There is an interesting paradox in Latter-day Saint culture. The Latter-day Saints score at the top of the pile on scripture knowledge. We know the gospel. But our family functioning is very much like everybody else’s. Our marriages and parenting are no better than those who do not have Restoration truths. Our marriages struggle and fail at alarming rates. Some of our parenting can be just as jumbled as that of other Americans.
Why do we know the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it is not fully transforming our relationships?
Is it possible that we are pretty good at studying the gospel and not as skilled at applying it? Is it possible that God is inviting us to make better use of the gifts of knowledge He has given us?
We are only built on the rock if we hear the sayings of Jesus AND do them (See Matthew 7:24). If we excel at gospel trivia but fail to apply Jesus’ teachings to our relationships, we are built on the sand rather than the Rock (Matthew 7:27).
Applying the Gospel to Relationships
Years ago, when Richard Cracroft and I were gathering authors for a Latter-day Saint book on applying the gospel of Jesus Christ to family relationships, we approached many scholarly and prominent saints. When we asked them about writing a chapter on how they had applied the gospel of Jesus Christ to their family relationships, many were mystified. Some had never thought about the connection.
Most of us have not consciously and deliberately connected gospel principles to our relationships.
Our challenge is enlarged by the reality that, in the last days, God has revealed powerful truths about relationships through research—truths that harmonize beautifully with the words of scripture. Yet we rarely combine those scholarly discoveries with gospel truth to guide our eternal relationships. When we fail to receive God’s gifts, we “rejoice not in that which is given unto [us], neither rejoice in Him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33 adapted).
Let me give a few examples of connections between the gospel and research.
In the area of personal well-being, Daniel Gardner observed that “we are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time” (The Science of Fear, 2008). Consistent with Gardner’s observation, God invites, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). Why are we so anxious when we are so blessed? (Gardner nominates mass media as an unrelenting source of much anxiety.)
The very best lessons on having and using gifts are given in Doctrine and Covenants section 46. God teaches five principles related to gifts which, when combined with amazing resources for identifying our gifts (e.g., VIA Survey of Character Strengths or Gallup Strengths Finder), can lead us to rich and satisfying lives. God’s program of gifts is more substantial and effective than weak affirmations. (For more about God’s program, see: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/filling-the-measure-of-your-creation-the-lords-program-for-being-useful/)
Martin Seligman, the great psychologist, has summarized decades of research on happiness and identified principles that are the foundation of human well-being. Some of his recommendations include savoring each day, cherishing our pasts, and looking to the future with optimism. When I read his recommendations, they sound just like the things God has been telling us to do all along.
In the last three decades, John Gottman and his colleagues have literally re-written the book on marriage. Old beliefs about fair fighting and communication have been replaced with amazing insights about the keys to happy relationships. For example, the idea that there is one kind of relationship that is most likely to be successful has been replaced by the discovery that any of the three kinds of relationships—volatile, avoidant, or validating—can be enduring and satisfying as long as we have five positives for each negative. This feels completely harmonious with God’s recommendation that we love one another as He has loved us (See John 13, D&C 121).
Old ideas about parenting have been challenged and replaced with insight about induction—which is parenting that minimizes the use of power, reasons with children, and helps them understand the effects of their behavior on others. When I discovered the research on parental induction, I felt that the ideas had been stolen right from God’s instructions on leadership: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41-42). Other discoveries about cultivating moral development in children perfectly match God’s recommendations to bring up our children in light and truth.
Jesus set the perfect example of compassion as He entered into mortality and into Gethsemane so that His compassion would be fully informed. Great books on compassion, like Haim Ginott’s, teach us how to show authentic compassion to children.
Since God has given us great guides for family relationships, we don’t need to be wandering lost around the landscape. My dream is that one day the Latter-day Saints will be world leaders in applying God’s truths—those revealed through scripture and through research—to our family relationships. We will be a light upon a hill as we learn to live with joy, conduct our marriages with purpose, and parent with love and compassion.
Here is a list of some books that teach relationship principles that are entirely or largely compatible with gospel truth. I have included my own efforts to provide useful connections between research and scripture. See if one or more of these fit your current needs for developing a celestial family.
Gardner, D. (2008). The science of fear: Why we fear the things we shouldn’t–and put ourselves in greater danger. New York: Dutton.
Ginott, H., Ginott, A., & Goddard, H. W. (2002). Between parent and child. New York: Three Rivers.
Goddard, H. W. (2013). Bringing up our children in light and truth. Brigham City, UT: Currawong Press.
Goddard, H. W. (2007). Finding joy in family life. Cedar Hills, UT: JoyMap Publishing.
Goddard, H. W. (2009). Drawing heaven into your marriage. Cedar Hills, UT: JoyMap Publishing.
Goddard, H. W. (2012). The soft-spoken parent: 55 strategies for preventing contention with your children. Walnut Springs Press.
Goddard, H. W. (2021). Discoveries: Essential truths for relationships. Walnut Springs Press.
Goddard, H. W., Cracroft, R. H. (Eds.). (1999). My soul delighteth in the scriptures: Personal and family applications. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (2001). The relationship cure: A five-step guide for building better connections with family, friends, and lovers. New York: Crown.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.
Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. New York: Basic.
Mason, P. Q., & Pulsipher, J. D. (2021). Proclaim peace: The Restoration’s answer to an age of conflict. BYU Maxwell Institute & Deseret Book.
Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. New York: Gallup.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Williams, R., & Williams, V. (1993). Anger kills: Seventeen strategies for controlling the hostility that can harm your health. New York: Times Books.