Dusan Zidar. Image from BigStockPhoto.com

The natural man is an enemy to growth and change. As an example, the words of the smoker reflect a typically-human attitude: “I have read so many terrible things about smoking that I have finally decided to stop reading.”

My recent experiences underscore both the need and difficulty of change. Whether it is a young father fighting the lure of pornography, a mother battling crushing self-hate, or a child who is trying to develop impulse control, there are many people who have tried to change themselves and have become discouraged. Some give up. Yet change is critical to our well-being. Let’s consider principles of change as taught by God.

The natural way of thinking makes us enemies to God, to ourselves, and to those we serve. It makes positive change unlikely.

We try to blame or control others.

We focus on our problems.

We set our jaws in a resolve to improve.

We evaluate our character to explain our struggles and failures.

But the bottom line remains the same: We fail at change.

Part of the problem may be our medical model: Our culture has developed elaborate labels and classifications for an ever increasing number of behavioral disorders. There is also the assumption that we must study sickness and develop therapies and programs in order to battle it. By focusing on studying and classifying the behavioral problems of mankind we trend towards a victim mentality – the suggestion that we are permanently limited and defined by our challenges and our history.

There is good news emerging from the scientific world: Martin Seligman, one of the leading voices of the positive psychology movement said something that challenges the sickness model:

I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.

Positive psychology is progress! We should rejoice. But change still eludes most people in many areas of their lives. The Good News is that there is someone who understands change perfectly: The One who made us knows perfectly how to help us change: Jesus is the answer for any who seek a better life!

The Healer Must be a Part of All Effective Healing

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father [ or wellness, growth, goodness, and joy], but by me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is the answer for every malady. Yet in one sense we all suffer from the same problem. We are fallen. All of us are burdened by our mortal weakness. There is one remedy for that fallenness and weakness: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Consider the variety of human maladies that Jesus remedies (Luke 4:18-20 with parallel passages from the Isaiah prophecy in brackets and modern application in parentheses):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to
preach the gospel to the poor; [to preach good tidings unto the meek] (or discouraged)
he hath sent me to heal [bind up] the brokenhearted (those left behind),
to preach deliverance [proclaim liberty] to the captives (of any habit or addiction),
[the opening of the prison to them that are bound] (by habits of hand, heart, or mind)
and recovering of sight to the blind (including the ability to see each other and God’s purposes truly),
to set at liberty them that are bruised, (Have we not all been bruised by a sin-filled world?)
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. {NIV version: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor}
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down.
And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

Even today all eyes should be on Him! We must look to Him if we hope to be healed! Jesus heals every malady!

There are so many poignant and powerful stories of Jesus’ ministering to men and women who suffered every variety of malady in His mortal ministry. The woman at the well. A Samaritan who had been married five times and was then cohabiting. The man with a son who was possessed by evil spirits. The woman in house of Simon the Pharisee who brought a broken heart and whole-soul devotion to the Redeemer. The man at Bethesda. The lawyer to whom He entrusted the story of the Good Samaritan. Ten lepers who were healed of both physical, social maladies. And little Zaccheus who represents all of us who ever felt insignificant.

For every malady, difficulty, or affliction, Jesus is the healer. He is the master of change!

His Amazing Model of Change

The Savior’s model of change is different from anything the world would recommend.

1. We are given an impossible task during our lives on earth – living purely in mortality. The natural man IS an enemy to God! It is no wonder that we feel overwhelmed! We try and we try but we cannot fix ourselves. Many may despair. He recommends humility, the sweet gift of repentance and hope.

Our natural inclination is to wear ourselves out in efforts to heal ourselves. His Truth (and all scripture) testifies that we are not able – but He is!

God’s truth is that He invites us to come to Him and throw ourselves on the merits, mercy and grace of Him who is mighty to save. Nephi’s psalm (2 Nephi 4) pivots on one idea: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” Alma’s total transformation (Mosiah 27, Alma 36) was based on emptying himself of himself and crying out for Heavenly mercy. That is the pattern of growth.

If we are willing to turn to Him we can have hope. We need not despair that change is beyond us, even if we have failed at making desired changes in the past. We who have the Gospel should be beacons of optimism in considering what we may become if we partner with Him.

2. The world is a mass of confusion. The world regularly offers new recommendations from Feng Shui to the current fad, The Secret, to rescue us from the confusion. Yet, when we look to human answers for truth we never find it.

For those who aspire to change themselves, there is a better option than searching for the newest discovery in the self-help aisles of the local bookstore or the perspectives of popular television psychologists. The greatest new discoveries are found when we allow the Savior to personally tutor us. We are wise to learn correct principles from Him whose name is Truth.

The heavenly recommendation is faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. God knows our need and He knows how to bless and rescue us. He IS able to do His work! The scriptures are filled with the pattern (Mosiah 3:19, Alma 32, Ether 12:27, Helaman 3:35).

3. We humans often become cynical about relationships. We assume that everyone exploits everyone and that we, of necessity, must protect ourselves and our interests.

The natural inclination in this world is to become impatient and judgmental. We move from relationship to relationship. We tend not to invest in people or relationships. The effort of changing our own attitudes or behavior is seen as too high a price to pay. Instead we expect that others should be willing to change themselves to accommodate our needs.

God offers different Truth: Relationships are sacred and eternal. As we seek to offer the best of ourselves in the relationships that we have committed to, He will give us the gift of Divine Love.

4. As Latter-day Saints we tend to believe that if we simply apply ourselves diligently to living Gospel Principles, we should be able to stride successfully towards perfection. We expect progress to be linear – the harder we apply ourselves, the more we should be able to successfully change for the better. When we find ourselves still battling the same tendencies and behaviors over time, we lose patience and consider ourselves failures. We are tempted to give up.

When attempting to change ourselves for the better, we should recognize that the Lord never tires of helping those who are trying. We can draw strength from Him.

Some of us may battle the same persistent problems until the day we die. What matters is that we allow those problems to continually drive us towards the One who will save us.

The Formula for Change

The formula for positive change is exactly what He has given us: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and the making and honoring of covenants with Him. It is described in Helaman 3:35 (emphasis added):

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.

To return to the people and challenges described at the beginning of this column, each continues the struggle. Those who effectively turn their lives over to God find the greatest peace and progress.

I have seen lives transformed by the Lord and His doctrine. That Source of love and goodness is determined to bless and redeem all who are willing to receive Him. May His light in our eyes be a powerful invitation to all who seek a better way.