Two years ago my husband Jeff and I took our four children (ages 6-13) from our Boston home to Northern California to live on a farm for a year. This was a huge departure from our urban life. Our only experience with farming was a tiny urban garden and living vicariously through the Little House books. It was a steep learning curve, and a wild adventure which looks more and more magical the further we get from it!
While on the farm we had a barn full of tools (heavy duty rototiller, ATV, wood chipper, riding lawn mower, log splitter, post driver etc) that we initially didn’t know what to do with, all of which looked as if they were well used at one point. During our year on the farm we learned how to utilize most of them (thanks to youtube), but a few tools, though very impressive and helpful looking, stayed put in their place gathering rust. We were unable to find any instructions about how to make them relevant to the work we were doing. Eventually, in a big barn purge, they got thrown out with the trash.
Just like these tools, gospel truths are prone to be discarded if we can’t find their relevance in our lives. As children grow up and life gets complicated, they need to know how to wield gospel tools in ways that are relevant to them, ways that will enrich their lives and bring them peace, understanding, and happiness. The danger as parents is that tools that seem irrelevant go unused and unused tools get thrown out.
The best way for kids to grasp the relevance of the gospel is to watch it in action. Our kids have a front row seat to our attempts at figuring out gospel tools and putting them to work in our lives. This can be a daunting thought: our children are right there, front and center, all the time, they see us at our best and at our worst. And as uncomfortable as this feels sometimes, it’s important that we show them how the Gospel of Jesus Christ works in a real life, not a glossed over fake one. They need to observe us messing up and repenting and working to get better.
They need to see how moving through life with faith is sometimes a little scary, that hope can be slippery and hard to grasp and watch as we apply the atoning power of Christ to endure. Watching us we hope they’ll learn that it’s not about perfection as much as it is about showing up, enduring, trying again and again, and ultimately relying on grace.
The front row seat of the home is the perfect setting for children to not only watch as we use gospel tools, but to grasp and experiment with the gospel’s relevance in their own lives. With this new push towards “home centered, church supported” learning we have been given great resources (and more time) to open up important conversations and facilitate critical, hands-on gospel learning.
Like me, I’m sure many of you are stretching to figure out how to implement this push towards home based learning. It’s a difficult task to set up family life in a way that will allow for this kind of exploration and schooling. I’m trying to remind myself that this endeavor is one with living and changing beings, so trial and error and reworking is always going to be part of the process. If we’re not rethinking, searching for more revelation and changing things up over and over, then we’re not doing it right.
The Church has strongly emphasized personal revelation and reiterated that there is not one right or wrong way to approach this new mandate. As a culture we’re going to have a tough time not falling back into old ruts, ruts of just following a manual or copying others. We’re going to have to work to avoid the inclination to frantically act on every good idea that we see others doing, or that pops into our brain or up on the internet. We need to rely more than ever on God’s whisperings in our ears. He will let us know when to simplify and when to do more, when to ask and when to answer, when to stop and listen. Through the spirit He will help us recognize teaching moments in the mayhem of family life and show us how and when to create pauses where we can feel and identify the spirit with our children. If we carve out a little quiet, God will whisper to us what our family and children need and how the weekly gospel topics can be applied to these needs and bring us, in very real and relevant ways, closer to the Savior and to the joy and peace he promises.
To this end, Jeff and I are less interested in asking God how we can teach our children the principles in the lesson for the week. Rather, we are diligently asking to know how to use this tool (John 1), to make progress against the pressing, immediate challenges in our family.
How can we use these principles to help our ten year old manage her rage? How can these stories help our teenage son be more aware of those around him? How can this teaching help our daughter to create healthier thought patterns? How can this doctrine help us manage all the car fighting? How can we model the relevance of these teachings in a modern world? How can these truths help us to dig a deeper well within?
In other words, instead of starting with a scripture or a weekly lesson and looking for where and how to apply it, we want to start with a recognized family concern or need and look for scriptures or lesson principles that apply to them.
When we look at John 1 this way it comes alive. It is suddenly bursting with powerful gospel tools that we can apply in our lives to find more peace and joy. For example, one of our children is having a hard time refraining from feeling superior and is quick to judge others. We could use the principles in John 1 to address this by helping her ‘befriend’ Nathaniel who was also quick to judge. Perhaps she will relate with the way he changes his views once he feels understood, known and loved by the Savior. A family discussion about how we can look for the light of Christ in everyone may spark some changes in her thinking. Maybe she’ll choose to repeat to herself the mantra: ”the Light lighteth everyone that cometh into the world” as she makes her way through the week.
In writing this monthly piece for Meridian, I plan to throw a lot of ideas your way. I hope that they’ll get you thinking, spark some new thoughts and that you’ll take or leave them as you rely on the Holy Ghost to whisper in your ear that which will have the most powerful impact on you and your family.
On your own or with your spouse prayerfully consider questions such as:
- What are our children struggling with this week?
- What bad habits do we need to help changing?
- What thought or behavior patterns are damaging to our mental health?
- How can these truths help us overcome our challenges and progress?
- What are the principles in this Chapter that speak to us?
- Why are they relevant in our lives?
- How can we model using these principles?
- How can they help us draw closer to Christ?
For the Whole Family:
In our family we’re hoping to isolate one or two important truths to focus on from each week’s material and post them somewhere for all to see and consider during the week. Something pretty simple to write on our chalkboard in our hallway or print out and put on our fridge or on the front door for all to see when they go in and out. Here are some ideas from John 1:
- “Come and See”
- Something Good can come from Nazareth (to remind us not to judge)
- And the Light Shineth in the darkness: and the darkness comprehended it not.
- “The True Light, Which Lighteth Every Man that Cometh into the World.”
- “And the Word was Made Flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
We’re also hoping to have our older kids memorize a short scripture or passage each week. We’re trying to keep it simple, and give them the ownership. Instead of (or maybe in addition to) picking one scripture for the whole family, maybe invite family members to search for a phrase or verse that really speaks to them or to something they’re struggling with and repeat it to themselves as a mantra to stay on track through a difficult week. This could have a powerful effect on their thought patterns, brain connections and behaviors.
Growing up my dad encouraged us to make friends with characters in the scriptures. To get to know them as we would a friend. To ask questions about them and seek answers as we read. To even imagine some of the details that aren’t included in the scriptural narrative. Having friends in the scriptures makes them come alive, helps us to feel more connected to their actions and challenges and learn from the ways that wielded gospel tools to overcome their challenges. I remember feeling like I wasn’t alone when I faced similar challenges in my life and can remember looking to their examples as I worked out my problems. John 1 is full of people we can befriend.
- Befriend John the Baptist. Think about his backstory, his time in the wilderness, his willingness to be second to the Messiah, his adamance in proclaiming Christ, crying in the wilderness. Help your children to imagine what it would have felt like to live John’s life. Examine how he responded to the pharisees who questioned him. Imagine what it might have been like to baptise Jesus, especially with the deep knowledge John had of Christ’s divinity.
- Befriend the four disciples who Jesus calls in this chapter. What were they like? What do we know about them from other gospels? Who are you most like? What were their responses to seeing Jesus and being called by him? How quickly did they believe? What did they do once they believed?
- Befriend the pharisees. Try to imagine why they asked the questions they did. What was their motivation? Did they have the light of Christ? Imagine why they might not have recognized Christ as the Messiah.
Help through stories, books and media:
- Consider finding (or asking your children to find) stories from the media to illustrate how the light of Christ is in everyone and how the Light of Christ overcomes the darkness in the world.
- Read picture books or short stories that illustrate how light and goodness overcomes darkness.
- Listen to music and view art with light in it. Talk about the light of Christ that we can see in so many places and peoples and cultures.
- Watch bible video on the creation and talk about how a connection to nature helps us to come closer to Christ and know Him better. https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/jan-21-27-john-1?lang=eng
- LIsten to this song written and performed by LDS artists and talk about what it means to “come and see.”
- Learn the first few verses of John with this catchy blues song or write your own!
For Younger Children:
I’m sure you’ve discovered, as we have, that the best way to really help younger children internalize new information is through hands on activities. Their brains are wired to learn through doing and experimenting and through using all of their senses. There’s something about making things physical and tangible that seems to sink ideas into kids understanding, especially young kids.
- Acting things out has always been a big hit in our family when trying to conceptualize gospel stories and principles. Consider acting out the sermon of John the baptist, and or his interaction with the phrases. I’m sure my kids will get a kick out of being a “voice crying in the wilderness.” Let them explore what this would feel like, what it might mean and dramatize it to help it sink in. Maybe act out Jesus’ calling of the four disciples to help them to distinguish and think about the differences in these four callings. Maybe older kids can think about which disciple they most identify with and why?
- Do an abstract art project that helps conceptualize the names of christ in this chapter, Light, Truth, the Word, King of Kings. Or try to draw, paint, build or sculpt the sequence of the word and light and Christ contained in the first 12 verses.
- Play a game at night with light and darkness to experiment and think about how light is stronger than darkness. (Good for all ages.)
- Show your children images of light and darkness and discuss the difference and how light is always stronger.
- Show your children images of John the Baptist online. Talk about what it might have been like to baptize Jesus.
For older children and teenagers:
Encourage older children and teens to study John 1 on their own. If they are not super self directed, perhaps give them something to look for or create as they read.
- Challenge them to find all the names of Christ mentioned about in John 1. How can thinking of Christ with these different names help you to know him better and draw closer to Him. Which is your favorite name?
- Draw a cartoon or comic depicting the calling of Andrews, Phillip, Peter and Nathaniel. Think about their different responses to Christ. What did they DO when they first met the Savior? Which one do you most identify with?
- What does it mean to “reside” or “abide” with Jesus? What do we find if we “come and see?” How have you accepted the Saviors invitation to “come and see?”
- Come up with a list of ways Light overcomes Dark and darkness doesn’t comprehend light. Journal about how you’ve seen this in your life.
Since our children are all getting to the age where they can engage in meaningful conversation and debate, we hope to have a midweek dinner discussion that asks deep questions geared towards older children and teens. We hope to find a night when we can regularly sit down for a long dinner and get deep into these ideas and their application to real life, personal struggles, current events etc. If you have a large age spread in your family then consider doing this discussion over dessert after the little ones are in bed.
Note: There are way too many questions here to discuss during one sitting. Pick the ones that are most relevant/interesting to your children, or let them pick or come up with their own. Also, remember that It’s ok not to have the answers,, even after discussing them. It’s important to model to our children that it’s ok to leave questions unanswered and to just wonder and ponder on them.
John 1 Dinner Discussion Questions:
- In verse nine we are taught that the true light lighteth every person who cometh into the world. Is this really true? Can you see light in all people? People of other faiths? Even those who don’t believe in Jesus or who don’t know about Him? How about people who are wicked in the world and commit atrocities? Where is their light? Can we judge if people have the light of Christ? How can we become the kind of people who seek to find light in others?
- In verse 5 we read that the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. What does it mean for the darkness not to comprehend the light? Are there times in your life when you’ve seen light take over the dark? Have you ever seen the dark take over light? In physics we learn that light is something where darkness is a void. How does this help our understanding of these scriptures? Why is christ referred to so often in the scriptures as light?
- In verse 10 we read that even though Christ made the world and came into the world the world ‘knew Him not’. Do we experience this in our lives? Do we have Christ with us at times, but don’t really know or recognize him? When?
- There is no account of the birth of Christ in the the Gospel of John. Does John 1:1-18 tell the story of Christ’s birth? What parallels can you see between this doctrine and the traditional Christmas story from Luke 2.
- In vs. 23 we hear that John the baptist calls himself the voice of “one crying in the wilderness.” Why does he describe his ministry this way? Imagine how it might have felt to be John. What qualities made him the right person for the job of preparing the way for Jesus? Have you ever felt like you’re in a wilderness, standing alone for what you believe in? When?
- Think about the way that Christ called four of his disciples in this chapter. Discuss the differences in their reactions. The Lord asks Andrew “what are you looking for.” What would you answer to this question? What are you looking for in life? In response Andrew asks the Lord: “Where dwellest thou” which can also be interpreted as “where do you abide?” Jesus then beckons Andrew to “come and see.” How can we accept Christ’s invitation to us to “come and see?”
- What does each disciple do once they have recognized the savior as the King of kings? What should or can we do with the testimony we’re building of the savior? Which disciple do you identify with most?
- What is the pattern that Jesus uses to “recruit” his disciples. Is it used today? How can or do we respond?
- What do we learn from Nathaniel? Is he a believer at first? What does it mean when he asks “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Are we quick to judge like Nathaniel? What changes him so quickly into a believer? What does Jesus say about Nathaniel? How does knowing that Jesus knows and loves you make you a more willing disciple?
I’m having my kids listen to this short sermon. It tells the story from this chapter in such an accessible, relatable way that I think older kids can really understand and internalize. Maybe we’ll listen together in the car, It would be a great starting point for a deep conversation.
Another approach we hope to take with our older children (and on a different level to the younger ones) is to recall stories in our own lives to illustrate how we have applied these principles in real life situations. This will take a lot of spiritual digging, but I think a personal, relatable story from a parent can be valuable. For John 1 consider telling a story from your own life about how you have:
- seen light overcome darkness
- Seen the light of christ in unexpected people or situations
- How you have overcome your initial judgements of others to see past them and find goodness and light
- how you have followed an invitation from Christ to “come and see” and how it has affected your life
- Specific ways you have tried to “abide with Christ”
- A time when you have felt Christ really see your goodness and how it has helped you to want to follow christ
- What the different names of Christ mentioned in this chapter have meant to you
Do not be overwhelmed. I’ve just thrown a lot of ideas your way. You can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything. This article represents ALL the thoughts I have had about teaching John 1, and I certainly don’t feel like I can or will do all of them. Remember that you are the only expert on your kids. Ask God to inspire you as you pick and choose ideas and methods that feel right for you and your kids. Likely you will develop your own approaches for your own situation–and those likely will be the best ideas of all.
On the farm we came to really know and love some of the tools in that old barn. We used the log splitter all the time because it provided us with wood for heat. The ATV wasn’t just for fun, but was used to haul mulch and move around machines. The post driver saved us hours of hole digging. My hope is that as we learn together to use the powerful tools of the gospel they will likewise become useful, familiar, relevant and necessary to us and our children.