Monthly Archives

January 2019

Self Development

SIMPLE BLESSINGS

Every once in a while I am amazed by some simple blessing in our lives. For example, it is amazing to me that we can jump into our cars and travel in climate-controlled, music-filled comfort to our destinations with speed and ease. I get thinking how much I would like to take Brigham Young or one of the pioneers for a ride in our Honda Civic. He would be amazed! Imagine driving him across the country in only a few relaxed days instead of months of sun-baked, soul-blistering plodding.

But then I realize that Brigham certainly has a mode of transportation now that is far superior to our old compact car. In fact his mode of travel must be even better than a Mazda Miata! I don’t know just how immortals travel, but I suspect that it makes our cars look very provincial. While I don’t begrudge him his mode of transportation, I suspect that he would not be impressed by ours.

So my gloating falls flat.

But maybe there is an alternative to gloating: gratitude. Maybe we can feel blessed without needing to feel superior. Maybe Brigham would love to roll down the power window in the Civic and slap the side of the car as we zoom across prairie and plain. Maybe his appreciation does not depend on comparisons but on the simple realization that we are surrounded by blessings.

I’m glad for the blessing of our little Honda Civic. Let’s go for a ride, Brigham!

Self Development

The Perils of Excellence

If we were to create a caricature of the typical American commencement address, it would entail Famous Person X coming to say to a group of distracted students: “Take this one virtue (for which I am duly famous) and make it the theme of your life.” Many in the audience would immediately sense that we will never be as good as Dr. X at that great quality and feel mildly (but permanently) disheartened. Still, the press grabs snippets of the great counsel and splashes it on page A-1. Many are in awe of the insight. Few are changed by it.

My purpose is not to mock those accomplished souls who counsel our graduates. It is to argue for companionship, balance, and mutual respect among the virtues. No virtue by itself is sufficient.

For a contemporary example, William Bennett has lectured Americans about values for many of years. Lately he has gained additional renown for losing millions of dollars on gambling. He protests that nothing he did was illegal. Perhaps his millions lost in gambling would be considered only expensive recreation if each of those dollars were matched with a dollar given to charity. In the absence of a higher cause, his gambling losses appear to be a selfish addiction.

Honesty is often touted as if it were the ruling virtue and all others were only peasants. “I must be completely honest” is a common introduction to an unwelcome lecture or the prelude to a withering assault on another human. Honesty without respect is just self-righteousness.

I have learned many lessons about balance from my own mistakes. I left for a mission while still startlingly naïve. I had grown up among honest, sincere, considerate relatives in a family enclave in Emigration Canyon. Having grown up among such good people can be a major disadvantage when required to navigate among people who may be relatively opaque, even deceptive. As I became aware of my great lack of discernment, I began to pray for heaven’s help. I even went on preparation day to the community library to consult psychology texts (which is a sure evidence of my naiveté—thinking that psychology texts would help me understand normal human behavior). Unexpectedly, I found my mind filled with greater understanding of motives as I sought that information in support of my mission duties.

But there were thorns in the rosebush of my newfound insight: creeping cynicism. As I began to detect people’s hidden motives, I began to see the worst in human nature. Yet I knew that new insight should serve a higher cause than undermining human sympathy. So I began to pray for charity, that divine ability to see people sympathetically even redemptively. Discernment without charity is mere disparaging. As I have sought insight in balance with charity, I have been granted the gift of discernment promised in my patriarchal blessing.

Another example: the desire to help must be matched by wisdom and good sense. I have sometimes excused my faulty methods of helping with my good intentions. God asks us to be wise as serpents while being as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Balance is also necessary in learning. When asked by a student why some very bright people leave the Church, a respected teacher suggested that maybe it is possible to be too smart. While I love and admire that teacher, I recommend a different answer. When our smartness and knowledge is not matched with faith and humility, we are vulnerable to apostasy. “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). Knowledge needs faith as a companion.

When our scrupulousness in keeping the commandments is not matched with charity for those who may be less able or less spiritually mature, we become pharisaic. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

The importance of balance is clearly evident in family life. When our skills at communication are not fully matched with a desire to bless, we become tyrants. When our desire to teach our children is not yoked and harmonized with a commitment to nurture them, we are only despots (D&C 121). When we nurture children without teaching true principles, we are not pleasing to the Lord (D&C 68:25).

Sometimes excellence has come to mean a narrow focus on a single quality. A solitary virtue is a very lonely, austere fact. Godly virtues travel with companions.

Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (2 Peter 1:5–7).

The focus on a single virtue to the exclusion of others can be very dangerous. Yet none of us is perfect. Our mortal qualities define our mortal limitations. We simply are not able to be everything we should be while still mortals. How can we reconcile the reality of our limitations with the need for balance?

Probably there is a place in each of our lives for three courses:

1. We can call on God for those essential qualities to do what we are called to do. He can enable us to do what is beyond our ability. Elder George Q. Cannon counseled the saints

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections…. No man ought to say, “Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.” He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things and to give gifts that will eradicate them…. That is the design of God concerning his children.” (Gospel Truth, vol. 1, p. 196)

The enthusiastic pray for temperance. The anxiously engaged seek humble submission. The creative beseech heaven for integrity and obedience.

2. We can draw on the strengths of those who are different from us. This is especially important in a marriage. While Nancy’s reflectiveness and sensitivity may be annoying when I am in a hurry, she regularly rescues me from self-serving rush. My mother’s exuberance radiated from my father’s tapestry of faith and peace. Our differences will bless us or afflict us depending upon our charity.

3. We wait patiently for that perfect day. Our work of growth simply will not be finished when we leave this world for the next. Yet we actively seek his refining influence.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day (D&C 50:24).

Life is intended to teach us that we simply cannot do what must be done without divine help. God can provide patience for the enthusiastic, a partner for the flawed, greater maturity for those who are earnest. We can look forward to that day in eternity when we will enjoy a fullness, when we reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Until that welcome day, we are wise to seek balance and call upon divine grace.

Marriage

When Being Right Isn’t Good Enough

Almost twenty years ago Nancy and I were planning the landscaping around our new house. A landscape architect had recommended a cluster of three fruit trees at the corner of our property. We wondered if that was too many trees too close together. We talked about it. We stepped out the area. We looked up the mature size of the specified trees. Finally, the day before the trees were to be delivered, we decided to follow the landscaper’s suggestions and plant all three trees.
When I arrived home from work the next day I went to inspect our new trees and found that we had just one tree where I expected three. I asked Nancy about it. She responded, “Well, three trees just seemed like too many. I told the men that we wanted just one.”

I wish I could say that my response was, “Well, it was a hard decision. We have vacillated back and forth. It is probably just as well that we have one tree there.” Unfortunately I did not say that. I was mystified and indignant: “Why did we spend hours researching and discussing the question to have you change it on a whim? When we have decided something together, we should stand together by our decision!” I was angry. And the more I talked and thought about it, the angrier I got. (Anger requires very little encouragement to grow.)

In some technical sense I was right. A couple should stand by their joint decisions. Before those decisions are modified, they should be discussed together if possible. I was “right.” Nancy had upended our decision process. But a feeling deep in my conscience haunted me.

To justify my stern reaction, I might have hunted for the beatitudes that say, “Blessed are the right, for they shall be top dogs. Blessed are the logical for they shall inherit the computers.” Of course I would have hunted in vain for such beatitudes. The real beatitudes would only have made me uncomfortable: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

It is worth switching perspectives on the fruit tree fracas from our provincial, earthly one to a heavenly one. I feel sure that the heavenly hosts were not nodding assent to my lectures. There were no immortals joining in the finger wagging. I rather suspect that heaven wept. Why should a priesthood-bearing son belittle and berate his covenant companion whose greatest fault is gentleness? Is her vacillation a greater sin than my acrid accusation?

It all seems clear in retrospect. The Lord’s new command is that we love one another as he has loved us. He, with his infinite patience and perfect goodness, is our model. The command to love as he loves must have special application (and particular challenges) in marriage. In fact, scriptures offer a remarkably challenging standard for husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

That is a high standard! We are to be guardians, protectors, and defenders of our wives in the same spirit that Christ loves and sustains the church. Petty differences, so common in marriage, should never eclipse that guardian role. Irritations over toothpaste, vacation spots, and fruit trees must be seen merely as distractions. We express our preferences and even make requests. But we never burn the family home just to make our point.

There is a vital line in a modest little film, Martin the Cobbler. A hungry little boy has stolen an apple. When the boy is caught, the owner of the apple threatened to beat him within an inch of his life. She was interrupted by Martin, the cobbler, who asked:

If he should be whipped for an apple, what should be done with us?

The question haunts me. If Nancy should be whipped for an apple tree, what should be done with me? Are my many offences to be dismissed? When we become executors for the law of justice, we invite sterile judgments for our acts. If we live by the sword, we will surely die by the sword.

God recommends that humans cultivate mercy and leave judgment with One who knows everything and loves perfectly (see Mormon 8:20). When we will not forgive each other our pocket-change debts, how can we hope to be forgiven our staggering debts against heaven? God’s counsel to the unforgiving debtor challenges us:

Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:33–35).

We must keep the bridge of mercy in good repair. Each of us will surely need to cross it.

Apparently our human obsession with being right often obscures his command. He asks that we focus on being good and worry less about being right. How many wars might be averted, how many lives spared, how many estrangements might be avoided, and how many misunderstandings renounced if we let goodness govern over rightness?

The intimacy of marriage is ideal soil for cultivating charity. We may be irritated and annoyed by mannerisms and limitations. Or we may wisely surrender selected judgments, preferences, conveniences, and even our advanced knowledge in order to prosper a relationship. I can value an activity or perspective because my spouse values it. I can adjust my schedule to accommodate her. I can modify expectations to celebrate the patches of sunshine in our lives.

Redemption can be a very demanding business, as Jesus can attest. Sometimes being right just isn’t good enough.

Self Development

Abandoning Anger

by H. Wallace Goddard

Under the banner of honesty, anger has been made into a virtue. Under the banner of psychological well-being, the expression of anger has been made into a necessity. From the beginning, it was not so.

Years ago when I was serving as a branch president, a young adult in our ward came to see me. She explained that she had just been with her therapist. The therapist was helping her work through many issues including a feeling that she had been neglected and deserted by her father. The therapist invited her to take part in an unusual exercise. She invited the young woman to mentally bring her now-deceased father into the room. Sit him in a chair before her. And give him hell. Tell him about her pain, disappointment, and years of loneliness. “Tell him just how you feel. Let him have it.”

After she described the bitter confrontation to me, she paused. “What do you think of that idea?” Perhaps she asked me because she knows that I relentlessly test every idea by the teachings of Jesus. I did not have any pre-considered response to her question, but I had an impression. “I think it depends on what your object is. If you want self-justification, there is nothing as useful as blame. But if you want peace, I recommend a different course.” I told her that, like her therapist, I recommended that she mentally invite her father to sit in front of her. But rather than stand and berate him, I suggested that she kneel at his feet and invite counsel from him. She might ask, “Dad, if you had not been sick, if you had not been overwhelmed by mom’s demands, if you had been able to do what was in your heart, what might we have done together? What daddy-daughter dates might we have had? Tell me about the times that we might have stayed up late laughing, snacking and talking. Tell me about the shopping and movies we might have shared. Tell me how you love me.” 

If our souls will be peaceful, our minds can hear the words of comfort from those who love us from the other side of the vail. If we let them tell us all that is in their hearts, our pain will be swallowed up in assurance. Immortals gladly do what weak mortals struggle to do.

Any time we presume to judge another person, we are usurping the role of God. “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). The Lord’s discussion of motes and beams (See Matthew 7:1-5) underscores the mortal risks of such an undertaking. Criticism is always presumptuous and ungracious.

And that is the problem with anger. It presumes that my view is the standard of truth. It exalts my needs while dismissing yours. It fills me with indignation in my least righteous moments. It assumes that the best way for me to help you is to paint your errors in vibrant colors.

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. (Jeffrey R. Holland, 1984)

Years ago Heavenly Father taught me that I did not have the right to correct anyone I did not love. That seemed reasonable enough. Little did I realize the trap at the time. When I feel genuinely loving toward someone, I lose interest in correcting them. I just want to love and bless them.

All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. 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. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241, emphasis added)

The Prophet’s observation is elegantly harmonious with God’s ultimate commandment as expressed in Luke:

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:


Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:36-38

When we are filled with judgment and anger we make our worst moments into some ultimate reality. We forget charity and love and eternity. Today’s indigestion defines eternity’s relationships and truths.

It is true that God gives us permission to reprove with sharpness–but only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. We only have the right to chide and challenge when we are His messengers with a specific commission. And we must be willing to “[show] forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (D&C 121:43-44). That does not describe our routine bouts of anger.

Let all Latter-day Saints learn that the weaknesses of their brethren are not sins. When men or women undesignedly commit a wrong, do not attribute that to them as a sin. Let us learn to be compassionate one with another; let mercy and kindness soften every angry and fretful temper, that we may become long-suffering and beneficial in all our communications one with another. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.273)

Brigham Young challenges us to keep angry feelings and words out of our homes:

In our daily pursuits in life, of whatever nature and kind, Latter-day Saints, and especially those who hold important positions in the Kingdom of God, should maintain a uniform and even temper, both when at home and when abroad. They should not suffer reverses and unpleasant circumstances to sour their natures and render them fretful and unsocial at home, speaking words full of bitterness and biting acrimony to their wives and children, creating gloom and sorrow in their habitations, making themselves feared rather than loved by their families. Anger should never be permitted to rise in our bosoms, and words suggested by angry feelings should never be permitted to pass our lips. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.203 – p.204, emphasis added)

The Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, makes keen observations about anger:

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p.2, Harper & Row)

It used to be thought that Type A or intense personalities were at greater risk of heart disease. Research reported by Redford Williams showed that it was not the intensity that killed people. It is hostility and cynicism. In fact, he aptly titled his book, “Anger Kills.” When we feed and celebrate our anger, when we see others in the worst light, we are destroying our own hearts. Anger is like taking poison and waiting for that hated person to die.

The doctrines of the world teach us that we must get our anger out or it will fester and come out in monstrous forms. It will destroy you!

But research tells a different story: Expressing anger is not cleansing and it is not cathartic. It is addictive. The more we talk about our anger, the angrier we get.

When we are flooded with anger we have more than one option. Rather than spewing hot lava on the heads of offending humans, we can seek the divine gift of forgivingness. We can beg Heaven for compassion. We can cry out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18). Replace this fretful clog of humanness with divine grace. Help me to see as Thou seest. Teach me to love.

The best research on marriage shows that even the best marriage partners get angry. But partners in the best marriages are better than those in poorer marriages at soothing and bounding their conflict. They are better at accepting influence from each other. They see each other in gracious, forgiving ways. They show more kindness. Maybe we never entirely overcome the impulse to anger in mortality. Yet we never stop trying.

Again and again we are reminded of that new commandment Jesus gave for those who be true disciples. Sandwiched between His washing of the apostles’ feet and His inexpressible agony in the garden, He commanded us, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Anger is not the expression of some unhappy but very real truth that must be shared and discussed. It is one of Satan’s ancient tools to eclipse love with indignation. If we learn to give family members the benefit of every doubt, reason patiently through every problem, and keep their greatest strengths always central in our minds, we still fall short. Only when Heaven opens and gives us a glimpse of the eternal stature of those who are our partners, brothers, sisters, and children do we understand the great honor and trust that we enjoy. The great truths always come from Heaven.

 

Notes
Holland, J. R. (1984). A robe, a ring, and a fatted calf. In Brigham Young University 1983-84 fireside and devotional speeches, pp. 51-58. Provo, UT: University Publications.

Self Development

Why Doctrine Doesn’t Change Us

By Wallace Goddard · January 22, 2019

I love the insightful statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer:

“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” (Little Children by Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1986, p.17).

We all know the doctrines that are essential to successful family life. Yet we aren’t doing very well at applying those doctrines within our families. Research in the field of Family Life shows that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have distinctive beliefs about family, but our practices mirror those of the surrounding culture.

For example, we have been taught to be peacemakers, yet how many of us frequently find fault with our spouses?

Jesus was a perfect example of compassion, yet how often does our compassion fail with our children?

The scriptures make it clear that we are to be forgiving, yet how often do we harbor grievances towards family members and accost them with those grievances?

What’s wrong? Why isn’t doctrine changing us?

Elder Packer said that the doctrine must be understood to be transformative. And understanding doesn’t happen all at once. It take persistence.

If ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, ye shall have eternal life, 2 Ne. 31:20

Change is not an immediate one-step process.

Let’s imagine that you attend a Sunday School class that inspires you with the teaching of pure doctrine. You leave class wanting to be a better saint. What happens next?

1. Our first reaction to learning new doctrines is approval. We nod in appreciation and agreement. But then we don’t necessarily reflect upon how to apply that doctrine to our discipleship or take action based on what we learned. So, most doctrines never make it into our family life practices. They sit on the shelf of our minds like so many lovely gift books that never get read.

2. Life rattles us. Maybe we hurt one of our children with our impatience. When we settle down, we are pained by our hypocrisy. We know better. We know we should be better but we keep doing things the old way. So we feel guilt. We don’t know how to apply the doctrine—or we don’t know how to interrupt our fallenness with his holiness. We are stuck and sad in our habits of thinking and acting.

3. We resolve to do better. We experiment. Often we may feel awkward and inept. For example, we make a sincere attempt to notice all that is best about our spouse. Maybe we make an effort to compliment our spouse. But then the next day our spouse does something that irritates us and instead of continuing to show appreciation, we are back to finding fault. We hit a snag and our glowing doctrinal resolve falls apart. At this point, we are likely to give up and return to our old habits.

But there is an alternative.

When our first attempts are not fully successful or when we fall into old habits, we try again. We may ask ourselves, “Have I figured out the best way for me to do this?” If we are attempting to see our spouse through the lens of charity—the love of Christ—we might start our day earnestly praying for help in doing so. Perhaps if we find ourselves focusing on a fault, we stop and decide to remember several of the best qualities of our sweetheart. Or maybe as you ponder the doctrine, you will come up with an application idea that will work best for you.

As we find ways that work for us, we learn how to support a habit. The new practice becomes natural. We maintain the practice. This is authentic living.

Then a new challenge arises as God teaches us new doctrine and issues us new challenges.

Another example of using the change process: We decide to never make pronouncements to our children when we are irritated. Maybe we learn to say, “I need to think about that.” We settle our spirits so that the doctrine of compassion can find its way into our minds, hearts, and mouths.

We will not succeed at turning doctrine into discipleship unless we are persistent—unless we understand the doctrine with our whole beings. We must also call on God for mercy in changing not only our minds but also our hearts and our practices.

Family life is the laboratory for discipleship. It, more than any other place, provides us practice in turning doctrine into discipleship. If we are humble enough to recognize our need for repentance and heavenly help and if we are determined, we will be changed. But discipleship does not come lightly.

Doctrine changes us when it is understood and applied. It does not change us when we work half-heartedly at discipleship.

As soon as we have mastered one piece of music, God will celebrate with us. Then He will offer another to learn. Growth continues and is presided over by one who knows perfectly how to turn the ordinary laborers of the earth into heavenly disciples. He loves us and never tires of helping us.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:4-8)

Recommendations: For help applying gospel principles and covenants to the challenges of marriage, I recommend my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage. In the area of parenting, I recommend my short discussion, Bringing Up Your Children in Light and Truth.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her wise editing of this article.

Self Development

For the New Year: Renewal, not Resolutions

By Wallace Goddard · January 1, 2019

It is the time of year when our accumulated failures commonly move us to lofty resolutions. We plan to fellowship our neighbors, consume less than 30% of our calories in fats, budget more carefully . . . the opportunities for improvement are endless. We yearn to be better.

But there is a danger in this very sensible process of making resolutions. If we are not careful, we map out our lives and form a resolve that makes us less available to God. What right do we have to take charge of our lives if we have previously given ourselves to Him?

Jesus warns us against covetousness. He provided the example of the wealthy man who tore down his barns so that he could build more spacious ones. It is popular to fault the man for greed. Yet he was being a careful steward of his resources. Perhaps his greatest fault was that he failed to make God a partner in his planning.

“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-1)

It is easy for all of us to imagine that we are in charge of our lives. It is natural to start making sensible plans for ourselves. But if it is done without specific direction from God, it is wrong. We are not to covet even our own lives; we belong to Him.

Saul of Tarsus had plans for his life until God intervened. Alma the younger had a clear trajectory until God re-directed him. Once they had given their lives to God, they never took them back.

As we start a new year, we are wise to seek the renewal that comes from having God govern our lives. Rather than focus on goals and timetables, we may turn our hearts to faith and submission. God’s plan for renewal is very different from the world’s.

1.Renewal is less about setting goals than about submitting to His will.

Stephen Covey has given an insightful talk on developing an educated conscience. He suggests that we can ask God specific questions and receive guidance for our stewardships. “What do I need to do to be closer to the Living Christ? What do I need to do to be a better family member? What do I need to do to be a better member of the Church? What do I need to do to be a better employee or neighbor?” As we ask the questions, God will give us impressions.

Sometimes His instructions will be just as we expected: “Make time to visit with Me. I have important things to teach you.” At other times He will surprise us: “Take Sister Allen a pot of soup.” The impressions are often subtle. If we follow them, we will find that His ways are indeed better than ours. One bowl of soup delivered under his inspiration is better than a hundred casseroles delivered because of our own anxious fretting.

Sometimes His instructions have been given and ignored for so long that we have forgotten that He ever told us. For example, He may have told us through our consciences that our entertainment habits are polluting our families. We can act on previous and repeated inspiration and resolve to better manage our entertainment.

When we act under His inspiration, our deeds are likely to seem more modest but be more powerful. We can focus our love and faith to bring miracles to those who are lonely, pained, or lost. We can be His messengers of love, joy, and peace–if we are willing to do His bidding.

2. Renewal is less about fixing ourselves than being fixed by Him.

God expects us to cheerfully do all we are able to do to make ourselves finer and wiser. But we must never forget that the mighty change of heart is a divine gift conditioned on our humility.

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

The enduring advantage of limitations, mistakes, and disabilities is that they make us humble—more cognizant of our need for Him. It is He who makes us perfect (D&C 76:69). He gives us the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). He creates clean hearts and renews a right spirit within us (Psalms 51:10). He provides the precious gift of charity (Moroni 7:48). The most precious possessions of eternity are gifts from God.

3. Renewal is less about using psychology or time management than about using covenants.

We should prepare every needful thing. We should be wise stewards. But the real power of renewal comes through covenants. When we make and honor sacred covenants with God, He commits the resources of Eternity to refine us, protect us, cleanse us, and teach us. That is renewal!

I think of our dear friend Edna. I met her when she sat in on a missionary discussion in the home of friends in Opelika, Alabama. She was quiet but attentive. When her friends balked at gospel commitments, she continued the discussions in her own home. She listened carefully, committed gladly, and submitted wholeheartedly. She was baptized. Despite the challenges of single parenting and grandparenting, she exclaims after her first years in the church, “I never knew I could be so happy.” That is renewal!

4. Renewal should be on God’s timetable rather than the world’s.

Our flurry of resolutions commonly come as we start a new year. There may be merit in having some yearly goals.

But God uses a very different timetable for transforming our souls. He invites us to meet Him for reflection and renewal at the beginning of each week. At the sacrament table, we report on our (imperfect) efforts and we seek His counsel for the week ahead. Also, we humbly seek His power. There is simply no substitute for weekly covenant-making if we want to be changed into new creatures.

While the new year may find me setting goals to eat healthier, get more exercise and to save more money, the great desire of my heart is to be a better disciple of Christ. That calls for a weekly encounter with Jesus.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. . .” (Revelation 21:4-5)