Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Husbands

I've had a couple of stories on my mind lately, two stories about two husbands.

A few weeks ago a friend at work told me about his wife's father. Apparently he is an excellent golfer. He plays in tournaments all the time. When my friend's wife was a teenager, her mother asked her husband to give up golf and spend more time at home. He refused. They got divorced.

My question is this: Is it right for a spouse to give up something that is important so he or she can better fulfill his or her role?

The best answer I can offer for this is in a story about a close friend of mine. We were team roping partners in high school.

My friend continued to rope after his mission. When he was still a young man, married with two sons, he was on the road at rodeos and ropings all over the West and doing quite well.

He called his wife to tell her how great things were going. She was not exactly thrilled.

"You stay out there as long as you think you need to," she said. "This isn't what I got married for. I might be here when you get back. I might not."

To say the least, my friend was stunned. He was just hitting his stride, and would likely qualify for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) that year.

What did he do?

He told his roping partner, "Hey, I have a little situation at home that I need to take care of. You go on. I'm headed for home."

My friend did go home. He worked it out with his wife. He sold his horses, his horse trailer, his truck, everything. He quit roping completely.

What do you think his wife thought of him?

Many years later, my friend is happily married. He is the high priest group leader in his ward. His oldest son has returned from his mission and married in the temple. His second son is on a mission. And he is roping all the time now—never on Sunday—with his wife's total support. And he is winning.

What if every husband and wife talked things through, made allowances for different interests, honored and respected each other? What might be the long term result?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy. I think it's our natural state: We all come from a heavenly home where happiness is the rule. We long for happiness because it is our home. We all want to feel better than we do, but many of us are disappointed in our pursuit of true happiness.

Too often we mortals mistake the sorbitol of happiness for the real thing. Sorbitol is a sugar substitute. It's actually a sugar alcohol. It tastes like sugar, but it's not the real thing. It does occur naturally in some fruits, but it can be harmful in large doses. It's hidden in a lot of foods we buy at the store. If we don't read the label, we don't fully realize what we are putting in our bodies.

Think about the ways many of us seek to feel better, but wind up feeling worse.

Take illegal drugs, for example. The hook is that, if we take the drug, we'll feel better, fast. The result is, 24 hours later, that we feel much, much worse. The trick on us is that we think we can get high without taking ourselves higher. Drugs offer a quick and easy solution that leads to addiction, poverty, alienation, jail, crime, and death.

Of course, under a doctor's care, prescription drugs can help, sometimes a lot, but even then, they usually are a temporary solution. They don't address the real problem, usually just the symptom. An example from my own life: Sometimes I get gout (I know, it's a ward joke.) I take an anti-inflammatory for it, but I put off taking it (sometimes too long) because of the side effects—this spring, a doctor found an ulcer in my colon that had to be "stapled." He told me I had better get off that drug.

I still had to take it as a survival tactic several times, but now I am completely off of it. The long term solution is taking better care of myself. Eating better foods. Making fewer trips to the drive-up window. Taking B vitamins. Being vigilant. Taking a higher road that takes a bit more discipline and conscious planning.

Another happiness substitute is an illicit relationship. You know, a boyfriend or girlfriend, when you already have a permanent one. Our relationships don't work out, so we work our way out of them. Maybe we should call this the aspartame of happiness.

I asked someone who had gotten divorced if the new marriage was a big change or just a new set of problems. He admitted the latter was true. We speed away from a car wreck only to run head on into a semi. We look to others to help us feel happy by venturing into a new relationship, but too often, the reality of what you've done to yourself, your former spouse, your children, sets in quickly, and the super nova becomes a black hole.

The list could go on, couldn't it? But this post has gone on long enough. One last word. The best, most lasting happiness is most often found in the broken heart that has healed, not in breaking others' hearts. The broken heart gives us the ability to see in ways we could not otherwise see, and with those eyes, we can see real happiness.

So where do you see artificial happiness?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Happiness Is Our Purpose

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it.” (History of the Church, 5:134.)

And the prophet Lehi taught, "Men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25.)

So our purpose in this life is to be happy and to have joy. Why aren't we happy then? What is the "path that leads to" happiness?

The path is being in integrity with who we really are. We really are children of God, and we came to this life knowing Him and His laws deep in our hearts, and then we promptly forgot. When we get out of integrity with what we know, if only unconsciously, we are unhappy. We are in integrity with ourselves if we are obedient and faithful to God and faithful to ourselves by following the laws and virtues that God planted in our souls when we lived in His presence before this life. That's the simple formula.

The difficult part is obeying consistently and then accepting forgiveness—including from ourselves—when we don't obey. None of us can live the laws perfectly, so we need forgiveness. The problem lies in (1) not wanting forgiveness and so persisting in our sins; (2) not accepting forgiveness when it is offered to us freely and readily; and (3) not forgiving ourselves by hanging onto sins long after their expiration date.

We have more to do with our own happiness than I think we realize. It has more to do with what we believe and do than what others believe and do. If we accept forgiveness and forgive ourselves, it matters less and less what our husbands, wives, parents, and children do. There is little they can do to prevent it. But if we don't allow forgiveness, often, everyone else is to blame for our unhappiness.

Here's a thought I like:

"Happiness comes through doors you didn't even know you left open."—Unknown

One door we can leave open is complete acceptance and forgiveness of ourselves and everyone else. You will find great power in yourself when you do. When you don't, you will only find the sorbitol of happiness, the artificially sweetened kind.

There's lots more we could discuss on the topic, and I hope to get to it in future posts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

After the Trial of Your Faith

"And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." —Ether 12:6

And what are the blessings that have come after the trial of our faith?

In our extremity, we have come to know the tender mercies of the the Lord, how His blessings appear at the right moment, in a miraculous way, in spite of how scary things look on the outside.

For example, how could a prolonged illness or injury possibly be a blessing? Well, as you might guess, I have to talk to a lot of people on a regular basis who have chronic illness or who have been injured, and now, more than ever, I really understand how they feel. And I also know what it's like to be on both sides of the hospital gown.

So, one blessing is the understanding and compassion that come from experiencing similar trials yourself. A ward member can't say, "Oh, bishop, you have no idea what I am going through." I have been both the caregiver (in the case of my wife and also my mother) and the basket case. And now, feeling better than I have felt in several years, I have an appreciation for good health that makes me feel grateful every day that I can walk and function normally. I even feel good enough to be working out regularly again. It's the contrast between the two that give me the greatest joy.

Another example: How could monetary misery be a blessing? Again, I find that I can counsel people much more effectively in their financial trials after we have been "totally up against it" ourselves. When I explain to others how we have faced job and income pressures ourselves, it makes it much easier to consider the counsel as it is no longer merely an academic exercise on my part. We found ourselves flat on our backs, and now we have found our way to a much better situation.

I now have the best, most fulfilling, most rewarding job I have ever had in my life, and I thank God for it every day. I am grateful beyond measure for my work, and I can hardly wait to get to the office each day.

What makes trials worthwhile—and necessary—is what you learn by going through them, the most important being the real gratitude and sincere appreciation for how good you've got it, both during the trial and after.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Wine of Astonishment

Do you ever find that your scriptures fall open to a verse at the moment you needed to read it? That happened to me today.

I took a short break at work and my little pocket New Testament opened to the Psalms, which, together with Proverbs, is published in the back of the book. The typeface is small, but I can still read it without my glasses. I read the first two verses of a psalm, and then read this:

"Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment." —Psalms 60:3

To me, those 17 words sum up the last year of my life. An alternate Hebrew translation of astonishment is staggering. To say the least, aside from the years that my wife was sick, this last year has been one of the most staggering of my life.

But I'd rather not focus on the past. That's why they call it the past, says Dave Ramsey, because its the past. So instead of dredging up a catalog of affliction, let me just summarize the last 12 months: injury, illness, and financial concerns have been a constant companion.

Now most of the bishops I have known over the years have been very, very blessed men. As they have served and sacrificed, it seems that a convoy of dump trunks, loaded with temporal blessings, have emptied loot in their front yards.

This has not been our lot. On the contrary, while our blessings have been just as constant and abundant, they have been of a less visible, less obvious kind, though no less appreciated.

I'll tell you all about our blessings in a future post.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Release from an Unsolemn Duty

Brothers and sisters, we only have one item of ward business today, but it's a doozy.

Would everyone please stand. Yes, everyone. That's it. Thank you.

We have released every one of you from the responsibility of judging others. Each of you who would like to show appreciation for officially being released from this unsolemn duty, you may do so with a show of hands.

Thank you. The "voting" appears to be unanimous in the affirmative. You may all now be seated.

By way of explanation, brothers and sisters, you and I have never had a duty to judge others. (That's why I called it unsolemn.) In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Matthew 7:1.) That's a commandment, and I think He meant it.

None of us has the responsibility to judge our wives or husbands, our children, our parents, our neighbors and friends. We can't even really judge ourselves. Our Heavenly Father has delegated all judgment to Someone better suited to the job than you or I. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." (John 5:22.)

Why? Because He is the only one who can do it fairly and accurately. He is the only one who will do it always with mercy and love. I know we like to amuse ourselves with the illusion that we know what other people are up to, what they are thinking, and why they do things. But the truth is we are almost always flat wrong.

This doesn't mean we don't need to use our discernment to make decisions about who our children spend time with, what movies to watch, who we should be friends with, work for, or marry. We need to follow our inner guidance system—the light of Christ—to help us know what is good and safe for us. That is not judgment: That is righteous judgment.

What's the difference between judgment and righteous judgment? Jesus explained it in a sermon: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24).

When we are in judgment, we are in the "natural man" and we are denying the atonement. Especially when we judge ourselves. It's time to give it up. The more we practice, the better we'll get at leaving judgment in the hands of our Savior.

I know we can do it.

(A remark on a CD by S. Michael Wilcox gave me the idea for this blog entry.)

The Male and Female Brain

Here is the origin of the model for the male and female brain that I used for my December 30, 2007 presentation on marriage (and the follow up presentations). Mark Gungor is the speaker, and he is a funny guy. We enjoyed this as a family. I hope you do, too.