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I used to assume that development was linear, that in our mortal journey we progress from our natural man telestial qualities toward fairness and a terrestrial state. Then we add an appreciation of Jesus and move to the celestial level. I was wrong.
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 a miraculous transformation from Him (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 future articles, I will talk about the gospel principles that change our hearts.
The Aftermath of the parable
In the last article we did not finish 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 bishop 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 emphasize circumstances.
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 defect in our 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 (see 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.
Just as the man who was healed at the pool of Bethesda did not initially know the identity of his benefactor, so many who succeed in marriage may not realize that the principles that bless their marriages are from Jesus. They may be following the light of Christ within them without knowing the Source. Still, He and His principles are the key.
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 M.D. 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 can 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 our 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 asking our partners questions such as:
- 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 ourselves questions such as:
- 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 boats. We can choose to calm the seas by the same power that Jesus used to calm the waters of Gennesaret. President McKay expresses well how 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).
This article—and those that preceded it—is only a beginning. Our journey ahead includes articles 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 exercise “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 learning some tidy set of skills will enable us to process our partnership woes effectively. But good marriage is not about skills. It is about character. Consider the thoughts, feelings, and actions that are the measure of your character—and 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 you?
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 or her willing to offer help? Their distress may be as routine as feeling overwhelmed by the demands of an unusually busy day 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 you do to be better prepared to offer help in times of need?
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