Christmas approaches and many family settings brim with excitement, goodness and happiness. Yet, to some who are face family struggles, disappointments, lost dreams, or joy may seem far from the heart.
Meridian’s well-loved writer and Family Life Specialist, Dr. H. Wallace Goddard has written a helpful book on the process of obtaining joy. His answer to the question of joy’s possibility is an emphatic yes! Despite the challenges of family life, joy is possible! Goddard defines joy as “the natural result of being connected with the Divine.” However, he suggests that “maybe we live beneath our potential for joy.”
The book’s title is an intriguing one. Any child, parent or sibling can attest to the fact that family life can be both frightful and joyous. In each chapter, readers will find tools, resources and a spirit of change that invites joy to replace the fears to which we easily fall subject. Goddard explains, “For family life to be joyous requires more than good intentions. It requires the application of true principles.” The process, he says, is about growth. “Within the family we may make more mistakes than anywhere else. But it is within the family, that our understanding of gospel principles is tested and refined.” He reminds us, “Joy is possible because of the struggle.”
Goddard opens chapter one by discussing “blockages to joy.” He creates a rather visceral analogy of our lives accumulating “garbage” like “resentment for people who have neglected us, hostility for people who have cheated us, judged us, or hurt us.” In turn, we trip over these emotional obstacles, making remote the prospect of joy. Each of us will stumble over different obstacles so he encourages us to discern our own falsehoods that keep us from connection with the Divine. The solution he proffers is to “sense which course offers the greatest joy – don’t let your worries block the answers that are in your spirit. That eternal spirit knows what is right for you.”
In this same chapter, Goddard makes an interesting observation. While discussing the need to purge our spirits of all maladies that prevent joy, he writes, “Many of the most popular sins of the Latter-days are sins of feelings…In some ways the Latter-day Saint culture is uniquely suited to generate anxiety and depression. We aim at perfection in everything from sewing to parenting, and we are do-it-yourselfers. That is a devastating combination. We will never be able to become perfect if we do not draw upon [Christ’s] power.”
Goddard suggests we make a list of things that bring us joy, take comfort in them, and be alert for ways we can experience them. Above all, he writes of the need to fearlessly pursue a strong connection with the Lord. “The Savior is uniquely able and willing to haul out our garbage. Why do we resist his offer?”
The chapters of the book artfully move outward from self to family by discussing topics like choosing a marriage partner, marital myths, fidelity, and creating a divine partnership. Goddard notes, “Often we don’t recognize that the very qualities that annoy us in our spouse, at the same time balance us and help us grow.” He encourages marriage partners to trust one another and God. “The heart of wise faith in marriage is the assurance that a loving Father can teach and bless your partner and you.”
From the marriage relationship, Goddard moves out further to discuss parenting and the need to learn from the Perfect Parent. Readers will appreciate the choice Brother Goddard makes to follow Heavenly Father’s pattern of interaction with His children when it comes to offering parental advice. Nowhere else will we find more sound doctrine and understanding. His premise for parenting is that it should be done kindly, wisely, always nurturing. This is how the Father works with us, “sending messages of love, asking us to join him in service.” He teaches that God customizes his messages to us in our own style, “He speaks to each person in his or her own language. We can do the same for our own children.”
Goddard’s writing is punctuated with charming and entertaining anecdotes, great teaching moments that happened within family settings. It is his honesty, however, that makes the book so sincere. Readers won’t get the feeling that the author is speaking from a spotless history of perfect parenting. Goddard discloses his weaknesses and parental collapses like every parent, but he never leaves a weakness unresolved. He consistently provides an alternative, a “joyous” solution. Additionally, I found Goddard’s writing style to be full of memorable maxims such as, “Relationships are not built while running a stopwatch.” or “No amount of holiday football can compensate for human connections.” or my personal favorite, “In some homes, family home evening only teaches children how frightfully long eternity can be when you are bored.” His spirited writing is spattered with humor, making for an easy and enjoyable read.
Parents may find the chapter entitled, “Big Lessons from Little Books” especially valuable. Here Goddard provides a delightful description of children’s books that “teach powerful messages in clear and beautiful ways.” With lessons ranging from acceptance to adventure, each book, has a “joyous ending, whether exuberant or serene.” Everyone enjoys a happy ending. Brother Goddard is an expert on children’s books and his list provides an excellent way to encourage learning within the home.
As the book concludes, Goddard comes full circle, returning once again to our relationship with God and the need for a Savior. He discusses topics such as faith and teaching children to believe, the repentance process and renewal. He provides this counsel when teaching children repentance, “How hopeful [our children] would feel if we responded to their mistakes in the same redemptive spirit that [the Savior] responds to ours!” By discussing our need for meaningful personal prayer, Brother Goddard stirs within us a desire to deepen our relationship with the Lord. “Just as with the wind, we may hear the rustling of leaves or we may feel something on our faces, but we may not sense its direction and purpose without close attention…Prayer is the characteristic of continuing devotions of the soul, a dialogue between friends.”
The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life is a helpful and insightful commentary on joy and its availability to each of us. It is a book about nurturing our own souls so that we can effectively offer nourishment to children and family. Goddard maintains the belief that we teach our children by living the gospel ourselves. His book is a hopeful reminder that although our spiritual seasons of light may ebb and flow, our connection with God can remain constant if we come unto the Master who offers each of us a fullness of joy.
Editors’ Note: To purchase The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life, click here.