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Cover image via LDS Media Library.
I first heard about this idea of family culture as a missionary in Hawaii. I was called to serve at the La’ie Temple Visitors’ Center and the Polynesian Cultural Center, and to serve in the surrounding community. This included the students at Brigham Young University – Hawaii. I met people from all over the world, and even learned to say ‘hello’ in at least fifty languages! Hawaii is already a very diverse place, but students on campus came from everywhere!
Many of the married students met their spouses while attending school there, so there were a lot of ethnically mixed couples. I had never even considered what it would take to blend a family from diverse backgrounds until I met a couple at a dinner appointment who were struggling with their cultural differences. The experience really shook my companion and me, and I started thinking about my future family. I wondered if I would meet and marry someone from another country. How would we make it work? Then I started to consider that no matter where my husband and I were from, just coming from two different families may create a struggle with our own cultural norms!
I was completely unsettled. I didn’t want to think too much about it and distract from my service, but I also knew that this was an important question. I went to the one person I knew would have great advice on the subject: a senior elder serving at the Visitors’ Center. He always had words of wisdom to share while we sat together near the entrance of the temple grounds waiting to greet our visitors. He and his wife could understand my dilemma because they were from different countries and were obviously making it work. I told him about the experience I’d had and I asked, “How is it done? How do you reconcile your differences?” I will never forget what he told me. He had a deep, gravelly voice and a rich Polynesian accent. He looked straight at me, and raised his hand to emphasize every word: “You forget about where you come from. You forget about your culture” he said this as he slashed his hand through the air like he was cutting something down, “and you adopt the church culture as your new culture!”
He was clearly passionate about this. I would not be surprised if this is exactly what he and his wife had deliberately done themselves! I knew exactly what he meant. As soon as he said “church culture” I knew he was talking about things like Family Home Evening, family prayer and scripture study, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the Word of Wisdom, and things like family council, covenants, Priesthood authority, and personal conversion. I knew that he was ultimately saying that a husband and wife needed to come together and agree on their roles and traditions that would adhere their family to one another, and the Lord. They would need to discuss and evaluate their own values, and plan the future in a way that would align their vision for their family into one single vision. It also meant that faithful couples would already have an inspired guide for what to do, especially if they were already aligned with what the gospel teaches us about strong families.
It turns out I married someone who grew up in my Stake, our parents were basically in the same socioeconomic situation, and we have many things in common. Still, we knew that we would have to come together and discuss our values as a couple, as parents, and as members of the church to decide what we would adopt into our family culture. This has helped my husband and I reflect on how we can work to improve, especially as we have faced life’s challenges, and as our family’s needs have changed. I can honestly say that this task has been easier knowing that we have each worked to individually be converted to the gospel and the guidelines established by inspiration.
Family Culture is a Vehicle
Now the question is, what about all these changes going on in the church right now — new Ministering objectives, new Sunday schedule, new curriculum? Where does all of this fit in with what we know of the “church culture” and how do we adapt it to our family culture? Something that I have learned over the last two years of interviewing experts on my podcast about family culture is that every family has a culture whether by default or by design. Since starting this venture, I have come to realize that our family is often caught up in keeping up with the default that we forget how to design our culture. We forget that we need to sit down and evaluate where we are going, so we don’t end up coasting or “drifting” as Napoleon Hill would say.
In an interview with mentor, certified coach and speaker, Ann Visser, she said that “family culture is the vehicle that carries our family toward our vision.” I have thought a lot about this analogy. Vehicles come in all shapes, sizes, and purposes, like families. Vehicles require maintenance and care. Vehicles also need to be driven, so we need some navigation to know where we are going. Some vehicles go on long road trips. Some take us to work or school, and back home. Do we ever take our vehicle for granted? Do we ever sit back, turn on the cruise-control and zone out?
Just like a vehicle, we need to take care of our family. We require a navigation system. We should have a plan for where we are going, and why. If we are simply coasting without a vision, or a plan, we can’t know where we will end up. It’s just like President Monson would say when referencing Alice in Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat told Alice that it doesn’t matter what road you take if you don’t know where you are going. “Unlike Alice, each of you knows where you want to go. It does matter which way you go, for the path you follow in this life leads to the path you will follow in the next.”
As individuals and couples, it is important that we decide and design where we are going, and be an example in our families so we can be unified in our collective vision. We have an inspired navigation system through living prophets, scriptures, prayer, and personal revelation. The new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum is a home-centered, church-supported curriculum inspired by prophets, seers, and revelators who lead and guide the Lord’s church. It seems overwhelming to some who worry about taking on the responsibility of teaching the gospel in their homes. The lesson manual leaves a lot to our discretion! I believe that working out how we will implement this new curriculum will come back to how we work to create an intentional family culture.
Cultivation is Preparation that Requires Faith
One of the things I love about the first lesson in the manual this year is the invitation to discuss how our families can “cultivate ‘good ground’ in our home” by discussing the parable of the sower. Kathy Mellor of Leadership Education Mentoring Institute, talked about family culture in the context of cultivation. She said that cultivating is digging and churning the soil to prepare it to nourish the seeds that will be planted there. Dictionary.com defines to cultivate as “to prepare and work on”, “to promote or improve the growth of by labor and attention”, “to promote the growth or development of”. Family culture means working on our families’ hearts to plant seeds that will grow according to our faith.
To me, the invitation to define how to cultivate good ground is an invitation to dig about our current family culture, and prepare our hearts for the lessons we will be taught throughout the year. As individuals and families, we are being invited to define our vision and goals, and align them with the gospel as disciples of Jesus Christ, by design. Bear in mind, this definition of cultivation implies “work”, and “labor and attention”.
I think this is also why we are invited in the first lesson to consider how to “seek learning by faith” as Elder David A. Bednar has discussed. Faith is another important principle of designing our family culture. When we define and design our vision and values, we are working toward our goals rather than drifting, or acting out of fear to avoid punishment. Deliberately working toward a goal will yield completely different results as simply avoiding a consequence. Elder Bednar says that “Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception. It is in the sincerity and consistency of our faith-inspired action that we indicate to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, our willingness to learn and receive instruction from the Holy Ghost. Thus, learning by faith involves the exercise of moral agency to act upon the assurance of things hoped for and invites the evidence of things not seen from the only true teacher, the Spirit of the Lord.” Defining and designing what we hope to get out of this year’s curriculum will help us figure out where we are going out of faith, rather than simply doing just enough to avoid negative consequences, or drifting into “passive reception.”
The Law of the Harvest
A home-centered, church-supported curriculum means that part of what we choose to get out of this new experience is stronger families. For some of us, that may mean major changes. For others, it will mean making small adjustments that invite thoughtful reflection. I think that the important thing is that we are consistent so that following the weekly lessons becomes woven into the fabric of our family culture, actively reinforcing the vision we establish during this first week of the new year. Establish what that looks like for your family. Design your family traditions around teaching the gospel and reinforcing the lessons being taught. What you decide to do may look different from what my family does. Consistency may mean making minute references to the topics in the lessons. Or, it might mean discussing the lessons for your weekly Family Home Evening. The important thing is figuring out what works for your family, and coming together to agree on that plan.
The idea of making our homes the center of doctrinal teaching is not new. The scriptures invite us to teach the gospel in our homes. The Savior invited the Nephites “Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” But, knowing this doesn’t always make it easier, especially when it can sometimes feel like our efforts fall on rocky ground.
Let me assure you that our efforts are going to sink in with consistency and inspiration. Sometimes the fruits of our labors simply have a different harvest time! In a devotional given at Brigham Young University, Henry B. Eyring spoke about the importance of the “law of the harvest.”
“Efforts, spiritual or practical, don’t all bear fruit in the same length of time. You know that, but you may not have noticed something about your behavior that makes sense only if most of your experience is with early crops. Those are the ones where effort produces fast results…
“Families may be the best place to find out how the world feels about working and waiting for late crops. Families require some of the toughest investment decisions of all…
“There are spiritual crops that require months, years, and sometimes a lifetime of cultivation before the harvest. Among them are spiritual rewards you want most. That shouldn’t surprise you. Common sense tells you that what matters most won’t come easily. But there is another reason suggested in the scriptures.”
Elder Eyring goes on to quote two scriptures:
“And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”
And, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.”
In our efforts to teach our families the gospel, we need to commit to the long-term benefits that come through consistency. The vision we hold for the outcome of our efforts needs to be strong enough to sustain us in spite of the struggles and discouragement we may encounter. Those who hold out have learned to be resilient enough to cope with the commitment to wait for the late harvest, just like the five wise virgins in the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom. They were faithful because they did not relax when the harvest is delayed.
As Elder Steven R. Bangerter said, “when parents exercise faith by teaching children candidly, lovingly and doing all they can to help them along the way, they receive greater hope that the seeds being sown will take root within the hearts and minds of their children…The things we talk of, the things we preach and teach determine the things that will happen among us. As we establish wholesome traditions that teach the doctrine of Christ, the Holy Spirit bears witness of the truthfulness of our message and nourishes the seeds of the gospel that are planted deep in the hearts of our children by our efforts all along the way.”
Cultivate your own testimony by searching scriptures listed in the lesson under “I need to know the truth for myself” and search “testimony” in Gospel Topics. As you study the materials there yourself, you will be able to get clear on why you would wait for the late harvest. You will have a clear vision of the outcome you may accomplish through your long-term efforts.
How Can I Introduce this to My Family?
“And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Knowing that my husband and I each worked to individually be converted to the gospel made it that much easier to cultivate our family vision and values. Individuals and parents can lift their families by developing their own testimonies of the gospel. Study out the lesson first, and then sit down with your families to discuss the lesson and council with them.
Begin by watching the introductory video for the individuals and families for insights from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Maybe consider watching a few of the videos of families using the new curriculum and how it has blessed their lives. Consider ordering enough manuals for your family so everyone can follow along in the study.
- Sit down in a family council to discuss the suggestions in the first lesson of Come, Follow Me.
- Then, get really clear about why this is important to you and your family. Ask yourselves why learning this doctrine is important to your family, and settle on a reason that lights you up.
- Third, create a mission statement or motto that will keep your goal fresh in your mind. You could even use a scripture, like Philippians 4:8, for example. Memorize it together, print it out, and put it up where everyone will see it.
- Fourth, create a goal together for completing the lessons each week by deciding when and how it will work best for everyone. It’s ok if this evolves throughout the year. Council together regularly to adapt to changes.
Making time for daily and weekly family touch-points will allow your family to connect and discuss what you are learning. In that same discussion I had with Ann Visser, she talked about the five touch-points that will strengthen our family every day:
- Partings: making sure to say “I love you” and “goodbye” to show you care about being separated.
- Embraces when we come back together: this says you are happy to be reunited, and this reconnects your relationship.
- Meal times. Taking the time to sit together to at least one meal a day fortifies your relationships. Keep conversation light and inviting, and resist making mealtime a power struggle.
- Hugging and praying together. My little family comes together as part of our nightly routine to say our family prayers.
- Discussing high and low points of the day, and other points of discussion. We often do this during dinner, but it can also be done individually by our children’s bedsides. This could be a good time to discuss scriptures from the weekly lessons, or practicing what the scriptures teach about faith, testimony, cultivating our soil, and reinforcing a vision for your family. Make it fun. Make it personal.
The most important thing is that we follow the Spirit, and seek guidance from Heavenly Father. Make the new curriculum a part of your family culture by taking President Nelson’s advice: “Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will ‘grow into the principle of revelation.’”
When your family is unified about your reasons why, and is working to cultivate a testimony by study and by faith while seeking revelation on a regular basis, then your family is working to create a family culture that reflects the “church culture” that will strengthen your family. Do not simply sit back or put your vehicle in cruise control and expect that everything will take care of itself. Be an active participant in sifting and turning the soil of your family’s hearts that will nourish seeds of faith. Those seeds will bear fruit sooner or later and you may all rejoice in the harvest!
 (see “Outwitting the Devil”)
 (3 Nephi 17:3)
 (Ether 12:6)
 (D&C 58:3–4)
 (Luke 22:32)
 (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” Russell M. Nelson, April 2018 General Conference)