Monthly Archives

July 2018

Self Development

Would You Rather Be Right or Be Good?

The default setting for human minds is evaluation. We are constantly evaluating what people say and do.

A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately check the evidence to see if their exclamation is fully justified.

A spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and we wag our internal heads, “You always like your vegetables raw!”

Sometimes we are wise enough to keep our critical thoughts to ourselves. Even so, there is a price to be paid for having a contrary mindset.

Imagine that, instead of keeping a prosecuting attorney on our mental staff, we hired a peacemaker—a person who cheerfully looked for areas of agreement. Would that change our internal dialogue and our relationships?

In a word, yes.

A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately do two things: 1. We look for evidence in support of that exclamation, and 2. we enter into the family member’s spirit of rejoicing: “It is glorious and beautiful.” Maybe for good measure, we add, “I’m glad I get to share it with you!”

My spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and I do two things: 1. My mental staff records that my spouse prefers broccoli less cooked, and 2. I acknowledge her preference: “Yes! You like the healthy choice! It’s funny because I like my broccoli soft.” Maybe I add a relationship message: “I bet we can find a way to live together in spite of our different broccoli preferences!”

The scriptures are packed with Jesus doing just such things. When the adulterous woman was dragged to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:1-11), they correctly observed that the law required that she be put to death. They were quite right.

Though they might be right, they weren’t good. They weren’t thinking redemptively, lovingly, and charitably.

Jesus set the perfect contrast to her accusers. He did not dishonor the law. But He invited the one who was perfect to start the stoning. The wonderful irony is that He was the only one in that crowd or any crowd who is perfect—and He had no interest is stoning that woman or any person. He wanted to save her. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to use the law to destroy her; Jesus wanted to use love, compassion, and His own sacrifice to save her.

His own sacrifice. Jesus does not just wish us well in our foolhardy journeys. No. He is willing to go to the garden and the cross to rescue us, to cover our sins, and win our hearts.

What are we willing to do for the people around us? Are we willing to adapt ourselves, surrender a few preferences, not demand that others agree with our perspectives? Will we surrender our need to be right to bless others?

To have strong relationships, it helps to be an agreeable person. “Don’t worry so much about being right,” seems to be Jesus message. “Focus more on being good, kind, loving, compassionate, understanding.”

But this is about more than agreeability. It is also about humility. It is about valuing someone else’s agenda as much as my own.

We all have abundant opportunities to show kindness. To put aside our own self-centeredness. To resist the knee-jerk reaction to judge other’s comments or desires as “wrong.” To surrender the impulse to criticize or argue. Instead, to listen with openness to better understand the perspectives of others. To respond with benevolent words. To offer the gift of kindness. (Try searching “act of kindness” on the web and you’ll be inspired.)

Sometimes the hardest places to show kindness are in our own families. We develop what John Gottman calls a “crabby habit of mind.” We get onto the habit of seeing faults, disagreements, and irritations. Our prosecuting attorneys take charge and our souls shrivel.

Jesus invites us toward the expansive and redemptive view. One of His prophets has expressed the challenge this way:

“We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? and will not the union that has been cemented between you and the birth of children and by the bond of the new and everlasting covenant, be more secure when you forget to mention weaknesses and faults one of another? Is it not better to drop them and say nothing about them—bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better?” (pp.180-81, 1998, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. S.L.C.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Wirthlin made this counsel very practical:

When we are filled with kindness, we are not judgmental. The Savior taught, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” He also taught that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?”

Love them.

“If they are obnoxious?”

Love them.

“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”

Love them.

“Wayward?”

The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.

It is so much better to be good than be right.

Invitation: Look for opportunities to agree with, support, and be kind to the people in your life, especially family members.

Recommendation: To read more of Gottman’s work, see The Relationship Cure. For an LDS perspective on marriage, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her skilled editing.

Self Development

Choosing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

In movies, there is periodically a discordance in the soundtrack that warns us that something terrible is about to happen. It makes us feel unsettled. We usually don’t notice the sounds consciously but our bodies and minds tense up. We prepare for disaster knowing that we can’t avoid it.

That is the very soundtrack Satan plays for our lives throughout mortality. “Something terrible is about to happen. And there is nothing you can do about it.”

He says other things as well: “Your life isn’t going well. You aren’t happy. And no matter what you do, you likely will not overcome your challenges. You are stuck.”

For each of our lives, Satan develops a customized soundtrack to keep us living with an unsettling sense of worry, fear, sadness, or discouragement. We feel anxious and unhappy without any apparent way of escaping it.

We can all site historical evidence for our uneasiness: “It seems like every time I feel like things are finally going well, something rotten happens.” Or, “I have tried to fix my life, but it never seems to work out as I hoped.” The background noise of anxiety becomes the defining soundtrack of our lives.

Yet we Saints of God shouldn’t be playing a horror movie soundtrack to accompany our lives.

If we sat down with God, I think He would counsel us, “The threatening soundtrack is not from Me. That comes from the father of lies and misery.” He would reassure us, “I want you to feel joy and peace. That is my design for you.”

We might inquire, “But how can I find joy and peace? It all seems so unattainable.”

This is a great place to insert an idea from a wise scholar. Reuben Hill found that people could have very similar experiences, but very different reactions. Challenges might undo one family while propelling another family forward.

Hill found two specific factors that decided how a challenging event would impact a family: resources and meaning.

Resources

We are equipped with more powerful resources than we realize. Research has identified religious faith and community as some of the best resources for managing challenges. When we recognize our resources and use them, we keep challenges from becoming crises. Having supportive friends and meaningful work can make a big difference. Even previous experiences with challenges can prepare us for new challenges.

Meaning

This may be the single most important tool for dealing with challenges. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we can interpret our experience in any of several ways.

1. My life is off-track. I didn’t get any breaks. It will never turn out the way I hoped.
2. I haven’t created the life I wanted. And I don’t have the ability to change things.
3. I have been treated unfairly. People have robbed me of opportunities.

We can blame our circumstances, blame ourselves, or blame other people. None of those lead to peace or growth.

Spiritual problems require spiritual remedies.

We throw away Satan’s soundtrack. We cast Satan out of our lives. We recognize that a constant sense of worry, fear, and anxiety does not come from God. He does not send us hopelessness. So we replace Satan’s discordant soundtrack with God’s edifying one.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We fill ourselves with the Light of Christ. As President Uchtdorf taught, “If you open your mind and heart to receive the Light of Christ and humbly follow the Savior, you will receive more light. Line upon line, here a little and there a little, you will gather more light and truth into your souls until darkness has been banished from your life… Darkness vanishes in the presence of light.” (Bearers of Heavenly Light, General Conference, October 2017)

As we seek a deeper relationship with the Savior and allow Him more fully into our thoughts, we can experience feelings of hope and peace. We can see the potential for growth. We can trust that we will be led through our challenges.
Rather than the three messages above, we might play God’s messages:

1. “God can help me learn from this. It will turn out.”
2 “Life is going to be messy, because humans make mistakes. But God will turn all things to my good. God is looking after me.
3. “When others treat me unfairly, it gives me the opportunity to grow in charity and wisdom. God and I can create different outcomes.”
God is looking after us. We can hear His soundtrack of love, joy, and peace. That changes everything.

Invitation: Notice when you feel unsettled, anxious or discouraged. Don’t allow that disturbing soundtrack to play in your life. Turn to God and call on His power.

Note: Those dealing with clinical depression or anxiety should also seek professional assistance.

Thanks to Barbara and Emily Ruth for their excellent additions to this article.

Self Development

Thinking Big in Family Life

An older widow was in the habit of going to the grocery store every day. She bought just a few items, hardly more than a day’s supply. The clerks thought this odd because most people buy groceries for several days at a time. One day one of the clerks was bold enough to inquire, “Why do you buy only a few things each day?” “Well…it’s just that I’m a widow and I live with my nephew and I can’t stand him. When I die I don’t want to leave him any groceries.”

So human. In each of us is a part that says, “I’ll be darned if I’m going to give anything to someone I don’t like. He doesn’t deserve it!”

That is smallness of soul.

I love the story of an unusual Little League coach. He had a team that just couldn’t get the idea of baseball. He spent a lot of their practices just teaching the boys about which way to run around the bases. They lost game after game after game after game.

There was one little boy in particular who never caught or hit the ball in any practices or games. The team got down to a dramatic moment in the final game of the season: last inning, two outs, down by one run. The little boy who had never hit or caught the ball came up to bat. The team figured the game and the season were over. But somehow, miraculously, this boy connected and got on first base. The team was ecstatic because next up to bat was the team slugger. If the team slugger drove in the little fellow on base and himself, they would win, the only win of the season!

The team slugger did what he did so well, he made a solid hit toward right field. The boy on first base who had never hit or caught a ball also didn’t really understand the game of baseball. He was able to decide that the right thing to do was to head toward second base, so he took off running. But halfway there he saw the ball coming toward him. This confused him. So he caught it, thereby making the final out against his own team.

Imagine the perplexed coach and team. After reflecting for a moment, the coach turned to the team and said, “This kid has never before hit the ball or caught it. He just did both in the same inning! Cheer for him!”

That is bigness. Generosity. Kindness. Graciousness. Hopefully, we have all experienced it. Bigness feels good. It leads us to joy.

Jesus provides us a marvelous contrast of bigness and smallness with his experience in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). As they were dining, a sinful woman with an alabaster box of ointment approached Jesus tenderly. The woman “stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”

Sneering Simon was repulsed with the woman’s presence and disgusted that Jesus did not recognize her low character and send her away. “If Jesus were truly a prophet…”

The kind, gentle Master drew his attention—and ours—to the irony by telling the story of two debtors, one who owed 500 pence and the other who owed 50 pence. Both were forgiven their debts. Which of them was more grateful? Presumably it was the person forgiven the greater debt, Simon conceded. Jesus confronted Simon with his smallness. While Simon sat smugly judging the woman, the sinful woman was forgiven for her whole-souled love for the Redeemer.

But even after experiencing the Master’s bigness, the Pharisees remained small-minded. Maybe the Pharisees were big in the community. Powerful. Prominent. “Righteous.” But some of their hearts were shriveled, small, cruel, and empty. The sinful woman was small, shunned, insignificant in the community. But her heart was full of devotion, love, gratitude, and hope. Jesus keeps surprising us by reminding us that He does not measure as the world measures. He measures the bigness of our hearts.

For each of us, the matter of bigness and smallness is put in personal perspective by the story of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23 35). When called before his master to account for his multimillion dollar debt, he begged for mercy, and was forgiven the debt. But when he met a man who owed him a few dollars, who likewise petitioned for mercy, he had him thrown into prison. The message is gentle but clear. Each of us goes to the King to be forgiven vast debts. He gladly forgives us. How ungracious it is when we are small, stingy and unwilling to forgive our fellow travelers their puny debts to us.

The Lord asks: “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” Matthew 18:33

It’s easier to be big when we are feeling good about life, good about ourselves, and good about things in general. But when we’re tired and discouraged and frustrated, when we’re without love and hope, it’s hard to be big.

There are several things we can do to encourage bigness in ourselves. The most important may be to keep ourselves filled with a sense of Father’s goodness. We are more likely to be big when we see as Father sees—we notice and remember the good in others, we understand their noblest intentions.

I do better at bigness when I remember that Father has invited us to help and love each other. Sometimes we unwittingly promote smallness in our families. For example, because we want our children to learn responsibility, we are usually quite firm in our schedule of doing the dishes. But while we should teach our children responsibility, we don’t want to teach them smallness. So Nancy and I tried to apply lessons of bigness to getting the dishes done. While we normally expected our children to do their dishes on their appointed day, when they were unusually stressed, we volunteered, “May I do the dishes for you tonight? Can we help you any other way? Is there anyone in the family who would like to help?” Teaching compassion is just as important as teaching responsibility.

While it is normal to occasionally feel angry, peevish, and out-of-sorts, we can learn to handle our feelings in non-destructive ways. For example, I have found that any correcting I do when I am angry is likely to be destructive and unhelpful. So I try not to correct or confront anyone when I am angry. It is better to wait until I am feeling loving and generous.

We can follow the remarkable example of the Savior by being gracious, kind, and forgiving. It feels good to be big.

Invitation: When you find your heart feeling small and shriveled, pause. Ask yourself how you can show the kind of mercy that God regularly shows to each of us.

Recommendation: Many parts of this article were drawn from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her able editing.