By H. Wallace Goddard
The natural parent (i.e., the parent unchanged by Heaven) is much like a reputable accountant: exacting and objective. If anything is amiss, it is to be studied and remedied. If any proper processes are not operating, the defect is to be confronted and corrected. This is all well and good-if we are content with terrestrial performance where the standard is honor, fairness and accountability.
The godly or Celestial-striving parent is very different from the natural parent, more like a Savior or Redeemer. The godly parent has no aim but to bless, to help, and to encourage.
“He [our spiritual Father, Jesus] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation” (2 Nephi 26:24).
The astute reader might squirm: “Benevolence is all fine and dandy. But He does not save us in our sins. He saves us from our sins! How can a good parent help a child without dealing with the child’s shortcomings and weaknesses?”
Good question. Consider the way humans are best motivated and energized: “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” Franklin P. Jones’ witty observation reminds us that we are not generally energized by criticism. Criticism, honest or otherwise, is hard to take. It tends to leave us feeling hurt, angry, or discouraged. It does not energize growth; It eviscerates hope.
But doesn’t God reveal our faults to us? Doesn’t He want us to be taught about our weaknesses so that we can deal with them? Doesn’t He want us to be steadily chipping away at our imperfections as He reveals them to us?
I don’t think accurately that describes His plan. I think He wants us to be humbled by our weaknesses, our fallen nature. But His object is not to launch us into Self-Improvement 101. He has a better plan. Note what He says in the book of Ether.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27, emphasis added).
He makes weak things become strong. He wants us to come unto Him so we can be filled with the Divine, so we can be purified by His love. There is no encouragement to self-improvement in the verse above. Only He can make us what He commands us to be: Perfect.
An awareness of our shortcoming can generate humility. Humility can send us to the source of goodness for renewal, renovation, even organ transplant (e.g., a new heart, a right spirit, the mind of Christ, His image in your countenance, etc.).
Surely we must make every effort of which we are capable. We must push away evil and seek after Him persistently. But ultimately we do not and can not fix ourselves. We cannot make ourselves Divine. We can only make ourselves humble.
So, when we ask our children to set themselves right, we are asking them to do an impossible thing. In my view, it is much more promising to fill our children with faith, hope and love and then help them get to God so that He can do what only He is able to do.
Perhaps a godly parent says something to his or her children like: “My beloved child, let me tell you of Him. Let me speak of the Divine I have seen and felt. Let me guide you to His side. Only He can bring you to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Let me help you find Him by sharing everything I have learned in my life about Him. Let me point you to the Light I have seen. Let me help you focus your efforts on He who is able to perfect.”
Jesus’ invitation to each of us is: “Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price” (2 Nephi 26:25). He gladly provides grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). We have the need. He provides the mighty change.
Perhaps God in His parenting role is the worst of accountants. He comes to us and says: “Come to me with all your debts. Bring every scrap of unworthiness. There is no debt you ever incurred that I cannot cover. Bring them all. I do not want to tally them, I want to cover them. But I can only do it if you come to me.”
“Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance” (2 Nephi 26:27).
I understand the concluding word of the foregoing verse to refer not to continuing efforts at self-improvement but the process of limping to Him and throwing ourselves on His merits, mercy, and grace much as that great repenter, Alma, did:
“I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (Alma 36:18).
Alma had no illusions about his ability to save himself.
Let’s try to apply this idea to our efforts to be good parents. If we are to be emissaries for God, we must first get divine help. We beseech Heaven for a mighty change of our hearts so that we see our children with “kindness and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42), that special knowledge that is purified of complaints, grievances, judgments, charges, irritations and gripes. All impurities are removed when our knowledge is distilled by Heaven’s holy fire. Such pure knowledge is a younger brother to charity which combines pure knowledge with heavenly love.
Surely someone will challenge me: But what about the instruction to “reprove betimes with sharpness” to which I add “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 121:43). We only have the right to correct when we are carrying a Heaven-inspired message. It must be delivered in a spirit and with the love that the recipient may know that our “faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:44). Who can make such lofty claims for our regular, everyday reproofs?
Premier psychologist Martin Seligman has observed that psychology has invested far too much effort in figuring out what is wrong with people. He suggests that we can help people more by focusing on strengths than by identifying their weaknesses. Some weakness is a part of mortality. It will not disappear in this life. But amazing growth is available to those who draw on their divine gifts. Perhaps the godly parent helps a child recognize all their gifts, “always remembering for what they are given; . . . the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do” (D&C 46:8-9).
A godly parent sets limits but in a different spirit from the natural parent. I understand this best not by my years of reviewing research but from decades of living with my dear wife, Nancy. She has influenced our children toward righteousness by her abiding love for them combined with her profound love for God and His goodness. If our children ever considered an unkind deed, her face posed the breathtaking dilemma: “But you are so sweet and dear. Surely you wouldn’t do something that would offend God!” Tough love can never reach to the places and rescue the souls that heavenly love can.
I once visited with one of our foster children years after he had lived with us. Though he had been in our home for two years, I wasn’t sure if anything we had done had made any difference for him. Had our friendly limit setting helped him put marijuana and its lifestyle behind him? I wondered. So I asked him: “Was there anything you experienced in our home that helped you become the remarkable man you are today?” His face lit up. His emphatic answer: “Nancy’s unconditional love.”
Love makes the difference. If we ever want to join Jesus in His redemptive work, we must learn to love as He does.