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Government Welfare = Unrighteous Dominion

Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated that he feared “as conditions worsen, many will react to the failures of too much government by calling for even more government.” Perhaps the call for more government carries with it more than just social implications, but spiritual as well. Elder Maxwell continued, “What we unwittingly court in such circumstances is learning again, painfully, that “almost all” men can’t handle authority without abusing it.”[i]

The claim of this piece can be found in the title; namely, that government welfare, on any level, is a clear form of unrighteous dominion, and a distinct example of the truth that the call for more government brings with it the lesson that almost all men can’t be trusted to handle authority righteously.

What is unrighteous dominion?

This forbidden conduct is described by three words in verse 37 of section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants—control, dominion, and compulsion. Control is defined “to exercise restraint or direction over.” Dominion is to rule or control. And compulsion is “an act of compelling, or the state of being compelled: subject to force.” Simply put, unrighteous dominion is seeking to exercise control over another by force.

Satan was the greatest example of unrighteous dominion. We read in Moses 4:3 that he “sought to destroy the agency of man.” His whole plan was built upon the principle of exercising control over others by force. Ezra Taft Benson has taught:

“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.”[ii]

Agency is a stewardship

In his book Satan’s War on Free Agency, Greg Wright taught:

“Agency is responsibility, accountability, and stewardship. . .  The word “agency” is related to the word “agent.” An agent is someone with responsibilities who represents someone else in the decision he makes.

The business and responsibility of a steward is called his stewardship. The business and responsibility of an agent is called his agency. An agent is responsible and accountable for the choices he makes as an agent, just as a steward is responsible and accountable for the choices he makes as a steward.

The 1828 definition of the word “agent” is “a substitute, or deputy; one entrusted with the business of another.” It appears that this is the definition of “agent” in the Doctrine and Covenants because all fifteen times it is used, it refers to someone having some kind of responsibility. . . An agent is a steward, someone who is accountable to someone else for the choices he makes.”[iii]

If agency is the ability to oversee and be held accountable for a stewardship, then to destroy the agency of man is to exercise control over another’s stewardship by force. We are given many stewardships by God—our life, our time, our property, the knowledge we have been given, callings, etc.—and we are accountable to Him for them. When we prohibit someone from making their own choices in regard to their stewardships, we are taking it upon our self to be responsible for what God has entrusted to them. In the process we have stolen their agency and have exercised dominion unrighteously.

Government Force

At this point we must understand, as H. Verlan Andersen has observed, that “governments deal in nothing but force. This is the exclusive means by which they act. They exist for the sole purpose of adopting and enforcing rules governing human conduct. These rules or laws are enforced in one of three ways—by taking from the disobedient either his life, his liberty, or his property.”[iv] This use of force is the sole purpose for the existence of a government.

God has only authorized the use of force for three specific reasons: 1) to punish criminals (Alma 1:13), 2) to wage defensive war (D&C 98, Alma 43:46-47) and 3) to protect the right of individuals to control their own property (D&C 134:2).When we give permission for force to be employed on somebody’s stewardship for anything other than these three things, we are upholding, and engaging in unrighteous dominion.

Welfare

You will notice that welfare is not among the circumstances where the Lord approves of force. Government welfare takes on a number of forms—social security, medicare, unemployment, food stamps, corporate welfare, grants for education, public schools, etc. Regardless of which type we are talking about, the same thing is going on. Property, which is a stewardship, is being seized by force.

The great Frederic Bastiat pointedly observed that “nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.”[v]

H. Verlan Andersen similarly noted: “Government can give nothing to one person unless it has first taken something from someone else. This taking is usually in the form of taxes which the taxpayer is compelled to pay at the risk of having his property taken by force.”[vi]

This truth is plainly recognizable in this analogy presented by Ezra Taft Benson:

“In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attach and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more.

So far so good. But now we come to the moment of truth. Suppose pioneer “A” wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn’t have the money to buy one, but since pioneer “B” has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor’s good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neighbor’s horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer “B” wishes to keep his property, pioneer “A” has no just claim to it.

If “A” has no proper power to take “B’s” property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that “B” give his extra horse to “A”, they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have.”[vii]

In defense of anyone in pioneer B’s situation, H. Verlan Andersen encourages you to put yourself in his shoes, then argues: “He has already given all he desires to charity. Are you not violating his conscience when you compel him to give more? Would you enjoy having someone dictate how much you must give to your church, a hospital or college? Would not this be a plain case of theft? And if you pass a law and legalize the taking and the giving, have you really changed the essential nature of the act? Haven’t you merely legalized stealing? . . . . Is it not an exercise of unrighteous dominion to forcibly take any property from one to whom it belongs and give it to another to whom it does not belong?”[viii]

Forced righteousness brings no blessings

In 2 Nephi 9:41 we read “and the keeper of the gait is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there.” This scripture teaches us the truth that God alone shall judge. It is His responsibility, not ours. And for that to occur, we must be allowed to make our own decisions.

The arch gnostic Simon Magus questioned Peter: “Could not God have made us all good, so that we could not be anything else but virtuous?” To which Peter responded “A foolish question, for if He made us unchangeably and immovably inclined to good, we would not really be good at all, since we couldn’t be anything else; and it would be no merit on our part that we were good, nor could we be given credit for doing what we did by necessity of nature. How can you call any act good that is not performed intentionally? For this reason the world has existed through the ages, so that the spirits destined to come here might fulfill their number, and here make their choice between the upper and the lower worlds, both of which are represented here.”[ix]

Not missing a beat, H. Verlan Andersen had this to say concerning how forced righteousness prevents the Lord from being able to bless us:

“Most people agree that each person has a moral obligation to be charitable, but is it morally right for us to compel others to be as charitable as we think they should be? Is it not rather our moral obligation to allow them to determine for themselves how much they shall give?

If those who are wealthy fail to voluntarily impart of their substance to the poor, they will be adequately punished by the Lord for their selfishness. (D&C 104:18) But if, through the force of government or otherwise, they are compelled to divide with those in need, how can the Lord either bless them for being charitable or punish them for being uncharitable? The same freedom which permits men to do evil permits them to do good. If you destroy one, you have destroyed both and made freedom of choice, with its consequent rewards and punishments, impossible.”[x]

Priesthood power

The Lord’s standard for receiving priesthood power along with the granted authority is clear:

“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”[xi]

I posit that coercing our fellow man to be charitable by forcibly seizing his property through the arm of government, and redistributing it to another, is a refusal to allow him to make his own choices and oversee his own stewardship, and constitutes a blatant form of unrighteous dominion. To support candidates that propose such courses of action, and policies that implement them is to uphold, and take part in the unrighteous dominion.

This is true because “our political desires are an extremely accurate index of what we would do if the Lord made us a king, a judge, or a ruler with power to govern others. If we would exercise “control or dominion or compulsion,” unrighteously, then our support of laws which regiment and control the business and private affairs of our neighbors and deprive them of their stewardships would clearly indicate this. . . We must expect the Lord to use our political beliefs as a measure of our moral or immoral character.”[xii]

Solution

Then what is to be done to take care of the poor and the needy? The answer is simple. It is found in the example of the Nephites in the first chapter of Alma:

“And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.

And thus . . . they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”[xiii]

The solution is for members of our society to be more charitable and willing to impart of our substance voluntarily through churches and non-profit organizations. Instead of choosing to buy costly apparel—in other words, things you don’t need, that are not necessities—use that money to benefit those people who are in need.

[i] Insights from My Life, Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Speeches 1976

[ii] The Proper Role of Government, Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968

[iii] Satan’s War on Free Agency, Greg Wright, 2003

[iv] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967

[v] The Law, Frederic Bastiat, Dean Russell translation 1950

[vi] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967

[vii] The Proper Role of Government, Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968

[viii] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967

[ix] Clementine Recognitions, III, 26. Quoted in The Ancient Law of Liberty by Hugh Nibley

[x] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967

[xi] Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-37

[xii] The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil, H. Verlan Andersen, 1972

[xiii] Alma 1:27,30

Running Marriage Blog

Week One – Marriage and Transitional Characters

Carlfred Broderick wrote that “A transitional character is one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold” (Marriage and the Family. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, p. 18, 1992).

One of the best examples of transitional characters in the scriptures is found in Mosiah chapter 25 in The Book of Mormon. In chapter 24 we read of Alma and his people being persecuted by Amulon and his brethren, pouring out their hearts to God for deliverance, and being led away in the night out of bondage into the wilderness and then to Zarahemla where they found King Mosiah and the Mulekites. Some of the children, or people, of Amulon must have left with Alma and his followers. In verse 12 we read:

“And it came to pass that those who were the children of Amulon and his brethren, who had taken to wife the daughters of the Lamanites, were displeased with the conduct of their fathers, and they would no longer be called by the names of their fathers, therefore they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi and be numbered among those who were called Nephites.”

The children of Amulon understood a valuable truth. Namely, that our life is not defined by those who went before us, or by those we are associated with, or by the things that any of them have done. We are responsible for ourselves, and we are in charge of what name we will be known by, and who we will be numbered among. And we can change that at any time.

These people recognized their experiences with growing up in the environment they were in for what they really were – malignant and destructive. They understood that “bad experiences are an expensive school that only fools keep going to.” (Ezra Taft Benson) They chose to learn from the mistakes of those around them and change so they wouldn’t have the same bad experiences.

The idea of transitional characters becomes increasingly important when one considers current marital and familial trends in the United States.

  • Cohabitation before marriage is rapidly rising
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of marriages end in divorce
  • The number of children born outside of marriage is increasing drastically

If we have grown up in  a single-parent home, a divorce ridden home, or a home with an unstable or less than ideal marriage, we can choose to be a transitional character and change the course of our lineage. We, like the children of Amulon, can recognize the sins or traditions of our fathers, and refuse to pass them on to our children. We can treat our own marriages as sacred institutions ordained of God, and put forth the necessary effort to make them work. We can choose to foster an environment of love, forgiveness, and charity in our own homes. Even if one has been through a divorce and is remarried, it is never too late to be an example now.

Week Two – Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Closet

This week, as I studied the Supreme Court case of Obergefell vs. Hodges where marriage was redefined, my mind was drawn to question the government’s involvement in marriage altogether. In my opinion, the government has no business being involved with marriage.

Would you go to the state to obtain a licence to be baptized? Then why a marriage license? Marriage is a private religious ordinance. Why do we have to pay a tax and obtain permission from the state to have a private religious ceremony performed? These should be left to the respective church or religious organization of each person. For a state to define what a marriage is and what it is not is a clear infringement on the protected right to the free exercise of religion.  Latter-day Saints experienced a violation of this right when they were forced to outlaw polygamy in 1890.

The biggest reason that people support the state’s involvement in marriage is because of the tax benefits, but an income tax is essentially theft on the part of the government. What is wrong for one person to do is wrong for a group of people to do, and that does not change if the group is acting in the name of government. Forcefully taking someone’s property from them is stealing.

Some also say that the government is needed to deal with divorce or with death, but any legal implications of divorce or death can be handled by a private marriage contract between the parties involved. This would be created before the marriage is entered into. Individuals could set their own terms and conditions. Perhaps this is what the founders envisioned when they chose not to even address or mention the subject of marriage in the Constitution.

In D&C section 134 verses 7 and 9 we read:

” We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.”

This is exactly what happened to the early Saints with polygamy. Those whose religious views were monogamous were fostered, while those with polygamous views were proscribed, or condemned, by the law–depriving them of their legal privilege to practice their religious belief.

I in no way endorse or condone same-sex marriage, my religious convictions hold it to be a grievous sin.  But I do not believe it is moral for a government, which only deals in terms of coercion, to force one religious view upon anyone else. In the scriptures we read of someone who tried to force people to be righteous, that didn’t work out very well for him. I believe government should get out of the marriage business altogether and let individuals practice their religions and form their own contracts. This is the only way for our own religious liberties to be fully preserved.

The best way for us to convince others of the truthfulness of traditional marriage as ordained by God is to be great examples in the way we live our lives. The fruits of the true order of the family as outlined in The Family: A Proclamation to the World are undeniable, and if we live the principles it presents then others will see those fruits and want to join with us.

Week Three – Imperfections Can Strengthen Marriage

In his talk titled Covenant Marriage, Elder Bruce C. Hafen stated that “every marriage is tested repeatedly by three kinds of wolves.” In listing the second one, he said “the wolf of their own imperfections will test them.” He then went on to give an example of a couple, more specifically a husband, who let this wolf destroy a marriage.

“One woman told me through her tears how her husband’s constant criticism finally destroyed not only their marriage but her entire sense of self-worth. He first complained about her cooking and housecleaning, and then about how she used her time, how she talked, looked, and reasoned. Eventually she felt utterly inept and dysfunctional. My heart ached for her, and for him.”

How sad that all this man could focus on was the negative. Anyone who looks can find things in their spouse to criticize. But negative reinforcement is not the way for those shortcomings to improve, nor is it the way to foster love and unity in a marriage. It only brings seeds of discord, contention, and finally resentment.

Moreover, President Hinckley has spoke candidly about priesthood holders abusing their wives in any way. “How tragic and utterly disgusting a phenomenon is wife abuse. Any man in this Church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood. Though he may have been ordained, the heavens will withdraw, the Spirit of the Lord will be grieved, and it will be amen to the authority of the priesthood of that man. Any man who engages in this practice is unworthy to hold a temple recommend.” (CR April 2002)

Instead of criticizing our spouse for where they fall short, and looking at weaknesses as things that get in the way of experiencing joy, we can look for the virtues in one another and view the faults and flaws as opportunities to grow together. Each spouse, in a spirit of love and service, helping the other to overcome the imperfections they struggle with–setting goals each week, and then holding each other accountable, while being forgiving and understanding when the other may fall short.

This is an example of implementing true charity in a marriage. In Moroni 7:45-46, Moroni quoted his father Mormon teaching:

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and enviethnot, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

I know that if we will look for, and compliment, the good in our spouse, and view imperfections as an opportunity to demonstrate charity and strengthen our marriage, we will overcome the second wolf Elder Hafen identified. I am so grateful for a wife who is a wonderful example of living this principle–constantly focusing on my strengths and building me up, and helping me to overcome my weaknesses while remaining patient and charitable.

Week 4 – Fundamental Attribution Error

One of the most widespread natural man tendencies that we often give in to is to judge ourselves on a different, and easier scale than others.  We have no problem giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but in many cases we deny this privilege to other people, even our spouse.

In his book Drawing Heaven Into Your Marriage Dr. H. Wallace Goddard wrote:

“Social psychology has found an intriguing quirk in human thinking. The fundamental attribution error suggests that humans tend to interpret the behavior of others based on character—or lack of it. In contrast, when we interpret our own behavior, we tend to factor in circumstances as important.

For example, at the end of the day, I may believe that my partner accomplished so little because she is lazy or disorganized; I accomplished little because so many people made unexpected or unreasonable demands of me.”

He goes on to say that this bias is understandable because we usually know more about our own circumstances than others’, then states: “yet you can see the mischief caused by this natural human programming. We tend to excuse our own failures while condemning others for theirs.”

I offer three solutions to this practice—don’t judge, be humble and merciful, and try to look at things from the perspective of others.

Jesus taught:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Matthew 7:1-3)

It is impossible for us to fully know the external and internal circumstances and factors behind every mistake or decision others make, we simply cannot do that. Thus we should not judge, because as President N. Eldon Tanner taught: “It is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. . . How can we, with all our weaknesses and frailties, dare to arrogate ourselves the position of a judge? At best, man can judge only what he sees; he cannot judge the heart or the intention, or begin to judge the potential of his neighbor.” (CR April 1972)

Giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, while assuming the worst of others denotes a sense of pride. Having an excuse for why I fell short while attributing the shortcoming of my spouse to laziness, incompetence, or malicious intent, brings out a sense of competition—a need to be better than someone else. Feeling that I deserve mercy, but someone else does not is prideful.

Feeling that he deserved compassion, the servant in Matthew 18 that owed ten thousand talents begged his Lord for forgiveness of his debt and received it. But then went out and denied one of his fellow servants who only owed him a hundred pence the same grace he had just received. Why did he feel that he deserved compassion but his fellow man did not?

We should try to be understanding and look at things from others’ point of view, especially when it comes to our marriage. Consider what they may have been going through or had to deal with, try to put ourselves in their shoes before jumping to harsh conclusions. One of the best pieces of marriage advice I have been given came from a great friend, he simply said: “Always assume the best.”

“Let each man learn to know himself;

To gain that knowledge let him labor,

Improve those failings in himself

Which he condemns so in his neighbor.

How lenient our own faults we view,

And conscience’s voice adeptly smother;

Yet, oh, how harshly we review

The selfsame failings in another! …

So first improve yourself today

And then improve your friends tomorrow.”

—Hymns, no. 91

 

Week 5 – She Offered the Firstlings of Her Flock

Dr. H. Wallace Goddard observed, “Every couple has some fundamental difference that threatens the relationship.” Often the solution to this fundamental difference all couples face is a compromise–a sacrifice by both parties involved. However, sometimes the difference involves a situation where no compromise is possible, and a sacrifice is required by one party involved instead of both.

While my wife Kaitlyn and I were engaged we faced a fundamental difference that almost drove us apart–dogs. My wife had two black labs that she loved more than anything, they were her best friends. They helped carry her through many hardships, and she developed a very close relationship with each of them. They were the one thing she would never budge on. They were a deal breaker.

I have never been much of a pet person, and I am not a fan of dogs. Honestly, I am scared of them. I also don’t like the way they smell, shed, drool, bark, growl, etc. I had some very negative experiences with dogs on my mission, and have not been open to liking dogs since then.

Kaitlyn’s dogs represented different things for us both, and we each viewed the purpose they served a little differently. For me, the dogs served as something that got in the way of Kaitlyn and I growing closer together. Whenever they were around I felt they were getting her time, attention, and love at my expense. I felt like they created a wedge between us. This was due to an insecurity of mine that had developed from previous relationships because I had never been anybody’s #1.

For Kaitlyn the dogs represented safety, they loved her no matter what, and would never betray her trust or do anything to hurt her. At times they served as an avenue of emotional escape, almost to the point that she was using them as a crutch. When things would go wrong, her first instinct was to go hiking in the woods with her dogs.

After much prayer, and counseling together, we decided to find new homes for her dogs. It was a tough decision to make, but we both felt it was the right thing to do.

In Moses 5:5 we read:

“And God gave unto them [Adam and Eve] commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandment of the Lord.”

Dr. Goddard commented on this scripture: “Adam and Eve were to offer God their very best, the “firstlings of their flocks.” I wonder what the firstlings of our flocks are. Is it our cherished free time that we must put on the altar? Is it our love for sports, games, reading, shopping, clothes, or money that must be sacrificed? Most of us want the prize without paying the price. We want to have a close, loving marriage, but we’re not willing to give up on our pet affections. But God has required us to make sacrifices if we are to enjoy that which is most valuable.”

For my wife, the firstlings of her flock were her dogs. They meant everything to her, but she willingly offered to sacrifice them–to give them up–for the ultimate prize of an eternal marital relationship. This was very hard for me to take part in, I felt like I was getting a slight taste of what it was like for God to ask Abraham to offer up the firstling of his flock, Isaac. Although for Kaitlyn, there was no rescuing sacrificial ram in the thicket. She came to learn through her own experience, the truthfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words when he stated:

“It is quite necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”

She faithfully submitted her will, and let God take from her the one thing she really didn’t want to give up. And for this, I will be eternally grateful. Dr. Goddard said that “we cannot steal the fire of love from heaven. We must buy it with soul-stretching payments.” What an example of being willing to pay the price. I know that as each of us willingly offer up the figurative firstlings of our flock—whatever they may be—that our marriages will be more harmonious and in line with God’s vision for us.

 

Week 6 – Bids for Validation and Turning toward Your Partner

“Hollywood has distorted our notions of romance and what makes passion sizzle” says relationship expert Dr. John Gottman. The media often puts forth the idea that couples need extravagant getaways or picturesque romantic outings to keep their love burning bright. However, Dr. Gottman states that “a romantic outing only turns up the heat if a couple has kept the pilot light burning by staying in touch in the little ways.” He expounds on this idea declaring:

“[Love] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life. In marriage, couples are always making what I call “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humor, support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a back rub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an aging parent is ill. The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life.”

Passion and romance are kept alive and nourished when each spouse does the little things that make the other feel validated. We, as people, are constantly looking for validation. We want to feel loved, important, like our thoughts, ideas, and concerns matter. Much of what we do and say in marriage involves us making “bids” in an effort to have this need for validation satisfied in some way.

When shopping at the grocery store and one spouse says “I think we might be out of milk, do you think we should get some more?” We can choose to shrug apathetically and say, “I dunno,” or we can recognize the bid for validation and reply, “Yeah let’s get some just in case, thanks for remembering that dear.” One response involves turning away, while the other involves turning toward your partner. These situations and circumstances that arise in marriage are countless.

Problems start to sprout when bids are not recognized. Dr. H. Wallace Goddard observed that “Marriage is full of tempests in teapots. We bristle over our partner’s word choice or disinterest in our story. We fret and complain about this purchase or that insensitivity. We grumble about a chore neglected or a kindness unappreciated. We may be bothered by indecisiveness, hygiene, grammar, food preferences, clothing style, personality, lack of religiosity, stubbornness . . . the list is endless!” He continues, noting the danger: ‘Over time we transform our irritations into evils. With time we come to think of our partners as disappointments or failures.”

Irritations become evils when bids for validation go unacknowledged. When analyzed closely, one can plainly see that each little tempest described by Dr. Goddard is a bid.

Bristling over someone’s word choice shows a need to be validated for the fact you choose your words carefully; telling someone a story is a bid for attention which goes unmet when one spouse doesn’t listen. A complaint about insensitivity can be looked at as a bid for affection, a complaint about a purchase can be seen as a bid for more unity and open communication—which makes spouses feel more important. And the list goes on, but if you think carefully you will find that behind each one is a bid for validation in some way.

At times bids can be hard to recognize. Dr. Gottman identifies two obstacles to turning toward a spouse and responding to a bid: 1) “Missing” a bid because it’s wrapped in anger or other negative emotion, and 2) Being distracted by the wired world.

In describing number one, Dr. Gottman gives this example: Lena says to her husband, Carl, in exasperation, “It would never occur to you to clear the table, would it?” Carl doesn’t hear Lena’s bid (“Please clear the table tonight”) [A bid for help, and possibly a bid for love in the form of service]. Instead, he hears criticism. . . So it’s no surprise that he responds with defensiveness, and from there the argument escalates. Gottman offers this solution:

“Before you reply defensively to your partner, pause for a moment and search for a bid underneath your partner’s harsh words. Then, focus on the bid, not the delivery.”

Expounding on number two, Gottman states: “This culture of distraction doesn’t benefit intimate relationships, which require the opposite: the habit of being aware and paying attention. . . The old cliché of the husband who hides behind the newspaper has been replaced by the spouse of either gender who is tapping out texts, scanning social media, or engrossed in one of those irresistible cell phone games.” He acknowledges that more often than not this is done out of mindfulness, rather than malice. However, he suggests:

“The best solutions to this growing problem is for both partners to acknowledge if it is a concern between them and to establish rules of etiquette that work for both of them.”

Even though bids may, at times, be hard to recognize, and turning toward your spouse in response to them may be even harder, it is imperative that this is done. This fact is supported by a six year longitudinal study conducted by Dr. Gottman using his Love Lab in Seattle where couples are invited to stay a weekend and are observed through hidden cameras. He noted:

“In our six year follow-up of newlyweds, we found that couples who remained married had turned toward their partner’s bids an average of 86 percent of the time in the Love Lab, while those who ended up in divorce had averaged only 33 percent. It’s telling that most of the arguments between couples in both groups were not about specific topics like money or sex, but resulted from those failed bids for connection.

There’s a reason that seemingly small events are fundamental to a relationship’s future: Each time partners turn toward each other, they are funding what I’ve come to call their emotional bank account. They are building up savings that, like money in the bank, can serve as a cushion when times get rough.”

If someone is acting in a manner that is less than what you know they are capable of, then there is a need that is going unmet. Needs can be recognized by bids. So, in order to improve the situation, change behavior, and improve love and romance, the solution is to recognize and respond to the bids for validation, and turn toward each other. If we do this, our emotional bank accounts will grow and sustain us through stress and conflict.

 

Week 7 – Pride vs. Love and Correction vs. Repentance

A rich young ruler once came to Jesus and asked, “Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” After having the commandments listed to him, he again looked at Jesus and said, “Master, all these have I observed from my youth.”

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:17-21)

Notice that Jesus loved the young man before He told him what he lacked. From this we gather a principle that Dr. H. Wallace Goddard learned for himself, “Some years ago God taught me an ironic truth. I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love.” He continues, observing the paradox this creates, “You see the irony! I am inclined to correct my partner when I don’t feel loving. When I do feel loving, irritations roll off my soul like water on a duck’s back.”

As noted in the previous post, we all seek validation in marriage. We like it, we want it, we need it. When our bids are not responded to, we become restless and bothered. We may even get angry because our needs are not being met and start to emotionally withdraw.

Dr. Goddard taught that “When we are feeling irked, annoyed, or irritated with our spouse, we have our backs toward heaven. We are guilty of pride. In a spiritual sense we are saying to our spouses, “You are not meeting my needs the way I would like them met. Don’t you realize that is your job?! Your every act is to be dedicated to my happiness. Now hop to it!”

We then immediately get to work on fixing our partner–vividly expressing what they lack. Instead of doing so in a spirit of love as the Savior to the rich young ruler where the advice was solicited, we follow the convictions of the natural man.

Dr. Goddard observes:

“When I follow the natural man’s method for marital change, I set out to tell my partner in fair, balanced ways what she is doing that irritates me. Then she can change herself based on my input, and we will both be happy. . . The natural man is inclined to love himself and fix others. God has asked us to do the opposite. We are to fix ourselves by repenting, and to love others. It is not surprising that we have difficulties in marriage. We so often do the very things that will destroy our relationships.”

We have a tendency to believe that if there is any discord or tension in our marriage it must be our spouse’s fault, and if we simply convince them of their error and correct them the problem will be solved. However, this inclination is driven by pride.

Dr. Goddard states: “While the natural man is inclined to think that the problem is our partner, the man of Christ knows that the irritation is probably the result of some faulty thinking–some troublesome assumption and expectation nested in our unconscious.” He continues, taking it one step further: “In fact, any time we feel irritated with our spouses, that irritation is not an invitation to call our spouses to repentance but an invitation to call ourselves to repent. We are irritated because of our own lack of faith and humility.”

Nobody likes feeling like they are an old car that needs to be worked on and restored all the time. If we find ourselves getting irritated because our needs our not met, the solution is to look inward and repent, rather than look out and correct. If they want our help or advice, they, like the rich young ruler, will come and ask. In the meantime, we can work on improving ourselves by reaching out in love and service, and being kind. After all, it is in focusing on meeting the needs of others that our own needs are met.

 

Week 8 – Score Keeping

Dr. H. Wallace Goddard has observed that “there is a popular trend toward encouraging equity in marriage. The emphasis is on sharing household duties in fair ways. There is a lot of merit in having men contribute more to the many household tasks that make a house run smoothly. In most cases women are badly overloaded and men are under-involved at home.” [In some cases it could also be the other way around] Goddard continues, stating: “Remedying the imbalance is worthy.”

A great example of someone who sought to remedy this imbalance is the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was known to help his wife Emma with household duties. Not everybody agreed with this effort. Jesse Crosby, an early Saint, observed: “Some of the home habits of the Prophet—such as building kitchen fires, carrying out ashes, carrying in wood and water, assisting in the care of children, etc.—were not in accord with my idea of a great man’s self-respect.” So Brother Crosby offered Joseph some corrective advice, stating such work was “too terrible a humiliation, for you are the head, and you should not do it.” Joseph replied, “If there be humiliation in a man’s house, who but the head of that house should or could bear that humiliation?” (They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People Who Knew Joseph Smith, 1999)

One of the problems that arises in attempts to create greater equity is the inevitable scorekeeping that comes with it. Dr. Goddard explains: “Seeking equity encourages people to think about and value their own contributions. At the same time, humans almost always under-notice and under-appreciate the efforts of others.” In continuing, he voices that there is a better way; we should gladly offer our best efforts, and appreciate all that our partners offer.

“Rather than carefully tracking every investment in our marriage, we give gladly and wholeheartedly. We give everything we have and are. And we ask God to increase our capacity so we can give yet more. . . Rather than act as a careful investor, happy marriage partners throw open the doors of the storehouse and give kindness, help, and goodness.”

Hugh Nibley has taught that “the gifts of God are to be received in the same unstinting and joyful spirit in which they are given—freely, magnanimously, never counting the cost.” Likewise, the household duties we offer as gifts of service in our marriage should be received, and given freely without counting the cost.

Mormon taught us the consequences of giving a gift grudgingly:

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift . . . except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.

For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:6-8)

Giving a gift, or doing a household duty, grudgingly is the opposite of freely, magnanimously, and never counting the cost. Grudgingly denotes that we 1) expect something in return, 2) are resentful of having to offer the gift, and 3) are keeping score by tracking the cost we have expended. If this is the attitude we retain while giving a gift, it has profited us nothing, and we have digressed back to the point of not offering the gift at all.

The solution, according to Goddard, is consecration. He asserts:

“Consecration is a covenant that moves us from asking how we can get our needs met to asking how we can bless and serve. We become more grateful. Rather than wondering if this marriage is a good investment that will pay us a handsome return, we ask for heavenly grace that we may love and serve as Jesus served—without thought of reward.”

 

Week 9 – The Birds and the Bees in Marriage

There are many messages put across in the media about sex that create misconceptions. I think one of the biggest is that women don’t like having sex, or don’t want to, and men both like and want to. We often hear that women naturally have a lower sex drive and want less sex than men. (at least I know I have heard these things)

In 2008 a study was conducted by McNulty and Fisher on sexual satisfaction in newly married couples. The research findings suggest “that women’s sexual satisfaction tends to be more influenced by cognitive than behavioral factors (expectations vs. frequency), whereas men’s sexual satisfaction is more influenced by behavioral than cognitive factors (frequency vs. expectations).”

The findings seem to convey that women don’t necessarily want less sex than men, but that their sexual satisfaction (possibly including sexual desire) is linked, or driven, by something entirely different. Women receive sexual satisfaction from expectations turning out the way they perceive [and I think this includes being validated for that by their spouse]. Maybe they expect to have sex because all the things on their to-do list are done, or they’ve been treated very well. Then when they have sex, they are satisfied. Or, maybe they expect not to have sex because they are stressed out with things that are not done, or worries they have, or have not had the emotional connection they feel they need.

This is hard for men because, like the findings showed, the sexual satisfaction for them comes from actually having sex. The emotional connection is fostered from intimacy. It seems with women it is the opposite, the emotional connection has to be there first before they want to have sex.

Dr. John Gottman stated that regardless of how sex is initiated, “it’s imperative that there be no negative consequences if the partner says no.” He then gave the following hypothetical situation modeling likely frequency of sex based on his research:

“Jim is always interested in having sex; Mary not so much. My calculations determined that if Jim complains, sulks, or otherwise subjects Mary to a “negative payoff” whenever she declines his overtures, they end up having sex about once every three weeks. But if he actually rewards her “no” with a small positive payoff (perhaps he expresses understanding or asks what she would like to do), their rate soars to four times a week. Counterintuitive as it sounds, the results suggest that husbands who reward their wives for saying no will end up having a lot more sex!

Of course, the exact frequency of sexual encounters between a particular couple is impossible to predict. The point is that, for both husbands and wives, the more you can hear, understand, and respect your partner’s “no”. . . the more “yes” there will be in your relationship.”

Gottman’s position is consistent with Dr. H. Wallace Goddard’s theme of doing what is in your power to change yourself, rather than trying to change your partner or fix them. A friend of his wrote to him:

“I have realized that much of my unhappiness in marriage is due to my expectation of love to be shown in a certain way and my withholding love when not feeling loved myself.”

Goddard’s advice includes a reference to the Savior: “according to the scriptures, we love Him because He first loved us. The same can apply in marriage. Our partners will love us because we first love them. Love first. Don’t wait to be loved.”

 

Week Ten – Emotional Fidelity

After posing the question, “What does it mean to love someone with all your heart?” Ezra Taft Benson answered, “It means to love with all your emotional feelings and with all your devotion.”

When we think of marital infidelity, physical intimacy with someone other than a spouse is what often comes to mind. However, full obedience to the law of chastity entails more than just physical faithfulness, it includes emotional fidelity. In fact, an emotional affair can be just as damaging to a marriage as a physical affair.

This type of infidelity can happen very subtly, and can even begin with good intentions. BYU’s Kenneth W. Matheson notes: “Emotional infidelity doesn’t usually happen suddenly; rather, it occurs gradually—often imperceptibly at first. This is one reason why those involved often feel innocent of any wrongdoing.” However, even if it starts small, I believe that any emotional connection deeper than a friendly surface level association with someone of the opposite sex is potentially dangerous. H. Wallace Goddard observes:

“Today Satan attacks us with subtle and indirect means. He gets us inappropriately close to someone who is not our spouse under the guise of missionary work, friendship, or helpfulness. He subtly builds inappropriate emotional bonds while quieting our consciences with weak rationalizations. Perhaps this is Satan’s favorite ploy with those who desire goodness and are filled with compassion.”

How can we be sure if the connection is inappropriate? Brother Matheson offers 8 questions to consider:

  • “Are you turning to your friend for comfort rather than turning to your spouse?”
  • “Do you find yourself thinking about your friend even when you’re at home?”
  • “Do you seek opportunities to be with [or talk to] your friend even when work doesn’t require you to?”
  • “Do you e-mail and text your friend when you’re not together?”
  • “Have you told your spouse about these messages?”
  • “Does the relationship with your friend take more of your time and energy than your relationship with your spouse?”
  • “Do you compare your spouse to your friend?”
  • “Would you be uncomfortable introducing your spouse to your friend?”

One other question I would add to this list as an out of bounds line is: Would you say or do that if your spouse were next to you?

Whatever the circumstances, the Savior’s words in the sermon on the mount are always a safe guideline: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). It is just as possible to lust after someone emotionally as it is to do so physically. We should, as King Benjamin has counseled, watch ourselves–our thoughts, our words, and our deeds–and observe the commandments of God. (Mosiah 4:30)

 

Week Eleven — Executive Family Councils

Communication is vital in marriage, and miscommunications can cause confusion and frustration. It is important to develop a pattern for communicating effectively in order to ensure each spouse’s concerns are heard, opinions can be voiced, and needs can be addressed. In my experience, the executive family council between my wife and I has been very helpful.

In his general conference talk Family Councils, Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke of four different types of family councils. He stated:

“The second type of family council is an executive family council that involves only the parents. During this time together, parents can review each child’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and his or her progress.

The executive family council is also a good time for wives and husbands to talk about their personal relationships with each other.”

This council meeting is great to address issues that have arisen throughout the week, or to bring up things that frustrated you, or ways that you wish things may have been handled. It also provides opportunity to build each other up and compliment each other’s strengths.

My wife Kaitlyn and I like to hold our council meeting on Sunday nights. We plan the coming week, and then set personal and couple goals that we will work on and then report on at the next council. We usually set the goals after discussing things we may have done that bothered the other person or changes or adjustments that need to be made. Then we hold each other accountable for the goals. It gives us a chance to progress together, and we each feel like we are playing integral role in our spouse’s growth. We also discuss the needs of those around us, and ways that we can help and make a difference, and reach out and serve.

This council method has been a great blessing to us in our marriage. We have come to learn, by our own experience, the truth of Elder Ballard’s words:

“A family council held regularly will help us spot family problems early and nip them in the bud; councils will give each family member a feeling of worth and importance; and most of all they will assist us to be more successful and happy in our precious relationships, within the walls of our homes.”

 

Week Twelve — Relationships With In-laws

One of the toughest things to adjust to for newly married couples is the responsibility of juggling time with extended family while still forming your own identity.

Spencer W. Kimball taught:

“Frequently, people continue to cleave unto their mothers and their fathers and their chums. Sometimes mothers will not relinquish the hold they have had upon their children, and husbands as well as wives return to their mothers and fathers to obtain advice and counsel and to confide, whereas cleaving should be to the wife in most things, and all intimacies should be kept in great secrecy and privacy from others.

Your married life should become independent of her folks and his folks. You love them more than ever; you cherish their counsel; you appreciate their association; but you live your own lives, being governed by your decisions, by your own prayerful considerations after you have received the counsel from those who should give it.”

This certainly does not mean that all ties need to be cut, and a balance cannot be found. Elder Marvin J. Ashton stated: “Certainly a now-married man [or woman] should cleave unto his [or her] [spouse] in faithfulness, protection, comfort, and total support, but in leaving father, mother, and other family members, it was never intended that they now be ignored, abandoned, shunned, or deserted. They are still family, a great source of strength.” He continues, offering advice to parents of newly married couples: “Wise parents, whose children have left to start their own families, realize their family role still continues, not in a realm of domination, control, regulation, supervision, or imposition, but in love, concern, and encouragement.”

In Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families, James M. Harper and Susanne Frost Olsen observe that the relationship between families can be like a tug-of-war. They offer suggestions for what couples, specifically the husband, and parents can do to reduce conflict and promote cohesion in these new relationships:

 “Married couples should discuss what they will do to protect, maintain, and repair (if necessary) the invisible boundary or fence that guards their marriage. The husband needs to realize that strengthening his marriage and making certain that his wife feels secure with him is the biggest single thing he can do to help his wife and his mother develop a quality relationship.”

“One of the great gifts parents-in-law can give to their married children is to recognize early that they must help define and protect the boundary of this new couple. . . Parents can help by genuinely not pressuring their grown children to be at every family gathering, even though they will be missed. . . [and recognizing that] . . . intrusion by in-laws , both physically by too many visits and phone calls, and emotionally by too many strongly held opinions, is a major concern of new daughters- and sons-in-law.”

The also noted, “Married children are entitled to receive revelation for their stewardship in guiding their families, and parents and grandparents should support and encourage their married children as they do so. . .  When asked, they should offer their opinions, but even well intentioned parents or other family members should use great caution in assuming that they have more powerful or immediate access to the Spirit than their married children.”

It is important for those on both sides of the issue—the parents and the couple—to have, and respect, healthy boundaries. This will provide opportunities for growth and progression on both ends. With boundaries in place, the couple will be able to become their own family unit who makes their own decisions. The parents will grow by letting go of how things used to be, and embracing the roles under the new boundaries. It may be a tough process in the beginning, but if both sides exhibit compassion and respect, the process of leaving father and mother and cleaving unto a spouse can be a happy one.

8 Tips for Happiness and Harmony in Family Life

In 2003, Elder L. Tom Perry related the importance of putting the family first in our times, “In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities” (Perry, April, 2003). Family life should therefore be important to us all, and we should seek to do all we can to enhance the happiness and harmony in those relationships and experiences relating to the family. We become increasingly aware of the significance of this responsibility when reading the following statement from President Brigham Young, he explained “that our families are not yet ours. The Lord has committed them to us to see how we will treat them. Only if we are faithful will they be given to us forever. What we do on earth determines whether or not we will be worthy to become heavenly parents” (Gospel Principles, 1997).

In an effort to assist in a more widespread realization of family life becoming important and worthwhile, I have compiled 8 tips for increasing happiness and harmony in family life.

 

Tip #1 Go to church

  1. L. Moody has been attributed the words, “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple, as a transfusion of rich healthy blood to a sick man.” We know that going to church is something we should do, however, sometimes we underestimate the effect it can have. I know that going to church together as a couple, and as a family, can have a powerful impact on family life.

Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman observe that, “When men attend church with their wives there are fewer disputes, not only over faith, but also over housework, money, how time is spent, and sex” (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman). Research conducted by Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin found that “parental, couple, and familial religious involvement were all linked with more positive behavioral outcomes in children” (Bartkowski, Xu, & Levin, 2008). One study addressing internet pornography, one of the intense spiritual plagues of our day, found that “greater church attendance was related to lower rates of pornography use” (Stack, Wasserman, & Kern, 2004).

 

Tip #2 Parents being equally yoked spiritually

It is extremely important for parents to be united in spiritual matters. This means being on the same page when it comes to doctrinal beliefs, and religious community involvement—including which church, if any at all, to be involved in.

Researchers have found that “religion often seems to undermine child development when it is a source of conflict in families” (Bartkowski, Xu, & Levin, 2008). Bahr concluded in his study Religious intermarriage and divorce in Utah and the mountain states that “same-faith marriages are much more stable than interfaith marriages” (Bahr, 1981). The ideas found in these studies are especially true in regard to Latter-day Saints. Using statistics over a five year period, sociologists Lehrer and Chiswick found, “that Latter-day Saint interfaith marriages were more than three times as likely to end in divorce as LDS-to-LDS marriages (40 percent dissolution rate).” On the other hand, they classified LDS-to-LDS marriages as “remarkably stable” (13 percent dissolution rate) (Lehrer & Chiswick, 1993).

 

Tip #3 Practice your religion consistently—go all in.

When comparing religiously devoted youth with the average American youth, it can be seen that consistent religious practice and involvement does make a difference in their lives for the better. Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman assert that, “In their family relationships, the devoted group of highly religious youth reported having the highest quality of parentchild relationships in every area studied, including levels of honesty, acceptance, and understanding; getting along; and feeling loved by and close to their parents. These findings seem to indicate a strong, two-way connection between religious practice and family relationships” (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman).

Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman further observe, “that several studies on adolescent outcomes indicate that a central key to helping our children, youth, and young adults avoid dangerous “thou shalt nots” (like alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex) seems to be high levels of participation in the “thou shalts” of religious practice (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman).

However, it must be more than small amounts of religion, the difference is ultimately observable in those teens whose families go all in. Smith and Denton found two predominant conclusions: (a) “highly religious teenagers appear to be doing much better in life than less religious teenagers” (p. 263); however, (b) “a modest amount of religion . . . does not appear to make a consistent difference in the lives of U.S. teenagers; . . . only the more serious religious teens” seem to benefit (p. 233). (Smith, 2005)

 

Tip #4 Spousal prayer

Nathan M. Lambert has stated, “Prayer is the means by which individuals may invite God to play an active role in their relationship. Including God in a relationship as one of the “threefold cords” through praying for one’s partner should imbue the relationship with perceived sacredness” (Lambert, 2012). This idea of the relationship becoming more sacred becomes significant when the evidence is seen for how viewing your association with your spouse as something sacred can make a substantial difference.

Citing Fincham, Lambert, and Beach, Lambert observes, “This idea has been empirically tested through an experiment in which religious individuals were randomly assigned to pray for their romantic partner every day for four weeks or to complete a control activity such as thinking positive thoughts about their partner every day. Those who prayed for their partner during the four weeks came to perceive their relationship as more holy and sacred than those in the control group. Also, perceiving the relationship as sacred had important implications, as this perception led to lower levels of sexual infidelity” (Lambert, 2012).

Research suggests that prayer has the power to de-escalate conflict. Butler, Gardner, and Bird interviewed several couples who reported that “including God in their marriage through prayer appeared to be a “softening” event that facilitated problem-solving and reconciliation.” (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998). Another study found that religious practices such as prayer helped couples to manage their anger during marital conflict (Marsh & Dallos, 2001). In an additional study, couples reported that “prayer alleviated tension and facilitated open communication during conflict situations” (Lambert & Dollahite, 2006).

 

Tip #5 Be willing to forgive

Elaine Walton and Hilary M. Hendricks have observed:

“Repentance and forgiveness have historically been regarded by social scientists as religious issues only. However, since the 1990s, repentance and forgiveness have become increasingly prominent in professional literature. Mental health experts acknowledge that it is impossible to address emotional and physical well-being without considering the relevance of repentance and forgiveness. Likewise, the words of ancient and modern prophets affirm that repentance and forgiveness are central to the gospel plan” (Walton & Hendricks, 2012).

 

Many studies exhibit specific benefits in their findings to families and individuals who are willing to forgive.

  • Individuals and families who are able to forgive important transgressions are likely to have better emotional and physical health (Battle & Miller, 2005)
  • Forgiveness spawns positive emotions, which improve health in a variety of ways (Harris & Thoresen, 2005)
  • There is a connection demonstrated between forgiveness and well-being. (Thoresen, Harris, & Luskin, 2000)
  • “Unforgiveness” is considered a stress reaction in response to a perceived threat (Worthington, 2006)
  • The emotions associated with unforgiveness, such as resentment, hostility, blame, and fear, have been linked to health risks (Harris & Thoresen, 2005)

Even with the observable benefits plainly displayed, many of us still struggle with forgiving others, especially those within our own family. Here is a five step process, entitled How to Forgive? by Worthington, that may help.

  1. Recall the hurt. It is human nature to try to protect ourselves from pain. Too often we try to deny or forget the pain of the offense and avoid the discomfort associated with addressing that offense in an interpersonal relationship. In order to forgive, we have to be clear about the wrongdoing and acknowledge the injury.
  2. Empathize. Empathy involves borrowing the lens of another person so we see something from their point of view. In order to forgive, it is important to understand the transgressor’s feelings. Was the offense committed knowingly or was it an honest mistake? What were the pressures that influenced the offender to commit the offense? Is there an understandable reason for the offender to disagree with the victim regarding the seriousness of the offense? In what ways may the offender have been victimized in the past? What pain might the offender be experiencing associated with guilt and remorse?
  3. Offer the altruistic gift of forgiveness. Forgiving with altruism is easier when the victim is humbled by an awareness of his or her own shortcomings and offenses, with special gratitude for those occasions when he or she was freely forgiven.
  4. Commit publicly to forgive. The victim has a better chance of successful forgiveness if he or she verbalizes the forgiveness commitment to another person (for example, telling a friend or counselor about the decision). Some victims have formalized their decision by writing a letter, making a journal entry, or creating a certificate of forgiveness.
  5. Hold on to forgiveness. After completing the forgiveness process, victims may still be haunted on occasion by the pain of the offense. During this stage it is important to move forward. When thoughts revert to the painful injury, the victim is reminded that the decision to forgive has already been made. He or she does not have to repeat that process. Also, it is important for the victim to remember that having forgiven, he or she has promised that there will be no paybacks or grudges. Although painful memories are not necessarily replaced by forgiveness, the pain should be a reminder to move forward with one’s life instead of revisiting the transgression committed against him or her. Deliberate efforts to stop unwanted thoughts are often unsuccessful. Instead, when victims have successfully reframed their thought processes, it is probably because they havereplaced the unwanted thoughts with something more meaningful or important (Worthington E. , 2001).

 

Tip #6 Choose recreation wisely

Mark A. Widmer and Stacy T. Taniguchi have remarked:

“Recreation can be easy. We all know how to find fun things to do. In our current world, we are immersed in a plethora of entertaining technology. We have access to a variety of television programming; we have myriad interactive video games. If we are on the go, we have smart phones that access the digital airways. Opportunities to recreate surround us. The choices are endless. But we must consider the implications of these different recreation choices for the quality of our lives and families.

In many developed countries around the world, people tend to make poor choices regarding the use of discretionary time. Our free time should be used wisely to create the best possible life, to promote individual growth and strengthen families. Meaningful recreation does not just happen; it must be prepared for, cultivated, and privately defended. In general, we spend an inordinate amount of time with electronic media and, as a result, become disconnected from one another. We have lost vital and nourishing connections to nature; many of us do not exercise, are overweight, and work too much. We suffer from depression, anxiety, and discontent. Wholesome family recreation can help us strengthen our relationships and reduce negative emotional and spiritual consequences. Wholesome recreation strengthens families” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

To demonstrate the necessity of choosing wisely when it comes to family recreational activities, Widmer and Taniguchi give this example:

“Consider the contrast between a family going on a cruise for vacation and a family going to a developing country to work in an orphanage. The cruise (a consumptive activity) would certainly provide pleasure, comfort, and memories. The orphanage experience (an investment activity) may not be pleasurable or comfortable, but it is more likely to produce stronger family relationships, compassion, skills, knowledge, and more valuable memories than the cruise” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

This is not to say that every family vacation should involve traveling to a third world country to work in an orphanage, but it is demonstrating the truth that recreational activities that develop family relationships, compassion, skills, and knowledge are more valuable in the eternal scheme of things. Take a look at the things you do as a family in your spare time, or the things you do for fun, which trip do they align more with, the cruise or the orphanage?

 

Tip #7 Distinguish between happiness and pleasure

Widmer and Taniguchi have also observed:

“Advertisers spend their time finding ways to convince us we need what they are selling in order to find happiness. The media portray happiness as wealth, status, and ostentatious possessions, such as a large beautiful home with a pool and a boat. These misleading expectations leave us feeling like we need more, bigger, better, and faster things. Parents often use their discretionary funds to buy recreation toys…. The quest for bigger and better things is like the quest for pleasure and can easily defeat the important reasons for participating in recreational activities as a family. The pursuit of toys can become like running on a treadmill going nowhere” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

Research reveals that little or no meaningful relationship exists between wealth and happiness among people above the poverty level (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Studies have also found that individuals who set high importance on material goods over values like family relationships are more likely to be unhappy (Deci & Flaste, 1996)

Widmer and Taniguchi assert:

“Gratification results when we invest rather than consume. For example, when we spend our free time interacting with our families by reading to our children, teaching them to ride a bike, playing a board game, gardening together, or going backpacking, we build knowledge, relationships, memories, and skills. These forms of family recreation promote social and psychological growth. On the other hand, pleasure often involves consuming—like tasting chocolate, buying new clothes, or getting a massage. These experiences do not build higher levels of social knowledge, relationships, or skills, but simply satiate basic biological needs and desires” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

 

Tip #8 Structured leisure time

How leisure time is used can make a huge difference in how children turn out, and in the level of happiness in family life. This principle is specifically relevant to teenagers. Widmer and Taniguchi state, “Leisure time provides an opportunity to promote positive development in adolescents. But the contrasting controlled environment of school and unstructured free time found after school leaves a void.” They continue to observe:

“The great majority of adolescents’ time is spent in two opposite experiential situations. In schoolwork, they experience concentration and challenge without being intrinsically motivated. In most leisure, including watching TV and interacting with friends, they experience intrinsic motivation but not in a context of concentration and challenge. Neither provides the combination of both of these elements necessary for the experience and development of initiative” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

This void often leads to boredom, which can be spiritually dangerous. Widmer and Taniguchi suggest, “Wholesome recreation often should include service learning or volunteering opportunities, like tutoring peers, cleaning up the local environment, and helping the elderly. Church programs, Boy Scouts, and after-school programs provide opportunities to serve” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).

 

References

Bahr, H. M. (1981). Religious intermarriage and divorce in Utah and the mountain states. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 20, 251–261.

Bartkowski, J. P., Xu, X., & Levin, M. L. (2008). Religion and child development: Evidence from the early childhood longitudinal study. Social Science Research, 37, 18–36.

Battle, C. L., & Miller, I. W. (2005). Families and forgiveness. In E. L. Worthington Jr., Handbook of forgiveness (pp. 227–241). New York: Routledge.

Butler, M. H., Gardner, B. C., & Bird, M. H. (1998). Not just a time out: Change dynamics of prayer for religious couples in conflict situations. Family Process, 37, 451–478.

Deci, E. L., & Flaste, R. (1996). Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation. New York: Penguin Books.

Harris, A. H., & Thoresen, C. E. (2005). Forgiveness, unforgiveness, health, and disease. In E. L. Worthington Jr., Handbook of forgiveness (pp. 321–333). New York: Routledge.

Lambert, N. M. (2012). Sanctification and Cooperation: How Prayer Helps Strengthen Relationships in Good Times and Heal Relationships in Bad Times. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 19.

Lambert, N. M., & Dollahite, D. C. (2006). How religiosity helps couples prevent, resolve, and overcome marital conflict. Family Relations, 55, 439–449.

Lehrer, E. L., & Chiswick, C. U. (1993). Religion as a determinant of marital stability. Demography, 30, 385–403.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: The Penguin Group.

Marks, L. D., Dollahite, D. C., & Freeman, J. J. (n.d.). Faith in Family Life. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 18.

Marsh, R. D., & Dallos, R. (2001). Roman Catholic couples: Wrath and religion. Family Process, 40(3), 343–360.

Perry, L. T. (April, 2003). The importance of family. General Conference.

Smith, C. (. (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York: Oxford.

Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult social bonds and use of Internet pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 75–88.

Thoresen, C. E., Harris, A. H., & Luskin, F. (2000). Forgiveness and health: An unanswered question. Forgiveness: Theory, research, and practice, 254–280.

Walton, E., & Hendricks, H. M. (2012). Repentance and Forgiveness in Family Life. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 20.

Widmer, M. A., & Taniguchi, S. T. (2012). Wholesome Family Recreation: Building Strong Families. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 22.

Worthington, E. (2001). Five steps to forgiveness: The art and science of forgiving. New York: Crown Publishers.

Worthington, E. L. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Routledge.

Young, B. (1997). In Gospel Principles. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

A Letter to My Future Self as a Father

Summary: Since I wanted to write a paper on fatherhood, but I am not yet a father, I decided to write a letter to my future self. This is done in hopes that I can one, hold myself to the high standard of the principles I am presently studying on how to be a great dad; and two, share what I am finding with those who want to learn more about effective fathering.

Dear Skyler,

You are a father now. If I know you like I think I do, you are probably feeling a little inadequate, and maybe even overwhelmed. Don’t fret, this is normal. In order to help you with your new adventure, I have drawn up eight tips in the form of do’s and don’ts for how to be the best dad you can possibly be. I hope this will be helpful to you as you strive to rear your family in love and righteousness.

Do: Love their mother

President David O. McKay taught “Children are more influenced by sermons you act than by the sermons you preach” (McKay, 1955, April). If you want to be an effective father, one of the best sermons you can act out through your example is to love your children’s mother.

Research has indicated that a healthy and fulfilling marriage is a fathering “force multiplier” for men, which helps fathers to be more involved with their children, more confident in their parental skills, more satisfied in their paternal efforts, and more sensitive to the needs of children (Holmes, Duncan, Bair, & White, 2007). Researchers have also found that a father’s relationship with a child’s mother is perhaps the “secret ingredient” that makes the fathering recipe work best for most men and their children (Holmes, Duncan, Bair, & White, 2007)

With this being the case, it is imperative that you do your part to nurture your relationship with your wife. One of the best ways to do this is to serve her by helping her around the house or with the kids. President Boyd K. Packer has said, “There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not [the husband’s] equal obligation” (Packer, 1989, July).

Do: Be perceptive

Every child you raise is going to have different interests, and different needs. Each will respond to different things. Brigham Young counseled parents to “study their children’s dispositions and temperament, and deal with them accordingly” (Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.), 1978).

Hart, Newell, and Haupt wrote similarly:

“Indeed, each individual displays different interests, personalities, and behavior, which come from biological blueprints provided by parents as well as each child’s own spiritual predispositions, talents, and desires. These spiritual traits interact with genetic individuality in ways that have not yet been revealed, but are often observed in daily interactions in the home. An individual’s characteristics are further refined by environmental factors in and out of the home (for example, parents, peers, siblings, school, and culture) and by the ways that each child responds to them. Even among children in the same family, some children may be more difficult or easy to rear due, in part, to inherent personality characteristics that stem from spiritual personality and predispositions” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

A cookie cutter approach does not work for child rearing. You need to recognize how the characteristics and personalities vary in your children and then adapt accordingly. A great father is a perceptive father who can pick up on things that he can adjust in his parenting style along the way depending on the needs of his kids.

Don’t: Shame

All of us make mistakes in life, and your children are going to be no different. They may choose to break commandments, or develop bad habits, or get frustrated over struggling with a personal weakness. When those times inevitably come, you should never shame your kids and make them feel worse than they already for the mistake they made.

David A. Nelson writes: “Shaming . . . aims to keep the child psychologically subservient, even if that comes at the price of the child’s self-esteem and the parent–child relationship. Through these manipulative tactics, parents demean and belittle children, adolescents, and young adults, communicating distrust in the child’s ability to make proper choices. These behaviors communicate parental rejection.” He continues, noting that “Anxiety and low self-esteem plague some children of such parents, whereas others respond to rejection with anger, rebellion, and estrangement” (Nelson, 2012).

BYU family life professor James M. Harper wrote on the difference between guilt and shame. He notes that “guilt—a recognition that one’s behavior has violated an important standard or value and caused harm to self or others—is a natural, healthy response to mistakes that can motivate change.” On the other hand, he compares that to ‘shame, which, when internalized, can lead to a sense of hopelessness.” He further notes, “People who experience strong internalized shame view the world through negative, shame-tinted glasses. Every incident in their lives is seen as validation of how worthless they are.” There are also potential spiritual implications that can be dangerous. Harper writes that shaming is “an enemy to our belief that all of us are spiritual children of God . . . it leads to a loss of hope that behavior change can make a difference. Because shame-prone people doubt emotions and feelings in general, they also doubt spiritual influences” (Thomson, 2015)

 

Do: Be a friend

One of the important factors in a successful parent-child relationship is being their friend. President Howard W. Hunter gave counsel on how to establish this friendship, advising fathers to “earn the respect and confidence of [their] children through [their] loving relationship with them,” and suggesting fathers give children “time and presence in their social, educational, and spiritual activities and responsibilities” and provide “tender expressions of love and affection toward children” (Hunter, 1994).

Research has also indicated that “it is not [the father’s] mere presence, per se, but his connection to children that is pivotal,” and that “strong connections can have beneficial effects” while “poor connections can have adverse effects” (Brotherson, Yamamoto, & Acock, 2003)

President Ezra Taft Benson counseled parents:

“Take time to be a real friend to your children. Listen to your children, really listen. Talk with them, laugh and joke with them, sing with them, play with them, cry with them, hug them, honestly praise them. Yes, regularly spend unrushed one-on-one time with each child. Be a real friend to your children” (Benson, 1974).

Taking time to nourish and build a lasting and impactful friendship with your kids may require sacrifice and great effort on your part, but it will be worth it. Hart, Newell, and Haupt found that “Children are less likely to push limits and seek attention through misbehavior when they feel that they are a high priority in their parents’ lives” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

 

Don’t: Spank

There are going to be times when your children act up, and your patience runs thin to the point that you would like to physically strike them. No matter how bad they get, or how angry you are, you have got to refrain from hitting them. Modern prophets have counseled against using physical punishment with children.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “I have never accepted the principle of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ . . . Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement” (Hinckley, 1994).

Brigham Young stated, “I will here say to parents, that kind words and loving actions toward children will subdue their uneducated nature a great deal better than the rod, or, in other words, than physical punishment” (Young, 1865).

Brother Brigham hinted that the real problem may lie in the parents themselves when he observed, “I have seen more parents who were unable to control themselves than I ever saw who were unable to control their children” (Saints, 1997).

Do: Be authoritative

There are many different styles of parenting. Hart, Newell, and Haupt have found that “Of each of the several parenting styles identified by scholarly research, the authoritative style of parenting is most consistent with the proclamation and the words of modern prophets and scripture (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

The following bulleted list describes this type of parenting style:

  • Love, warmth, and support
  • Clear and reasonable expectations for competent behavior
  • Limits and boundaries with some room for negotiation and compromise
  • Reasoning and developmentally appropriate consequences and punishments for breaching established limits
  • Opportunities to perform competently and make choices
  • Absence of coercive, hostile forms of discipline, such as harsh physical punishment, love withdrawal, shaming, and inflicting guilt
  • Models of appropriate behavior consistent with self-control, positive values, and positive attitudes (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

We find in this style a healthy middle ground between being too strict, coercive, and involved, and not caring or not being involved enough. This aligns most closely with the way Heavenly Father parents.

Don’t: Force/coerce

Consistent with the previous point, you must never force or coerce your children.

Brigham Young counseled:

Parents should never drive their children, but lead them along, giving them knowledge as their minds are prepared to receive it. Chastening may be necessary betimes, but parents should govern their children by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness (Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.), 1978).

It is important to recognize that behavior, especially bad behavior, is oftentimes driven by unmet needs, or simply a lack of understanding. It becomes your responsibility as a father to discover what the unmet need is, and how to better meet it; or what the misunderstanding is, and then teach accordingly. In such an approach discipline and punishment are not always necessary, and force or coercion are never requisite.

Hart, Newell, and Haupt stated:

“Although consequences are important to the learning process, punishment is not always the answer to misbehavior. Seeking to understand the underlying causes of the misbehavior can help parents treat the core problem and not just react to symptoms. For example, challenging behavior can be tied to an unfulfilled need (like being tired, hungry, or lacking necessary parental attention), a stage of growth (such as teething or natural striving for autonomy during the wonderful twos and threes and again during the teenage years), something going awry in the present environment (like friends being mean or fear of the dark), or a child simply not knowing better (for example, animals get hurt when mistreated; friends are not happy when one refuses to share). Ignoring misbehavior that is not harmful to self or others may be an appropriate strategy at times when followed up by love and acceptance (for example, calmly ignoring whining and then responding positively to the child’s normal speech)” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

 

Do: Show forth increased love

There will be times when you must discipline, it is important that when these opportunities come they are not treated lightly and you are not impulsive. Remain calm, be firm but gentle, and always follow through on your warnings. Joseph Smith taught that when you do reprove, you are to do so early on, and with sharpness, when you are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, “and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).

Hart, Newell, and Haupt taught that “When the child has been corrected in a calm, controlled manner, that same Spirit that prompted such correction can create a sense of compassion, charity, and forgiveness toward the child. These are moments when children have a particularly intense and immediate need to feel the strength of parental love.” They further state that parents should, “take action to assure the child of their love and genuine concern in a way that is suited to the age and individual needs of the child.” They give several examples:

For example, physical affection may assist a young child with a quivering lip to restore a sense of inner security: “Maybe you can sit here on my lap for a while until you feel like playing with your sister again.” Affirming verbal statements are important at all ages to keep relationships strong during times of reproof: “Although I am disappointed that you did not obey, I love you very much.” At times, humor can be used to break the tension: “Okay, enough of this serious stuff. Time for a group hug!” A change in activity may help, particularly when it gives children a chance to positively interact with the parent: “Will you be my helper in the kitchen? I need a junior chef to help me whip up some cornbread.” Finally, expressing confidence in the child can help alleviate his or her concerns: “I know it’s been a hard day. We all make mistakes. I know you’ll do better next time” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).

Do: Make sacrifices

There are many sacrifices associated with parenting within the framework of the gospel. These are sacrifices you will need to make, they may include your time, your wants, your needs, your hobbies, your sleep, and especially your pride. It will be well worth your effort though, not only does sacrifice bring forth the blessings of heaven, as William W. Phelps has penned, but these sacrifices on your part connected to being a righteous father will lead you to become what Bruce C. Hafen has called a “Christ Figure.” You will be doing for them, on your own level, what the Savior is doing for you. David A. Nelson wrote:

“The truest, most noble love is the love of a superior for an inferior where the superior makes every sacrifice so that the inferior might, if willing, rise to become an equal. And that is the wonder of the Savior’s Atonement: He, a superior, suffered and died so that all who will, males and females, may become equal heirs with Him (D&C 88:107) and receive “all power” and the “fullness” of God (D&C 76:54–56, 94–95; 132:20). In this highest realm, the Savior “makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95). Parental love in mortality emulates godly love. Those with healthy parental love make sacrifices so that their children may one day stand as their equals, and be not only their children, but also their friends” (Nelson, 2012).

 

Skyler, if you will follow these nine outlined steps of advice, I know you will become the righteous father in Israel that you desire to be. Your children will love you, and you will develop a very special relationship, even to the point of becoming very best friends.

Sincerely,

Past Skyler

 

 

References

Benson, E. T. (1974). God, family, country: Our three great loyalties. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

Brotherson, S. E., Yamamoto, T., & Acock, A. C. (2003). Connection and communication in father–child relationships and adolescent child well-being. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers.

Hart, C. H., Newell, L. D., & Haupt, J. H. (2012). Parenting with Love, Limits, and Latitude: Proclamation Principles and Supportive Scholarship. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 10.

Hinckley, G. B. (1994). Save the children. Ensign, November, 52-54.

Holmes, E. K., Duncan, T. B., Bair, S., & White, A. M. (2007). How mothers and fathers help each other count. In J. M. S. E. Brotherson, Why fathers count: The importance of fathers and their involvement with children (pp. 43–58). Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.

Hunter, H. W. (1994). Being a righteous husband and father. Ensign, November, 49-51.

McKay, D. O. (1955, April). Conference Report.

Nelson, D. A. (2012). Parenting in Gospel Context: Practices Do Make a Difference. Succcessful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 11.

Packer, B. K. (1989, July). A tribute to women. Ensign72-75.

Saints, T. C.-d. (1997). Teachings of presidents of the Church: Brigham Young. Salt Lake: Author.

Thomson, L. A. (2015). Arm Your Kids for the Battle. BYU Magazine, Spring Issue.

Young, B. (1865). Journal of Discourses, 10:360.

Young, B. (1978). Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

 

The Problem Is Not “Out There” – A Letter to Young Single Adults

Summary: I have been married for two months and am no expert on dating or marriage. However, through the dating process leading up to my marriage into my time as a married man, I have learned a few things for myself that I wish I would have better understood when I was single. The principles are shared here in hopes that “ye may learn to be more wise than [I] have been.” (Mormon 9:31)

If I told you that the war Satan waged in heaven is actively going on in your single adult life, would you believe me? We read in Moses 4:3 that Satan rebelled against God, and “sought to destroy the agency of man.” I believe that is what he is still trying to do now. However, because he does not have the ability to take our agency away, he convinces us to give it to him. He does so through deception and distortion. When we accept that external forces and circumstances control our choices, and believe that we are objects to be acted upon rather than agents who act, we in essence are asking God, “Is this gift of agency returnable?” The renowned author Stephen R. Covey has warned, “If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem” (Covey, 1989). Stating that the problem is “out there” suggests that someone or something else is in control, it relieves accountability. As an agent who acts, you are in control of your own life and how you react to your problems.

The Issues

If you are anything like me before I got married, you are fed up with dating. You are sick of the consistent games, insincerity, and unwillingness to commit that you find in the dating arena. You may have even concluded that something is wrong with the current Mormon dating culture. Well, according to studies done by Dr. Jason S. Carroll of BYU, you are right.

Dr. Carroll has found that

  • “More than half of young adults today rank having ‘fully experienced the single life’ as an important criterion to achieve before getting married”
  • “Hanging-out patterns have increased among Latter-day Saint young people”
  • “Some Latter-day Saint young people are “hooking up” by engaging in NCMOs (non-committal make-outs) or other forms of non-committed physical intimacy prior to marriage”(Carroll, 2012).

He observes:

“Current societal trends reveal that there are a number of pitfalls in today’s dating and courtship culture that require young adults to approach marriage with an even greater degree of faith and steadfastness than was required in previous generations. In fact, for some Latter-day Saint young adults today, following prophetic counsel to form an enduring marriage may feel like a daunting task” (Carroll, 2012).

Dr. Carroll narrows these pitfalls down to four key issues: (a) a growing pessimism about marriage and a focus on personal independence before and after marriage, (b) a primary focus on personal financial independence for both men and women, (c) widespread sexual permissiveness, and (d) high rates of couples living together before marriage (Carroll, 2012).

There is a common theme among each of these—they are all selfish. Much like the temptations the adversary placed before Jesus in Matthew chapter 4, they are all essentially the same temptation, “do this for yourself now.” They also constitute a solid foundation for what Elder Bruce C. Hafen has called a contractual marriage.

While serving as a member of the Seventy, he clarified the nature of a covenant relationship by contrasting it with a contractual relationship:

When troubles come, the parties to a contractual marriage seek happiness by walking away. They marry to obtain benefits and will stay only as long as they’re receiving what they bargained for. But when troubles come to a covenant marriage, the husband and wife work them through. They marry to give and to grow, bound by covenants to each other, to the community, and to God. Contract companions each give 50 percent. But covenant companions each give 100 percent. Enough and to spare. Each gives enough to cover any shortfall by the other (Hafen, 2005).

Those trapped in a contractual view of marriage selfishly focus inward, and condition their continued effort in a relationship on them getting what they expect. On the other hand, those who embrace the covenant view of marriage focus outward on their partner, and are more concerned with meeting their needs than their own.

Now, while research findings may be disheartening, accurate, and even validating, you must keep in mind the declaration of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve” (Maxwell, 2003). Remember, the thought that the problem is “out there” is the problem. You cannot control that others are preparing themselves for a contractual marriage by experiencing the single life, hanging out, hooking up, focusing on personal independence and financial success, and being immoral. But, as an agent, you can choose not to be affected by these behaviors. They cannot influence or discourage you unless you let them, you are not an object.

You can choose to retain your agency and act by taking a proactive approach and preparing for a covenant marriage right now. As Thomas B. Holman and Frank Poulsen put it, “we must look ahead to the type of marriage we want, set a course toward that goal, and then “prepare every needful thing” so when the opportunity for establishing a relationship that could lead to an eternal marriage arises, we are ready to move forward with faith” (Holman & Poulsen, 2012).

I offer four suggestions on how to do this: first, by becoming a right person for marriage; second, practicing effective communication; third, handling differences and solve problems respectfully; and fourth, choosing mature love.

Becoming a Right Person for Marriage

Many young single adults choose to employ what Dr. Carroll calls the “finding Mr./Ms. Right” approach to dating. Speaking of the dangers of this course, he says: “In sum, the focus in this style of dating is on finding or matching with the person you are meant to marry. This approach creates feelings of anxiety about dating, as young people feel overwhelmed by the prospect of finding their ‘perfect match’” (Carroll, 2012).

By contrast, Elder David A. Bednar (2009) warns about embracing a finding-focused view to dating and counsels to practice a different approach. He said:

As we visit with young adults all over the Church, often they will ask, “Well, what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?” As though they have some checklist of, “I need to find someone who has these three, or four, or five things.” And I rather forcefully say to them, “You are so arrogant to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you! If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for, what makes you think they’d want to marry you?” The “list” is not for evaluating someone else—the list is for you and what you need to become. And so if there are three primary characteristics that [you] hope to find in an eternal companion, then those are the three things [you] ought to be working to become. Then [you] will be attractive to someone who has those things. . . . You are not on a shopping spree looking for the greatest value with a series of characteristics. You become what you hope your spouse will be and you’ll have a greater likelihood of finding that person (Bednar, 2009).

The “becoming” approach described by Elder Bednar emphasizes personal qualification, maturity, and improvement. The young adult engaged in this approach recognizes that the problem is not “out there,” it is in his or her self. Dr. Carroll notes, “Within a “becoming” approach to dating, the primary question is, “How can I be prepared to form and nurture an enduring marriage?” While a becoming-based approach to dating still recognizes the importance of finding a good person to marry, finding is not the primary focus. Rather, the main emphasis is on becoming ready for marriage and then committing to that relationship when you have made the decision to marry” (Carroll, 2012).

Practicing Effective Communication

I have found that communication is highly influential in building and maintaining a successful relationship, and eventually marriage. While modern technology provides many avenues for vagueness and avoidance of confrontation, you can still choose to listen intently and be upfront and clear. You may not be married, but you can practice communicating in your family, friend, and dating relationships in the meantime.

Dr. Carroll provides this explanation on effective communication skills:

“Effective communication involves two primary skills—empathetic listening and clear-sending communication. As young adults develop these skills, they are better prepared to establish healthy and productive couple interactions in dating and marriage relationships. The goal of empathetic listening is to help another person feel understood and valued. It is a vital and necessary skill needed in dating, courtship, and marriage.

In order to be effective communicators, we have to be authentic in our conversations with others. Simply put, we have to say what we mean and mean what we say while still respecting the feelings and perspectives of others. In dating relationships, when young adults do not state their true feelings or perspectives or when they lie about them, trust and intimacy cannot develop or be maintained. When the purpose of communication is to cover up, mislead, deceive, intimidate, threaten, disapprove, hurt, fault-find, or make someone feel guilty, relationships are damaged. Furthermore, if young adults allow their emotions or personal insecurities to overwhelm them, they tend to communicate in less authentic ways—thus sending less clear messages” (Carroll, 2012).

Respectfully Handle Differences and Solve Problems

In their work Foundational Processes for an Enduring, Healthy Marriage, Stephen F. Duncan and Sara S. McCarty Zasukha outline 7 skills they believe are necessary to work through the challenges brought on by differences and conflict in relationships. These are skills that can help you resolve differences with anyone, especially your future spouse. Here are a few snippets from their suggestions:

Prevention

Some issues may not need to be raised. Having charity, the pure love of Christ, may prevent some things from ever becoming an issue.

Eliminating destructive interaction patterns

They identify four of these destructive interaction patterns that progressively lead to the downfall of a relationship: criticism (attack on one’s personality), contempt (criticism mixed with sarcasm, name-calling, eye-rolling), defensiveness (not taking responsibility for change), and stonewalling (unwillingness to discuss or withdrawal from an issue).

Becoming calm

Contention results in anger escalation, hostility, and hurt feelings that can seriously harm relationships. If you cannot approach an issue without contending about it, it is better to deal with it later, after you have calmed yourself. Do whatever calms you: pray, listen to peaceful music, walk around the block, take a shower.

Discussing issues softly, gently, and privately

Avoid negative, accusatory remarks, sarcasm, and critical or contemptuous statements. Complaining is okay, but don’t blame. Speak for yourself. Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings (“I felt hurt when you left me alone at the party”), not “you” statements (“You are so inconsiderate”). Describe what is happening; don’t evaluate or judge. Be clear. Be polite. Be appreciative. Don’t store things up—remember D&C 121:43: “Reproving betimes [without delay] with sharpness [clarity, openness], when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” Bring up the issue privately with the person concerned “and not before the world” (see D&C 42:88–89).

Making and accepting repair attempts

When a discussion on an issue gets off on the wrong foot, put the brakes on before disaster strikes and things get contentious. Ultimately, a repair attempt is anything in a discussion that de-escalates tension so discussion and problem solving can proceed. It might include apologies (“I’m sorry, please forgive me, I didn’t mean that”), acknowledgment of actions (“Yes, you do help with the laundry on occasion”), or taking breaks (“Whoa! This is getting out of hand. Let’s take ten minutes and cool off”).

Soothing one’s self and each other

Taking breaks may be essential if repair attempts are unsuccessful or if you begin to feel out of control (“flooded”) physically and emotionally.

Reaching a consensus.

Most issues need only to be discussed and not solved; in fact, many issues are not solvable but perpetual. However, after a full discussion of an issue has occurred and it is classified as a “solvable” problem, it is time to counsel together to find a solution that you both feel good about.

Developing these skills will prevent you from being acted upon by differences and problems because they each focus on what you can do rather than what is happening to you.

Choose Mature Love

Elder Marvin J. Ashton stated:

“True love is a process. True love requires personal action. Love must be continuing to be real. Love takes time. Too often expediency, infatuation, stimulation, persuasion, or lust are mistaken for love. How hollow, how empty if our love is no deeper than the arousal of momentary feeling or the expression in words of what is no more lasting than the time it takes to speak them” (Ashton, 1975, November).

Elder Ashton’s descriptions of love line up closely with Pat Noller’s explanation of mature love. Take a look at the chart below and see how you fare. You will notice the listings under mature love emphasize personal accountability for choices, and meeting the needs of your partner, while the listings under immature love accentuate selfishness, and the idea that the problem is “out there.” Agents who act choose mature love, objects that are acted upon lean toward immature love.

Characteristics of Immature and Mature Love (based on Noller, 1996)

Aspects of Love Immature Love Mature Love
Emotional Part of Love Possessiveness

Jealousy

Infatuation

Preoccupation

Lasting Passion

Desire for Companionship

Warm Feeling of Contentment

Belief Part of Love “Love is Blind”

Love is External to Us

“Cupid’s Arrow”

Love is Beyond Our Control

Love is Something You Have to “Decide”

Love Means: Commitment, Trust, Sharing, Sacrifice

Behavior Part of Love Selfish

Lustful

Concern Only for Satisfying Own Needs

Clinging

Creates an Environment of Growth and Development

Allows Partner Space for Growth

(Holman & Poulsen, 2012)

So What?

This is all important because all these solutions—becoming a right person for marriage, practicing effective communication, handling differences and solve problems respectfully, choosing mature love, not only maintain your agency in the dating arena, they also develop personal security. As Dr. Jason S. Carroll notes, the ability to love is dependent upon personal security:

“The term personal security refers to a person’s sense of self-importance, which involves perceptions of self-worth, the ability to regulate negative affect (for example, depression, anxiety, or anger), and feelings of secure attachment (Carroll, Badger, & Yang, 2006). Personally secure people rely on sources of internal validation (such as the love of God, a sense of personal worth, and personal optimism) rather than seeking external validation of their worth (for example, through accomplishment, physical appearance, material possessions, or unhealthy relationships). Personal security is the foundation for several key attributes that are needed in dating and marriage relationships. These include courage, vulnerability, and a willingness to trust other people. Without personal security, vulnerability in close relationships becomes threatening and the fear of rejection will often dictate how people behave in dating situations” (Carroll, 2012)

Conclusion

My conclusion is that successful covenant marriages require recognitions from both parties that agency must be preserved, and the attitude of the problem being “out there” must be abandoned. This is no easy task but as Elizabeth VanDenBerghe and Alan J. Hawkins have asserted, “Both the soft stories and the hard evidence attest to the fact that good marriages are undeniably worth the work, sacrifice, and dedication they require” (VanDenBerghe & Hawkins, 2012).

It is worth it to change from a “finding Mr./Mrs. Right” to a “becoming” approach. It is worth it to practice effective communication skills now and make adjustments. It is worth it to develop respectful difference and problem solving skills. It is worth it to select mature love over immature love. Ultimately, it is worth it to be selfless and realize that the problem is never “out there.”

 

 

References

Ashton, M. J. (1975, November). Love takes time. Ensign, 108-110.

Bednar, D. A. (2009). Conversations, Episode 001. Mormon Channel, pp. Retrieved from http://radio.lds.org/eng/programs/conversations-episode-1.

Carroll, J. S. (2012). Young Adulthood and Pathways to Eternal Marriage. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 1.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Fireside.

Hafen, B. C. (2005). Covenant hearts: Marriage and the joy of human love. Salt Lake CIty: Deseret Book.

Holman, T. B., & Poulsen, F. (2012). The ABCs of Successful Romantic Relationship Development: Meeting, Dating, and Choosing an Eternal Companion. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 2.

Maxwell, N. A. (2003, April). Care for the life of the soul. Ensign.

VanDenBerghe, E., & Hawkins, A. J. (2012). The Warm, Happy Marriage: Cold, Hard Facts to Consider. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 7.

 

Comparisons Make Us Bitter, Not Better.

Many of us often spend precious time and energy comparing ourselves to other people. Some use this practice as motivation for becoming better, and are careful enough to prevent it from affecting their worth. However, for most of us, myself included, comparisons tend to make us bitter, not better–bitter toward our self, other people, and even God.

What is it that leads us to compare ourselves with each other? How does this happen? Elder Holland has offered his opinion:

I think one of the reasons is that every day we see allurements of one kind or another that tell us what we have is not enough. Someone or something is forever telling us we need to be more handsome or more wealthy, more applauded or more admired than we see ourselves as being. We are told we haven’t collected enough possessions or gone to enough fun places. We are bombarded with the message that on the world’s scale of things we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.6 Some days it is as if we have been locked in a cubicle of a great and spacious building where the only thing on the TV is a never-ending soap opera entitled Vain Imaginations. (The Other Prodigal, 2002)

Social media could be labeled as one of the locks on the door keeping us in the cubicle of the great and spacious building. While this technology offers many things that are good, the temptation to compare ourselves with others when using it is almost unavoidable. Because of this, social media has the potential to deliver damaging blows to our confidence and view of our self.

When dealing with social media, we often, in Steve Furtick’s words, “compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Arthur C. Brooks, has similarly observed that when we use social media, we usually broadcast the smiling details of our lives but not the hard times at school or work. We portray an incomplete life—sometimes in a self-aggrandizing or fake way. We share this life, and then we consume the “almost exclusively … fake lives of [our] social media ‘friends.’” Brooks affirms, “How could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?” (Arthur C. Brooks, Love People, Not Pleasure)

How can we overcome the tendency to compare ourselves with others? To start, we can spend less time on social media. But this will not be enough. We need to recognize first–what we are doing when we make comparisons, and second–why it is wrong, and the potential consequences.

Pride

Comparison denotes pride at its very core. When we compare ourselves to others, what arises is a sense of competition–who’s prettier, who has more friends, who has the more exciting life, who is more talented.  As C. S. Lewis has noted: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, 1952) When we compare ourselves, we are choosing to be prideful by competing.

We are hardly fair with ourselves in these competitions either. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has observed when we compare ourselves to others, we are “usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.” (Forget Me Not, 2011) Thus one of the consequences is we have a hard time seeing good qualities in our self, because although they may be good, someone else’s are better. And we often become bitter toward those people.

Ungrateful

Comparisons also indicate ungratefulness. When we compare, what we essentially saying to God is that what we have been given in the form of a stewardship–our body, our resources, our opportunities–is not good enough. Instead of making the most of what we have been blessed with and being grateful for it, we are concentrating on what we have not been given. This can lead us to covet what others have, and to even become jealous.

If we choose to remain ungrateful, one of the dangers is we fail to see the many ways God is blessing us. We fail to recognize that He does love us, and is involved in our lives. We can potentially come to feel like Henri J. M. Nouwen, who observed, “In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992) This mindset can lead us to become bitter toward God, or even doubt his existence altogether.

Solutions

I offer two solutions. The first comes from Sister Patricia T. Holland, former member of the Young Women general presidency and wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

“My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing, or what I think others expect of me. I am most happy when I am comfortable being me and trying to do what my Father in Heaven and I expect me to be.

“For many years I tried to measure the ofttimes quiet, reflective, thoughtful Pat Holland against the robust, bubbly, talkative, and energetic Jeff Holland and others with like qualities. I have learned through several fatiguing failures that you can’t have joy in being bubbly if you are not a bubbly person. It is a contradiction in terms. I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my energy level is lower than Jeff’s, and I don’t talk as much as he does, nor as fast. Giving this up has freed me to embrace and rejoice in my own manner and personality in the measure of my creation” (On Earth as It Is in Heaven, 1989).

We must each say to ourselves, as she did: “I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my _______ is not as good as _______’s.” We are not all meant to be the same, we are each on our own journey and have been blessed with different qualities to make it through. She said that doing so freed her, and allowed her to embrace and rejoice in her own manner and personality. When we can do this, we enable ourselves to choose to encourage and commend others, instead of compete with them.

The second solution is found in Alma chapter 29 of The Book of Mormon. Desiring greater abilities, and a greater stewardship Alma laments:

“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of my heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God. . . and cry repentance unto every people!”

He then states:

“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” (Alma 29: 1,3)

Each of us can look at ourselves, and recognize that we are imperfect and may not have earned what we are coveting or desiring that someone else may have. We can, like Alma, be content with what the Lord has allotted unto us. This contentment springs from an understanding of the wisdom and justice of God.

“For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations. . . all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.” (Alma 29:8)

We must trust that God loves each of us equally; and realize that whatever He has seen fit to give us to work with here in this life, He has done so with our best interests in mind according to that which is just and true. If we can do this, we will choose more often to be grateful for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t have.

We would do well to remember the words of Elder Holland:

“Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.”

Crutches and Training Wheels: The Role of a Teacher

A crutch is a staff or support used to assist a person in walking, usually used when a bone in the leg or foot has been broken, or seriously injured. It relieves someone of the burden of putting pressure on their own limb, and essentially serves as a substitute leg. Without the crutch, it is difficult for the individual to walk at all.

Training wheels are small supporting wheels attached to both sides of the rear wheel of a child’s bicycle. They are used by kids who want to ride a bike, but have not yet developed the ability to fully balance. Ideally the wheels are eventually removed and the child, having fostered confidence and competence, rides on his own. I believe much can be learned in regard to teaching by examining the contrast between crutches and training wheels.

Not long after being called as an Area Authority Elder David A. Bednar attended a training meeting where he received instruction from President Boyd K. Packer. He recounts that he has “never forgotten one question that was directed specifically to President Packer and the answer he gave.”

            “President Packer, would you please teach us about the Atonement of Jesus Christ?”

President Packer then gave the following response:

            “Thank you for your excellent question. Read the Book of Mormon as many times as you reasonably can in the next several months. When you are finished reading, write a one-page summary of what you learned about the Atonement. Next question.”

After much reflection, and putting the answer into practice, Elder Bednar came to understand that President Packer “gave us much more than an answer to a single question. In that training session he did not tell us what he knew; rather, he taught us how he had come to know. If any of us truly desired to know what he knew, we absolutely could—if we were willing to pay the price and obtain the knowledge for ourselves. President Packer’s answer emphasized the importance of procuring for ourselves the oil of conversion; it cannot be borrowed or conveyed from one person to another” (Bednar, Act In Doctrine, p. 122).

Occasionally, with good intentions and misplaced zeal, we figuratively try to convey, or transfer, the oil of conversion from our own lamp to the lamp of another by spoon feeding them the knowledge we ourselves have studied and worked for. They ask a question, and we take it upon ourselves to relay all that we have learned in a lifetime of study on the subject through a one-way lecture. We thus place ourselves in the crutch category, relieving them of any responsibility to put pressure on their own intellect, allowing them to lean on us in a way that stunts their spiritual growth and, in all reality, undermining their free agency by turning them into an object that we act upon.

We must remember this truth: “Knowledge cannot be given or borrowed; it must be obtained” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 122). As teachers in any capacity, we must allow the questioner to obtain knowledge, rather than trying to bestow it. We should permit the learner to learn by their faith. This can be done by enabling them to be a participant in the learning process—telling them where to receive their own answer, or, in a classroom setting, taking them to where the answer is, and then inviting them to read, reflect, and apply.

When we give our consent to being used as a crutch, we are, in a sense, exercising unrighteous dominion over those whom the Lord has entrusted to us with the sacred responsibility of teaching and influencing, because we act upon them. This is a slippery slope that can quickly lead to priestcraft, defined as men preaching and setting “themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2Nephi 26:29). Offering ourselves as a crutch by supplying impressive answers will likely receive praise, however, it will be done at the selfish expense of the welfare of Zion, including the spiritual welfare of the learner(s).

Another danger of the crutch approach is it begets fertile grounds for pride to swell up within the instructor by creating enmity between him and the Lord. The enmity comes from getting in the way of the Holy Ghost, and preventing Him from doing His assigned labor in the learning process—teaching. We read in section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants: Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.” We preach, He teaches. When we give too much information outright, and absolve learners of the obligation to seek and knock, we are bringing too much attention to ourselves. This may lead others to believe that we are the teacher, instead of merely a facilitator.

Elder Bednar puts it this way:

“We must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. . . This work is never about me and it is never about you. We need to do all in our power to fulfill our teaching responsibilities and simultaneously “get out of the way” so the Holy Ghost can perform His sacred work. In fact, anything you or I do as representatives of the Savior that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self—in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor—is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost.” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 130-131)

On the other hand, one of the best examples of the training wheel style of teaching is found in the interaction between the Lord and the brother of Jared in Ether chapter two.The brother of Jared, lacking a way to light the barges he and his company were to use in crossing the sea, appeals to the Lord for an answer to his problem:

“I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2: 22)

In other words, to parallel the question posed to President Packer:

Jesus, would you please teach me about the best way to get light into my barges?

The Lord could easily give the brother of Jared a discourse on the greatest and most efficient way to produce light, or He could even reveal all he knows on the subject. However, this could stunt the brother of Jared’s growth by giving him a crutch when he is perfectly capable of walking.

“The Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire . . . . Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2: 23, 25)

The Lord delivers the perfect training wheel response. He presents His questioner with just enough support and guidance to get him going, and an invitation to act in faith and try to find the answer for himself. He allows the learner to learn by faith. Well Mahonri, that’s an excellent question. I will tell you that windows won’t work, nor will fire, can you come up with another solution? The brother of Jared then exercises his faith and does his best to ride the bike by molting small stones out of a rock and asking the Lord to touch them.

If the Lord had not followed the proper teaching pattern, He would not have been able to take the veil “from off the eyes of the brother of Jared” or to say to him “never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast”, or to fully show Himself to him. If he had used the crutch technique, the brother of Jared could not have earned true knowledge and reached the point of riding on his own: “And he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.” (Ether 3:19) Are we missing out on results in students, ward members, and children by using the crutch method instead of training wheels? As Elder Bednar has asked, “Are you and I encouraging and helping those we serve to seek learning by faith?” (Seek Learning by Faith).

I have found in my own life that the teachers who have had the most profound impact on me have done so in the same way–by setting an example of faith and diligence in study, or riding their own bike, and then giving me training wheels in the form of advice or recommendation on where to find for myself, the same knowledge they had secured. I have learned for myself, as Elder Bednar has taught, “that an answer given by another person usually is not remembered for very long, if at all. But an answer we discover or obtain through the exercise of faith is typically retained for a lifetime. The most important learnings of life are caught–not taught.” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 127)

Now, this is not to say that direct answers to questions should never be rendered, nor that helpful instruction is completely unnecessary. What is meant in what has been presented is that we are not obligated to tell anyone everything we know, nor should we inhibit real spiritual growth by giving easy answers to someone who is fully capable of finding them on their own. We should avoid the tendency to make ourselves available as a crutch, and strive to discern the difference between providing someone enough assistance to enable them to act, and acting upon them. We should, in short, take the training wheel approach. To do so, is to put a check on priestcraft, pride, and narcissism.  Less attention may be acquired, but the pure in heart, who intend to eventually ride the gospel bike on their own, will recognize the Savior’s true pattern of teaching, and will be grateful their agency was respected, and even enlarged, in the learning process.

Building Blocks and the Atonement of Jesus Christ

In each of our lives, there come times when we feel like crying out as the psalmist did: “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? “(Psalm 13:1)

Distance From God/Disunity

In moments like this, what we are experiencing is separation or disconnection from God. This distance from God can arise when we choose to sin, (all too often “Netflix and Chill” leads to “Bishop and Repent”). It can arise when we choose to look at our trials and struggles as if we were all tributes in an arena like the Hunger Games and God is some game maker devising ways for us to suffer in order to entertain the angels around him in the capital. This separation can also come when we fail to realize, as Hugh Nibley has pointed out, that our personal “weaknesses are like dogs…if we walk toward them, they will run away from us. But if we run away from them they’ll chase us.”
Whatever it is, we must recognize that the wedge between us and God is our own doing. “Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (D&C 3:3). As President Eyring has pointed out, “The pavilion that seems to intercept divine aid does not cover God but occasionally covers us. God is never hidden, yet sometimes we are.” The fact is, each of us struggle with sins, trials, and weaknesses, but the Savior’s work through His atonement of cleansing us, strengthening us, and empowering us is never frustrated. If we are not feeling his influence, it is because we are not enabling ourselves to do so, not because he standest afar off, is hiding, or has forgotten us. I would like to discuss how taking advantage of His grace can affect our faith, and transform our sins, trials, and weaknesses from stumbling blocks, to building blocks.

Sins—Alma (Forgiving and Redeeming)

Mormon describes Alma the younger as “a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people.” (Mosiah 27:9) After a visit from a heavenly messenger, and a repentance process involving two days of physical paralysis, Alma stood and said, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the spirit.” Through the atonement he overcame his sins and was changed from a carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, and becoming a new creature. Through the atonement his sins became building blocks that were used to frame his testimony, rather than stumbling blocks that would knock it down.

Trials—Joseph Smith (Comforting and Strengthening)

Doctrine and Covenants section 127 is a letter written by the prophet Joseph Smith to the Saints in Nauvoo while he was in hiding. We can learn much about the relation between the Savior and our trials and tribulations. Joseph wrote, “and as for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small things to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was ordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end. . . But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. it all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; (why?) for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (D&C 127:2) The second verse in an oft sung hymn reads, “We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness, we’ve proved him in days that are past.” Through his faith Joseph had proved God to the point that he gloried in tribulation and was accustomed to swimming in deep water, because God had come through every time. Because of his faith in the comforting and strengthening power of the atonement, his perils became building blocks that supported his testimony.

Personal Weaknesses—Enoch (Perfecting and Sustaining)

Enoch was asked by the Lord, as we all are, to do something that required more from him than he felt capable of giving—go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent. We read his response in Moses 6:31

“And when Enoch had heard these words, 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?”

He responded the way we often do, by giving the Lord a list of reasons we aren’t good enough. Whoa man, you’ve got the wrong guy… I’m just a boy, I’m too young, the people hate me, I can’t talk, I’m not ready for that… sorry. What we often fail to realize is that struggling with imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and oftentimes as we move nearer to God, our weaknesses become more detectable. This is because the closer we get to the Lord, the more often he gives us opportunities to have stretching experiences – experiences that require us to do things we’ve never done before, and to become better than we’ve ever been.

“And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance. . .

Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course.”

Enoch exercised his faith in the perfecting and sustaining power of the atonement and went forth. His personal weaknesses were transformed from stumbling blocks into building blocks as he became a strange thing in the land. And in the next chapter the earth trembled, the mountains fled, the rivers of water turned out of their course according to his command and armies were fleeing from Enoch in fear. Instead of focusing on his ability or inability, Enoch focused on his availability and by acting in faith proved his dependability, allowing the Lord through his Atonement to take care of his capability, thus turning his weaknesses into strengths.

Believing Christ

In each of these cases–Alma, Joseph, and Enoch–they not only believed in Jesus Christ and His atonement, but they believed Him, and that is what led them to exercise their faith and act, enabling them to feel His influence. Stephen E. Robinson has taught:

“If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power. People like this often pretend to themselves and to others that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power. Though the appliances may all work and the wiring may be in good order, until we accept the power itself, beyond merely believing in the theory of power, we cannot enjoy the warmth and light.”

It was because Alma believed Jesus was able to cleanse him, that he cried out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness.” It was because Joseph believed Jesus was able to strengthen him that he not only figuratively swam through his trials, but eventually described himself as a rough stone rolling down from a high mountain. It was because Enoch believed Jesus was able to sustain him that we went forth and opened his mouth.

You Can’t Know Something That Isn’t True

Now, all that I’ve said thus far is a precursor for what I’m going to say right now, and if you don’t remember anything else, remember this. You can’t know something that isn’t true! That’s impossible. If someone told you they knew the sky was falling, you would say, “no, you think the sky is falling.” If someone told you they knew chicken was a type of fruit, you might reply, “you can think what you want.”

Cane supposedly knew he was free when he killed Able, but once the spotlight of accountability was shone on him, the light revealed that what he thought he knew was just a thought. Korhior thought there was no God, and could be no Christ. Later admitting that he “always knew there was a God”, and that the Devil had deceived him.

Faith to Knowledge

By not just believing in the concept of seeds growing into trees, but believing the seed can do what its supposed to be able to do and then planting it; by not just believing in the concept of electricity lighting a room but by believing electricity can do what it purports and then turning the switch; by not just believing in the concept of the atonement of Jesus Christ but by believing Jesus can cleanse your sins and then talking to the bishop, by believing Jesus can uplift you and then reading your thin pages thick with meaning and calling out to God in prayer, by believing Jesus can strengthen you and then doing what he asks and making an effort; we can transform our faith from having a desire to believe, to believing, to KNOWING.

“Behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs KNOW that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you KNOW.” (Alma 32:33-34)

In closing I wish to bear witness not of things that I think, but of things that I have come to know for myself!
I know that God lives, that He loves us, and that he has a deep and personal interest in the salvation of each of his children. I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the living Son of the living God. I have come to know for myself that through his infinite atonement we can be cleansed of any sin, strengthened in any trial, and overcome any weakness; and that through our faith, those sins, trials, and weaknesses can serve as building blocks used to learn, grow, and progress. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and I testify that for anyone who is spiritually sitting in a cold dark house, it is full of witnesses that the lights turn on, the heaters work, and the atonement is real. My is that each of us, regardless of past belief, or disbelief, will right now choose to believe Christ, exercise our faith, and take advantage of the blessings of the atonement, using them to close that gap between us and God, thus creating unity. I know that if we will do this, not only will our faith increase, but we will ultimately feel more joy, and gain the understanding and experience we came here to acquire.

So What?

This is important because as the second coming draws nearer, and the Lord’s work hastens, the adversary’s does as well. Temptations will become more intense, trials and persecutions will become more severe, weaknesses will be exposed. Elder Maxwell has said of the rising generations that if we are faithful we “may be a part of some of the winding up scenes for this world, and as participants, not mere spectators, though on later occasions you might prefer the latter.”

We don’t have time to trifle with sacred things, we don’t have time to take the gospel for granted. As we choose to increase our faith through the atonement and transform our transgressions, trials, and struggles from stumbling blocks to building blocks, we will be worthy of, and ready for the tasks ahead.

Smoke Signals and the Grace of God

While traveling on our life’s journey, we all face times of testing and trial; times when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to; times when we find out if our faith and trust in God is real or imagined. In such instances no one is immune to the disappointment, discouragement, and despair that can accompany these things.

A few years ago a dear friend of mine shared a story with me that I have never forgotten. It taught me that not only do I not always know what is best, but that even in my darkest, most trying moments, God is near, and He is at work in my life.

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and everyday he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, alone, and discouraged he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements. He also used the hut to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. The man was stung with grief and anger.

“God, how could you do this to me?!” he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.

“How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked of his rescuers.

“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.

It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose faith. God is at work in our lives. The next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” This was clearly the case for the man in the story. However, like many of us, it was difficult for him to recognize that truth in the midst of his tribulation.

The counsel of President George Q. Cannon is helpful in such situations:

“The saints should always remember that God sees not as man sees; that he does not willingly afflict His children, and that if He requires them to endure present privation and trial, it is that they may escape greater tribulations which would otherwise inevitably overtake them. If He deprives them of any present blessing, it is that He may bestow upon them greater and more glorious ones by and by.”

The man was required to endure the trial of his hut burning to the ground, but that privation allowed him to escape the greater tribulation of trying to stay alive while remaining on the island alone. He was deprived of the blessing of sleeping in the hut that night, but it was that very deprivation that allowed him to receive the greater blessing of being rescued.

The principles put forward by President Cannon represent a theme that can be observed in the scriptures, as well as in our lives. Trials and tribulations serve as smoke signals that summon the grace of God. These smoke signals can invite boats in the form of opportunities, friends, lessons to learn, or greater blessings than we were presently enjoying. Viewing our trials this way gets easier as we remember Heavenly Father’s character and become more familiar with this pattern.

This pattern can be seen in many examples in the scriptures. Ammon may have felt his hut was burning to the ground and all was lost when he was imprisoned for two days upon reaching the land of Nephi, but that trial allowed him to meet and teach King Limhi and his people, as well as lead them out of bondage back to the land of Zarahemla.

Alma was very discouraged after being  withstood, reviled, spit upon, and then cast out of the city of Ammonihah. But this smoke signal summoned a boat in the form of an angel who told him to return to the land of Ammonihah where he met Amulek. If this had never happened, he would not have witnessed God’s hand as “they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them.” (Alma 8:31)

Joseph likely felt like his hut was burning to the ground when he was sold into Egypt by his brothers, or when Potiphar’s wife had him put in prison. But these hardships gave him the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream which led to his promotion, enabling him to temporally save many people, including his own family, from the coming famine.

Brigham Young taught, “If you possess the light of the Holy Spirit, you can see clearly that trials in the flesh are actually necessary.” Perhaps it was his possession of that Spirit, and understanding of the necessity of trials, that led him–after being driven out of Nauvoo, and crossing the plains to the Rocky Mountains–to make this statement: “We are infinitely more blessed by the persecutions and injustice we have suffered, than we could have been if we had remained in our habitations from which we have been driven – than if we had been suffered to occupy our farms, gardens, stores, mills, machinery and everything we had in our former possessions.”

Joseph Smith braved many hardships and tribulations during his life. Possibly the most trying of those experiences was the four months in the middle of winter he spent unlawfully confined in a dungeon, ironically named, Liberty Jail. In his letters he spoke of the jail being a “hell, surrounded with demons. . . where we are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description.” He wrote, “We have . . . not blankets sufficient to keep us warm, and when we have a fire, we are obliged to have almost a constant smoke.” “Our souls have been bowed down” “and my nerve trembles from long confinement.” “Pen, or tongue, or angels,” Joseph wrote, could not adequately describe “the malice of hell” that he suffered there. (Holland, Lessons From Liberty Jail)

To make matters worse, in the midst of this imprisonment, the Saints were being driven out of their homes in Missouri via an extermination order signed by Governor Boggs. These conditions drove the prophet to cry out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1) Surely Joseph could relate to the man watching his hut burn to the ground who cried out “God how could you do this to me?!” But Joseph’s burning hut of adversity sent up a smoke signal that would summon a boat in the form of some of the most powerful lessons ever taught in the scriptures contained in Doctrine and Covenants sections 121-123.

As challenging and profound as each of these stories are, none match the affliction and distress endured by the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. As described by Jesus himself, so great was the suffering it “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” The culmination of the suffering consisted of the Father withdrawing His Spirit, causing the Savior to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These flames of anguish burning down Jesus’ hut summoned the greatest gift of grace this world has ever known – the atonement. It is through this figurative rescue boat that we are endowed with the strength to not just pass through our trials, but to allow our trials to “pass through us in ways that sanctify us.” (Elder Maxwell)

President Thomas S. Monson proclaimed:

“There are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were – better than what we were, more understanding than what we were, more empathetic than what we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.”

Linda S. Reeves has offered this perspective thought, “What will it matter, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God.” In other words, what will it matter how many huts we watch go up in flames if, in the end, those smoke signals are the very things that beckon the rescue boats – the grace of God – to come to our aid and take us to where we need to go.

Whatever the hut that is in flames represents for us, we can rest assured with the knowledge that God is not maliciously burning it to the ground for his own satisfaction, nor will he allow it to burn to the ground without sending a smoke signal summoning a rescue boat. He is at work in our lives orchestrating the experiences, challenges, and trials that will bring us the greatest amount of knowledge, experience, and eternal progression.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

“The tests of life are tailored for our own best interests, and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience. In the end we will realize that God is merciful as well as just and that all the rules are fair, we can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.”

Whether we recognize it in the moment or not, He does have our best interests in mind. With our limited vision we may be satisfied for the moment with figuratively living in a hut on a deserted island, because it is better than drifting away aimlessly in the ocean. But God sees the bigger picture, and knows that we can accomplish much more if He can rescue us from where we are. Even if it requires us to experience some frustration and despair as our circumstances are altered. So remember, the next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God. In the words of George Q. Cannon “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, God will never desert us, He never has, and He never will.”

From Self-Doubt to Moving Mountains

At some point in our lives we each become acquainted with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Often times these feelings sprout from focusing solely on our personal weaknesses and imperfections. The danger in zooming in exclusively on these, is our strengths and our individual potential can then fade out of sight, causing our self-image to be blurred by negative shadows of self-deprecation.  This can be difficult to avoid though, because life is challenging. When hard things are asked or required of us, our initial response may be to think we are not good enough. To make matters worse, there may even be forces outside of our control that appear to carry our tasks up to a level of seeming impossibility. When such situations arise I find comfort in this truth taught by Elder Richard G. Scott, “Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon anytime.” As the characters in the scriptural stories become “stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar,” they can be pulled out of your memory cabinet to teach useful truths in a moment of need. One of my best friends when I need self-worth is Enoch the prophet.

The story of this friend picks up in Moses chapter 6:

26 And it came to pass that Enoch journeyed in the land, among the people; and as he journeyed, the Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him.

27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.

Enoch was asked by the Lord to go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent, this was no small task considering how wicked they were. Remember Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah, so these were some of the darkest days in the Earth’s history. And unfortunately for him, it is very rare that you find people who enjoy being told to repent, especially iniquitous people guilty of grievous sins. Now, we might not be chosen to call a civilization to repentance like Enoch, but just as he was asked to perform this difficult assignment, we are repeatedly asked to do hard things.  These could be things asked of us by God, by our parents, friends, family members, church leaders, teachers and professors, or even employers. These things could range from keeping a certain commandment, fulfilling a demanding calling, going on a mission, forgiving someone, lending a helping hand or listening ear, being overworked at your job, finishing assignments, dating, or enduring irony or loneliness. In short, Enoch’s task may be generalized to include anything that requires more of us than we feel we are capable of giving.

We look now at Enoch’s response:

31 And when Enoch had heard these words, 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?

He replied the way we often reply when asked to do something difficult, by reciting a list of every reason we’re not good enough. “I’m just a boy I’m not old enough for that, the people hate me, I can’t talk.” In other words, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy! I suggest you find someone else, because I can’t do that.” Similarly overwhelmed with self-doubt, we give this same response to those asking hard things of us, and maybe even worse – to ourselves. The oddest thing is the moment someone tries to convince us to believe in ourselves, we somehow feel obliged to defend our doubts and offer an attack on our self, disguised as a counterargument just like he did. We, like Enoch, often listen to the wrong spirit. Brigham Young candidly advised, “If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to Hell because that is exactly where it came from.” I don’t believe we come into this life with low confidence and a bad self-image, I believe that comes from letting those thoughts that come from the adversary stay in our mind instead of sending them right back where they belong.

The very fact that God is asking Enoch and not someone else shows that God believes in him. But Enoch is too focused on his weaknesses and imperfections to see that. He is struggling to see himself as God sees him. The words of Elder Bruce C. Hafen offer comfort in such seasons of doubt, “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, and stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away.” As Elder Hafen says, struggling with problems in the form of imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and as we move nearer to God, our weaknesses become more detectable. This is because the closer we get to the Lord, the more often he gives us opportunities to have stretching experiences – experiences that require us to do things we’ve never done before, and to become better than we’ve ever been. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has put it, “God as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.”

So, we are in the business of making spiritual music in the form of progression. However, like Enoch we may not feel good enough or even worthy, to play the song that is requested. Hope can be found in this principle taught by Cecil O. Samuelson, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections. . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection. . . It may reflect more upon your current direction than on your final destination.” Enoch might have been under the impression that he needed to be perfect in order to perform the task of calling the people to repentance. If so, that is a troubling conclusion. If perfection was a prerequisite to being worthy of having the opportunity to perform difficult, soul-stretching tasks, not only would Jesus be the only one worthy of doing anything hard, but that would be counterproductive to the very work Jesus himself is engaged in, namely our eternal improvement. Remember, God is more concerned with our direction, we may feel weak as we ascend the upward climb toward him, but at least we know that we are moving up. And as we will learn in the Lord’s response to Enoch, we are not alone in our effort to climb.

32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.

34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.

How interesting the Lord does not just tell Enoch to walk, but to walk with Him. In essence the Lord is saying here, “Enoch, go forth and try. All I need is your best effort. If you really feel like you can’t talk very well, then I will speak for you. I will justify whatever effort you put forward with my grace. And I will move any outside forces beyond your control, like mountains or rivers, out of your way.”

 As the story of Enoch is pulled out of the memory cabinet, it must be accompanied by this truth taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Lord does not ask about our ability or inability, but only about our availability. And if we prove our dependability, the Lord will take care of our capability.” The Lord is not asking Enoch if he is able or not able to call the people to repentance. That’s simply not what He is asking. He is asking him if he is available – if he is willing to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands by trying. Then, as Enoch proves his dependability by giving his best effort, the Lord will take care of his capability and make up where he lacks. The Lord did not ask if five loaves and two fishes were able or not able to feed five thousand people, he only asked if they were available for Him to use. And as their dependability was proved by being brought forward and given to the Lord, their capability was taken care of.  Likewise, when we are given soul-stretching opportunities He is not asking us whether we are able or not able to do those hard things. His concern is our availability. And just like Enoch, and the five loaves and two fishes, if we make ourselves available and prove our dependability by trying our best, the promise is the Lord will take care of our capability.

37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.

38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

Enoch was endowed with power from on high as he proved his dependability and did as the Lord asked by testifying with boldness. The people feared him because they knew he walked with God. He was referred to as a “wild man” and “a strange thing in the land.” The transformation gets even better in the next chapter when armies are fleeing from Enoch as he moves mountains and bends rivers just as the Lord had promised.

12 And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent;

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and 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.

The Lord was true to his word in taking care of Enoch’s capability, but it was more than just effort that made the difference for Enoch in this transformation from self doubt to moving mountains. If we jump back to chapter six we read:

35 And the Lord spake unto Enoch, and said unto him: Anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see. And he did so.

36 And he beheld the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.

What was the result of Enoch anointing his eyes with clay and then washing the clay from them? He was able to see with spiritual eyes rather than just his natural eyes. Seeing things with spiritual eyes included seeing himself as he really was. Surely this allowed Enoch to see that he was foreordained before this life to perform this task. It likely awarded him the ability to see himself as God saw him, which is enough to boost anyone’s self-worth.

What might the anointing the eyes with clay and then washing them represent for us? Each week we have a significant opportunity to anoint and wash our eyes, and be filled with the Holy Spirit as we partake of the sacrament. Over the course of the week our vision of our self and the world around us can become blurred and distorted by many things, but as we take advantage of this ordinance and participate properly, a renewal of the spirit will better enable us to see things as they really are. This will capacitate us not only to change our focus from our weaknesses to our strengths, but to zoom in on the Savior as he converts those weaknesses into strengths.

As our focus is altered, the way we pray will change. We will desire to follow the counsel of President Thomas S. Monson, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.” We will stop praying for tasks that are equal to our abilities, and will begin to pray for our abilities to be made equal to our tasks. Then the progression and growth will occur. As he puts it, we will be the miracle. This is an important adjustment because life will not be full of tasks that are equal to our abilities, remember struggling with problems (hard tasks) is at the very core of life’s purpose. But we agreed to these.

In the gospel reference book True to the Faith we learn:

“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. …

“The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. Although you do not remember that time, you surely agreed to fulfill significant tasks in the service of your Father”

The fact that opportunities to accept responsibility for such significant tasks were offered to us means Heavenly Father believed in us. The fact that we committed to them means we believed in ourselves. It is easy for God to carry on that belief, he does not have a veil placed over him. He never forgets our real identity or our eternal potential. I believe the reason He entrusts us with hard things to do and overcome, and gives other people opportunities to require much from us, is so we can learn things about ourselves that He already knows. Enoch needed to learn something about Enoch. He needed a chance to become who he had committed to become. That never would have happened if he had not been asked to do something he felt overwhelmed by. It is the same for us. Therefore, as we go forward, the encouraging words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell hang before us, “It is extremely important for you to believe in yourselves not only for what you are now but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now but that will unfold later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time where instead of sometimes being fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit.”

I know that if we will stay close to the Lord, make ourselves available, and continue to faithfully anoint and wash our spiritual eyes every week, we, like Enoch, will go from self-doubt to moving mountains. We will become “a strange thing in the land.”