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I have heard a lot of talk lately about having a Christ-centered home. And I agree with Elder Maynes that, “our lives must be centered with exactness in Christ if we are to find true joy and peace in this life” (Ensign, November 2015, The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life). Jesus truly is the key to well-being in our individual lives and in our families.
But that raises a key question: What does it mean to have a Christ-centered home?
We often talk about the standard practices of prayer, scripture study, and family home evening as core elements of a Christ-centered family. Yet we rarely talk about the practices the Lord names: “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, … the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25).
When we think of a Christ-centered home, we have a tendency to think primarily in terms of teaching orthodoxy and carrying out recommended church practices. But the Lord emphasizes the activation of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel in our families. If we want to have a Christ-centered home, the Lord counsels us to activate the first principles and ordinances of the gospel by living those principles within our families. Those principles as noted by the scripture above are: repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, covenants, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We may think of this instruction as the way we prepare our children for baptism. I think it is much more than that. These first principles keep us focused on the transformative power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, how do we help family members truly understand and apply these core doctrines?
1. Live and Teach Repentance
There is no more powerful way to teach repentance to our children than having them witness our repentance. This includes apologizing to them when we have been unkind or unfair. It includes making amends when we have been insensitive to our spouses. And it includes demonstrating a willingness to change our hearts.
We can also help them learn to repent effectively.
After church the boys got into a fight that escalated until the younger boy swore at and attacked his brother. Mother was dismayed and angry with her son’s behavior. She wasn’t sure she was ready to handle it sensibly. So, when they got home, she asked her son to go to his room to think about what happened. She went to her room to settle down and sort out her thoughts. After a while she went to the younger boy’s room and said, “Son, I’m amazed and sad that you would act that way and use that language. I wonder if you understand some of the things that you said.” She patiently explained how some of the words he used relate to sacred or grotesque matters. “It is offensive to God and to our family values for you to speak and act that way. Let me give you a choice. You could be grounded for a week for your behavior, or, if you are ready to repent, you could apologize to your Heavenly Father and your brother.” The boy was humbled and was glad for a chance to make amends. He knelt by his bedside to ask forgiveness of his Father. And he went with his mother to apologize to his brother. And his mother wrapped him in the arms of her love. (Quoted from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life)
I grew up thinking that repentance was the humiliating and much-to-be-avoided experience of being caught, disgraced, and belittled. I did not understand repentance. I am starting to learn that repentance is a sacred gift. It is acknowledging a mistake and asking Heaven to remove both the stain and the weakness. It is the opportunity to change for the better. As parents, we can help children experience the blessing and the power of repentance.
We can teach our children that only through repentance can we keep ourselves pure. As the angel instructed Adam and Eve (and us!):
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:8)
2. Live and Teach Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is far more than a belief in Him and the truthfulness of His gospel. It is a way of living. It is experiencing all the events of life through the lens of faith. It is a way of processing pain, disappointments, and challenges. It adds vibrant purpose and power to life.
We have had many opportunities to grow our faith. Some of them have been when God granted us miraculous blessings. But maybe more important were the ways He helped us process our tragedies.
For example, Nancy and I have had over 20 miscarriages. In our early experiences of a threatened loss of pregnancy, we would pray, get blessings, fast, and beg heaven for help. But time after time we lost a hoped-for child. I used to get frustrated—even angry at Heavenly Father. Until I finally applied vibrant faith to the challenge. The Lord gave me a new mindset. Every time we had another miscarriage, I would say, “What a blessing! Thank you, Father.” I did not know quite why our miscarriages were a blessing, but my soul resonated to trusting God. It felt right. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That felt right. It still does.
In unnumbered ways we model and teach our children about the power of faith. We teach them to pray for blessings. And we teach them to trust the Lord. I love Francine Bennion’s story of faith:
For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought Heavenly Father would take care of us?” No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think He did?” (p.108, 1986. “A large and reasonable context.” In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103-116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press.)
“What do you think He did?” Rather than regularly questioning why God does not follow our plan, we can celebrate that He is in charge and grants those experiences that can bless us—if we have faith. And we can model that faith-filled certitude for our children.
This is much more than a family home evening about the life and ministry of Jesus. This is establishing Him as the central and essential part of our family life by the way that we live our lives and the way we help our children process their experiences. He is the light and life of our families.
3. Live and Teach the Power of Covenants
It is common to suppose that our job is to get our children worthily baptized, yet we often neglect the much larger and continuing lesson of making and honoring our covenants. We teach this loftier process when we honor our promises to our children. We enrich the process when we discuss our weekly sacramental interviews with Jesus in which we report on our commitments, make note of new assignments, and ask for heavenly grace. We teach the process when we help our children take seriously the responsibilities they have accepted. Just as “the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (Abraham 4:18), so we should watch to be sure that our children learn to take their covenants and responsibilities seriously.
We can also tell stories about keeping covenants.
On one occasion when my grandfather, J. Percy Goddard, was just a boy, he had a rather severe sick spell. On a Saturday morning his papa came in saying he was going to a priesthood meeting in Fillmore with one of the brethren in his wagon—a journey of some fourteen miles. Percy commenced to cry bitterly begging his papa not to go. Ben hugged and kissed him goodbye saying the afternoon meeting would be out at four and he would come straight home. Evening came and no papa. Percy was crying and saying piteously “I just knew he wouldn’t come.” As the hours dragged by he kept repeating this cry over and over until about ten o’clock in utter desperation his mother cried out “Wherever that man is tonight I hope he won’t sleep a wink.” His mother retired but not to sleep and about twelve o’clock we heard a heavy thud on the back porch and went out to find his papa in a dead faint and almost unconscious. Ben had walked those fourteen miles, over rough country roads in the dark, to keep his word with his beloved baby boy. The brother with whom he had traveled to the meeting had found it necessary to stay overnight in Fillmore and all the other brethren had then gone. So Ben walked the distance to keep his promise to his beloved son.
As we teach our children to enact their covenants by honoring promises with God and all people, we should also teach them about the other side of covenants—the blessings that naturally flow from honoring our covenants. We can share ways that we have seen God honoring His covenants with us in our lives.
4. Cherish the Holy Ghost and Teach Our Children to do the Same
Our endurance in covenants depends less on our religious practices than on our personal experiences of the divine. Dozens of family home evenings and hours of scripture study do not bind our hearts to God like those personal experiences with heaven. And it is the Holy Spirit that provides our connection to heaven. We should train ourselves and our family members to learn how to enable and recognize the Spirit in our lives. As Joseph taught Brigham Young in a vision:
They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of the Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit,” he said. (Elden J. Watson, comp., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846–1847, Salt Lake City, 1971, pp. 529–30.)
Do we model a vibrant relationship with the Spirit for other family members? Do we compartmentalize our encounters with the Spirit to our prayer and scripture study time, or do we invite the Spirit into all aspects of our daily lives? Do we seek spiritual growth by asking for personal revelation through the Spirit? Do we take note of spiritual impressions that we receive and then ponder those impressions for guidance in our actions and decisions? Do we share our experiences of the fruits of the Spirit with other family members?
We can help our children learn how to call upon the Spirit and recognize its subtle impressions. Sheri Dew offers an excellent starting point for older children:
There are two questions that will help open the heavens. First, ask the Lord to teach you what it feels and sounds like for you when He is speaking to you via the Holy Ghost, and then watch how He tutors you. And, second, if you’ve never asked the Lord how He feels about you, that is a great question to ask. In time, He will tell you, and as He does, you’ll learn more about speaking His language. (Sheri Dew, Will You Engage in the Wrestle?, BYU-Idaho Devotional, May 17, 2016)
When our children are struggling with making a decision or knowing how to handle a situation, we can encourage them to take counsel from the Spirit. In addition to providing our own answers to their deeper questions, we can point them towards seeking insight via the Spirit. We can invite them to share their experiences with heavenly messages. We might encourage them to journal their encounters with the Spirit and to look back upon those encounters to see patterns of heaven reaching out to them.
An Additional Indicator
In addition to focusing on the first principles, I believe that Jesus has given a very clear indicator for whether our application of gospel principles is working: Do we have charity? When we have Christ-centered hearts and families, we naturally love and serve. We exhibit compassion for all family members and others in our lives. We strive to forgive. We seek out those in need. We serve gladly.
More Than a Picture Over the Mantel
So having a Christ-centered home means far more than having a picture of Him over the mantel or having a multitude of family home evenings. It means teaching them “to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This is only done when we are actively striving both to live and to teach these principles. Then we have a Christ-centered family.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful edits and helpful additions to this article.
Friends, may I ask a favor? Recently I shared a link to my new children’s book, God’s Trophies. It features a wonderfully illustrated, joyful story that helps children to learn about gratitude for all of God’s creations and teaches them that they are each God’s most beloved creation. (The book would make an excellent Christmas gift for any special children in your life!)
If you decide to purchase this book, would you be willing to post a review of the book on Amazon? I would greatly appreciate it! And, if you think your friends might be interested in the book, perhaps you could share the Amazon link with them.