When we suffer distress in relationships—especially marriage—we instinctively search for the problems that cause our distress. Almost always we discover defects in the other person. Then we create a story in which that person has some lifelong character defect that makes him/her incapable of healthy behaving and connecting.
Our storytelling can cause immense mischief as we fill in the gaps in our knowledge with guesses and judgments and, in the spirit of problem-solving, we create a plausible story that almost always excuses us from accountability and puts the burden of our discontent squarely on the other person.
Along with our creative (destructive?) storytelling, there are other problems. We think we are wonderfully objective in our observations and logic, but we are not. We are riddled with biases.
One example of bias: we tend to be more aware of our circumstances than other people’s circumstances. So, when I have a messy desk or a bad temper, I chalk it up to my circumstances—pressure, demands, lack of sleep, etc. But, when you do the same thing, I attribute your bad behavior to lack of character. You don’t have self-discipline or self-control. You’re not as good as you ought to be.
Research on human biases indicates while we excuse our own behavior and justify compassion for ourselves (“There was a reason I acted that way, I was under a lot of stress, I didn’t mean for it to come across that way, I just find it really difficult to not react in those situations, etc.), when the other person displays behavior that frustrates or disappoints us, we tend to focus solely on their moral failings and their impact upon us. So, while we expect others will offer us understanding, compassion, and forgiveness for our lapses, we feel justified in not offering compassion to others.
We see our own behaviors as balanced–“I admit I have some weaknesses, but my intentions are good, and I have also done much good”. But we can begin to script a story that heavily focuses on the other person’s perceived defects. We are the victims. They are the offender.
This judgment and condescension is a painful product of the fall. “Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually,” said the brother of Jared (Ether 3:2). We can make weak attempts at kindness and mercy, but our default human setting is to defend ourselves and condemn others.
If we truly wish to replace our fallen tendencies with the mind of Christ, then we must have a heart transplant—a mighty change of heart. We must take Him into ourselves. We turn away from the natural man or woman and we become new creatures in Christ.
Each week, we enact the saving drama of transplantation. We prepare our hearts by singing a hymn of praise. We participate in a prayer in which we bind ourselves to Jesus with sacred covenants. We take His name and commit to keep Him top-of-mind. Then His messengers bring us emblems of His infinite and eternal sacrifice which we take into ourselves. We are to be new creatures. We are renewed in our baptismal identities as a sons or daughters of Jesus Christ.
Partaking of the sacrament merely initiates the transformation. It is only by always having His Spirit to be with us that we are lastingly transformed.
Of course, every week we fall short of the Celestial standard. So, as Stephen Robinson suggested, “each week we come before the Lord as we prepare for the sacrament and say essentially, ‘Heavenly Father, I wasn’t perfect again this week, but I repent of my sins and reaffirm my commitment to keep all the commandments. I promise to go back and try again with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. I still want and need the cleansing that comes through faith, repentance, and baptism. Please extend my contract, my covenant of baptism, and grant me the continued blessings of the Atonement and the companionship of the Holy Ghost’” (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, p. 52).
Our goal is not merely to subdue the natural man or woman, but to have Jesus transform him or her into a disciple of Christ. It is the accomplishment of a lifetime to recognize fallenness in ourselves and replace it with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). When we see as He sees and yearn to be redemptive as He is, we have become His sons and daughters.
The surest fruit of this great transformation is that we look on our own failings with humility and we call out for heavenly healing: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (Alma 36:18). The companion transformation is that we look on others’ failings with grace and compassion. “The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls— we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society;— if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another” was Joseph’s counsel.
We can know how well the transplant of His heart into us is “taking” by the way we respond to the failings of people around us. When we offer grace, mercy, kindness, and support, we may know that Jesus is replacing our hearts with His own.