A family came into counseling with the stated goal of improving communication. The family consisted of the mother, the father, and a son and daughter who were both in their 20s and again living with their parents at home. During counseling I asked who made the rules? All three heads of the father, the son, and the daughter snapped to their left and looked at mom. It turns out that mom set up counseling because her idea of improving communication was for all of them to obey her rules.

While doing group therapy in a medium security prison, from time to time a group member would be missing from a counseling session. The other group members said “Oh yeah, he’s in the hole” (meaning solitary confinement). After a week, when he rejoined the group, I would ask him what happened. Typically the guy got into a brief fist fight before the security officers stopped the fight and took both combatants into custody. What caused the fight? Almost always the answer was “He disrespected me!” “So, who made the definition and drew the line (made the rule) of what was disrespect?”

A couple came for counseling who were having struggles with their teenage son. Teenagers are typically at the stage of development when they are becoming more independent and seek more freedom. I suggested to them whether they might have a meeting with their son to create family rules together, then have their son suggest appropriate consequences if he disobeyed. Then he certainly could not complain about the consequences being unfair.

All of the examples above have to do with rules. But what if we changed the perspective from “rules” to “goals and roles?” What kind of things are we trying to accomplish as a family? What kind of life am I’m trying to lead in prison in preparation for one day being released from prison and returning to the community? What kind of goals am I trying to accomplish individually, as a couple, as a family, and in all my different roles, whether that be husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, church member, missionary, neighbor, business person, community member, and ultimately as a disciple of Christ?

In Preach My Gospel, there is an entire chapter focused on goals: Accomplish the Work Through Goals and Plans. How can we adapt this to accomplish His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man? President M. Russell M Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has stated “a goal is a destination or an end, while the plan is the route by which you get there…. Goal setting is essentially beginning with the end in mind. And planning is devising a way to get to that end” (M. Russell Ballard, “Return and Receive,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2017, 62-63.)

Recognizing their roles and developing goals and action plans was a key factor in helping men in prison change their lives. Typically, they came to prison because they acted impulsively for their own benefit or pleasure without any thought of others or of potential consequences of their actions. When they recognized their individual worth and others’ worth and focused on who they wanted to be, they learned to make healthy choices. Rules or laws or commandments simply became tools and guides to help them fulfill their roles and achieve their goals.

May the Lord help us to recognize who we are and why we are here and may roles and goals and rules help us to accomplish His eternal purposes.