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Self Development

Self Development

The Perils of Excellence

If we were to create a caricature of the typical American commencement address, it would entail Famous Person X coming to say to a group of distracted students: “Take this one virtue (for which I am duly famous) and make it the theme of your life.” Many in the audience would immediately sense that we will never be as good as Dr. X at that great quality and feel mildly (but permanently) disheartened. Still, the press grabs snippets of the great counsel and splashes it on page A-1. Many are in awe of the insight. Few are changed by it.

My purpose is not to mock those accomplished souls who counsel our graduates. It is to argue for companionship, balance, and mutual respect among the virtues. No virtue by itself is sufficient.

For a contemporary example, William Bennett has lectured Americans about values for many of years. Lately he has gained additional renown for losing millions of dollars on gambling. He protests that nothing he did was illegal. Perhaps his millions lost in gambling would be considered only expensive recreation if each of those dollars were matched with a dollar given to charity. In the absence of a higher cause, his gambling losses appear to be a selfish addiction.

Honesty is often touted as if it were the ruling virtue and all others were only peasants. “I must be completely honest” is a common introduction to an unwelcome lecture or the prelude to a withering assault on another human. Honesty without respect is just self-righteousness.

I have learned many lessons about balance from my own mistakes. I left for a mission while still startlingly naïve. I had grown up among honest, sincere, considerate relatives in a family enclave in Emigration Canyon. Having grown up among such good people can be a major disadvantage when required to navigate among people who may be relatively opaque, even deceptive. As I became aware of my great lack of discernment, I began to pray for heaven’s help. I even went on preparation day to the community library to consult psychology texts (which is a sure evidence of my naiveté—thinking that psychology texts would help me understand normal human behavior). Unexpectedly, I found my mind filled with greater understanding of motives as I sought that information in support of my mission duties.

But there were thorns in the rosebush of my newfound insight: creeping cynicism. As I began to detect people’s hidden motives, I began to see the worst in human nature. Yet I knew that new insight should serve a higher cause than undermining human sympathy. So I began to pray for charity, that divine ability to see people sympathetically even redemptively. Discernment without charity is mere disparaging. As I have sought insight in balance with charity, I have been granted the gift of discernment promised in my patriarchal blessing.

Another example: the desire to help must be matched by wisdom and good sense. I have sometimes excused my faulty methods of helping with my good intentions. God asks us to be wise as serpents while being as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Balance is also necessary in learning. When asked by a student why some very bright people leave the Church, a respected teacher suggested that maybe it is possible to be too smart. While I love and admire that teacher, I recommend a different answer. When our smartness and knowledge is not matched with faith and humility, we are vulnerable to apostasy. “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). Knowledge needs faith as a companion.

When our scrupulousness in keeping the commandments is not matched with charity for those who may be less able or less spiritually mature, we become pharisaic. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

The importance of balance is clearly evident in family life. When our skills at communication are not fully matched with a desire to bless, we become tyrants. When our desire to teach our children is not yoked and harmonized with a commitment to nurture them, we are only despots (D&C 121). When we nurture children without teaching true principles, we are not pleasing to the Lord (D&C 68:25).

Sometimes excellence has come to mean a narrow focus on a single quality. A solitary virtue is a very lonely, austere fact. Godly virtues travel with companions.

Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (2 Peter 1:5–7).

The focus on a single virtue to the exclusion of others can be very dangerous. Yet none of us is perfect. Our mortal qualities define our mortal limitations. We simply are not able to be everything we should be while still mortals. How can we reconcile the reality of our limitations with the need for balance?

Probably there is a place in each of our lives for three courses:

1. We can call on God for those essential qualities to do what we are called to do. He can enable us to do what is beyond our ability. Elder George Q. Cannon counseled the saints

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections…. No man ought to say, “Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.” He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things and to give gifts that will eradicate them…. That is the design of God concerning his children.” (Gospel Truth, vol. 1, p. 196)

The enthusiastic pray for temperance. The anxiously engaged seek humble submission. The creative beseech heaven for integrity and obedience.

2. We can draw on the strengths of those who are different from us. This is especially important in a marriage. While Nancy’s reflectiveness and sensitivity may be annoying when I am in a hurry, she regularly rescues me from self-serving rush. My mother’s exuberance radiated from my father’s tapestry of faith and peace. Our differences will bless us or afflict us depending upon our charity.

3. We wait patiently for that perfect day. Our work of growth simply will not be finished when we leave this world for the next. Yet we actively seek his refining influence.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day (D&C 50:24).

Life is intended to teach us that we simply cannot do what must be done without divine help. God can provide patience for the enthusiastic, a partner for the flawed, greater maturity for those who are earnest. We can look forward to that day in eternity when we will enjoy a fullness, when we reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Until that welcome day, we are wise to seek balance and call upon divine grace.

Self Development

Abandoning Anger

by H. Wallace Goddard

Under the banner of honesty, anger has been made into a virtue. Under the banner of psychological well-being, the expression of anger has been made into a necessity. From the beginning, it was not so.

Years ago when I was serving as a branch president, a young adult in our ward came to see me. She explained that she had just been with her therapist. The therapist was helping her work through many issues including a feeling that she had been neglected and deserted by her father. The therapist invited her to take part in an unusual exercise. She invited the young woman to mentally bring her now-deceased father into the room. Sit him in a chair before her. And give him hell. Tell him about her pain, disappointment, and years of loneliness. “Tell him just how you feel. Let him have it.”

After she described the bitter confrontation to me, she paused. “What do you think of that idea?” Perhaps she asked me because she knows that I relentlessly test every idea by the teachings of Jesus. I did not have any pre-considered response to her question, but I had an impression. “I think it depends on what your object is. If you want self-justification, there is nothing as useful as blame. But if you want peace, I recommend a different course.” I told her that, like her therapist, I recommended that she mentally invite her father to sit in front of her. But rather than stand and berate him, I suggested that she kneel at his feet and invite counsel from him. She might ask, “Dad, if you had not been sick, if you had not been overwhelmed by mom’s demands, if you had been able to do what was in your heart, what might we have done together? What daddy-daughter dates might we have had? Tell me about the times that we might have stayed up late laughing, snacking and talking. Tell me about the shopping and movies we might have shared. Tell me how you love me.” 

If our souls will be peaceful, our minds can hear the words of comfort from those who love us from the other side of the vail. If we let them tell us all that is in their hearts, our pain will be swallowed up in assurance. Immortals gladly do what weak mortals struggle to do.

Any time we presume to judge another person, we are usurping the role of God. “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). The Lord’s discussion of motes and beams (See Matthew 7:1-5) underscores the mortal risks of such an undertaking. Criticism is always presumptuous and ungracious.

And that is the problem with anger. It presumes that my view is the standard of truth. It exalts my needs while dismissing yours. It fills me with indignation in my least righteous moments. It assumes that the best way for me to help you is to paint your errors in vibrant colors.

When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other. (Jeffrey R. Holland, 1984)

Years ago Heavenly Father taught me that I did not have the right to correct anyone I did not love. That seemed reasonable enough. Little did I realize the trap at the time. When I feel genuinely loving toward someone, I lose interest in correcting them. I just want to love and bless them.

All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. 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. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241, emphasis added)

The Prophet’s observation is elegantly harmonious with God’s ultimate commandment as expressed in Luke:

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:


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 6:36-38

When we are filled with judgment and anger we make our worst moments into some ultimate reality. We forget charity and love and eternity. Today’s indigestion defines eternity’s relationships and truths.

It is true that God gives us permission to reprove with sharpness–but only when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. We only have the right to chide and challenge when we are His messengers with a specific commission. And we must be willing to “[show] forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (D&C 121:43-44). That does not describe our routine bouts of anger.

Let all Latter-day Saints learn that the weaknesses of their brethren are not sins. When men or women undesignedly commit a wrong, do not attribute that to them as a sin. Let us learn to be compassionate one with another; let mercy and kindness soften every angry and fretful temper, that we may become long-suffering and beneficial in all our communications one with another. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.273)

Brigham Young challenges us to keep angry feelings and words out of our homes:

In our daily pursuits in life, of whatever nature and kind, Latter-day Saints, and especially those who hold important positions in the Kingdom of God, should maintain a uniform and even temper, both when at home and when abroad. They should not suffer reverses and unpleasant circumstances to sour their natures and render them fretful and unsocial at home, speaking words full of bitterness and biting acrimony to their wives and children, creating gloom and sorrow in their habitations, making themselves feared rather than loved by their families. Anger should never be permitted to rise in our bosoms, and words suggested by angry feelings should never be permitted to pass our lips. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.203 – p.204, emphasis added)

The Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, makes keen observations about anger:

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p.2, Harper & Row)

It used to be thought that Type A or intense personalities were at greater risk of heart disease. Research reported by Redford Williams showed that it was not the intensity that killed people. It is hostility and cynicism. In fact, he aptly titled his book, “Anger Kills.” When we feed and celebrate our anger, when we see others in the worst light, we are destroying our own hearts. Anger is like taking poison and waiting for that hated person to die.

The doctrines of the world teach us that we must get our anger out or it will fester and come out in monstrous forms. It will destroy you!

But research tells a different story: Expressing anger is not cleansing and it is not cathartic. It is addictive. The more we talk about our anger, the angrier we get.

When we are flooded with anger we have more than one option. Rather than spewing hot lava on the heads of offending humans, we can seek the divine gift of forgivingness. We can beg Heaven for compassion. We can cry out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18). Replace this fretful clog of humanness with divine grace. Help me to see as Thou seest. Teach me to love.

The best research on marriage shows that even the best marriage partners get angry. But partners in the best marriages are better than those in poorer marriages at soothing and bounding their conflict. They are better at accepting influence from each other. They see each other in gracious, forgiving ways. They show more kindness. Maybe we never entirely overcome the impulse to anger in mortality. Yet we never stop trying.

Again and again we are reminded of that new commandment Jesus gave for those who be true disciples. Sandwiched between His washing of the apostles’ feet and His inexpressible agony in the garden, He commanded us, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Anger is not the expression of some unhappy but very real truth that must be shared and discussed. It is one of Satan’s ancient tools to eclipse love with indignation. If we learn to give family members the benefit of every doubt, reason patiently through every problem, and keep their greatest strengths always central in our minds, we still fall short. Only when Heaven opens and gives us a glimpse of the eternal stature of those who are our partners, brothers, sisters, and children do we understand the great honor and trust that we enjoy. The great truths always come from Heaven.

 

Notes
Holland, J. R. (1984). A robe, a ring, and a fatted calf. In Brigham Young University 1983-84 fireside and devotional speeches, pp. 51-58. Provo, UT: University Publications.

Self Development

Why Doctrine Doesn’t Change Us

By Wallace Goddard · January 22, 2019

I love the insightful statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer:

“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” (Little Children by Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1986, p.17).

We all know the doctrines that are essential to successful family life. Yet we aren’t doing very well at applying those doctrines within our families. Research in the field of Family Life shows that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have distinctive beliefs about family, but our practices mirror those of the surrounding culture.

For example, we have been taught to be peacemakers, yet how many of us frequently find fault with our spouses?

Jesus was a perfect example of compassion, yet how often does our compassion fail with our children?

The scriptures make it clear that we are to be forgiving, yet how often do we harbor grievances towards family members and accost them with those grievances?

What’s wrong? Why isn’t doctrine changing us?

Elder Packer said that the doctrine must be understood to be transformative. And understanding doesn’t happen all at once. It take persistence.

If ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, ye shall have eternal life, 2 Ne. 31:20

Change is not an immediate one-step process.

Let’s imagine that you attend a Sunday School class that inspires you with the teaching of pure doctrine. You leave class wanting to be a better saint. What happens next?

1. Our first reaction to learning new doctrines is approval. We nod in appreciation and agreement. But then we don’t necessarily reflect upon how to apply that doctrine to our discipleship or take action based on what we learned. So, most doctrines never make it into our family life practices. They sit on the shelf of our minds like so many lovely gift books that never get read.

2. Life rattles us. Maybe we hurt one of our children with our impatience. When we settle down, we are pained by our hypocrisy. We know better. We know we should be better but we keep doing things the old way. So we feel guilt. We don’t know how to apply the doctrine—or we don’t know how to interrupt our fallenness with his holiness. We are stuck and sad in our habits of thinking and acting.

3. We resolve to do better. We experiment. Often we may feel awkward and inept. For example, we make a sincere attempt to notice all that is best about our spouse. Maybe we make an effort to compliment our spouse. But then the next day our spouse does something that irritates us and instead of continuing to show appreciation, we are back to finding fault. We hit a snag and our glowing doctrinal resolve falls apart. At this point, we are likely to give up and return to our old habits.

But there is an alternative.

When our first attempts are not fully successful or when we fall into old habits, we try again. We may ask ourselves, “Have I figured out the best way for me to do this?” If we are attempting to see our spouse through the lens of charity—the love of Christ—we might start our day earnestly praying for help in doing so. Perhaps if we find ourselves focusing on a fault, we stop and decide to remember several of the best qualities of our sweetheart. Or maybe as you ponder the doctrine, you will come up with an application idea that will work best for you.

As we find ways that work for us, we learn how to support a habit. The new practice becomes natural. We maintain the practice. This is authentic living.

Then a new challenge arises as God teaches us new doctrine and issues us new challenges.

Another example of using the change process: We decide to never make pronouncements to our children when we are irritated. Maybe we learn to say, “I need to think about that.” We settle our spirits so that the doctrine of compassion can find its way into our minds, hearts, and mouths.

We will not succeed at turning doctrine into discipleship unless we are persistent—unless we understand the doctrine with our whole beings. We must also call on God for mercy in changing not only our minds but also our hearts and our practices.

Family life is the laboratory for discipleship. It, more than any other place, provides us practice in turning doctrine into discipleship. If we are humble enough to recognize our need for repentance and heavenly help and if we are determined, we will be changed. But discipleship does not come lightly.

Doctrine changes us when it is understood and applied. It does not change us when we work half-heartedly at discipleship.

As soon as we have mastered one piece of music, God will celebrate with us. Then He will offer another to learn. Growth continues and is presided over by one who knows perfectly how to turn the ordinary laborers of the earth into heavenly disciples. He loves us and never tires of helping us.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:4-8)

Recommendations: For help applying gospel principles and covenants to the challenges of marriage, I recommend my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage. In the area of parenting, I recommend my short discussion, Bringing Up Your Children in Light and Truth.

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

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.