Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Magical Thinking

At dinner a few nights ago I asked daughter #3 to say the blessing.  She glumly asked 'Do I have to?'.  Before I could answer, daughter #4 spoke up saying brightly 'Do it!  You'll get boyfriend points!'  at which daughter #3 brightened up and said the blessing.

I asked them what they meant by 'boyfriend points' since I hadn't heard the term before and they explained that by doing good things you get 'boyfriend points' and the more points you get the better a boyfriend you will have.  I made sure they understood that was a game and things didn't really work that way.

What they were doing was an example of 'magical thinking'.  Magical thinking is when you come to believe that certain actions will result in something that is in reality completely unrelated to the that action.  While I'm glad she agreed to say the blessing and will be blessed for it in some way, it doesn't guarantee anything about any future boyfriend.

As it says in the scriptures:
D&C 130

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

Unfortunately, we all tend to fall into the trap of magical thinking now and then, especially when we suffer wrongs we don't deserve.  We can even become angry with the church or with God when our personal righteousness doesn't shield us from trials.

In marriage, magical thinking can be a source of hurt, disappointment, and bewilderment.  It can blind us to dangers, preventing us from seeing warning signs until it is too late.  If you think 'that won't happen in my marriage' then ask yourself why you think it won't.  If you think your marriage is on solid ground because you are aware of what you need to do obtain those blessings and are doing it, then you are probably on the right track.  If it is because you go to church and pay tithing and serve faithfully in your calling then you are probably applying magical thinking.  Doing all those things is good and will bring you blessings, but you can do all that and still fail to obey the laws that will lead to blessings in your marriage.

One common example of magical thinking is the belief that by living the law of chastity faithfully before marriage and being married in the temple, we are sure to have a good marriage and a faithful spouse.  Not so.  Living the law of chastity means you come into marriage without the emotional scars and baggage of sexual sins.  That is a wonderful blessing to be free of that and it creates an environment where it is easier to create a celestial marriage after the wedding, but where the marriage goes after the wedding depends on what the couple does in the days, months and years to come.

A spouse who neglects the needs of their companion or conducts themselves in a selfish or unChristlike manner will provoke unhappiness in the home.  A person who was raised with a very negative view of sex will not suddenly become a passionate uninhibited lover just because they are a virgin on their wedding night.

Another common case of magical thinking is that if a man does more housework, his wife will make love to him more often.  It might happen, if it is the housework burden that is holding his wife back from getting intimate more often.  It won't resolve issue unrelated to housework though.  I'm not trying to discourage husbands from helping out as best they can, it is the right thing to do, but don't do it expecting a sexual payoff.  Do it for her, not for you.

We also shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that we can control everything in our lives through obedience to God's laws.  Other people still have their free agency and get to make their own choices, and at time we are called to go through the refiners fire, individually or as a couple. We do have the promise however that God will keep his word, and while blessings may be delayed, they are never denied to those who follow in faith. Miracles can and do happen as well, but we need to recognize those miracles for the gift from God that they are and not credit ourselves.  Then we can feel the joy of His love.

I hope my daughters do find good boyfriends someday down the road.  If they've listened to what I've taught them about dating and what to look for in a guy they will.   I hope they will still bless supper too, even though they know 'boyfriend points' aren't real.


  1. Your comment on doing housework for sex reminds me of a question asked when you give blood at the Red Cross. The question asks if you have ever paid for sex. I answer no, but I think to myself of course I've paid for sex. I pay my wife in favors all the time for sex.

    1. I really hope that is some tongue-in-cheek humor from you. I'm happy to express my gratitude for my wife's love and affection through service to her and the children, but it is not good to use intimacy to barter for housework or anything else.