King Benjamin gives us an insightful clue as to how we might encourage our children to be more obedient, and how we might find the desire to increase our own obedience.
“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments…” (Mosiah 2:21-22)
When we ponder the marvelous blessings King Benjamin mentions, when we pause to appreciate the miracle of our bodies, this welcoming earth that sustains them, and the comfortable, gorgeous garden The Lord has created for us to live in, we may actually exclaim,“Obey you? Of course, it’s the least I can do!”
Recall the experience of Enos who, when he received a remission of his sins, went about testifying to his people. Likewise, Alma the younger, after experiencing the miraculous healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, was so grateful that he spent the rest of his life bearing testimony of the Savior.
Consider the Alternative
Notice that Alma was especially grateful for the blessings of the Atonement because he knew so intimately the possibility of being cast off.
“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness… I was in the darkest abyss, but now I behold the marvelous light of God, my soul was racked with eternal torment, but ..my soul is pained no more. (Mosiah 27:29)
Contrast a dark abyss with marvelous light, a racked soul with one that is pained no more. Very often those who are the most grateful are those who know what it’s like not to have blessings, those who have experienced want.
I am the most grateful for a glass of water after I have been fasting. I am the most grateful for a shower after I have been hiking for days on end. I am the most grateful for a good night’s sleep after I have been stuck on an airplane for far too long.
Sometimes, when we are at risk of forgetting our many blessings, it is helpful to imagine, or even experience what it would be like without these blessings.
If I ever get fed up at all the work I put in to cooking and cleaning for my family, I only need to experience a few days alone in my home to be grateful I have a family to serve.
Teaching Children Gratitude
In this climate of plenty, it is often difficult to teach our children gratitude, and as a consequence, to teach obedience. Parents may attempt to teach obedience through any number of other means: guilt, fear, obligation, etc. However, obedience born of gratitude is more likely to last beyond childhood and adolescence. Obedience born of gratitude can last a lifetime, long after Mom and Dad are gone.
Because we can, we are often quick to spoil our children. We shower them with material goods, we inundate them with educational opportunities in the form of lessons and teams. They enjoy endless variety in entertainment, wardrobe, food etc.
As a young counselor I used to encourage parents to motivate a child to be obedient by offering a reward when the the child was obedient. When the child cleans his room, for example, he gets to watch TV. Today parents insist they have nothing with which to reward their children. The children want for nothing. There is nothing the child cares about receiving enough to comply with his parents wishes.
It is astounding that in this society 76% of adults not only have cell phones, they have smart phones. Can our children even imagine what it was like to search for a telephone booth on a street corner and insert a coin to make a phone call? Can they imagine what it is like to spend every afternoon after school in a library, pulling tomes off the shelves, and fanning through the pages doing research for a school assignment?
Perhaps one of the reasons we see children leave the church, refuse to serve missions, and follow the ways of the world is because they lack gratitude. And perhaps one reason they lack gratitude is because they have never experienced want.
I am not suggesting that we deprive our children, however, we might help them understand how truly blessed they are, and that “In nothing doth man offend God….save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (D & C 59:21)
My daughter attended a high school where many of her friends had invested in cosmetic surgery and the majority regularly highlighted their hair. Her friends had their own vehicles to drive to school, and not clunkers either.
She claimed it was embarrassing to be flat-chested with hair that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be blonde or brunette. She rode to school with any number of her affluent friends, rather than driving her own car. Nevertheless, of all the things she took with her from her high school experience, she did not take a sense of entitlement.
Grateful for her blessings, she chose to serve a mission. The experiences she had as a missionary cemented her gratitude for many things (including insect repellent, professional exterminators, hot showers and the United States of America.)
Often times those who choose to disobey God’s commandments do so because they are angry with God. They think he hasn’t blessed them sufficiently. They may have lost a loved one they expected to live, or they may not experience the healing from disease they felt they were entitled to. Some even leave the Church because they feel the Lord didn’t bless them sufficiently.
As devastating as the suffering we experience in life can be, nothing negates the fact that we all experience abundant blessings from our Father in Heaven. When we focus on those blessings, as opposed to the challenges, we will recognize we have much to be grateful for. With that gratitude we can do as did Enos and Alma. We can obediently serve The Lord.
As Grace Noll Crowell, the author of a popular hymn, succinctly reminds us, “Because I have been given much, I too much give.”
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor and the author of several books about relationships, available at amazon.com