Prophets are nothing if not practical. God calls them to bless the lives of His children and they take it seriously. So what do they do? Basically, they get into the details of our lives.
Plant a garden and nurture it. Keep a journal that reflects your thoughts and experiences. Go to the polls and vote as part of the civic process. Set aside one night a week as a family to have fun and teach the gospel.
What is the common thread in each of these pieces of prophetic counsel? Each piece of counsel asks us to do something practical and specific in our lives. Additionally, each of these pieces of counsel draws us through practical experience to learn larger lessons of eternal truth if we are willing to learn.
But that is the question. Are we willing? And do we respond?
A Prophet’s Counsel on Family Home Evening and Community Responses
Quite recently, the First Presidency of the LDS Church made a specific appeal to families and communities to respect the importance of family time and set aside Monday night for a time of family togetherness. In a letter to Church members, the First President stated:
“Monday nights are reserved throughout the Church for family home evenings. We encourage members to set aside this time to strengthen family ties and teach the gospel in their homes. . . Church buildings and facilities should be closed on Monday evenings. No ward or stake activities should be planned, and other interruptions to family home evenings should be avoided.”(First Presidency letter, 11 February 1999 — Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust)
Additionally, President Gordon B. Hinckley has asked church members and leaders to not only respect the priority of Monday evening as a time for family togetherness, but to encourage their communities as possible to also set aside this time for families. Is this possible? Will communities really respond?
I would like to make an appeal. I would like every Latter-day Saint who reads this article to let us here at Meridian know how the world is responding to this simple prophetic challenge. The concept of Monday as a family night in a community, or the idea of another specific night being set aside for families in the community, has been promoted and adopted in cities and communities across the country. We would like to identify and document locations or communities where the concept of a Monday family night, or a community family night, has been promoted, proclaimed, or accepted. If you have any such information to share, please send the name of the city, community, or county and a brief summary of how this concept has been adopted or promoted. Send it to my address at [email protected]“>[email protected]. Let me share why I think this is such a powerful and important idea.
Outside the Faith but Following the Prophet
It is sometimes interesting to consider our own responsiveness to specific types of prophetic counsel by seeing how others outside of our faith respond to such counsel. Sometimes we find ourselves on the learning end of the situation.
In the last year I was invited to participate in another state’s gathering of community leaders to discuss issues related to strengthening marriage and family well-being. We spent an invigorating day discussing the importance of family and different strategies for communities in making families stronger. During the lunch break, a state legislator from this state approached me and asked if he could speak with me. I consented and he asked if he was correct in understanding that I was a Latter-day Saint. I said that I was. He then said he wanted to tell me a story.
This man, a respected Catholic layman and strong state legislator, told me that nearly thirty years earlier he and his wife had lived next to a fine Latter-day Saint family. They became good friends and spent time together in family activities. He and his wife soon became impressed with the concept of “Monday family night,” he told me, and decided that family home evening was such a good idea that they would practice it in their home. They began to do so and then noticed that it really was something that helped to strengthen the fabric of Latter-day Saint communities. After moving to a neighboring state, he and his wife approached their Catholic diocese and instituted “Monday family night” as a specific program within their community of faith. He talked with enthusiasm about how the concept of family home evening had blessed him, his family, and their Catholic community over many years.
I went home impressed and somewhat sobered by that discussion. Here was a man who, though not of our faith, had certainly taken prophetic counsel to heart and responded to it in a way that blessed not only his own family but the community he lived in. Again, I had to ask myself the question. Are we willing? And do we respond?
Putting Family First through Family Night
Someone has joked that family home evening is “the fight that begins and ends with prayer.” As I sat on the couch recently holding my 9-year old son in a headlock while my wife tried reading a story during family home evening from the Friend magazine, I realized that sometimes we are not as “successful” at family home evening as we might be.
But my wife and I have a motto we live by: If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing poorly! What that means is that we stick with it because it’s better to try something worth doing and fail miserably than it is to never try it at all because we aren’t perfect in doing it. I will leave the descriptions of our hilarious family home evening efforts to my wife for another column at another time. However, we keep striving because we truly believe, and actually do experience, that our family will be blessed because of our family time and activities.
What is it that we and our children can learn so powerfully through the simple process of keeping family night protected and prioritized in our lives? We can learn that when we lose control of our time, then we lose control of our lives. And that makes us weaker and less connected to each other and what is truly important.
My favorite metaphor for the Sabbath day, another time that we should set aside for spiritual activity and family unity, is that the Sabbath once a week acts for us as a “temple in time.” We leave the raging world of jobs and school and errands behind us to spend at least some time in the protected and more quiet environment of the Sabbath, a time of greater peace and rest, which like the temple can renew us and renew our lives.
The concept of family home evening and setting aside Monday night or another night in the community to protect family time is similar. It helps us to understand the eternal truth that time with our families must be protected against the ravages of the modern world. It must be protected most of all from busyness. Busyness, busyness, busyness. It is the cacophony of voices and activities and endless tasks that so often drowns out the sweet conversation with a child or the whisper of appreciation to a spouse or loved one.
Putting family first through the specific and practical exercise of setting aside each Monday night for family time teaches us the larger spiritual reality of prioritizing and protecting family time in a world that would rob us of it.
“Overscheduled Kids, Underconnected Families”
I made an appeal for you to send me your examples of communities that have responded to the prophet’s appeal to set aside Monday or another night as family night, or to protect and prioritize family time.
It is happening. Let’s visit Wayzata, Minnesota.
Several years ago in the community of Wayzata, Minnesota a local community leader felt a need to provide some education on family issues, so she invited Dr. Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota to come for a visit and speak. He came and spoke on the topic of what he calls “overscheduled kids, underconnected families.” The response was electric.
That particular community responded to a message about the importance of family time that painted for them the following realities:
Since the early 1980’s, children ages 3-12 have lost 12 hours per week of free time. They play less and their unstructured time has declined significantly.
Since the early 1980’s, children’s structured sports time has doubled.
Since the early 1980’s, time spent “on the sidelines” watching siblings and others play has increased five-fold.
Since the early 1980’s, young children on average spend 50 percent more time studying than 20 years ago, yet with little to show in overall academic gains.
Since the early 1980’s, families’ household conversation (talking together as a family, without other activities going on) has declined from infrequent to almost non-existent, on average.
A 2000 national poll of teenagers which asked about their worries and concerns found that “not enough time together with parents” tied for first as their chief concern.
What? “Not enough time together with parents.” Who said that? Teenagers? Tied for first as their chief concern (the other was education). It bears repeating. A 2000 national poll of teenagers which asked about their worries and concerns found that “not enough time together with parents” tied for first as their chief concern.
The community of Wayzata followed up on their concerns and began to work on a process to address the issue that has become known as “time famine” in families. So many families suffer from “time hunger” or a lack of meaningful, face-to-face, healthy interaction together for significant amounts of time. The initiative that they put together is calling Putting Family First. What began five years ago has grown. It’s a remarkable portrait of how a community, led by determined parents and family members and community leaders, can make a commitment to prioritize family time and family activities.
To learn more about this effort, you can get on the Internet and visit the Putting Family First web site at: https://www.puttingfamilyfirst.info
Or you can get the book this community has now put together with Dr. Doherty, called “Putting Families First: Successful Strategies for Reclaiming Family Life in a Hurry-Up World” (2002). I highly recommend it.
Their motto is simple: “A group of citizens building a community where family life is an honored and celebrated priority.”
The Family Night Appeal – How is the World Responding?
Is it important how we as Latter-day Saints and communities around the world respond to the prophet’s specific suggestion regarding Monday or another night as a protected family night? Remember these words of the Proclamation on the Family:
“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
This is a measure designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society. The Lord’s prophet is the one who gave us the message. It must be pretty important.
So, again I would like to make an appeal. I would like every Latter-day Saint who reads this article to let us here at Meridian know how the world is responding to this simple prophetic challenge. The concept of Monday as a family night in a community, or the idea of another specific night being set aside for families in the community, has been promoted and adopted in cities and communities across the country. We would like to identify and document locations or communities where the concept of a Monday family night, or a community family night, has been promoted, proclaimed, or accepted. If you have any such information to share, please send the name of the city, community, or county and a brief summary of how this concept has been adopted or promoted. Send it to my address at [email protected]
We want to hear from hundreds of you. We will gather the information and share the results, and also share any ideas that you might take back to your own community to promote this fundamental concept. In learning from each other, we may strengthen our own families and communities and the world as a whole.
Remember this early prophetic counsel:
“We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. . . . ‘Home Evening’ should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation.
For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served.
“If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them.”(First Presidency letter, 27 April 1915 — Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose)