Categories
Self Development

Focusing on the Problems May be the Problem

by H. Wallace Goddard

The Balm of Gilead is closer than you might think.

We are all injured. Every mortal carries an assortment of chafes, bruises, and malfunctions. Some people’s disorders are more debilitating or apparent, but no mortal is spared.

The worst injuries are spiritual. There are those who are paralyzed by remembrances of betrayal, cruelty, and neglect. There are those held hostage to guilt or anger.

In my work for Auburn University I met a prominent, mid-life woman who was energetic, personable, and bright. We worked together on several projects. After our first planning meeting, several of us went to lunch. As we began the first steps toward getting acquainted, she put a frame around her life by saying that she was in recovery. She had had bad relationships as a child, substance abuse as an adult, and now she was in recovery.

Over the years this woman and I had many professional contacts. Perhaps monthly we met for planning meetings. Regularly the subject of her injuries and recovery came up. She told about her latest forays into counseling. It took me a long time for me to recognize that her old addictions to substances had been replaced with a new fascination with recovery. She really was not well yet; she was merely addicted to treatment. She understood and explained every part of her life through her struggle with addiction.

That woman’s situation is not unusual. Many of us have learned to define ourselves based on some central struggle in our lives. We are overcoming abuse or addiction or trauma or neglect. It is a common way to make sense of our lives. It puts our enemy clearly in focus. Unfortunately the perceived enemy is often really a diversion. Focusing on the problem may, in fact, become the problem.

Traditions in Therapy
There are many traditions in therapy. One is to ruminate on the history of a problem in the hopes of untangling the strands of pain and responsibility. Often we get only more tangled and more confused and more despairing.

Another approach to solving problems is to carefully study the behavior and the rewards that support it. By putting new rewards in place, the behavior pattern may be broken.

A third tool is to bolster the self-confidence of the victim. “You can do it. You are bright and capable and strong.” But we are all nagged by the sense of inadequacy. We simply cannot do many things that need doing.

Elder Boyd K. Packer has suggested a radical, new approach to therapy:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel. (ENSIGN, November 1986, p.17)

“Doctrine therapy” seems hopelessly inadequate and naive for dealing with lifelong problems. Can the study of the doctrine really change long-established patterns of behavior?

The True Balm
Jesus believed that it could. Recall Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She had suffered a long history of failed relationships. She was in fact, then cohabiting with her sixth partner. She had every reason for despair and cynicism. But Jesus offered her sublime hope. He offered her living water.

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. John 4:10

The woman was mystified. Jesus made more clear the contrast between natural and divine methods of slaking thirst.

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:13-14

Jesus declared Himself to be the Messiah, the Christ. He was the liberator and the healer.

Jesus did not probe the troubled history of her life. He did nothing to untangle her psychological wiring. He offered Himself as the Healing Balm. For every malady the remedy was the same, whether the woman taken with adultery, the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee, or the father who craved healing for his son.

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things [are] possible to him that believeth.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. Mark 9:23-4

The father’s humble and sincere effort at faith was enough. The son was healed.

Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. -Luke 4:18

For all who were ever bruised or damaged, He is the liberator.

The Most Persistent Maladies
It is clear that God will have us use every practical, medical, and medicinal resource available to us. Anti-inflammatories and wise counsel are still vital. But the most persistent maladies are those of the soul. For them, Jesus is the only Remedy.

I learned a valuable lesson about drawing on His power from a member of our branch who came to see me as a friend. (She was not willing to see me as her branch president.) Her life was filled with problems, doubt, sin, and confusion. She felt utterly hopeless. She asked me what she should do.

I suggested that she let Father in to her life to help her make sense of everything. She resisted. “If I let God into my life He will tell me all the stuff I am doing wrong. He will start to make a bunch of demands and insist that I entirely clean up the place. I have enough problems already. I don’t need that kind of help.”

A suggestion came to mind. I suggested that, next time she felt Him knocking at her door, she open the door to Him. But tell Him that He can only come in to the linen closet of her life. And He can only stay for 10 minutes. Then He must leave without resistance.

She was aghast at the presumption. But, with encouragement, she resolved to try. The same woman returned to my office a week later, subdued and peaceful. She closed the door and sat down. “I invited Him in and told Him He could stay only for a few minutes.” She paused for a long time. “I have never known such joy. He taught me. He loved me. He encouraged me. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that God was like that?”

Perhaps His healing powers are the best-kept secret in the world. Because of Him we have nothing to fear. We are infinitely better off in His hands than in Satan’s…or even our own. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

In many situations it is difficult to find the limits of our responsibility. The Prophet Joseph Smith must have had a similar question as he languished in Liberty Jail while his people struggled. The Lord instructed him:

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power [whether much or little, we do all we can and we do it cheerfully]; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance [What a picture of faith-filled serenity!], to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed [In the final analysis, He does the miracle!]. D&C 123:17

I am a professor of human development. I am not trained as a therapist. I believe that skillful therapy can play a vital role in helping people heal. But there is more. The relentless message of scripture is that we may “look to God and live” (Alma 37:47).

In my own life and in the lives of those I love, I have repeatedly witnessed the transforming miracle of His goodness. Only He can provide the mighty change of heart that ultimately makes us right. Over-reliance on human remedies will leave us still sick. The doctrine of Christ, His goodness, His healing balm, are our only hope for curing the pervasive, latter-day, spiritual maladies.

Categories
Parenting

The Surprising Cost of Parenting Programs

by H. Wallace Goddard

All ideas on parenting are not created equal, and some “good ideas” may not be so good as others.

There is a general law that you get what you pay for. It seems that cheap chips are less flavorful. The price of an inexpensive car is multiplied by the costs of repairs. A discount wig may look like road kill.

Even such ephemerals as love have a high price. Love is not the spontaneous flood of emotion portrayed in popular media; Meaningful love is the result of serving, adapting, appreciating, and forbearing–over the course of years and difficulties. Great love is built at great cost.

There are, however, notable exceptions to the general rule of economics. I can think of none more conspicuous than in the area of parenting programs. Some of the best programs in the world cost the least.

Many commercial parenting programs were developed by business people. They are supported by effective marketing and skillful persuasion but many of them are filled with high-sounding nonsense. They offer simple solutions with strong assurances. But some of the medicine is simply not effective.

There is no magic parenting wand. Timeout is no panacea. (In fact it is commonly misused.) Consequences are no better than punishment when used without wisdom and compassion. Rewards are often counterproductive, damaging the internal motivation that we hope to encourage in children. Discipline is not the most important issue in parenting.

Assessing Parenting Programs
What are the touchstones for assessing the quality of a parenting program? Two are vital. The first relates to the theme of all Jesus’ teaching: Love. He tells us that the characteristic of love will be the measure of any follower: “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). I think Jesus would put love first on His list of parenting recommendations.

Not surprisingly, research has found that loving children is the single most important thing parents can do for their children. Not only does love have direct effects on children but it also mediates or moderates the effect of other parental behavior. Even discipline by a loving parent is more effective than discipline by a less loving parent.

The best parenting programs recommend love as the foundation, guiding principle, and informing spirit to all parenting efforts. They provide specific counsel on taking one-on-one time with children. They may even recommend specific methods for discerning children’s individual languages of love. There can be no good parenting without love.

The second vital element in parenting is a healthy attitude about agency. Agency was the core issue in the war in heaven. It is also the core issue in most family skirmishes. It is not helpful to grant children unlimited freedom nor is it productive to be over-controlling.

Unrighteous Dominion
Devoutly religious parents at different points in history have thought it was their job to teach children to submit to them in preparation for submitting to God. Such a noble rationale has cloaked centuries of unrighteous dominion. It is plausible but wrong. God’s message to Elijah was that the Divine was not to be found in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the still, small voice (I Kings 19). We can help children submit to the holy inside of themselves as training for lifelong submission to God. That is very different from getting them to submit to mom and dad. Unquestioning submission to parents sets them up as gods. Unfortunately mortal parents are not perfect. When parents point children to their own promptings, they are pointing them to a Source that never errs.

The most exciting new research on moral development teaches parents to activate their children’s empathy. Compassion more than control, rewards, or guilt is the basis of morality, according to this line or research. If one grants that empathy is one of God’s messages to our souls, then this recommendation is exactly the same as the recommendation to point them to the holy inside themselves.

Excellent parenting programs teach parents how to point children to their inner messages. Rather than manipulation and punishment, they teach parents to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness (See D&C 121:41). They teach parent to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) for effective parenting requires more than the right attitude; it requires wisdom and inspiration.

Two Characteristics
When the two characteristics of great parenting programs, love and respect for agency, are combined, agency is taught lovingly, compassion is taught by example, loving is taught as the highest use of agency.

Where are the best parenting resources to be found? Some of the best are very affordable. For example, the best parenting book ever written (outside of scripture), may very well be “Between Parent and Child” by Haim Ginott. Though it is currently out of print, millions were printed. It can often be bought at used bookstores for less than a dollar. (My judgment on the merits of that book may be tainted by the fact that I am currently working on a revision of the book that will be released in 2003. However, “The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books” places Ginott’s two parenting books on the short list of all-time great self-help books.)

John Gottman’s “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child,” though limited to styles of guidance, is a wise and balanced book–available for about $12. It can help parents set bounds with compassion. Gottman calls it emotion coaching.

Another choice: You can buy “The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life” at deseretbook.com for $2.99. (Disclaimer: I wrote it.)

At the high end of the price spectrum, six excellent videotapes on raising the young child are available for $25 (http://www.iamyourchild.org/toc.html). The tapes cover issues such as safety, learning, discipline, bonding and other essentials for launching a healthy child. Like many of the best resources, they are produced by organizations with an educational mission. Not only are such works cheaper, they are usually better than those produced by for-profit organization in part because the sponsoring organizations are more likely to partner with universities or non-profit institutes that do not have a canned message to sell. They are driven by on-going research on human development and relationships. They adapt according to new discoveries.

More Surprises
But there are even greater surprises. Many people do not know that the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) that provides counsel on pruning trees and canning tomatoes also provides research-based information on family life. CES is not in business to make money. The organizational mandate is to get the very best research information to the citizens of the country in useful resources.

Chuck Smith at Kansas State University had been very progressive in his development of family materials on line (http://www.ksu.edu/wwparent/wondhome.htm)

One of the parenting programs I know best is the one I wrote for Auburn University. It is available at www.humsci.auburn.edu/parent/ The units can be read online or ordered for a dime each or printed online with original design and layout at www.aces.edu/department/extcomm/publications/he/hefcd.php#infants

Recently, Steve Dennis and I have created over 60 family units on subjects from marriage to development, from optimism to traditions, from timeout to nurturing. They are available free online at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service web site(www.arfamilies.org click on Family Life).

A broad array of family resources can be found at the Children, Youth, and Family Education and Research Network (http://www.cyfernet.org/) All are free, of course. Many commercial web sites also provide useful family guides.

There are times when an appropriate program is costly. Counseling and residential treatment cost more than information just as surgery costs more than aspirin. Yet, as a general rule, if you are paying lots of money for a parenting program, not only are you spending unnecessary money, you are probably getting an inferior program. The best parenting programs in the world are some of the least expensive.

Categories
Marriage

Taking Your Marriage From Misery to Joy

Mom says I was a pleasant baby. As I grew, I must have become less pleasant. I remember spending a lot of my growing-up years annoying and battling my siblings. I suppose that struggles with life and siblings teach all of us many maladaptive lessons, as they did me.

We’re probably not deliberately malicious. In fact our official theology tells us that children are born innocent (see D&C 93:39). But innocent isn’t the same as charitable, and as we struggle to secure a place in the life and love of the family, we frequently develop some uncharitable and ungenerous characteristics.

When I attempted to inventory some of the maladaptive skills I developed in my youth, I came up with the following list. Consider whether you developed some of these attitudes and abilities in your childhood.

  • Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
  • Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
  • See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
  • Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them when necessary.)
  • Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
  • Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my siblings guilty.)
  • Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
  • Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
  • Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)

It’s amazing what awful things we can learn in the course of growing up. I think these tendencies underscore the literal truth of the Lord’s message to Adam: “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55, emphasis added). This world teaches us to look after ourselves at all costs. Truly, the natural child—the one who attends only to his own needs—is an enemy to siblings (see Mosiah 3:19).

Carrying the lessons into marriage

As we grow up and enter adult relationships, consider how maladaptive such oft-practiced thoughts and behaviors can be. Consider each item on my list once more—this time in the context of marriage.

  • Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
  • Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
  • See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
  • Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them.)
  • Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
  • Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my sibling guilty.)
  • Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
  • Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
  • Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)

These lessons for childhood survival do not contribute to healthy marital functioning. Their awfulness is reminiscent of the mother who overheard her little girl and a neighbor child playing house. They decided to get married and the little girl began the vows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You may now kiss the bride.” If we are to have a strong marriage, we must put off the natural man and learn better ways.

A painful and realistic portrayal of marriage was provided by a man who submitted this question to an online family service.

“After 13 years of marriage, I’ve come to realize that I really don’t like my wife. She is everything that I despise in a wife and a person. I’m a religious man, have tried everything the books say, and have taken direct orders from our pastor to implement actions all in an effort to cause a positive change in the marriage. The bottom line is, I see no positive aspects to my wife’s personality, and it taints all of her relationships, especially ours. I really dislike being around her and I’ve run out of solutions. Just short of divorce, is there anything that can be done as a final effort to salvage this marriage? BC in NM”

Is the major problem in this marriage the wife’s shortcomings? Probably not. Later in this book I quote a colleague who says, “When people are upset and angry, they are blind to any position but their own.”

Can anything be done?

The Lord has provided the cure for the childhood lessons we learned in self-defense. Perhaps He intended that we learn these higher lessons in our growing-up years—though most of us learn them imperfectly if at all.

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment [A commandment!], to teach these things freely unto your children, [Note what is to be taught!] saying: “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:58-59, emphasis added).

Without a new birth, we will never be what we should be in marriage. We will drag our sick, troubled, tortured ways into every encounter and every relationship. God invites us to bury the diseased natural man and be born again as new creatures in Christ.

But, can the gospel of Jesus Christ really help us function better in the day-to-day challenges of marriage?

Surprised by the Doctrine

On one occasion an earnest, intelligent, LDS mother sought me out for advice. “My husband is a good man, but I no longer find him attractive. I am thinking about leaving him. But I am not sure if it is right.”

I really wanted to help this good woman find answers to her dilemma. I hoped my training in relationships and my years of marriage would help. I prayed for guidance.

Much to my surprise I found myself talking to her about the Atonement of Christ. All my training in family life protested: “What does that have to do with her dilemma?” But my spirit would not be deterred. An hour of testifying of His inestimable goodness, mercy, and love spilled out. Phrases from the great Atonement chapters in the Book of Mormon came to life. The cup of testimony was brim with joy.

After it all spilled out, I paused, wondering how to apply the doctrine of the Atonement to her dilemma. But her face told me that nothing more needed to be said. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was the answer. Because of His goodness, we are reconciled to God. When we are reconciled to God, we are reconciled to each other. His goodness makes us one.

Filled with charity—that sweet and divine gift of heavenly love—she felt a renewed bond with her husband. She chose to stay with him. Gladly. Joyously. Lovingly. Their marriage is strong today.

The answers are in the Principles

The Gospel of Jesus Christ—that great plan of happiness—provides the solutions for our humanness. Having suffered the bitter fruits of badness, it invites us to prize the good fruits of gospel-anchored relationships (see Moses 6:55).

Most marriage programs emphasize a set of skills to help partners express discontents in fair, non-attacking ways. The assumption is that every marriage has its discontents and that those must be processed in non-destructive ways in order for the relationship to function well.

My assumption is very different. I believe that the key to a healthy relationship is being a healthy, saintly, God-seeking person—to be born again—to be a new creature in Christ. When we are more godly, fewer things bother us. And when we run into problems, we are more likely to process them in helpful ways.

Notice that God offers just one single escape clause from our desperate mortal, fallen situation: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to God [and his or her partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless [Here comes the escape clause!] 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” (Mosiah 3:19, emphasis added).

In the upcoming articles, I will discuss the core gospel principles and describe the ways they can take us from our self-serving and self-centered traditions of the natural spouse—the spouse unchanged by the Spirit of God—toward the good and gracious ways of godliness. These are the First Principles of Eternal Marriage. These are the principles that will enable us to draw heaven into our marriages. These powerful principles can have eternal results.

If you would like to buy a copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, click here

Categories
Parenting

The Problem with Bribing Your Kids

A big chunk of parenting time and energy is spent trying to get children to do some things or stop them from doing others. In the course of trying to get our children to “behave,” most of us have tried a lot of things that don’t work very well.

One popular method for directing children’s behavior is the use of rewards, gold stars, and bribes. These methods are very effective—if your goals are very limited and short-term. Rewards can sometimes buy compliance, but they don’t build character. So, the lure of rewards is much like getting children to eat by offering an all-chocolate diet; the child may be delighted initially but, over time, the child will get sicker and sicker. This is not a good strategy.

Let’s consider an example. Imagine that it is time for you to dash out the door but your little one is resisting getting dressed. Every effort to hurry her results in more resistance. We have all resorted to forcing clothes on the child who cries and flails. This is bad for parents and bad for children. Brute force does not teach maturity, sensitivity, and civility.

Maybe we decide to try something that seems more enlightened. We offer the child a toy or treat to get dressed. If we have ably chosen the reward and the child is not past rationality, a bargain is struck. The child gets dressed and parent and child go merrily on their way. It may seem like it worked.

But research underscores the long-term negative consequences of using rewards to motivate children.

An astute child will become a mercenary. “I shouldn’t do anything without a reward. In fact, if I often delay and resist, I am more likely to get more goodies.” Children do not learn the joy of goodness but the value of resistance.

Often unnoticed in the bargain is the fact that the parent also learned unhealthy lessons. The parent learned that bribes can replace the more challenging path of teaching and motivating children. The parent short-circuited the important work of motivation. Just as surely as bribes corrupt politics, so they also corrupt both parents and children.

Consider an alternative. Imagine that a wise parent plans ahead, considering not only the schedule but the disposition of the child. Maybe the parent knows that one particular child does not like to be rushed. Or surprised. So that parent helps that child get ready. Ahead of departure time, the parent might say something like: “In a little while, we get to go visit some places. One of them is the grocery store. I know you like helping me there! Is there anything special we should buy for our lunch?” Maybe parent and child plan some lunch purchases. “I like your ideas! What would you like to wear to the store? Do you want to get ready now?”

Notice the effect. The parent gives the child information and invites her to help in the planning. The invitation to get ready for the outing does not depend on power or bribes but on respect and cooperation. It creates a very different mindset in the child from the use of power or bribes. It fits beautifully with the research recommendation that we use as little power as absolutely necessary.

Some may object that this method takes a lot of time. Yes. Building character and relationships does take time. We will reap as we sow.

All of research is perfectly compatible with the Lord’s instruction:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-42)

When we use rewards to motivate children, we distort development. Research shows that children stop doing things (such as creating and cooperating) for the sheer joy of doing them and start doing only those things that pay dividends. Also, with the focus on rewards instead of joy, the quality of their work suffers, and their generosity shrinks.

More importantly, God’s system of motivation is undermined. God’s highest motivation is His relationship with us; the best motivation for children—and the best preparation for them to be in relationship with God—is the loving, patient, teaching relationship we provide them.

It will take time for us to cultivate a trusting relationship with each child. That is how God designed it. There is no shortcut to character and connection.

Invitation: Think about the “friction points” in your relationship with one of your children. Consider how you could use more time, teaching, and connection to win cooperation and teach teamwork.

Recommendation: For more about the problems of rewards, see Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. For more about the research on the subject, see the work of Mark Lepper or Martin Hoffman.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her editorial suggestions.

Categories
Marriage

I’m Just Being Honest

by H. Wallace Goddard

Perhaps the most pernicious sins are those that make us feel virtuous.

Perhaps the most pernicious sins are those that make us feel virtuous while we devastate our fundamental Christian professions. For instance, the Pharisees were famous for painstakingly observing the law while failing at basic compassion.

There is a modern and proximate sequel to that hypocrisy. It is very common for a marriage partner to vent his or her spleen at the spouse’s expense and justify it under the banner of honesty. “I have to be honest, dear. I just don’t find you to be attractive as a woman or a human.”

That particular cruelty has a close cousin: “If I can clearly paint a picture of my partner’s faults for her, then she can overcome them.” The idea that we continue to be foolish and sinful because no one has systematically portrayed our faults for us has been discredited by thousands of years of sad, mortal history. Cool, scornful objectivity is not the world’s greatest need.

There is still another relative in that dismal family. “My anger is a special kind of indignation. It signals when someone has done something wrong and needs to be chastened.”

One last relative. “Lately I have noticed that you seem to be very self-centered. In fact, now that I think about it, it seems that you have always been very self-serving.” It is common to let today’s discontent eclipse years, even decades, of struggling together.

As always, the perfect example of the right attitude toward fellow travelers (especially our spouses and children) is provided by Jesus. There may be no more poignant, elegant, and dramatic contrast between the condescension of the natural man and the compassion of God than in the encounter between Jesus and Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).

Simon invited Jesus to dine with him apparently for no other reason than because Jesus was the talk of the town. He did not show Jesus the minimal gestures of hospitality. He treated him with cool disdain. As they sat on couches at a low table in the open courtyard, a woman of the city who was well-known to be a sinner brought an alabaster box of ointment and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. She then wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil.

The Pharisee acted even worse than an uncivilized natural man who might have considered the woman a temporary annoyance. He judged both the woman and Jesus, saying within himself: “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” In one condescending swoop he condemned the woman as unworthy of contact with civilized humans and Jesus as uninspired for failing to discern her loathsome sinfulness.

Jesus, ever gracious, invites Simon to think differently by telling him a story. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon acknowledged that the one who had been forgiven the greater debt would probably be more grateful.

Then Jesus did something wholly unexpected: He held up the sin-burdened woman as a moral model for Simon. “And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (verses 44-47, emphasis added).

For all the inhabitants of the eternal worlds, Jesus set the example of graciousness. “And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. . . . Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

As if the contrast were not already perfectly clear for us mortals, there is one concluding irony. “And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” Even in the face of perfect graciousness, they did not recognize it. They judged it as foolish and presumptuous.

What a great message for marriage! By nature we follow the lead of the Pharisee. We hoard our goodwill and measure each person by the measuring rod of our own remarkable rightness.

In marriage we may make our expectations and needs into the standard of judgment. Being “honest” with our partner always presumes that our version of reality is the right one, best one, true one. It does not show the humility to honor our partner’s unique view and experience of the world. Our anger and indignation spill out as a rebuke to those who are not as committed or fine as we.

Jesus is different. He knows that the injuries of mortality are healed by love rather than diagnosis. He knows that the weaknesses of the flesh are strengthened by compassion and mercy rather than by autopsy. The only person in the universe who has the right to judge us and condemn us chooses instead to redeem us and justify us. He who might be our accuser chooses to be our Advocate (D&C 45:3-5).

John Gottman has done revolutionary research on marriage. Based on his work in Seattle, Washington, he recommends that couples find the glory in their marital story. He observes that:

In a stable marriage . . . the partners tend to view each other through “rose-colored” glasses. They assume that each other’s positive, admirable characteristics are an intrinsic part of their personality rather than occasional flukes. . . . The good things about their relationship are considered stable and far-reaching while the bad patches or areas of tension are considered to be fleeting and situational. (pp.118-9)

A successful marriage is based on the choice to see a partner with love and compassion. The Lord gives very clear instructions to govern our relationships:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or, presumably, by virtue of parenthood or husbandhood or wifehood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge [A very special kind of knowledge: Pure knowledge! “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” perhaps even in their marriage partners!], which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile — (D&C 121:41-42, emphasis and comments added)

When I was teaching a marriage class for Utah State University, a young woman in the class asked, “My husband had a very painful childhood. Whenever I try to bring up any problems in our relationship, he retreats. He won’t talk. What can I do?” What she might not have known was that she was already doing the most important thing: She was seeing him with compassion and love.

Of course compassion, by itself, does not solve all problems. It is worth remembering as Daniel B. Wile, a wise marriage counselor, observes, that every marriage has unresolvable differences. Some of our differences simply will not be set right in mortality. That is not cause for alarm. It may be cause for amusement or patience or charity, but not alarm. Fortunately many of the irritations in relationships are not so hard to bear when we are peaceful and loving.

There will also be times when that sweet young woman can gently invite counsel from her husband. In a time when things are peaceful, she can ask, “Sweetheart, will you teach me how to get your input when I am perplexed. I want your counsel. Yet I’m not sure how to bring up my problems. Will you teach me how to do it?”

The greatest revolution in research on marriage may have been the movement from communication and problem-solving orientations to a kindness orientation. As Gottman observes:

Even in strong relationships, too often people focus on the negatives in an effort to make the relationship all the better. But by dwelling on what is wrong in your marriage, it’s easy to lose sight of what is right. This is a primary reason that admiration is often the first thing to go . . . Nor do bad times wipe out all the good times . . . look through picture albums from past vacations, or reread some old love letters . . . you need to become the architect of your thoughts. It’s up to you to decide what your inner script will contain. You can habitually look at what is not there in your relationship, at your disappointments, and fill your mind with thoughts of irritation, hurt, and contempt. Or you can do the opposite . . . If you can learn to think empathetically rather than negatively about what your spouse is going through, and maintain your admiration for your spouse’s good qualities, you will not be plagued with overwhelming distress-maintaining thoughts that trigger defensiveness and harm your marriage . . . Make a list of your partner’s positive qualities . . . Memorize this list and think about how much harder life would be without these positives. When you find yourself following a critical train of thought about your mate, use elements from the list to interrupt your thinking. Make a habit of this process and the change can be [a] dramatic . . . “rethinking” [of] your marriage. (Gottman, p.183)

Good marriages are not built so much on “honesty,” disclosure, and frankness as they are built on kindness, patience, and love — just as the Lord has always said:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35, emphasis added)

When we have learned to love as Jesus loves, we are likely to rejoice in our marriage partner.

Categories
Self Development

Blessed Are the Merciful

by H. Wallace Goddard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold what the scripture says–man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay. (Mormon 8:20)

Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. Peace be with you; my blessings continue with you. (D&C 82:23)

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

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

“That must be a horrible feeling.”

“Yeah. I’m disappointed.”

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

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

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

How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere. Van Wyck Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind. (TPJS, p.240)

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

Categories
Self Development

Misunderstanding the Messages

by H. Wallace Goddard

The great danger for humans is that we will walk by the light of our own understanding.

We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.

We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10)

There are innumerable areas where we fail to comprehend divine truth. Yet we may expect our shortfall to be greatest in the areas of truth that are most exalted and sublime.

At some point in mortality most of us find ourselves in the clutches of crude, small, selfish acts. We detest them even as we cling to them (for the natural man craves stimulation at all costs). Sometimes we wonder how we got so far down a vile road. We resolve to get ourselves out of the filth. But mortal messes accumulate faster than we can remove them.

More than once along the mortal journey we are likely to be threatened with a dreaded confrontation with a judge, either mortal or immortal. It is natural to lie and contrive in order to avoid the painful accounting. We hardly need to add accusation and moralizing to our already-heavy burdens.

Here is one of life’s great surprises. When the woman taken in adultery was dragged before the Lawgiver, the Judge, the Holiest of all, He did not accuse her. The scribes and Pharisees accused her. And they nettled Jesus to take a stand against her unholiness. He, the model peacemaker “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (John 8:6).

When they continued to pester Him “he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (verse 8). The irony is breathtaking. The “defenders of the law” were guilty of noxious sin but anxious to prosecute anyone guilty of different or more disagreeable sins. He was the only one in that gathering or any other mortal gathering who was without sin. But He threw no stones.

The errand of the keepers of the law had taken a nasty turn. They were disqualified as judges and executioners. Yet even in their viciousness, He did not accuse them. Rather, the law that they used to batter fellow travelers became their accuser. And they were left without basis for accusing Jesus. They departed discontent at the outcome but apparently unwilling to repent.

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (Verses 10-11)

Satan’s name literally means “accuser.” That is a vital point. It is he and all those who do his work who do the accusing. We may tell when we are under that evil power when we are anxious to find others guilty and make them suffer.

When we find our consciences nagging us, we naturally assume that God is upbraiding us: “Why haven’t you been reading your scriptures? You should not use harsh words with your family. You have been neglecting your prayers. Your church service has been disappointing.” He has every right to be irritated with us. He has given us so much and we perform so poorly.

But such upbraiding is almost never the voice of God. He who commands us to treat each other with love does not resort to chiding and scolding to motivate us. It is Satan who points the accusing finger for, in his perverse strategy, he knows that shame paralyzes rather than energizes. While the evil one scolds us and cajoles us to do better, he laughs because he knows that such scoldings discourage us. His message is to do good but the effect of his message is to do nothing.

Satan and God approach us very differently. Satan points the accusing finger at us while God’s hand is stretched out to us. Those are very different gestures. Satan accuses. God invites.

The scriptures describe Jesus as our advocate who is pleading our cause before the Father (D&C 45:3). He offers His sinlessness, His blood, His sacrifice to heal us (D&C 45:4). For those who show even the least disposition to repent He invites “come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal [you]”(3 Nephi 18:32). For those who scoff at repentance, humbling tribulations are offered. But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:6).

If we see God as a hostile accuser, we avoid encounters with Him at all costs. If we see Him as a loving Redeemer, we seek His refining embrace. Perhaps father Lehi was describing that blessing when he summarized his life by saying that “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).

We may judge whether our self-scorning is evilly or divinely inspired. “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

What a surprise. Years of cajoling that we assumed to be heaven-sent may indeed have been devilish if they left us wan and listless. How many inactives remain outside the warmth of His goodness because they assume that He will chide and berate them if they approach Him? How many have felt their gloom deepen as they mistake Satan’s accusation for God’s invitation? How many have concluded that they are beyond His redemptive reach because of the burden of so many sins?

Richard L. Evans observed that “our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience” (Conference Report, October 1956, p.101).

Rather than flee from God as our accuser, or hide from God as our judge, we should run to God who is our Advocate. Because we have an high priest who is touched by the feeling of our infirmity, we should “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

During the time that I served as the bishop of a student ward I consistently began interviews with the question, “How are you getting along with your Heavenly Father?” The responses followed a predictable pattern: “Well, I am trying. I am so busy with school and work that I am not doing as well as I should. I could read the scriptures more . . .” It seemed to me that many of the college students avoided Heavenly Father the way we might avoid a cranky parent. At the time of greatest need they avoided their greatest resource and friend. My counsel was to make Him a part of their lives. “Talk about Him as you drive to school. Hum a hymn as you walk to class. Let your heart be filled with thanks to God.” The remedy for darkness is Light.

Accepting His offering of love and goodness has a powerful impact on all our relationships.

The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)

When we are filled with divine love, we are more gracious parents, more helpful partners, more considerate friends. It is clear why Satan would like to block the flow of heavenly goodness into our lives. The good news is that we can learn to respond to any darkness in our lives by turning toward the Light.

Categories
Self Development

Fix One Another As I Have Fixed You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment is such a delicate matter that it is to be handled only by those who know everything and love perfectly. That disqualifies most of us. “Behold what the scripture says–man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay” (Mormon 8:20). “Ye ought to say in your hearts–let God judge between me and thee” (D&C 64:11).

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

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

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

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

Researcher and therapist John Gottman reminds us, we cannot change people until we love them as they are. Of course once we love them as they are, the compulsion to correct is replaced with the desire to bless. “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. . . . if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)

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

His message is love.

by H. Wallace Goddard

Categories
Self Development

Are We Not All Beggars?

Categories
Parenting

When We Ask the Wrong Question We Always Get the Wrong Answer 

by H. Wallace Goddard

Recently I served on a panel at a parenting conference. At the end of the panelists’ presentations we invited questions from the audience. A young and earnest mother with a baby in her arms asked, “I have a 6-year-old boy at home. I can’t get him up in the morning to get ready for school. I have tried everything! Nothing works! What should I do?”

There are as many answers to her question as there are experts. One of the panelists suggested that proper use of timeout would shape his behavior. One suggested talking with him at a peaceful time to get his ideas of how to start his day. Some might suggest providing rewards for the desired behavior. We moved on to another question before we had really given her a good answer.

I had the good fortune of being seated next to the mother at the banquet following our session. We were able to continue the discussion. I learned important new details when I asked about the boy and what he loved and how he responded to correction. She told me that he was very active but also tenderhearted. He was occasionally very affectionate. His feelings were easily hurt when he was corrected. As she talked lovingly about her son, some of the answers seemed obvious. There were also factors that were not obvious to her but might be seen by an outsider. For example, while the mother was very dutiful and a morning person, her son was not. (Sometimes our best efforts to motivate our children do not work because we are only using the tools that work with us but do not match our children’s needs.)

I invited the mother to try a different approach from the traditional begging, threatening and cajoling: “Would it work for you to go to your son’s room 5 or 10 minutes before he needs to be up and lie down beside him? You could talk with him quietly and stroke his face. Allow him to wake up slowly and in the arms of your love. Would that work for William?”

She responded with a smile and the addendum, “Yes, he would like that. It would also help if I told him that as soon as he was dressed he could watch cartoons until he left for school.” This “impossible” situation yielded viable solutions when she thought about her son and his unique personality in a spirit of helpfulness.

Of course it is natural to object to such suggestions, “But that boy needs to learn to obey without all the mollycoddling.”Hmmmm. President Hinckley answers that concern better than I can:

How much more beautiful would be the world and the society in which we live if every father looked upon his children as the most precious of his assets, if he led them by the power of his example in kindness and love, and if in times of stress he blessed them by the authority of the holy priesthood; and if every mother regarded her children as the jewels of her life, as gifts from the God of heaven who is their Eternal Father, and brought them up with true affection in the wisdom and admonition of the Lord. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Behold Your Little Ones,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 20)

Much of my professional activity is dedicated to parenting. Most of the questions I get from parents have the general form, “How can I get my child to do what I want him/her to do–especially when they don’t want to do it?” That question has no satisfactory anwer; there is a problem with the question itself. We might better ask, “If I consider my child’s world at a time when I am filled with love for the child and inspiration from heaven, can I find a way to draw that child toward better behavior?”

Turning again to prophetic counsel,

Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them. . . . Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly toward you. Use no lash and no violence, but argue, or rather reason–approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. . . .You can’t do it any other way. You can’t do it by unkindness; (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.316)

I remember when a devoted mother approached me with a parenting quandary. Her 4-year-old daughter had been playing with her older sister and the sister’s friend. The 4-year-old had gotten upset about something and scratched her sister’s friend. The mother asked, “How can I teach my daughter that her scratching is unacceptable?” Many questions went through my head, “Does your daughter scratch people often? Was she under a lot of stress at the time of the incident? What are the ways that soothe and teach your daughter?” Before getting to those questions I asked, “How did you respond to her scratching?” The mother replied, “I grabbed her and scratched her. Then I confined her to her bedroom for three days. I wanted her to learn that such behavior is simply not acceptable in our family.”

I am certain that the little girl learned a memorable lesson; I am confident that part of the lesson she learned was not what her mother had hoped to teach.

Study [your children’s] dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly, never allowing yourself to correct them in the heat of passion; teach them to love you rather than to fear you. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.207)

We deceive ourselves when we justify harshness as necessary or helpful for children. The Lord recommends a different course: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and genuine love (See D&C 121:41-42).

Every earthly parent acts harshly at times. Such occasions are cause for repentance rather than rationalization. It is a relationship of love that is the great motivator for children and for adults. The most important parenting questions we can ask are not about mechanisms of control; they are about love: “Wilt Thou grant me wisdom that I can understand my child and his needs? Wilt Thou fill me with divine charity to change my heart and fill me with love? Wilt Thou show me how Thou wouldst teach and bless this child?”

Better questions help us discover better answers.