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Sometimes the latter days look very bleak. Crime and ugliness are rampant. Iniquity abounds and love has waxed cold, just as prophesied.

One marker for social decline is found in the public schools. A list contrasting the school problems 50 years ago with those today has circulated widely. Reportedly the top problems in the schools 50 years ago were talking, chewing gum, running in the halls, making noise, getting out of line, violating the dress code, and littering. According to the provocative list, today’s school problems are drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape, and robbery. What educational progress!

There are two problems with the familiar school discipline lists. The first problem is that the lists are an invention. They are not the result of research or surveys. The “back then” list catalogues daily disturbances. The modern list is composed of items from a “Safe School” questionnaire. According to Barry O’Neill, who has studied the history of the lists, “as an overall portrait of American schools, this is sensationalist nonsense” (1994, p. 11).

The second problem with the list is more serious. “The natural reaction to this catalog of crimes is to throw up one’s hands in despair” (O’Neill, 1994, p. 11). We feel desperate and powerless. We feel gloom darkening the heavens.

For pilgrims in mortality, the situation has always been the same. The social landscape is littered with misery and foreboding. But believers are not troubled by the snarl and clutter of the mortal scene.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; “persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8–9).

In the latter days it seems likely that Satan has unleashed a barrage of desperate ugliness that is unprecedented in the history of the world. But a gracious God never allows the playing field to be tilted in favor of evil. In balance of evil, God has opened the heavens pouring out a flood of truth, light, and goodness. Perhaps the Holy Ghost is more ready to comfort, bless, and sanctify today than ever in the history of the world.

In addition to the spiritual outpouring, there is also a remarkable increase in secular knowledge.

Never in the entire history of the world has there been anything to compare, even in slight degree, with the great flood of worldly knowledge that has swept the globe in modern times. Marvelous advances have taken place in every field—scientific, historical, sociological, artistic, medicinal, governmental, economic, inventive, atomic, judicial, and so on ad infinitum—all of which has been according to the great foreordained plan for man on earth. These advances were withheld and reserved for the final age of the earth’s temporal continuance” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, sv. Signs of the Times, p. 724).

This newfound knowledge can be used to bless or burden, to build or destroy, to polish or corrode. It is a blessing or a cursing as we choose. We may embrace soul-refining scripture and scientific discovery or turn to soul-destroying corruption. Either influence is readily available.

As part of the knowledge explosion, amazing new research on marriage confirms the vital role of kindness and commitment. At the same time Hollywood portrays a simpleminded and sexualized version of love. There has been a scholarly convergence on the importance of loving and attunement in parenting. But filth is delivered to our living rooms, family rooms, and bedrooms through television and web connections. We may choose to be filled with truths that edify or to walk in darkness at noon-day.

At a time of such moral confusion, Satan puts a magnifying glass to our misery; he magnifies foreboding, anxiety, and depression. In contrast Heavenly Father applies the Son to our challenges; when we feel His touch, all is love, joy, and peace.

“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).

In spite of the latter-day challenges, these are the days long awaited by the ancients. Our experience of the latter days will depend upon the lens we apply in viewing the changing social landscape. This is the dispensation of the fullness of times. We will be full of despair or full of joy depending on our faithlessness or faithfulness.

Thomas Clayton Wolfe effectively described the human tendency to choose misery:

Poor, dismal, ugly, sterile, shabby little man . . . with your scrabble of harsh oaths. . . . Joy, glory, and magnificence were here for you . . . but you scrabbled along . . . rattling a few stale words . . . and would have none of them.

Today’s anxiety and despair have a multitude of practical implications for daily life. For example, it is popular for people to lament that “you can’t let kids play in the neighborhood anymore.” Yet a child is 13,333 times more likely to be beat up by a sibling than to be abducted by a stranger (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994). Clearly the consequences of abduction are more serious than most sibling assaults, but there are only six such abductions per 100,000 U.S. children. The discerning eye will see how evil has become sensationalized to become the common experience of our times—even if our closest brush with actual crime comes through television news. Even if we have real and personal confrontations with crime, we are unwise to let that become the focus of our lives. We will live in panic if we imbibe the spirit of the times; we can live in peace if we are guided by the Holy Spirit.

When our children were young we sometimes hesitated to make the day-long trek to the temple. We worried about their well being. The slightest hint of any problems caused us to scuttle temple plans. As a result we worried too much and went to the temple too little. Eventually we discovered a better way. When the dark cloud of doubt cast a shadow over our plans, we prayed, “Father, we want to go to the temple. We think we have a good babysitter and have taken every precaution. Will you protect our children while we are away?” Invariably the Spirit reassured us. So we went to the temple with quiet confidence. We were blessed by the temple worship and the children were protected. We may seek specific counsel and reassurance from Heavenly Father to deal with prospective evil; rather than live in fear, we can live by faith.

A latter-day prophet has suggested an approach that is not based on dread and fear:

I think it is incumbent upon us to rejoice a little more and despair a little less, to give thanks for what we have and for the magnitude of God’s blessings to us, and to talk a little less about what we may not have or what anxiety may accompany difficult times in this or any generation (Howard W. Hunter, An Anchor to the Souls of Men, Classic Speeches, p. 129).

Still as of old, the antidote for ugliness is beauty. The remedy for despair is faith. The cure for anxiety is faith. The answer to trials is God. The Lord’s latter-day invitation is brim with optimism, confidence, and joy:

Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. . . . And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers! (D&C 128:22–23)

Perhaps these are the worst of times; surely they can be the best of times.


Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Victimization of children. American Psychologist, 49, 173–183.

O’Neill, B. (1994). The invention of the school discipline lists. School Administrator, 51, 8–11.


Big Acts In A Small World

Life in mortality is filled with petty complaints and surly jostling. In fact, mortality is designed to challenge the best in us. Our spirits yearn for peace yet face a tangle of annoyances, disappointments, and injustices. Our spirits are pained by being immersed in a world where thorn and thistle choke out flowers and vines.

I remember reading the story of an elderly woman who showed up every morning at the grocery store and bought only a few items—about enough food for one day. The clerks thought her behavior was odd and speculated about its cause. Did she have no refrigerator? Did she have no room for storage or no place to live? Did she love to shop? Did she go shopping for exercise? They found no persuasive answer. One of the bolder clerks determined to ask her. The next morning as the older woman was checking out, the clerk asked, “Ma’am, every day you come in and buy just a few items. Why is that?” The woman sighed. “You might not know that I am a widow. I live with my nephew. I hate his guts. When I die, I don’t intend to leave him any extra groceries.”

That is the spirit of mortal smallness. We tend to meet badness with badness. We reflexively become filled with petty jealousy, anxiety, small-mindedness, hoarding, and resentment. We are neither at peace with ourselves nor with others. And mortal smallness does not readily relinquish its grip on our souls.

But there is another message inside of us. Our spirits whimper, “God can transform all this dusty ore of mortality into the pure gold of eternity.”

Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord” (D&C 98:3).

In some way, quiet, unexpected, and mysterious to mortals, God will take our disappointments, pains and transform them into blessings if we turn them over to Him. We may be tempted to cling to our grievances; He invites us to surrender them.
Van Wyck Brooks has described people who rise above smallness: “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.”

In each of our lives God places many proximate if imperfect models. I think of Greg, who suffered painful family disappointment and still gives thanks and praise to a perfect Father in everything (see D&C 98:1). I think of Barbara, who resolutely serves in the Church in spite of personal doubts. I think of sweet A. Theodore Tuttle who, dying of cancer, resisted the prayers of loving church members. “I have had a good life and am ready to go Home. If you have faith and goodness to spare, direct it to the poor people of South America.”

The ultimate model of graciousness is the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only absorbed our sins and paid our debts but went the extra mile and voluntarily bore our griefs and carried our sorrows so that His compassion for our suffering would be fully informed (see Isaiah 53 and Alma 7:12). No one has ever been as gracious as He. No one has ever done so much for so many. No one has ever been so resolute in the commitment to bless.

There is a distinctive spirit to work inspired by His goodness. It is filled with light and kindness, which greatly enlarge the soul (see D&C 121:42.). “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” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.240).

Greatness of soul is captured in a story of a kindergartner who showed up at school one day with a note pinned to his jacket. He wore the note proudly. The teacher eventually spotted the note and asked the boy, “Would you like me to read the note?” The boy responded, “Yes, I would.” The teacher removed the note and read: “My son was unhappy this morning because his sister had a note and he did not. Now he has a note and he is happy.”



Dave Barry ironically observed that “Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the past 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.”

It’s human nature to expect people to learn our language, to do things our way, to meet our needs. No where is that more evident than in marriage.

Despite decades of marriage, Nancy has not reorganized her life, personality, and priorities around meeting all my needs. She is amazingly considerate and accommodating. But she still has her own preferences. She has not become another Wally or a servant to Wally. She is a unique person with her own strengths and her own inclinations. She still speaks her own language.

That is exactly God’s point in marriage! We may care very much about each other, but God wants us to do more than settle comfortably into our own ways. He wants us to stretch beyond our egocentric preferences. He wants us to truly learn how to love. And as part of that assignment, He wants us to spend a lifetime learning someone else’s language. We may one day speak it naturally and fluently. But, without effort, we will hardly be able to communicate.

You have probably heard of languages of love—the idea that we all have different preferences for the ways people show us love. Gary Chapman has written a popular book in which he lists five love languages:

Words of affirmation
Quality time
Receiving gifts
Acts of service
Physical touch

His book is good. And I love the concept! Yet his system seems unnecessarily complex. I never remember all five languages. So I use a system with three love languages instead:

Show me. “I’m not convinced by words but by actions.”
Tell me. “I love words and messages of love.”
Touch me. “I love to touch and snuggle.”

I find those three love languages easy to remember and simple to classify. Of course, most of us like to be loved in some mixture of the three languages. We want to see the actions. We value the words. We like to be held. We may value all three to some extent, but each of us likely places greater importance on one or two.

To add challenge to our relationships, our preferences may change over time. For example, sometimes we most cherish what is least available. Heavenly Father wants us to learn to pay attention to our partners and their needs on a continuing basis.

In addition to the three specific languages, I sometimes add two universal languages—ways of expressing love that everyone desires:

Understand me. “Listen to my thoughts and feelings. Try to value them and make sense of them.”
Spend time with me. “Join me in doing things I love to do.”

I wish I could say that I was a quick learner. The truth is different. Because I love (LOVE!) stuff, I tended to give Nancy stuff. When I wanted to show her love, I would buy her a new dress or a lovely mixer. Yet I could tell that Nancy wasn’t excited by those gifts. She would be gracious, but I could tell that I wasn’t speaking her language.

After almost three decades of marriage (Yes. I’m a quick learner!), I decided to try a different approach. I asked myself, how does she like to receive and show love? What are the gifts Nancy has received that she most cherishes? What makes her feel loved? It was instantly clear to me that I had not been speaking her love language. She loves sincere notes. I decided to write her a note for Christmas.

Having never been knowingly guilty of moderation, I decided to review the entire year and write to her about the sweet blessings we had shared that year. It took a lot of time to review my records for the year and write a letter that covered all that time. I worked at it many hours. As Christmas approached, I printed out the 4-page letter on quality paper, put it in an envelope, and put it under our Christmas tree with her name on it.

When Christmas arrived, our youngest, Sara, handed out presents from under the tree. After a time, she got to the letter and handed it to her mother. Nancy was puzzled. But she opened it and read, “Sweetheart, I am so grateful for the joyous experience we have shared this year. . . .” Nancy had read only a few paragraphs of the letter when she began to cry. She turned to me and said, “Wally, this is what I really want for Christmas!”

I instinctively responded, “Yes, Dear. But there will be some great sales after Christmas!” Despite my natural tendency to buy Nancy stuff, I am learning to love her in her language.

Nancy also likes me to help her in the yard. Of course, that is not what I prefer to do. Showing love requires sacrifice. It will always cost us to effectively show our love to another person. But if we wish to learn God’ lessons of love, we must be willing to do be stretched.

Of course, this same principle of customizing our love applies to our relationships with our children, other relatives, and anyone to whom we would convey genuine caring. To be effective, we must notice what matters to them.

There is an exception. In new and casual relationships, we appreciate any evidence of interest. A half-can of broken Pringles may touch our hearts at the beginning. But, in a mature and committed relationship, we must care enough to notice and to act in the ways that are meaningful to our loved ones. This stretches us. It challenges us to be more like the Savior, focused on the needs of others instead of focusing on our own convenience or preferences.

Invitation: Think about your loved one. What expressions of love would be most meaningful to him/her? Are there ways you can better customize your messages of love?

Recommendation: Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a good book for understanding the idea of customizing our love.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her help with this article.


Seek First to Understand

Here’s a great idea …

In their book, Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, John and Julie Gottman say, “Understanding must come before advice. In other words, it’s better to let your partner get all his or her feelings out and for you to try to understand those feelings, before you begin problem solving or exploring what to do.” (p. 216)

In other words …

When our partners are explaining a situation and how it makes them feel, we should not jump to conclusions or offer advice before we have the whole story. If we do, our partners will feel more frustrated and resentful than helped and cared for. Sometimes all our partners need is a sympathetic ear.

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

The next time your partner is sharing their feelings with you about an issue, take time to listen to everything they have to say. Ask clarifying questions. Check with your partner to see if you understood them correctly. When you understand your partner’s feelings, then you can decide together if the situation needs solving.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at, follow us at or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage.


Keys to Vibrant Relationships Are Common Sense but not Common Practice

Here’s a great idea …

In their book, The Marriage Garden, H. Wallace Goddard and James P. Marshall say, “When we are vibrant people, we bring far more to our relationships than when we are languishing. The keys to being vibrant are common sense even if they are not common practice. We enjoy and appreciate the simple things in life. We cherish the best of our experiences. We look forward to the future. We use our strengths regularly. And we find ways to serve.” (p. 168)

In other words …

It’s difficult for us to have healthy, positive relationships when we are not emotionally healthy as individuals. When we better ourselves we are able to bring more to our relationships.

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

Spend some time increasing your emotional health this week by expressing gratitude for what you have, being hopeful about the future, and using your strengths and gifts to serve others. This should give your relationship with your partner a boost.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at, follow us at or contact your local county Extension agent.


Grow Strong By Challenging Yourself

Here’s a great idea …

In their book, What Happy People Know, Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth say, “The human mind, body, and spirit thrive on struggle and challenge, just as a muscle thrives on exercise. Satisfaction without effort doesn’t create happiness. It creates only dissipation, alienation, boredom, weakness, and a sense of worthlessness.” (p. 164)

In other words …

Few things give us a greater sense of accomplishment than when we work hard to complete a task. We just don’t get the same feeling of pleasure when we finish a project that doesn’t require much effort. The more we can pour ourselves into the things we do the more contentment and satisfaction we can find in our lives.

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

Find something you can do that you enjoy, but will challenge you. It can be exercising, reading a book, or working on a new project. When you’ve finished, take some time to appreciate the effort it took and the feeling of accomplishment.

To find out more …

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


The Trick to Loving Children Effectively

Do you want to know the trick to loving children effectively?

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, Soft-Spoken Parenting, H. Wallace Goddard says, “There is a trick to loving children effectively. Effective loving requires us to deliver what is important to the specific child we are loving. It is not enough to say ‘I love you!’ -even with gusto. We can tell a daughter that she is loved, but she may prefer you play with her. We can tell our son he is loved, but he may prefer that you throw the ball with him. One child might want snuggling while another loves story time. Each child is different.” (p. 147)

In other words …

We all have our own love language, which is the way we most prefer to be shown love. The major love languages are “Show Me, Tell Me, and Touch Me.” We can discover our children’s love language by paying attention to how they show love to others and by noticing what they ask us to do with or for them.

How you can use this idea to have a better life …

Learn your child’s love language and be willing to love him or her in that way. It may involve snuggling, playing with, or reading to your child. Let them teach you how they want to be loved.

To find out more …

about parenting, check out The Parenting Journey or See the World Through My Eyes programs at, follow us at or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Goddard’s Soft-Spoken Parenting.


If You Want to be Happy, Stop Focusing on Your Problems

Here’s a great idea …

In her book, Why Talking is Not Enough, Susan Page says, “Most couples believe, ‘If only we could solve our problems, then we could be happy together.’ The opposite is actually true: if you focus first on being happy together your problems will diminish.” (p. 54)

In other words …

Sometimes we get so bogged down by the problems in our relationships that we lose sight of why we fell in love in the first place. If we choose to focus on the good things in our partner and our relationship, then our problems will not seem so great.

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

Spend some time remembering all the reasons you fell in love with your partner. Look through old pictures, reliving happy times you have experienced together. The more positive feeling you have about your relationship the better you will be able to deal with problems when they arise.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at, follow us at or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Page’s book, Why Talking is Not Enough.


The Joys of Anticipation

Do you know that anticipating an event can help you enjoy it more?

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, Happiness, David Lykken says, “I am certain that the sum of the enjoyment I have experienced in my long life would have been greatly diminished had I not been able to anticipate future reunions, accomplishments, rewards and other satisfactions…” (p. 27)

In other words …

The beginning of a new year is a time when many of us look towards the future and anticipate great things to come. Research shows that when we daydream about and anticipate an event in advance we can get more pleasure from it.

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

What do you have to look forward to this week and in the upcoming year? Spend a little time imagining what it will be like when these things happen. The more we look for and anticipate the good, the happier our lives can be.

To find out more …

about personal well-being, check out The Personal Journey or Managing Stress programs at, follow us at contact your local county Extension agent. You may also enjoy reading Lykken’s Happiness.