Monthly Archives

August 2011

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Stumbling Over Ourselves


A Great Idea …

“The consequence of preoccupation with our own successes and failures and lack of serious commitment to the common [good] is increased depression, poor health, and lives without meaning.” (Psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman in his book, Learned Optimism, p. 288)

In Other Words …

We humans quite naturally get so caught up in what’s going on in our own lives that we fail to tune in to the people around us. We may not be aware of ways we can improve the lives of others. Yet serving others will often cause us to forget ourselves and our troubles while providing a greater sense of joy and meaning in our lives.

How this Applies to You …

Find ways to get out of yourself and serve those around you. As you do, you will enjoy your life more. What opportunities do you see right now to help someone in your life?

To Find Out More …

For more great ideas (or to share your ideas), check out our Navigating Life’s Journey blog

For excellent (and free!) programs on improving your personal well being, check out The Personal Journey and Managing Stress at www.arfamilies.org.

For more information, we recommend Authentic Happiness or Learned Optimism, both by Martin E. P. Seligman.

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There Are No Perfect Parents


A Great Idea …

“It is not the parent who seems to do it all perfectly who is to be admired. It is the one who recognizes his or her own failings and is willing to keep growing.” (Professor of Family Life, Dr. H. Wallace Goddard, in his book, Soft-Spoken Parenting, p. 191)

In Other Words …

Sometimes we look at parents we know and think they “have it all together” while we fumble along making far too many mistakes. It’s likely that those “perfect” parents are wallpapering over their reality. Parenting is filled with many challenges and mistakes. The best we can do is learn from our mistakes and keep getting better.

How This Applies to You …

The next time you feel inadequate as a parent, don’t make excuses and don’t collapse in despair. Consider what you will do differently the next time you’re in a similar situation.

To Find Out More …

For more great ideas, visit our Navigating Life’s Journey blog.

For an excellent (and free!) program on parenting, see The Parenting Journey at www.arfamilies.org and, if you have children less than 6 years of age, check out See the World Through My Eyes.

For more in depth reading on parenting, we recommend Soft-Spoken Parenting by H. Wallace Goddard or The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting by Laurence Steinberg.

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Invite Rather Than Complain


A Great Idea …

“It is normally easier [for your partner] to do more of something good than to do less of something bad. Therefore, when possible, a [request for] change should be phrased in terms of what you want rather than in terms of what you don’t want.” (Andrew Christensen and Neil S. Jacobson in their book, Reconcilable Differences, p. 199-200)

In Other Words …

One of the most common ways of trying to get our partners’ to change is to tell them what not to do. This often leaves our partners dwelling on the wrong things. And it can make them discouraged or defensive, and usually doesn’t produce the desired result. A much more effective approach is to make requests of our partners that tell them what we would like them to do. An invitation is always better than a complaint.

How This Applies to You…

The next time you want to make a request of your partner, try to make it one of action instead of restriction. Instead of asking your partner NOT to leave the dirty clothes on the floor, try instead to say, “Honey, next time would you please put your clothes in the laundry hamper?”

To Find Out More…

For more great ideas check out the Navigating Life’s Journey blog

For an excellent (and free!) program on marriage, see The Marriage Garden at Arkansas Families.

For an excellent book focused on marriage, read Reconcilable Differences by Andrew Christensen & Neil S. Jacobson or The Marriage Garden by H. Wallace Goddard and James P. Marshall.

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Disputing Self-Judgments


A Great Idea …

“The most convincing way of disputing a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. Much of the time you will have facts on your side, since pessimistic reactions to adversity are so very often overreactions. You adopt the role of a detective and ask, ‘What is the evidence for this belief?'” (Psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness, p. 95)

In Other Words …

When something goes wrong, we often condemn ourselves. We’re quite sure that we are stupid, blind, or inept. Yet our first reaction is often driven more by emotion than good sense. As soon as we are calm, we can dispute those first, unreasonable judgments. We can even offer ourselves the same kind of compassion we would offer a good friend who had made a mistake.

How this Applies to You …

The next time you find yourself accusing yourself, pause. Recognize that all humans make mistakes. Rather than blame yourself, see what repairs you can make and what you can learn from the mistake.

To Find Out More …

For more great ideas, check out our Navigating Life’s Journey blog

For excellent (and free!) programs on improving your personal well being, check out The Personal Journey and Managing Stress at www.arfamilies.org.

For more information, we recommend Authentic Happiness or Learned Optimism, both by Martin E. P. Seligman.

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Conquering The Emotion Monsters


A Great Idea …

“The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them. The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them. I guess you could say that if you want to have a happy family, you’d better be prepared to permit the expression of a lot of unhappiness.” (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, in their book, How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, p. 42)

In Other Words …

We cannot forbid children to have certain feelings. Feelings-good and bad-will come to all children (and adults!). Our peaceful responses give children space to process their feelings. We can listen with compassion as they describe and make sense of their experiences. And, as they feel more peaceful, we can help them create solutions for the situations that created the feelings.

How This Applies to You …

The next time your child expresses an emotion such as anger or fear, help him or her process it by naming the emotion and showing compassion. You might say, “It made you mad when your brother took that toy away from you, didn’t it?” As you accept your child’s feelings and show compassion, he or she will learn that feelings are a normal part of life and can be managed safely.

To Find Out More …

For an excellent (and free!) program on parenting, see The Parenting Journey at www.arfamilies.org and if your children are younger than six, check out See the World Through My Eyes.

For more in-depth reading, we recommend How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish or Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman.

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Driving the Pharisaism Out of Our Souls


The Pharisees were already irritated with Jesus. He and His disciples had gathered grain to eat on the Sabbath. As if His disregard for the rules of righteousness were not offensive enough, for good measure He claimed that He was Lord of the Sabbath! Jesus sure knew how to rile up the Pharisees.

They followed Him to the synagogue and set the trap. They pushed a man with a withered hand before Him and asked “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” (Matthew 12:10).

The Pharisees knew that Jesus had often healed on the Sabbath. If He suggested that His actions were acceptable, He would be in clear violation of the Jewish law. If He suggested that healing was not acceptable on the Sabbath, He would be condemning Himself and His previous actions. The Pharisees had Him in their trap.

Jesus, in His masterful way, invited an understanding of law: “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.”

Now the Pharisees were in the trap. They would rescue a sheep but not a child of God on the Sabbath? What kind of shepherds were they?

Jesus turned to the man whom the Pharisees had turned into an uncomfortable object lesson. Jesus saw a struggling and stunted human. He reached for him—as He does for all of us: “Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other” (Matthew 12:13).

Aftermath

Were the Pharisees taught and enlarged by Jesus magnanimity? Hardly. “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (Matthew 12:14).

On another occasion, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of batting each other with holy expectations. “Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46). It is a double offense to load people with expectations and then fail to help them shoulder the burdens.

Intriguingly, the Pharisees’ hardheartedness drove Jesus away. “But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence….” We can also push Jesus from our presence by judging others with hardheartedness.

Or we can follow Him. “And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:15).

Will I Follow the Pharisees?

The question I ask myself is whether I do the same thing as the Pharisees. When a child cries in sacrament meeting, do I see an annoyance who is disturbing my worship? Or do I see with compassion a child in distress who is probably accompanied by harried and tired parents? When people choose to play in the yard on the Sabbath, do I cluck condescension toward them? Or do I trust that they are the best judges of what helps their family? When a member of the ward goes from row to row hugging on ward members in the minutes before meeting begins, do I see an offender who needs a good high council talk on reverence? Or do I see a saint brimming with love? When a fellow saint wears a plaid shirt to sacrament meeting, do I subtract points from his righteousness score? Or do I see a fellow-worshiper, a cherished son of God?

The natural man is a Pharisee (in the negative sense of that title). We create labyrinths of rules and we use them to identify the infractions and compute the righteousness of those around us.

But the story provides a different way of reacting to the man with the withered hand. Jesus, the true shepherd, saw a sheep trapped in a pit. Rather than condemn him for getting himself in a pit, Jesus reached to pull him out. Jesus healed all those who came to them.

Jesus did not merely break the Sabbath rules. He broke myriad social rules that held the people from being healers.

For example, women were shunted to the background in ancient society. Jesus appalled Pharisees and even His own disciples by the way He treated women. As Harry Emerson Fosdick observed, “He treated women as he treated men—as persons sacred in their own right, as souls loved of God and full of undisclosed possibilities. When they were sunk in sin, he forgave them; when they were humiliated, he stood up for them; when they suffered social wrongs, he defended them; when they had abilities to offer, he used them” (1949, pp.148, 161).

In addition, Jesus regularly scandalized all civilized people by hanging out with the lowest class of people. And He wasn’t merely a keep-them-at-arm’s-length do-gooder. He seemed to genuinely like and value the ne’er-do-wells. He was a true friend of publicans and sinners (Matthew 11:19). He loved them. He lifted them. He sought to redeem them.

His example and His stories teach the same principle. He taught us to leave the 99 pleasant and rule-abiding saints to find the lost ones. Including the ones who aren’t behaving exactly as we think they should. And the ones we perceive as difficult or annoying. And the ones who might typically be shunted to the background because they are different, struggling or have made mistakes.

How would the world be different if we followed His example? Would we focus less on our own needs and our own judgments if we were filled with Christ? Would we treat each individual as a person sacred in his or her own right, as a soul loved of God and full of possibilities?

Pharisees or Redeemers?

A contrast comes to mind. Last week we had a ward social. I followed my decision rule for such events and positioned myself so that I could casually stroll to the front of the line as soon as the starting gun (sometimes called a blessing) was shot, so that I could get a piece of the treasures such as Ruby Bernal’s enchiladas and Alison Jones’ cake. Once I had secured the buffet essentials, then I looked for a place to sit—preferably by nice people who wanted to talk about woodworking. Clearly missing in action was my wife, Nancy. But I knew from oft-repeated experience where she was. She had found someone who is inactive, lonely, or hurting and she was loving them. She is a redeemer.

Maybe when we find the Pharisee within us chafing at others, judging them, and speaking ill of them, we can invite that Pharisee to be a healer. No human has fallen beyond the reach of His compassion; we can plead for the mind of Christ so that our compassion reaches with His to those “almost-repentant who warily probe the possibility of both fellowship and forgiveness” (Neal A. Maxwell, 1980).

Elder Holland told a powerful story that continues to challenge me:

I grew up in the same town with a boy who had no father and precious few of the other blessings of life. The young men in our community found it easy to tease and taunt and bully him. And in the process of it all he made some mistakes, though I cannot believe his mistakes were more serious than those of his Latter-day Saint friends who made life so miserable for him. He began to drink and smoke, and the gospel principles which had never meant much to him now meant even less. He had been cast in a role by LDS friends who should have known better and he began to play the part perfectly. Soon he drank even more, went to school even less, and went to Church not at all. Then one day he was gone. Some said that they thought he had joined the army.

That was about 1959 or so. Fifteen or sixteen years later he came home. At least he tried to come home. He had found the significance of the gospel in his life. He had married a wonderful girl, and they had a beautiful family. But he discovered something upon his return. He had changed, but some of his old friends hadn’t—and they were unwilling to let him escape his past.

This was hard for him and hard for his family. They bought a little home and started a small business, but they struggled both personally and professionally and finally moved away. For reasons that don’t need to be detailed here, the story goes to a very unhappy ending. He died a year ago at age 44. That’s too young to die these days, and it’s certainly too young to die away from home.

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

We can tell how much hold Jesus has on our souls by how we respond to those who are struggling. May we resist the temptation to club them with oars. May we pull them aboard and row them to the warm lights and healing fires on shore.

That is what Jesus invites us to do with Him.

During BYU Education Week (August 15-19), Brother Goddard will be presenting a series of four evening classes on parenting, another series on marriage, and one on personal well-being. You may find useful ideas for family life by attending some of his classes.

References:

Fosdick, H. E. (1949). The man from Nazareth. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Holland, J. E. (1984). A robe, a ring, and a fatted calf.

Maxwell, N. A. (1980). True believers in Christ.

Books by Brother Goddard:

Between Parent and Child

Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage

Soft-Spoken Parenting

Finding Joy in Family Life

YouTube videos on the Atonement

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Fanning The Flames


A Great Idea …

“Each of us has a little flame deep within us. All life is an effort to keep that flame burning brightly. Every time you interact with your intimate partner, you are either throwing sand on your partner’s flame-or breathing fresh oxygen on it to make it glow brighter. A love relationship should be all about brightening and supporting the inner flame of the person you love. We have somehow acquired the illusion that if we throw enough sand and water on our partner’s flame in the guise of being “fair” or of offering “suggestions” (usually criticisms) or of insisting on change, we will both end up happier.” (Susan Page, in her book, Why Talking is Not Enough, p. 31)

In Other Words …

Why do we think that we have to make people feel bad in order to get them to do good? We are all motivated by encouragement and disheartened by criticism. Criticizing our partners will not get us encouragement back from them. When we feel ourselves preparing to throw sand on our partners’ flames, we can choose to set aside our buckets, and instead blow oxygen-encouragement and appreciation-on their fires.

How This Applies to You…

Don’t let fairness get in the way of happiness. The next time your partner does something that irritates you, resist the urge to make things “fair” by reacting the same way. Don’t start a sand fight. Try instead to view your partner’s actions as a plea for a breath of encouragement.

To Find Out More…

For an excellent (and free!) program on marriage, see The Marriage Garden at Arkansas Families.

For excellent books focused on marriage, read Why Talking is Not Enough by Susan Page or The Marriage Garden by H. Wallace Goddard and James P. Marshall.

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Smiling In The Face of Challenges


A Great Idea …

“Expressing gratitude during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness, as hard as that might be, can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew. Although it may be challenging to celebrate your blessings at moments when they seem least apparent to you, it may be the most important thing that you can do.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book, The How of Happiness, p. 93)

In Other Words …

When negative things happen in our lives, it is easy to get flooded by them. We get bogged down and don’t see the positives in our lives. When we find even small things in our lives in the midst of troubles, the gratitude will help us to cope and move past the negative things that can seem overwhelming.

How this Applies to You …

The next time you are hit by some bad news, take a deep breath. See if you can find something to be grateful for, no matter how small it may be. It might be the air in your lungs or the sun on your face. When you take time to be grateful for the small things, it makes the negative things more manageable.

To Find Out More …

For excellent (and free!) programs on improving your personal well being, check out The Personal Journey and Managing Stress at www.arfamilies.org.

For further reading, we recommend The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky or Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman.

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Outsmart Your Anger


A Great Idea …

“There are ways to deal with anger besides pouring molten lava on those we love. The popular belief that if we do not express our anger, it will explode-or come out in sick forms-is simply mistaken. When we dwell on our anger it grows. In contrast, when we set it aside, it can cool. Anger is a little like tasting very hot soup. We must allow it to cool a little before we eat it or we will burn our mouths.” (Professor of Family Life, Dr. H. Wallace Goddard, in his book, Soft-Spoken Parenting, p. 14)

In Other Words …

When we are angry, our instinctive reaction is to lash out at those around us. Our empathy dries up, and we become hyper-focused on the thing that bothers us. We often gather up armloads of complaints. Having disarmed ourselves of our most important tools, we find it hard to solve problems or build relationships.

How This Applies to You …

The next time your child makes you angry, try swimming against the tide of anger. Instead of drowning your empathy, try listening to it. Instead of focusing on the irritation, try seeing the larger picture. Instead of looking for added complaints, stop and give yourself a few minutes to calm down. Once you have cooled off, then you can deal with the situation more helpfully.

To Find Out More …

For an excellent (and free!) program on parenting, see The Parenting Journey at www.arfamilies.org and if your children are younger than six, check out See the World Through My Eyes.

For more in depth reading on parenting, we recommend Soft-spoken Parenting by H. Wallace Goddard or Anger Kills by Redford and Virginia Williams.

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We Cry For Connection


A Great Idea …

“Distressed partners may use different words but they are always asking the same basic questions, ‘Are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Will you come when I need you, when I call?’ Love is the best survival mechanism there is, and to feel suddenly emotionally cut off from a partner, disconnected, is terrifying. We have to reconnect, to speak our needs in a way that moves our partner to respond.” (Dr. Sue Johnson, in her book, Hold Me Tight, pp. 46-47)

In Other Words …

When we are hurt, we tend to lash out. Unfortunately that drives away our most important resource for healing: our partners. When we express our pain without attacking our partners, we may find ways to work together.

When we are the ones being attacked, we can learn to listen past our initial reactions to see our partners’ needs and pains. We can resist the temptation to become defensive. We can join forces to defeat common enemies.

How This Applies to You…

The next time you feel angry, resist the temptation to attack your partner. Find a way to invite your partner to engage in peaceful and creative problem-solving.

The next time you feel that your partner is attacking you, instead of responding defensively, try tuning in to your partner’s needs. Focus on his or her pain and try to understand it. Then you may be able to help address it.

To Find Out More…

For an excellent (and free!) program on marriage, see The Marriage Garden at Arkansas Families.

For excellent books focused on marriage, read Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson or The Marriage Garden by H. Wallace Goddard and James P. Marshall.