I struggled for a long time to find a clear interpretation of a phrase in scripture that seems very significant.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, 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).
What does the Lord mean by “pure knowledge”? Is it knowledge that is incisive, accurate, and indisputable? How does this special kind of knowledge fit with its companions: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love, and kindness?
Recently some dear and admired friends called us. These sweet and wise parents of two boys were at the end of their parenting rope. They had tried everything they knew to do and their relationship with their 3-year-old son had only gotten worse. The boy runs around relentlessly and, when his mother is nursing the baby, will start to jump on the furniture contrary to their rules and contrary to his own conscience. The parents had started to wonder if their son was a bad, rebellious boy. How could they control him? They were very frustrated.
We talked about the general preventives: lots of positive time with parents, distraction, clear rules. These good parents had done all these things but without effect. Why is this little boy deliberately and effectively tormenting his mother?
I asked the mother if she thought she saw a pattern in her son’s bad days. This wise mother responded to the question with an answer from deep in her soul. She said that the problems usually occurred after she had been up much of the night with the baby, was exhausted, and withdrew from her interaction with him. The boy is very sensitive and can tell when his mother withdraws. He will do anything to draw her back into his life.
When the mother was able to set aside the effect of the behavior on her and consider the problem from her son’s perspective, she discovered a sensible and compassionate answer. The boy is not cruel and heartless; He is a tender child who wants his mother to be a part of his life.
That felt like pure knowledge to me, the kind that Heavenly Father talks about in scripture. It is a special kind of knowledge. It is filtered with kindness and informed by love. It can be discerned by the fact that, rather than lead to accusation, “it greatly enlarges the soul.” We are bigger and better people when we see our world from the perspectives of the other people in it. Such pure knowledge must be a cousin to charity, which is seeing the world and all its struggling players from Jesus’ divine and redemptive perspective.
The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. . . . if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 241).
Pure knowledge does not solve problems all by itself. It must call on the companion virtue of wisdom. On those mornings when the mother has just had a nearly sleepless night, she and her husband might begin the day with an assessment. Does the mother need some extra help? Should the son be given a chance to play with a friend while she gets a nap? Should the father give her a blessing to sustain her? Should he take time off work to help her? If we are to make it through mortality properly, we must use goodness, wisdom, earthly help, and heavenly grace.
We had a further opportunity to study pure knowledge and wisdom as this sweet mother asked about the problems she has with her son when she uses the phone. Whenever she uses the phone for more than a minute or two, her son starts to act up. The same sense of isolation and desolation seemed to motivate his behavior. I suggested that, when she knows she needs to make an extended phone call, she could plan with her little boy: “I need to make a phone call this morning. Would you like me to make the call while you eat breakfast, while you watch a video, or while you play with your blocks?” When he feels some control over his mother’s unavailability, he may be less anxious.
The mother wondered if that put her son in charge of the family. I suggested that power is primarily an adult issue; the child’s issue is generally affection. (Power becomes children’s issue when they find that it is necessary to get parents involved in their lives.) The boy is not trying to run the family; he is trying to deal with the anxiety he feels when his mother disappears emotionally either out of tiredness or distraction. Mother can set boundaries: “I must use the phone this morning.” Yet she can do it in a way that shows regard for her son: “I want to call at a time that we both feel good about.”
Satan would have us interpret one another by the harshest light. Everything we see may be “true” but not “real.” In order to see that which is eternally real, we must see into eternity, we must see as Father sees. He unfailingly finds the good.
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good . . . (Alma 32:35).
Father casts the soft glow of love and eternal purpose over His children. That is pure knowledge. It may not always be “true” as the world reckons truth. The larger view from heaven changes everything.
I think the best part of the conversation with those young parents was when I felt inspired to say to them: “Even with all the struggles, you love your little boy with all your souls. You know you would gladly die for him. He just needs to know how much you love him.” When we act from pure knowledge, then love, kindness, gentleness, and meekness are the natural fruit.