My son came stomping into the house from the garden a month ago, demanding I punish his sister,
who had apparently thrown dirt in his hair. Figuring there was more to the story, I sent for my daughter, and she arrived promptly in the front doorway sobbing and screeching. Apparently my son had said she was “in first grade.” I managed not to laugh at the grave insult because she was so sincerely angry. She alternatively yelled and cried that “yes,” indeed, she had thrown “dirt on his head” because he knows perfectly well she has “finished second grade.” I calmed her down, still trying to keep a straight face–though that became suddenly easier when my daughter stopped screaming long enough to verbalize: to her, being told she is “in first grade,” means she is “stupid.” He was calling her “stupid,” something we just don’t do.
Every once in a while I have a good mothering moment. It usually happens when I put aside my natural reaction to snap or scoff or blurt out my uninformed, unsympathetic opinions (such as, “Well, that’s silly. You’re in second grade. Go back out to the garden”). This time I hesitated and felt words form around an idea.
I told my daughter to shut her eyes, to keep herself calm, and to listen in her mind and feel in her heart. I told her I was going to say something and that she would be able to tell if it was true – if she was calm and peaceful and listening to what her heart knows and what the Spirit tells her. She shut her eyes, and I whispered (just work with me for a moment), “Sweetie. You are stupid.”
She sat quietly for perhaps 10 or 15 seconds, then her eyes flew open, clear and wide, and she announced without a hint of uncertainty, “No. No. I am not.”
I told her to shut her eyes again, that we would try it again. I whispered, “You could be working a little harder in the garden.” She paused, then opened her eyes and looked straight at me. She ducked her head in apology and said, “Mom, that is true. I am sorry.” And – without pouting or back talking – she went promptly back to weed her bean row in the garden.
I have wondered for years about the Spirit testifying of truth. I know that Spirit testifies of the truth of the gospel, but I never thought to pray in college about the veracity of the Pythagorean Theorem, about whether the best place for a thesis statement really is the last sentence of the first paragraph, or if the Federalist Papers are inspired (and maybe that is just because I was too busy praying that I could remember things for the test). Nor did I ever consciously think, “I should pray about what so-and-so said about me”—because “they” did (and do) say things every so often about who I am, commenting on whether I am smart, lazy, pessimistic, happy, kind, snarky, mean, loyal, or etc., limiting me or enabling me with labels that may or may not be true.
But, as I watched my daughter, I realized I have occasionally and intuitively followed the same process for years, not understanding nor putting words to the process; I instinctively “check in” on the Truth of what others tell me and accept or reject it accordingly. I am left feeling sad that I did not think to understand nor teach this lesson nineteen years ago when my first child was born—because some truths are critical, and perhaps they can only be known thoroughly through the Spirit. I may tell my daughter all day long that she is beautiful and smart, only to have her question and doubt that fact, especially when she gets around mean girls in middle school or around teasing brothers. Yet I saw the effect, the certainty and clarity that came with knowing her truth in her own heart and mind. Turning inward and “checking” with God about the (lack of) truth in those nasty, name-calling “sticks and stones” that others fling at us may be a girl’s (or a boy’s or a woman’s or a man’s) salvation. It seems to me that knowing the deep Truths of who we really are will serve us far better than the empty praise and hollow criticisms of others.
Plus . . . she went back out to weed the garden! Happily! Truly a modern-day miracle.
This one principle of trusting the Spirit rather than outer voices (or my own mind chatter) is the one thing I wish I had learned when I was young. It takes a lot of work and prayer and help and support to undo the brain patterns that come of relying on mortal voices.
Good psychology, the Spirit didn’t have to be present for the little girl to get the insight, and have confidence in herself–though the trust she had been indoctrinated (not meant pejoratively) to have in “the Spirit” had a lot to do with it working.
IMO most (not all) of the gospel–especially our modern Mormon version (as varied as that might be)–is merely the application of true principles (not created by God) of psychology, sociology, or other human behavior realities. Think about how making promises to strive for righteousness (or other goals), especially to God, in an often reverent, highly ceremonial setting, works psychologically to make our commitment stronger. God doesn’t have to even be involved. For example, the covenants and ceremonies of the military, Boy Scouts, club/fraternity initiations, jihadist suicide bombers…
I can see how someone could interpret things through the lens of psychology – and I am not saying that it never happens that way – but I believe there is a difference between my own thoughts (which in this case were originally judgmental and annoyed) and the Spirit. Thanks for your perspective, fbisti. You mentioned that most – but not all – of the gospel is psychology. I would be interested in knowing what that “not all” entails for you.
I sort of see it the other way around, fbisti. Anything good comes of God, so when and if we tap into good and true principles of psychology, sociology, etc., we are tapping into a part of God’s truth. In my experience, because elements of truth can be found in many places, my faith in God has been strengthened by reading a lot of materials that aren’t Mormon per se, but that validate and underscore and expand upon true gospel principles. It’s all a whole.
I just wanted to say thanks for teaching your kids to garden.
To clarify, or addend to my comment #2: Many aspects of the Church’s programs and practices are also good psychology–though some are also flawed, psychologically.
RE #4:. I agree that God is good, but good existed before God. IMO He learned and perfected Himself using principles He did not create. Ergo, “good” (let alone anything good) did not originate with God.
RE #3: I used the term gospel in a very general, categorical way. Though I can list various teachings (e.g. The Beatitudes) that are certainly the gospel, rather than programs, policies, or procedures, I definitely don’t know all of what should or shouldn’t be considered “the gospel.” That said, I can think of no parts of the gospel that are not good psychology. By following the precepts, we change ourselves. That is part of what I would consider “psychology”
I’ve been trying for years to get clearer about this, without a terrible lot of success. But there’s a kind of truth in the anecdote or in the well-crafted story that’s not there in proposition or principle. I appreciate your power of expression, Kylie, thank you.
” I agree that God is good, but good existed before God. IMO He learned and perfected Himself using principles He did not create. Ergo, “good” (let alone anything good) did not originate with God.”
I believe this, and yet ultimately we are commanded to seek God, not just good. We are invited to have a personal relationship with Him, not just to align ourselves with good principles. I think there is something to that. In fact, I think that is one of the good principles He aligns Himself with. :)
I don’t know if I could be brave enough to believe my child would know it wasn’t the truth if I said she was stupid. “I didn’t mean it, I was just trying to prove a point! Please stop crying! Have a pony!”