Self Development

JESUS WARS—THEN AND NOW

Philip Jenkins, the renowned historian, has observed that Christian orthodoxy “was hammered out in a process that was painfully slow, gradual, and often bloody” (2010, p. 17). Over the centuries of the early church councils, bishops and churchmen fought to keep the doctrine pure. They feared the wrath of God if they allowed it to be tainted by false doctrine. They were quite willing to use violence to intimidate or destroy those they saw as heretics.

“Monks especially served as private militias, holy head-breakers whom charismatic bishops could turn out at will to sack pagan temples, rough up or kill opponents, and overawe rival theologians” (Jenkins, 2010, p. 28).

Over the decades and centuries, official doctrine swung wildly depending upon which faction was best armed, best connected, and most willing to be violent. “Throughout the fifth century, the outcome of church debates depended absolutely on gaining the favor of the imperial family—and especially the royal women” (p. 101).

Ramsay MacMullen, the prominent professor of Roman and Christian history, estimated that many people died in these doctrinal squabbles. “Our sources for the two and a quarter centuries following Nicaea allow a very rough count of the victims of creedal differences: not less than twenty five thousand deaths” (2006, p.56). Jenkins wryly observed that “in any theological struggle, the first thousand years are always the bitterest” (p. 234).

Who knew that theology could be so violent?

Even More Violence

Herbert J. Muller, the American historian, wrote that “the First Crusade…set off on its two-thousand mile jaunt by massacring Jews, plundering and slaughtering all the way from the Rhine to the Jordan. ‘In the temple of Solomon,’ wrote the ecstatic cleric, Raimundus de Agiles, ‘one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous Judgment of God!’” (Peters, 1977)

It is estimated that at least one million innocents were killed in the crusades. The inquisition took another 350,000 lives. Witch-hunting is estimated to have killed between 100,000 and 1 million people. Apparently Christians are quite as glad to kill as any group.

It should cause us profound pain and deep reflection that the followers of Jesus have so often been willing to kill each other and those we saw as wicked. The Mountain Meadow Massacre reminds us that we LDS are not exempt.

Early American Contention

Unfortunately contention has not been limited to ancient theological squabbles or medieval conquering. Contention was apparently even a problem among the relatively righteous people visited by Jesus in the Americas. His first order of business after properly introducing Himself was to state that the members of the First Presidency of Heaven are completely united (3 Nephi 11:27). We might wonder why Jesus felt that He needed to state the obvious. Maybe His statement can teach us a vital truth. The members of the godhead are not mild personalities. They most certainly have strong opinions. Yet we never imagine the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost having a heated debate or falling into sullen silence.

Perhaps Jesus is making the point that they are united because of their perfect goodness not because of milquetoast mildness. And, as our goodness grows, each of us will be less vulnerable to contention even if we have very strong opinions.

In true human fashion, those early Americans were apparently arguing about a simple doctrine and practice, the details of baptism.

And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. (3 Nephi 11:28)

There should be no disputations among us. Rather than kill each other over doctrinal differences, Jesus is inviting us to follow heaven’s directions and to treat each other gently. Incidentally, Latter-day Saints have a glorious advantage in doctrinal deliberations. We have prophets to teach us! Think how blessed that is in contrast to the human tradition of debate, heckling, bribery, and influence-buying.

Jesus then becomes very direct:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29, emphasis added)

When we contend with each other, we are doing Satan’s work. We may think we are defending truth and goodness. (Humans always use that excuse!) But if we are stirring up contention, we are doing Satan’s work—whether we are a radio commentator, a TV superstar, a member of a gospel doctrine class, or a disappointed spouse. When we have the spirit of contention, we have alienated ourselves from God.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (3 Nephi 11:30)

Formula for Contention

Contention is the default setting for the natural man. This applies not only to large groups of people in historical time but also to all close relationships today.

There is a very orderly progression that leads to contention:

  1. We have an opinion. Check. That is almost universal among humans.
  2. We think we’re right. Humans have what psychologists call naïve realism. Each of us fails to see the ways in which our own views are limited and distorted by bias. So each of us believes that we get it right—while no one else does.
  3. Someone else has a different view. This is inevitable. Given a different set of experiences and different perceptual lenses, each of us will see things differently.
  4. We think they’re wrong. This is a small but vital step on the way to contention. Rather than trying to benefit from others’ perspectives and experiences, we simply want to straighten them out.
  5. 5. We see it as our job to correct them. Another small but vital step. I think there are three preconditions to righteous correcting: a. we have a stewardship that justifies our correction; b. we genuinely love the person we aim to correct; c. we have prepared ourselves to correct with a spirit of gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned (See D&C 121:41). When we fail to restrain our correction after falling short on these tests, we are growing the spirit of contention.
  6. We correct with a closed mind. We really don’t want the person to muddle our sensible position with irrelevant nonsense; we do not want to listen to comprehend their perspective. We simply want them to submit to our superior truth. We are impatient. We even begin to vilify the opponent. “Maybe they’re not honest. Maybe they’re evil.”
  7. We allow resistance to make us more determined and aggressive. Rather than pause to understand, we stomp on the accelerator. We become like Tom Cruise on a motorcycle.

Contention is underway! It is easy to see why contention remains so popular. It is so natural and satisfying. It also serves Satan’s purposes.

As the examples from early church councils and the Crusades illustrate, contention is most vile and indefensible when it claims a holy cause.

Local Contention

Let’s consider casualties of contention that occur close to home. In our wards we may stir contention with others because they do not do as we think they should. For example, we sometimes shame people because they do not dress modestly. We generally fail to factor into our thinking the offenders’ backgrounds, budgets, and intentions. And we may hold them accountable for creating inappropriate thoughts by the way they dress instead of holding ourselves accountable for managing our lust. Jesus does not call us to shame His children or generate conflict in His name.

Contention is also commonplace in family life. When our spouses irritate or disappoint us in some way, we rub salt into their wounds: “You’d think that you would remember that by now!”

With our children we often turn an invitation to make a righteous choice into an insulting sermon: “Why do you always . . .? Why can’t you ever . . .?”

What a tiring tradition is contention. What an offence against God and humanity.

National Contention

The current American political climate seems very contentious. Let me probe one example.

God commands us to care for the poor. There are people like me who worry a lot about this. I give a generous fast offering and worry about how to help panhandlers. I donate to funds that help people with their utility bills but get fatigue from the onslaught of solicitations from various causes. I fear that I am not doing enough.

Another principle: It is a virtual article of faith in the LDS community that government intervention should be minimized. We seem to experience every new intrusion as the final end of freedom. We talk of falling into the socialist quagmire. As inheritors of the godly gift of agency, we are properly jealous of our freedom.

Both compassion and freedom are eternal principles. Both should be honored. I fear that the more extreme spokespeople on either side of the argument tend to speak of one value at the expense of the other. This not only generates unlimited contention, it also guarantees that we will not solve our problems.

I recommend a civil dialogue. Both sides can acknowledge both truths. Both sides can learn from each other. Both sides can seek to make creative rather than destructive use of the different perspectives.

One of the key principles in dialogue is the assumption of good faith. Just because another person may be mistaken or misled does not give me the right to vilify his or her intentions. It violates the core commands of Christ when we create damning back stories for those with whom we disagree. Whatever that person’s offences, we become greater offenders (See D&C 64:8-10).

Being followers of Jesus should cause us to be less contentious in our political and personal discussions, not more so. The Jesus who commands us to love our enemies, sets a high standard for our relationships: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one for another.” I suspect that this applies to our relationships with those with whom we disagree. In fact the surest evidence of our conversion may be our respect and compassion for those with whom we disagree most ardently. (Remember Pahoran’s glorious response to Moroni’s rebuke!)

When we refuse to let contention derail our discussions, we may find creative solutions. Even if we differ with others, if we honor their right to their perspective, we might learn from each other. We might gain insights on ways to peacefully advance our agendas. For example, those who believe that government involvement in caring for the poor should be minimized might choose to pay a substantial increase ($1,000? $2,500, $10,000?) in annual fast offering and humanitarian donations. This might not solve the problems of poverty in the country, but it might show the Lord that I am earnestly trying to do my part to care for the poor while defending our freedoms.

Early Christians fought each other in a misguided attempt to keep the doctrine pure. In the latter-days the scriptures instruct us that the way to uphold Christ’s doctrine is to purify ourselves of anger and argument. The ultimate cure for contention is to have our hearts changed. When there is peace in our hearts, there is sure to be kindness in our conversations. One day we may conquer every problem because of our respect for each other and our willingness to work together in Christ-like harmony. We may one day be a Zion people, of one heart and one mind.

References:

Jenkins, P. (2010). Jesus Wars: How four patriarchs, three queens, and two emperors decidedwhat Christians would believe for the next 1,500 years. New York: HarperOne.

MacMullen, R. (2006). Voting about God in early church councils. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Peters, L. J. (1977). Peter’s quotations: Ideas for our time. New York: Bantam.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful comments and additions to this article.
You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken ParentingDrawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child.

Self Development

Surrendering Our Way to Power

A central message of scripture is to submit ourselves to God (James 4:7, Mosiah 3:19, Alma 7:23; 13:28, Ether 12:27). When we empty ourselves of ourselves—our agendas, preferences, peeves, demands, expectations—God is able to take up occupancy in us. Filled with Him, we experience great spiritual power. By losing ourselves, we gain ourselves. By surrendering (to God), we conquer (the world).

Yet God tells us to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27).

Reconciling Opposites

How can we reconcile mandated submission with God’s instruction to be anxiously engaged? I think the answer is simple. As we submit our minds, hearts, and wills to God, He lends us more and more of His power. By surrendering our power, we gain His. Submission opens the door to heavenly power.

Priesthood is a good example of this principle. As we submit ourselves to God’s commands, He lends us His power. He allows—even encourages—us to do mighty works. Of course, His power must be used in righteousness. As soon as we try to use that power “in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).

But God’s invitation goes far beyond blessing babies and baptizing children. Enoch used faith to make the earth shake, mountains flee, and rivers change course (Moses 7:13).

Enoch’s Power

The key to Enoch’s power was twofold:

1. Enoch’s faith was not in himself but in God. When God invited him to be a messenger to the people, Enoch protested:

“He bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31).

I’m sure you see the irony. Because Enoch felt unworthy to be a special messenger for God, He was ideally suited for the demanding task. Meekness is not a weakness to be overcome but a foundation on which God builds. Meekness and humility are preconditions for exercising God’s power.

2. Enoch did not use God’s power to advance his own agenda. He used it to advance God’s work and purposes and bless His children. If we want to enjoy God’s power, our whole desires must be to bless God’s children.

Sometimes lately in my evening prayers I am surprised to find unexpected words pop up, “Father, teach me to use Thy power to bless Thy children.” I think God is inviting me to learn the sacred process of heavenly power.

Reaching Out

This idea was especially poignant to me as I participated in BYU Education Week years ago. I visited with people who suffer terrible pains. Several times people told me stories of dashed hopes and grim suffering. One woman told me of profound pains and cried with tears, “I’m done! I can’t go on!” I wept with her. I honestly had no answer for her wrenching challenges. I came home with a nagging melancholy. How can such good people bear such anguish?

It is all well and good to talk of eternal compensations. It is appropriate to offer our love and support. But is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no comfort for the overburdened? Is there no way we can help the desperate?

As I dozed off to sleep, a sacred invitation flowed into my mind: “Bring to pass much righteousness.” I turned on the bedside lamp and wrote those words. They felt like an answer and invitation.

Is there a way that we can exercise faith to draw the blessings of heaven into the lives of those who suffer? We would not truncate God’s educational curriculum for any of His children, but maybe part of the curriculum is for us to be united in yearning for each other. Maybe we can draw heavenly goodness into each other’s lives.

Creating Zion

Enoch’s people suffered terribly. Yet their afflictions seemed to open them to Enoch’s invitation to repentance. In their desperation, the people called on God. Enoch exercised God’s power to the chagrin and defeat of their enemies:

So great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea. And the giants of the land, also, stood afar off; and there went forth a curse upon all people that fought against God; (Moses 7:14-5)

While there were wars in the world, “the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness. The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people. And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish” (Moses 7:16-17).

The terrible affliction did not break the people, it united them. It created a city unique in the history of the world, a city that drew heaven into them and so that heaven could draw them up. “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

Enoch and his people became the prototypic Zion.

“And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).

Personal Invitations

I think that God is inviting us to create Zion in our communities of concern. God invites us to purge our selfish desires and submit to His perfect purposes so that we can draw heaven’s blessings into the lives of those we love.

I don’t know a step-by-step process to activate this power. I am simply trying to find my way just as I suppose you are trying to find yours. I am asking the Spirit to teach me how I can help the poor, lift up hands that hang down, and strengthen weak knees. I would like to be an agent for God in the lives of those who suffer. I yearn to bless those we love.

In the wilderness of mortality, I feel like Nephi: “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). While I do not know the process, I know that God has created an amazing adventure in godliness for those who respond to His invitation to join Him in blessing His children.

May we draw the power of heaven to bless those among us who suffer.

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You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child.

Self Development

Question: Strengths

A powerful idea from Martin Seligman’s excellent book, Authentic happiness: “Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.”

Many of us fret endlessly about our mistakes, faults, and shortcomings. Yet the key to our happiness is using our god-given strengths regularly.

What are your strengths?

How can you create more opportunities to use your strengths this week?

Self Development

A Few Ways To Assess Our Spiritual Progress

Years ago I read a talk by Truman Madsen in which he asked 20 questions to help us assess whether we are experiencing the Spirit in our lives. His questions included experiences such as feeling healed by the sacrament to speaking beyond our natural ability. I love the idea that we can gauge our spiritual progress. We can know how we are doing in our relationship with God.

Of course there is a problem in trying to assess our own spiritual development. As Elder Maxwell suggested, the true believer in Christ “is apt to be quite innocent of his growing incandescence” (True Believers in Christ atBrigham Young University on 7 October 1980). The closer we get to God, the more we focus on His glory rather than our own progress. Any radiance from us is truly reflected light.

It is good that we focus on God rather than ourselves. Yet there is probably value in marking our development. It can be fundamentally encouraging to realize that God has made progress in rebuilding our souls.

Taking the measure of our progress

Most of my life I have felt as if I was a spiritual failure. I had lofty goals for goodness and I knew I wasn’t attaining them. Yet, as I have come to know God better and trust His purposes more, I think I have perceived Him making some small progress in my stubborn soul.

So I share my personal list of markers. I do not have 20 of them as Brother Madsen did; but these are the signs in my soul that have given me hope that God can yet make something of me.

  1. We love to be with the saints. “He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light” (I John 2:10) We know that our fellow travelers have their quirks. We are dimly mindful of hurts and hard words. But any remembered pains are swamped by the sheer joy of seeing so many good people, who share the common struggle toward Goodness. While we may all love one another, each of us shows our affection in different ways. Nancy and I like to wade into our ward and start hugging. We hug the little ones, the big ones, and the in-between ones—that is, we hug them if they seem to like hugs. Some seem to prefer an earnest handshake. So we offer handshakes. I feel sure that the love we feel for our ward members is a heavenly gift.
  2. Irritation diminishes. “And now I would that ye should be……full of patience and long suffering” (Alma 7:23) Anyone who is not irritated with someone at church is either ready to be translated, or isn’t spending enough time at church. We will all be irritated at times. And the irritation seems to bunch up around certain people. Brother So-and-so thinks he knows everything. Sister So-and-so seems cold and distant. It is natural for us to ritualize our reaction so that we bristle at the sight of the person. It is also natural for us to judge the others and justify ourselves. But the natural man is an enemy to God. As God works on us, we feel ourselves less and less inclined to be irritated. We become more interested in the life story that brought them to our lives the way they are. We look for ways to both understand and help them. Irritation is gradually crowded out by compassion.
  3. We think less of ourselves. This has a double meaning. We not only think about ourselves less often but we also are less big in our own story. You probably remember Ammon’s answer when Aaron accused him of bragging: “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; . . . I will rejoice in my God” (Alma 26:11). The spiritually mature think more and more of Jesus. As we mature, we recognize our dependence on Him for all good things. We may become less dismayed by our humanness and more ready to call on His goodness. We speak warmly and lovingly of Him. As we move from center stage of our own dramas, the star of our story is increasingly Jesus.
  4. We see His goodness everywhere. “I will praise thee for ever; because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints” (Psalm 52:9). The more we experience God, the more we know that He consecrates even our afflictions for our gain. We are less afraid of trials and more grateful for blessings. We know that our lives are presided over by a perfectly loving and perfectly wise Father. While seeing His goodness in everything may be more difficult for those of us who think we should exercise significant control in our lives, or have trouble trusting, even we can learn to relax in His gracious arms.
  5. We get revelation. “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2-3). Revelation comes in many ways. Sometimes an understanding of a scripture tiptoes into our minds. Sometimes we find unexpected words flowing from us as we teach or testify. Sometimes we feel the shock of truth when we hear someone else teach. Maybe we even find new desires sneaking into our prayers. It is always cause for celebration when we discover that God is patiently teaching and guiding us.
  6. We feel heavenly power. While we are not called to control the universe, God often allows His humble followers to join Him in accomplishing holy purposes. He allowed humble, meek Enoch to move mountains and redirect rivers in order to protect His people. Sometimes God allows us to participate with Him in something divine. Perhaps we feel power flow through us as we pronounce a blessing. Maybe we feel redemption flow through us as we perform temple ordinances for long-departed ancestors. Or we may sense Him sending us on His errands as we make ourselves available to help others. As Joseph learned in Liberty Jail (see D&C 121), real power often has nothing to do with earthly power. What a blessing that God shares His power with us!
  7. We rejoice. Several times every week, God traverses eternity to put His strong arms around me and lift me off the ground. I am dumbfounded when He does it. I join Ammon in words of wonder: “Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?” (Alma 26:17). Sometimes it is the words of a hymn that jar me with joy. Sometimes it is a harmonious truth that leaps out of scripture. Sometimes it is quite inexplicable; God just gives a random hug. Oh! How grateful I am!

I make no claim that this is a comprehensive or definitive list. It’s just my list—my attempt to note and appreciate the ways God continues to bless and refine one imperfect son. There are lots of times when I fall short, and lug myself along the path begrudging mortality its aches and pains. But those are not the measure of our progress. It is the flourishes of the Spirit that testify that we are on the path toward God.

Behind each of these markers  is one great change: our motivation—our hearts. As we progress spiritually, we are less likely to do things out of grudging obedience. We don’t do things to check them off the checklist. We don’t do them for recognition or acclaim. We do them because of the relationship we have with God. Because we love Him with all our hearts, we join Him in His work. We assess our progress not to celebrate our accomplishments, but to recognize His graciousness.

Celebrating the milestones

As I think about our halting progress, I think of our dear little grandson Will. When he took his first faltering steps, we whooped and hollered. We acted as if all creation should celebrate!

I wonder if loved ones on the other side of the veil do the same thing every time we pass another spiritual milestone. We finally learn to trust God with some corner of our minds, hearts, and lives and joy busts loose in Eternity! We learn to hear the voice of God and angels sing praises. Truly, those that be with us are more than we can comprehend (See Elisha in 2 Kings 6:16).

While our progress may seem sporadic and spotty, God is able to do His redemptive work. He is able to refine and enlarge us if we will cooperative, even reluctantly, with His perfect purposes.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other (Part 2)

In the previous post we described a common sibling squabble and two of the most popular methods parents use to stop the battling: parental intrusion and lecturing. Both methods have a serious problem, they fail to teach children how to navigate their disagreements.  I suggested five steps to help us engage our children and teach them to love and serve one another.  In this article I discuss those five steps in more detail.
1. Engage your child in a gentle way. Harsh approaches arouse anxiety and block learning. The child becomes focused on our anger, entering a survival mode of thinking, and completely misses the message we are trying to communicate. Further, when we are upset, we are not able to parent effectively. In order to truly engage our children gently, we may need to take time out to get peaceful. If a situation requires immediate action, we might invite our children to also take a timeout in their rooms to prepare for a productive dialogue. But, even without their cooperation, the point is for us to get peaceful. It may take locking ourselves in our bedroom in order to pray and ask for guidance. When we’re finished, our spirits will be more at peace and ready to teach. God counsels us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and genuine love. It is important to get his attention without arousing fear: “Son, we need to talk. Your sister is very upset by the way you treated her.”
2. Give your child credit for anything you can: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings.” We are often tempted to magnify the misdeeds in order to get our children to take our messages seriously. Yet when we “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). In contrast, when we see our children through the lens of charity, we set the stage for love and learning. Just as we want to know our Heavenly Father still loves and sees the good in us when we mess up, our children need to know the same about their earthly parents as well. When we appreciate our children’s good intentions and sincere striving, we are more likely to find common ground.
3. Show that you understand your child’s point of view: “You just wanted to build without being distracted or interrupted.” Compassion is the key to connecting. When accusation rather than compassion is in our hearts, we alienate. When, in contrast, I see from the child’s point of view, I am able to guide effectively. It may help us to remember how we felt when we were children and felt attacked or thwarted. Compassion is the heart of the healer’s art. Once the child is comforted, he is ready to learn.
4. Draw the child’s attention to the distress of the victim: “When you ordered your sister to leave you alone, she felt sad. She felt that you don’t like to have her around. Maybe she even felt that you don’t like her.”
There are really two parts to this step. Just as the Lord teaches us in our minds and in our hearts (See D&C 8:2), so we must inform our children’s minds and hearts. Both are essential for right behavior.
We teach the mind about the law of the harvest—that timeless truth that we cannot sow weed seed and harvest a bounteous crop of grain. When we are unkind, we damage relationships. It is better to invite the child to learn his sister’s point of view: “I think your sister just wanted to be with you.”
We also train our children’s hearts. This is delicate work! Heart surgery cannot be done with sledge hammers. Rather we gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. “You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.”
The objective in this approach is not for your son to be sunk in guilt but to be stirred to empathy and compassion. When we use harsh approaches with our children, they focus on their own distress and are likely to become stubborn and defensive. That’s not what we want. We want to help our children get outside their provincial view of their own needs and be able to see the needs of others.
We cannot rush this process. When the child protests, “But she is the one who messed up my work!” we do not have to argue. We return to the third step, showing understanding for his point of view: “It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it!” When the child feels genuinely understood, then he is ready to learn in his mind and in his heart.
Help the child to feel genuine compassion for the one he has hurt. If we want our child to show compassion, we must model compassion.  Naturally your child will resist your challenge: “She can’t start grabbing Legos when I’m building something.” We can argue that he shouldn’t be so unkind to his sister. And he will argue with us about his sister’s misdeeds. Rather than squabbling with the boy, we can show empathy: “It’s hard when you’re in the middle of a project and she interrupts you or starts using your Legos.” He does, after all, have a valid point. When we show him compassion, he is more able to show compassion for his sister. Incidentally, it may take several rounds of expressing understanding and compassion before he is ready to show compassion for his sister. Healing through compassion takes time, or, in the Lord’s language, “longsuffering and gentleness.”
5. Once the child feels understood (as evidenced by being calm and peaceful), then we can help the child think of a way to make repairs: “How could we help your sister feel loved and welcome without messing up your project?”
When hearts are right creativity can rule. “Maybe I could help her build a house” or “I could provide her with some of the blocks.” It is a joyous surprise when children feel safe and loved and naturally love and serve each other.
Any parent might reasonably protest that this process takes a lot of time. You’re right! Parenting is not quick, simple, or convenient. Parenting is a large and continuing sacrifice. Yet it is also true that, when we teach children correct principles, they are more likely to govern themselves in righteousness. An hour spent teaching them in their youth can save years of conflict, struggle, and waywardness.
In the midst of sibling conflicts, it is common to try to figure out which child is the offender. This is rarely productive. Each child makes mistakes. One child intrudes, another is stingy. Rather than try to weigh offences, we invite all toward repentance. In the above process, the focus was on the son’s repenting, but a parallel process could operate with the daughter. We could show her compassion and help her understand her brother’s need to be able to concentrate.
Getting our Hearts Right
 
Perhaps the greatest challenge to effectively teaching children is that we simply cannot do it right unless our hearts are right. We cannot teach peace while our souls are at war. We cannot teach them the principles of love and goodness while bubbling with anger or annoyed by distractions.
We draw on more of King Benjamin’s wisdom to learn God’s process. Let’s apply his general counsel to the task of parenting:
“For the natural [parent] is an enemy to God [and children], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit . . .”
We must yield to the gentle promptings and invitations of the Spirit if we are to be good parents. A parent who does so . . .
“ . . . putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint . . .”
Becometh a saint! We become true followers and disciples of Christ. Through repentance we acknowledge our limitations and turn to Christ for better ideas and motivation. When we have the mind of Christ, we are prepared to parent effectively—to teach our children the right ways to relate to each other. How is this change in our approach accomplished? What power changes us?
“ . . . through the atonement of Christ the Lord . . .”
As Elder Bednar has taught us, the atonement not only cleanses us, it enables and strengthens us . It is my conviction that we cannot parent as we should unless we allow the sweet peace and goodness that flows from Jesus to fill our hearts and souls.
What does the atonement look like in the daily lives of parents? It includes simple but powerful principles: having faith in the Lord, repenting of our improper acts, feelings, and thoughts, making promises to God, and drawing on the power of the Holy Ghost to change our souls.
Consider the wise counsel give by Amulek—and its application to the challenges of parenting:
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. (Alma 34:17-19, 21)
The Christlike parent recognizes our dependence on God, calls out for mercy, continues in prayer, and draws on the power of heaven. In parenting as in all things, He is the way, the truth, and the life.
The process of forming our children’s souls requires great wisdom and patience. This should not surprise us. God gives us the opportunity to care for His precious children in His effort to make us more and more like Him—the Perfect Parent.
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Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other

Quarreling and bickering among siblings are painfully common in family life. While children are declared innocent because of the atonement (D&C 93:38), it is also true that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55).

Everyone who works with children knows that they can be not only charming, sweet, and delightful, but also selfish, pouty, and demanding. They are not automatically or naturally cooperative and peace-loving.

In spite of the challenges in getting children to be kind and considerate, the Lord offers this sobering injunction to parents:

And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin. (Mosiah 4:14, emphasis added)

It seems that God equates children’s fighting and quarreling with transgressing the laws of God and serving the devil. Since fighting and quarreling are so common, this commandment establishes a sobering challenge for parents. How can parents prevent contention between their children?

The Natural Parent

There are two popular methods for dealing with sibling conflict. One is parental intrusion. Parents separate the children, figure out who is the offending party, and punish them for their contention.

This method can only work as long as there is a parent available to intervene in the conflict. Even if this method interrupts the conflict it does not solve the problem; children do not learn new ways of dealing with their differences with their siblings.

The second method is lecturing. The main problem with lecturing is that it doesn’t work – and it generally insults and demoralizes children. Children respond to accusation with defensiveness; they blame their siblings and excuse themselves. The result is an increase in the contention in the family. That cannot be what God has in mind when he commands us to prevent fighting and quarreling. What’s the solution?

Decades of research have established that the best method for parents to influence children is something that developmentalists call “induction,” which is defined as parents reasoning with children and helping them understand the effects of their behavior on others. Induction, as defined by scholars, is strikingly similar to the methods of influence recommended by the Lord:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or, presumably, parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;


By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42, emphasis added).

God has been teaching us from the beginning of time that we cannot teach goodness with harshness. We must use gentle and wise principles of influence. His recommendations from section 121 deserve a lifetime of study.

We can compare that instruction from the Doctrine and Covenants to directions given by King Benjamin immediately after counseling us to help children avoid quarreling and fighting:

But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:15, emphasis added)

Parents almost universally will agree with that objective. We want our children to love and serve each other. We want peaceful homes. We yearn for loving and helpful relationships between our children. But how can we make this happen?

Helping Children Find Something Better than Quarreling

Imagine that your 5-year-old daughter wanders into her older brother’s room. He is concentrating on building a Lego structure. Sister is fascinated by brother’s building. She watches and asks her brother questions for a time and then picks up some Legos to do some building of her own. He grabs the Legos from her, pushes her toward the door and shouts that she should stay out of his room. Little sister runs to you crying.

You are frustrated and angry. You are tempted to lecture your son about being kind and inclusive with his sister. Or you may want to lecture your daughter about respecting your son’s space.

But neither of these responses teaches the children to love and serve each other. Neither response helps the children work together. What would God have you do? The vast research on moral development gives us clues as to how to apply God’s counsel to our parenting . (1) That research together with God’s perfect guidance can help us establish five steps.

Let’s imagine that your focus is on helping your son respond to his sister more helpfully.


Here are five steps that summarize the counsel of research:

1. Engage your son in a gentle way.

2. Give your son credit for anything you can.

3. Show that you understand your son’s point of view.

4. Draw your son’s attention to his sister’s distress and dilemma.

5. Once your son feels understood (as evidenced by being calm and peaceful), then we can help him think of a way to make repairs.

These steps are consistent with the research on moral development and the research on emotion coaching. In the next article, I will give more details about these five steps.

You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child. For more information about his books or his schedule at Education Week, visit www.FamilyCollege.com

(1) For scholarly sources, see Martin L. Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice; John C. Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality; Wendy S. Grolnick, The Psychology of Parental Control. For applied approaches, see Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child; John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Self Development

THIN PANCAKES AND HARDENED CATEGORIES

“Only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10).

Research is clear. We humans are not objective.  We gather data very selectively. We ignore or discard truths we don’t like. We see bias in others without seeing our own.  We judge those we disagree with to be illogical. When we disagree substantially, we attack their integrity and character. We excuse ourselves and our friends for our weaknesses while emphasizing and exaggerating the (similar) weaknesses of our enemies.
Each of these failings is a well-attested tendency in human nature. They are a part of the human condition. They might be considered pride because, at their root, they lead each of us to believe that we have a privileged and superior view of truth. These tendencies cause us to diminish others’ views while trumpeting our own. Perhaps we suffer the highest form of pride when we imagine we are immune to these trappings of our fallenness.
The Natural Man is an Enemy to Other Men
Our narrow-mindedness and judging do not paint a pretty picture of humans. It is clear that, in the long history of this burdened orb, it is rare for groups of people to coexist peacefully. Resentment, bias, and misunderstanding are the norm. We humans are afflicted with terminal hardening of the categories–we draw lines that exclude people who are not like us dispositionally, religiously, politically, racially, philosophically, etc. while we show compassion to those we like and who agree with us.
The Book of Mormon provides a magnificent case study of this painful truth. When righteous Captain Moroni did not get the supplies and reinforcements that he needed, he jumped to malicious conclusions. He filled his innocent ignorance with vile supposition. He accused Pahoran of sitting on his throne in a thoughtless stupor (v. 7), and repeatedly suggested that he was negligent and wicked. He even hypothesizes that Pahoran might be a traitor. He accused him of idleness and iniquity and threatened to smite him (v. 30).
Wow! If this is the way the righteous deal with differences and difficulties, what hope is there for those of us who are less righteous?
As we know from our vantage point, at the time of Moroni’s tirade, Pahoran was back home dealing with an impossible insurrection in the best way he knew how. He was displaced and overwhelmed. His remarkable response broke the usual human cycle of recrimination. “And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:9). It is not easy to rejoice in the greatness of the heart of one who is attacking us. But Pahoran was not a common man.
Is this frank story included in the great Book of Mormon record in order to invite us of the latter days to be wiser than Captain Moroni? Did the Book of Mormon editor know that division and contention would be particular challenges in the last days? I don’t know. Yet I’m confident that God wants us to learn from the story.
Bringing Peace to Our Dialogues
 
King Benjamin’s warning applies to today’s world: “beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit” (Mosiah 2:32). What Jesus said about doctrinal disputations must surely apply more broadly:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (3 Nephi 11:29-30)
Imagine a world where contention was indeed done away! What an extraordinary thought! And what an extraordinary time it was when the influence of Jesus filled the people and changed their natures for most of two centuries: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people” (4 Nephi 1:15).
I worry about the contention that seems to define our time. Not only do we grouch in traffic but we scowl in our families. And our professional discourse seems to be reaching new levels of coarseness. The media are filled with hatemongering. E-mails flood our inboxes with accusation and harsh judgments of our political opponents.
Is this the way God would have us get to Truth? Is this how a Christian nation is supposed to settle its differences?
It seems that President Benson’s invitation is timely: “Think of what pride has cost us in the past and what it is now costing us in our own lives, our families, and the Church. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4).
Jesus Himself set the lofty standard: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). When we are true disciples, we respond to attacks with love, blessings, and service. I’m afraid that true disciples are rare.
Examples of Modern Contention
In our families we often interpret misunderstandings as insults and harbor grudges—or we forgive and love. We choose between opposites. In our wards and workplaces we commonly chafe at the presumption and inconsideration of others—or we choose to be grateful for the good. In the political arena, we choose to vilify our enemies—and even impugn their motives—or we learn to listen more appreciatively to the views of others.
Let’s consider an example. Many people have been concerned about previous federal legislation related to healthcare. I admit that I have serious concerns about both the legislation and the process that got us the legislation. But, that aside, there is a true principle connected to the new law. That principle is the oft-repeated heavenly mandate to care for the poor.
God is clear: Our spiritual well-being depends upon our care for those who are hungry, sick, and poorly housed (see, for example, Mosiah 4:26). So if we have concerns about this legislation we can choose to focus solely on our disagreements or we can remember that in spite of those disagreements, we share an end-goal in common—to provide care for those in need—and be willing to build on that shared interest.
True principles should be honored in any solution. Yet one of the chronic human problems is that we narrow our vision before we begin our discussions. We cannot get to good solutions when we start a discussion with our positions already staked out and a defend-ourselves-at-all-costs attitude.
One of my favorite sayings is that it is a pretty thin pancake that does not have two sides.  Thin indeed. The human danger is that we may identify those who disagree with us as enemies rather than identifying contention and judgment as the enemies. When we’re sure we’re right, we’re not very good listeners or learners.
Let’s consider another example involving four individuals who received the 2010 Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
“In February 2009, amid one of the worst budget crises in California’s history, an imploding economy, and potentially catastrophic partisan deadlock, the state’s Republican and Democratic party leaders came together to address the financial emergency. After weeks of grueling negotiation, the legislative leaders and Gov. Schwarzenegger reached an agreement on a comprehensive deal to close most of a $42 billion shortfall, putting an end to years of government inaction and sidestepping of the difficult decisions necessary to address California’s increasingly dire fiscal crisis. The deal was objectionable to almost everyone; it contained tax increases, which the Republicans had long pledged to oppose, and draconian spending cuts, which brought intense criticism to the Democrats.”  (News Release, May 24, 2010, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation)
In the process of attempting to come up with a bi-partisan solution, these officials had to withstand extraordinary constituent and party pressure. Reportedly they were attacked by the media and received a flood of angry e-mails including death threats. The two Republicans were ousted from their party leadership positions. Their proposal was not adopted and California continues to struggle with budget deficits that threaten to prolong the state’s financial crisis.
I am not a citizen of California and I do not know the worthiness of their proposal. But I am saddened that the efforts of leaders of both political parties to come together and problem solve in spite of their differences apparently ended in public anger and death threats instead of encouragement towards a fruitful dialogue and productive action.
Without Charity We are Nothing
 
When Jesus asked us to love one another, He did not provide an exception for those whose viewpoints do not align with ours.  In fact, if we look to Him as an example, He made a point of befriending those like the tax collector whose politics were widely detested.
The scriptures tell us that even if we have all knowledge, if we do not combine it with charity it negates our knowledge. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Without charity the position we are taking becomes worthless no matter how much we believe we are right—or may even be right!
As we interact with viewpoints that disagree with ours—whether in our family, our ward, or on the national political stage—do we make charity central to our approach?
• Are we willing to listen respectfully and openly to opinions that are different than ours?
• Do we desire to understand the perspective of others whether or not we agree with them?
• Do we avoid speaking in insulting or inflammatory ways about people or positions that we disagree with so that we promote thoughtful and diplomatic discussion?
• Do we exhibit charity in all that we do and say?
As an aside, I believe it is a mistake for policymakers to undertake major social experiments based only on their own best guesses about the effects of their policies. Rather than policymakers fussing and grandstanding in the process of creating their best guess of a good strategy, why not invite the test of various policy options in several states before settling on a national policy? This would take more time but we would be less likely to end up with unwise and untested policies riddled with holes and patches.
But this is not my central point. I return to the beginning of this article: we humans are all biased and limited. I believe God deliberately designed us so that we can never get to sensible choices unless we listen to those who believe differently from us. God wants us to learn from each other—especially those who can bring different viewpoints to our deliberations. Charity is God’s mandate for fruitful discussions. We who belong to His Church should strive to be examples to the world of this principle. When facing the important issues of our day, may we always choose an approach based on charity over contention.
By H. Wallace Goddard and Barbara Keil
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If you are interested in books, programs, or retreats by Brother Goddard, visit his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Wally/178676491370
Marriage

The Problem With Divorce

Consider the stern warning provided to our times by the Lord Himself:

For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin. And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now. And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.For shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land? Verily, I say unto you, Nay. (D&C 84: 51-59, emphasis added)

Other covenants treated lightly

In the last few years I have had experiences that cause me to wonder whether we are also under condemnation for taking lightly another covenant—temple covenants in general and temple marriage in particular.Several times I have heard people express a variant of the following: “Our marriage has been so hard. I have tried everything to improve it. I have prayed and fasted and begged God in the temple. After an extended period, I have felt that the Lord released me from my covenants. I feel free to divorce my spouse.”

First, let me say that there are legitimate reasons for divorce. But, after making temple covenants, they are extreme and unusual. Abuse is the clear-cut case. When a spouse endangers life and limb or entirely removes agency, then divorce may be necessary.

Jesus Himself stated the case very bluntly: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9).

I suspect that when we take divorce lightly, we have hearts as hard as the ancient Jews. I think that the residents of Heaven weep when we wear and shed our covenants lightly. We thwart God’s redemptive and refining purposes in our lives when we fail to take covenants seriously.

Imposing our answers on God

Another part of the ritual drama troubles me. When a person prays for months or years to get heavenly permission to leave covenants, I am reminded of Martin Harris and his insistence on taking the 116 pages of Book of Mormon translation. He simply was not willing to accept the Lord’s counsel. When we beg and beg to get our preferred answer, we may be thwarting God’s purposes. We may be imposing our will on our lives to our eternal detriment. We are much better in God’s hands.God’s answers usually have a character all their own. They tend to be simple and challenging. They tend to ask us to honor covenants and keep an eternal perspective. They usually ask us to be more of what He is.

For example, I suspect that a revelation from God is NOT likely to sound like: “Yes. I know what you mean. That husband of yours is a pain! You have borne more than enough. You are free to move on.” I think it is more likely that He will say something like: “Yes. Covenants challenge you. And those challenges are designed to make you more like me: patient, long-suffering, gentle, meek, and loving. It is hard. Yet, as you resolve to do what is required, I will strengthen you, sustain you, and give you peace.”

God’s process is surprisingly predictable. He asks us to move from questions like: “Why aren’t I getting what I need and deserve?” to questions like “How can I draw on the power of Heaven to better honor my covenants?” God’s process almost always requires us to set aside our agenda and accept His. He asks that we be humble rather than demanding. He asks us to be faith-filled rather than despairing. He asks us to repent ourselves rather than our partners. He asks that we call on Him for merciful sustaining rather than storybook lives. We cannot have great relationships without great reliance on the One who creates and sustains healthy relationships.

God honors those who honor covenants

There are some who face garden-variety complaints within their marriages. Instead of blaming their spouses, issuing demands for change, and day-dreaming of life with a better partner, if they pull the weeds in their own souls their marriages can flourish.

But what of those who have made sincere attempts to be loving and supportive and continue to face an emotionally distant or argumentative spouse?

I have a beloved friend who once called me and asked how much he should bear as his wife detested him, attacked him, and even  flirted with another man. I told him that I thought he should do all that he was able to do so that, when he faced God, he could attest that he had made every effort possible. My friend stayed and acted nobly. In the end, his wife divorced him. But he did all that he could. And he did it cheerfully and lovingly. I honor this good man. I believe God honors him as well.

Would God desire for us to hold onto a loveless or emotionally draining marriage? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Only God can speak for God. But I can speak for a principle. God asked Jesus to hold onto us even as it shredded His mortal body. Jesus held onto us even when the price was incalculable and pain intolerable. Are we capable of holding on in the face of a marriage filled with painful difficulties and disappointments? Probably not—at least,not on our own. But if we call upon the mercy, strength, and healing of Jesus, we can bear things in partnership with the Savior that no human alone can bear. And if we call upon the sustaining power of the atonement, we can face our marital trials with hope and serenity.

His sternness is sweet

I fear that a secular doctrine has crept into the world and the Church and infected us. If something is hard, I shouldn’t have to do it. Challenges should be minor. Pain should be no more than a hiccup. We want pain relievers. We certainly don’t want gut-wrenching and soul-stretching challenges.So does God intend for us to bail out of soul-stretching challenges to achieve an easier path?

“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; … it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith [1985], 69).

In its own way, God’s sternness in insisting upon sacrifice is sweet. He does not want to redeem us while we are flawed, irresolute and drenched in sin. He wants to remove the sin and make us like Him. This will require some high-pressure washing.We should not expect nor ask for a life devoid of sacrifice. And yet we can find hope in the assurance that we will not seek His face in vain. The Savior bore all our pains so that He knows how to succor His people. To those who groan under the weight of a marriage seemingly defined by loneliness, ill will, or disagreements, there is hope that the Savior knows your pain and stands ready to sustain you. During our times of desperation, He is anxious to be called in. Our extremity is His opportunity.

Jesus lamented several times that He was as a hen yearning to gather vulnerable chicks, but they would not be rescued, He is speaking to us as well. He invites us to be lifted by His power. If we conclude that we have done all we feel capable of to deal with a suffering marriage and as a result there is no longer any hope, we forego our opportunity to be sustained and ultimately healed by Him. The bracing reality is that we cannot be saved and our marriages cannot be saved without the merits, mercy and grace of the Holy One. There is no other way.

In writing this, it is not my intent to judge, condemn or pile guilt upon anyone. I do feel called to invite us saints to use the power of Christ to honor the seemingly impossible demands of our covenants. And temple marriage is the highest covenant. I believe that the greatest blessings will come to us as we bring to the altar of our covenants all that we have and all that we are. It is not easy. But we should not expect that making us godly will happen without real stretching. I believe that all of us should be anxiously engaged in strengthening our covenants in every way we can.

May God help us honor our sacred covenants.

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Thanks to Barbara Keil for her astute observations and helpful additions to this article.

If you’re interested in strengthening your marriage, you might enjoy reading Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, the gospel-centered marriage book by Brother Goddard.

Also, Brother Goddard has a 2-talk set: “The Heart of a Healthy Marriage and a Happy Family.”

Self Development

STUMBLING OVER TRUTH: GOVERNING OUR LIVES WITH GODLY RULES

By H. Wallace Goddard and Barbara Keil

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” -Winston Churchill

I have a good friend who often hesitates to make decisions or commitments. She wants to keep her options open to continue evaluating her choices. In her mind, this will enable her to avoid making mistakes. While she is right that it is a good idea for us to do our homework when making choices, her fear of making the wrong decision sometimes prevents her from making any commitment at all.  She loses out on opportunities and experiences that would benefit her. This decision rule could be called the “safety first” rule.

Another good woman I know strives to do her best in every aspect of her life. As she evaluates how to invest her time and energy, she constantly challenges herself to the highest standards. She becomes overwhelmed and depressed when she feels she doesn’t live up to those standards. Her decision rule could be labeled, “anything short of perfection is failure”.

The dangers of our decision rules 

All of us have underlying principles that come into play when we make choices about how to approach our lives. I’m going to call them “decision rules”. Decision rules are mental maps made up of personal beliefs or preferences that make us likely to think or act in certain ways. Often we think our decisions are based on wise and rational choices. But frequently they can be an expression of our fears, worries or hopes. There are many factors that contribute to decision rules, for example: the desire to be accepted, be in charge, feel loved, be successful, etc.

We all have unspoken decision rules but we almost never examine them. We usually aren’t even aware that we have them. As a result of not understanding the decision rules we are applying, we often make decisions and then wonder why they turn out badly.

Decision rules can be limiting and cause us to behave ineffectively. For example, someone who has been hurt in a prior relationship may adopt the decision rule to never fully trust anyone again. This might seem to serve as protection from future hurt. But a lack of trust will limit that person from fully entering into a loving relationship even with a deserving individual.

Even decision rules that seem founded on correct principles can become problematic when applied by our “natural man” mindset (see Mosiah 3:19). “I will always speak up for the gospel” can be a good standard when it leads us to seek missionary opportunities. But it can become ugly when we use it to excuse contentious arguments with nonmembers or members. The decision rule “I will surround myself with others who share my beliefs” appears to be a reasonable choice, but could cause us to miss out on opportunities to serve those outside of our ward community.

Rewiring our thinking 

When a car does not perform optimally, we bring it to a mechanic who opens up the hood and looks at the inner workings in order to diagnose and fix the problem. Sometimes when we are not operating optimally we may need to “look under the hood” and examine our decision making process. We may need to change some parts.

How do we discover the decision rules that guide our lives? Consider the areas of your life: relationships, work, use of time, spiritual progress, growth opportunities, service, use of financial resources, current challenges. What are the problems that recur in your life? What decision rule might be behind the behavior that you know to be counter-productive?

What are the faulty decision rules that have held you hostage?

We might also ask ourselves in what ways we commonly break commandments. Maybe we get angry or justify unholy behavior. The desperate squeak from our consciences is evidence that we need to do more than try harder; we may need to change the rules that govern our behavior.

The person who is regularly timid may need to experiment with some courage. The person who worries about having everything in perfect order may choose to be selective about that perfectionism. The person who feels hurt by the comments of others may need to get outside his or her own view. The person who makes excuses for bad behavior may need to begin accepting accountability.

As we examine and challenge our decision rules, we can progress toward greater goodness. Yet sometimes when we analyze and diagnose our faulty thinking processes, we get into an endless loop. We may discover we have implemented yet another flawed decision rule: “This behavior cannot be changed.” We are using imperfect instruments to repair a defective system. Our attempts at self-repair often end in confusion and despair.

Rewiring by the Master Mechanic

We cannot sort out our minds and set them right when our fundamental problem is that we are fallen. We are all struggling entry-level mechanics with elementary tools in our repair cases. Yet the repair of fallenness requires a Master Mechanic. I recommend we patiently allow Him to tinker with us and our thinking. He will repair a fault here and a misunderstanding there. He will keep improving us. If we become unduly impatient and take over the job, we are likely to create a mess. If we patiently allow Him to tune and repair us, we will become what He is: a Master Mechanic.

To help the Master Mechanic fix our wiring, we should gladly submit to His diagnosis and repair. If we hold back because we like doing things our own way (this is a version of pride) or we don’t like to get help (this is self-sufficiency) or because we worry about what we will be asked to sacrifice (fear), then we remain broken and dysfunctional. We drag our way through our lives never functioning quite right and never really improving.

How do we get Him to rewire us? Little by little the Spirit will point out our ways of thinking that need fixing; our fears, worries, reluctances, lack of faith, shortsightedness, misjudgments, etc. As He reveals the need, we open our minds to a new way of thinking. We align ourselves with His guidance for our lives instead of our faulty decision rules. He will work to set us right.

The ideal decision rule

When Jesus had to make what was His most critical choice, He voiced the decision rule that guided every aspect of His life. “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39)

This, of course, is the ideal decision rule: to turn our hearts, minds, and energy over to Him. We set aside our preferences and prejudices. We turn to Him and ask for His counsel. How would He have us view the situations we face? What would His advice be to us regarding how to approach our thoughts and actions? This only happens when we make the fateful decision to accept His decision rule: What would God have me do?

My friend who has been paralyzed from committing to new experiences because of a “safety first” decision rule is gradually learning to trust the Lord as He leads her towards embarking upon new growth opportunities. The woman who previously felt depressed due to her “I must be perfect” decision rule is learning that He does not require perfection to love her. As we continue to seek the Lord and His guidance rather than leaning on our own understanding, we will infuse all our decisions with His perfect wisdom.

Like most spiritual progress, we cheerfully do all we are able, and then we turn ourselves over to God. We try to re-program our thinking while knowing that it is ultimately God who will change our hearts.

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If you’re interested in strengthening your marriage, may like a copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, the gospel-centered marriage book by Brother Goddard.

Also, Brother Goddard has a 2-talk CD set: “The Heart of a Healthy Marriage and a Happy Family.”

Self Development

May God Our Gold Refine

We gingerly pick our way through life’s options trying to minimize our distress and maximize our enjoyment. We flinch at the prospect of an all-vegetable dinner. We contort ourselves to reach each nutrient-free dessert. It would seem that the winners in life are those who navigate life on a cruise ship.

Yet few people experience such uninterrupted sweetness in life. We have a friend who fights an endless battle against numbing depression. Another struggles (with little success) to master compulsions that repeatedly have devastated her life. Another dear friend anguishes with doubts about life and God.

Adult realities are often quite different from our youthful dreams. In the course of our married life, Nancy has had many miscarriages. We lost count somewhere around twenty. In the midst of the early miscarriages, we prayed, got priesthood blessings, spent many hours in doctors’ offices, and fasted. But the miscarriages—and frustration—continued. At one time of keen disappointment, I even threatened heaven with permanent ill-will. “Why should so many people who don’t want children get them while those of us who yearn for them are denied them?”

As a result of our unanswered hope, I learned a very useful lesson: Be grateful in all things. I learned to say each time we lost another pregnancy, “That is great.” If asked why it was great, I could not give a reason. I merely knew that it felt good to go beyond accepting our disappointment with resignation to embracing it with joy.

Our experiences provided a priceless and timeless lesson. I no longer demand that God explain His purposes to me. It is enough that it happened. I trust that He will use it to bless us. Indeed, He already has. When I simply trust Him, I feel a keen joy in faith. Faith bathes every experience with sublime purpose. I still do not prefer miscarriages, but, when they come, I rejoice.

“Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks” (D&C 98:1).

In everything give thanks, for the good, the bad, and the baffling.

“Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted” (D&C 98:2).

Somehow, in ways we cannot comprehend, God is doing exactly what He has promised to do. He is blessing us. It is possible that the only purpose of the miscarriages was to teach us faith. If so, that is reason enough to bear the pain. Our friend who struggles with depression is inexpressibly grateful for glimpses of light in her life. Our friend who is troubled by compulsions has learned to hold to cherished family members. The friend beset by doubts finds simple ways to serve.

“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).

A cynic may scoff, “Your pain, your afflictions, your suffering work for your good and His glory? Life is only a senseless tangle of anguish with merciful periods of numbness.” So it may seem.

Yet the universe is packed with irony. The keenest may be that God has so structured the universe that believing and disbelieving are equally viable. Only a very brave God would do such a thing. But He has woven assurances of His redemptiveness into the fabric of the universe. Only a compassionate God would do such a thing. When we put on the mantle of faith, a quiet confidence distills upon us.

Many Nephites found that as they grew in their humility and faith, their souls were filled with joy and consolation (Helaman 3:35). On top of present comfort, God offers eternal blessing to those who look beyond the immediate pain.

“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).

Our national tragedies can unite us in faith. Our family struggles can join us in love. Our personal disappointments can refine our purposes and strengthen our faith. Perhaps the surest sign of faith in a believer is that tragedy evokes submission and praise.

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of thee; Thou only knowest what I need; Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father! give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask. I dare not ask either for crosses or consolations: I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee. . . . Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up: I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thyself in me. Amen. (François de la Mothe Fenelon, quoted in Fosdick, Meaning of Prayer, pp. 58–59).

Adversity is a sacred trust. It is the raw material for making gold. When we put our earthly experiences on the altar of faith, He transforms them into glory.

“He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24).

Armed with faith we see the blessing in adversity.