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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thoughts Are Either Positive or Negative Energy

            Several times in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ talks about how “many of the rising generation” fall away from the Church because “they did not believe in the traditions of their fathers” (Mosiah 26:1). Too many of the young people who grew up with my children have also left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or have become inactive in it.

            I have often wondered what makes the difference. Why do some of the rising generation fall away and others do not? The reasons for the falling away may be as numerous as the young people who have fallen away, but it is not a new problem as confirmed by the scriptures. Young people have been falling away from the truth from the time that Cain killed Abel and continued throughout the Bible and Book of Mormon and into our day.

            The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognized the problem more than one hundred years ago. In 1915 The First Presidency [while Joseph F. Smith was the prophet] first began encouraging parents in the Church to hold a “Family Home Evening.” Families were encouraged to spend time together with prayer, music, and instruction in the gospel.

            In 1970 President Joseph Fielding Smith, son of Joseph F. Smith, asked families to set aside every Monday evening as the preferred time to hold Family Home Evening. He also asked local units of the Church to keep Monday evenings clear of other Church-related activities.

            In the October 2002 General Conference President Gordon B. Hinckley asked school officials and other people in the community to keep Monday evening free of activities in order that members could more easily hold Family Home Evening. The Church policy continues to be that Monday evenings are set apart as family time. However, the Church recognizes that more needs to done to keep the rising generation close.

            In 2019 the Church instituted the “Come, Follow Me” program for individuals and families to use in studying the gospel. In 2020 it will institute a new program called Children and Youth that will replace the Personal Progress Program for young women and Boy Scouts for young men. It recognizes that gospel instruction must be centered in the home with support from the Church leaders and teachers.

            I realized that something had to be done and recognized that the Church was changing policies and programs in order to support the family. However, I still had a difficult time understanding how people could grow up as active members of the Church and then just drop Church activity by the wayside. Today I read an article that helps me to better understand how they could reach that point.

            The article by Bill Turnbull is titled “Insights from a Renowned Psychologist That Could Transform YourRelationship with the Church.” He teaches about the “Gottman Ratio” and uses it to compare members of the Church to spouses in a marriage. 

            John Gottman, a famous psychologist, and his team completed some long-term studies during the 1980s and 1990s with thousands of couples. They found some interesting happenings.

In healthy, happy relationships there was a pattern of at least five positive interactions to each negative interaction. Interactions can include everything from conversations to simple remarks and gestures. This 5:1 ratio came to be known as the “Magic Ratio.”
Relationships in which the Gottman Ratio fell below 1:1 had become toxic and usually ended in divorce.

            Turnbull says that many of us enter marriage with false ideas about our spouse-to-be. We fall in love with an idea rather than a real person. We start to see the real person after we are married, and they fall far short of our expectations. They insist on being themselves rather than what we expected. We stop saying all the nice things that we once said and start nit-picking at them. We do not recognize that it was our expectations that were wrong rather than our partner. We can see only the faults of our spouse, and we might start keeping lists as proof of how bad they are. Turnbull connects the Gottman Ratio to people who are leaving the Church.

I know more than a few people who have fallen out of love with the church. In one way or another, it somehow fell short of their ideals and their expectations. There turned out to be lots of problems. It was hard. Over time, it started feeling like a bad relationship, [and] some of them have even made lists (actual or mental) of these problems. When they think of the church, their minds don’t naturally go to its positive aspects, but instead seemingly always go to that “list” – the stuff that needs fixing before they can give their heart to it.

            I recognized immediately what Turnbull was saying about thoughts. A few years ago I went through a personal improvement project, and I recognized that I was doing a lot of “murmuring” against my husband. The more that I murmured, the angrier I became. It seemed that I was always angry with my husband and that he could do nothing right. Gradually over a period of about three months, I was able to recognize when I was starting to murmur and was able to stop it quickly. I would tell myself, “You are murmuring again!” As I murmured less, I felt angry less often and was able to treat my husband more lovingly. I know that our thoughts have power! Turnbull continues by explaining that the same thing can happen in our relationship with the Church.

At some point in the lives of my disaffected friends, “the church” became something to be examined and critiqued. At some point it ceased to feel like a relationship that needed to be nourished. At some point they had been hurt or disappointed (or just plain bored) and decided it wasn’t worth investing in the relationship anymore….

The important thing to remember is that we are responsible for the “energy” that we bring to our relationships – including our relationship to the church. We need to realize that thoughts are energy. When we think a thought, we are quite literally creating new energy in the world. Thoughts are real things and have real effects. Think how the energy of a thought (positive or negative) can rapidly cascade through the systems of the body. That same energy can be transmitted to others. In that sense, our communications (words and gestures) are also forms of new energy that ripple out and have real effects in the world….

So it’s well worth asking: What is our Gottman Ratio with the church – both with the larger institution and with our local ward community? What is the ratio of generous and hopeful thoughts and comments vs. critical or cynical thoughts and comments?
If that ratio is at least 5:1, the “magic ratio,” Gottman says we are cultivating a healthy relationship and there is great happiness and growth to be found. If it dips toward 1:1 or below, we are in the toxic zone. The relationship is in trouble and both parties in the relationship will be the worse for it.

            This does not mean that we ignore problems and live in denial of them. It simply means that we need to look for the positive in our spouse or the Church and stop seeking out the negative. There is no perfect spouse, and there is no perfect member of the Church. We all have our weaknesses and strengths, and we all need each other to become the best that we can be.

            Parents and other adults can feed negative or positive “energy” to the rising generation. If children and youth live with parents who are finding fault with the Brethren, local priesthood leaders, teachers, or policies, they are putting toxic thoughts into the heads of the rising generation. On the other hand, children and youth can be taught to love and support Church leaders and policies and to become truly converted to the Lord and His Church. We can help them by making sure that our Gottman Ratio with the Church is 5:1. We must remember that “thoughts are energy” and bring only positive thoughts and energy into our homes, classes, and Church community. We may be able to hold onto more members of the rising generation by teaching and training them with positive thoughts and energy.

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