Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I have to smile at the title for today’s post. Had I been writing this even a few months ago, it would surely have been a rant about how others have treated me. It’s amazing how, when Heavenly Father deems the time is right, my world view can change 180 degrees. Sure, I may reference a couple of the times when I feel I have been treated this way, but my goal in doing so will be very different.

 

Background

I read a long time ago that the human mind is full of paradoxes. This is one that intrigues me the most:

  • Because we understand our motivations for doing something, we see our actions in the highest and most noble light possible. We become frustrated and hurt when others cannot see our true intent.
  • Because we DO NOT see or understand the motives of the people around us, we tend to see their behaviors with sinister and selfish motives. We become hurt and offended, and often feel as if we must point out the deficiencies to “help” the offender to “improve.” Generally, these discussions become arguments and leave both of us hurt and angry.

I know when I look back across the years of my life, I find this to be almost infallibly true.

Personal Story

I think I’ll first share my experiences dealing with the local children’s services organization. Quite honestly, it’s a nightmare. I found out they have powers that aren’t given to anyone under any other circumstances I know. When a report is made, they immediately assume that the anonymous tipster is telling the truth and that the person against whom the report is filed is guilty. They can interview minors at school without custodial parental consent — or even knowledge. They trust the words of the children over the words of the adult.

In true cases of child abuse and neglect, I can see this possibly safeguarding the child. In cases where an ex-spouse is making wild claims based on stories that he’s bought out of the children with gifts and privileges (the more horrific the story, the bigger the prize), it’s a nightmare.

On the receiving end, I remember the fear, the frustration, the sense that God had abandoned me, and the all-consuming desire to clear my name and prove my worthiness as a parent in every way. It became so consuming that it actually harmed my parenting abilities for many years — I wasn’t focused on what was truly best for my kids, as I was always judging how the people witnessing my family interactions would see me. I tried to do what was best for the kids, but my hurt and frustration clouded my judgment and my ability to focus on what was truly important.

I fought a lot of bitterness during those years. It was all too easy to assume that my ex was carrying out the abuse he had perpetrated in our marriage through the children. I assumed he was seeking my total destruction. I constantly faulted him in my mind for ruining the kids and teaching them false ideas about authority and what powers they were entitled to as minors. It was so easy to tell myself that nothing would be going wrong if he weren’t so evil. Of course, this attitude only further hampered my thinking and judgments as a mom.

Since then, I have learned that I, like most of the people around me, fill in a lot of context. All I saw was children’s services investigating me, and the children threatening to tell Dad on me. It’s possible there were other people reporting, even if it wasn’t all that likely. It’s also possible that my ex thought that the gifts and rewards were making it safe for the children to confide the truth to him. I certainly wasn’t doing much of a job of asking God to help me see the truth, to change my heart and help me trust Him, and to believe that if I focused on what was eternally important that He would  take care of everything else.

Take-aways

To me this is a classic example of how awful it can be when two people jump to conclusions, fill in context, and assume the worst about each other. The problem is that it is so natural that we don’t notice it until something in our lives forces us to confront the tendency face-to-face. Of course, that’s unpleasant to someone like me, who deeply desires to live with honor and charity as core values (and falls short on many sides).

Innocent people became embroiled in our conflict.

There were many things that I was and still would be completely unable to change. I can’t make my ex see or believe anything he doesn’t want to see or believe. I can’t coerce him to change. The paradox is that I don’t really have to change any of those things.

All I have to do is change my heart — and I don’t have to do it alone. A change of heart is promised to all who humbly seek to follow the Savior and are willing to trust enough to let their most deeply held desires and ambitions go. It’s called letting our will be swallowed up in the will of the Father. And, as crazy as it sounds, it’s way better. Even more, one of the key components of receiving a change of heart is asking in prayer!

From the Scriptures

  • John 13:14: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
    • The Savior has always assumed the best about me. In fact, He has consistently treated me as if I were already who He wants me to become. He trusts the good intents of my heart. He has forgiven me of every sin and misdeed which, ultimately, I committed against Him. Sins that caused Him unimaginable suffering.
    • I guess this means that it’s not too much for me to see the best in the people around me, assume that their motives were good, and forgive and let go of any hurt that I encounter in life.
  • 2 Nephi 4:18-21: I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
    • This is one of many scriptures that reminds me that I am on the same footing as everyone else around me. My job is to clean up my act, and then to love them. It also helps me remember that I can trust my Father for help.
  • Matthew 5:6: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
    • I have found that when this is my ultimate goal, I am in a much better place to treat others with the love and respect they deserve. How they treat me ends up being of very little consequence.
  • 2 Nephi 10:24: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
    • This reminds me that, in reality, I can either be in line with my Father’s will, or the devil’s. There isn’t any in between. It is grace — the strengthening and cleansing power given to us through Christ — that brings us to unity with God and ultimately saves us.
  • D&C 121:45: Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
    • If I am completely full of God’s love and thinking virtue, then I will be able to see my fellow beings with the love and compassion they deserve. I will be able to see the best of who they are and who they can become. I will see all of us as spiritual children of a loving Heavenly Father.