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Self Development

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Self Development

Defeating Dark Messages

“I don’t feel like I’m doing anything important. And I don’t feel connected to the ward members. In fact, I feel inferior to them. I feel pretty worthless.”

The good woman who shared these feelings with me is not alone. Joseph Smith confessed:

“I have visited a grove which is Just back of the town almost every day where I can be Secluded from the eyes of any mortal and there give vent to all the feelings of my heart in meaditation and prayr. I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to morn and Shed tears of sorrow for my folly in sufering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past, but God is merciful and has forgiven my Sins and I rejoice that he Sendeth forth the Comferter unto as many as believe and humbleth themselves before him” (Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832, Church Archives).

Squeaky clean Nephi also felt inadequate:

“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins” (2 Nephi 4:17-19).

I join Nephi, Joseph Smith, and all others who grieve over their follies and failings. Several times a day a thought of a foolish moment or a stupid mistake drops on my soul, making me squirm.

“When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.” Often our sins and weaknesses are all mingled in a puddle of humiliation. In this world, sensitive people are likely to feel stupid and inferior.

Do you have faults that discourage you? Do you ever feel like giving up on yourself? Do you feel clueless and weak?

One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to convince us that discouraging thoughts are from God. “He is disappointed in you.”

This truth is essential: God does not speak to His children that way. He does not chide, scold, and harass. “That which doth not edify is NOT of God” (D&C 50:23, emphasis added). He does send specific instructions, but He does not torment us.

Dark messages come from Satan. He is the father of lies and the master of misery.

How do we explain our self-disappointment? “Because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). When we recognize that our eternal spirits are regularly burdened by our earthly realities, we are ready for the companion truth: There is only One remedy for the Fall: Jesus.

Nephi set the example for all of us who are discouraged. After expressing his despair in his spiritual failures, he pivoted away from himself and toward God: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh” (2 Nephi 4:19-21).

Melancholy is transformed in a minute if we turn from our fallenness to His redemptiveness. Alma provides a powerful example of the principle:

“There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. . . . On the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy (Alma 36:21).

Alma’s transformation came when he cried out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (Alma 36:18). That is not theoretical religion; that is applied faith.

When I feel assaulted by my recollection of mistakes and failings, rather than brood, I call out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” I throw myself on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. I pray that He will forgive me of my sins and heal those I have injured. Instead of dwelling on my inadequacies, I ask that Him to use my gifts. Rather than feel defeated by my weaknesses, I pray He change my nature and make me more like Him. That is what He loves to do. And the key to accessing His power is calling on Him with full purpose of heart.

When we understand this principle, we rejoice with Paul:

“And [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

When God graciously reveals my inadequacy to me, He is inviting me to call on heavenly power. For that reason, every awareness of my imperfection is a blessing.

I am not recommending tired resignation. Quite the contrary. I recommend that we humbly acknowledge our weakness and throw ourselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of the only one who can fix us. It is surprisingly liberating. We stop expecting ourselves to do the impossible—to make ourselves virtuous. And we turn to the one who loves to heal broken things. What are the steps in the process?

1. We transform nagging feelings of spiritual inadequacy into active faith: “O Jesus, thou son of God, have mercy on me.”

2. We cheerfully do those things we are able to do (See D&C 123:17). We repent. We make amends. We try to act on Divine invitations to change for the better.

3. We show our trust in Him by pushing away Satan’s attempts to discourage us. We choose peace.

This process works because we understand His process. We know that Only He can make us holy.

Invitation: The next time you feel burdened by weakness or assaulted by failings, try Alma’s words, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” Cast Satan out of your mind and heart and invite Jesus in.

Recommendation: I recommend Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her editing of this article.

Self Development

Overcoming the Odds

Cory Hatch was a unique kid. For example, as a high school sophomore in a rural school, he often had that telltale ring in the back pocket of his jeans. A new teacher would approach him:

“Cory, give me your chewing tobacco.”

Looking innocent, he responded indignantly: “I don’t have any tobacco.”

“C’mon, Cory. You know you’re not allowed to have tobacco at school.”

“I don’t have any tobacco.”

“Cory, just give me what’s in your right rear pocket.”

Cory would reach in his pocket and hand the teacher a roll of electrical tape-which just happened to be the same size and shape as a can of common chewing tobacco.

For anyone else, that might seem like a case of pure mischief-deliberately baiting teachers. For Cory it was different. He was having fun before he died.

Cory was born with cystic fibrosis. Not only was his disease a death sentence for him, it overtook his life, entailing hours of breathing treatments patiently administered by his loving mother every night. And it meant that he was the shortest and smallest student in the school. He may have weighed 80 pounds in high school. By10th grade, he had already outlived his life expectancy. Though he lived with the threat of death, he lived his life joyously.

I remember Cory joshing other kids. He didn’t have the size or strength to intimidate anyone, but he had the wits and personality to leave a lasting impression on many lives.

There was another small student at the school. The football players liked to pick him up and shove him headfirst into garbage cans. But Cory didn’t allow them to do that with him. He didn’t plead poor health. He didn’t ask for pity. Nope. If any football players came at him, he turned to face them squarely. Picture this tiny guy facing a crowd of menacing footballers two to three times his size. “Just a minute guys. You need to think about this.” When he had their undivided attention, he declared, “If you shove me in that garbage can, I will be forced to beat the hell out of every one of you.” Everyone laughed and Cory never went in a garbage can.

Cory’s IQ did not set him apart. No. It was his positivity and sense of humor. He enjoyed life and he intended to live it to the fullest.

At the end of his sophomore year, Cory wrote in my yearbook: “From one of the most kind-hearted, well-mannered, intelligent persons you have ever had in a class. Cory Hatch” He’s right. Yet I would add more. He was one of the most clever, savvy, sensitive, and vibrant people I ever knew. I love him.

When Cory left to go to college and no longer had his mother’s care, he died. As one of his teachers and his scout leader, I was asked to speak at his funeral. I realized how profoundly that little man impacted my life.

Cory defied the odds. He had the risk factors for many kinds of human misery. Yet he lived vibrantly.

Most of us assume that our level of happiness depends on our circumstances. We tell ourselves that the challenges and burdens of our lives mean we have little choice but to feel unhappy and disheartened. But research tells us that our choices have far more impact on our happiness than our circumstances. Cory’s example confirms that the people who are happier are not so because they have optimal life circumstances. They are happier because they choose to focus on whatever is positive and joyful about life.

Thank you, Cory, for your life and your example. I hope all of us will choose to live as vibrantly as you did. I can’t wait to see you again.

Invitation: Who are the people you know who have lived vibrantly? What can you learn from them to live your life more fully?

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful suggestions on this article.

Self Development

God’s Unexpected (and Under-appreciated) Purpose in Marriage

The requirements for a successful date include having bathed within the previous 24 hours and being agreeable (naturally or artificially). Usually some amount of cash is also required. It’s really not too hard. When two freshly-washed and agreeable people spend a few hours together in some recreational activity, they will probably have fun. Dating is a nice way to pass time.

Marriage requires more. A successful companionship requires not only patience, hard work, commitment, compassion, and unselfishness but continued stretching. So when Father says that “marriage is ordained of God,” He has something loftier in mind than a pleasant evening or even a lifetime of pleasant evenings.

God has never varied in His commitment to the development of our character. He wants to stretch us toward godliness and that will often require discomfort and inconvenience. It is not enough to take a shower and put on a smile. We must be patient in affliction. We must be willing to grow. We must be willing to put aside our preferences and enter our partners’ worlds.

The problem is that most of us like the fun of dating far more than we like having our characters developed. We chafe when our spouses favor different foods and activities. We get defensive when our partners accuse us of selfishness. We feel indignant when they tell us we are wrong. We become insulting when they don’t meet our needs. We are filled with resentment when they expect us to set aside our priorities in order to meet the family’s needs.

The problem isn’t that marriage is challenging. God always intended it that way. The problem is that we expected it to be like those vacuous dates that began our relationships. We can become quite indignant when our expectations are upended.

President Hinckley quoted Jenkin Lloyd Jones: “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young [men and women] who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and [beautiful] wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear the divorce courts are jammed. . . .
“Anyone who imagines that bliss [in marriage] is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.
[The fact is] “most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .
“Life is like an old time rail journey–delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride”
(“A Conversation with Single Adults,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 60)

Of course Jones is right that marriage is challenging. But why is it so? Does God merely want to annoy us? Does He want to test us? Or is He providing us a gym in which to stretch and enlarge our Christian goodness?

That great marital therapist, King Benjamin, counseled us: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to [their partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever . . .”

Forever and ever. That is pretty definitive. Fortunately, there is an escape close for those of us who are fallen partners:

“unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

When we understand God’s purposes for marriage, we cherish every moment of connection and joy. We also recognize irritation as an invitation to grow in our discipleship.

C. S. Lewis provided a glorious metaphor: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (Mere Christianity [New York: Macmillan, 1960], p. 174.)

Yes. Marriage is ordained of God because He is quite determined to teach us to get beyond our petty preferences and on to greater goodness. He wants to make us into Kings and Queens.

Invitation: Think about some of the things that currently irritate you in your marriage. Now, rather than find fault with your partner, consider what holy purpose God may have in that irritation. Is He trying to help you develop humility, compassion, patience, or kindness? If Heavenly Father sat down with you right now to guide you, how do you think He would counsel you to respond to those irritations?

Recommendation: For a spiritual perspective on marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.