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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.

Self Development

Making Grace Personal

Stephen Robinson was the person who awakened me to the new LDS understanding of grace. He replaced my spiritual do-it-yourself attitude with an understanding of the infinite and eternal atonement. His book, Believing Christ, has changed my life—and the lives of thousands of Latter-day Saints.

Maybe Hafen, Wilcox, or Givens or someone else awakened you. Thank heaven that the light has dawned! We understand now better than ever that we cannot save ourselves. We can allow ourselves to be humbled. We can throw ourselves on His merits, mercy, and grace. But we are saved through His redemption. His is the only name under heaven whereby we can be saved (See Acts 4:12).

That doctrine is central to the Book of Mormon message. And the Bible’s message. Yet it required a new generation of messengers to break down our cultural resistance.

It seems to me that there is one thing still missing even after this remarkable revolution. It is a great first step to recognize that Jesus is a Savior who saves. It is quite another thing to fully accept that His saving can reach through my weakness, my contrariness, my fallenness and encircle me in the arms of His love (See Lehi’s words in 2 Nephi 1:15).

It is great to know that Jesus and His plan are so amazing. But it doesn’t change anything for me or any of us until we accept that He loves and fully intends to save us. The plan must become personal to be meaningful.

For years I believed and taught that Jesus loves us with an incomprehensible love. But I did not accept that He loved me because I knew that I often acted foolishly, selfishly, and wickedly. I often made bad choices while knowing better. As a result, I did not truly believe that He could love me or rescue me. I felt that His love could not reach past my badness.

I wish I could say that I matured into a wiser view of His redemptiveness. That’s not what happened. No. He tricked me into accepting His love.

When I was serving as a bishop, He sent a deeply troubled woman to visit with me. She described a life that was filled with the wreckage of bad choices and regrettable behaviors. I saw little hope for her. When she asked for counsel I was worried. What hope could I offer to someone whose life was in total shambles.

But then something astonishing happened. God reached to one of His troubled children through a weak messenger. I found myself telling this troubled woman that there were three things the Lord wanted her to do. I had no idea what they were. But the Lord told me there were three things. When I wrote the number “1” on a piece of paper, a clear, wise, loving, and encouraging message came. We discussed the idea. When I wrote the number “2” on the paper, another wise and loving bit of counsel came; likewise, with #3. God loved her, taught her, and sent her forth with hope and a plan.

I was dumbfounded. I was astonished by His love for even His most troubled children. I knelt on the floor and shook my head: “I had no idea how much You love your children! I just didn’t know.” If He could and did love her despite all that she had described to me, then He must also love me the same way.

Ever since that day, I have rejoiced in His love. I still grieve at my mistakes. But I repent more gladly and live more fully because I know that His love extends to me.

Dozens of readings of Believing Christ helped me understand the plan. I grew in my love and appreciation for Him. But His message did not become fully personal until God broke through my defenses and surprised me with His love!

I suspect that there are many saints who are committed appreciators of Jesus but not yet surrendered disciples. How do we move from appreciators to disciples? What are the steps?

I don’t know. He had to trick me. And the way He breaks through your defenses will be different from the way He broke through mine.

I suppose that we can lower our defenses. We can learn of His magnificent plan. But the experience of His love will always be a miracle. Maybe the best we can do is pray for it and embrace it when it comes. And we must trust that, because of His love, He does stand ready to save and redeem us. He carries each of us to glory.

As the years go by, I become more and more aware of “His relentless redemptiveness.” Story after story in scripture deliver the same message: God is faithful. He presides in our messy learning process. When we are foolish and contrary, He offers a fresh start through the atonement of Jesus Christ. With infinite patience, He oversees our development toward godliness, line upon line.

If you haven’t already felt that life-changing love, I wish I could tell you how to find it. I pray that you will persist in seeking it until you are swamped by the personal good news: Jesus loves YOU and intends to teach and bless you until you are ready to go to your Heavenly Home and join Him in the work of redemption.

Self Development

Getting Heavenly Guidance

Our friend John wondered why there were so few crickets. They used to make a racket every summer evening. Now they were almost silent. What was the reason? Pesticides? Winter freeze? Migration?

Then he got hearing aids. The first night after getting those devices, he asked his wife, “The crickets are so loud! Have they been that loud all along?”

Many of us know someone whose hearing has declined and finds it difficult to interpret the voices around them. The same thing can happen to our “spiritual hearing”. Over time our sensitivity to spiritual messages can diminish or disappear. We can become spiritually deaf.

“Ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45).

There is an older high priest I know. When asked about his greatest spiritual experiences, he still referenced his mission which occurred 60 years ago. While he certainly should remember and treasure wonderful spiritual experiences during his mission, it is unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge any more recent meaningful encounters with the Spirit. Has he stopped seeking the Spirit or craving heaven’s counsel? Does he imagine that the Spirit has gone silent regarding his life?

I contrast that high priest with David Biliter. When he was in our stake presidency, he typically began temple recommend interviews by asking, “Do you mind sharing with me the last time you felt the Spirit?” Every time he asked me that question, we were both flooded by heavenly light. Just asking the question invited the Spirit into our lives.

Our responsiveness to God is like being a horse on whom God is the Rider. When he pulls the bridle one way or the other, a reluctant horse may resist—having his own course in mind. A good horse will respond to the direction. A great horse will turn when God merely leans in the saddle. Our whole orientation can be welded to His will. But only if we welcome it.

How do we enjoy more of His influence and guidance in our lives? There are stock answers to that question. But those stock answers can be somewhat shallow. And they suggest there is a standard “one-size-fits-all” process to follow in order to listen to the Spirit. That is not the case. Each of us has our own communication style and learning process. Our Father understands us individually and customizes the way that He reaches out to each of us. Instead of trying to follow some standard recommendations, we should explore how God tailors His communications to us.

For some, the surest way to bring Him present is music. For example, I cannot play Glorious by the One Voice Children’s Choir without weeping with joy. It always touches me!

Others are inspired by nature. Time spent in God’s creation makes a heavenly connection for them.

Some connect best through prayer. Yet there many ways to pray. When we try to follow someone else’s formula, we may get frustrated. Elder Douglas Callister recommended that instead of offering the same rote prayers every day, “Choose what you want to talk to Father about. Just one, or two, or three things, not a great deal. But talk to him the way a child talks to a father that is much loved. When you get up from your knees, you’ll remember what you prayed for and it won’t be the same thing as the night before or the night which follows.” (“Take Control”, Devotional at Snow College)

Some may be uplifted by testifying. I love speaking and writing about God’s amazing work! As I share, He teaches me new things.

Some find the Divine through pondering. Some connect with the Spirit by asking questions and then listening for answers to come.

We can learn to hear the voice of God in scripture. There are thousands of different ways to find Him from reading and reflecting to using study guides and studying with friends. Our study program will change as our needs change. And they will vary by our personality.

What works for you? As you think of the best experiences you have had with the Spirit, how have those experiences been achieved? In what way does Heavenly Father connect with you individually? How do you best seek His voice and receive His messages? How can you have meaningful experiences with the Spirit more often?

Each of us must earnestly seek to find the way to cultivate the Spirit in our unique individual lives. The Holy Ghost is dedicated to the very serious business of getting us through the mess of mortality and back to Father. It makes sense for us to cooperate with Him.

If you had the opportunity for a great historical figure to visit you, how would you prepare for that visit? Chances are you would take that opportunity very seriously. Probably you would prepare carefully. You might think of questions you would want to ask. You likely would listen carefully and respectfully. You might earnestly take notes. You would probably reflect back upon the conversation afterwards. So shouldn’t we approach the opportunity to spend time with Heaven’s Messenger as seriously? We should grab that opportunity as often as we can! We should notice and honor His presence. We should be respectful of impressions He shares with us. We should give serious consideration to the truths He delivers and take action upon them.

For that reason I keep a small joy journal. Every day I record the things that went well. Naturally that includes any messages from Heaven. They come wrapped in joy. They inspire, comfort, and guide. I want to notice them, remember them, and guide my life by them.

Invitation: What could you do to be more mindful of God’s messages? What can you do to better guide your life by them?

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

Recommendation: Consider reading a book on personal revelation such as Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald N. Lund or Personal Revelation: How to Recognize Promptings of the Spirit by JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton

Self Development

Who Deserves Our Compassion?

A good friend called to talk about a difficult uncle. He is distant and prickly. She is tired of trying to be nice to him when he shows only rudeness to her. I suggested that she try to understand his struggles and pains. She commented that he doesn’t deserve her compassion.

Deserve her compassion? It struck me instinctively that the proper question is never one of deservingness. None of us deserves compassion. We are all narrow and selfish. We all deserve condemnation.

Yet “if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all soon be blind and toothless” (variously attributed).

We humans expect mercy and compassion for our misdeeds while offering justice and retribution to others for their misdeeds. We cluck at those who text while driving. But, when we text (or check movie schedules, or read emails) while driving, it is only for truly vital matters.

We resent any snubs from the people around us. Yet we ourselves sniff at or ignore unnumbered people every day.

We all know this is wrong but it is so common that our offences become like Muzak at the mall; we hardly notice. We become Pharisees humming Come, Come Ye Saints.

Occasionally our consciences tweak us. We feel the discomfort of acting at odds with our values. And we make a choice. We set aside conscience or we embrace it.

Let’s imagine we embrace conscience. For the woman dealing with a difficult uncle, it may be impossible to go directly from pain to compassion. She may need first to feel God’s compassion for her. He grieves at her suffering. He feels her pain personally and profoundly. When we allow ourselves to be filled with His compassion, it becomes possible for us to show compassion. When we have a vibrant, loving relationship with Him, it becomes possible to be His messengers.

How do we get there? What if we feel like spiritual failures? What if we can’t seem to find His love despite a lifetime of trying?

I don’t have any easy answer to those questions. In my case, Heavenly Father tricked me. He showed me how much He loved His most broken and desperate children. As I witnessed His love for them, I finally stopped resisting His love for me. I finally sang the song of redeeming love in a personal way.

I don’t know how He will reach you. But I am sure it is always good for us to drop our defenses against Him. It is good to beg for an outpouring of His love. I cannot say what your path will be but I know that He is anxious to fill you, to bless you, to love you, to heal you, and to partner with you.

If God weeps with the suffering of His wicked children (Moses 7), He certainly grieves over our struggles. Feeling His compassion and devotion prepares us to act like Him—offering compassion to our fellow travelers.

Because we are in a fallen world, we are all injured, broken, damaged, and fragmented. Rather than scoff at each other’s injuries, we can be kind; After all, “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We can offer a crust of bread and a kind word to every person we meet. We can work to notice each person God places in our paths.

When we are filled with the love of God, we can turn toward people with warm and loving curiosity: What unique gift has God given this person? What can I learn from this child of God? What might God call me to do for this person?

The surest way to draw heaven into our lives is to show compassion—undeserved compassion. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

I love Joni Hilton’s invitation: “Next time you’re in line at the market, or pumping gas, or in the workplace, notice the people around you and the quick conclusions you’re tempted to draw. Catch yourself judging unfairly and rewind the tape. Instead, see this person as a child of God who is loved and hoped for. Know that a Patriarchal Blessing awaits this person. Realize they cheered in the Pre-mortal World when they heard the Plan of Happiness. Ask a silent prayer to see if your path was meant to cross theirs today, to help them and bring them the truth” (Joni Hilton, Meridian Magazine, Are You More Judgmental than You Think? http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12281)

It feels good to show love.

Invitation:

Ask Heavenly Father for the gift to really see people—especially to see them as He sees them. Pause to offer compassion, to pray for them, to appreciate them. If appropriate, ask them about themselves. Enter their worlds with interest and compassion. Express appreciation. Pray for them.

Recommendations:

I recommend that everyone read Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ.

Self Development

What Beauty Have You Experienced Today?

Here’s a great idea …

In their publication, The Personal Journey, Wally Goddard and James Marshall say, “In the hike of life, we can focus on the obstacles along the trail or the beauty that surrounds us. Those who find beauty in daily life travel well.”

In other words …

Our lives will always be filled with both blessing and challenges. If we choose to focus on the challenges, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged, but if instead we focus on the blessings and beauty our lives can be filled with joy and optimism.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

What beauty or good can you find in your life? What do you have to be grateful for? Try writing down one or two things for which you are grateful each day. The more you look for the good in your life, the more happiness you will find.

To find out more …

about personal well-being, check out The Personal Journey or Managing Stress programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife contact your local county Extension agent.

Self Development

Forgiveness Leads to Freedom

Here’s a great idea …

In their book, What Happy People Know, Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth say, “Forgiveness doesn’t alter what has happened. The memory remains; the hurt is unchanged. But forgiveness grants us new eyes, through the grace of love, that see the hurt in a different way.” (p. 106)

In other words …

Sometimes when someone has hurt us, we will hang on to the hate and anger. We refuse to forgive because we think that by so doing we are excusing what the person has done. That is a mistake. Forgiveness is less about the other person and more about releasing ourselves from the feelings that hold us hostage. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

Are there people you need to forgive? Do you have any anger or resentment tucked away? Choose to forgive and set yourself free to live a happier, fuller life.

To find out more …

about personal well-being, check out The Personal Journey or Managing Stress programs at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife contact your local county Extension agent. You may also enjoy reading What Happy People Know.