Episode 2 // From Conflict to Peace: Applying Book of Mormon Principles in Family Dynamics with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

Feb 14, 2024
Proclaim Peace S1E2

In this episode, Jen and Patrick are joined by clinical professional counselor Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. They share their experiences reading the Book of Mormon and how they approach it with a new lens of being peacemakers. They highlight the conflicts portrayed in the book and the different relationships that are affected, such as spouses, parents and children, and siblings. The hosts also explore the consequences of family conflict and its relevance in today's world. Tune in to gain a fresh perspective on the Book of Mormon and its teachings on peace.





Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or watch on YouTube.


[00:02:14] Family conflict in the Book of Mormon.

[00:04:19] Conflict resolution in relationships.

[00:08:19] Visionaries and relationship dynamics.

[00:12:41] Working through conflicts in life.

[00:17:24] The importance of delivery.

[00:20:20] Questions asked in First Nephi.

[00:27:15] Family dynamics in therapy.

[00:29:37] Marriage dynamics and gender roles.

[00:33:05-00:33:15] Peacemaking and understanding others.

[00:37:05] Understanding and loving others.

[00:41:39] Parenting and love's limits.

[00:45:57] Retaining relationships with children.

[00:50:02] Tribalism and Division.

[00:53:29] Beauty and doing good.




(00:03-00:06) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome to the Proclaim Peace Podcast. I'm Jennifer Thomas.
(00:06-00:15) Patrick Mason: And I'm Patrick Mason. And this is the podcast where we apply principles of the gospel and read the Book of Mormon to become better peacemakers. Hey, Jen.

(00:15-00:19) Jennifer Thomas: Hello, Patrick. I am so excited to be here. I am so excited about this project.

(00:19-00:48) Patrick Mason: I know, me too, me too. If we think back to our last episode with Emma Petty Adams, we were talking about really what we hope to accomplish in this first season of the podcast that we're calling the Book of Mormon for Peacemakers. And today's going to really be the first day that we really start to dive into the book itself, especially with First Nephi, the first book in the Book of Mormon. Jen, I'm just curious, how many times do you think you've read 1 Nephi in your life?

(00:48-01:32) Jennifer Thomas: I'm not going to tell you the answer to that question because it would imply that I have read the Book of Mormon thousands of times. There's not a direct correlation with the number of times I've read those first few verses and the number of times I've finished the book, though I have finished the book a lot. And I have to say that it has been a really remarkable experience as we've launched this project, in spite of the many, many, countless, honestly, times that I have read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. just reading it with this new lens, reading it kind of following President Nelson's counsel to be a peacemaker and saying, what can I find in this text that will help me do that? It has given me a whole new appreciation for what right up front, Nephi is trying to teach us. And then ultimately through the whole text, what God is trying to communicate to us as people.

(01:32-01:50) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I've had a very similar experience. I mean, I'm just so struck by, or have been struck by, Right Out of the Gates. This is a book that narrates all kinds of conflicts coming at it from lots of different angles, mostly within a family, which is where most of us, you know, our deepest relationships that last the longest.

(01:50-01:54) Jennifer Thomas: And our hardest conflict, right? Sometimes our most painful conflict.

(01:54-02:13) Patrick Mason: Exactly. So we've got conflict between spouses, between parents and kids, between siblings, right? All of these different vectors, not to mention Nephi and Laban. We will talk about Nephi and Laban in a later episode, so stay tuned for that. But just all these different vectors of conflict.

(02:14-03:05) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah, and I think that as I've been reading, particularly with the lens of family conflict, thinking about how families behave and interact with each other and what some of the consequences are of that, I just keep thinking of the Leo Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenina, which is basically that happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in their own way. And I think if you look at the Book of Mormon, that really plays out there, right? Sadly, we don't see a lot of stories of happy families probably because there's not a lot to tell. A happy family just feels like it's working. But I think there's something important we can take away from that. I think by including unhappy families, including conflict, I think God is telling us this is where the learning happens, right? We're not here to judge as readers. We're here to learn from these experiences and to figure out how we can create our own nondescript happy families that nobody wants to write about.

(03:05-03:16) Patrick Mason: Right. Well, yeah, we get that sense, like the the happiest time in the Book of Mormon, the most peaceful time is fourth Nephi. And it's like a few verses long. It's 200 years of peace.

(03:16-03:16) Jennifer Thomas: And it's like.

(03:18-03:20) Patrick Mason: Nothing to say here. Let's go back to war.

(03:20-03:23) Jennifer Thomas: We'd like a little bit more of an explanation of how that looked, right?

(03:23-03:58) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I would love to know what those families actually looked like. But it is one of the things I appreciate about the Book of Mormon and very much feel like when prophets have said, it's written for our day, right? Like, it's written for me. and my family, right? I grew up in a family with four boys, kind of like Nephi, Sam, Laman, and Lemuel. We did not try to kill each other. We did not get to that point. But I know what that's like to be in a family with conflict. And I think everybody knows what that's like. And so the Book of Mormon gives us that very real view.

(03:59-04:31) Jennifer Thomas: Yep. And also as a mother of four boys, I'm here for Soraya, right? Like years ago, I remember when my children were reasonably young and just sort of entering their teen years. I read this hysterical podcast by a man who was explaining the teenage boy brain. And he said, if you wonder what they're thinking, anytime they come into a conflict. There's a voice inside our head that says, have you tried violence? And that was really super helpful to me as I was raising these boys where I'm like, OK, so there's a voice and I've got to be an alternate voice that says, maybe try this. So.

(04:31-04:41) Patrick Mason: Right. And I think that's what we're going to try and do throughout this entire podcast. Right. Because there are lots of voices in our heads, whether it be the inner voice or sometimes external voices.

(04:41-04:43) Jennifer Thomas: Have you tried violence? Right.

(04:43-05:16) Patrick Mason: Have you tried violence? Have you tried escalating the conflict? Have you tried attacking somebody? Have you tried, you know, all these kinds of, there's lots of different kinds of violence, rhetorical violence, you know, not just physical violence, emotional violence. So we want to give some people some tools. And I really believe and have just come to appreciate more and more the way that the Book of Mormon both outlines some of the challenges, some of the destructive conflicts that are just natural as a part of human beings making decisions, but also offering some ways out and giving us some wisdom as to how to do better.

(05:17-05:56) Jennifer Thomas: I completely agree. There are really beautiful examples here of how we can do better. And we've talked about this in this first episode, but I really think we have to take the prophets that wrote these books at their word when they say we were imperfect and we want you to learn from us. And the biggest credit we can do, they made a lot of sacrifices to get these books to us and to take them at their word and say, I am going to take this scripture seriously and I am going to figure out, mine it for the lessons so that my Me as a person in my relationship with God, me as part of a family, me as part of a society, I'm not contributing to these same problems, but I've been given opportunities to learn from other people's really tragic mistakes.

(05:57-08:13) Patrick Mason: Yeah. So we'll talk over the next couple of episodes about some of these dimensions. Obviously, we're not going to be able to cover every verse and every chapter in the book, but we really want to focus, I think, in a couple of places that really matter for people today. So interpersonal conflict, the conflicts that we have, especially within our families, And then in our next episode, we'll talk about forgiveness. How do we reckon with those kinds of things? And as we dive into today's episode, you know, I was really struck by the interaction between Lehi and Sariah in 1 Nephi chapter 5. And I don't think it had ever struck me in quite this way before. You know, we always talk, and I think the kind of traditional narrative or the traditional reading of this chapter is, Soraya's complaining, Soraya's murmuring, she needs to be kind of corrected by her husband so that she gets back on board. But as I read those verses carefully, and I want to recognize there's lots of ways to read this, this is the great thing about Scripture, it can be read differently. and also recognize that the culture back then is so different than our culture now, right? So just marriages and families and every assumption about the way that men and women related to each other is just very different than the 21st century. But still, even with all that, I saw at least some clues or some hints as to what could look like some healthy conflict within marriage. So think about this. So the boys have been gone for who knows how long, right? Or they've grown up. Yeah, everybody knew this was going to be dangerous. They haven't come back, obviously, longer than what Soraya had calculated in her head for how long it should have been. I don't blame her one bit for complaining about this situation. I would have been. It's very human, right? And so I think in any relationship, especially a marriage, it's important for people to be honest about their feelings. And so she is. She's honest with her husband. Rather than bottling it up, she talks with her husband. And so I appreciate that honesty and vulnerability. And she's mad at him, right? That's a feature of any marriage. And then I appreciate actually the way he responds. Again, I think normally we read this as a kind of rebuke of her.

(08:13-08:18) Jennifer Thomas: I have read it that way for years, but this close reading, I completely agree with you. It's different, right?

(08:19-09:08) Patrick Mason: Yeah, he says, I know that I'm a visionary man. There's a kind of like self-awareness there. Like, hey, my visions, I have to be true to myself, right? I have to be true to the voice that I've heard, this revelation that I've received. I've brought us out into the wilderness. Again, there's some kind of hierarchy, or he's clearly leading the family. But he doesn't retaliate or counterattack. He doesn't browbeat her. He doesn't condemn her. He doesn't tell us she's wrong. Exactly. I read him as basically saying, look, I know what I'm asking is hard. You know, here we are. This is really tough. But I also still really believe that God's going to provide for us. All right. And so I actually kind of appreciate this story. And I just read it a different way this time.

(09:09-10:43) Jennifer Thomas: Well, and one of the things that I love about that, as I agree, I read this so differently and I had never read this story in the same way. I'd read it traditionally the way you explained it. Like she's complaining and he is like, no, no, no, let me explain to you why you're wrong. But I don't think it's that at all. And visionary is such an interesting word there, right? Because visionary is awesome. It's amazing. Visionaries are the people that move us forward, but they often have, like the least connected relationship with reality. We need visionaries, right? They're the people that push us forward. But visionaries have got to be kind of hard to live with. And I think that he's claiming that and he's like, I get that this is a hard thing about me. And now let me explain to you why I think this is going to be better for our family overall. And that he doesn't. And I love that they use the word over, I think, a couple of times where he says he he did it to comfort her. So he wasn't to fix her or to make her understand how he was right or to justify himself. But clearly his whole framework of approaching her was one of comfort, which is exactly what I think we all want our primary relationship to do for us. And what's interesting to me also is that we know that Nephi is telling this story retroactively years, years later. And yet the thing that he captures from that, and we don't know if it's because he captured that because he had the story in his father's own voice. you know, that he was able to read that we are not. But clearly what what comes out to him in that is that there was an attempt to comfort there even years later. That's the thing that stuck with us.

(10:43-10:44) Patrick Mason: What do you remember?

(10:44-10:45) Jennifer Thomas: And I really, really appreciate that.

(10:45-10:53) Patrick Mason: Yeah. So, I mean, you and I could keep talking about this or we could bring in somebody who's actually an expert on family conflict than we are.

(10:53-11:51) Jennifer Thomas: So let's do that. OK, so we are delighted to have us as our special guest today, Jennifer Finlayson Fife. Jennifer earned her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Boston College and she's been in private practice ever since, I guess, 2007. Through individual and couples counseling and a series of very popular online courses, many of you have probably participated in those, she focuses on empowering couples to create stronger and happier relationships. We can't think of anyone better to help us make sense of these family conflicts in First Nephi And I think this is a perfect transition point. We've been talking about a marriage, and so let's get right into the text with her and hear her thoughts about it. We are so grateful to have her on our show. Jennifer, can we start by asking you a question that we ask all of our visitors here on this podcast? And that is, peace is such a nebulous concept. And we were hoping if you could help us at the start of this conversation by sharing with our listeners how you define peace personally, either broadly or just for the purposes of this conversation about families.

(11:52-12:41) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Okay, it's a great question and a little bit, just sort of thinking about it on the spot. Let me start with what I think it isn't. It isn't the absence of difference. It's not the absence of conflict even. I think it's finding a way to really be able to accept difference in ourselves, in others, and to work collaboratively towards a shared goal. It's, you know, I think the body of Christ metaphor is such a beautiful one. To me, that's emblematic of peace that we are playing different roles, understanding things from different perspectives, but working together and having no, you know, not in ever in the position, I have no need of thee. Right. So

(12:41-13:26) Patrick Mason: I love that. I love that sense of working collaboratively on working through the conflicts that are just kind of inevitable. They're just part of life. It's part of what it means to have lots of human beings occupying the same planet, let alone the same household. That's what I think is so interesting as we get into the Book of Mormon. Right up front, we're introduced to a family. right? Rather than like, in the beginning, or something like that, right? Right up front, we were introduced to a family with real people, with parents, and with kids, and brothers, and who are in conflict, and we're just all of a sudden, we kind of land in the middle of this. And so, as you think about this, as First Nephi kind of sets up,

(13:27-16:19) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: This family in in conflict what immediately jumps out to you as you as you read this story about about these characters to be these people Well a couple of things and I you know, I was saying to my husband This is gonna be a tricky podcast in some ways because we sort of learn to not ever critique The church leaders script scriptural heroes and and even though we're told the prophets are always, you know, real people and human and make mistakes, we don't really believe it. We don't like to believe it. And I think that's a little bit part of the problem in creating peace is that we very easily as humans think in terms in binary terms, someone's good or someone's bad. I can even do it when I'm working with a couple. My mind will go to who's the good one, who's the bad one. I mean, it's just so dumb. I'm like, knock it off. It was very easy to think like that. And so it's a little uncomfortable, the podcast, because we're sort of taught to just see the scriptural text as Nephi and Lehi are obviously the good ones. Laman and Lemuel are obviously the bad ones. And we want to think of ourselves as being like Nephi, of course, rather than what I think is that human beings are both good and evil. We're capable of both. And I don't mean we're equally good and equally evil. I mean, but, and our choices matter, but we're capable of both. And so when we just vilify someone who's different than us, which we easily do, and we do it very much in our society now and in politics and so on. we interfere with the ability to actually learn from each other and create real peace. So I think what sort of jumps out at first is in this narrative written by Nephi, it's really written in more of a binary way. You know, I did the Lord's will. These guys didn't, right? And now we have the mess we've got, you know? And so that stands out. It's very binary in terms of that. And then it's also very hierarchical. And it's not really collaborative. It's not about this family working together to fulfill a task, a goal that they've been called to do. It's more in terms of some people getting the information, others not. Those that don't follow in line are the bad ones. You know, Soraya's bad for murmuring and doubting at some point, but it doesn't appear that she's privy to the same information and is just expected to go along. And so hierarchical relationships are very human. We do them very easily. But in the work I do, I teach people that they show them that they do them and how they interfere with intimacy, collaboration and peace in relationships.

(16:20-17:52) Jennifer Thomas: So this is something really interesting that I would love to jump off at because there is this point of conflict. You're talking about it when there's a point in the scriptures when both Sariah murmurs, right? And we've got Lehi who responds to her with comfort. We see that in the scriptures. He says, and you know, Nephi is telling this story and he says, you know, Lehi responded after a manner that offered comfort to her and kind of brought her along. And then right Immediately thereafter we see him in conflict with his brothers and he points out their wrongness and Nephi by the way Let's stipulate is absolutely right. Everything that he says is is technically doctrinally, you know, correct But it doesn't have that same effect on his brothers, right? They don't get to a place where they can hear the truth of what he's saying so so it struck me as I was reading that chapter that There are real hidden lessons there about the way that people who are in possession of truth can share that truth in a way that meets other people's needs, assuages their concerns, helps, brings them along, or a way that doesn't do that and maybe the result isn't as great. Are there some examples from your experience that you could share with our listeners about how the mechanism of delivery is sometimes as important as the truth that you're delivering, right? What what is the underlying in the relationship that helps us deliver truth to loved ones in a way that they can hear it and that the relationship can support it?

(17:52-20:20) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, so again, this is kind of an off the cuff, so I'm trying to see if I can hold the complexity here and speak it in a simple way. But again, it has to do with this idea of hierarchical relationships. And there are healthy hierarchies in relation in families. Parent-child is a healthy hierarchy. But the hierarchy exists to facilitate the autonomy and the agency of the younger person. So it's not about just getting them to do what you say. It's not unilateral control. It's basically giving enough structure, consequences, rules that facilitate the development of that child so that they can take on greater and greater autonomy, knowledge, and wisdom. And so it's needed, there's an inherent hierarchy. Where I get a little more uncomfortable is when it's like, you know, how did Nephi get it? And why is he condescending to his brothers, right? And so because that energy is there, it encourages the rebellion and the anger that then they can use to say, you see how evil Laman and Lemuel are, right, rather than It's not just the way it's communicated. I appreciate what you're saying, Jen, but I think it's also what is the meaning here, which is, I under, how to say it, that you understand what it is you're asking of someone else. You are talking to them like they're really your equal. And you understand something about why they might be getting stuck around that. And you're talking to them like with the dignity and compassion of how you might feel if you were in their shoes. So it's really the way you see the other person. And so rebuking is probably not gonna be something you're doing with a sibling or an adult child. You're going to be more stepping into their shoes and thinking about what their interests are and why they might be getting caught up in something. You're speaking to the best in them. You're speaking to the part of them that wants to live well also. And you're also taking time to understand what they experience and they see that you do not see. Because when we're too confident that we've got the right way, we're no longer seeking to understand. And we're actually maybe more blind ourselves than we realize while we're busy trying to tell others how to be.

(20:20-22:02) Patrick Mason: That's really interesting. As you were talking, I was thinking, I've not done this exercise to go through and count, but it'd be interesting to do to count how many times each character in First Nephi asks questions and what kind of questions they ask. Just on my kind of gut level as having read through it, but again, not done the tally, Lehman and Lemuel do ask some open-ended questions. There are moments where they're seeking meaning. There are other moments where they're not, right? Nephi does ask a lot of questions. Sometimes they're rhetorical questions. They're questions that are kind of loaded. So yeah, as you talk about really trying to get into and empathetically get into the mind space, the head space of somebody else is an important tool. I wanted to ask you, you know, so as we look throughout this narrative in First Nephi, It's easy for us to mark and list off all the presenting symptoms of the conflict, like brothers beating up other brothers, people threatening to kill a prophet, tying people up, beheading people. We can talk about the presenting issues, but it seems that, at least as I've learned, we can look at the presenting issues, and of course those matter, but generally they are speaking to their underlying causes underneath the surface. There's something deeper going on than just this one instance of brothers beating up brothers. So can you talk about what's this relationship between presenting symptoms and underlying factors in family conflict?

(22:02-23:38) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, when there's really binary behavior, what I mean is there's extremes. There's the over-overfunctioning, and then there's the sibling that's in jail, and so on. I don't mean to say that it's always about the culture of the family, because people can have oppositional defiant disorder, have neurological challenges, and so on. But often when there's extremes in a marriage, somebody with very high desire, someone with very low desire, there's often a lot more contempt going on in the family system than meets the eye. And so what happens often in a strong hierarchical family is you have those that are compliant and get the sort of good boy status and then those that are defiant because they feel like they're losing their agency if they just go along. And so they're kind of more in that, like, I don't get the credit that my brother gets, so I'm going to get attention by rebelling, because bad breath is better than no breath. And so then that kind of will create division, and often then somebody gets to be even a better student, even more invested in their parents' approval, and the other one gets even more and more angry. And so those divisions often are, they kind of mask dysfunction in those that look like the over functioners. And they mask strength in the one that's rebelling and wisdom in the one that's rebelling. And so you have to often get at the heart of what is in the family structure and what's going on in the leadership of the family structure.

(23:39-24:20) Jennifer Thomas: So this is great. I mean, obviously we have a very short time frame here to analyze non-existent invisible families, but I would love it if you could maybe share if a family feels that that dynamic that you've just described is playing out. What are some positive and affirmative things that either as siblings, if we're older siblings or as parents, that we can do to try to break that cycle. Because we see how it plays out. It plays out with continuing and escalating conflict, just like you've described. So we'd love our listeners to have some strategies that they could start to explore. If they see this happening in their own family, what are some ways that they can affirmatively try to think differently about their family members and break out of it?

(24:21-27:15) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: You want to listen to the unrighteous one. You want to listen to the under-functioning one, because they have a lot more information than we want to think. That is, a lot of times, this is just sort of family therapist speech, but it's like the family trash can. It's the one that kind of is the scapegoat for the family, often is carrying a burden in the family that the family isn't ready or able to integrate yet. They don't want to grow into more wisdom. They want their worldview to prevail. And so they kind of dismiss or hurt the one that they don't want to deal with the truth that one holds. And so if I were doing family therapy with Lehi's family, I would want to talk first to Laman and Lemuel in a family session in which they could talk about what is it like to be Nephi's brother? what's it like to be Lehi's son? And what do you wish they understood about your experience? And what do you think that they don't see about themselves? And just to challenge the one up one down by really elevating the experience of the one down, and how much they actually understand because when you're in the well, God called me and I'm doing everything right. You can be really blind to your own liabilities and what it's like to be in relationship with you. And so If Nephi and Lehi could repent a little bit, look more at how they may well be called of God, but the way that they're handling that calling is working against the well-being of the family as a whole, that they may be a part of the murmuring. And so if you can start to confront your role in your family member's dysfunction, to use that language, or they're under-functioning, well, then you start to get a little more humble, you start to get a little more fair, you start to say, like, maybe I need to do more for them and their benefit. And then I would be talking to Lehman and Lemuel after that about how they're using rebellion as a kind of pseudo-agency, right? That they're so busy just rebelling and proving that they're not going to be bossed around that they're not actually owning their strength and they're actually reinforcing the power hierarchy by just rebelling against it rather than who am I and what do I actually think and what is my relationship to God and what do I feel is best and I'm actually working against my own self-respect when I'm so busy just rebelling against Nephi. So it's helping the underdog start to own more of their actual strength and not just be in reaction to the top dog.

(27:15-28:20) Patrick Mason: I love that. And okay, let's let's keep this family in therapy. Okay, I like this. Unfortunately, I don't think you had an office in the wilderness in Bountiful. There's kind of a shortage of mental health professionals at the time. But Let's say this family keeps coming back to you for therapy. I mean, there is real harm that's being done, right? We can say, okay, Nephi's words, you know, Nephi could be a little softer, a little gentler, a little more understanding. He could ask more questions. But also, you know, he's the one getting beat up. He's the one whose life is being threatened. You know, there is the electric shock thing. So there is some reciprocal stuff a little bit later in the story. But how do you talk with families where there is real harm being done by some parties, even if they do feel like they're under-recognized, under-appreciated, and these dynamics are playing out? But we also have to address the harm.

(28:21-28:50) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Oh, for sure. And you have to stop harm first. Right. You can't whatever the cause. You can't have somebody abusing or harming anyone. Right. Even if you understand how they got there. Yeah. So you do have to set limits. And, you know, maybe Lehman and Lemmy would need to be in jail, but you still might conduct some sessions. So. So, yeah, you definitely don't want to be complicit in harm, even if it's understandable as a reaction.

(28:51-29:27) Patrick Mason: Sure. So, I want to continue this. So, you've talked about what, you know, especially this conflict between Nephi and his brothers. What about Lehi and Sariah? What do you see going on here? We have this great chapter. You mentioned it a little bit earlier. We oftentimes talk about Sariah murmuring and doubting and so forth. And Jen talked about Lehigh comforting her. What do you see in this marriage, or what would be some of the questions that you'd want to ask them, or some insights you'd want to help them bring out as you talk to them?

(29:27-31:13) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I mean, this is me speaking from 2024, looking back on this story. So I'm a little bit uncomfortable. But I guess what I see is that, and this was just what the culture was at the time, is it's a hierarchical relationship marriage, right? And so Lehi's getting the information and Sariah is good for believing and going along. And if she doesn't believe and go along, you know, that's part of her deficiency because she should believe and go along. I think it's really only more recently that we've started to think about marriage differently than that. You know, just 100 years ago, women got the vote because wives have a redundant vote. That was the thinking. If a man's going to vote, the wife is, of course, going to do the same thing, right? And so just women's agency is a relatively newer way of thinking. And so we're much more, at least the work I do, is much more around creating collaborative partnerships And where men and women occupy different ways of being in the world, but how do you actually value and collaborate and work together? That's not the marriage model I see there. And so again, Sarai is in a more dependent position. It was culturally how it was. But it's not really, Lehi gets a bigger vote, right? They're not counseling together on whether or not they're going in the wilderness that we see, at least from the scriptures. had a vision and understands what they need to do and so she goes along. Now she may trust him and know that he's holding her best interests at heart. I think she does because she is comforted by him but that's the quality that I see in the at least that scriptural account.

(31:13-33:03) Jennifer Thomas: So One of the things that I find so interesting, again, in that account is we've got this narrative where Nephi goes head to head with his brothers, and he kind of explains to them where he thinks they're going wrong. And they respond, essentially, with violence. They're frustrated and angry. And then very shortly thereafter, we have some newcomers to the family who engage. And we've got the daughters of Ishmael who are able to engage in the same situation in a way. They are able to kind of move into a family dynamic that's new to them. just joined this family or you know joined this whole endeavor and something about the quality of their engagement is clearly very different because they are able to not only de-escalate the conflict, but they are able to create a situation in which, for one of the first times, we see Lehman and Lemuel feel sincere sorrow for something that they've done, right? And so even though in this situation, we obviously have women, just like you've said, who are in a hierarchical relationship, they somehow were able to exercise their agency to resolve a conflict in a way that other people were not. That is something that I find so inspiring in this particular set of chapters. I would ask you if you could share with us maybe some ideas about, even if your situation isn't ideal, we need to work towards having the relationships that you've talked about be equal, and fair, and just, and collaborative. But what are some things that we can do in our families currently to communicate in a way that is going to actually be more effective? Like there's going to be bring peace. And I don't mean peace as in peacekeeping. I mean, peace as in peacemaking, right? That is going to bring people to a point where they're willing to change. Do you have any suggestions on that? How to do that well and how to do it poorly, maybe? Yeah.

(33:05-35:30) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: How to do it poorly is with judgment, condescension, telling people how they should be, and the kind of the assumption of when you're going to get it together. You know, kind of you're looking at them as a problem. I mean, the opposite of that is you look at the best in people and you're appealing to the best in them, and you're appealing to what they also want. Like in this country, 99 plus percent of us want a peaceful environment that's safe for our children where we can thrive and do well and have growing businesses and take care of the needy. And, you know, we all want that. And then we get into these ideas where we see the other one is not wanting it and working against it and a threat. Rather than what do they, how do they experience society? Why do they think as they do? So you're seeing them like they're like me and they're good people. You know, we all do evil, but they're basically decent people. So why do they see it so differently? There's an answer to that, you know, and there's probably a good reason for seeing it differently. And there's something I can learn from them because when you feel understood, you're open to understanding the other. You're open to their input. If you don't feel understood and you just feel judged, you're like, forget it. I'm not going to listen to your idea about how I should be because you have no interest in understanding me. So you have to genuinely want to understand and tolerate the discomfort of understanding. Because sometimes when I've understood people who think differently than me, I'm like, I want to like tell them how they're wrong. Cause I don't want to grow. That's the thing. It's not because they're so wrong. It's that I don't want to actually have my mind get pushed by their different perspective. And so I have to often just calm myself down enough to say like, I, you know, am strong enough to claim truth wherever it is. And if it's in some, if it's in a different way of thinking and I need to grow my own perspective, I want to be able to do that. So it's, it's like twofold. It's both seeking to understand and then that person feels understood and they're more receptive to you. But also your view is getting shaped and made wiser by really understanding another perspective so that what you have to say might actually be valuable.

(35:31-35:57) Jennifer Thomas: I would love if you would extrapolate a little bit, because I think this is something I could personally learn a lot. How do you prepare yourself to receive that truth? Like if you're in a relationship, a longstanding relationship that you really matters to you, which is true of most families. What are the things that are in my control that I can do to prepare myself to hear, you know, someone else's experience? In a way that I, you know,

(35:57-36:20) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: So my son gave me permission to talk about this a little bit because I've brought it up before on a podcast. But when he was in his late adolescence or late high school, he was really struggling and was moving into depression and really having a hard time. And, you know, in one of my conversations with him, he said, Mom, you are a terrible listener. This is your whole identity, right?

(36:20-36:28) Jennifer Thomas: I'm a professional listener. It's what I do. Go straight to my core, Betty. Thanks. Exactly. He's like, why anybody would pay for you?

(36:28-36:38) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I have no idea. No, he didn't say that. But still, he was telling me I was a terrible listener. And the truth was, he was dead on because with other people's kids, I'm a great listener.

(36:38-36:42) Jennifer Thomas: With him, I was a terrible listener. Because the stakes were high, right?

(36:43-39:17) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: stakes were high and I didn't want what he was saying. I'm like, well, just don't do that. Just don't think about it that way. Like, think about it this way. I'm in a panic because he's struggling in a way that I don't understand, that I didn't anticipate. And so that was just really good self-awareness because I was then thinking, you know, in the next, you know, before I had the next conversation with him, like, how am I going to help and love someone that I'm too panicked to actually understand? Like what is going on for him is going on for him, whether or not I listened to it. And so, and how he thinks, you know, whether or not I can shape it as another question, but I ought to at least understand how he thinks. And he should at least understand it by me listening to him because that's all I've got. And if I'm just going to love him, This was my own self-rebuking. I just have to know who he is, even if it's painful or hard or scary for me. And so it was just like calling myself to repentance around, I'm not doing my job. And if I'm going to do my job as his parent and the one that loves him, then I just have to calm myself down and tolerate knowing what is true. I also think this is the other way. It's like I remember my brother way back before faith crises were cool and everything was going through a faith crisis. I was like just starting at BYU as a freshman, and he was was reading some books in early church history and was talking to me about them. And I was completely uninterested in hearing his experience. And I remember as I was, you know, driving home that night, I remember praying and thinking, you know, I'm going to just avoid my brother, like as an act of faith. And I remember just the clear sense that that's faithless of you, right? Because if the truth can withstand loving your brother, right? And it's a similar idea, like truth and love go together. And if I love my son, I need to know what is true. And I can tolerate knowing what's true, even if it's hard. And that's going to help me be better, wiser, and more capable of love. So gird up your loins and go in there and listen, and just listen to what he has to say. And don't give the yeah but, because that's not listening. And don't be spending the time that he's talking thinking about what you're going to say, because that's also not listening. Seek to understand, which is an active process.

(39:19-39:26) Patrick Mason: I've got another question, but I think that leads right into a question, Jen, that you had, that you wanted to ask about relationships.

(39:26-41:39) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah. I love Marjorie Hinckley's saying, I was lucky enough to grow up with her and President Hinckley in my ward. And she's just, I can't express what a warm, generous human being she was. And she has this beautiful saying about families where she says, above all else, preserve the relationship. And I thought it was lovely when I was younger, and it has become, for me, I think one of the saving graces of parenting, right? Just this voice in my head, above all else, preserve the relationship. I think Lehman and Lemuel give us a really great example, Nephi, this whole family, of the fact that people have agency, they make different choices, and even faithful behavior on the part of parents or families doesn't result in overriding that agency. And so we are going to, if we're good people, we're going to do everything you've just shared with us. We're going to do everything we can to prepare ourselves to hear truth. We're going to try to break negative family dynamics. We're, you know, we're going to be affirmative in trying to improve our families, but there are going to be limits to our ability to control the outcomes, right? We just all have to acknowledge that. And so sometimes we find ourselves, I think, increasingly in situations where families, parents feel like they have to, in this really high stakes environment where family matters so much in the restored gospel and in our culture. They feel like I have to kind of either choose between God or I have to choose between my children. Right. And and in that high stakes situation, there is just often this, I think, a feeling of how which relationship do I preserve? Right. And and I would I don't necessarily believe that that I think that's a false dichotomy, as I guess I will just present my opinion that that is completely a false dichotomy. And I would just love some of your professional, personal, spiritual insight on how people who truly believe, who believe, you know, that there is a Christ who redeems and that we can have a relationship with Him, how He can guide us towards not being pulled into that dichotomous thought pattern, right? That we can preserve both of those relationships even while existing in a place where our families might not be functioning or we might not be getting the outcomes that we'd once hoped for.

(41:39-43:29) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. Yeah. Well, I think there's nothing like parenting to teach you about your limits on control. I mean, especially as you have young adults and so on, and it's humbling and, uh, and it's pushing you to learn more about what love actually is. And probably my greatest example of this is my own mother who, you know, she was, is just a person who is deeply and genuinely accepting of all of her children, those in the church and those who've left. Uh, she just is able to do that. And like, without qualification, you don't have the sense, like there's a secret favoritism going on. She just genuinely loves, even if she worries about maybe their wellbeing in some cases, right. Or whether or not their lives are accruing to something that will actually be happy for them. But that was never connected to her love and valuing of them. And I think she just saw it as like, well, God is bigger than our understanding. And, and even though she had, you know, children who are not going to church and all that, she was just like, look, I know how good my children are and God knows how good my children are. And I trust that. It's going to be okay. Right. Because I'm not here to judge why they're choosing what they're choosing because I'm not in their experience and I have my own issues to get worked out. I've got my own sin to get worked out. So she just wasn't busy making decisions about how others should be acting or how God was going to judge it because she didn't, she wasn't in their experience. And so my mom, you know, I love the parable of the prodigal son because this father represents, of course, Israel and his sons. They had some, I wanted, would like to do some therapy with them too, some of the same problems.

(43:29-43:30) Jennifer Thomas: They were called

(43:31-45:37) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: called to do something that God needed, right? But some of the family issues were interfering with the mission in a sense, right? But with the father of the prodigal son, he's like, I love both of my sons. And the one that's having a hard time is the stalwart son, the righteous one, who's saying, wait a minute, I've been here earning all the credit and you throw a big party for the wayward one? And he's like, no, don't you understand? you know, maybe the one who doesn't sin has an easier life because he doesn't have to live in some of the negative consequences, but both are beloved equally. And so I think it's just like, it's not my, when we think, okay, my, my sense of myself as a parent is being measured by my child's behavior. Well, you're going to have a hard time loving your child then because your sense of self is walking around on them and their decisions. If you can though, say like, That's not my job. That's their job. That's their agency. My job is to love them, to see them the way God sees them, to value them, to care about their well-being. You can care about them making decisions that work against them, of course, because you care about them. But that's different than you're going to get them to choose differently. That's on them. And if you love them, well, then they trust you and they trust your input. And, you know, one of my brothers who was gone from the church for 20 years, and kind of hit a crisis point in his life, and then he just wanted to come back. And he came back to church and was in the back of a sacrament meeting, and they sang a favorite hymn, and he just cried and cried and cried, and he just wanted to come back, and he's incited to talk about it. But, you know, there was no sense of having to save face with his mother. With his family, just could just come back, and it was like, you know, we still love you in either way, And if this is what you need, we're glad you're here. So that just means there's no barrier, no ego to protect in those decisions.

(45:37-46:22) Jennifer Thomas: So I will hand this to Patrick, but I will just say, if I could give any advice to parents of young children, I think Jennifer's advice here is spot on. And I think from my own experience, As kids grow up and start to make these decisions, if we want to retain the relationship with them, we have to transition to the kind of relationship you've just talked about. One that's not based on fear, not based on control, not based on love. And I just wish I had done that and practiced that from the very beginning rather than having to come to learn it. at tension points in my life and in my kids' lives. And so I think it's easier if we can just say that is the way we want to parent and we can practice it and practice it when the stakes feel a little bit lower, it's going to be easier to do it when the stakes get really high.

(46:23-48:15) Patrick Mason: Yeah, and I'll also underscore, for my money, the parable of the prodigal son, that is the gospel right there. For me, that's the purest articulation of the gospel that Jesus ever gave. And I always think about it as the parable of the prodigal father. Actually, he's prodigal with his love. He will just give his love anywhere and everywhere. He's not stingy with his love. Okay, so let me ask, we're running out of time, let me ask one more question before we kind of wrap things up. We all know, you know, those of us who have read the Book of Mormon before know not only how it begins, but also how it ends, right? And this is, it's a tragic story, and spoilers for anybody who hasn't read the Book of Mormon yet, but it does not end well. This begins with just a family squabble. Right? This is just brothers fighting. Every family has this or kids who disagree with their parents. Right? Every single family, I'm sure in the history of families, can relate to this. And it ends in genocide. Right? I mean, this is the ultimate, I mean, what I've heard described as kind of conflict tornado, where it just spins and spins and then brings in more people into it, you know, and people get sucked in and more issues get sucked in. and it gets more and more energy, it feeds and feeds and feeds, until now, all of a sudden, it just destroys everything in its path, including the entire Nephite civilization. So how do we stop the conflict tornado? If we feel ourselves in a conflict, whatever that might be, in our families, in our workplaces, in a ward, in our marriage, whatever that might be, what is something that I can do to stop the conflict tornado in my life.

(48:15-48:25) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, this is so much the work I do is trying to stop tornadoes because they make people so unhappy and yet they're so easy to do.

(48:25-48:27) Patrick Mason: Because they do take on their own energy, right?

(48:27-50:41) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: They do. And destruction is easy and makes you feel powerful. I mean, really, it does. And being constructive is harder and requires a lot more precision and self-control and so on. Destructiveness is tempting, that is, and what I mean by that is not necessarily getting a rod and beating somebody up destructive, but just the indulgence of vilifying the other person that disagrees with you. That alone I can't believe they said that. Can you believe they said that? And then I said this really nice thing. And then they said this really ridiculous thing. And then I said this really reasonable thing. And we just want to see ourselves that way. And what do we do when we feel that way? Rather than that inkling inside of us, like maybe you played a role, maybe a small one, but maybe you had something to do with their ridiculous position. Instead of confronting that and taking a look at your own role in the problem, which is hard to see because we literally have beams in our eyes and we can see the beam in our partner's eye or our neighbor's eye, that we want to stay blind to ourselves rather than look at ourselves. So it's always looking at ourselves. And what we do instead of that is we go and look for accomplices. Can you believe that, you know, you see people getting a divorce and the first thing they start doing is getting accomplices. Who's going to be on the wife's side? Who's going to be on the husband's side? And it's just a very intuitive thing because you want backup for your position when you don't want to self-confront. And then it's very easy to get caught in a narrative of the bad guys and we're the good ones. And it feels good. Tribalism is at our core. It feels good to be like, we're in the good tribe. And all those idiots over there. I mean, you get on YouTube and you see so-and-so takes down political opponent whatever. And people like that because like, oh, it feels good to see the other side getting taken down. And that is so bad for us. That is so bad for us. And it makes us feel good, but we're in a distortion about reality and about other people that is destructive.

(50:41-50:50) Patrick Mason: Yeah. It is. I mean, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I'm part of the evil tribe today. Right. I mean, we're all the hero of our own story.

(50:50-51:54) Jennifer Thomas: Well, yeah, exactly. Add to this one of the lessons that is, in some ways, it's so sad that you see a family conflict spiral up into this tornado that, you know, results in cultural conflict and war and ultimately this mass slaughter. I think actually what that can also be is incredibly empowering to us to realize that we actually have a lot of power as peacemakers in some critical moments to honestly change the course of civilizations, to change the narratives certainly of our own families, right? I think hopefully enough of us know enough family history to know stories of at least one or two people who have stepped in at pivotal moments to alter for good the course of our family, right? And I don't want to white knight that too much, because just like you said, the productive work of building these strong, healthy relationships is long and slow and plodding and requires us to be fairly self-sacrificial. But I think the payoff is big. And I just want to acknowledge that.

(51:54-52:45) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And what you do makes a difference, even in those little moments, right? I think it's David Brooks that just wrote a book about understanding others. I've only heard him talk about it, not read it yet, but about just those moments of actually asking questions, seeking to understand, building a bridge, understanding not what do you do or what, but how did you come to that? What is your story? Because we learn a lot by reaching to others, but also then it impacts how they feel and how they see the world. And so really thinking of ourselves as moral agents that we have these ripple effects and to not undervalue that. So we're not gonna change the world, any one of us, but the small good we do makes a difference and never forget it, just as our indulgent moments make a difference in a negative way.

(52:45-52:59) Patrick Mason: Yep. Well, great. Okay, so we want to wrap up by asking you one final question that we ask of all of our guests in this world of conflict and conflict tornadoes and everything else.

(52:59-52:59) Jennifer Thomas: Children.

(52:59-53:06) Patrick Mason: Children. Children, right? What are one or two things or places or ways that you find peace?

(53:07-54:08) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: OK, well, I would say it's hard to answer in one quick question, but I would say I just I look to do things that are good, because when I do good, it actually is a reminder that good is real. Right. And that and there is good around us, because I think when it's you can become aware of the dark and the dark can feel consuming. The antidote to that is to do good because you are an agent and can make the world better and can shape not just another's experience, but your own experience. And I really look for beauty. Like I listen to classical music and beauty in nature and beauty in other people. The good that, you know, when I see clients do courageous things, it like touches my soul. It helps me remember that courage and doing the right thing is so important. So it's just both creating it and looking for it and, um, holding onto it, you know? So, and I, I love my husband and Being next to him gives me peace too, so yeah.

(54:08-54:18) Jennifer Thomas: That's a pretty good testament from a family therapist, right? Helping us all realize that that's possible and something we should reach for, right? Yeah, yes.

(54:18-54:28) Patrick Mason: Jennifer, thank you so much. I've learned a lot from this and I know everybody else will too. Thank you for your expertise, for your faith and everything you bring to bring peace into the world.

(54:28-54:30) Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Thank you so much. Fun to talk to both of you.

(54:33-54:52) Patrick Mason: Thanks everybody for listening today. We really appreciate it. We just want to invite you to subscribe to the podcast and also to rate and review it. We love hearing feedback from listeners, so please email us at podcast at mweg.org. We also want to invite you to think about ways that you can make peace in your life this week. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

(54:58-55:14) Jennifer Thomas: Thank you for listening to Proclaim Peace, a proud member of the Faith Matters Podcast Network. Faith Matters holds expansive conversations about the restored gospel to accompany individuals on their journey of faith. You can learn more about Faith Matters and check out our other shows at faithmatters.org.


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