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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.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Trust God

“Believe in yourself.” “Love yourself.” “Trust yourself.” These messages abound. The very modern and progressive remedy for mortal misery is to build faith in the self. Many of us have tried this formula in our own lives. We have taught it to our children. And by doing so we miss teaching them about the only Power in the universe that can transform us. There is a God and I am not He.

The modern prescription flies in the face of God’s consistent counsel throughout scripture. Nephi’s inspired observation is typical: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34). Nephi was very clear that his only hope was trusting in God. “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”

The celebration of ourselves and our powers can keep us from recognizing our utter dependence on God. It can keep us from showing our children how to find the power that can save them.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as parents is to teach our children to love, trust, and call on God. We cannot rescue our children from the fall, but we can point them to the power that can. How can we do that?

1. We can have a loving and vital relationship with God. I love how Rebecca Harding Davis has said it:

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”

When our lives are overflowing with gratitude for the God who loves us, guides us, and redeems us, we are building our family foundation on the Rock. We can regularly model that gratitude for our children.

2. We can teach our children to embrace repentance as the path to becoming better people. We will make lots of mistakes as parents and as people. We can show our children that we are thankful for the opportunity to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and help in becoming better.

We can patiently teach our children to repent. And then we show them what mercy and compassion look like by the way we respond to their mistakes.

“All of God’s faculties, all of his inclinations are poised and bent on blessing at the slightest provocation. Oh, how God loves to be merciful and bless his children! Perhaps that is his greatest joy. It is the inherent quality that drives him with tireless vigilance to save his children” (p. 313, Tad R. Callister, Infinite Atonement, 2000, Deseret Book).

We can show the kind of love and goodness to family members that God shows to us. We will do it imperfectly, yet our children will recognize our growing discipleship.

3. We can live our faith in Christ. We will, at times, be unsettled by doubts, bothered by imperfections, or wearied by burdens. This is when our examples can be most valuable to our children. As Fosdick asks:

“Are we to trust for our guidance the testimony of our worse or better hours? . . We have cellars in our houses. But we do not live there; we live upstairs!” (p. 203).

In times of challenge, our lives can be governed by our discontents or they can be guided by the Light and Life of the world. When we feel pressed down, do our children witness us looking up with faith? Even when we are struggling, do our children see us noticing and acknowledging God’s blessings? When our children are struggling, do we invite them to look for His goodness and mercy?

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).

We can help our children know that they can never save themselves. We can help them learn to throw themselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. Our personal examples of humility, repentance, faith, and rejoicing will teach our children the most important lessons of life.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Invitation: As you read this article, what do you feel inspired to do to help your children love and trust God?

Recommendation: My life continues to be blessed by Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ. I recommend it heartily.

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Emily McIntosh for their insightful suggestions for this article.

Marriage

As a Couple Thinketh

Two amazing people were struggling in their marriage. In desperation, they went to see a therapist. He told them to go home and each spend the week until their next visit creating a list of frustrations with their partner. He promised to help them discuss those frustrations at their next appointment. All week long their lists and their irritations grew. By the time they returned to see the counselor, each had a soul-full of exasperation. And that is what they discussed during their sessions. Each accused. Both felt hurt and defensive. Any hope for their marriage disappeared. They divorced.

A different therapist took a different approach. When a couple came to see him, each partner anxious to confess the spouse’s sins, he asked if he could first get to know their history. He asked if each of them would tell what first attracted them to each other. They thought back and began telling their stories. Both softened as they recalled the good qualities that had brought them together. Good feelings returned. Problems seemed more manageable.

John Gottman, the preeminent marriage scholar, observed: “In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten—for the worse” (p. 42).

Our stories are not objective facts. They are personal creations. We choose to forgive or not, to appreciate or not, to work together or not.

Without realizing it, during times of marital dissatisfaction, we “re-script” our memories of our marriages. Perhaps we think: “Now that I think about it, he has always disappointed me.” Or, “As I look back, I’m not sure I ever really loved her.” We re-script the history of our relationship to align with our current unhappiness. This causes us to think our unhappiness is more “real” than earlier times when the marriage flourished. And so we justify our thoughts of abandoning the marriage.

Gottman’s research shows that couples whose marriages are less likely to survive make the assumption that their dissatisfaction is permanent. They assume that their unhappiness is the new reality that likely cannot be changed.

In contrast, couples whose marriages are more likely to survive view their dissatisfaction as temporary—they hold onto the belief that, with patience, compassion, and commitment, they can weather the current winter storm and the marriage will blossom again.

Let’s add gospel perspective to the scholarly view.

1. Don’t let pains harden your perspective. We can let pains turn into positions. We can move from frustration or hurt to resentment to recalcitrance. That is the natural course of relationships in a fallen world. Paul offers the remedy: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Rather than offer condemnation, we can offer mercy and kindness to those who hurt and frustrate us—even those who are closest to us.

2. Cherish good times. Notice, remember, and cherish your good experiences. We look at each other “with kindness and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42). Gottman observed: “I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive. In other words, [successful couples] are constantly working it out, for the most part good-naturedly. These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older” (pp. 64, 131).

Marriage is intended to stretch us toward being more like the Savior: gracious, forgiving, helpful, and encouraging—even redemptive. We can welcome our irritations and differences as an invitation toward godliness.

Caveat: Some marriages are too destructive to survive. To see if your is one of those, read Hawkins’ and Fackrell’s excellent article: https://ldsmag.com/should-i-keep-working-on-my-marriage-perspectives-and-tools-at-the-crossroads-of-divorce/

Invitation: Set your mind and heart to think differently about irritations. Choose to be gracious and generous. Also, track through your relationship history looking for the “glory in your marital story.” Make a record of the great moments in your marriage.

Recommendation: Gottman’s quotes in this article are drawn from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work which is the classic marriage book. My book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, provides a gospel perspective on marriage.

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

Self Development

Out of Small Things Come Great Blessings

When we moved to Little Rock, Nancy launched her traditional “meet the neighbors” campaign. One day, after I got home from work, she told me about her visit to Elizabeth Howitt who lived directly behind us. “She is the most amazing woman! She is a remarkable seamstress, a vibrant woman, and a delight to talk to. She is 80-something years old and a widow from Scotland.” Nancy had already fallen in love with her.

Nancy suggested that, since Elizabeth’s family all lived far away, we become a support system for her. I agreed.

Every week during the summer we mowed her lawn. She baked us royal biscuits. We painted her living room. She made us dinner. We made repairs around her house. She told us stories and taught us expressions from her homeland. “I looked at the yard and felt like a dog with two tails.” “My bag was packed like a dog’s breakfast.” “I lit the heater and took a bath and oh! I wouldn’t call the queen my cousin.” “Bob’s your uncle.”

She would sweep up the dust in the alleyway to add as fill dirt to her yard. She ate steel-cut oats daily for breakfast. She walked laps within her home. She read and reread hundreds of books from the library. We were amazed by her breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for life.
What a vibrant person!

When we went out for a burger or a barbecue sandwich, we took her along. Though she was a tiny little person, she ate more than either of us.

She learned about our family and kept track of each person even though they lived across the country. We celebrated holidays together. She introduced us to her family when they visited.

What started as a service project became something quite different. We became dear friends with Elizabeth.

My beloved Nancy wanted to share the gospel with her. Elizabeth listened attentively and courteously. But, as a witness to decades of religious fighting, she was not interested.

After six years of beautiful friendship, Elizabeth became ill. She was found to have an advanced case of cancer. She died within a month of the diagnosis. It was then that we fully appreciated how much she had changed our lives. We missed her stories, her friendship, her zeal, her “biscuits.” We missed her.

Before she died she gave to us a lovely chair that she had upholstered. The chair sits proudly in our living room.

Service—heartfelt service—changes people. It enlarges hearts and enriches lives. Atop the pyramid of happiness-building recommendations of science is this one: Serve. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us; God has been recommending service from the beginning of time. The One who washed His disciples dirty and reluctant feet commanded us to love as He loves.

Of course, there is a potential problem with serving. Some of us feel quite guilty if we do not show up for every service project, assist in every move, and visit every widow. So, we totter between exhaustion and guilt. That approach to service is not healthy.

I love the idea that we bring a willingness to every invitation to serve. We want to serve. We gladly serve. Yet we carefully follow God’s direction. For some neighbors we offer fellowship and a plate of cookies. Every once in a while, God will send an Elizabeth into our lives. We seize the blessing when it comes.

God will call us to serve many people in many ways.

We thank God for Elizabeth Howitt. We can’t wait to visit with her again and enjoy Royal Biscuits in heaven.

Invitation: As you read these words, whom do you feel God is calling you to serve? What would He have you do for them?

Recommendation:
Seligman’s Authentic Happiness reviews the great research on happiness. I heartily recommend it. (He has written a more recent book, Flourish. I believe that Authentic Happiness is a stronger book.)

Parenting

Effective Parenting is More than Limits and Consequences

Imagine that your 5-year-old is playing with his toys when a neighbor child comes to the door asking your child to come out and play. Let’s imagine that you had established earlier in the day that you expected your son to put away his toys before he went out to play. So, you ask your son to put away his toys. The boy begs: “Mom! I promise I will put them away later. Please! Let me go out and play!”

What should a wise and balanced parent do?

1. You might say, “Do you promise? I will hold you to it! Okay then. You may go out to play.” That parent is so anxious for good will that he or she sacrifices responsibility.

2. You might say, “You may not go out until you have put everything away.” As the parent you send the neighbor child away with the words: “He will be out if he gets his cleaning done.” This approach emphasizes rules over relationship.

3. You might hesitate. Your child begins to cry, “Oh, please, Mommy. I really want to go out and play.” Tears and begging. Mom, wanting to be kind, lets the child go. And the child learns that emotional displays can undermine parental resolve.

4. You might say: “Son, I can see that you really want to go out and play! I will go get your jacket while you put away your toys. Maybe your friend would like to help you.” This approach honors the child’s feelings while still honoring the earlier agreement about putting toys away. The parent is neither a pushover nor a prison guard but a facilitator and encourager.

The very best parenting shows profound compassion and love for the child while still honoring responsibility and accountability. This is the balancing act in parenting. There are certainly times when rules and agreements may be adapted. Children may stay up late for special occasions, etc.

Each parent has a different natural inclination between guidance and nurture. You may be a great nurturer who does not adequately set and enforce limits. Or you may be a person who is focused on enforcing limits even if it interferes with your relationships with your children. Or you may be so anxious for peace that you surrender your good sense when your child becomes upset in the face of consequences. Or you may be some other combination.

All of us need to honor both core principles with our children. “And, ye [parents], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

It can be remarkably difficult for frustrated parents to discern among effective consequences, resentment-creating punishments, and unhelpful manipulation.

Sometimes we justify harsh consequences because “children must learn the lesson.” I absolutely believe in the law of the harvest and that children who do not learn to be responsible for their behavior are likely to become irresponsible adults who have painful lives.

However, I also believe that many books and discussions are so completely focused on consequences, that parents forget about nurturing the relationship of love. We must not lose a sense of balance that respects both appropriate consequences and the loving relationship with our children that will promote their best development.

One of the core truths of research and the gospel, is that people grow, learn, and flourish best when their development is governed by someone who loves them dearly.

God also gives the law of love priority.

The profound statement by Urie Bronfenbrenner is foundational: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research teaches that no control techniques work in the absence of a loving relationship. A person may use the most effective control techniques on the planet, but they will have limited effectiveness if the child does not feel loved.

What are the markings of proper consequences? Parents don’t overreact to misdeeds. They stay calm and helpful. Parents retain a spirit of good will and helpfulness. They ensure that the child takes on reasonable, developmentally-appropriate responsibility for keeping commitments and making repairs related to their behavior.

The real-world challenges often require the wisdom of Solomon; yet they are solved with a commitment to both essential processes: nurture and guidance.

Invitation: See if you can determine what your personal balance is between nurturing and guiding. Think about ways you can honor both processes in your parenting.

Recommendation: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child provides excellent examples of nurturing while setting limits. Books by his students Faber and Mazlish also do this well.