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October 2010

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Blessed Are the Peacemakers


We have all experienced questions from others that left us feeling confused or humiliated. Often we are left wondering how to respond to cruelty and insensitivity. I recently read an article by a multiracial woman who had experienced several painful incidents of insensitivity. For example, an adult asked her when she was a child if she was black. As a young girl she felt embarrassed and small. She didn’t know how to reply.

Later in life, a fellow student asked her why she didn’t have big lips if she was black. She tried to formulate an answer even though convinced that the question did not merit one. To the woman’s credit, she has chosen to resist anger.

Peacemaking

We have all been hurt by insensitivity or thoughtlessness. Someone at church says something that misjudges us. A group gathers and we are left out. Relatives accuse us of faults and failings. Every one of us gets injured by life.

Sometimes we have lashed back. Sometimes we have sought opportunities to balance the scale. Sometimes we have suffered in sullen silence.

I want to suggest another way of responding to thoughtlessness. When someone has treated us insensitively, maybe we can open their minds and hearts to our world. At the very least we can offer them grace. We have a rich history filled with examples of this great work of character.

In 1857, at the age of 19, Joseph F. Smith was returning from the Sandwich Islands by way of the “Southern Route” from Los Angeles to Utah. The wagon train with which Joseph F. was traveling made camp, when some “toughs rode into the camp on horseback, cursing and swearing and threatening what they would do to the Mormons.”

Joseph F. was a little distance from the camp gathering wood for the fire, but he saw that the few members of his own party had cautiously gone in the brush down the creek, out of sight. When he saw that, . . . the thought came into his mind, “Shall I run from these fellows? Why should I fear them?” With that he marched up with his arm full of wood, to the campfire where one of the ruffians, still with his pistol in his hand, shouting and cursing about the Mormons, in a low voice said to Joseph F., “Are you a Mormon?”

And the answer came straight, “yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.”

At that the ruffian grasped him by the hand and said: “Well, you are the [blankety-blank] pleasantest man I ever met! Shake young fellow, I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; p. 104).

Truly, his light shone in the darkness of hate and conflict.

Another familiar example:

One day the Prophet was visiting his parents’ home in Far West, when a group of armed militiamen came in and announced that they had come to kill him for a supposed crime. Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, described his gift for peacemaking:

“[Joseph] looked upon them with a very pleasant smile and, stepping up to them, gave each of them his hand in a manner which convinced them that he was neither a guilty criminal nor yet a cowering hypocrite. They stopped and stared as though a spectre had crossed their path.

“Joseph sat down and entered into conversation with them and explained to them the views and feelings of the people called Mormons and what their course had been, as also the treatment which they had met with from their enemies since the first outset of the Church. He told them that malice and detraction had pursued them ever since they entered Missouri, but they were a people who had never broken the laws to his knowledge. But if they had, they stood ready to be tried by the law.

“After this, he rose and said, ‘Mother, I believe I will go home. Emma will be expecting me.’ Two of the men sprang to their feet, saying, ‘You shall not go alone, for it is not safe. We will go with you and guard you.’ Joseph thanked them, and they went with him.

“The remainder of the officers stood by the door while these were absent, and I overheard the following conversation between them:

“First Officer: ‘Did you not feel strangely when Smith took you by the hand? I never felt so in my life.’

“Second Officer: ‘I felt as though I could not move. I would not harm one hair of that man’s head for the whole world.’

“Third Officer: ‘This is the last time you will ever catch me coming to kill Joe Smith or the Mormons either.’ …

“Those men who went with my son promised to go disband the militia under them and go home, and said that if he had any use for them, they would come back and follow him anywhere.” (Lucy Mack Smith, “The History of Lucy Smith, Mother of the Prophet,” 1844–45 manuscript, book 15, pp. 8–10, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Generosity of Heart

Admittedly, most of us do not have the presence of mind or generosity of heart to respond to ugliness with graciousness. Yet we can develop this ability. We will become more useful to our Father as we do. Remember Jesus’ response to a lawyer determined to humiliate Him. Jesus delivered to his accuser one of the sweetest stories ever told: the Good Samaritan. He essentially invited the man to become a source of goodness rather than an agent for hurt.

I remember a tender woman in our ward who was often asked when she and her husband were going to have children. Those inquiring ward members did not realize that she was unable to have children, a fact which was deeply painful to her. She could react to their naïve inquiry by brooding. She could lash back. Or she might open the way for greater compassion and connection by saying: “My husband and I are not able to have children but we have resolved to love every child in our ward who comes within our reach.”

Conquering our Enemies

Maybe when we feel attacked, we can kindly invite the “enemy” into our experience. Instead of vilifying them because of the wounds they have inflicted, we can see them as someone who doesn’t understand our lives and struggles.

I believe that people do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. We should not confuse normal human clumsiness with maliciousness. The fact that we feel hurt does not mean that they intended to hurt us.

If someone commented on my race, I might ask if I could tell them about some of my courageous ancestors who came to this country from a distant land and faced terrible odds. If they remarked about my lips or some other physical feature, I might ask if I could share a story about a great-grandparent whom I resemble. We can turn awkwardness—and even hostility—into connection and understanding when our hearts are right.

Sometimes the insensitivity of others will catch us off guard. At times it may overwhelm our defenses. And those are the ideal times to call on Jesus, the ultimate source of all grace.

Instead of becoming enemies of our enemies, we become a friend of God. We do not allow our behavior or thoughts to be determined by the behavior of others. We turn to God in all things. In the face of insensitivity we offer grace and become blessed peacemakers.

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Annmarie Worthington for their insightful contributions to this article.

You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child. For more information about his books and programs, visit www.FamilyCollege.com or www.DrWally.org

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A Little-Known Debate in Heaven


I imagine that one of the lesser-known debates in the council in heaven was about the way we would learn in mortality. There was a prominent, scholarly faction that favored a series of classroom lectures as the essence of our second estate. “That’s the best way to learn. And the safest,” they said. “Everyone can read their texts and come to class to be taught. Occasional tests will verify the learning.”

There was another faction that favored experience over lectures. “People learn by doing,” they insisted. But the scholars looked shocked. “Experience is so messy! And it is risky! So many people get hurt, so many get lost! So many never learn the lessons!”

As the masses debated, God looked on with amusement. It finally occurred to the fussing factions to put the question to God. “Father, how are we to learn in mortality?” Each side looked to be vindicated.

How God Teaches

God spoke deliberately, “I love a good lesson! There is nothing quite like a lecture by Terryl Givens or a talk by Truman Madsen. I love a class led by Sister Norwood. I just love listening to them all!” The scholars were feeling a hint of triumphalism sneak into their souls. “I give to all of you the opportunity to be taught by great thinkers. They won’t all be scholars. There will also be ordinary folks who share their wonderful discoveries. Learn from them.”

The heavenly courts were hushed as the experience faction waited to see if they had lost the cause altogether. God just beamed.

“You will not learn exclusively through study and the teaching of others. Some of the best education comes through life experiences.” Some in the crowd wondered if God had thrown a bone to the lecture-learners. They listened intently for clues.

“Each life is a collection of stories. Their meaning will often be unclear. The cowboy standing on the dusty trail—did he find a rope or lose a horse? Often you will wonder. So I grant all of you agency in your actions but also in your opportunities to interpret your experiences.”

Phew. No one in the crowd was sure which side was winning. Couldn’t God be clearer about his preference? Are the lessons of life primarily to be learned via lectures or experiences?

“One of the great gifts of mortality is the opportunity to make sense of everything—both lectures and experiences. In every lesson and every experience are the seeds of exasperation or inspiration. You get to choose.”

This was really confusing. Neither side dared to declare victory.

The Power of Choice

“You will start as infants whose eternity of experience will be obscured. You will be more helpless than you can ever remember being. There will be people who will help you. And some who will hurt you. You will often feel lost. In a fallen world, each life will have a mixture of sweet experiences and hard ones.”

Uncertainty turned to dismay. Why would God send His children to such a risky place?

“This is where your freedom will be most critical, most precious—or most damning.” God looked earnest. “Let me give you some examples.”

“When Jim loses his precious wife, he will have a choice. He can shake his fist at deaf heavens. Or he can thank me for bringing his beloved Home to safety.”

“When Miriam gets leprosy, she can shed hope and goodness or she can be stretched in greater trust and enlarged compassion.”

“When Adam is called to put his best lamb on the altar, he can feel cheated or be taught by angels.”

We listened soberly, only partially comprehending.

“That is not all. Some will shake their fist at a sun that makes them sweat while others will thank the sun that ripens their grapes. Some will turn away from a Son who calls them to suffer while others will thank Him for maturing their souls.”

How Can We Make It?

God sensed the question in our souls. How do we choose correctly? How do we avoid shaking our fists and shrinking our souls when we know so little and face so much?

“This is where your millennia of experience will pay off. Those of you who have loved the light will love it still. Those of you who have chosen holiness will resonate to it. Those of you who have loved truth will be invited to choose it again.”

The debate was forgotten. The question that weighed on us now was practical. How could we turn challenging experiences into growth? How do we choose betterness over bitterness?

He answered. “Find the blessing in every experience. Thank God for every moment. He who receives everything with thankfulness shall be made glorious.”

How do we keep such a positive perspective when life bedevils us?

“It’s a choice. This is the choice on which all eternity turns. You may amass your experiences to create a story of injustice and pain. You will have plenty of data. Or you may take the very same experiences and organize them to create meaning, to inspire gratitude, and to develop character.”

Ahhh! A light dawned! This is that ultimate choice. The opportunity to make sense of our experiences by viewing them all through the lens of faith!

God paused. “Let me give one warning. Your freedom to make sense of your own experiences must be used carefully in making sense of other’s experiences. Though you may not have lost a spouse, suffered leprosy, or lost a lamb, you should offer love and a warm embrace to those who have. When you have had similar experiences, it should activate your compassion more than your advising. Your experiences are intended to grow your faith. They do not qualify you to evaluate the struggles of a fellow traveler.”

The hushed crowd pondered. It seemed that these gatherings with Father followed a predictable pattern. We children discern alternatives and argue for the one we favor. God transcends those alternatives. He unites truth into one great whole. And, after listening to Him, it all made perfect sense.

God paused before concluding: “Mortality will be your capstone experience. I challenge you to fill the stories of your mortality with faith, meaning, purpose, kindness, and serving. You can reach out to fellow travelers. You can see goodness and growth where others see tragedy. That is the key to joining me in my work, that apparent chaos is organized and sacralized by faith.”

“Do not despair. The One who tends every sparrow knows your every struggle. Look to me in every thought. Doubt not. Fear not.”

Applying the Lesson

We don’t remember that debate. We can only reconstruct it from scattered clues. We know that God loves stories. He built our lives out of them. His beloved Son taught using them. (What a teacher!) We also know that, while each of us imagines that our personal truth is objective and accurate, God may be inviting us to recognize that only One really understands Truth. The tragedies and chaos of our lives are carefully managed moments. God stands by to infuse them with growth and meaning. When we need humbling, life ministers just the right remedy. When we need hope, God points us to His Son who triumphed over all enemies. When we are lonely, He offers His embrace.

More than we realize, we impose our own self-serving meaning on our memories. We may see ourselves as misunderstood or unfairly treated. We may question whether God was present during times of trials or disappointments. When relationships fell apart or plans failed to materialize, we may lament having wasted our time, efforts, and love. We humans invariably shape our memories by selective perception, careful editing, and even creative re-writing. Yet, rather than complain about our fates, God invites us to put our creative capacities to work looking for His gracious hand in all aspects of our lives. He invites us to ponder the heavenly lessons and blessings He offered during all of our experiences including times of challenge, disappointment and unexpected turns in the road of life. He invites us to be glad students.

We should not hold onto our truths as sacred. Rather we should hold onto His Son. After all, one of His names is Truth. We must never allow our limited scope to infuse us with gloom. We must not ever surrender to black despair. When life stumps and bewilders us, we call on God to sustain our faith.

I define faith as the stubborn resolve to see God’s goodness in everything that happens to us.

Elder Maxwell’s application of faith is (naturally) more eloquent than mine: “Let the kaleidoscope of life’s circumstances be shaken, again and again, and the true believer of Christ will still see with the eye of faith divine design and purpose in his life” (BYU Speeches, True Believers in Christ, 7 October 1980).

May our stories be filled with praise for His perfect purposes.

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You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child. For more information about his books and programs, visit www.FamilyCollege.com or www.DrWally.org

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Annmarie Worthington for their insightful contributions to this article.

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A New Robe


Sister Lyle talked about humility in sacrament meeting yesterday. She did a great job. As she tracked through passages of scripture from the Topical Guide, a new image settled into my mind.

Maybe humility is like shedding the cloak of self-sufficiency and worldly concerns in order to have the Lord “encircle [us] around in the robe of [His] righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:33). Maybe God is inviting each of us to shed our identities and pretenses and put on His identity and purposes. Only when His purposes guide our perceptions and actions will we be on that strait and narrow way.

God tells us why some of us are not chosen: “Because [our] hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men” (D&C 121:35).

Funny, isn’t it? The things that demand out time and attention most in this life—work, home maintenance, shopping, recreation—are, in the eternal perspective, distractions. They are a test intended to see if we will stay focused on eternity.

“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88:67).

I’m inviting the Lord to encircle me in His robes.