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As we launch into a new school year we are taking a step back to assess how we are implementing President Nelson’s mandate to teach the gospel in our homes. Like most families we’ve had stretches of consistency along with lots of good intentions fizzling out. We’ve tried lots of things that haven’t worked, some that have worked for a while and a very few that have stuck. We’ve cast strings of pearls before the swine of kids picking their noses, wiggling and complaining about how long winded I am (mid testimony bearing).
We’ve spent lots of time with manuals and scriptures open while we fight about who is interrupting who and nag kids about all the unnecessary noises they are making. We’ve also had some heavy spirit filled moments on Sunday afternoons sitting in our sun drenched living room where we discuss the real and deep and true. And we’ve witnessed the work of the Spirit, firmly planting testimonies into our children’s hearts. And so, while our efforts are far from perfect, we’re still trying, and I have to remind myself that those few moments of glory make all the trying worthwhile.
As we move forward we’re trying to remind ourselves that we only fail in this effort if we give up or if overcomplicate. Over the past 8 months many resources around Come Follow Me curriculum have been generated and, while very helpful, we need to ensure that they don’t become a distraction that takes us away from connecting with THE source about how and what to teach in our homes. Even the simple church manual can take us off course if we don’t first pray to ask God what it is our family needs. Instead of asking how we can teach the material to our children, we should start by considering our family’s current needs and concerns and then asking for divine help in using the scriptures to help us address these concerns.
Last, we’re trying to check in to ensure that we have a clear end in mind. What is the purpose of home centered learning? Is it to check off the box each week by conducting a peaceful, consistent family study each week? Maybe that’s a good start, but the real end goal is to bring our children to Christ. To help them to know “where to look for a remission of their sins,” to teach them how to call on the enabling powers of Jesus’ atonement and feel his love deeply rooted in their hearts. These are the end goals and when we have them in mind in thinking about teaching in our homes it can make our teaching so much more powerful and effective.
After praying about this lesson and considering the different truths Paul teaches the Corinthians in these chapters we’ve feltl impressed to focus on teaching our family one very simple, but immensely powerful truth: there is incredible value in trials and adversity.
Presently there seems to be a current of helicopter, snowplow and lawnmower parents, all of us trying to protect our children from pain, failure and hardships. As a new mom someone told me that being a parent is like having your heart running around outside of your body. It’s in our parental nature to want to hover over those little vulnerable hearts and remove any obstacles and trials from their paths as they navigate through this tricky world.
Our innate, natural man instinct is to fear and reject trials and adversity, to try our best to avoid them and protect our children from the pain, anguish, disappointment and failure that hardship can cause. But when we shield our children from the realities of this fallen world what are we teaching them about the purpose of this mortality? In clearing the path for them are we perpetuating “satan’s counterfeit gospel of perfectionism?” Are we teaching them that life is only good if things are working out just right? Our gospel makes it quite clear that a successful mortal experience must contain opposition, that none of us can not know good without experiencing the bad.
Paul’s life illustrates the utility of challenge and adversity. Over and over again in his letters he tells a story of the tremendous advantage he has gained, not in spite of, but because of his trials, persecution, loss and even sin. He provides us with an excellent example of one who accepts mortality in all of it’s brokenness and, in turning it over to Christ, finds power and meaning and beauty. He employs the enabling power of the Atonement, relying on his hardships to help carve him deep and make him a more capable, compassionate, complete disciple of Christ.
In studying Paul’s life with our children we can help them to see ways that they can find meaning and value in the hard parts of life. One of our jobs is to help our children learn to form their own personal narrative around the challenges that they face. Through studying Paul’s experiences we can have a dialogue about how the way we think about suffering and trials and even sin is what gives them power to either propell us or crush us.
Here are a few of the lessons we can learn from Paul about adversity in the scriptures for this week. There are countless others in other epistles, in fact, this is a theme that Paul visits over and over again: embracing and understanding adversity is crucial for growth, depth and discipleship.
God can comfort us and he wants us to have the capacity to comfort others.
In 2 Corinthians 1 we read that “God is the father of all mercies and the God of all comfort.” First let’s stop to recognize what a beautiful thing this is to teach our children: a God who knows us and who is full of mercy and comfort.
And then in vs. 3 Paul goes on to say this: “ [God] comforteth us in our tribulation that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted.”
Another profound truth: It is through the depth and experience that accompanies tribulation that we can understand others and have the capacity to effectively comfort them.
We can help our children construct a positive narrative around hardship and trial when we help them see they are the path to become very literally more like Jesus.
In Alma chapter seven we learn that the reason Christ can help us in our pain is that he has experienced it. Christ went “forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind;” so that his bowels are “filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
Our children can more easily embrace hardship in their lives when they understand that it is through that hardship that they literally become more like their Savior. It is only through this depth of experience that they are able to empathize and understand the world and the experience of others. The more challenges they face and the more sadness they feel, the more capacity they’ll have to effectively succor, love and lift others.
I remember learning this lesson as an awkward early teen trying to navigate some difficult social situations. I remember being in the depths of despair (I was at the height of my dramatic phase), feeling put upon by the deep loneliness and sadness I felt, wondering, like we all do: why me? After wallowing for a while, my parents helped me to rewrite the story. I remember my mom helping me imagine this image of a vessel, being carved deeper and deeper. The process of carving was hard and painful but it also enabled the vessel to hold more. She helped me to see that my anguish was making me more whole, more alive, more aware and more able to relate to a deeper part of people and of the world.
In Chapter 1:7 Paul teaches: “if ye are partakers of the sufferings so shall ye be also of the consolation.” What a beautiful thing to let God carve us deep so that we can be part of His consolation.
It is our attitude about trials that gives them the power to either crush us or complete us.
You might want to read these verses together with your children and ask them how they think Paul is able to experience so much trouble and persecution without being distressed or destroyed.
Later in vs. 17-18 we get a little glimpse into the attitude Paul has around affliction:
Paul’s attitude towards trials and tribulations can be a powerful teaching tool to help our kids understand that it is our attitude toward trials that gives them power to either destroy us or to make us stronger. By maintaining an eternal perspective Paul is able to see adversity as something temporary and something that “works’ in him a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
With this perspective Paul is able to adopt an attitude that enables him to turn to Jesus and allow Him to work his magic, creating beauty from ashes.
Over the past few decades there has been a push in some corners of the mental health world to move people who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to a new place where they can experience Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). This idea that people can use trauma to propel them towards growth and away from debilitating stress is powerful. Paul seems to be the master of PTG.
As parents, by encouraging a running dialogue and leading by example, we can give our children tools that will help them reframe everything from small setbacks to serious trauma as opportunities to grow stronger and more whole. The more children are able to talk about, write about and process hard things they are going through the more able they will be to find meaning in their struggles, change their perspective and use their most difficult moments to grow stronger.
God wants us to embrace Godly Sorrow and reject shame, the sorrow of the world.
Paul’s life shows us that we grow not only through trial and adversity, but also through the process of sin and repentance. If we help our children understand this process of growth they can unlock the power of the atonement in their lives, enabling even their sins to bring them closer to God.
In 2 Corinthians chapter seven Paul teaches about the CRITICAL difference between Godly and worldly sorrow.
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
Paul teaches the simple truth that Godly sorrow is what propels us towards change and growth and that the sorrow of the world “worketh death.” This is a critical concept for us to teach our children. It’s natural for us and our children to avoid the sometimes a little uncomfortable feeling of Godly sorrow, but God wants us to “sorrow to repentance.” If we can teach children to embrace Godly sorrow that will turn them towards change and towards Christ they can then learn to reject the sorrow of the world that makes them feel shame and turn away from the Love of our Savior.
I want to teach my children to recognize Godly sorrow so that they can learn first hand that there is no shame in repentance, that repentance IS the plan, not the back up plan. I feel that if my children really understand and believe that we came to this fallen world to mess up and to fall short then shame doesn’t sneak in when they do.
I want my children to know that when we are off course, part of God’s great plan is to stir within us this “godly sorrow” which “worketh repentance to salvation.” And I want them to know that we can recognize Godly sorrow because it always pushes us towards change and growth.
I love how President Nelson has reframed the concept of repentance for this generation. A call to repentance should no longer be filled with fire and brimstone and shame. Instead President Nelson has taught us that repentance is just simple, daily change. Not all at once, not in major ways, just a slow and steady turning towards God. Just the workings of this Godly sorrow changing our behavior, or thinking, even our breath.
Paul’s life shows us very clearly the power that comes from a willingness to let Godly sorrow do it’s magic and turn us towards change. Like others we read about in the scriptures, perhaps it was Paul’s wayward life and the sweet relief of repentance that gave him the drive to lose his life in God’s service. I hope through Paul’s example my children can see that God can use every kind of struggle we experience in this life to make us more whole.
As parents we need to let our children experience this fallen world.
Reacting to a fear that the rising generation is too sheltered from adversity there are countless books, podcasts and news articles being generated about the importance of teaching kids about grit, hard work, connection, vulnerability and growth and the harm that comes from coddling.
If we want our children to not be afraid of hard things and to embrace challenges and adversity, we need to make sure we’re not trying to shield them from it at all costs. Of course we should hope and pray for good things for our children, but we also should send them the message that we’re not afraid for them to experience life, to be in the arena.
I love this message we can reflect to our children:
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
When our children, like Paul, can see the value and depth added to a life full of adversity and hardship then they can begin to understand the intricate power of the Atonement. They can experience, firsthand, the ability that Christ has to change them into “new creatures.” It is through the brokenness we endure in our trials that Christ makes us new. This is how He makes us, and our children, His.