Free to Choose?

You could say that I had a choice; I could always choose to do the right thing or choose to do the wrong thing and receive the consequence of being grounded for the rest of my natural life.

movieOnce when I was 18, I went to a movie with some friends, The Net. I sat right behind my stake president and his wife. My mom was furious that I had seen a PG-13 movie. I didn’t let her know that I had seen many others and even a couple Rated-R films that I wasn’t proud of.

She organized a family night lesson where she berated me in front of the family, shaming me and my decision, stating that the Stake President was disappointed in me for seeing me there and that my actions damaged her image because she was on a stake council and she often preached that it was a sin to watch PG-13 movies, so I, her oldest son needed to set an example, especially for my younger siblings, instead of undermining her.

My mom went around the family, pointing one at a time at each of the nine children, asking that we commit to never watching a PG-13 movie. I wouldn’t do it. She continued, threatening a barrage of consequences and finally saying that we would stay in family night session until I committed. “Sure,” I lied.

Until a few years ago, I raised my kids the same way, telling them that they have a choice between this awful thing or this wonderful thing, while shaming them if they chose anything other than what I thought was best. Through personal experience and study I’ve learned that this type of parenting is less effective. It pushes away the child and ultimately reinforces the idea that choosing is a bad thing. As an adult I would find myself creating scenarios where I “had” to do something, believing that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I felt that I “had” to go to church and I “had” to pay tithing and I “had” to do family history and I “had” to read the scriptures. I ended up resenting it. What should have brought me peace and joy brought me contempt and anxiety. When I realized that I did have a choice I began to feel the blessings of those choices where before, when I “had” to do it, I don’t think I was fully participating in the blessings that come from doing good.

I have friends that have left the church because they didn’t see the joy in it and now that they are “out” they seem happier and more at peace. I think that this has something to do with what we’ve been discussing. Rather than a culture of rules, restrictions, and limitations, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of opportunities to experience joy and love and hope.

I get that young children often need a decision phrased out as a choice between something good and something bad; it helps them learn and be accountable. But when a child is no longer a child they acquire abstract thought. They can comprehend that life really isn’t about a series of right or wrong choices, but a wide array of choice integrated into human dynamics and emotions, fostered by passions and desires. The world I live in, isn’t as simple as a choice between right and wrong.

I seldom wake up in the morning wanting to do something bad. I don’t want to steal or murder or hurt another person. I typically want to be happy and help others. The most difficult decisions that I make aren’t to do something wrong or do something right but are to deciding which right thing to devote my time and energy too—a decision between right and right. (Not even Good, Better, and Best.) I’ve experienced choices that I have felt that whatever I chose, God would sustain.

I believe that God doesn’t only sustain our good choices but that he also celebrates them. I believe that our righteous choices (and I’m not necessarily referring to our righteous actions) are a source of joy and rejoicing of God.

praySeveral years ago my son had such a choice to make. He asked me for advice. Of course I had an opinion on the matter but something caused me pause. I remembered when I left home to serve a mission for my church. I had an extremely difficult time knowing what it was that God wanted me to do. Usually in such a situation I would seek out my mom and ask her opinion. She would give it. I would do what she said whether I wanted to or not because God commanded that we respect our mothers and our fathers, so in a sense, even if her advice was wrong, I couldn’t be held accountable for my inappropriate choice because I honored my mother. (That was some pretty messed up thinking).

So back to my son, I told him that the choice was his to make and that prayer might help.

He returned moments later from praying. I asked him if he got an answer. His reply surprised me and taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

“He said it was my choice.”

Why would God not give direction where direction was requested? My entire life up until that point believed in a myth that there was a right and a wrong to ever question. That is what the hymn says right? No. It states, “There’s the right and the wrong to every question.” Not a right and a wrong. It follows up with, “Be safe thru inspiration’s power.”

I take that to mean that to every question, there is a right side and a wrong side. The wrong side of my son’s question would have been for Heavenly Father to dictate what it was that my son should do rather than reaffirm one of the greatest gifts that God has given to man—choice.

“What are you going to do?” I asked my son. He thought about it and chose the one that he wanted. I encouraged him to return to prayer and let Heavenly Father know what he chose. He did and received the burning confirmation that his choice was accepted.

Since that time, my relationship with God has changed. Most often my conversations go something like this.

Me:      I really like this idea and I’m thinking I’d like to pursue it.

God:    Great.

Me:      Can you help me recognize what I need to do to succeed?

God:    Of course.

or

Me:      I’m confused here. I’ve got to make a decision, this way or that way.

God:    Okay.

Me:      Do you have an opinion on the matter?

God:    No. What do you want to do?

Me:      I’m leaning toward…

God:    I think that would be great.

About a year ago I had one conversation that went like this. (I say conversation but this happened over about a month).

Me:      I’m thinking of moving to Utah.

God:   …

Me:      I think I might have more opportunity there. It might be easier to do my job.

God:   …

Me:      Maybe I’m just excited for a change. Maybe I’m trying to escape from something.

God:    Your parents divorce?

Me:      Yeah. I’m so sick of the drama. In Utah, I’d be removed from it all.

God:    I see, but is that the best thing for you and your family?

Me:      I don’t know. Is it?

God:    Think through it some more. You have a senior in high school that moved around a lot when he was a kid and finally has been able to experience some stability.

Me:      You’re right. So maybe after he graduates?”

I was then given some very specific information about a series of opportunities that Heavenly Father has been preparing me for, and that by moving to Utah, I would miss out on certain experiences that are divinely designed to help my family and myself.

Me:      I’m going to stay in Arizona.

God:    Good.

The following is my interpretation of a conversation between God (or Christ) and the Brother of Jared:

BoJ:     We’ve got some problems with the boats.

God:    Yes?

BoJ:     We can’t breath, we can’t steer, and we can’t see.

God:    Don’t go punching holes in the boats. You don’t have to steer because I control the waves and the winds and I’ll get you where I want you to go. Have faith and trust me.

As for air, cut a hole in top and a hole in the bottom and make lids for each. If you pull a lid out and water comes in, cover it back up because you’re probably under the ocean.

As for light, what do you want to do?

It’s interesting here that the direction was very specific for something that could be detrimental to the operation. Light, however, wasn’t a matter of life or death.

Brother-of-JaredWhat if the Brother of Jared was explicitly directed to solve the light problem? Would he have grown? I don’t believe that the idea of making glass stones would have been the solution that God would have come up with. I mean, maybe he would have offered a flashlight or the clapper.

Would the Brother of Jared have had the experience of seeing Christ and being shown everything if a solution would have been given to him to solve the light problem? I don’t think so.

I believe that the Brother of Jared’s efforts brought a smile to God’s face. I think He is pleased with his children when they magnify their gift of choice. When we plan things out in the mind and heart that he gave us and when we cease the opportunity to create.

Additionally, I don’t think it mattered how the Brother of Jared solved his problem. I don’t think that if he had asked God to recreate something like the burning bush on Mount Sinai, or whatever else he came up with, that his experience would have been any different.

Lately, I’ve tried not to dictate my children’s lives, instead offer them the opportunity to discover God and develop a relationship with him.

And a mistake isn’t the end of all things. God allowed Adam and Eve to transgress even though it brought them pain. In fact, it was by His design. The greater lesson learned from the Garden is that God’s purposes are the exaltation of man, not his condemnation. Why would God have protected the tree of life? It wasn’t a punishment; it was a blessing.

God has said, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

If I recall, there was another that wanted to command in all things so that the glory would be his. I think that he is still about this purpose today, striving to relieve man of his ability to choose through the devices of addiction, shame, manipulation, and control.

So let us teach our children correct principles and then really let them govern themselves. Let’s refrain from shaming them into righteousness, denying them of the blessings of a righteous choice, taking the glory unto ourselves. Instead, Let us show them the true way of happiness and joy through embracing one of the greatest gifts of existence—choice.

You said I Do, so that Means, You Do What I Say

Something has been on my mind as of late. The memory is from about 8 years ago. I was on the phone with a client and feeling a little insecure for not having wrapped up an assignment. My wife happened to be in the room, so I motioned to her to retrieve the client’s file from my drawer, as I continued the conversation. My phone beeped letting me know the battery was low. I indicated to my wife to hurry but she didn’t understand my gestures or read my mind. The phone beeped again and I thought it had died for good. I unleashed. I felt like she, being my wife, was an extension to me and as such should be in tune with my needs, my wants, my mind, whether I expressed myself or not. Then I realized the phone was still on and my client heard every word. I tried to recover, but it was too late. Someone from the outside saw behind the curtains.

What had changed in my relationship with her? At one point in time I strived to earn her respect and love, and I returned the sentiments. And if anyone else spoke to her that way, I’d have their hide. So why was I entitled to do so?

I’ve treated my children the same way, like extensions of myself. For some reason, believing that the relation gave me license to treat them in ways I wouldn’t dare treat another that wasn’t related.

I’ve worked a lot with youth and I think I’m pretty good at it.  When teaching a youth a skill, I’m patient; I explain myself, I teach, I’m kind and friendly, and loving. But when teaching my child the same, I use words like, “Cause I told you so” and “Don’t question me” and “Just do as your told.” Why?

A few years ago we were able to adopt a young man, one of those youth I had worked with. I noticed the discrepancy of how I treated him versus my natural born children and I started to question my parenting methods.

I’ve spent the last couple years trying to repent and change. I’ve taken a hard look at all my familiar relationships. Those that I’ve treated the worst are family; those that have treated me the worst are family. The only physical altercations I had growing up were with family. The worst names I’ve been called were by family, a sister in particular. Maybe it’s because my family knows who I really am and the rest is a show? No. I have genuine relationships with many others that know all about me, and I don’t feel the need to disrespect, control, or manipulate them.

I used to think that that’s just how it goes. I can treat someone close to me that way because I care so much.

good samaritanBut what gives a child the right to verbally degrade her father? What gives a husband the right to disrespect his wife? What gives a wife the right to demean and belittle her husband or her children?

Christ taught, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I interpreted the Good Samaritan parable as loving people of different beliefs, origins, cultures as myself. I’ve done this. But why would that exclude those closest to me?

An hymn written by H. R. Palmer states this beautifully.

Angry words! oh, let them never
From the tongue unbridled slip;
May the heart’s best impulse ever
Check them ere they soil the lip.

Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment’s reckless folly
Thus to desolate and mar.

Angry words are lightly spoken;
Bitt’rest tho’ts are rashly stirred—
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

I’ve noticed that the times that I’ve degraded or belittled anyone, particularly my family, is when I hate something about myself and I’ve taken it out on them (extensions of me). It’s not right. Just because two people said “I do” doesn’t give free license to disrespect, control, manipulate, degrade, shame, or belittle in any relationship that formed because of those vows.

I’ve realized that those in my family aren’t extensions of me and have no obligation to do my bidding. They, like everyone is entitled to respect, kindness, courteousness, and gentleness. My adopted son helped me see this and I’m a better dad and husband because of it.