Every day, in every relationship, including our relationship with ourselves, we make an important decision. We may not make it consciously, but we make it nonetheless. It is the decision whether to build a case FOR or AGAINST. When we are in the mindset of building a case FOR, we connect the finest qualities of our spirit self with the finest qualities of someone else’s spirit self. We come from a place of charity and gratitude.
However, it is all too easy to lapse unknowingly into the mindset of building a case AGAINST. Since the negative seems to be the default setting of the ego/natural man mind, it is the path of least resistance to start building a case AGAINST (Think reality TV and politics).
When I feel down for any reason the easiest thing I can do isbegin building a case against myself. Suddenly, all I can see are weaknesses and mistakes. It’s as though I’ve put on a pair of dark glasses that filter out most of the light. I’m critical, judgmental, and lacking in compassion. The danger is that once I’ve put on those glasses, even though I’m not aware that I have, I’m completely blind to good qualities and accomplishments. It’s as though I say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up.” And I see what I’m looking for, not what is real and true.
I noticed this in regard to my listening skills recently. I was on the second time through an audio book in which one of the characters was named Kevin. At least, that was what I thought I heard the first time the name was spoken, and since I thought I knew, I continued to hear the name as “Kevin” throughout. As I listened to the book again, I suddenly realized the narrator was saying, “Trevin,” a name I’d never heard before. I marveled that I could have listened to hours of audio about this character, hearing “Kevin” every time because that’s what I had decided it was. See the connection? We can so easily makefalse conclusions in our minds, thencontinue to believe they are true even when they are not.
A Deeper Look At This Principle
I’m reminded of a husband and wife I know remarried and divorced in short order. Within days of the marriage, the husband became convinced he had made a mistake and began building a case AGAINST his spouse. I don’t pretend to know all the contributing factors, but it was all downhill from there. To make matters worse, one of the most difficult factors of divorce is that both spouses feel the need to continue this pattern of building a case AGAINST in order to justify the split, or in order to rally support to their point of view.
It is not the Lord’s way, and any of us still IN a marriage would do well to learn from and scrupulously recognize and avoid that pattern, which is always damaging.For instance, a home teacher paid a compliment to the spouse of a man who was intent on building a case AGAINST his wife. This person responded, “Oh, you just don’t know her like I do.” And he proceeded to tell the home teacher what a bad person his wife was. (His wife divorced him that same year.) To this day, as far as any of us can tell, this man believes he alone knows the truth about his wife–and that it’s all bad. Any of us who see this man’s former wife differently can scarcely believe he’s talking about the same woman we know. He apparently formed opinions early on and closed his mind to every other possibility. So sad, when we recognize that no matter how much we may think we know about another person, most of negative conclusions are, at best, only partly true. The Lord knows a billion times more than any person on earth about any individual, and even He defers judgment until the end, and so should we.
I need to insert a short disclaimer here. I am not saying we should never assess, evaluate and make certain kinds of judgment. Particularly in cases of abuse it is vital to make the kind of judgments referred to in Moroni 7:14-18. Keeping ourselves safe means that even though we forgive and look for the good that we are smart enough to leave and stay away from situations that are emotionally or physically dangerous. In real life the wife referred to above made that kind of judgment and removed herself from an emotionally abusive situation.
Asking to See As the Lord Sees
The mote and the beam scripture reminds me that I am blinded to reality when I focus on faults in others. The gigantic beam of fault-finding is in my own eye; the faults in others may be tiny in comparison-mere “motes.” Matthew 6:5 says, “first cast the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly. . . ” I have great desires to see clearly, to see the truth, to be in reality, to overcome the natural man tendencies that blind me.
Whenever we find ourselves stuck in building a case AGAINST we can ask the Lord if we are seeing the real person, the soul. We can ask if we are seeing them the way the Lord sees them. One wife said, “A thousand times I would have given up on my husband if I had just seen his current behavior, but when I was about to throw in the towel, some way the Lord would give me a glimpse of his heart, and I would realize that the natural man actions did not represent the real person at all. They often resulted from earlier programming, from deep insecurity and pain, and had nothing to do with who he really was in his soul.”
Again, a disclaimer may be in order. I’m not talking about getting caught in a codependent relationship, or enabling bad behavior. I’m talking about supporting the best in each other by recognizing it and focusing on it. Each of us is a dual being; whether the spiritual real self is surfacing above the natural man thoughts and words and actions in the moment depends on so many variables.It is possible to focus on a tiny slice of a person, then make faulty and negative conclusions based on grossly insufficient evidence, then waste time and effort justifying and trying to verify our conclusions because we want to be “right.”
Marriage May Be a Great Testing Ground
I think in so many ways difficult marriages are one of the greatest invitations to soul growth. They can challenge us to find greater strength, set boundaries, tell the truth even when it rocks the boat, and dig deeper intospiritual roots for the strength to persevere. When the commitment is deep on both sides and the Spirit verifies that it is right to persevere, we can pray with all our heart for charity and feel love return and triumph over resentments and hurts and negative feelings. We can pray for the spiritual power to build a case FOR our mate. Even when current frustrations make it difficult to fathometernal possibilities, we can know that the honest struggle of it can help us see our weaknesses, and recognize our constant need for the Savior’s help. Misery and the Spirit cannot co-exist; I find that when I’m feeling misery, I’ve probably slipped into the pattern of building a case AGAINST and am listening to the adversary’s half-truths and lies.
Inevitably I find that when I regain the Spirit through deep repentance of my part of the problem, misery dissipates. I heard somewhere that “joy is not the absence of pain; it is the presence of God.” I know that’s true.
Self-Righteousness Can Blind Us to the Tendency to Build a Case AGAINST
Ironically, our very diligence and earnest desires to do right can create dark glasses of judgment. Let me share an example from my dear friend Patricia Pott’s book My Journey from Darkness to Light. She was praying to understand the depression that hadcrippled her life. She said,“Surely there must be something that had triggered my depression, something I had done wrong or some important key I had missed. With a sense of bewilderment and desperation, I knelt beside our bed and prayed, Why? Wasn’t it me who had faithfully done my church callings and who had welcomed the new neighbors?’ When at last I had completed my list of qualifications, a quiet yet undeniable inner voice replied, Wasn’t it you who silently pointed a finger of accusation at your husband? Wasn’t it you who thought you were better than others? Wasn’t it you who believed others should be diligent like you?’ My weakness was uncovered and I wept bitterly. I was allowed to feel the pain and hurt that I had caused Dan and others through my unspoken attitude. Father,’ I cried, Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt Dan or anyone else. Please forgive me.'”
We can so easily slip into the pattern of mentally building a case AGAINST anyone who doesn’t meet up with our high standards! And in so doing fall into the misery of judging, not forgiving, and feeling the brunt of being guilty of the greater sin. (See D&C 64:9-10) I’ve experienced this pattern in my current marriage in living color! Doug was a brand new convert when I married him. I had, at that point, 46 years of experience in the Church, including a full-time mission. You get the picture. How many times I felt so far ahead of him, so “superior” in my scripture knowledge, so much more savvy in the way we should conduct our lives, and was tempted to point out ways he definitely needed to improve! Any time I was wise enough to pray first, the Lord inevitably pointed out my need to repent of judging. Prayer always softened my heart toward Doug. The Spirit taught me the futility of building a case AGAINST, and the wisdom of seeing the heart instead of outward appearance.
Judging is a Root Cause of Misery-and the MAIN reason we build cases AGAINST.
In a journal entry I wrote, “This judging thing seems to be such a family weakness: in my growing-up family we were literally taught it from the time we were tiny by the example of our good but judgmental parents. I’ve been in a battle royal with negative thoughts again lately and they make me miserable. Here’s the irony. I judge me as I judge others. [When I start building a case AGAINST someone else, I automatically start building a case AGAINST myself.] When my mind and heart are full of critical, judgmental thoughts,I’m critical of myself too. I make myself miserable. But when my heart is full of charity toward others, I like myself just fine and feel content inside. Charity is the key–deferring judgment to God, looking for the good, trusting.”[This is the pattern for building a case FOR ourselves and others.]
Matthew 7:7 tells me, “ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” I am asking for my heart to be changed, softened, cleansed, purified of all the false beliefs, pride, envy, bitterness, fear–all the things that keep me building a case AGAINST and keep me from being like Him. I am seeking a higher way of thinking and living, a more pure in heart, broken and contrite heart way. There is still a trace of stubbornness in my heart–a holding on to thoughts of self-justification, defensiveness. I must let go of all that and be totally willing to have the Lord wipe it out. It’s a life-long process and a life-long challenge.
Practical Advice for Building a Case FOR in Marriage
James Marshall in his book, The Marriage Gardensays, “In marriage, the grass grows greener on the side of the fence you water most.”
Let’s look at how that applies to this topic: When we imagine that the grass is greener on the far side of the marital fence, we wish for something we don’t have while failing to enjoy what we do have. This can lead us to immediately focus on faults, andstart building a case AGAINST. The good news is that there is a simple solution. We can start watering the grass on our side of the fence; we can start building a case FOR by noticing the good, staying in gratitude, and asking the Lord to help us see the heart, rather than wishing for something different. It takes time and care to get our grass flourishing, but we can do it.
Whenever we find ourselves wishing for something we don’t have in the relationship we’ve been blessed with, we can STOP IT! We can choose instead to build a case FOR our mate and our relationship by remembering the good times in our marriage and the good qualities in our mate. We can make a list of good things we want to remember and review it often. When I did this I was overcome at how many good things there were! We can celebrate and care for the patch of grass we have instead of letting the hot sun of criticism burn it brown.
All of this pondering on the subject of building a case FOR or AGAINST has been going on in the middle of my quest to follow President Uchtdorf’s counsel to Stop It! and let go of grudges and resentments. (April 2012 Conference: “The Merciful Receive Mercy.”) I’ve never heard a talk more worthy of study and application. I’ve spent a lot of prayer time asking the Lord to help me let go of any little thing from the past I may still be hanging onto in my mind. Any grudges and resentments are part of building a case AGAINST!
I realized there has been something in my heart that believed if I let go and truly forgavepast neglect or abuse of any sort,it would be like saying it was all right; even that I’d be saying the offender was right to do wrong . . . as though forgiving would be “letting them off the hook” from being accountable for their sins. It’s also like a part of me wants to keep building a case against them and gathering and storing data to justify my pain, to prove how right I am to feel bad. What nonsense! That pattern is so different from focusing on the Lord’s power to redeem, on the mercy of the Lord to free us from the pain of the past.
The Lord’s Way
Of course, the Lord builds a case FOR each of us. Think of the words of the hymn: “Be Still My Soul”: “the Lord is on my side.” Think about patriarchal blessings, and how they focus on strengths and possibilities. Thing about the power of the Atonement and how it extends to every person to give us the option NOT to keep suffering from past pain, NOT to have to pay the uttermost farthing for mistakes.
I could list dozens of scriptures that show the Lord’s kindness, love, and forgiveness being extended to every soul.Hanging on to and cataloging mistakes–both my own and others’ is a form of denying, not accepting the Savior’s offer of redemption and forgiveness that makes us new creatures. As I focus my prayers on accepting redemption and forgiveness for others and myself, my spirit softens, and the Spirit helps me overcome my natural man/ego tendency to build a case AGAINST.
For enlightening, uplifting study on the enabling power of the Atonement, I suggest Elder Bednar’s devotional talk called “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality.” It is superb. Here is the link:
May we all focus our energies on getting the Lord’s power in our lives to keep us building a case FOR ourselves and others. He will help us, because that is part of His work and His glory!