“Chastisement is never easy to endure. It does not matter who it comes from, or under what circumstances, it is always initially painful to be chastised. Offense is so easily taken, sometimes even looked for. The key to suffering through chastisement without embittered feelings, without taking or giving cause for offense, and coming out the other side a better person, is the spirit by which we give and receive.”Daniel Joseph Malcolm, 16 September 2023
When I was a child my parents’ first response to undesirable behavior was with “looks.” I believe to most people this sounds familiar. There is a reason we can all understand the phrase, “If looks could kill.” A “dirty look,” or perhaps better articulated, a “persuasive look,” has amazing power to alter behavior without a chastising word being spoken, nevertheless, it is chastisement still.
My dad’s look was just scary. When I made my father angry the look was perhaps the worst part of any punishment. Sometimes I would think to myself, “Just get the spanking or punishment over with, but stop the look!” That burning through my skull look would seemingly make my heart flutter and my bones atrophy. My dad was expert with that look and I can not think of a time that its desired effect of changing my behavior did not work. Dad’s chastising look was very effective. I love my dad!
Mom’s look was equally effective but much different. It was the look of disappointment coupled with patient love. Her heart piercing look could make my spirit tremble and my soul atrophy. Mom was also quite expert in sincerely engaging that chastising look, and nor can I think of a time when its desired effect of changing my behavior was unsuccessful. I love my mom!
Growing up I gave my parents plenty of reasons to invoke their behavior altering looks, so I have much experience in this area. I can honestly say that while my father could be a pretty scary man at will, his fear provoking looks were not so hard to endure as were the heart wrenching looks of my disappointed mother. One thing I know for sure about Mom and Dad, is that they loved me, and that is why they invoked such tremendous and near magical powers of facial expression to help me become the man that they knew I should be.
Growing up and throughout life I have given many good cause to seek correction of my behavior. In addition to my parents and family members, a number of other individuals have found it necessary to enact various methods of correcting my behavior that I might become a better man. From Sunday school teachers to scout leaders, school teachers to employers, and from police officers to pastors, I have received a lot of chastisement over the years. What has always helped me endure correction is knowing the love of the individual who is chastising. When their love and true desire to help me was clear, it was always easier to resist the temptation of getting angry, but instead seeking self-improvement. How can I resist the kindness or even chastisement of someone who is sincerely trying to help me, of someone who loves me?
“How can I resist the kindness or even chastisement of someone who is sincerely trying to help me, of someone who loves me?”
I admit that I am a man filled with flaws and have gained much by way of righteous reproving over the years, but there have been times when my intentions or actions have been misunderstood and I have had to endure chastisement that was unwarranted and even unrighteous. This is more difficult to endure, but I have found that when I again recognize the love and righteous desire of the individual providing correction, or at minimum the source of misunderstanding, it is easier to humbly submit where appropriate, forgive the error, and even correct my behaviors so that false impressions are less likely, and better feelings prevail.
After previous harsh but necessary chastisement of the saints at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Paul, having been famously corrected by the Lord, knew too well the difficulty but necessity of correcting the inappropriate actions and behaviors of those we love when prompted by the Holy Ghost. He also understood the importance of showing those being corrected the fidelity and love of the chastiser. It is like a fire that when controlled can produce great refining outcomes, but when inflamed by unwise tenders can get out of control and cause great destruction. If by inspiration we will act in love and receive in love the likelihood of offense will decline, and a more harmonious relationship will blossom out of the ashes of trial, correction and refining.
As the Lord later taught the Prophet Joseph Smith the importance of inspired correction with righteous and loving intention, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-44).
When it becomes necessary to correct we must do so with Christ-like love. If the pure love of Christ and a sincere desire to help an individual is not in our hearts, perhaps we ought to reconsider any thought we have to correct. Chastisement or even correction, without inspiration and understanding, is like throwing a lit match on a puddle of liquid without knowing if it is water or gasoline. It can be ineffective at best and explosive at worst.
The exact same principle should prevail when receiving correction. We ought to have a Christ-like love in our hearts for those sincerely seeking to help us, even if a potential misunderstanding exists. Perhaps in circumstances of misplaced chastisement, returning the soul piercing love look of my mother would be more effective and appropriate than Dad’s old skull burner. It is best to avoid a lit match on gasoline, no matter who throws it.
As most are aware, I have served in many ecclesiastical callings throughout my life. At times it has been incumbent upon me to provide correction. As in fatherhood to children, this is not an easy burden to carry. On occasion I have felt misunderstood, and I have also not always acted in perfect harmony with the way our perfect Savior would handle things. As a Bishop, I felt comfort with the imperfection of us all in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with” (General Conference, April 2013).
Truth be told, when it comes to our relationship with God there are chasms of fault on our parts, Godly chastisement required, and correction necessary. We must endure patiently the refining that we receive from the Lord and remember always that some of the correction that is given to us by our loving Heavenly Father will come by way of our inspired family, friends and leaders, His servants.
Counsel should be given and received with the pure love of Christ in our hearts and by the prompting of the Holy Spirit always. I pray that humility will prompt our submissions, and that our submissions will be sincere and true. Let us emulate the look of the Lord, it is not one of wrath, but of love, even charity. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
May we all have Christ-like love, give and receive inspired and heartfelt looks, that refined harmony will prevail in our homes, in our congregations and in our communities. Let the countenance of Christ, His love, His look, prevail in all counsel. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.