Thursday, June 14, 2012

Learn Wisdom in Thy Youth: Two Parents' Efforts to Raise Their Children

A few nights ago I went to dinner with Alyssa at her uncle TJ's house. TJ and his wife Deb have three kids, like four, three, and one or something-probably younger-so dinner was a treat; the four-year-old yelled half the time, rotating through the phrases "I'm a helemet, I'm a bike, my face is on fire!" as he deemed appropriate. And of course at random intervals his older sister, not wanting to miss out on the fun and attention, chimed in too. The one-year-old for whatever reason withheld her comments from the conversation, mostly just staring at everyone wide-eyed from her high chair.

After dinner, amidst the excited childish chatter, TJ and Deb gathered all of us together in the living room for family home evening, it being Monday night. Family home evening is an activity/program established by the modern-day prophets to ensure that we set aside at least one day/evening a week to spend time together as a family that no other obligations can interrupt or distract and the family can grow and be strengthened together unhindered by worldly, albeit necessary, pursuits. Considering the ages and attention spans of the children, this particular family home evening lasted all of maybe 15 minutes but it was one of the most effective, spirit-filled family home evenings I have experienced.

What impressed me most in this brief family gathering was the four-year-old, Sophie, and the obvious effort her parents have exerted to ensure their children are being taught correct principles. She prayed, she sang (as did her younger brother), she answered questions, and she shared a scripture she had memorized. TJ told a story of a fourteen-year-old boy, the same age as one of their cousins, who grew up in a deeply religious family in which the members of the family attended a few different churches and the father did not attend a church at all. Yet they prayed and read the Bible together as a family every day and spoke of God often. This young man wondered which of all the churches of his day was right and which church he should join. With this question, he turned to the scriptures.

At this point in the story, TJ asked Sophie if she knew who this story was about. She answered, "Joseph Smith."

"That's right Spohie, and what did he do?"

"He prayed."

"Yep, he went into the forest and knelt down and prayed. Do you know what happened next?"

"Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him."

"Yes they did. And what did they say?"

"No church was the right church. Daddy, what is the right church?"

"The right church is Jesus Christ's church but that church did not exist anymore so God called Joseph Smith to be a prophet and restored His church through Joseph Smith.

"I want everyone to know that I know that God answers our prayers. Sophie remember the time that we were in that parking lot and the car wouldn't start for like an hour and we didn't know what to do? Remember what you suggested we do?"

"To pray!"

"Yes, and you prayed and you asked Heavenly Father to help our car to work and what happened?"

"It worked!"

"Yes, after an hour of trying to get it to work, we prayed and it started right then. Sophie helped me remember that God really does hear and answer our prayers. Sophie, remember that time when we were at papa's and he lost his wallet? And we looked for papa bear's wallet in the house and in the garage and in the car and in the house and in the garage and in the car and in the house and in the garage and in the car and could not find it?"

"Yeah..."

"What did you tell papa bear he should do?"

"Pray!"

"Yes, and you prayed for papa bear to find his wallet and we found it right then."

This entire unscripted, unplanned conversation unfolded as a loving father took advantage of a teaching situation that came about because he was trying to fulfill his role as patriarch of his family. His daughter clearly has been taught about the importance of prayer both in word and through hearing stories of those who have had their prayers answered, as in the story with Joseph Smith.

This whole experience taught me or reiterated to me a few very key things. One, that God does hear and answer prayers and that I need to better have the faith of a child. "Except ye be converted, and become as little children," taught the Master, "ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:3-4).

Another thing that was reinforced in my mind is that we are never too young to learn about the Savior and learn the principles that will guide us safely through this life. A lot of people forgo teaching their children the righteous principles upon which to build stable lives and on which decisions should be based under the pretense of not wanting to force religion on their kids but wanting them to make their own decisions and exercise their agency. I devoted an entire post to this mentality two years ago and I will repeat that the mentality of not wanting to influence the decisions of your children in relation to their faith in God is absolutely ridiculous. If they don't learn it from you, who are they going to learn it from before the world fills their heads with other meaningless, degrading, and harmful things? The proper and intelligent use of agency requires a knowledge of the truth and of things as they really are. If children only know the crap that is out there, if they only know one side-and you know the world does not teach both sides evenly-how on earth are they to effectively use their agency to make the best decisions?

Some would criticize the Church and parents for brainwashing their kids. I had an encounter in Ukraine with a Baptist preacher from Arkansas by the name of Abbey Map who told me the only reason I was out on a mission was because my parents forced me to be there. Ha, he doesn't know the relationship I have with my parents and my knee-jerk reaction to them telling me what to do. But honestly, do any of you think that the above-related conversation between a loving father and his four-year-old daughter was a result of brainwashing or of an overbearing parenting style?

This darling little four-year-old in her fun summer dress and cute, crimped, blond hair already knows something that some of the most educated people in the world do not know, something that most of the world does not know. She knows the secret of success in this life and she, although she does not yet fully understand the import yet, knows that she has a loving Father in Heaven who looks after her and to whom she can turn in times of need. What is she going to do when she finds herself at a questionable party in junior high or high school? What is she going to do when she is pressured by her so-called friends to join in activities that the rest of the world deems appropriate and she does not know how to get out of the situation? Where will she turn when she is lost, afraid, alone, scared, or teased, as most teenage girls are at some point as they try to discover who they are and how to fit in? What will she do when her grandparents die or, heaven forbid, one of her parents or siblings? How will she take hardship and trial at a young age or in her mature years? The same way she is learning to handle trials right now, through prayer. This little girl knows, thanks to her caring parents, that her Father in Heaven will answer her prayers anytime and anywhere. Her faith in that principle will grow as she continues to act upon that knowledge so that when something more severe and more serious than a lost wallet or a broken car happens to her or those around her, she will not hesitate to do the exact thing that will ensure her safety and well-being.

Tell me that what TJ and Deb are doing is brainwashing their little girl. Tell me that instead of teaching her of Jesus Christ, they should just let her only learn whatever the world has to offer through "reality" TV. Tell me that the way the world portrays high school and reality is the best way to live and that it brings happiness. Tell me that she will learn how to best handle tough situations from TV shows, movies, and her peers. No. It is the Savior who said, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me . . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:28-30). He is the way, the truth, and the light (see John 14:6).

I repeat the words of a modern-day apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, partially-quoted earlier:

"I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.

"Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that 'wickedness never was happiness' (Alma 41:10)." ("Moral Discipline," Ensign, Nov 2009.)
We all learn of the world purely by virtue of living here. But in order to make intelligent, educated decisions, we must also learn of truth. And we learn of truth by striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ. He taught, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).

The truth shall make you free. How beautifully simple.

It is the solemn and sacred responsibility of parents to "train up a child in the way he should go," (Proverbs 22:6) that children are properly prepared to not only survive in this world of shifting and changing values, but also to be able to make the choices that will bring true and lasting happiness. Parents who love their children and understand the responsibility that accompanies the sacred and wonderful blessing of being able to bear and rear children will do all that is in their power to ensure that their children are taught correct principles and truth just as TJ and Deb are striving with their young family.

God is our Father in Heaven. He hears and answers our prayers. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, that we may have a way to repent and try again when we fail and that through our strivings we may have a way to return to Him to live with Them forever. The family is the central unit in the plan of God and in the family we are to learn and grow and progress and feel of His love.

Jeremy