Editors’ Note: Click here If you missed Part One or Part Two in Wally Goddard’s series on marriage this week.
I used to assume that development was linear, that in our mortal journey we progress from our natural man telestiality toward fairness and terrestriality. Then we add an appreciation of Jesus and move to the Celestial level. I was wrong. [i]
There is no ladder we can climb from terrestrial thinking and acting to Celestial thinking and acting. We do not become Celestial by adding a pinch of Jesus to a terrestrial life. At some point we simply throw ourselves on His merits, mercy and grace. At some point we recognize that we may be able to keep ourselves from being the vilest of sinners, but if we are to be perfected, we must have His miraculous help (D&C 76:69; Mosiah 3:19).
The natural man must die and be born again as a spiritual being. That is the miracle. We do not climb out. He snatches us and delivers us to a new life. We make ourselves humble, and He makes us holy: “He that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”! (Luke 18:14). In the chapters ahead, I will talk about the gospel principles that change our hearts.
The Aftermath of the Parable
But we have not finished the great drama between Jesus and the lawyer. After blessing the lawyer with the remarkable story of the model Samaritan, Jesus invited him to identify the neighborly one:
“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”
“And he said, He that shewed mercy on him . . .” (vv.36-7).
“He that showed mercy”!
How vital mercy is in family life! We forgive our parents of their flaws and limited knowledge. We forgive our partners for being human. We forgive our children for being children. Grace and mercy are at the heart of loving family life.
Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise” (v.37). If we modeled our behavior after that of the Samaritan, our families would be heavenly.
The biblical account tells us nothing about the lawyer after his encounter with perfect Goodness and Grace. I look forward to the next life where I can learn the rest of the story. My hope is that the lawyer left that encounter humbled. He realized that his smallness had been met with largeness, his malice had been conquered by grace. I hope days of reflection and prayer led him to become a believer and a follower.
Who knows? Maybe he later became branch president of the Jerusalem 2nd Ward. Maybe he became a disciple who traveled the road of life looking for the injured so they could be healed with the balm of Jesus.
Fundamental Attribution Error
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.
This bias is understandable. We usually know more about our own circumstances than about the circumstances of others. Yet you can see the mischief caused by this natural human programming. We tend to excuse our own failures while condemning others for theirs.
Because we know so little about the situations-and hearts-of others, we should be humble and cautious. We should not judge, except in the light of His perfect knowledge and love.
“And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged” (Moroni 7:18).
The Great Healer
Jesus’ infinite grace and goodness can conquer our smallness, selfishness, and peevishness. There is no arena of life where this conquest is more needed than in the scuffing and irritations of marriage. Marriage is perfectly designed to provoke us to desperation. It will sometimes leave us injured and half-dead. Priests and Levites-or therapists and advisors–will not ultimately rescue us. They may give us helpful pointers, but they cannot change our souls.
Success in marriage is much like the healing at Bethesda (John 5:1-15). An invalid waited by the side of the pool with hopes of being healed by the magical waters. But it was Jesus who healed him. It was not the waters of the pool but the Water of Life that cured him. Many of us sit by the pool of the world’s wisdom hoping to have our marriages healed. But it is Jesus–only Him and His truths–that transforms our marriages from crippled relationships to walking, working, dancing partnerships.
Jesus is different. He comes humbly to our broken-down hopes and offers to carry us to spiritual healing. Some of us resist. “No, thanks. I am waiting for an MD or other appropriate professional.” We may not realize that all our problems are ultimately spiritual–and that Jesus is the great Healer. He heals every malady:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
Regardless of our woe-whether irritation with spouse or trouble with anger–He is the One who can heal us.
The Challenge: Climbing Out of Our Mortal Weakness
So, how do we who are so woefully human, get from being thieves to being saviors on mount Zion? The solution may begin in our minds. When we feel indignant or irritated, rather than take the feeling as some sure measure of truth, we can recognize the Lie-the idea that my instincts are right. Maybe they are the jangling of our self-preservation instincts. This is not the noblest part of us. So we learn to change the question. Instead of questions like:
Why are you doing this to me?
What’s wrong with you?
Don’t you understand why this is important to me?
We switch mindsets. We ask questions like:
I wonder if I can understand why this is important to my partner?
What is my partner really telling me?
I wonder if I can understand her pain?
Can I get God to help me get beyond myself in order to understand my spouse?
How would the Good Samaritan minister to my partner?
The surge of indignation that swells up when we are upset does not have to swamp our little boat. We can choose to calm the seas by the same power that Jesus used to calm the waters of Gennesaret. We can use His goodness and power to calm storms of sea and soul.
“The greatest need of this old world today is peace. The turbulent storms of hate, of enmity, of distrust, and of sin are threatening to wreck humanity. It is time for men-true men-to dedicate their lives to God, and to cry with the spirit and power of the Christ, ‘Peace, be still.
. ‘ (Mark 4:39.)” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p.295).
This chapter is only a beginning. On the journey ahead there are chapters on other vital mindsets such as humility, faith, and charity. The powerful and surprising lessons Jesus can teach us on these subjects can prepare us to be better partners in the journey of marriage.
Along the way, I invite you to respond to the questions and suggestions at the end of each chapter. I call this Creating Your Own Story since each of us has the opportunity of designing our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Test these ideas and activities in the laboratory of your family life.
Creating Your Own Story
Sometimes we imagine that there is a tidy set of skills that enable us to process our partnership woes tidily and effectively. But good marriage is not about skills. It is about character. Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions that are the measure of your character-and that are the key factors in a godly relationship.
What are some ways that your spouse is perfectly designed to help you grow spiritually?
How can you more gladly welcome the challenges that your spouse offers?
When we focus on our discontent, we are likely to blame any who have contributed to it. In contrast, when we focus on someone else’s pains, we are more likely to have compassion. Do you feel compassion for your partner’s difficulties and disappointments? Could you study what your partner’s pains mean to him or her in order to cultivate your compassion?
When you see your partner in distress, do you go to him and her willing to offer any help? Of course the distress may be as routine as feeling overwhelmed by the demands of daily life or as big as the death of a loved one. On occasions both small and large, do we stand ready to offer compassion and a helping hand?
What can I do to be better prepared to offer help in times of need?
* = highly recommended
**All scripture. God knows and teaches the process for having our natures changed.
*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (1999) – John M. Gottman, Three Rivers Press. One of the most solid books on marriage.
*Reconcilable Differences (2000) – Andrew Christensen & Neil Jacobsen, Guilford Press. Acceptance is a vital part of good marriage.
*Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994) – John Gottman, Fireside. Discusses three kinds of relationships and the blessings and challenges of each.
*The Relationship Cure (2001) – John Gottman, Crown Publishers. Especially good section on bids (our efforts to connect) and the ways we can respond.
Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness (2000) – Blaine J. Fowers, Jossey-Bass. Insightful book about the importance of values in sustaining marriage.
Divorce Busting (1992) – Michelle Weiner-Davis, Fireside.
Empowering Couples: Building on Your Strengths (2000) – David Olson & Amy Olson, Life Innovations, Inc.
Fighting for Your Marriage (2001) – Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, & Susan L. Blumberg, Jossey-Bass.
Love is Never Enough (1988) – Aaron Beck, Harper & Row Publishers.
Not “Just Friends” (2003) – Shirley P. Glass & Jean Coppock Staeheli, Free Press. Affairs can be prevented or overcome.
Strengthening Your Marriage: Six Simple Lessons, www.arfamilies.org
Take Back Your Marriage (2001) – William J. Doherty, Guilford Press.
The Case for Marriage (2000) – Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher, Broadway Books.
The Divorce Remedy (2001) – Michelle Weiner-Davis, Simon & Schuster.
The Great Marriage Tune-Up Book (2003) – Jeffry H. Larson, Jossey-Bass.
The Heart of Commitment (1998) – Scott Stanley, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Sex-Starved Marriage (2003) – Michelle Weiner-Davis, Simon & Schuster.
First Presidency. (November 1995). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign.
Brinley, D. E. (2004a). Gospel-based marital therapy, Part 1: The foundation. In D. E. Brinley & D. K. Judd (Eds.), Living in a covenant marriage. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
Brinley, D. E. (2004b). Gospel-based marital therapy, Part 2: Doctrines and principles. In D. E. Brinley & D. K. Judd (Eds.), Living in a covenant marriage. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
Compton. T. M. (1993). The spirituality of the outcast in the Book of Mormon. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (2), 139-160.
Packer, B. K. (December, 1970). Families and fences. Improvement Era.
Tvedtnes, J. A. (1994). Olive oil: Symbol of the Holy Ghost. In S. D. Ricks & J. W. Welch (Eds.), The allegory of the olive tree: The olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS.
Welch, J. W. (1999). The Good Samaritan: A type and shadow of the plan of salvation. BYU Studies, 38(2), 51-115.
[i] Some of this text is borrowed from an earlier work, The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life, 1997, Bookcraft.