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Self Development

Would You Rather Be Right or Be Good?

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elder Wirthlin made this counsel very practical:

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

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

Love them.

“If they are obnoxious?”

Love them.

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

Love them.

“Wayward?”

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her skilled editing.

Self Development

Choosing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

Meaning

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

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

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

Spiritual problems require spiritual remedies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Development

Thinking Big in Family Life

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

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

That is smallness of soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her able editing.

Marriage

The Road to Marital Misery is Paved with Good Intentions

Often, we think we are acting nobly when we are actually being destructive.

Some examples:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “We need to talk.”

Hoping to state the problem, she describes the husband’s faults. “You don’t communicate effectively.”

Feeling overwhelmed, the husband resorts to contempt: “Well at least when I say something I don’t go on and on without getting to the point!”

Feeling attacked, the wife gets defensive: “Well, that’s typical! I’m the only one who cares about our relationship!”

Hoping to restore peace and end contention, the husband walks away from his wife. “I’m not going to fight.” And the wife feels abandoned.

In every case, the person may have a perfectly noble intent. He or she hopes to strengthen the relationship. Yet noble intentions are not enough. The road to marital misery is paved with good intentions. Just like when we try to remove a speck from a person’s eye when our own eyes are filled with sand. My presumption will leave us both blind.

Maybe we shouldn’t judge the nobility of our actions by our own intentions but by its sensitivity to our spouses. God wants us to apply a higher standard than “my good intentions” to our actions.

“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:19)

So, God’s principle is that we not act simply out of our objectives but out of the likely impact on our partners. In every decision, we also ask how our action will advance God’s work of redemption. When we use God’s principles to guide our relationships, we think and act differently.

We might argue: “But I am trying to improve our relationship!” Yes. But the path to a stronger relationship travels through your spouse’s heart. We cannot get to closeness without walking in our spouse’s shoes, thinking and feeling in his or her soul.

Does this mean that we must all be mind-readers? No. It means that we draw on our knowledge of our spouse. It will often mean that we ask questions and invite input rather than push in our preferred direction. It means that we take the long view of relationships.

First, enter their world.

Rather than take our irritation as the ultimate truth and guiding principle, we consider “the interest of [our] neighbor”—our spouse. We try to enter our spouse’s world and understand what he or she may be feeling.

Maybe she has had a terrible day.
I was thoughtless. I need to consider his feelings.
Maybe he is worried that I will put him down.
Maybe she feels lonely and powerless.
Maybe he feels like he is in trouble for everything he does and says.

When we understand how our spouse is feeling, we can be more helpful.

Second, we ask questions.

For example, “I would love your thoughts on our vacation plans [parenting, housing, employment, meals]. Is this a good time to talk about this? How are you feeling about our plans?”

When our spouse responds, we will be tempted to become defensive: “Yeah, but you just don’t understand that . . ..” The key to a good discussion is being a good listener and investigator.

Third, we present our ideas as opportunities for discussion. “I like your ideas about our vacation. My concern is that the kids might be overscheduled this summer. What do you think we can do about that?”

Often, we meet resistance (a partner who sees things differently), we push harder for our own beliefs. A shoving match ensues. If we want both harmony and growth, we will resist the urge to push back. We will open our minds and hearts.

Returning to the examples at the beginning of this article, consider the following:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “I would get your input. Would now be a good time for you?”

Hoping to approach the issue, she describes her needs in a way that invites understanding and input. “I know your communication style is different from mine. Sometimes I wish I knew more about what you are thinking. Is there a way you would be comfortable sharing more of your thoughts with me?”

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, the husband chooses humility. “I’m sure I’m missing important things here. I am accustomed to the way my family did things. Will you tell me more about how you like to communicate?

To avoid feeling attacked, the wife remains patient. “I want to make sure I understand you. Can you tell me more about your needs?”

Hoping to avoid contention, a husband leans into their relationship. “I think I need some time to sort out your request. Could we plan to go to dinner and talk some more one night this week?”

There is a particular difficulty in offering gentle responses: When we feel attacked, we react. We run away. We strike back. We get angry. And, once we are upset, it is natural for the conflict to cascade. If we want discussions to be productive, we should catch ourselves before we become roused. When we see that we are entering the war zone, we can take deep breaths, we can use gentle humor, we can declare a timeout.

One source of mischief in relationships is our expectation that we will magically be synced. If our relationship is a good one, we will naturally understand each other and gladly work together. Nope. God intended that we stretch ourselves. We are more different than we realize. Our job is to learn kindness, compassion, and generosity. God wants us to learn other people’s points of view.

The Lord directs: “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). God wants us to learn to lift each other just as He lifts us.

Invitation: Notice your irritation. Challenge it. Check the assumptions that generate your irritation. Try to understand why your spouse does as he or she does. Ask kind questions to help you understand.

Recommendation: The leading scholar on these marital processes is John Gottman. His book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, describes the ways we react to each other and ways to do better. For a gospel perspective on marriage, see my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

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

Self Development

Do You Ruminate?

“Ruminants usually have a stomach divided into four compartments and chew a cud consisting of regurgitated, partially digested food. Ruminants include cattle, sheep, goats, deer, giraffes, antelopes, and camels” (Dictionary.com).

It sounds quite unappetizing to have food going back and forth in our digestive tracts. Anyone want to bring breakfast back for some more chewing?

While humans are not official ruminants, many of us do ruminate—many of us regularly bring up old and painful experiences. We remember and review them over and over. We fret about them. We brood. We blame ourselves. Just like stomach acid causes heartburn, the emotional “acid” of these painful recollections causes pain to our minds and hearts.

Do you ruminate? In the course of a normal day, do you find thoughts of stupid mistakes from the past popping into your head? Do you find yourself revisiting conversations, regretting comments that hurt others’ feelings? Do you have a nagging sense of guilt for things you wish you hadn’t done? Do you replay memories of your failings in your mind? If so, you ruminate. I know the pains of rumination; I am a skilled ruminator myself.

Out of the blue I will have thoughts about my stupidest moments. They are often trivial and probably forgotten by everyone but me.

In adulthood, women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression. Martin Seligman, the famous psychologist, nominates rumination as the reason. When women feel bad, they ruminate. They endlessly mull over their mistakes. They may even bring up old mistakes as evidence that they are thoughtless or foolish. They seem to have prosecuting attorneys within their own souls.

In contrast, when men feel bad, they tend to act. Maybe they go shoot some hoops, pick a fight, or drive recklessly. They are no wiser than women, but they are less likely to be depressed.

Let’s put rumination in spiritual perspective. We might assume that heaven sends ruminations as part of a campaign for repentance. That is mistaken. God sends invitations but not ruminations. Ruminations are a gift from Satan, the great accuser. It is he who wants to keep us miserable in a cycle of self-blame and endless recrimination. He knows that such thinking sparks despair rather than repentance.

The good news is that we can stop ruminating—we can stop being the victims of Satan’s accusations. And we can do it while still being appropriately accountable. I will adapt Seligman’s five suggestions.

First, we can learn to recognize those automatic thoughts that flit through our heads. We can notice when we bring back mistakes in service of accusing and blaming ourselves. Often we start a narrative that suggests that our badness is personal, permanent, and pervasive. “I keep making the same stupid mistakes again and again in every part of my life. What is wrong with me?” We should catch ourselves when we say such things.

Second, we can learn to challenge or dispute those automatic thoughts. Yes. We make mistakes. Foolish ones. We also do many things well. And we keep learning and growing from our mistakes. Taking a bleak view of ourselves is a distortion intended to immobilize us. God does not want us to feel hopeless.

Third, we can learn to change our explanations. Maybe we discover that we have problems when we are under pressure or when we’re tired. We show ourselves the same kind of compassion we would show others: “I don’t do well in those circumstances. I will ask people to help me avoid those situations that bring out the worst.”

Fourth, we can learn to distract ourselves from depressing thoughts. Rather than let ourselves cascade into misery and self-hate, we do something to help us productively move forward. Maybe we talk a walk, or work on a project, or connect with a friend. We may postpone thoughts about our mistakes until we are feeling more safe and balanced.

Fifth, we can challenge our “depression-sowing assumptions.” Maybe you find yourself thinking about your weaknesses, mistakes, and shortcomings. Of course, there is some truth to those accusations. We are indeed fallen. And, “because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). But any pain at our fallenness should be promptly healed by His redemptiveness. We should acknowledge our weaknesses and choose repentance. To wallow in self-accusation, believing that we are beyond repair or beyond forgiveness, is to disrespect the power of the atonement can heal and change us.

There are times when God would have us minister to those we have injured. There is a place for apologies and reparations. There are times when God will call us to do better as we move forward. But there is not a place in God’s plan for endless self-recrimination.

I recommend Nephi’s psalm (2 Ne 4:17-35) as a pattern for dealing with self-accusation. When Nephi dwelt on what was wrong with himself (vv. 17-19), he was miserable. When he turned to what is right about God (vv. 19-35), he rejoiced and was filled with hope. There is a core lesson of life there.

We are demonstrably foolish as fallen humans. But God is fully determined to provide us experience AND redeem us. “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds our recurring wrongs,” as Neal Maxwell reminded us.

So, when those bitter tastes of foolishness and fallenness come to our mouths, we should swallow hard and fill our mouths with rejoicing in the One who has paid our tuition in the school of life—the One who knows that we will make abundant mistakes but whose commitment to us is infinite and eternal.

Invitation:
Next time you notice the bitter taste of self-blame, cry out for mercy, “O Jesus, Thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ask Him to heal you. Ask Him what He would have you do to make needed amends.

Recommendations:
You may enjoy Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism, or Albert Ellis’ book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything–Yes, Anything!

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful editing.

Parenting

Solving Parenting Problems

Sometimes the harder we try to solve a problem with a child, the worse it gets. For example, when we nag children to hurry and get ready, they drag their heels. The more we demand that they eat a certain food, the more they will resist. In both cases the more they resist, the more we nag and demand. The more we nag and demand, the less they cooperate. This is not likely to have a happy ending.

The good news is that there are better ways to solve parenting problems! If you find yourself getting stuck in your interaction with a child, consider the following.

1. Deal with your feelings

When we are upset or angry, we have a hard time seeing clearly. Anger—and its cousin, frustration—narrow our thinking and flatten our compassion.
When you deal with a parenting challenge, if you feel angry, betrayed, impatient, disgusted, devastated or any other strong feeling, your first job is to put out that fire. When your own feelings are in turmoil, you may find it hard to see your child helpfully.

I learned years ago that I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love—and not in some historical and generic way but here and now. If I’m not feeling love for the child, I need to take a break.

It may help to find a quiet place to relax and breathe deeply. It may help to pray or talk to someone who loves the child. As you feel more peaceful, you are ready to move forward.

2. Manage the way you see your child

When we think of the child as a problem, there is no good solution. When we see the child as doing the best he or she knows how, it will be easier to find good solutions.

As we face challenges with our children, it is good to remember that each child is an amazing and heavenly creation. When we remember the child’s greatest qualities, we are better prepared to turn problems into blessings.

Can you see clearly what his or her best qualities are? What do you enjoy about your child? What makes your child sparkle?

Before we can direct or correct a child, we must value that child. Do you feel loving and appreciative of the child? If so, you’re ready to move forward.

3. Understand what the child is trying to accomplish

People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When a child’s actions do not make sense to us, it is probably because we don’t fully understand the child’s needs and wants.

Even the most troubling behavior has its own logic. Maybe the child is feeling tired or sick. Maybe the child doesn’t know any better. Maybe the child is feeling afraid or lonely. Maybe the child is stressed. Maybe the child wants our attention.

We often misunderstand the child’s behavior because of what’s happening in our lives. Maybe we’re busy, unhappy, frustrated, or tired. Those feelings can keep us from seeing the child’s earnest motives.

When we set aside our own irritation and look at the child with kindness, we may be able to see what the child is trying to accomplish. Maybe a child is not trying to annoy us but simply engage us in his life.

When we are feeling peaceful, loving, and compassionate, we may be able to understand what our child is trying to accomplish. Then we can help her find a good way to get her needs met.

Step 4. Is there a better way?

As parents, we try to help children get what they want—in ways that make sense. For example, children who fuss for our attention should be able to get our attention—but in ways that don’t make us crazy. We might say to a child who is whining for attention, “I would love to talk with you or play with you, but I need you to tell me what you want in ways I can hear.”

Or, if a child has a hard time getting ready for school on time, we can start by figuring out why the child doesn’t get ready. Does the child need more time to wake up? If so, we might go in earlier and gently talk with and pat the child to help wake her up. Does the child find it hard to decide what to wear? If so, we might have the child decide what to wear the night before and lay out the clothes.

We can set our children up for success. There may also be times when we need to teach our child new skills. There may also be times when the key is your own mood—choosing to be patient, positive, and understanding.

5. Try something new.

The problems that have bothered you in the past will surely happen again.

Start with prevention:

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of punishment. What can you do to make problems less likely to occur? How can you change the way you approach the situation? Can you modify the family schedule or rules to fit the child while still keeping reasonable expectations? Do you need to help your child find new ways of getting his or her needs met?

Change the way you react:

When you feel yourself being dragged into a familiar battle with your child, stop. Decide to do something new. Try staying relaxed. Try seeing the child as an amazing and delightful person. Instead of saying or doing what you usually say or do, try listening more carefully. Try understanding your child. If you can’t see a good way to react, maybe you will decide to delay a decision until you have had time to think. Since our usual ways of responding to problems don’t work very well, our best hope for better family life is to try new and better ways.

Learn from problems:

After you have tried your new plan, notice the results. Did it help your child act in ways that are better for him or her and the rest of the family? The successful parents are those who keep trying ideas until they find ones that work with their family. What makes an idea a good one? It is a good idea if it works and if it shows respect to all who are involved.

Get input:

Problems arise in all families. When you feel stuck, try talking to the wisest and kindest parents you know. Try reading a good book. Pray for help from your heavenly Parent.

As you learn to help your children act in better ways, not only will they become better people, but you will become wiser, more compassionate, and a happier person.

Invitation: Think of a recent challenge you’ve faces with one of your children. Apply the steps in this article to find better ways of responding.

Recommendations: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child; H. Wallace Goddard’s The Soft-Spoken Parent

This article adapted from Parent Guide written for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.

Marriage

Aligning Our Vision in Marriage

Yesterday I asked Nancy a question. She gave an answer that seemed quite unrelated to my question. I was baffled and annoyed. I blinked a few times to try to clear my mind. Had she heard and understood my question? Then I realized for the first time that Nancy and I experience entirely different things in our conversations.

I grew up with a philosophical, articulate, and precise Dad. He loved to reason with us. We often sat around the table to explore many subjects, mostly the gospel. He was careful about logic and grammar. I tried to learn from him.

Nancy grew up differently. Her dad was a gentle man of few words who loved finding uses for cast-off stuff. He gathered this and that from the dump and made a shed . . . or a statue. His creations were practical and imaginative. A person needed to watch him carefully to figure out what he had on his mind. Nancy was good at understanding him. She learned a lot from him.

After almost 50 years of marriage, I made a fresh discovery about my beloved Nancy. In any conversation, she notices what people are doing and feeling. So she hears the context of people’s lives and emotions more than she hears words. Those factors influence her understanding of my messages no matter what I say.

In contrast, no matter what is happening around me, I focus on the words and the logic. I love clarity and precision. I want Nancy to listen to my words and offer precise answers.

While this tendency of Nancy’s can sometimes create communication differences between us, I also view it as one of her great gifts. It makes her aware of people in gatherings who need a friend or a word of encouragement. She seems to have a sixth sense about the needs of others. I love that about her.

There are other ways that Nancy and I think differently. She is more likely to see danger and I am more likely to see adventure. She is quiet and reflective. I am enthusiastic and passionate. She values healthy food and I relish fun food. She is task-oriented and I am fun-loving. It is surprising how differently two people can see our shared world!

Maybe we could compare our different perceptions of the world to binocular vision. Humans have two eyes not only to provide a wider range of vision but also so that we can perceive depth. For this to work, the two eyes must be carefully coordinated. They must align and focus together.

Babies learn to coordinate the views coming from both their eyes within the first few months of life. Learning to coordinate our different views of the world in marriage can take decades. We come from families that are vastly different not only in the way they communicate, but the way they define closeness, express emotions, and solve problems. Typically, our spouses are more different from us than we realized!

We all have our own specific way of reacting to the world around us. Yet our personal way seems so natural—so right and sensible. We expect our spouses to be like us. When they are different, we judge them to be defective.

How do we learn to coordinate our vision with our spouse? How do we learn to make productive use of our different ways of seeing the world?

1. Humility is the recognition that we don’t see everything. In fact, we entirely miss some of the most important things. And we often don’t know it. So, when we set aside our dogmatism and take a genuine interest in our spouse’s views, we are likely to discover a lot.

2. Explore your spouse’s point of view. Ask questions—especially when something isn’t making sense to you. Your spouse has a coherent vision that you can only appreciate if you are attentive and inquisitive.

3. Work to harmonize your two views. We are all tempted to dismiss other ways of seeing the world. When we are willing to understand and incorporate the others’ view into our own, we will see more and understand better.

When we add our spouse’s perspective to our own, we see far more. Instead of judging our spouse, we are able to appreciate what our spouse values. And we are more likely to enjoy each other.

Invitation: The next time you think your spouse’s ideas are weird or illogical, pause, take a few breaths, and then try to enter their world. Don’t judge. Try to understand.

Recommendation: John Gottman’s chapter about love maps in The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work provides activities to better understand your spouse’s world.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful edits to this article.

Self Development

The Path to Peace


I will never forget. She knocked on my door at the university. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“Come in.” The young woman was a student at the university and a lapsed latter-day saint. I was her branch president even though she didn’t come to church.

She sat in front of me. “I have just come from my therapist and I’m feeling confused. My dad has been dead for years, but I have never stopped hurting about his absence during his long sickness. Today my therapist asked me to mentally sit my dad in a chair in front of me and to blast him with my years of pain, loss, and frustration. Let him know how furious I am that he got sick and didn’t take part in my life. Tell him how I resent him for failing to protect me from an angry mother.”

I waited for her to say more.

“What do you think of that?” she finally asked.

I am not a therapist. And I didn’t know her therapist’s objectives. But I have learned a little about God’s processes for peace.

“I don’t know your therapist’s objectives. I leave you to judge whether that activity brings you the peace you seek. I do have a suggestion. Someday you will be ready to have another conversation with your deceased Dad. Invite him to sit comfortably in a chair in front of you. Then kneel at his feet and ask him, ‘Dad, your life was cut short by chronic illness and death. Would you tell me what we would have done together if you hadn’t gotten sick? Tell me about ball games we would have attended, lectures you would have given me, love and encouragement you would have offered. Help me create the life we might have had together if you had not gotten sick.’”

“Then listen. Imagine his voice in your mind. I’m guessing he would say something like: ‘Sweetheart! I am so sorry! How I yearned to be a part of your life! How I wanted to be a dad to you! Thank you for inviting me to create a new history for us!’”

Dad will rejoice in the invitation.

Resentment is very energizing. And it provides a ready justification for our own stuckness in our pained lives. In contrast, forgiveness is very liberating.

God offers surprising counsel:

My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

What??? If we don’t forgive others, we are guilty of a greater sin than they—even when their sins are grievous? He explains why:

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

When we withhold forgiveness from those who offend us, we are presuming to limit or regulate God’s grace. We are claiming a prerogative that is His alone!

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. (D&C 64:8-11)

We are to leave every person in God’s hands. And I’m pretty sure that He does not want us to entertain fantasies of heavenly revenge on the heads of our enemies. Rather He wants us to let Him do His work of refinement and redemption for every one of His children. He wants us to wish Him and them success.

“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).

Of us, it is required to forgive all people. Corrie ten Boom forgave a prison guard. Heber J. Grant forgave a sinful brother. Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers. We must forgive offences small and large.

The need for forgiveness is vast. We regularly hurt each other. We trample others unthinkingly.

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung?”
(Edward Sill, Fool’s Prayer)

Our only hope as families, as a church, as a society is to become glad forgivers.

I am everlastingly grateful to kind, forgiving souls who have granted me forgiveness I did not deserve. My sweet wife is an amazing forgiver! I am overwhelming grateful to the One who continues to offer forgiveness: “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs” (Neal A. Maxwell).

I think of the hungry boy in Leo Tolstoy’s story—the boy who stole an apple to assuage his hunger. When caught by the angry woman who owned the apple, she threatened to beat him within an inch of his life. But a cobbler intervened: “If he should be whipped for an apple, what should be done with us?”

Yes. We all offend heaven and fellow travelers regularly. If we want to receive mercy, we must be willing to extend mercy. The essential lubricant for journeying toward Zion is forgiveness.

As my kind and gospel-loving father used to suggest, people carry terrible burdens and painful injuries. We should help every person we meet in their journey. We should offer them compassion and encouragement.

If we want to enjoy peace in a fallen world filled with flawed people, we must be good forgivers. If we want to learn to be partakers of the divine nature, we have no choice but to be glad forgivers.

I am grateful that God offers His mercy so fully and so gladly. May we pray with all the energy of heart to be filled with that forgiving love. May we bring peace to the world through forgivingness.

Invitation: Notice when you feel resentment or judgment welling up inside you. Call on God to help you see the person as God sees him or her.

Recommendation: Everett L. Worthington has been a leading scholar on forgiveness. See, for example, Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful edits.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other

Quarreling and bickering among siblings are painfully common in family life. It seems that the natural child is an enemy not only to God but also to brothers and sisters.

While children are declared innocent because of the atonement (D&C 93:38), it is also true that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55). Everyone who works with children knows that they can be not only charming, sweet, and delightful, but also selfish, pouty, and demanding. They are not automatically or naturally cooperative and peace loving.

How can parents prevent contention between their children?

The natural parent

There are two popular methods for dealing with sibling conflict. One is parental intrusion. Parents separate the children or punish them for their contention. This method can only work as long as there is a parent available to intervene in the conflict. Even if this method interrupts the conflict it does not solve the problem; children do not learn new ways of dealing with their differences with their siblings.

The second method is lecturing. The main problem with lecturing is that it doesn’t work—and it generally insults and demoralizes children. Children respond to accusation with defensiveness; they blame their siblings and excuse themselves. The result is an increase in the contention in the family.

Parents almost universally will agree that we want loving and helpful relationships between our children. But how can we make this happen?

Helping children find something better than quarreling

Imagine that your 5-year-old daughter wanders into her older brother’s room. He is concentrating on building a Lego structure. Sister picks up some Legos to do some building of her own. He grabs the Legos from her, pushes her toward the door and shouts that she should stay out of his room. Little sister runs to you crying.

You are frustrated and angry. You are tempted to lecture your son about being kind and inclusive with his sister.

But this response does not teach your son to love and serve. What would God have you do? The vast research on moral development together with God’s perfect guidance can help us establish five steps.

1. Engage your son in a gentle way. Harsh approaches arouse anxiety and block learning. When we are upset, we are not able to parent effectively. We may need to take time out to get peaceful. If a situation requires immediate action, we might invite our children to also take a timeout in their rooms to prepare for a productive dialogue. God counsels us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and genuine love. It is important to get his attention without arousing fear: “Son, we need to talk. Your sister is very upset by the way you treated her.”

2. Give your son credit for anything you can: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings.” We are often tempted to magnify the misdeeds in order to get our children to take our message seriously. Yet when we “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). In contrast, when we see our children through the lens of charity, we set the stage for love and learning. When we appreciate their good intentions and sincere striving, we are more likely to find common ground.

3. Show that you understand your son’s point of view: “You just wanted to build without being distracted or interrupted.” Compassion is the key to connecting. When accusation rather than compassion is in our hearts, we alienate. When, in contrast, I see from the child’s point of view, I am able to guide effectively. Compassion is the heart of the healer’s art.

4. Draw the child’s attention to the distress of the victim: “When you ordered your sister to leave you alone, she felt sad. She felt that you don’t like to have her around. Maybe she even felt that you don’t like her.”

There are really two parts to this step. Just as the Lord teaches us in our minds and in our hearts (See D&C 8:2), so we must inform our children’s minds and hearts. Both are essential for right behavior.

We teach the mind about the law of the harvest. When we are unkind, we damage relationships. Instead we invite the child to learn his sister’s point of view: “I think your sister just wanted to be with you.”

We also train our children’s hearts. We gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. “You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.”

The objective in this approach is not for your son to be sunk in guilt but to be stirred to empathy and compassion. When we use harsh approaches with our children, they focus on their own distress and are likely to become stubborn and defensive. That’s not what we want. We want to help our children get outside their provincial view of their own needs and be able to see the needs of others.

We cannot rush this process. When the child protests, “But she is the one who messed up my work!” we do not have to argue. We return to the third step, showing understanding for his point of view: “It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it!” When the child feels genuinely understood, then he is ready to learn in his mind and in his heart.

Help the child to feel genuine compassion for the one he has hurt. Naturally your child will resist your challenge: “She can’t start grabbing Legos when I’m building something.” If we want our child to show compassion, we must model compassion. Rather than squabbling with the boy, we can show empathy: “It’s hard when you’re in the middle of a project and she interrupts you or starts using your Legos.” When we show him compassion, he is more able to show compassion for his sister. It may take several rounds of expressing understanding and compassion before he is ready to show compassion for his sister.

5. Once the child feels understood and is calm and peaceful, then we can help the child think of a way to make repairs: “How could we help your sister feel loved and welcome without messing up your project?”

When hearts are right creativity can rule. “Maybe I could help her build a house” or “I could provide her with some of the blocks.”

Any parent might reasonably protest that this process takes a lot of time. You’re right! Parenting is not quick, simple, or convenient. Parenting is a large and continuing sacrifice. Yet it is also true that, when we teach children correct principles, they are more likely to govern themselves in righteousness. An hour spent teaching them in their youth can save years of conflict, struggle, and waywardness.

In the midst of sibling conflicts, it is common to try to figure out which child is the offender. This is rarely productive. Rather than try to weigh offences, we invite all toward repentance. In the above process, the focus was on the son’s repenting, but a parallel process could operate with the daughter. We could show her compassion and help her understand her brother’s need to be able to concentrate.

Of course this approach is not the perfect one in all circumstances. When a child is in danger, action is needed more than instruction. When a child is so tired or upset that reasoning is not possible, some time for calming is called for. When a child is holding a parent hostage—requiring them to prove their point to the child’s satisfaction—this is not the right approach.

Getting our hearts right

Perhaps the greatest challenge to effectively teaching children is that we simply cannot do it right unless our hearts are right. We cannot teach them the principles of love and goodness while bubbling with anger or annoyed by distractions.

The Christlike parent recognizes our dependence on God, calls out for mercy, continues in prayer, and draws on the power of heaven. In parenting as in all things, He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Invitation: The next time contention arises between your children, rather than add more contention, see if you can bring the peace of compassionate teaching as outlined.

Recommendation: For applied approaches to parenting, see Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child or John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

For more about the science of parental control, see Martin L. Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice; John C. Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality; Wendy S. Grolnick, The Psychology of Parental Control.

This article is a revision of an article previously published at Meridian Magazine. Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent editing.

Self Development

Do You Want to Fill the Measure of Your Creation? The Lord’s Program for Being Useful

I grew up trying to overcome my strengths. I didn’t like the excesses that came from my native enthusiasm, so I determined to be moderate. I hated the distractibility that came with my creativity, so I resolved to be steady.

I was a man at war with himself. I was neither happy nor productive.

It was immensely liberating for me when, as an adult, I read the recommendation of brilliant psychologist, Martin Seligman:

I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths. (p. 13, Authentic Happiness)

Our focus should be on using our strengths! What an intriguing idea! How does that fit with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What is the Lord’s program of gifts?

Tucked away in the Doctrine and Covenants (section 46) is God’s program of spiritual gifts and personal development. His instruction can guide us to a full life. Five points seem very clear:

1. “…To every [person] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (v.11).

God equips every child with a gift or some combination of gifts. The question is not whether we have gifts, but whether we have discovered them.

Each of us should study and pray to come to know the gifts we have been given. I recommend that you take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to learn your signature strengths. The Keirsey Temperament Sorter or Myers-Briggs test can also be a resource. The first two of these can be taken free online.

We can also become more aware of our gifts as we notice what kind of work we love.

This scripture also encourages us to notice and appreciate the gifts and strengths of others.

2. “To some is given one, and to some is given another . . . ” (v.12).

The human tendency is to compare ourselves to others and feel we don’t measure up. But we are not given the same gifts as others. Joseph Smith had different gifts from Brigham Young. Peter had different gifts from Paul. You have different gifts than I do.

“For there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11).

Rather than worrying that we do not measure up to the gifts of others, we should understand and celebrate the gifts we are given. If we fail to use our gifts because we consider them inferior to someone else’s gifts, then we are unwise servants. It is better to rejoice in the gifts given to others and combine them with our own in service to worthy causes.

“Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6).

It is worth remembering that God gives us weakness (Ether 12:27) so that we recognize our desperate need for Him. Thus, the angelic directive to our first parents and all of us since is: “Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:7). Only He can ultimately eradicate our weaknesses.

3. “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26).

For those who are tempted to covet others’ gifts, God has given the good news that all gifts in all people belong to all of us in a community of caring and service. God has not given us gifts so that we may win trophies and impress our neighbors. He has given us gifts so “that all may be profited thereby” (v.12).

Discoveries from research have shown that using our gifts to serve others actually contributes to our level of happiness in life. God has always known the growth-promoting and healing benefits of serving and loving. When our gifts are woven together in a tapestry of caring, we are filling the measure of our creation. We are becoming more like Him.

Prophets of every era have counseled us to serve and bless one another. It is essential to our growth. We can do God’s work by pondering how we can better use the specific gifts He has given us in ministering to others.

4. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (v.8).

God encourages us to keep growing. We pray for God to enlarge and refine us. For example, we pray earnestly for the gift of charity. We pray for any gift that will enable us to bless His children.

The fact that God calls these “gifts” should remind us of the source. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

5. “Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with” (v.32).

Gratitude opens the windows of heaven. “O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mosiah 2:19). All gifts are a divine bestowal intended to bless all of our brothers and sisters. Part of gratitude is acknowledging and magnifying our gifts.

So is Seligman right? Should our focus be on using our gifts more than eliminating our faults? God’s program of gifts seems consistent with that idea. When we fill the measure of our creation, we have inexpressible joy. We use the gifts God has given us and we pray for His mercy to manage our faults.

Invitation: What are the gifts God has given you? How can you use them to bless His children?

Recommendations: I recommend that you seek to become more aware of the gifts God has given you. You may also be interested in Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness.

Parts of this article were drawn from my book, Modern Myths and Latter-day Truths.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.