“Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, May 1989, 16–19
New Era Answer:
You are not morally sick just because bad thoughts sometimes come into your mind. Thoughts are powerful, and all of us at times have trouble dealing with them. Unbidden ideas seem to demand a place in your mind even when you don’t want them there. Something innocent, like noticing how attractive another person is, can easily get out of hand if you let your mind wander further than it should.
The solution lies in learning to stop evil thoughts at the moment they try to enter your mind. It may be tough at first, but you can do it.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve talked about this struggle when he compared your mind to a theater, and your thoughts to performers in a play.
“Have you ever noticed that without any real intent on your part … a shady little thought may creep in … and attract your attention? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody.
“If you permit them to go on, … because you consented to it … they will enact for you … anything to the limits of your toleration. …
“… They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that it is innocent—for they are but thoughts.
“What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps of unclean thinking? …
“Choose … a favorite hymn, … perhaps “I Am a Child of God” would do. …
“Now, use this hymn as the place for your thoughts to go. … Whenever you find these shady actors have slipped from the sidelines of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this record, as it were.
“As the music begins and as the words form in your thoughts, the unworthy ones will slip shamefully away. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear” (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 28).
What Elder Packer is suggesting is that rather than letting our thoughts wander, we need to make a worthy place for them to go. It would seem to follow that if you’re concerned about bad thoughts, you should avoid TV shows, movies, videos, books, magazines, and music that could lead your thinking astray, and look for the ones that lead you closer to your Heavenly Father. Of course, a lot of strength can come from reading the scriptures and from prayer.
We all know how vivid imagination can be. The Savior himself warned, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
Why such a stern caution? Because the Lord understood that the thought is the father of the deed. If we can control our thoughts, we will control our actions. A mission president once counseled his elders that there’s nothing wrong with thinking, “She’s sure pretty.” But let the thought stop there.
Why such concern with not overemphasizing physical attraction? Because it’s only part of Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. The world would teach us to look at people as objects that exist only to satisfy desires. Relationships built on such thoughts are shallow and oriented toward fulfilling only one need.
But the Lord has a “more excellent way.” He wants us to have a marriage with a loving wife or husband, a relationship that’s warm and caring and complete. The Lord gives us the feelings of love and attraction, strong bonds that he wants us to use as the center of a united, eternal family. What you must do is learn to channel those feelings in the right direction, to understand them as part of the process of growing and learning, of preparing for a temple marriage, leading someday to family life in a celestial realm.
When you look at your thoughts as a key to controlling the future, you can see why the Lord says that it’s important to govern them well. “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45).
Yes, bad thoughts are natural. However, this does not mean that they are okay.
Controlling such thoughts is hard. You may need to make a conscious effort to sing a hymn, recite a scripture, or replace the thought with an image of Christ. If the thought persists (as some do), you may need to pray for strength to overcome it. Eliminating things such as music, books, posters, clothes, or activities that encourage these thoughts can also help.
Be patient. The mind is a good drawer for storing junk. It’s also a tough one to clean out.
Jared Parish, 17
Cedar City, Utah
It’s perfectly natural to be attracted to a good-looking young woman. It’s the way God planned that it should be. Satan knows this, however, and will ever-so-quietly sneak bad thoughts into your mind. You need to be constantly aware of your thoughts, and if you find you are thinking about wrong things, you need to banish those thoughts from your mind. Pray for help in keeping your mind clean, and read the scriptures daily. I can think of no better way to fill your mind with wholesome thoughts than regular scripture reading.
Lahni Rock, 16
I do not think a boy is morally sick for having bad thoughts. It’s natural. But there are a lot of things that come naturally. Maybe being messy, lazy, or argumentative are natural. But this is something you need to overcome.
If we came to earth to do everything that comes naturally, what would be the purpose? We are here to grow and overcome those weaknesses.
Every time you start to have bad thoughts, replace them with good ones. You could keep in mind a good quote or song; memorize a favorite scripture. Tell Heavenly Father about your problem and ask for his help. With faith you will be able to overcome your problem.
Jill Rhead, 17
Someone once said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Oftentimes we see someone of the opposite sex and consider them to be a “hunk” or a “knockout” because of how they look. The Lord has given each of us different outward as well as inward traits. We need to remember this as we see a stranger walk down the street.
Elder Mike Shadler, 23
Canada Winnipeg Mission
Natural, I think. But that doesn’t mean good. Concentrate hard on not thinking bad thoughts and watch people’s eyes and smiles to discover an inner beauty that’s more important than their outward appearance. But almost everyone faces this sometime, not just guys. So if it takes a while to replace these thoughts, remember you’re not alone.
April Lawson, 13
Maybe I can offer a different perspective on your question. Growing up in the Church, I was taught that thoughts like the ones you described are natural and normal. For a long time, because I didn’t have very many of those kinds of thoughts, I felt that something must be wrong with me—I, too, wondered if I wasn’t “morally sick.” An important thing to remember is that Satan will always try to make us worry when there’s no need to. I now understand that interest in and desires for the opposite sex are good and of God, but they occur at different ages and different intensities for different people, and that the real test of moral wellness or sickness is the way we deal with the thoughts and feelings that come into our minds.
Marc Larsen, 21
It’s very natural, and it happens to everyone. But try controlling your thoughts. The minute you see a good-looking girl, focus your thoughts on something completely different, like Christ’s death for us so you could be here and be forgiven in the first place. Try to do and think of things that would make him happy and show your thanks.
Natavsha Dunn, 16
Brigham City, Utah
No, you’re not morally sick. It is natural to have such thoughts, but it’s not good to dwell on them. Heavenly Father said we would have to learn to control our thoughts, actions, and bodies. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s got to be done. Start by trying to see the good in people and then you’ll be less likely to see the bad. Try to imagine them in heaven, church, the temple, anywhere good, and you’ll be able to control your thoughts more and more.
Naomi Jones, 15
It’s natural to desire relationships with the opposite sex, but if the thoughts you think are of immoral relationships, then you need to control your thoughts and repent so your thoughts won’t become actions.
Linda Folkman, 16
Brigham City, Utah
Unfortunately, what you’re feeling is normal. Almost everyone in their teen years sometimes gets immoral thoughts about someone of the opposite sex. In today’s world many teach that these thoughts are okay, but they’re not. They can lead to problems of immorality that can scar you for life. What you need to do is find something else to fill your mind with. When these thoughts enter your mind, force them out, and instead think of a beautiful meadow full of lovely flowers or sing your favorite hymn. If these thoughts persist you may need to talk to your bishop so he can help you. The last thing and certainly the most important is to ask Heavenly Father for his help.
Telindalee Ann Beck, 15
No, you are not morally sick. These thoughts and feelings are natural. But the trick is to not entertain these bad thoughts.
Right now I’m serving a mission, and controlling my thoughts is one of the hardest things to do, especially in the summer when it seems that the world is running around half dressed.
Our mission president, President Lamb, has advised us to replace these “bad thoughts” with “good thoughts” as fast as we can. Think of a hymn, scripture, etc., and these thoughts will change for the better. And always pray for help.
With time and practice it will become easier. So the next time you see a “good-looking” girl, keep her that way by thinking good, clean things. Remember who her father is. She is a daughter of God!
Elder Glen W. Burr, 20
Indiana Indianapolis Mission
It is very natural for a young man to notice a member of the opposite sex and her physical qualities. In fact, it is quite difficult not to notice the beauty and charm of a young woman. However, we should not dwell on bad thoughts. It’s not right.
Try not to dwell on unclean thoughts. I would hope that a young man doesn’t think that way about the young woman who is to become my future wife. Remember the Lord knows all your thoughts. We should all respect womanhood. A woman risked her life to bring you into this world.
Pray about your question. Then take your weaknesses to the Lord, and he will make them strengths!
Matthew D. Carling, 18
When you see a good-looking girl and start thinking bad thoughts, think of a scripture or a hymn. Or another thing to do is ask yourself, Does she go to church? I wonder what she would say, how she would react if she knew what I was thinking? Just remember about what Heavenly Father would do or say if he were right there. Then maybe it won’t be as hard. Hope you have success.
Alanna Collins, 12
Salt Lake City, Utah