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Self Development

For the New Year: Renewal, not Resolutions

By Wallace Goddard · January 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Self Development

Focusing on the Problems May be the Problem

by H. Wallace Goddard

The Balm of Gilead is closer than you might think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Development

Blessed Are the Merciful

by H. Wallace Goddard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That must be a horrible feeling.”

“Yeah. I’m disappointed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Development

Misunderstanding the Messages

by H. Wallace Goddard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Development

Fix One Another As I Have Fixed You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His message is love.

by H. Wallace Goddard

Self Development

Are We Not All Beggars?

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.