the head of the family—should never miss calling his family together and dedicating himself and them to the Lord of Hosts” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 44).

Given the magnitude of the parenting task, God has given scant direction to parents. Surely it is not because of indifference. It must be because His instructions on gospel living are as apt for being good parents as for becoming sanctified saints. He simply counsels parents to be good Christians.

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5–9).

The secret of effective parenting is to be a humble follower. When our words and deeds bespeak our love and devotion to God we are ready to be good parents.

Parents should never drive their children, but lead them along, giving them knowledge as their minds are prepared to receive it. Chastening may be necessary betimes, but parents should govern their children by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 208, emphasis added).

An admired friend told about an experience with her 8-year-old daughter. The little girl wrote a song and sang it to her mother. The mother was amazed at the deep message. In her heart she asked: “Heavenly Father, who is this woman?” For a moment the veil parted and she saw her little girl as she really is: a magnificent woman, a glorious spiritual being! “I wanted to kneel at her feet.” It changed the way she treated that child because she had seen her divine nature and heritage.

When the great King calls us Home, we will return with our dear children to His glorious presence. We will sit with Him at that heavenly feast. And we will thank Him that He entrusted us with some of His dearest children. Then will we all be Kings and Queens to the Most High God.


Honest Lies and Shaded Truths

Honesty is tricky business. It can be either good or bad. Sometimes we do the bad kind of honesty and call it good. That is very destructive. It is also very dishonest.

Brutal Honesty

A mother had observed her daughter doing something that bothered her. She said nothing at the time but waited until the family was gathered for dinner. Then, in front of family and friends, the mother described her daughter’s bad behavior. When a family member challenged her, suggesting that the matter should be handled privately, the mother confidently announced that she did not intend to be anything but honest. “In this family, we practice honesty.”

Ouch! Is honesty an excuse for attacking others? Honesty is not the same thing as wanton dumping of accusations on other people’s heads regardless of the apparent factual basis for the accusations. The commitment to be honest in our dealings with each other does not preclude wisdom and consideration in our relations with each other.


Honesty at Its Best

One of the marks of healthy honesty is that it is modest; it never declares itself. I have never heard a person at the office supply closet announcing, “I was thinking about taking some supplies for personal use, but I must be honest.” Healthy honesty is almost always an inner dialogue. It is a discussion in which we challenge ourselves to live by the standards we have accepted.

In my experience the honesty preface is commonly a way of justifying the violation of fundamental commandments: “I must be honest with you. I find your behavior to be repugnant and your character to be inferior.” This is honesty? Is this the way God wants us to talk with each other? I’m confident that God recommends a different variety of honesty.

Gods reminds us that we are nothing without charity. And “charity suffereth long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). God certainly has something besides insults in mind when he recommends honesty. He would never have us jump into a delicate discussion without thoughtfulness and compassion

An Amazing Case Study

I don’t know if there is a case study on healthy relationships anywhere in sacred history that compares with Joseph Smith’s incarceration in Liberty Jail. After he was foully incarcerated and his people were cruelly driven, Joseph cried out to God: “Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs” (D&C 121:5). It appears that Joseph was ready for some Missourians to be smitten.

Joseph’s wrath was certainly honest. He and the saints had been treated abominably. Yet God seized on the situation to teach Joseph the principles of heavenly power. Let’s look at God’s words and see if we can see their application in our lives.

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. D&C 121:36

We only have heavenly power when we operate by heavenly principles.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins,

We humans like to blame others rather than take responsibility or show compassion.

or to gratify our pride,

We claim to be right, noble, good, innocent.

our vain ambition,

We want to be in charge.

or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness,

We want things our way.

behold, the heavens withdraw themselves;

We push Heaven away.

the Spirit of the Lord is grieved;

Heaven weeps when we choose to torment each other rather than bless each other.

and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. v. 37

We lose power any time we try to take it.

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself,

Left to ourselves. We push out God and other people and set ourselves on the throne of Truth.

to kick against the pricks,

We fight against the stabs of the Spirit.

to persecute the saints,

We pile the blame on our victim.

and to fight against God. v. 38

We are at odds with God’s redemptive purposes.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. v. 39

Humans don’t handle power very well. We are almost universally inclined to think we are right and to try to impose our will on those around us.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or marriage or parenthood],

Power is not the way to control people. God—who has all power—chooses other means.

only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; v. 41

God chooses gentle influence over brute bludgeoning. We can only correct those we genuinely love.

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile–

v. 43

One of my favorite phrases in scripture: pure knowledge! Knowledge filtered of earthly impurity and human pollution. We must see each other as God sees us!

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; v. 44

We may reprove—but only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. v. 44

The abundant evidence of our love must overwhelm any sense of impatience.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly;

There are no healthy relationships without charity.

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. v. 45

When we follow principles of heavenly power, we feel the power that we have in partnership with God. We are filled with His power.

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. v. 46

Heavenly power flows to us naturally and automatically when we use heavenly principles of power.

Facing God’s Honesty

I am keenly aware of my many faults and shortcomings. Yet, based on years of experience with God, I know that He will not come to me and say, “I’m going to have to be honest with you, Wally. You are more trouble to maintain than you are worth.” While the statement is true and He would be honest to say it, He would never utter the words. While we half expect God to be brutally honest with us, He is not interested in that kind of honesty. His truth is contextualized with redemptiveness. He is interested in the kind of honesty that looks beyond our human folly to our earnestness and striving. He practices what He preaches as He sees us with “pure knowledge,” the heavenly view!

Joseph learned to know well the mind of God. He observed that “while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men.” (TPJS, p. 218)

Honesty is a principle God would have us apply to ourselves as we remember to return the borrowed book and deliver the promised help. Honesty must not be a premise for hurting each other. To call that honesty is the ultimate dishonesty. It is to call unkindness noble.

The mother described above might have taken her daughter aside privately. She might have expressed both her love and her concern. Then she could have invited the daughter to suggest how the concern could be resolved. The daughter could have wrestled with her own feelings and decisions while encircled in the arms of her mother’s love (See 2 Nephi 1:15).

God would have us treat His children as He treats us: kindly and redemptively. He asks that we do not dump out the load of each other’s faults and folly. We pick through the personal history to find hints of goodness and signs of hope. That is honest to His loving purposes. That is God’s kind of honesty.