Thursday, August 10, 2017

Who Is Influencing You?

We have really been going the rounds as a family.  Fighting, bickering, blaming, yelling, screaming, shouting (and that's just Mom!).  We've tried talking about the inappropriateness of the behavior, emphasizing positive qualities of our kids to their irritated siblings, and praying for guidance as to what to do.  We have made efforts to increase our family prayer and scripture study, relying on the promise that increasing our time in the scriptures would increase the Spirit in our home.  To be fair, those efforts have all but disappeared during the summer, but it was a serious concern for us even as we made diligent efforts.  The contention seemed to be ever-present, even when (even while!) we were regularly studying. But in talking to one of my daughters about this problem, I may have hit on an aspect of it that we haven't addressed before.

She was particularly upset with one of her sisters.  I asked her how she thought Heavenly Father felt about that sister.  What words would He use to describe her?  She replied with loving, kind, happy.  Is that how she felt about her sister?  NO!  Then I asked how Satan would describe her sister.  As she thought, I asked her another question: are your thoughts and feelings about your sister more like Heavenly Father's?  Or more like the adversary's?

God, being our Heavenly Father, knows us perfectly.  He has known us for far longer than we have lived here on Earth.  He knows our weaknesses, sure--and we all have them--but how do you think He really sees His children?  When introducing His perfect Son to those present at His baptism, to the Nephites, and to the boy Joseph Smith, He called Him Beloved.  I think that's how He sees all of us, too.

So if that is not how we see each other, then who has influence over us?  Prior to this discussion, we talked as a family about anger and how it can trap you (for a really good analogy of this, read the first part of chapter nine in Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls).  I think that for our family, our natural feelings of anger have made us susceptible to Satan's lies*--"That person is so lazy."  "He is so irritating!"  "She is so bossy."  "He hates me."  "She always...." "He never...." And the list goes on and on in a seemingly endless, negative cycle.

BUT.

Once we recognize Satan's lies for what they are, we can dismiss them.  We will still have angry moments.  Those negative feelings are part of this mortal experience.  They can even be helpful tools in personal growth.  The problem comes when we accept them, when we choose to own them, and when we falsely identify a person with a character flaw that they may have, but that is not in keeping with their TRUE nature. Particularly for parents, who want to help their children become their best selves, it is important to SEE them as their best selves--to recognize, emphasize, and celebrate the positive qualities that are their special gifts from God.

There was another thought that struck me as I considered this possibility for my family: what if, by accepting and holding on to these false ideas about our family members, we have been less able to identify the feelings of the Spirit?  If we are harboring feelings of anger, then how can the Spirit reach us?  Have we been missing out on spiritual blessings because we have been unwilling to let go of our negative thoughts and feelings about one another?

*I believe that the same things apply to the negative things we say and feel about ourselves.  Who is feeding us those lies?  If we believe them, who are we listening to?  I've struggled with this (and continue to!) but at least I am certain that my Heavenly Father sees me in a positive, loving way. With that assurance, I can banish those negative thoughts!




Tuesday, March 7, 2017

“I am determined to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery is dependent upon our dispositions, not our circumstances.”

This has been my favorite quote for many years.  I have most often seen it attributed to either Martha Washington or the ever-wise “Anonymous,” but I haven’t been able to authenticate either.  Regardless, it is a truism that I have experienced in my life.  When I was first introduced to this quote at 15 years old, my Young Women’s leader challenged me to look at myself in the mirror while I repeated this quote with conviction.  I did.  After several weeks, I recognized that I was seeing things in a more optimistic way.

Today as I was thinking (as I am apt to do), this quote led to a broader truism: the greater part of my happiness or misery is dependent upon my own thinking.  When I think and act in accordance with natural law, I experience happiness.  When my thoughts and actions run contrary to natural law, I experience misery.

At our Stake Conference last Sunday, our wonderful Stake President spoke about repentance.  It was an excellent talk!  One of the things he said was that he is so grateful for guilt.  Guilt is a gift.  These are bold and confusing statements when you consider how much effort we as a society put into NOT feeling guilt.  But he reminded us that guilt helps us to recognize a need for change, and then to seek it.  If we continue to make choices that violate moral or natural law and expect positive results (i.e., happiness), we will be miserable because such a thing is impossible according to natural law. 

As I was pondering these new thoughts, I watched one of my daughters become angry with her sister (again.  It’s an ongoing battle!).  I recognized immediately that this principle was at work: if my daughter would change her thinking, she would not have to experience so much frustration with her sister.  We accept so much as “normal” (sibling rivalry is “normal”; the generation gap is “normal”) that really could be changed by a change in our thinking.  It is most certainly “normal” to encounter these feelings, but we don’t have to invite them to be our constant companions.  We can recognize them as invitations to discover a train of faulty thought, and then correct that faulty thinking.  Believing this—acting on this—makes happiness attainable in every circumstance.  Instead of an emotional state that we hope will happen to us, happiness becomes a choice.  It is available to us anytime we choose. 

I remember once as I read over this favorite quote again, I got stuck on the word determined.  For the first time, I didn’t like the connotation.  It’s possible to believe that this quote is encouraging us to use our determination to power through feelings of sadness or frustration, and make ourselves feel happy instead.  Pushing away those negative feelings in an attempt to be happy is trying to force something contrary to natural law.  To read this quote in that way will yield more frustration and more disappointment.  But if we remember that to determine something means to make a choice, then we can read the quote like this: I have chosen to be happy in whatever situation I may be…


It makes a difference.  It is choosing to tap into the power that will bring happiness, rather than trying to force happiness when it isn’t there.  It is choosing to feel and experience negative feelings, and to use them as tools to rediscover happiness, by identifying and changing our faulty ways of thinking.  Happiness cannot come just because you will it to be so.  Happiness is a direct result of living and thinking rightly, according to natural law.  I will not just “happen” for anyone, but it is available to everyone.
(I happened upon this unfinished draft this morning.  I wish I had published it back in December when it happened.  But it was still a good memory, and a good reminder, especially as Easter is not far away.  We can remember the Savior and make a difference any time of the year.)

This year (2016) we have been participating in the #LightTheWorld campaign with a little success, though certainly not perfection.  Day 6 was, "Jesus read the scriptures, and so can I."  I know this, because we had just decided to forgo our family morning scripture study due to oversleeping, and just pray instead.  We checked out what the activity for Light the World was, and when we saw "read the scriptures," the reminder couldn't have been clearer.  Even on hurried mornings, the scriptures MUST be a part of our lives.  They are a vital protection to our family every day.  But I digress.  A post on the scriptures is for another day.

This post is about feeding the hungry.  I wanted to donate to a food bank for this activity, which is one of the suggested activities.  But a busy day of schoolwork, teaching, and chauffeuring my kids from place to place got the better of me.  Ahh, intentions.

In the middle of chauffeuring, I found myself at the grocery store with my oldest daughter.  We bought a few things that I had missed on my weekly grocery run (which happens every week, btw), including a sack of apples.  As we left the store parking lot on our way home, a man stood near the street with a sign--"Anything helps."  Hannah pulled an apple out of our sack and gave it to him, and he accepted it with gratitude.  As we pulled away, Hannah turned to me and said, "Today was 'Jesus fed the hungry.'  We just fed the hungry."

I was so thankful for the opportunity to make a small difference, when my intentions to make a big difference didn't pan out.  Even my efforts to make a "big" difference would have been small, comparatively speaking.  But even the Savior, who makes all the difference, took time to make a small difference to just one.  Over and over, he reached out to one.  And this individual attention is what makes the difference, still, for each one of us.

One hungry person.  One apple.  One very good reminder.