Self Development

The Great Presumption

A bright, sensitive young man told me about his recent battle with his brother. Harsh words and threats were traded. The young man told me, “If he apologizes sincerely, I will forgive him. But I rather like being estranged. It is nice not to have him around.” It seems that all of us enjoy some occasional recreational resentment. We love to nurture our grudges and culture our complaints.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9).

Sometimes we’re tempted to accuse God of hyperbole. He couldn’t possibly mean that, if someone commits a grievous sin against us—perhaps murder, rape, theft—that we will be guilty of a still greater sin if we do not fully forgive that person. Maybe He is exaggerating for effect.

There is another possibility. Maybe unforgivingness is a presumption of epic proportions. Maybe the failure to forgive suggests that we think we should be able to regulate the flow of His grace. “No one should be redeemed unless we approve.”

Perhaps God is telling us in that remarkable scripture that we do not have veto power on His acts of redemption. When we presume to declare someone undeserving, we show our pettiness and ingratitude. We clearly do not understand our own dependence on His grace.

Thus, when brilliant Jesus teaches about a debtor who was forgiven a vast debt (estimated to be billions of dollars in today’s money) who would not forgive a puny debt (estimated to be pocket change), the ungracious man incurred divine wrath.

And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:34–35).

Lately the Lord has blessed me with opportunities to view the significance of forgiveness. In one case, a young couple found themselves divided, resentful, and at the brink of divorce. The young man revealed that his attitude toward his bride had been severely damaged when she revealed a past indiscretion. He punished her for months with sullenness, harshness, and absence. To his eternal credit, he finally recognized the error of his ways. He admitted, “I need to fill myself with the gospel to change my attitude and behavior.” It was marvelous to see the transformation as he turned toward the light.

In another case, my sweet companion was asking me about making copies of the tape of our daughter’s mission report. Not having taken time to understand her request, I misunderstood her need. We swapped misunderstandings until I reacted impatiently. It is amazing to me that I can so quickly become impatient with the kindest, most considerate person I have ever known. I am sorry, Nancy.

We all have just cause for resenting each other. In a telestial world, we are all offenders. Whether we do or don’t resent the offenders around us is the measure of our conversion. Loving the undeserving is the evidence of our change of heart.

When our view of life is limited to our own puny needs and peevish complaints, we begrudge others any good fortune or heavenly grace. But when we understand the great gift that has been given us, the gift of His loving sacrifice, we are filled with love and patience for the entire human race. Judgment is transformed into charity.

It is popular for us to soften the boundaries of the commandment “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1; 3 Nephi 14:1) by invoking the seemingly more liberal Joseph Smith translation “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (JST Matthew 7:2). Apparently we are free to judge if we do it righteously. And so humans from the beginning of time have smote one another with the commandments: “He is a sinner.” “She falls short.” “They are no good.” (What an irony that we smite each other with the commandments that God designed to bless us!)

The trouble with the broadening interpretation of the judging commandment is that it does not account for several other scriptures, including these two:

Behold what the scripture says–man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay (Mormon 8:20).

Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay (D&C 82:23).

How does one reconcile the different counsel on judging? There is actually no discrepancy between the seemingly more restrictive (“Do not judge”) and the more liberal commandments (“Judge only righteously”) if we understand them rightly. None of us is righteous (see Romans 3:10). Our telestial minds are not capable of righteous judgment.

But when we are filled with He who is truly righteous, we can see rightly. When our only judgment of others is His assessment of them, then we “pass righteous judgment.” In the final analysis, only One who knows everything and loves perfectly has the right to judge.

It is supremely appropriate that we are judged on the same principle that we judge. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2).

If we see others through the lens of His love and compassion, we will be seen in that same way. If we apply our shriveled, shrewish judgments to others, we will be judged in that way. If the grace and goodness of Christ is not our standard as we measure, it will not be the standard when we are measured.

It is not hard to tell when we are imposing our own miserable sentences on one another and when we see with the “mind of Christ”(I Corinthians 2:16). The indicator Joseph Smith gave us is compassion: “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241).

There is one scene in literature that still haunts my weak efforts at charity—the bishop’s candlesticks from Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. The kindly Catholic bishop of Digne gives shelter to an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, much to the dismay of his housekeeper and sister. He feeds and gives a bed to the brooding man. In the dark of the night, the troubled Valjean rises, makes his way to the silver, fills his bag, and departs. On the morrow, gendarmes drag Valjean and the silver back to the bishop.

The bishop has every reason to be indignant that his kindness has been repaid with thievery. His word would send the man back to prison. He might have thought it gracious to recover his silver, deliver a lecture, and send the man on his way. But he holds a higher standard.

He greets the sullen thief: “Ah, there you are! I am glad to see you. But I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?”

Valjean was thunderstruck. He had only known a world of cruel legalism. He could not comprehend a man who heaped goodness on his tortured and undeserving head. That act of grace transformed Jean Valjean’s life and rippled through the balance of his years.

If we think of God’s commandments as a ruler, they are intended to chart our course back to Him. They were never intended to whack fellow travelers on the head. In the press of daily commerce, how often do we rap heads with the ruler of our legal judgments when we could change history by following the perfect example of one who taught forgiveness? He invites us to the highest standard.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, 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 5:43–4).

God invites us to join Him in the sweet process of blessing His children.

Self Development

The Natural Leader Is An Enemy To God

It is hard to imagine Jesus nagging the apostles: “You guys need to get out there and spread the word. My ministry is half over and we haven’t reached our goals. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!”

Yet when we want to “inspire” better performance in any church or family endeavor, we commonly scold, chide, admonish, chasten, and lecture. It is only natural. “Natural.” It is good to remember that our instinctive or natural actions make us enemies to God (Mosiah 3:19).

Maybe we chide and scold because such methods seem to work, at least in the short run. But the Lord suggests that they are not effective. And they are not right. He instructs us to use persuasion, gentleness, kindness, and love (D&C 121:34–42).

I have a dear friend named Myke. Some years ago he was a district scout leader. Part of his responsibilities included periodic meetings with troop leaders. Because of his determination to do his duty with honor, he did several things to be effective. He would send reminders to those who should attend. He was always well prepared to provide good material at the meetings. When someone did not come to the meetings, Myke would organize sets of materials from the meeting and visit the home of each of those people and share the materials.

One of Myke’s fellow scouters in district leadership chided him: “You’re only teaching them to be irresponsible when you take the materials to their homes. They’ll never come to your meetings if you keep taking things to them.” Myke rose to the challenge. He invited his colleague to make a test: “You use every means you know to get leaders to your meetings. I will continue to use the method I use. Let’s see who has better attendance.” Over a period of months each used his method. Would it surprise you to know that Myke’s attendance improved over time while his co-worker’s meeting attendance declined?

There is a “natural” interpretation to Myke’s delivery to non-attenders: “Well, if you don’t come, I’ll run everything over to your house. Don’t worry if you don’t want to come.” But the non-attenders seemed to get a different message: “When you don’t come, you are missed. Your work is important enough and the materials I prepared are important enough that I will bring them to you.” I think Myke was also saying, “I will do everything I can to support you in your vital work.” Such messages translate into better performance.

Jesus taught the same kind of leadership when he counseled us to “leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matthew 18:12). Was Jesus worried that the ninety and nine would wander off, hoping for the extra attention that was given strays? Apparently not. Maybe Jesus hoped the ninety and nine would follow His example and become rescuers of lost sheep. Maybe scoutmasters who have been supported reach out to scouts who are lost.

Rather than scold the straying sheep, Jesus carried it upon his shoulders. Yet think of the many times that we scold one another. “Brethren, the month is half over; you need to do your home teaching.” “We now have a temple in our area and we aren’t using it as we should.” “SHHH! Be reverent!” We do a lot of scolding.

I know a bishop who had a monthly interview with the ward elder’s quorum president. One of the regular items of business in their meetings was to review home teaching. If there were any brethren who had not regularly contacted all their families, the quorum president would make a note and arrange to visit with them. If they did not improve their home teaching within the next month or two, the bishop would make individual appointments with the home teachers. The bishop and home teacher would begin their meeting with prayer and then the bishop would say: “As a priesthood home teacher, you are the vital link between God’s church and some of His precious children. Some of those children are not getting visited; what can we do to support your home teaching?” If changes needed to be made in companionships or assigned families, they were made. But that was rare. Usually the erring home teacher simply needed to be reminded how important his work was. He needed to be invited to be a partner with God.

Inviting is better than scolding. Inviting is what God does. “His hand is stretched out still” is the repeated message of scripture. Our bad deeds may bring on calamity that can humble us. Yet He always invites us to return to His Way of Life:

“Every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

Scolding, especially in groups, poisons the spirit of the gathering. It does not motivate spiritual behavior and it may engender resentment. For example, a high councilman assigned to talk about home teaching might use his sacrament meeting time to review the ward’s dreary statistics, threaten eternal consequences for slackers, and urge reformation.

There is a better way. Recently I heard a man tell about his home teaching. He said that he was teaching a brother who used to be a bishop but has not been to church for years and does not live the Word of Wisdom. The man reported about his home teaching: “I don’t know how it happens. We visit the man. We talk about his projects. We share our message. We have not gotten him to come to church. I don’t know if we’ve done him a bit of good. But we sure do love him! God has given us a love for that man that I cannot comprehend. I look forward to every visit.” Such a message could make a great talk on home teaching. It is more effective than the customary scolding.

The first principle of leadership is love. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). During His mortal ministry, many people responded to Jesus because He reached out to the blind, He touched the leper, He wiped away tears from the sorrowing, and He saw beyond sin in the confused. If we want to motivate better performance, we must first love. Love for God, His work and His children, is both contagious and energizing.

A while back our stake president made an appointment with Nancy and me. He invited me into the office first and asked if I would support Nancy as the new stake relief society president. I didn’t know whether to groan or to laugh. Nancy does not like to be on stage. She does not like to boss people around. She does not like to make lots of decisions. She simply wants to help people in need. That is why she is such a great leader! She does not care for any of the trappings of leadership. She only wants to love and serve.

Effective leadership is motivated by love for those served and for the work. Meaningful home and visiting teaching is energized by the same love. Inspiring classroom teaching is animated by love for students, for God, and for His sacred messages.

Of course our most significant leadership roles are within the family. An acquaintance at work once asked me how to deal with her 4-year-old having scratched a neighbor child. I asked what she had already done. She said she had scratched her daughter and isolated her to her room for three days. I still remember the mother’s words: “She must learn that it is not acceptable to scratch.” I am confident that the 4-year-old learned many things in that encounter. I doubt that she learned not to scratch.

My personal reaction to such behavior has been mellowed by my grandparental stage of life. I recommend that the mom comfort the injured neighbor child and then take the offending child to a quiet place. The mother could hold the child close as they rock together. She could soothe the child with gentle strokes. She could hum a favorite tune. She might even call on her deepest feelings to express love to the child. Would kindness after misbehavior convey to the child, “I just love it when you are a terrorist!” I don’t think so. I think they would convey, “I love you, Dear. I’m sure you’re very confused right now. I’m sure you feel bad about hurting your friend. You must not hurt people. I want to help you get to that place in your soul where the holiest impulses can be found. From that place will come all the right actions.”

That seems to be Jesus’ message to us in the story of the prodigal son. Though the son had been ungrateful, wasteful, and immoral, his model father responded to the son’s return with love: “when [the son] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The second principle of leadership is love. So are the third and fourth. That is not to say that there is nothing else that matters. Somewhere around number 73, other principles show up: wisdom, stewardship, delegation, etc. But if we have not charity, the pure love that comes from Christ, we are nothing (see 1 Cor. 13:2, 2 Nephi 26:30, and Moroni 7:46.).

As Myke says, “Sheep herders scold and drive. Shepherds lead and love.”

Parenting

Feelings Come First

A Great Idea …“When children are in the midst of strong emotions, they cannot listen to anyone. They cannot accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism. They want us to understand what is going on inside them, what they are feeling at that particular moment.” (Haim Ginott, child psychologist, in his book, Between Parent and Child, p. 82)

In Other Words …Our children’s strong emotions send us a clear invitation: Deal with the feelings before worrying about anything else. A child may want a few words of understanding: “Wow! You’re really upset!” or “You’re very disappointed.” Some children may want to have a few minutes to settle down. Some may want to be hugged. The feelings must be dealt with before solutions can be discussed.

How This Applies to You …The next time your child is angry or upset, deal with the emotions before trying to deal with the problem. Consider how your child likes to be comforted. After the child has calmed down, then you can talk about what happened and discuss what needs to be done to prevent the situation from happening again.

To Find Out More …For an excellent (and free!) program on parenting, see The Parenting Journey at www.arfamilies.org and if your children are younger than six, check out See the World Through My Eyes. For more in-depth reading, we recommend Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman or Soft-Spoken Parenting by H. Wallace Goddard.

Self Development

Nephi’s Psalm

 



It seems to me that great rejoicing in the Atonement is often evoked by great challenges in life. And Nephi’s Psalm in 2 Nephi 4 is a great case in point.

When we consider this chapter in perspective, we see that in verse 12 Lehi died. Think about what that would have meant to Nephi. Lehi was not only his father, but also the prophet leader. He was Nephi’s mentor and guide. What a keen loss this would have been for Nephi.

Lehi died and, as you might expect, Laman and Lemuel promptly got angry along with those who followed them.

Then Nephi’s thoughts turned to the record he had been keeping. I wonder if in some ways that was a burden to him as well. After all, it was his father who taught him in language and culture and now his father was gone. His father mentored and tutored him in keeping a sacred record and now he felt the pressure to try to keep the people together, to keep the record and to do the work of God.

Sometimes the Atonement becomes more meaningful when we get desperate.

In verse 15, Nephi said, “Upon these I write the things of my soul… For my soul delighteth in the scriptures.”  And then in verse 16, “My soul delighteth in the things of the Lord.” But even as he rejoiced, he observed, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord…” (v. 17).

There is something about knowing the greatness and goodness of God that makes us more aware, more mindful, more burdened by our limitations and humanness.  So he went on in verse 17, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of my iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth…”

Nephi gave us no clues about those sins and probably we don’t need to know. We don’t know if he was burdened that sometimes he forgot to do his chores or make his bed in the morning. We don’t know if perhaps he failed to save his best energy for prayer. We don’t know whether he had a sensitive soul that became troubled by fairly small mistakes and failings when God had blessed him so abundantly. Or perhaps Nephi was more like most of us—someone who blundered and soiled his life time and time again. Was he burdened by anger, lust, selfishness and all the other common afflictions of mortality? We don’t know. And we don’t need to know because the principles that Nephi teaches us in this great psalm are the same if our sins are of the minor variety or the larger, more common variety.

So he confessed to us, “Despite the goodness of God, my heart sorroweth, my soul grieveth because of my iniquities.” But then there was a turning point: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted” (v. 19). That word trust is going to turn out to be very important in this chapter.

“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions… he hath preserved me… He hath filled me with his love… He hath confounded mine enemies…” (vs. 20-22).

I don’t know why it took me so long to notice that the real focal point had changed from what was so wrong with Nephi to what was so right with God. That’s quite a transformation isn’t it? Nephi was no longer focused on his little known and, to him, abundant shortcomings. His focus turned to God who time and again, in spite of all his weaknesses, blessed him, looked after him, magnified him, and enlarged him.

I think Nephi’s message is: God is able to do His work even with flawed, fallen, imperfect people like us.

Let’s jump  to verse 26. “Oh then, if I have seen so great things…”

Have we seen such great things? Having seen great things, have we appreciated them?  Having witnessed God’s work in our lives and in the lives of those around us, have we been mindful of that work and grateful for it?

“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow… why should I yield to sin…? Why should I give way to temptations…? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” (vs. 26-27)

These questions are not asked in the sense of, “If I have been given such great training, then why do I behave so badly?” These questions are really very different.  The real issue Nephi seemed burdened by was: “If the Lord has been so gracious, then why do I keep myself so vulnerable to sin? Why do I allow myself to be snared by evil?”

Then came the call from his soul which said, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy  of my soul” (v. 28).  Notice the theme of “awake and rejoice”.  Be mindful of God and His goodness.  Be mindful of His readiness to help and bless us.  And then, having done that, rejoice.

“Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation” (v. 30).

Then came that plea for divine help because Nephi wanted very much to resist any incursion of sin into his life. “O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin” (v. 31)?

Make it so that sin is ugly to me and detestable and not the least bit attractive. Make it so that sin has no draw to me, but rather it is holiness that I crave.  “May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite” (v. 32)! Isn’t that the recognition that all that we have and are is a blessing from God and due to His goodness?

“O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:33)!  In other words—my holiness ultimately is a sacred gift from Thee.

Let’s conclude with verse 34.  “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.  Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”

So Nephi really launched into this psalm in earnest as he said, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”  He concluded by saying five times: “trust”.  Trust God, not myself. Trust God, not any other human. It is God who must save us. And he ended by proclaiming, “He is the rock, the everlasting God”

May we follow the great example set by Nephi. May we trust in God and throw ourselves on the merits, mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah.

Self Development

Lehi’s Life Summary

 

Lehi’s Life Summary

Hugh Nibley said that there is a single verse that best encapsulates what the Atonement is all about and gives us a visual imagery for the significance of the Atonement. That verse is 2 Nephi 1:15.

This particular message is delivered just as Lehi is about to die. He captures the essence of his ministry and his life experience in a single verse.

He says, “But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell.”

I’m not sure of everything that Lehi had in mind there. My suspicion is that he may not only have been talking about the prospective hell that would be inevitable if not for the sacrifice of the Savior, but even for the hell of mortality. I think Lehi was keenly aware that life hurts us here on this earth and injures us fairly regularly. So when he says, “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from Hell”, he means the Lord redeems us not only from what lies ahead, but also from what lies behind. He rescues us from all of our past disappointments, injuries, failures and dashed hopes. He even takes away today’s pain.

Lehi continues, “I have beheld His glory”.

There is something magical about beholding His glory. When we have, it changes everything. Instead of feeling we are strangers in a strange land, we gain the understanding that we are pilgrims on a journey. While we are still far away, we are headed toward our heavenly home. So when Lehi says he has beheld His glory, he is saying, “Because I know God, I understand the meaning of life. I understand the journey. I understand me, because I understand God.”

“And I am encircled about eternally in the arms of His love.”

What amazing imagery: God reaches out and enfolds us in His arms of love! We are truly His. We are safe because we are His. Hope is possible because we are His. A joyous eternity is possible because we are His—and encircled about eternally in His arms of love.

Thus that single verse encapsulates not only Lehi’s life but the Great Plan of Happiness.

Self Development

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

We have all experienced questions from others that left us feeling confused or humiliated. Often we are left wondering how to respond to cruelty and insensitivity. I recently read an article by a multiracial woman who had experienced several painful incidents of insensitivity. For example, an adult asked her when she was a child if she was black. As a young girl she felt embarrassed and small. She didn’t know how to reply.

Later in life, a fellow student asked her why she didn’t have big lips if she was black. She tried to formulate an answer even though convinced that the question did not merit one. To the woman’s credit, she has chosen to resist anger.

Peacemaking

We have all been hurt by insensitivity or thoughtlessness. Someone at church says something that misjudges us. A group gathers and we are left out. Relatives accuse us of faults and failings. Every one of us gets injured by life.

Sometimes we have lashed back. Sometimes we have sought opportunities to balance the scale. Sometimes we have suffered in sullen silence.

I want to suggest another way of responding to thoughtlessness. When someone has treated us insensitively, maybe we can open their minds and hearts to our world. At the very least we can offer them grace. We have a rich history filled with examples of this great work of character.

In 1857, at the age of 19, Joseph F. Smith was returning from the Sandwich Islands by way of the “Southern Route” from Los Angeles to Utah. The wagon train with which Joseph F. was traveling made camp, when some “toughs rode into the camp on horseback, cursing and swearing and threatening what they would do to the Mormons.”

Joseph F. was a little distance from the camp gathering wood for the fire, but he saw that the few members of his own party had cautiously gone in the brush down the creek, out of sight. When he saw that, . . . the thought came into his mind, “Shall I run from these fellows? Why should I fear them?” With that he marched up with his arm full of wood, to the campfire where one of the ruffians, still with his pistol in his hand, shouting and cursing about the Mormons, in a low voice said to Joseph F., “Are you a Mormon?”

And the answer came straight, “yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.”

At that the ruffian grasped him by the hand and said: “Well, you are the [blankety-blank] pleasantest man I ever met! Shake young fellow, I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; p. 104).

Truly, his light shone in the darkness of hate and conflict.

Another familiar example:

One day the Prophet was visiting his parents’ home in Far West, when a group of armed militiamen came in and announced that they had come to kill him for a supposed crime. Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, described his gift for peacemaking:

“[Joseph] looked upon them with a very pleasant smile and, stepping up to them, gave each of them his hand in a manner which convinced them that he was neither a guilty criminal nor yet a cowering hypocrite. They stopped and stared as though a spectre had crossed their path.

“Joseph sat down and entered into conversation with them and explained to them the views and feelings of the people called Mormons and what their course had been, as also the treatment which they had met with from their enemies since the first outset of the Church. He told them that malice and detraction had pursued them ever since they entered Missouri, but they were a people who had never broken the laws to his knowledge. But if they had, they stood ready to be tried by the law.

“After this, he rose and said, ‘Mother, I believe I will go home. Emma will be expecting me.’ Two of the men sprang to their feet, saying, ‘You shall not go alone, for it is not safe. We will go with you and guard you.’ Joseph thanked them, and they went with him.

“The remainder of the officers stood by the door while these were absent, and I overheard the following conversation between them:

“First Officer: ‘Did you not feel strangely when Smith took you by the hand? I never felt so in my life.’

“Second Officer: ‘I felt as though I could not move. I would not harm one hair of that man’s head for the whole world.’

“Third Officer: ‘This is the last time you will ever catch me coming to kill Joe Smith or the Mormons either.’ …

“Those men who went with my son promised to go disband the militia under them and go home, and said that if he had any use for them, they would come back and follow him anywhere.” (Lucy Mack Smith, “The History of Lucy Smith, Mother of the Prophet,” 1844–45 manuscript, book 15, pp. 8–10, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Generosity of Heart

Admittedly, most of us do not have the presence of mind or generosity of heart to respond to ugliness with graciousness. Yet we can develop this ability. We will become more useful to our Father as we do. Remember Jesus’ response to a lawyer determined to humiliate Him. Jesus delivered to his accuser one of the sweetest stories ever told: the Good Samaritan. He essentially invited the man to become a source of goodness rather than an agent for hurt.

I remember a tender woman in our ward who was often asked when she and her husband were going to have children. Those inquiring ward members did not realize that she was unable to have children, a fact which was deeply painful to her. She could react to their naïve inquiry by brooding. She could lash back. Or she might open the way for greater compassion and connection by saying: “My husband and I are not able to have children but we have resolved to love every child in our ward who comes within our reach.”

Conquering our Enemies

Maybe when we feel attacked, we can kindly invite the “enemy” into our experience. Instead of vilifying them because of the wounds they have inflicted, we can see them as someone who doesn’t understand our lives and struggles.

I believe that people do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. We should not confuse normal human clumsiness with maliciousness. The fact that we feel hurt does not mean that they intended to hurt us.

If someone commented on my race, I might ask if I could tell them about some of my courageous ancestors who came to this country from a distant land and faced terrible odds. If they remarked about my lips or some other physical feature, I might ask if I could share a story about a great-grandparent whom I resemble. We can turn awkwardness—and even hostility—into connection and understanding when our hearts are right.

Sometimes the insensitivity of others will catch us off guard. At times it may overwhelm our defenses. And those are the ideal times to call on Jesus, the ultimate source of all grace.

Instead of becoming enemies of our enemies, we become a friend of God. We do not allow our behavior or thoughts to be determined by the behavior of others. We turn to God in all things. In the face of insensitivity we offer grace and become blessed peacemakers.

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Annmarie Worthington for their insightful contributions to this article.

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 and programs, visit www.DrWally.org

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.

———————————–
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.