“No Place for Pride,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 16
Their marriage was hopeless, they told me. And now they were in the final stages of preparing for divorce.
They had received marriage counseling elsewhere. But it was of a purely secular nature, and their relationship was getting worse, not better. Instead of humbling themselves and changing their behavior, they had been focusing on trivial techniques—such as liking themselves better and becoming more self-assertive—which only further justified them in their destructive behavior.
These were good people. But they had become caught up in the behavior and attitudes of a competitive world—where forcing, criticizing, controlling, and commanding are often promoted as the way to gain influence. They were blaming one another for their problems and were trying to punish and intimidate each other into changing.
I was frank with them. I tried to help them see how self-righteous they were being and how accusing their hearts were. I explained that our problems as individuals and as couples are primarily spiritual—and that these problems begin when we fail to apply gospel principles. And I told them that since we have no direct control over the behavior of our partners, we need to focus on our own hearts.
After our first visit, this couple went to the temple together. In the celestial room, each quietly prayed that our Father in Heaven would reveal to them individually what they, themselves—not their partner—had been doing wrong. In his mercy, God opened the floodgates and gave them their answers. The revelation they received humbled them and softened their hearts. Since they hadn’t attended the temple for some time, they were amazed at how freely and clearly the answers came to them and how merciful our Heavenly Father really is.
Now they could start making progress. They began to shift their focus away from blaming each other and toward their own need for repentance. They began to see that striking back at each other is the world’s way—not the Lord’s. They recognized they had not attended the temple for months or read their scriptures or genuinely prayed on a regular basis—and now they could see that these were manifestations of pride.
Their hearts were broken over the fact that they were both so self-preoccupied and self-serving and that their conflicting self-interests were destroying any possibility for oneness. And they realized that their examples were adversely affecting their children.
It was thrilling to watch this couple humble themselves and find again the love they thought they had lost.
Marriage is a commitment to put the relationship first—and self second. This doesn’t mean we must forget about our individual interests, but that we put them second. In marriage the goal is to become one and to learn to work cooperatively as a team.
In our day, the Lord has reiterated something he told Adam and Eve: “It is lawful that [man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” (D&C 49:16; see also Gen. 2:24.)
The Lord wants us not only to marry in the temple, but also to achieve unity in our marriages. To develop that oneness, we must first be humble enough to look at the flaws in our character and to eliminate them through faith in the Lord and through repentance.
When we marry, we immediately begin to learn things we had never known about ourselves. I have to laugh now when I look back at myself as a young returned missionary. At that time, I saw myself as unimaginably spiritual and Christlike. I thought I was patient, long-suffering, and kind.
Then I got married! It didn’t take long for me to realize how much I still needed to learn. Our first child showed me how little patience I really had. And in my relationship with Kathy, I discovered that I had subconsciously believed the world’s teachings: “Defend yourself,” “You don’t have to put up with that,” and “Backing down is a sign of weakness.” Kathy’s example of turning the other cheek and of truly living Christlike qualities showed me that I knew much less about being a disciple of Christ than I had thought.
Many of the things we have to learn about ourselves aren’t very pleasant. But the experience of dealing with these challenges is precisely what we need if we are to grow in character and become more Christlike. Marriage and parenthood can be a greater motivation than anything else to learn to truly pray, fast, search our hearts, and repent. We quickly learn that we have to do these things if we want to be decent parents and marriage partners.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has stated: “The pressures of life in a family will mean that we shall be known as we are, that our frailties will be exposed and, hopefully, we shall then work on them. … It is an encounter with raw selfishness, with the need for civility and taking turns, of being hurt and yet forgiving, of being at the mercy of others’ moods and yet understanding, in part, why we sometimes inflict pain on each other. … The home gives us a great chance to align our public and private behavior, to reduce the hypocrisy in our lives, to be more congruent with Christ.” (Ensign, Feb. 1972, p. 7.)
As marriage and parenthood begin to reveal our faults to us, we may be tempted to strike out and blame others—our parents, our spouse, our children, or our circumstances—for our unhappiness. But if we get no further than blaming others, we will become deadlocked in the vicious grip of pride.
In his landmark address on pride, President Ezra Taft Benson said that “pride is the universal sin, the great vice. … Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.” (Ensign, May 1989, pp. 6–7.)
As a marriage counselor, I believe that pride is the reason for the mass marital failure in our society. But if you look at marriage books on the world’s market today, you’ll never see humility at the top of the list of ways to improve marriage!
President Benson noted that the central feature of pride is enmity—opposition toward God and our fellowmen. The proud man wants to do things on his own and does not want God or anyone else telling him what to do. He is lifted up in the pride of his heart, rather than being meek and lowly in heart.
In such a state he cannot be helped because he is not open to the influence of the Spirit. He hardens his heart and resists the enticings of the Spirit. Instead of learning from his weaknesses and mistakes, he becomes blind to the truth about himself. Rather than facing himself and growing, he chooses to fight and blame others or to take flight and escape.
It is frightening to discover how much the world thrusts pride upon us. We are taught to be the best, be number one, dress for success, and so forth. Much of this world functions on competition—and comparisons and competition lead many to be filled with pride. As President Benson stated: “The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others.” (Ensign, May 1989, p. 4.)
We have all learned to be proud; anyone who doesn’t think he is proud is very proud indeed. This spiritual cancer manifests itself in many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, being unforgiving and jealous. It leads to selfishness, self-pity, contention, worldly self-fulfillment, grudge-holding, defensiveness, a refusal to forgive, and an unwillingness to confess and forsake sin.
Perhaps nowhere do these ills surface more than in marriages and families.
President Benson said, “We must cleanse the inner vessel by conquering pride.” (Ensign, May 1989, p. 7.) And as he so eloquently stated, choosing to be humble is the antidote for pride. He said we can choose to humble ourselves by esteeming others as ourselves, receiving counsel and chastisement, forgiving those who have offended us, rendering selfless service, going on missions, going to the temple more frequently, confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God, and submitting to God’s will and putting him first in our lives. (See Ensign, May 1989, pp. 6–7.) Putting God first is the essence of humility.
Mormon taught that “none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart.” (Moro. 7:44.) To be meek is to be patient and mild; to be lowly is to have a lack of worldly pride or arrogance. Such humility allows us to look at ourselves honestly and acknowledge our imperfections and our need for improvement. Alma encourages us to “acknowledge [our] unworthiness before God at all times.” (Alma 38:14.) This can lead to healthy godly sorrow, real change—and marriage and family unity.
The Lord said, “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.)
What a marvelous promise! If we humble ourselves before the Lord and put our faith in him rather than in ourselves, he will magnify us and purify us. His grace is sufficient for all men if we will be humble and let him change us. We must yield our hearts to him (see Hel. 3:35), seek his guidance, and do his will in order to take advantage of his grace. His grace is his enabling power—his help and strength—which we receive as we expend our own best efforts.
In my experience, there is no real hope for lasting improvement for those who refuse to humble themselves. Humility is a major ingredient of genuine spirituality—the foundation of a happy life and a happy marriage.
Because of pride, we get embarrassed and uncomfortable when we realize we need to repent. But if we look for less-demanding ways to improve, all we can find are man-made techniques that focus on changing outward behavior only. If we rely on these methods alone, we are relying on the arm of flesh rather than on God. Outward behavior can be changed through techniques and skills, but the changes that really need to take place are in our hearts.
Our personal problems as well as our relationship problems are spiritual in nature and must be solved through spiritual means.
It is not within our own power to heal ourselves. If it were, we wouldn’t need the Atonement or the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Our part is to be humble enough to allow the healing to take place through faith in the Lord, repentance, and actually receiving the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost.
To have faith in Christ means to rely on his Spirit for guidance, reproof, comfort, and hope—and then to do what he tells us to do. If we rely on our own strength, intelligence, or goodness, we are vulnerable. Because of our mortal state, our abilities will sometimes fail us. And then we become diminished and feel worthless and eventually hopeless. But if we trust in God, rather than in the arm of flesh—even our own arm of flesh—he will never fail us.
“O how great is the nothingness of … men” (Hel. 12:7) is not a put-down but an accurate description of our power as weak mortals in comparison with God’s power. We must have faith in the Savior’s power to help us—and then truly allow him to change our hearts and purify them. This means that he will cleanse us of pride and selfishness—the major impurities of our hearts. When our hearts aren’t free of these fetters, we struggle against ourselves and refuse to yield to the Spirit and to the truth. Our main problem is impure hearts, and we must recognize that fact before we can change.
The Book of Mormon teaches that all good comes from God. (See Moro. 7:12.) That means that we need the Lord’s help to be what we want to be and to make the necessary changes in ourselves. This may seem obvious, but it escapes many Latter-day Saints. Many of us hear slogans about praying as though everything depends on God and acting as though everything depends on us—and then we apply only the second part. This leaves us anxious, because we see how imperfect we are—and conclude that we don’t deserve God’s help. I have found that the Lord is willing to aid my feeblest efforts if I sincerely ask him to do so. He wants an honest effort, not a perfect one.
The Lord repeatedly instructed the Saints of the early days to cry nothing but repentance to this generation. (See D&C 6:9.) Why? Because repentance is a full-time job for all mortals.
In our culture, repentance has a negative connotation because we tend to think of it with the Latin interpretation of punishment. But the Greek interpretation connotes a change of mind or heart—and we should see it in that light. (See Ensign, Aug. 1988, pp. 6–9.)
If we try to hide our sins and avoid suffering for them, we only prolong the suffering. The Lord has warned that we either repent or suffer. (See D&C 19:17.) We can either be humble now—or be forced to be humble when we suffer punishment for our sins in spirit prison some day. Eventually all people will be purified of sin before they can enter a kingdom of glory. But if we admit our weaknesses, we can begin to be healed now by the Lord.
If we live in a constant state of repentance and are willing to keep the Spirit with us, we will find that it is possible to live in an imperfect world and be happy. Then, even though we and others make mistakes, we are more able to see others—and ourselves—with compassion. And we have more strength to forgive, resolve differences, repent, and repair the damage.
When we turn to Christ in humility, exercise faith in him, repent, and seek the Spirit, we no longer see ourselves as helpless victims whose only alternatives are to let our feelings out or to suffer in silence. We begin to see that the Lord is with us and that we truly can improve our lives and our relationships.
And then the Holy Ghost gives us a quiet hope that we may never have known before—a peaceful assurance that through the grace and power of Christ, we can be purified of all of our weaknesses!
By submitting to and applying the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, we may experience a spiritual rebirth as we are purified of evil desires and weaknesses. President Marion G. Romney stated, “One is born again by actually receiving and experiencing the light and power inherent in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Ensign, May 1977, p. 44.)
A woman I once counseled was having difficulty with an adopted son and wanted to learn some techniques for dealing with him. As I listened to her, it became apparent to me that the problems didn’t stem from the child’s behavior but from the woman’s own impure heart.
The boy was somewhat handicapped. In addition to a physical difficulty, he was emotionally handicapped because his real mother had been unable to meet his developmental dependency needs.
But the adoptive mother had an even greater handicap: she was suffering from the disease of pride. When she was a child, her parents had tried to appear shameless and had self-righteously demanded perfection from their children. The family was extremely concerned about external appearance and the impression others had of them. They were caught up in the pride of materialism, status, and prestige. They had learned to be judgmental and critical of themselves and of others.
When this woman’s adopted child didn’t measure up to her expectations, the fear of his making her look bad became a serious threat to her personal image, and she would strike out toward him.
Together, we studied a few verses in the Book of Mormon. And she came to realize that although she had been diligent in the outward performance of religion, she had failed to see the impurity of her heart. In a sense, she was active in the Church, but less-active in some important aspects of the gospel.
This sister began to see that she had become entangled in the pride of the world. One of the greatest evidences of her pride was that she had been relying on her own strength to solve her problems.
As she began to see more clearly, she began to feel hope—hope born not of faith in herself or in her own ability to raise her child properly, but a hope based in Jesus Christ and in his power to heal and redeem. Through repentance, she changed her attitudes and behavior. And she began studying the scriptures—not just reading them—seeking the Spirit, and putting her hope and trust in the Lord.
This sister is a different woman today. She is still far from perfect and still has problems dealing with her child. But she has a different perspective now as she confronts her challenges. She is working with the Lord to find the solutions.
Joseph Smith learned well the relationship between being humble and receiving the Spirit of the Lord. David Whitmer said:
“At times when brother Joseph would attempt to translate … he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he could then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is, and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in his sight before he can receive revelation from him. …
“To illustrate so you can see: One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.” (As quoted in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:130–31.)
We often want to be happy without paying the price. We want to have peace in our homes and to have the Spirit of the Lord in our hearts while clinging to the pride and false values of the world.
There is a price to pay to live the gospel. But that price is nothing in comparison with the price we otherwise pay in broken lives and broken homes.
What more loving counsel, what greater comfort, or what more hopeful doctrine could there be than these words of Moroni:
“Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moro. 10:32.)