14 January 2019

Striving to Come, Follow Christ as a family

There is no doubt that God designed the family to help us develop godlike qualities, nor that God intends for the parents to teach their children well.  Apparently there is some confusion about God designing something that is necessary and yet isn’t pleasant all the time.  Men are that they might have joy and all that.  ‘They might’ being the significant phrase.  It doesn’t say ‘they will automatically’ or easily or ONLY have joy - just that they MIGHT have joy.

To quote my husband (if you haven’t heard him proclaim this already), “Marriage is hard!”  And this is part of the design of it!  Family life is supposed to be hard - it is a design Feature, NOT a design FLAW.  As Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it,

“Why should it surprise us... that life’s most demanding tests as well as most significant opportunities for growth in life usually occur within marriage and family? ... Is being courteous, one time, to a stranger on the bus as difficult as being courteous to a family member who is competing for the bathroom morning after morning?   ...

“Should it surprise us that in striving to acquire and develop celestial attributes, the greater the interpersonal proximity the greater the challenge?  Is not patience, for instance, best developed among those with whom we interface incessantly?  The same is true with any of the eternal attributes!  Hence the high adventure of marriage and family life!”

Now, it might not be competing for the bathroom that is hard for us (it certainly seems to be for certain members of our family) but I am going to make a wild guess that nearly everyone has to deal with someone in their family that does something annoying.  They might even do it ON PURPOSE.  It might be never putting their cereal away.  It might be they use your stuff and don’t put it away and it gets broken.  It might be they can’t seem to put their clothes in the hamper or shoes in the closet.   It might be that they keep messing up your shared room that you just cleaned.  It might be that they snore at night and keep you from your well-deserved sleep.  It might be that they stubbornly refuse to joyfully participate in family scripture study.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  

These annoyances - er - interactions - with other people give us every day an opportunity to hone our celestial mettle.  As Elder David A Bednar said,

“In marriage and family life, we learn and grow together as God intended.  In our families ‘we cannot hide from who we really are as we strive to become who we are destined to become.  In essence, a family is the mirror that helps us become aware of imperfections and flaws we may not be able or want to acknowledge.  No one knows us better than a spouse and the other members of our family.  Thus, the family is the ultimate mortal laboratory for the improving and perfecting of God’s children."

Who knew family life was part of Ultimate Sports?  Forget American Ninja Warrior or Survivor!  If you survive family life you win the Ultimate Prize!  If you survive it with too much grace and ease, some  will just stand agape at your skills while others might want to vote you off the island - but the thing is, everyone has their moments of despair or insecurity and clinging on by the very fingertips with shaking muscles and by hiding them we are only denying everyone cheering us on to the finish.  The other nice thing is that there is never an elimination in this Ultimate Family Game.  You slipped off the rings into the water?  You missed that crazy jump?  You yelled at you kids for the thousandth time?  No problem!  You get to try again and again and again.  Because repentance and forgiveness are definitely included in the rules of this game.  In fact, they’re essential because without them - no one would finish.  No one.

The danger is that we look into that mirror that is our family and we don’t like what we see because we can only see all the imperfections - the wrinkles and zits and awful things that we did or said and we don’t take advantage of the greatest Photoshop of all - the Atonement.  Not that all those things will be magically taken away in the click of a button (wouldn’t that be nice!) just that we can catch a glimpse - a breath-taking, wonder-inducing glimpse of what we could be if we keep trying.  And that glimpse gives us hope to keep trying and repenting and trusting in Christ and His promise to make us whole if we desire it.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow see all of our imperfections as opportunities to change instead of something to be hidden?  

Getting this rule more deeply ingrained in our heads is one of the main reasons of the new Come Follow Me program.  Seriously.  And I quote:

“The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we’re not just looking for new information; we want to become a “new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This means relying on Christ to change our hearts, our views, our actions, and our very natures.”

Yep.  Christ is out to change us.  Entirely.  So when we notice that something needs changing, it means we can start working on something that will make us more like Him.  Sometimes that changing is going to need more help that just you or you and your family alone can manage.  Seek out or be willing to be guided by the Spirit to the people who can help you change.  These might be friends or medical professionals or therapists at times.  

The new Come Follow Me program is going to make us face that family mirror more - yay for more opportunities to change!  God is cheering you on in this journey to become alive in Christ.  God wants your success and will help you in it as much as you allow Them to especially as you plead for Their help in guiding your family through.  Does God’s help mean that your family will become impervious to problems or falling away?  A survey of the prophets from Adam on down seems to say “NO”. Not even Jesus could convert people who didn’t want to be converted.

I’d like to give a few suggestions to help make your Come Follow Me family experience the best that it can possibly be:  1. Decide on your goals; 2. Teach Who you have; 3. Teach with What you have; and 4. Teach by invitation and example

First, Decide on your goals.  

Now, as already stated, the overarching goal is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ.  There are going to be many little goals along the way that help our families get closer to Christ.  What is your focus going to be?  Sitting reverently for 5 minutes?  Sitting reverently for 1 minute?  To memorize scriptures?  To love the scriptures?  To love the word of God?  To invite the Holy Ghost more fully into your home?  To turn off the screens more?  To connect as a family more?  Loving each other more?  Sharing the love you feel with others?  Being more consistent in Family Prayer or Scripture Study?

Each family is different and will have different goals.  Setting goals helps you focus on what you really want.  Always remember that grand goal - to deepen our conversion to Christ and try to see our decisions and actions within our families through that lens.

I went to a parenting workshop this past week that discussed the importance of deciding what you really wanted in a relationship with your children when they were twenty and acting accordingly.  Did you want them to tell you everything?  Did you want them to be successful and mature adults?  Did you want them to feel so at home that they would just walk in the door?  Did you want them to be thoughtful and kind?  I wanted so many things!  It was fascinating to think through how our reactions to situations might be totally different depending on our ultimate goal and none of them would be Wrong.  

What will your goals be and how will they shape your interactions with your family?

Second:  Teach Who you Have

Congratulations to all the families that have children that all eagerly and reverently listen (at the same time) as you teach the gospel.  I haven’t experienced that yet!  Why aren’t you up here giving this talk?!?

Christ taught the individual - He had the advantage of divine omniscience to know exactly WHO He was speaking to, what they needed to hear, and how they needed to hear it.  And even then some chose not to listen!

Luckily (although they can still be a mystery at times), you know your family members better than anyone else.  You’ve known them for Your entire lives or you’ve know them for Their entire lives.  When you ask for and take advantage of divine omniscience through the Spirit, you can be guided on how to best teach them.  And even then they may choose not to listen!

Take inventory of what you know about each of them - their abilities and nature - Do you have energetic kids?  Long attention spans or short attention spans?  Do they like to be in charge or do they like to observe?  Are they creative or literal-minded?

Clearly, even in a nuclear family setting, very infrequently will the needs and interests of everyone intersect.  We definitely struggle with this having teenagers through preschoolers in our home!

One thing that we have focused on is respecting our family members’ attention spans.  My husband still has strong antibodies against long lecture-like Family Home Evenings where everyone has to sit still the Whole Time because he resented them so much as a child.  

Lessons don’t have to be long to be effective!  Putting kids in charge of the lessons can help them be shorter.  Sometimes it is as simple as reading a scripture and drawing a picture to go with it - either the actual story or a principle from it.  Set them up for success - show them the online resources or Gospel Library App and where you keep the spiritual books and manuals in the house.  The Friend and the New Era each have suggested FHE lessons that support the Come Follow Me curriculum and are set up so that an older child or teen could teach the lesson.  One of my brother’s favorite lesson techniques was to get a bag of random stuff from around the house, have us draw something out and then somehow relate it back to the lesson topic.  We laughed a lot but also stretched our understanding of the scriptures!

If you don’t have family at home, pray for opportunities to share the insights you find as you study with others - it can be a text to a grown child, a written note to a grandchild, a conversation with a ministering sister or brother.  For those that have families in the growing stage, prayerfully consider how you can include people who don’t have family nearby or are alone in the gospel within their family in your family’s study of Come Follow Me so that both you and they can be blessed.

Three: Teach with What you have

Christ was an excellent teacher in part because He used examples from the everyday lives of the people He taught.  They understood about chickens and fishing and shepherds and publicans.  If the people you’re teaching don’t know about these things, find some way to let them experience it - or draw from their experience to liken principles from the scriptures to things in their lives.  I look forward to hearing how soccer or Ultimate Frisbee can be related to the principles of repentance or how the desire to check in on the favorite game (Insert Minecraft or Terraria or Puzzle & Dragons or Zelda or Pok√©mon here) is like the desire of the shepherd to watch over the sheep.  Work with what you have in your house.  Use the situations they already see and experience to help them understand gospel principles.

Finally, Teach by Invitation and Example.

Come, Follow Me is very appropriately named.  It is both a reminder of Christ’s invitation to us to follow Him and a reminder of the best teaching methods we have available to us:  teaching by example and invitation.  As a teacher, Christ never forced, he only showed the way and invited.  As parents we are constantly showing the way:  Whether we like it or not we are setting the standards for behavior - including repentance and forgiveness.  It is not failure to make mistakes - it is part of the learning process!  All you older children?  You’re teaching your younger brothers and sisters how to behave whether you like it or not, so I plead with you to help set a good example for them to follow.  

In the role of parent of young children, we must also enforce justice so that young children know the boundaries of acceptable behavior.  But as they get older and start understanding principles of the gospel better, making invitations to better behavior gives them a sense of your trust and belief in their abilities to make good decisions and choose the right.  Trust that you have imperfectly taught them well.

May you be blessed as you and your families strive to follow the Savior, become more like Him, love more like Him, learn together, teach each other and reach for Divine inspiration and grace.

(From a talk given January 2019)