When We Ask the Wrong Question We Always Get the Wrong Answer 

by H. Wallace Goddard

Recently I served on a panel at a parenting conference. At the end of the panelists’ presentations we invited questions from the audience. A young and earnest mother with a baby in her arms asked, “I have a 6-year-old boy at home. I can’t get him up in the morning to get ready for school. I have tried everything! Nothing works! What should I do?”

There are as many answers to her question as there are experts. One of the panelists suggested that proper use of timeout would shape his behavior. One suggested talking with him at a peaceful time to get his ideas of how to start his day. Some might suggest providing rewards for the desired behavior. We moved on to another question before we had really given her a good answer.

I had the good fortune of being seated next to the mother at the banquet following our session. We were able to continue the discussion. I learned important new details when I asked about the boy and what he loved and how he responded to correction. She told me that he was very active but also tenderhearted. He was occasionally very affectionate. His feelings were easily hurt when he was corrected. As she talked lovingly about her son, some of the answers seemed obvious. There were also factors that were not obvious to her but might be seen by an outsider. For example, while the mother was very dutiful and a morning person, her son was not. (Sometimes our best efforts to motivate our children do not work because we are only using the tools that work with us but do not match our children’s needs.)

I invited the mother to try a different approach from the traditional begging, threatening and cajoling: “Would it work for you to go to your son’s room 5 or 10 minutes before he needs to be up and lie down beside him? You could talk with him quietly and stroke his face. Allow him to wake up slowly and in the arms of your love. Would that work for William?”

She responded with a smile and the addendum, “Yes, he would like that. It would also help if I told him that as soon as he was dressed he could watch cartoons until he left for school.” This “impossible” situation yielded viable solutions when she thought about her son and his unique personality in a spirit of helpfulness.

Of course it is natural to object to such suggestions, “But that boy needs to learn to obey without all the mollycoddling.”Hmmmm. President Hinckley answers that concern better than I can:

How much more beautiful would be the world and the society in which we live if every father looked upon his children as the most precious of his assets, if he led them by the power of his example in kindness and love, and if in times of stress he blessed them by the authority of the holy priesthood; and if every mother regarded her children as the jewels of her life, as gifts from the God of heaven who is their Eternal Father, and brought them up with true affection in the wisdom and admonition of the Lord. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Behold Your Little Ones,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 20)

Much of my professional activity is dedicated to parenting. Most of the questions I get from parents have the general form, “How can I get my child to do what I want him/her to do–especially when they don’t want to do it?” That question has no satisfactory anwer; there is a problem with the question itself. We might better ask, “If I consider my child’s world at a time when I am filled with love for the child and inspiration from heaven, can I find a way to draw that child toward better behavior?”

Turning again to prophetic counsel,

Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them. . . . Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly toward you. Use no lash and no violence, but argue, or rather reason–approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. . . .You can’t do it any other way. You can’t do it by unkindness; (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.316)

I remember when a devoted mother approached me with a parenting quandary. Her 4-year-old daughter had been playing with her older sister and the sister’s friend. The 4-year-old had gotten upset about something and scratched her sister’s friend. The mother asked, “How can I teach my daughter that her scratching is unacceptable?” Many questions went through my head, “Does your daughter scratch people often? Was she under a lot of stress at the time of the incident? What are the ways that soothe and teach your daughter?” Before getting to those questions I asked, “How did you respond to her scratching?” The mother replied, “I grabbed her and scratched her. Then I confined her to her bedroom for three days. I wanted her to learn that such behavior is simply not acceptable in our family.”

I am certain that the little girl learned a memorable lesson; I am confident that part of the lesson she learned was not what her mother had hoped to teach.

Study [your children’s] dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly, never allowing yourself to correct them in the heat of passion; teach them to love you rather than to fear you. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.207)

We deceive ourselves when we justify harshness as necessary or helpful for children. The Lord recommends a different course: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and genuine love (See D&C 121:41-42).

Every earthly parent acts harshly at times. Such occasions are cause for repentance rather than rationalization. It is a relationship of love that is the great motivator for children and for adults. The most important parenting questions we can ask are not about mechanisms of control; they are about love: “Wilt Thou grant me wisdom that I can understand my child and his needs? Wilt Thou fill me with divine charity to change my heart and fill me with love? Wilt Thou show me how Thou wouldst teach and bless this child?”

Better questions help us discover better answers.


Conflict Resolution and the Creation of Peace

Conflict Resolution and the Creation of Peace
by H. Wallace Goddard

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

Nancy and I have some friends who have been married for a few years longer than we have been. They are earnest, good people. But they are human. A few years ago the husband was dragging home from work every day at dinner time. He was ready for peace and order. But things were not always in order at home. He nagged his wife. “Why can’t you have dinner ready when I get home? Why can’t you have the kids do their chores? Why can’t you have the place straightened up?” The day came when his good wife had had enough. “You know you have some faults, too.” He pondered that. “Yes, but they don’t bother me like yours do.”

The trouble with most conflict resolution is that it starts in the wrong place. It takes us when we are tired and irritated and puts us toe-to-toe with the enemy. But by the time that irritation and judgment have filled my mind, I am not in a good place to solve our problems. I am not even in a good place to know what the problems are. And I am not in a good place to show the respect that you deserve.

I have a friend who likes to say that “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” That idea can be extended. You can no more win a fist fight than win an automobile accident. You can no more win a family argument than win a house fire. When we choose to fight, we all lose. That is why Satan recommends fighting so highly.

So, what is the gospel remedy for conflict? “Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). God recommends that we be messengers of peace. Three steps to being agents of peace come to mind.

We can see each other with charity.
Irving Becker has said that “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind.”(1)

Often we allow a combination of irritations to fester. Judgment and discontent infect the injuries. Poison fills the system. Disease is a normal part of a telestial world, yet we are all choosing to be something more than telestial.

We cannot overcome irritation by ourselves. That is why Mormon encourages us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). Divine love springs only from Divine wells. We may love as He loves only when we are filled with Him, when we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

I don’t have the right to correct anyone I do not love. When I love them with Christ-like love, I feel inclined to bless, help, encourage, and support them.

We can take responsibility for our own feelings of irritation.
Elder Christensen has recounted a powerful story about irritation. As a newlywed, Sister Lola Walters read in a magazine that in order to strengthen a marriage a couple should have regular, candid sharing sessions in which they would list any mannerisms they found annoying. She wrote: “We were to name five things we found annoying, and I started off…I told him I didn’t like the way he ate grapefruit. He peeled it and ate it like an orange! Nobody else I knew ate grapefruit like that. Could a girl be expected to spend a lifetime, even eternity, watching her husband eat grapefruit like an orange! After I finished, it was his turn to tell the things he disliked about me…He said, ‘Well, to tell the truth, I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you, Honey.’ Gasp. I quickly turned my back because I didn’t know how to explain the tears that had filled my eyes and were running down my face…Whenever I hear of married couples being incompatible, I always wonder if they are suffering from what I now call the Grapefruit Syndrome.”(2)

I used to invest a fair amount of energy encouraging Nancy to keep our kitchen counters clear and clean. As the years passed, it gradually occurred to me that my obsession with tidy counters is not her problem. It is mine. If something is irritating me, I can take care of it. I do not have to make my preferences into universal commandments.

I have noticed that I am far more likely to be irritated by other people’s faults when I am tired, frustrated, or lonely. I can become, as George Bernard Shaw says, “a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making [me] happy.” If I am humble enough to accept my own contribution to the storm, I can take action to minimize it. I can ask for heavenly help. I can slow down and breathe deeply. I can isolate myself if I am unusually antagonistic.

One trap that prevents peace is the need to be right. We condemn others for their ignorance. But any divine mandate to be smart is superceded by the command to be loving. It is better to be good than to be right. “Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid” (Harlan Miller).

We can act in ways that encourage growth.
Many psychologists have observed that Americans express many kinds of irritation in one way: anger. “Why can’t you ever think of anyone else?!” “What is wrong with you?!” “Why are you so selfish?!” Such statements do not invite peaceful sharing.

Rather than complain, “You are so wrapped up in your life that you never make time for anyone else!” I can invite, “I feel lonely. I miss doing things with you. Could we do something together this week?”

Love also sets people up for success. If I know that Nancy likes time to think about decisions, rather than stand tapping my toe, pressing her for decisions and wondering why she doesn’t learn how to make decisions, I will anticipate the need and will provide her time to reflect.

While it is true that people must bear the painful consequences of unwise decisions, we need never rejoice at another’s suffering. We can always offer the healing balm of understanding. A misbehaving family member may have sorrowful encounters with the law. Yet our charity “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

When an elderly woman was asked at her fiftieth wedding anniversary what the secret of her long and happy marriage was, she responded that she had decided at their marriage to forgive her husband ten faults for the sake of their marriage. “I never got around to listing the ten but every time he did something that made me mad I thought, ‘It’s a good thing for him that that is one of the ten.’”

Love, forgiveness, and wisdom bring peace to our families. Indeed, blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called the children of God.


Taking Your Marriage From Misery to Joy

Mom says I was a pleasant baby. As I grew, I must have become less pleasant. I remember spending a lot of my growing-up years annoying and battling my siblings. I suppose that struggles with life and siblings teach all of us many maladaptive lessons, as they did me.

We’re probably not deliberately malicious. In fact our official theology tells us that children are born innocent (see D&C 93:39). But innocent isn’t the same as charitable, and as we struggle to secure a place in the life and love of the family, we frequently develop some uncharitable and ungenerous characteristics.

When I attempted to inventory some of the maladaptive skills I developed in my youth, I came up with the following list. Consider whether you developed some of these attitudes and abilities in your childhood.

Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them when necessary.)
Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my siblings guilty.)
Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)
It’s amazing what awful things we can learn in the course of growing up. I think these tendencies underscore the literal truth of the Lord’s message to Adam: “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55, emphasis added). This world teaches us to look after ourselves at all costs. Truly, the natural child—the one who attends only to his own needs—is an enemy to siblings (see Mosiah 3:19).

Carrying the lessons into marriage

As we grow up and enter adult relationships, consider how maladaptive such oft-practiced thoughts and behaviors can be. Consider each item on my list once more—this time in the context of marriage.

Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them.)
Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my sibling guilty.)
Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)
These lessons for childhood survival do not contribute to healthy marital functioning. Their awfulness is reminiscent of the mother who overheard her little girl and a neighbor child playing house. They decided to get married and the little girl began the vows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You may now kiss the bride.” If we are to have a strong marriage, we must put off the natural man and learn better ways.

A painful and realistic portrayal of marriage was provided by a man who submitted this question to an online family service.

“After 13 years of marriage, I’ve come to realize that I really don’t like my wife. She is everything that I despise in a wife and a person. I’m a religious man, have tried everything the books say, and have taken direct orders from our pastor to implement actions all in an effort to cause a positive change in the marriage. The bottom line is, I see no positive aspects to my wife’s personality, and it taints all of her relationships, especially ours. I really dislike being around her and I’ve run out of solutions. Just short of divorce, is there anything that can be done as a final effort to salvage this marriage? BC in NM”

Is the major problem in this marriage the wife’s shortcomings? Probably not. Later in this book I quote a colleague who says, “When people are upset and angry, they are blind to any position but their own.”

Can anything be done?

The Lord has provided the cure for the childhood lessons we learned in self-defense. Perhaps He intended that we learn these higher lessons in our growing-up years—though most of us learn them imperfectly if at all.

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment [A commandment!], to teach these things freely unto your children, [Note what is to be taught!] saying: “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:58-59, emphasis added).

Without a new birth, we will never be what we should be in marriage. We will drag our sick, troubled, tortured ways into every encounter and every relationship. God invites us to bury the diseased natural man and be born again as new creatures in Christ.

But, can the gospel of Jesus Christ really help us function better in the day-to-day challenges of marriage?

Surprised by the Doctrine

On one occasion an earnest, intelligent, LDS mother sought me out for advice. “My husband is a good man, but I no longer find him attractive. I am thinking about leaving him. But I am not sure if it is right.”

I really wanted to help this good woman find answers to her dilemma. I hoped my training in relationships and my years of marriage would help. I prayed for guidance.

Much to my surprise I found myself talking to her about the Atonement of Christ. All my training in family life protested: “What does that have to do with her dilemma?” But my spirit would not be deterred. An hour of testifying of His inestimable goodness, mercy, and love spilled out. Phrases from the great Atonement chapters in the Book of Mormon came to life. The cup of testimony was brim with joy.

After it all spilled out, I paused, wondering how to apply the doctrine of the Atonement to her dilemma. But her face told me that nothing more needed to be said. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was the answer. Because of His goodness, we are reconciled to God. When we are reconciled to God, we are reconciled to each other. His goodness makes us one.

Filled with charity—that sweet and divine gift of heavenly love—she felt a renewed bond with her husband. She chose to stay with him. Gladly. Joyously. Lovingly. Their marriage is strong today.

The answers are in the Principles

The Gospel of Jesus Christ—that great plan of happiness—provides the solutions for our humanness. Having suffered the bitter fruits of badness, it invites us to prize the good fruits of gospel-anchored relationships (see Moses 6:55).

Most marriage programs emphasize a set of skills to help partners express discontents in fair, non-attacking ways. The assumption is that every marriage has its discontents and that those must be processed in non-destructive ways in order for the relationship to function well.

My assumption is very different. I believe that the key to a healthy relationship is being a healthy, saintly, God-seeking person—to be born again—to be a new creature in Christ. When we are more godly, fewer things bother us. And when we run into problems, we are more likely to process them in helpful ways.

Notice that God offers just one single escape clause from our desperate mortal, fallen situation: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to God [and his or her partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless [Here comes the escape clause!] he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19, emphasis added).

In the upcoming articles, I will discuss the core gospel principles and describe the ways they can take us from our self-serving and self-centered traditions of the natural spouse—the spouse unchanged by the Spirit of God—toward the good and gracious ways of godliness. These are the First Principles of Eternal Marriage. These are the principles that will enable us to draw heaven into our marriages. These powerful principles can have eternal results.

If you would like to buy a copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, click here


Self Development

Would You Rather Be Right or Be Good?

The default setting for human minds is evaluation. We are constantly evaluating what people say and do.

A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately check the evidence to see if their exclamation is fully justified.

A spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and we wag our internal heads, “You always like your vegetables raw!”

Sometimes we are wise enough to keep our critical thoughts to ourselves. Even so, there is a price to be paid for having a contrary mindset.

Imagine that, instead of keeping a prosecuting attorney on our mental staff, we hired a peacemaker—a person who cheerfully looked for areas of agreement. Would that change our internal dialogue and our relationships?

In a word, yes.

A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately do two things: 1. We look for evidence in support of that exclamation, and 2. we enter into the family member’s spirit of rejoicing: “It is glorious and beautiful.” Maybe for good measure, we add, “I’m glad I get to share it with you!”

My spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and I do two things: 1. My mental staff records that my spouse prefers broccoli less cooked, and 2. I acknowledge her preference: “Yes! You like the healthy choice! It’s funny because I like my broccoli soft.” Maybe I add a relationship message: “I bet we can find a way to live together in spite of our different broccoli preferences!”

The scriptures are packed with Jesus doing just such things. When the adulterous woman was dragged to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:1-11), they correctly observed that the law required that she be put to death. They were quite right.

Though they might be right, they weren’t good. They weren’t thinking redemptively, lovingly, and charitably.

Jesus set the perfect contrast to her accusers. He did not dishonor the law. But He invited the one who was perfect to start the stoning. The wonderful irony is that He was the only one in that crowd or any crowd who is perfect—and He had no interest is stoning that woman or any person. He wanted to save her. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to use the law to destroy her; Jesus wanted to use love, compassion, and His own sacrifice to save her.

His own sacrifice. Jesus does not just wish us well in our foolhardy journeys. No. He is willing to go to the garden and the cross to rescue us, to cover our sins, and win our hearts.

What are we willing to do for the people around us? Are we willing to adapt ourselves, surrender a few preferences, not demand that others agree with our perspectives? Will we surrender our need to be right to bless others?

To have strong relationships, it helps to be an agreeable person. “Don’t worry so much about being right,” seems to be Jesus message. “Focus more on being good, kind, loving, compassionate, understanding.”

But this is about more than agreeability. It is also about humility. It is about valuing someone else’s agenda as much as my own.

We all have abundant opportunities to show kindness. To put aside our own self-centeredness. To resist the knee-jerk reaction to judge other’s comments or desires as “wrong.” To surrender the impulse to criticize or argue. Instead, to listen with openness to better understand the perspectives of others. To respond with benevolent words. To offer the gift of kindness. (Try searching “act of kindness” on the web and you’ll be inspired.)

Sometimes the hardest places to show kindness are in our own families. We develop what John Gottman calls a “crabby habit of mind.” We get onto the habit of seeing faults, disagreements, and irritations. Our prosecuting attorneys take charge and our souls shrivel.

Jesus invites us toward the expansive and redemptive view. One of His prophets has expressed the challenge this way:

“We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? and will not the union that has been cemented between you and the birth of children and by the bond of the new and everlasting covenant, be more secure when you forget to mention weaknesses and faults one of another? Is it not better to drop them and say nothing about them—bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better?” (pp.180-81, 1998, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. S.L.C.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Wirthlin made this counsel very practical:

When we are filled with kindness, we are not judgmental. The Savior taught, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” He also taught that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?”

Love them.

“If they are obnoxious?”

Love them.

“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”

Love them.


The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.

It is so much better to be good than be right.

Invitation: Look for opportunities to agree with, support, and be kind to the people in your life, especially family members.

Recommendation: To read more of Gottman’s work, see The Relationship Cure. For an LDS perspective on marriage, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her skilled editing.

Self Development

Choosing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

In movies, there is periodically a discordance in the soundtrack that warns us that something terrible is about to happen. It makes us feel unsettled. We usually don’t notice the sounds consciously but our bodies and minds tense up. We prepare for disaster knowing that we can’t avoid it.

That is the very soundtrack Satan plays for our lives throughout mortality. “Something terrible is about to happen. And there is nothing you can do about it.”

He says other things as well: “Your life isn’t going well. You aren’t happy. And no matter what you do, you likely will not overcome your challenges. You are stuck.”

For each of our lives, Satan develops a customized soundtrack to keep us living with an unsettling sense of worry, fear, sadness, or discouragement. We feel anxious and unhappy without any apparent way of escaping it.

We can all site historical evidence for our uneasiness: “It seems like every time I feel like things are finally going well, something rotten happens.” Or, “I have tried to fix my life, but it never seems to work out as I hoped.” The background noise of anxiety becomes the defining soundtrack of our lives.

Yet we Saints of God shouldn’t be playing a horror movie soundtrack to accompany our lives.

If we sat down with God, I think He would counsel us, “The threatening soundtrack is not from Me. That comes from the father of lies and misery.” He would reassure us, “I want you to feel joy and peace. That is my design for you.”

We might inquire, “But how can I find joy and peace? It all seems so unattainable.”

This is a great place to insert an idea from a wise scholar. Reuben Hill found that people could have very similar experiences, but very different reactions. Challenges might undo one family while propelling another family forward.

Hill found two specific factors that decided how a challenging event would impact a family: resources and meaning.


We are equipped with more powerful resources than we realize. Research has identified religious faith and community as some of the best resources for managing challenges. When we recognize our resources and use them, we keep challenges from becoming crises. Having supportive friends and meaningful work can make a big difference. Even previous experiences with challenges can prepare us for new challenges.


This may be the single most important tool for dealing with challenges. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we can interpret our experience in any of several ways.

1. My life is off-track. I didn’t get any breaks. It will never turn out the way I hoped.
2. I haven’t created the life I wanted. And I don’t have the ability to change things.
3. I have been treated unfairly. People have robbed me of opportunities.

We can blame our circumstances, blame ourselves, or blame other people. None of those lead to peace or growth.

Spiritual problems require spiritual remedies.

We throw away Satan’s soundtrack. We cast Satan out of our lives. We recognize that a constant sense of worry, fear, and anxiety does not come from God. He does not send us hopelessness. So we replace Satan’s discordant soundtrack with God’s edifying one.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We fill ourselves with the Light of Christ. As President Uchtdorf taught, “If you open your mind and heart to receive the Light of Christ and humbly follow the Savior, you will receive more light. Line upon line, here a little and there a little, you will gather more light and truth into your souls until darkness has been banished from your life… Darkness vanishes in the presence of light.” (Bearers of Heavenly Light, General Conference, October 2017)

As we seek a deeper relationship with the Savior and allow Him more fully into our thoughts, we can experience feelings of hope and peace. We can see the potential for growth. We can trust that we will be led through our challenges.
Rather than the three messages above, we might play God’s messages:

1. “God can help me learn from this. It will turn out.”
2 “Life is going to be messy, because humans make mistakes. But God will turn all things to my good. God is looking after me.
3. “When others treat me unfairly, it gives me the opportunity to grow in charity and wisdom. God and I can create different outcomes.”
God is looking after us. We can hear His soundtrack of love, joy, and peace. That changes everything.

Invitation: Notice when you feel unsettled, anxious or discouraged. Don’t allow that disturbing soundtrack to play in your life. Turn to God and call on His power.

Note: Those dealing with clinical depression or anxiety should also seek professional assistance.

Thanks to Barbara and Emily Ruth for their excellent additions to this article.

Self Development

Thinking Big in Family Life

An older widow was in the habit of going to the grocery store every day. She bought just a few items, hardly more than a day’s supply. The clerks thought this odd because most people buy groceries for several days at a time. One day one of the clerks was bold enough to inquire, “Why do you buy only a few things each day?” “Well…it’s just that I’m a widow and I live with my nephew and I can’t stand him. When I die I don’t want to leave him any groceries.”

So human. In each of us is a part that says, “I’ll be darned if I’m going to give anything to someone I don’t like. He doesn’t deserve it!”

That is smallness of soul.

I love the story of an unusual Little League coach. He had a team that just couldn’t get the idea of baseball. He spent a lot of their practices just teaching the boys about which way to run around the bases. They lost game after game after game after game.

There was one little boy in particular who never caught or hit the ball in any practices or games. The team got down to a dramatic moment in the final game of the season: last inning, two outs, down by one run. The little boy who had never hit or caught the ball came up to bat. The team figured the game and the season were over. But somehow, miraculously, this boy connected and got on first base. The team was ecstatic because next up to bat was the team slugger. If the team slugger drove in the little fellow on base and himself, they would win, the only win of the season!

The team slugger did what he did so well, he made a solid hit toward right field. The boy on first base who had never hit or caught a ball also didn’t really understand the game of baseball. He was able to decide that the right thing to do was to head toward second base, so he took off running. But halfway there he saw the ball coming toward him. This confused him. So he caught it, thereby making the final out against his own team.

Imagine the perplexed coach and team. After reflecting for a moment, the coach turned to the team and said, “This kid has never before hit the ball or caught it. He just did both in the same inning! Cheer for him!”

That is bigness. Generosity. Kindness. Graciousness. Hopefully, we have all experienced it. Bigness feels good. It leads us to joy.

Jesus provides us a marvelous contrast of bigness and smallness with his experience in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). As they were dining, a sinful woman with an alabaster box of ointment approached Jesus tenderly. The woman “stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”

Sneering Simon was repulsed with the woman’s presence and disgusted that Jesus did not recognize her low character and send her away. “If Jesus were truly a prophet…”

The kind, gentle Master drew his attention—and ours—to the irony by telling the story of two debtors, one who owed 500 pence and the other who owed 50 pence. Both were forgiven their debts. Which of them was more grateful? Presumably it was the person forgiven the greater debt, Simon conceded. Jesus confronted Simon with his smallness. While Simon sat smugly judging the woman, the sinful woman was forgiven for her whole-souled love for the Redeemer.

But even after experiencing the Master’s bigness, the Pharisees remained small-minded. Maybe the Pharisees were big in the community. Powerful. Prominent. “Righteous.” But some of their hearts were shriveled, small, cruel, and empty. The sinful woman was small, shunned, insignificant in the community. But her heart was full of devotion, love, gratitude, and hope. Jesus keeps surprising us by reminding us that He does not measure as the world measures. He measures the bigness of our hearts.

For each of us, the matter of bigness and smallness is put in personal perspective by the story of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23 35). When called before his master to account for his multimillion dollar debt, he begged for mercy, and was forgiven the debt. But when he met a man who owed him a few dollars, who likewise petitioned for mercy, he had him thrown into prison. The message is gentle but clear. Each of us goes to the King to be forgiven vast debts. He gladly forgives us. How ungracious it is when we are small, stingy and unwilling to forgive our fellow travelers their puny debts to us.

The Lord asks: “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” Matthew 18:33

It’s easier to be big when we are feeling good about life, good about ourselves, and good about things in general. But when we’re tired and discouraged and frustrated, when we’re without love and hope, it’s hard to be big.

There are several things we can do to encourage bigness in ourselves. The most important may be to keep ourselves filled with a sense of Father’s goodness. We are more likely to be big when we see as Father sees—we notice and remember the good in others, we understand their noblest intentions.

I do better at bigness when I remember that Father has invited us to help and love each other. Sometimes we unwittingly promote smallness in our families. For example, because we want our children to learn responsibility, we are usually quite firm in our schedule of doing the dishes. But while we should teach our children responsibility, we don’t want to teach them smallness. So Nancy and I tried to apply lessons of bigness to getting the dishes done. While we normally expected our children to do their dishes on their appointed day, when they were unusually stressed, we volunteered, “May I do the dishes for you tonight? Can we help you any other way? Is there anyone in the family who would like to help?” Teaching compassion is just as important as teaching responsibility.

While it is normal to occasionally feel angry, peevish, and out-of-sorts, we can learn to handle our feelings in non-destructive ways. For example, I have found that any correcting I do when I am angry is likely to be destructive and unhelpful. So I try not to correct or confront anyone when I am angry. It is better to wait until I am feeling loving and generous.

We can follow the remarkable example of the Savior by being gracious, kind, and forgiving. It feels good to be big.

Invitation: When you find your heart feeling small and shriveled, pause. Ask yourself how you can show the kind of mercy that God regularly shows to each of us.

Recommendation: Many parts of this article were drawn from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her able editing.


The Road to Marital Misery is Paved with Good Intentions

Often, we think we are acting nobly when we are actually being destructive.

Some examples:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “We need to talk.”

Hoping to state the problem, she describes the husband’s faults. “You don’t communicate effectively.”

Feeling overwhelmed, the husband resorts to contempt: “Well at least when I say something I don’t go on and on without getting to the point!”

Feeling attacked, the wife gets defensive: “Well, that’s typical! I’m the only one who cares about our relationship!”

Hoping to restore peace and end contention, the husband walks away from his wife. “I’m not going to fight.” And the wife feels abandoned.

In every case, the person may have a perfectly noble intent. He or she hopes to strengthen the relationship. Yet noble intentions are not enough. The road to marital misery is paved with good intentions. Just like when we try to remove a speck from a person’s eye when our own eyes are filled with sand. My presumption will leave us both blind.

Maybe we shouldn’t judge the nobility of our actions by our own intentions but by its sensitivity to our spouses. God wants us to apply a higher standard than “my good intentions” to our actions.

“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:19)

So, God’s principle is that we not act simply out of our objectives but out of the likely impact on our partners. In every decision, we also ask how our action will advance God’s work of redemption. When we use God’s principles to guide our relationships, we think and act differently.

We might argue: “But I am trying to improve our relationship!” Yes. But the path to a stronger relationship travels through your spouse’s heart. We cannot get to closeness without walking in our spouse’s shoes, thinking and feeling in his or her soul.

Does this mean that we must all be mind-readers? No. It means that we draw on our knowledge of our spouse. It will often mean that we ask questions and invite input rather than push in our preferred direction. It means that we take the long view of relationships.

First, enter their world.

Rather than take our irritation as the ultimate truth and guiding principle, we consider “the interest of [our] neighbor”—our spouse. We try to enter our spouse’s world and understand what he or she may be feeling.

Maybe she has had a terrible day.
I was thoughtless. I need to consider his feelings.
Maybe he is worried that I will put him down.
Maybe she feels lonely and powerless.
Maybe he feels like he is in trouble for everything he does and says.

When we understand how our spouse is feeling, we can be more helpful.

Second, we ask questions.

For example, “I would love your thoughts on our vacation plans [parenting, housing, employment, meals]. Is this a good time to talk about this? How are you feeling about our plans?”

When our spouse responds, we will be tempted to become defensive: “Yeah, but you just don’t understand that . . ..” The key to a good discussion is being a good listener and investigator.

Third, we present our ideas as opportunities for discussion. “I like your ideas about our vacation. My concern is that the kids might be overscheduled this summer. What do you think we can do about that?”

Often, we meet resistance (a partner who sees things differently), we push harder for our own beliefs. A shoving match ensues. If we want both harmony and growth, we will resist the urge to push back. We will open our minds and hearts.

Returning to the examples at the beginning of this article, consider the following:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “I would get your input. Would now be a good time for you?”

Hoping to approach the issue, she describes her needs in a way that invites understanding and input. “I know your communication style is different from mine. Sometimes I wish I knew more about what you are thinking. Is there a way you would be comfortable sharing more of your thoughts with me?”

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, the husband chooses humility. “I’m sure I’m missing important things here. I am accustomed to the way my family did things. Will you tell me more about how you like to communicate?

To avoid feeling attacked, the wife remains patient. “I want to make sure I understand you. Can you tell me more about your needs?”

Hoping to avoid contention, a husband leans into their relationship. “I think I need some time to sort out your request. Could we plan to go to dinner and talk some more one night this week?”

There is a particular difficulty in offering gentle responses: When we feel attacked, we react. We run away. We strike back. We get angry. And, once we are upset, it is natural for the conflict to cascade. If we want discussions to be productive, we should catch ourselves before we become roused. When we see that we are entering the war zone, we can take deep breaths, we can use gentle humor, we can declare a timeout.

One source of mischief in relationships is our expectation that we will magically be synced. If our relationship is a good one, we will naturally understand each other and gladly work together. Nope. God intended that we stretch ourselves. We are more different than we realize. Our job is to learn kindness, compassion, and generosity. God wants us to learn other people’s points of view.

The Lord directs: “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). God wants us to learn to lift each other just as He lifts us.

Invitation: Notice your irritation. Challenge it. Check the assumptions that generate your irritation. Try to understand why your spouse does as he or she does. Ask kind questions to help you understand.

Recommendation: The leading scholar on these marital processes is John Gottman. His book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, describes the ways we react to each other and ways to do better. For a gospel perspective on marriage, see my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

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

Self Development

Do You Ruminate?

“Ruminants usually have a stomach divided into four compartments and chew a cud consisting of regurgitated, partially digested food. Ruminants include cattle, sheep, goats, deer, giraffes, antelopes, and camels” (

It sounds quite unappetizing to have food going back and forth in our digestive tracts. Anyone want to bring breakfast back for some more chewing?

While humans are not official ruminants, many of us do ruminate—many of us regularly bring up old and painful experiences. We remember and review them over and over. We fret about them. We brood. We blame ourselves. Just like stomach acid causes heartburn, the emotional “acid” of these painful recollections causes pain to our minds and hearts.

Do you ruminate? In the course of a normal day, do you find thoughts of stupid mistakes from the past popping into your head? Do you find yourself revisiting conversations, regretting comments that hurt others’ feelings? Do you have a nagging sense of guilt for things you wish you hadn’t done? Do you replay memories of your failings in your mind? If so, you ruminate. I know the pains of rumination; I am a skilled ruminator myself.

Out of the blue I will have thoughts about my stupidest moments. They are often trivial and probably forgotten by everyone but me.

In adulthood, women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression. Martin Seligman, the famous psychologist, nominates rumination as the reason. When women feel bad, they ruminate. They endlessly mull over their mistakes. They may even bring up old mistakes as evidence that they are thoughtless or foolish. They seem to have prosecuting attorneys within their own souls.

In contrast, when men feel bad, they tend to act. Maybe they go shoot some hoops, pick a fight, or drive recklessly. They are no wiser than women, but they are less likely to be depressed.

Let’s put rumination in spiritual perspective. We might assume that heaven sends ruminations as part of a campaign for repentance. That is mistaken. God sends invitations but not ruminations. Ruminations are a gift from Satan, the great accuser. It is he who wants to keep us miserable in a cycle of self-blame and endless recrimination. He knows that such thinking sparks despair rather than repentance.

The good news is that we can stop ruminating—we can stop being the victims of Satan’s accusations. And we can do it while still being appropriately accountable. I will adapt Seligman’s five suggestions.

First, we can learn to recognize those automatic thoughts that flit through our heads. We can notice when we bring back mistakes in service of accusing and blaming ourselves. Often we start a narrative that suggests that our badness is personal, permanent, and pervasive. “I keep making the same stupid mistakes again and again in every part of my life. What is wrong with me?” We should catch ourselves when we say such things.

Second, we can learn to challenge or dispute those automatic thoughts. Yes. We make mistakes. Foolish ones. We also do many things well. And we keep learning and growing from our mistakes. Taking a bleak view of ourselves is a distortion intended to immobilize us. God does not want us to feel hopeless.

Third, we can learn to change our explanations. Maybe we discover that we have problems when we are under pressure or when we’re tired. We show ourselves the same kind of compassion we would show others: “I don’t do well in those circumstances. I will ask people to help me avoid those situations that bring out the worst.”

Fourth, we can learn to distract ourselves from depressing thoughts. Rather than let ourselves cascade into misery and self-hate, we do something to help us productively move forward. Maybe we talk a walk, or work on a project, or connect with a friend. We may postpone thoughts about our mistakes until we are feeling more safe and balanced.

Fifth, we can challenge our “depression-sowing assumptions.” Maybe you find yourself thinking about your weaknesses, mistakes, and shortcomings. Of course, there is some truth to those accusations. We are indeed fallen. And, “because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). But any pain at our fallenness should be promptly healed by His redemptiveness. We should acknowledge our weaknesses and choose repentance. To wallow in self-accusation, believing that we are beyond repair or beyond forgiveness, is to disrespect the power of the atonement can heal and change us.

There are times when God would have us minister to those we have injured. There is a place for apologies and reparations. There are times when God will call us to do better as we move forward. But there is not a place in God’s plan for endless self-recrimination.

I recommend Nephi’s psalm (2 Ne 4:17-35) as a pattern for dealing with self-accusation. When Nephi dwelt on what was wrong with himself (vv. 17-19), he was miserable. When he turned to what is right about God (vv. 19-35), he rejoiced and was filled with hope. There is a core lesson of life there.

We are demonstrably foolish as fallen humans. But God is fully determined to provide us experience AND redeem us. “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds our recurring wrongs,” as Neal Maxwell reminded us.

So, when those bitter tastes of foolishness and fallenness come to our mouths, we should swallow hard and fill our mouths with rejoicing in the One who has paid our tuition in the school of life—the One who knows that we will make abundant mistakes but whose commitment to us is infinite and eternal.

Next time you notice the bitter taste of self-blame, cry out for mercy, “O Jesus, Thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ask Him to heal you. Ask Him what He would have you do to make needed amends.

You may enjoy Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism, or Albert Ellis’ book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything–Yes, Anything!

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful editing.


Solving Parenting Problems

Sometimes the harder we try to solve a problem with a child, the worse it gets. For example, when we nag children to hurry and get ready, they drag their heels. The more we demand that they eat a certain food, the more they will resist. In both cases the more they resist, the more we nag and demand. The more we nag and demand, the less they cooperate. This is not likely to have a happy ending.

The good news is that there are better ways to solve parenting problems! If you find yourself getting stuck in your interaction with a child, consider the following.

1. Deal with your feelings

When we are upset or angry, we have a hard time seeing clearly. Anger—and its cousin, frustration—narrow our thinking and flatten our compassion.
When you deal with a parenting challenge, if you feel angry, betrayed, impatient, disgusted, devastated or any other strong feeling, your first job is to put out that fire. When your own feelings are in turmoil, you may find it hard to see your child helpfully.

I learned years ago that I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love—and not in some historical and generic way but here and now. If I’m not feeling love for the child, I need to take a break.

It may help to find a quiet place to relax and breathe deeply. It may help to pray or talk to someone who loves the child. As you feel more peaceful, you are ready to move forward.

2. Manage the way you see your child

When we think of the child as a problem, there is no good solution. When we see the child as doing the best he or she knows how, it will be easier to find good solutions.

As we face challenges with our children, it is good to remember that each child is an amazing and heavenly creation. When we remember the child’s greatest qualities, we are better prepared to turn problems into blessings.

Can you see clearly what his or her best qualities are? What do you enjoy about your child? What makes your child sparkle?

Before we can direct or correct a child, we must value that child. Do you feel loving and appreciative of the child? If so, you’re ready to move forward.

3. Understand what the child is trying to accomplish

People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When a child’s actions do not make sense to us, it is probably because we don’t fully understand the child’s needs and wants.

Even the most troubling behavior has its own logic. Maybe the child is feeling tired or sick. Maybe the child doesn’t know any better. Maybe the child is feeling afraid or lonely. Maybe the child is stressed. Maybe the child wants our attention.

We often misunderstand the child’s behavior because of what’s happening in our lives. Maybe we’re busy, unhappy, frustrated, or tired. Those feelings can keep us from seeing the child’s earnest motives.

When we set aside our own irritation and look at the child with kindness, we may be able to see what the child is trying to accomplish. Maybe a child is not trying to annoy us but simply engage us in his life.

When we are feeling peaceful, loving, and compassionate, we may be able to understand what our child is trying to accomplish. Then we can help her find a good way to get her needs met.

Step 4. Is there a better way?

As parents, we try to help children get what they want—in ways that make sense. For example, children who fuss for our attention should be able to get our attention—but in ways that don’t make us crazy. We might say to a child who is whining for attention, “I would love to talk with you or play with you, but I need you to tell me what you want in ways I can hear.”

Or, if a child has a hard time getting ready for school on time, we can start by figuring out why the child doesn’t get ready. Does the child need more time to wake up? If so, we might go in earlier and gently talk with and pat the child to help wake her up. Does the child find it hard to decide what to wear? If so, we might have the child decide what to wear the night before and lay out the clothes.

We can set our children up for success. There may also be times when we need to teach our child new skills. There may also be times when the key is your own mood—choosing to be patient, positive, and understanding.

5. Try something new.

The problems that have bothered you in the past will surely happen again.

Start with prevention:

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of punishment. What can you do to make problems less likely to occur? How can you change the way you approach the situation? Can you modify the family schedule or rules to fit the child while still keeping reasonable expectations? Do you need to help your child find new ways of getting his or her needs met?

Change the way you react:

When you feel yourself being dragged into a familiar battle with your child, stop. Decide to do something new. Try staying relaxed. Try seeing the child as an amazing and delightful person. Instead of saying or doing what you usually say or do, try listening more carefully. Try understanding your child. If you can’t see a good way to react, maybe you will decide to delay a decision until you have had time to think. Since our usual ways of responding to problems don’t work very well, our best hope for better family life is to try new and better ways.

Learn from problems:

After you have tried your new plan, notice the results. Did it help your child act in ways that are better for him or her and the rest of the family? The successful parents are those who keep trying ideas until they find ones that work with their family. What makes an idea a good one? It is a good idea if it works and if it shows respect to all who are involved.

Get input:

Problems arise in all families. When you feel stuck, try talking to the wisest and kindest parents you know. Try reading a good book. Pray for help from your heavenly Parent.

As you learn to help your children act in better ways, not only will they become better people, but you will become wiser, more compassionate, and a happier person.

Invitation: Think of a recent challenge you’ve faces with one of your children. Apply the steps in this article to find better ways of responding.

Recommendations: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child; H. Wallace Goddard’s The Soft-Spoken Parent

This article adapted from Parent Guide written for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.


Aligning Our Vision in Marriage

Yesterday I asked Nancy a question. She gave an answer that seemed quite unrelated to my question. I was baffled and annoyed. I blinked a few times to try to clear my mind. Had she heard and understood my question? Then I realized for the first time that Nancy and I experience entirely different things in our conversations.

I grew up with a philosophical, articulate, and precise Dad. He loved to reason with us. We often sat around the table to explore many subjects, mostly the gospel. He was careful about logic and grammar. I tried to learn from him.

Nancy grew up differently. Her dad was a gentle man of few words who loved finding uses for cast-off stuff. He gathered this and that from the dump and made a shed . . . or a statue. His creations were practical and imaginative. A person needed to watch him carefully to figure out what he had on his mind. Nancy was good at understanding him. She learned a lot from him.

After almost 50 years of marriage, I made a fresh discovery about my beloved Nancy. In any conversation, she notices what people are doing and feeling. So she hears the context of people’s lives and emotions more than she hears words. Those factors influence her understanding of my messages no matter what I say.

In contrast, no matter what is happening around me, I focus on the words and the logic. I love clarity and precision. I want Nancy to listen to my words and offer precise answers.

While this tendency of Nancy’s can sometimes create communication differences between us, I also view it as one of her great gifts. It makes her aware of people in gatherings who need a friend or a word of encouragement. She seems to have a sixth sense about the needs of others. I love that about her.

There are other ways that Nancy and I think differently. She is more likely to see danger and I am more likely to see adventure. She is quiet and reflective. I am enthusiastic and passionate. She values healthy food and I relish fun food. She is task-oriented and I am fun-loving. It is surprising how differently two people can see our shared world!

Maybe we could compare our different perceptions of the world to binocular vision. Humans have two eyes not only to provide a wider range of vision but also so that we can perceive depth. For this to work, the two eyes must be carefully coordinated. They must align and focus together.

Babies learn to coordinate the views coming from both their eyes within the first few months of life. Learning to coordinate our different views of the world in marriage can take decades. We come from families that are vastly different not only in the way they communicate, but the way they define closeness, express emotions, and solve problems. Typically, our spouses are more different from us than we realized!

We all have our own specific way of reacting to the world around us. Yet our personal way seems so natural—so right and sensible. We expect our spouses to be like us. When they are different, we judge them to be defective.

How do we learn to coordinate our vision with our spouse? How do we learn to make productive use of our different ways of seeing the world?

1. Humility is the recognition that we don’t see everything. In fact, we entirely miss some of the most important things. And we often don’t know it. So, when we set aside our dogmatism and take a genuine interest in our spouse’s views, we are likely to discover a lot.

2. Explore your spouse’s point of view. Ask questions—especially when something isn’t making sense to you. Your spouse has a coherent vision that you can only appreciate if you are attentive and inquisitive.

3. Work to harmonize your two views. We are all tempted to dismiss other ways of seeing the world. When we are willing to understand and incorporate the others’ view into our own, we will see more and understand better.

When we add our spouse’s perspective to our own, we see far more. Instead of judging our spouse, we are able to appreciate what our spouse values. And we are more likely to enjoy each other.

Invitation: The next time you think your spouse’s ideas are weird or illogical, pause, take a few breaths, and then try to enter their world. Don’t judge. Try to understand.

Recommendation: John Gottman’s chapter about love maps in The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work provides activities to better understand your spouse’s world.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful edits to this article.