Editor’s Note: New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors Richard and Linda Eyre join forces with their daughter Saydi (an “in the trenches” mother of four young children whose contributions to this article are in blue to produce this series on the why-tos and the how-tos of receiving the Direct-Stewardship inspiration, guidance, and revelation we need to create strong and righteous families in this difficult world. This is article 7 in a multi-part weekly series which will run here in Meridian every Tuesday. (Click here to read article 1, here to read article 2, here to read article 3, here to read article 4, here to read article 5, here to read article 6, here to read article 7, here to read article 8, here to read article 9, here to read article 10, and here to read article 11.
Authors’ Note: We have appreciated so much the help of our daughter Saydi on these articles. She has taught us much about Family Revelation. As usual, her parts are in blue.
Now, in these final two articles in the series, we want to shift gears and talk about how to help our children seek and receive personal revelation for themselves. This will be a long article, because we feel it may be the most important one in the series. Then next week we will conclude the series by trying to answer some of the questions that readers have asked as they have read the earlier articles—the HARD questions about how to get Family Revelation in crisis and while struggling with the deepest and most heart-wrenching challenges of life, from addiction to faith crisis, and from sickness to divorce and family break-up.
Planting a Well of Water in the Fleshy Tables of our Children’s Hearts
It is one thing to learn the art and celestial skills of receiving personal revelation ourselves, but it is something else again to help our children to receive their own personal revelation which can develop and preserve their testimonies of the Gospel and keep their lives on the Covenant Path.
We have one friend who is a particularly good example of the importance of having genuine spiritual experience early in life. He is a highly intellectual guy who is constantly around people who try consciously and unconsciously to undermine his faith. He sometimes has concerns about the way some of his Church leaders operate, but he never questions the Gospel or the Church itself. When we asked him about this, he told us of an experience he had as an 18 year old—an experience that involved a two day fast and a very deep and memorable spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Gospel, the Scriptures, and the Church. The power of that one experience, he says, has sustained him all of his life through all of the challenges and concerns he has had.
So the two parts of the question that is asked in the title of this article are actually the same question….because it is their individual spiritual experiences that kids will fall back on when their beliefs and convictions are tested. It is their incidents of personal revelation on which the surest and most unshakable parts of their testimonies will be built.
Any parent who has experienced answers to prayers and received a testimony wants those same blessings for each member of his family. We desperately want to give those things to our children—we long for and yearn like Lehi for “our children to partake;” yet we know that testimony and revelation are God’s gifts to give, not ours.
Even though we cannot give the gifts, we can pray mightily for the Lord to give them, and we can give other gifts that may make our children more prepared and likely both to seek and to receive God’s gifts. We can also strive to be the example that makes them want the gifts.
Elder Holland spoke both of our examples and our prayers, “Brothers and sisters, our children take their flight into the future with our thrust and with our aim. And even as we anxiously watch that arrow in flight and know all the evils that can deflect its course after it has left our hand, nevertheless we take courage in remembering that the most important mortal factor in determining that arrow’s destination will be the stability, strength, and unwavering certainty of the holder of the bow…
God will send aid to no one more readily than He will send it to a child—and to the parent of a child”.– Jeffrey R. Holland, A Prayer for the Children, Ensign May 2003
I love this quote by Elder Holland, but it would be easy to misinterpret it to mean that if we fail or have doubts, if we have periods where we don’t get it all exactly right, then our children’s arrows won’t hold straight and true. As parents – who are also human – we are bound to waver. But as we persevere, as we get up and try again, the stability, resilience, faith and endurance that our children witness may teach them the most powerful lessons and keep their arrows flying even through the toughest of times.
Our children, especially during adolescence, will value and learn more from our example of genuine, honest, wholehearted imperfect living of the gospel than they would watching us fake perfection.
What Can we Do?
This article, the second to last in this series, shares some of the things that we as parents can try to do to facilitate the development of our children’s desire and capacity to receive revelation and testimony for themselves. Most of them are simply examples of what other parents have tried and some will be more relevant to you than others. They are not a prescriptive checklist of things you should do or of things you should feel guilty about if you have not done. They are just things we all try to do, as we are able and as opportunities arise, to set the stage for our children to develop their own testimonies, learn to seek and recognize the spirit, and receive their own revelation.
If you are just starting out on your parenting journey, use your own power of revelatory discernment to know which of the approaches may work for you—or to use these examples of what others have done to prompt your own guidance as to what to try with your own children.
And if you are further along in your parenting, part way down the road in raising your children, remember that you are in the guilt free zone discussed in the Introduction. Don’t waste any time thinking about what you might have done or should have done or wished you’d done. Start where you are now.
And remember, you don’t have to be an expert, and you certainly don’t have to be perfect. Just do what you can, knowing you will continue to make earthly-parent mistakes, but knowing also that Heavenly Parents will fill in the gaps as you ask and seek and keep the door open. Just put in what you have, even if it is just one small fish and loaf, because God, in His abundance, can multiply your small offering and your insufficient efforts into qualities and quantities that will change both you and your children for the better.
As always, helping our children gain their own testimonies often starts with prayer. Pray individually for your children, pray as a couple for your children if you are married. Pray together as a family and in your family councils, and seek, every time, your Heavenly Father’s will for His children who you are raising and guiding.
The first thing to pray for is to know your child better. Ask the one who knows him best to shed light to you on who he is, what his gifts are, what his challenges are, what motivates him and what doesn’t, how he learns, what he needs most, how he thinks and how he feels the spirit. Never stop trying (or praying) to know your child better and to understand more fully what he or she uniquely needs. There are clear answers to those questions. Ask for them, and move forward doing the best you can while you wait.
And beyond (or in concert with) our prayers, here are 10 ideas or suggestions or possible approaches that parents can think about and consider as we try to help our children find their own testimonies and their own revelation. Think of them as ten things we can try to do—even thoug none of us will do them perfectly.
1. We Can Try to Show our Children how the Gospel is Working in Our Life
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 like love, forgiveness and using the Holy Ghost to guide us 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 in order to receive their own testimony. With the inspired program 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.
The greatest tool for helping our children find their own testimonies is our example as parents. But no parent or family configuration is perfect. A spouse may not be living the gospel exactly as prescribed, or may not be a member of the church. As a child I (Linda) used to worry so much about my dad who didn’t always attend church and had an occasional cup of coffee. I was deeply concerned about his not making it to the celestial kingdom! But as I look back on his life, a perfectly non-judgmental life of love, wisdom and caring, I have realized that I’m the one who may not be good enough to be able to join him in the afterlife! The crucial component of this section is to discover hands-on tools that we can use to spark your own ideas of how to help your children explore, find, struggle with and retain their own testimonies.
It is individual spiritual experiences with the spirit and with discovering truth on their own, that our children will fall back on when their beliefs and convictions are tested. It is their incidents of personal revelation on which the surest and most unshakable parts of their testimonies will be built.
Being imperfect and genuine is more important to our kids in the development of their testimonies than making them think we have it all perfect and under control. This concept has so many components:
—shame comes when kids feel like they should be perfect and just can’t get it right. It’s good and important to model how we use grace in our lives so that they can learn to use grace. If we portray perfection our imperfect kids will forever wonder what is wrong with them. Instead we need to be vulnerable and real and help them see what it looks like to work out our salvation.
—working through doubt openly and helping kids learn how to deal with grey. Things should be presented in mostly black and white when children are very young, but as they get older it’s important that they learn how to really grapple with the grey areas of life. Little kids should be taught about the iron rod. And as they get older we should help them understand how to work their liahonas.
When I was young and the world was black and white. I thought maybe there was one windy, narrow pre-destined path for me to follow. As I’ve experienced life I’ve realized that God is not black and white. Our Heavenly Parents are multi colored and full of dimension and I think they hope that we will be too. To me it seems that God’s plan is that we live in a messy space, a fallen world where we can get it right sometimes but also get it wrong a lot. It is when we get it wrong that we learn. They want us to be out there, in the arena, vulnerable, daring greatly, our faces marred with dust and sweat. It seems that God wants us to live, experiment, grow, learn and He wants us to help our children do the same. Under this paradigm there is no one path, deeply rutted through our destiny that we have to blindly, with a little help from revelation, figure out. We are charting our path, we are really choosing, not just taking a test.
2. We can Remind ourselves and our Children that God is not a Vending Machine
As we grapple with how to help our children gain burning lifelong testimonies, an important thing to remember, as taught by the brilliant Sam Brown is that, “God is not a vending machine.” When we put our request into God’s “vending machine” and hit B7, thinking we will get twizzlers, what comes out might just may be a bag of peanuts (which turns out to be better for us in the long run).
- When you ask for a new baby with a gentle, loving spirit, you might get one who comes out with a lusty cry, demanding that someone bring him a coke.
- If your request is for the Lord to reveal to your daughter that she should go on a mission, what you might get is your daughter’s personal revelation that she needs to stay home and work with disabled children.
- If the button you push is for a picture-perfect child with a firm testimony (and you really think you deserve to get what you want after your tireless efforts with family scripture study, Family Home Evenings, Family Councils, fervent prayers and regular temple attendance) … what you may get is a difficult lesson in free agency.
Our children need to know that it works the same way for them. If we want our kids to embrace the gospel, it’s important that we help them to also realize that no, God is not a vending machine. It’s easy to lose faith in the Gospel of Jesus christ if you believe that you just have to put in the money and you’ll get the blessings you desire. If our kids witness us working and asking, then rely on God’s infinite perspective and all knowing plans then they are more likely to adopt the same understanding.
We need to help our children to see that God is an omnipresent, all-seeing, all-loving, all-knowing being who can see far beyond what our earthly eyes can see, further than the Hubble spacecraft that sends us astounding pictures of the beauty of the Heavens. He can see the even bigger picture of eternity.
Satan sees the big picture as well—as described by Elder Maxwell in a Conference talk. April 2001 Plow in Hope.
We have many overwhelmed parents, more and more marriages in meltdown, and dysfunctional families. Destructive consequences impact steadily from drugs, violence, and pornography. Truly, “despair cometh … of iniquity” (Moro. 10:22). Since the adversary desireth “that all men might be miserable like unto himself,” his is the plan of misery (2 Ne. 2:27; see also 2 Ne. 2:18).
The devious adversary knows exactly where our weak spots are and is constantly throwing temptations at us and dangling enticements before our children’s and grandchildren’s eyes, working within the freedom of our agency to destroy, distract and discourage. Because we live in a time when Satan is covering the earth with his clever lies and deceptions, it is ever more important for us be vigilant in trying to help our children build testimonies that are firm and immovable.
Getting what we want, (which in this case is kids with valiant testimonies) requires more than simply being obedient and dropping our requests into our prayers to God and expecting it to happen. It requires deep thought, hard work and revelations about what will work for each individual child and sometimes, because of free agency, deep disappointments. When we don’t get what we are begging and pleading for it’s often because we can’t see the big picture…yet.
Reminder: This article lays out many of the things we parents try to do (and the specific ideas of some individual parents who we admire) to create a fertile home field wherein our children’s testimonies can grow. None of us can do all of the things suggested, but we can all use our own power to receive Family Revelation and our powers of Discernment to know which ideas or suggestions are right and relevant for our own unique children and family situations.
3. We can Share How We Found Our Own Testimonies… Especially of Jesus Christ.
Think back to when you first realized that you had a testimony. Did it just slowly dawn on you? Did you begin with the testimony of your parents and build on that? Are you a convert whose testimony of the gospel came in a flash of inspiration or over years of study? Did you depart from the church to find your own way and then experience a revelation in your search for truth? Are you not sure you have a firm testimony yet? Did your testimony of Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of the gospel come by way of a soft assurance, a warm feeling of peace or as a blinding moment of truth “or burning in the bosom” that knocked you over? As has been discussed in earlier articles, there are multitudes of ways that people feel the Spirit or receive answers that are all part of their testimony.
Why do we so seldom share your deepest spiritual feelings with our children? Do we sometimes think they are too young to understand? Do we assume that they know? Does it feel awkward to express our love for the gospel and the Savior? With so much more gospel teaching going on in the home, we now have a natural way to share how we found our testimonies with our families. It may be the seed that will help your children’s testimonies to grow organically as you express your discoveries and convictions with them. As you do, be sure you tell them not only what you know but how you know!
I (Linda) shared how I got my clear, undeniable testimony of Jesus Christ with our children when they were teens, and I wish I had shared it sooner. I may have shared it with my Young Women and with my Relief Society Sisters before I had shared it with some of my children. I just assumed that they knew. Here is the story:
As a youth, I was a very obedient little farm girl from Montpelier, Idaho. Every week I faithfully attended church and obediently went to Primary. I went to Mutual and dutifully attended Seminary classes every day during High School. But I was completely unaware of a burning testimony. It just felt like the right thing to do.
To be very honest, when I left for college, in my mind, the two most important things about the church were probably 1) The Word of Wisdom and 2) The Law of Chastity.
With lots of research on the life of Christ, I had done an extensive paper in Seminary called, “I Know Jesus Christ,” I felt a love for Jesus and knew that he lived and loved me. But even after writing that paper, my testimony of the Savior was thin and shallow. My real testimony of Jesus Christ came in an unusual place and an unusual way. It came through an experience and a feeling, not through study or research.
After my Freshman year at college, I traveled by bus from Utah with my Mom to be part of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra New York. My assignment was to sit with a small multitude on the hillside to be part of Nephi’s Vision of the birth and ministry of the Savior. In order for it to look like a vision from the audience, a sprinkling system was installed that sprayed fine mists of water all around and over our little group clustered on the hill listening to the Savior as he delivered his message in the vision. On opening night, I gathered with my fellow “listeners” on a hillside, dressed in period clothes with plastic bags under our clothing to keep from being thoroughly soaked as we were showered by the watering system. It was there, while participating in that vision, that I had a vision of my own!
We had practiced our scene many times in the daytime but that night with the moon and stars blazing down and thousands of people in the audience watching the story of Nephi’s vision from the Book of Mormon, I saw a man dressed as Jesus, with brilliant white light focused on him from every angle, walking across the hillside, repeating the magnificent words of the Sermon on the Mount.
While listening to those glorious words booming through the fifty-foot-high speakers to an audience of thousands on that hillside, my mind began exploding with light. Suddenly I realized that the pure essence of the gospel was Jesus Christ! On that hill my eternal spirit was filled with the glorious revelation of the ultimate and intimate importance of the Savior in my life. Those words, that I had read so times in the scripture seeped into my water saturating thirsty soul. Truth and light filled my soul and I was literally “born again.”
After our scene was over, still soaking wet, I remember hiding behind a bush and crying for a very long time. For a while the tears were about my love for my Savior. And then, another thought came:“Wait! Why didn’t someone tell me about this! Why didn’t someone tell me in the plethora of commandments and principles that I knew about the gospel that it all revolved around Jesus? Why hadn’t my Sunday School and Mutual lessons been all about the Savior instead of the Word of Wisdom? Why didn’t somebody tell me about the deep joy of the atonement and His important message of kindness and love?” Then I cried for a while about that too.
My life changed that night. I knew that Jesus was the Christ and my Redeemer. I’ll never forget walking into sacrament meeting on my first Sunday after I returned home feeling like a new person. As I saw the sacrament table and heard his name in each prayer, I slowly realized that “they” had been trying to tell me about the importance of the Savior all of my life, but the message had bounced off my heart just like a tennis ball off of a backboard. The sacrament prayers were a direct message about how to remember him by being His hands to serve others had always been there but now The Gospel came alive. For the first time, that sacrament meeting was really all about the Savior.
Looking back, I now realize that, of course, my wonderful parents and young women leaders and seminary teachers and hundreds of conference talks had repeatedly told me of the eminent importance of the Savior’s life and teachings, but somehow that testimony had not found its way into ‘the fleshy tables of my heart” (more about that later).
In my defense, I do think the Church emphasizes and centers on Christ much more now than it did when I was growing up. Still in my first meeting as a Young Women’s President twenty years ago, I asked our forty beautiful young women to help me make a list on the board of what they thought was the most important thing about “The Church.” The list got pretty long before someone thought of Jesus Christ or the Atonement.
A love for the Savior and his importance in lives has moved solidly to the front and center of all that the Church teaches. From Primary, Young Men and Young Women and Face to Face broadcasts, Seminary, Institute, Time Out for Girls, Especially for Youth, Humanitarian Especially for Youth and all of the other church programs now begin and end with the most important thing about our church: Jesus Christ and his restored gospel of the beautiful notion that we can heal ourselves of our sins through his ultimate sacrifice.
Now, the inspired Come Follow Me program which is Church Supported, but Home Centered, places us, as parents as the primary source of giving our children testimonies of their own. And it starts with telling them, formally or informally, about our own testimonies. Including stories about where your testimony came from and how it has evolved and perhaps waned and grown will be a good start to making testimonies an open subject.
4. We can Give our Children Chances to Grow and Share their Testimonies
Anyone who has ever served as a missionary knows that their testimony grew in leaps and bounds when they began sharing their deepest beliefs to others. Sometimes it was people on the street to people they hardly knew, sometimes they saw their testimonies change people’s lives as they committed their dearly loved investigators to baptism.
Many years ago, when our first three children were young, a speaker in conference urged us to have testimony meetings in our homes. We took that challenge to heart and every fast Sunday while the children were in our home, we filled the time on fast Sundays that is sometimes occupied with tempers and disruption because of grouchy kids with empty stomachs, with a family testimony meeting. If you were to ask any of our kids where their testimonies began, we are pretty sure they would say it was there, in our living room. Sharing their testimonies was not mandatory but unless someone was really mad, they usually offered up their feelings without complaint.
As our children grew and became teenagers, we have to admit that some of our testimony meetings were a bit rocky but as time went on, the meetings became not only something they had to do but something they really wanted to do. What one of the kids said led to something that another had been thinking about and they would want to add their thoughts. We learned some fun things in our testimony meetings that we might otherwise have never known.
As our testimony meetings evolved, we told the kids that we wanted to hear about how they felt about life right then and what they may be worried about—or spiritual experiences they’d had. They felt free to say anything they wanted, But we requested that they end their testimony with how they felt about Jesus. Some of their stories were tear jerkers and some were hilarious. What we learned about testimonies is that kids don’t know how they feel until they say it out loud. Often after a lackluster start, the Spirit took over in our meetings and it was such a joy to hear from the youngest seedling of faith to full grown trees with branches as they got older. For us as their parents, it was a time of rejoicing.
I feel like my testimony was born and grew up during these family testimony meetings. As a child I was blind to the anguish my parents probably experienced (and I’m experiencing now as a parent) as they tried to get us into this habit, as they squelched sibling squabbles and coerced pre-teens into engaging. All I remember is the thick spirit I felt as I heard my older siblings talk about their experiences coming to know Jesus and experimenting on His word. I remember the way it felt to hear my mom fill with emotion as she talked about her love for the Savior and how comforted I felt as I heard my dad talk of the love he had for my mom and for God. The fact that this is what I remember from our meetings growing up is what motivate me to press on in my own family, even when our efforts at conducting these family testimony meetings feel a lot less than perfect, a bit like casting pearls before swine. 🙂
If you are thinking of trying this but worry that it might be too hard to do with a non-member spouse or some children who are too obstinate or timid or teetering on their testimonies, start out not calling it a testimony meeting. As we have taught parents all around the world who had a wide variety of religions and beliefs about creating good communications skills with their children we have suggested having “Family Feelings Sessions” or “What do you think Sessions?” We asked them to choose a value that they thought was important for their family or one they were grappling with and then let each of the kids talk about what they thought about it. Children come up with amazing ideas as they express their feelings about important things like honesty, courage, trust, kindness and love. The spirit is found in those inspiring words and many families have been amazed at the increase of love and understanding that those meetings brought.
Encourage honesty and candor in your children’s testimonies, and exemplify those things in your own. No one has to say “I know” in their testimonies if they are still growing and learning and trying to believe. “I believe” is even better, or even “I’m learning to believe.” Too much “I know” can be discouraging to children who are not sure that they do know yet. Instead, it is best to emphasize sharing honestly how you feel and what you hope, and who you love.
We’ve found it to be important that we help our kids understand the vernacular that we often use in the church when talking about spiritual things. After a ward testimony meeting a thirteen–old daughter seemed irritable and distraught. In a private session, the Mother dug deep and discovered that her daughter didn’t feel like God was aware of her and that revelation wasn’t working in her life. In testimony meetings she kept hearing people talk about what “the spirit told me” or how “God whispered to me,” “I felt prompted that,” “I knew with every fiber of my being that…” She expressed dismay that she had not experienced these same things.
It’s important that we help translate some of these commonly used phrases to our kids. That we help them to know what it is that people are referring to and help them identify how they feel things are true for themselves, and how they hear God’s voice in their lives.
Along the same lines, it’s critical that we let our kids know that it’s ok and natural and right to believe instead of “know.” In the church we project a lot of certainty about our testimonies and this can cause growing faith and thinking minds to feel shaky and lost and inadequate. I have a good friend who talks about how the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. A sincere testimony full of “I believes” is just as valid as a testimony full of “I knows.”
The important thing is letting our children hear our own testimonies and then let them explore their own testimonies by expressing them. Those fresh, new testimonies have a lot better chance of being built “upon a rock” instead of “upon the sand” Additional ideas to helping our children create their own testimonies is what we will share next.
5. We can Work to “Plant a Testimony on the Fleshy Tables of our Children’s Hearts” in order to Produce a “Well of Living Water”?
After reading #4, the lingering question is, how do we help our children to actually feel a living testimony of our Savior and his teaching in their hearts? Isn’t this our fondest hope and greatest desire as parents? That our kids let God write his law inside of their hearts. When the law is written in us everything flips and we are converted. Instead of being compelled or coerced into obedience by an outside force, we are propelled by our inner, most basic desires towards light, goodness and love. This is the kind of conversion that sticks with us.
Our son Noah and his wife Kristi worried as they watched their friend’s children leave the Church and became fixated on what they could do to help their children find testimonies that were firm and immovable. They discovered some treasures in their scripture reading which motivated their approach.
A phrase spoke to them from II Corinthians 3:3 where Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians writes: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”What a beautiful metaphor. “Fleshy tables” seem to be a warm, absorbent, safe place to secure our deepest feelings for the Savior.
A testimony of the Savior does not come from words written in ink or stone. It cannot! It comes by the “Spirit of the living God” to the “fleshy tables of the heart.” How remarkable is this truth! And how important to understand! All the powerful, motivating, uplifting words in the world cannot, without the power of the Holy Ghost, create a testimony of the Savior. Words can be, and often are, a catalyst, but the power of those words to create testimony only comes when the “Spirit of the living God” writes it on the “fleshy tables of [our hearts].”
The catalyst to enabling this testimony on the fleshy tables to grow is agency. A fleshy testimony is born and cultivated only through agency. Many experiences facilitate spiritual confirmation and the “swelling motions” of the Holy Ghost but it is our choice to seek truth and our choice to recognize that truth and to seek the Spirit teaching us that actually captures the truth and transforms it into a fleshy testimony. Agency is at the core of God’s plan of joy, the catalyst that unlocks all progress, all real growth. Elder Renlund said “Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children chooseto do what is right.”(Choose ye This Day, General Conference Oct 2018)
These concepts change the way we think about helping our kids gain a testimony of the Savior. Instead of trying to get our kids to gain a testimony by convincing them of truth with words, we try to find ways to help them understand how the Spirit communicates with them. We can encourage them to seek, to explore and to pay attention to how they feel when truth rings. We ask them difficult questions like “how do you know the Savior is real?” and “why do you believe what you believe?” and “how do you know when the Holy Ghost communicates with you.” When we remember that the scriptures and the words of the prophets and inspiring books and articles and church lessons are a means to an end, not an end, we can put things in better perspective as parents. As kids choose to recognize the feelings of the Spirit being written on their heart as they work to get to know that Savior and explore life and the gospel they will find motivation to choose the right. They will “feel these swelling motions” and realize “it must needs be that this is a good seed, for it begineth to enlarge my soul.” Alma 32:28
The even deeper explanation of the fleshy tables of our hearts is found in a hidden treasure that Noah and Kristi like to tell their children—the story of the woman at the well.
“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4: 13-14
Hold it! It’s so easy to look at that first sentence of verse 14 and assume that is the message…that whosever drinketh of the Christ’s water will not thirst. But perhaps the more important message is found in the rest of the sentence…”the water that I give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
These two parents are about the business of building that never-ending well of water in the hearts of their children so that it is their water, from their own well, not borrowed from anyone else but generated from within. They have spent a lot of time talking to their children about “the well” and have included “build a well within us” in their family mantra or cheer, which they repeat every night after their family prayers. That “well” is not only beautiful imagery, it is a promise from God to us and our children—that He will not only give us water—he will give us a well of our own. We love this this imagery because a well does not require others to pour water in, it fills on its own from the earth. A connection to the Savior through the Holy Ghost enables us to seek and fill our own well with the power of the Spirit.
Noah tells us of a friend of his, a Seminary teacher, who says that he has counseled many young people who have or were thinking of leaving the church. He said there were many reasons for their doubts…history issues, polygamy, gender concerns, critical websites, women’s rights, and overly zealous and dictatorial black-and-white local Church leaders, but he has never seen a single one leave the Church whose testimony of the Savior was a living well in their hearts with His love planted firmly in the fleshy tables of their hearts.
We asked a friend—a well-known Church scholar who now spends much of his time speaking to large gatherings of those who have left or were thinking about leaving the Church—about that seminary teacher’s claim. After a few moments of contemplation, he agreed that though he couldn’t judge without knowing specifics, it seemed to him that those with firm testimonies of Christ in their hearts do not leave the Church.
There are also other wonderful scriptures that tell us in graphic detail how we might attempt to lodge testimonies in our hearts as well as our children’s hearts.
Other Favorite “Heart” and “Well” Scriptures
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates Deuteronomny 6: 6-9
“Frontlets” or “phylacteries” were strips of parchment, on which were written four passages of Scripture, worn by devout members of the Jewish faith. They were then rolled out of a case of black calfskin, which was attached to a stiffer piece of leather from around their neck that kept the scriptures constantly before their eyes.
Proverbs gives further instructions for binding the Lord to our hearts:
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about they neck ; write them upon the table of thine heart. 3:3
Bind them continually upon thine heart and tie them about they neck. (6:21)
Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart. (7:3)
Oh that we could do this and teach our children feel that love for the Savior before our eyes, around our necks and bound up on our fingers every day. It would fill the living well in the fleshy tables of our hearts!
6. We Can Try to Teach Our Children to Recognize and Understand the Holy Ghost
Joseph Smith said, The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” And, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Deseret Book Co., 1968], p. 328.)
When we say “I want my kids to have a testimony and to receive personal revelation, what we are really saying is “I want my children to receive the Holy Ghost.”
Your children have the Light of Christ now, already, but may not yet have received the Holy Ghost. Holy Ghost is what we pray for them because it is the revealer and the clarifier that the light of Christ can lead us to…a revealing that makes truth clear, helps us sort out and learn from doubts and fears, and protects from negative influences of many kinds.
That is the ultimate parent’s prayer—that their children will receive and feel the Holy Ghost and be guided by that Spirit in big decisions and small choices. It is the prayer that essentially says,
“Since I can’t be by their side at all times, please may they have Thy Spirit in their souls.”
We once asked our children, most of who were then teenagers or adolescents, which member of the Godhead they felt they knew best, and it led to an amazing discussion. One said “Heavenly Father of course, because He is the one we talk to every day in or prayers.”
Another said “No, I think Jesus, because He is the one who was here and who has gone through everything we have.” Then, somewhat surprisingly, a third said “I really think it is the Holy Ghost because He is the one whose Spirit we feel and have been given.
“Positioning” the Savior in our Children’s minds and hearts
The question that we have to keep focused on and keep answering is:Even if we feel that deep love for the Savior in the fleshy table of our own hearts, how do we help our children to progressively absorb more and more of that kind of testimony in their own hearts? How do we help our children to see the Savior in their lives almost as Frontlets before their eyes that reminds them of how much they love the Savior?
Probably the biggest factor in helping our children to be able to do this and to get answers to their questions is to teach them how to recognize the Holy Ghost. Perhaps the most important phrase our children will ever as young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is: “Receive the Holy Ghost.” Everyone on the earth has the Light of Christ but not all have the gift of the Holy Ghost. When we have that gift, the Holy Ghost is a revealing spirit. It is the Holy Ghost’s job to reveal truth. This is an important thing for our children to know as they develop their testimonies.
Our son Peter just got baptized last year. He is a spiritually sensitive little guy and, as the youngest of four, has been eager to follow his siblings and get going on the covenant path. He has been especially excited to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The more we talked about this gift, and we got closer to his baptism it occurred to me that he was likely expecting a big miraculous change in his day to day experience with this new gift to guide him. I felt prompted to explain to him that just like a gift of a new complicated lego set, or fancy electronic, this gift would take time to learn how to use. That little by little, through trying lots of things in lots of situations he would understand how to unleash all the magnificent powers of this gift. Since his baptism I’ve been trying to check in with him, to ask him: “how has the Holy Ghost been working in your life?” “What does it feel like?” “ How has it helped you?” I’ve been trying to remind him that the Holy Ghost can help him with all kinds of things, not just spiritual but temporal, and point out that when he plays the piano well, or does well on a test, or in a game, that is the gift of the Holy Ghost working in his life.
As an Area Seventy, our friend Nolan Archibald has had some incredible experiences as he traveled to different Stakes and sometimes with members of the Quroum of theTwelve Apostles. On one occasion, after being with Richard G. Scott for a Stake Conference he came home and told his wife what Elder Scott had said to all the parents in the audience. He told them the three most important things they could do as parents to strengthen their children in the Gospel:
1. Give them experiences that expose them to the Holy Ghost so they will develop their own personal testimonies.
2. Let them know you love them more than anything else in the whole world
3. Help them develop self-confidence and a good self esteem
As we think about that first one, sometimes all we have to do is notice when the Spirit is working on a child. After seeing a deeply moving video during Family Home Evening, the Archibald’s little seven-year-old Cameron got tears in his eyes and didn’t know why. His wise mother explained to him that he was feeling the Holy Ghost.
Another mother found her ten-year-old daughter weeping in her bedroom. After digging into what happened her young daughter said that she had read the whole Book of Mormon and had prayed about whether or not it was true and was devastated because she didn’t get an answer. No burning feeling, no bright light. Nothing. She was worried that she was not worthy or not pure enough to receive an answer.
Knowing her daughter’s tender spirit, the mom asked her if she felt good about the stories of faith and the things she had learned about the Savior as she read. When her daughter admitted that she had felt warm and peaceful as she read the stories and what she had learned, her mom explained that her answer had been coming all along. Her good feelings as she read was the Holy Ghost, helping her to know that it was true. She helped her to understand that sometimes answers come in little moments and not with a voice, or a bolt of lightning or a finger writing on the wall. She explained that sometimes it is just a calm feeling of peace.
Teaching by Asking
Don’t hesitate to talk to your children about spiritual things, or to ask them spiritual questions. Their answers will sometimes surprise and amaze you. We took our sseventeen-year-old granddaughter Ana and fifteen-year-old grandson Camden to dinner recently and asked them if they thought there was a difference between inspiration and revelation. Camden said he thought inspiration was “like an idea or a prompting or a warning that just comes to you all of a sudden. Revelation was something you have to work for and ask for.”
We asked them what their most spiritual experiences were. The Ana told us of a testimony meeting at youth camp. She had not really wanted to go to camp because she felt that she didn’t have much in common with the other girls who were in very different places in life than she was. During that spirit filled testimony meeting she said that she suddenly“saw her friends as God sees them and felt so much love for them.” She also confided that sometimes when her parents come into her room to talk about things she is worried about, she “feels the Spirit confirming that what they say is true.” The Camden said he felt the most spiritual when he was in the Temple or “out in nature all by myself.”
Asking children questions about their feelings always produces amazing results. Including our own feelings can be a conversation starter in our family sessions at home. Asking question like the following can bring the spirit into the conversation very quickly.
- Everybody has a different way of feeling the spirit. How does the spirit feel to you?
- I felt a strong spirit that what the bishop told us today was true. How did you feel about it?
- How did you feel when we prayed for Grandma? Do you think Heavenly Father will answer our prayers?
- Did you have any experiences with the spirit this week?
- I know you are worried about Betsy. How would you feel about having a prayer together about it?
- When we were fasting today for Grandpa, were you mostly just hungry or did you feel something else?
One of the surest ways for a child to feel spirit is when you, as his/her parent bear your testimony about him/her and the beauty of their own divine spirit. One of our sons had some pretty significant learning disabilities when he was young. We knew that along with those disabilities come special gifts, but we had never told him that. I will never forget a day when our son was feeling deeply discouraged because he was struggling mightily to be able to read on grade level in the 4th grade. He was attending classes with the special education teacher and just couldn’t get it! He was so discouraged.
We, as his parents, sat him down and told him that even though there were things that he couldn’t do as well as other kids his age, there were other things that he could do much better! His brain just worked differently than others. We went into detail about the special gifts he had which included his incredible ability to see beauty in everything, and being of being able to understand the feelings of others with exceptional skills. We explained that he was a very special child of God who loved him and that lots of things in life were more important than being a good reader. Years later he told us that he felt the spirit that day and carried those words of encouragement with him for the rest of his life.
I’ve found it to be very important that our kids understand that the spirit isn’t only manifest as a “burning in the bosom” or a “still small voice” or a nice warm feeling that we get when we’re being still and quiet and reverent. It’s important that they know that they don’t have to cry or have their voice shake to feel the spirit. In Galatians Paul teaches that the fruits of the spirit are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Just as we point out the quiet, spirit filled moments at church or during family gospel study, we need to recognize the spirit that they feel when they are having a joyful (maybe even loud raucous) time with their family, when they feel at peace after doing something right, when they feel love for or from someone, when they exercise patience, or exhibit gentleness. It’s important that we don’t limit the range of the spirit in their lives. Help them recognize it in music and nature and loving relationships and happiness and challenge.
It is never too early to try to help children recognize the Spirit. Many years ago, we sought Family Revelation about how to teach this concept to our pre-schoolers. It led to an example of how basic and simple inspiration can be. After our prayer, we got prepared for the next Family Home Evening and sat our three- and five-year-olds down and asked them to feel some sandpaper that we had kept in the freezer—cold and rough. Did they think that was how the Holy Ghost felt? Then we had them feel the sheepskin rug that was warm from sitting by the fire. Their smiles told us that we had managed to get one little part of the message across.
7. We Can Talk of Christ and Teach the Beauty and Peace of Repentance
Do we talk enough of Christ in our families? Do we rejoice in his teachings? We all know that President Nelson’s hope with his challenge to study the scriptures and learn the gospel in our homes, is that millions of families will find new ways to discuss a love for Jesus Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost so that it can be a living, breathing thing in their homes.
Should this scripture be written on “the fleshy table of our hearts, as parents?
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” II Nephi 25:26
Do we Rejoice in Christ enough in our homes? Do we regularly, naturally talk about him? We all know members of other faiths who do a better job of “Praising the Lord!” than we do. A wonderful folk song begins with: “When I rise up in the morning, When I rise up in the morning, When I rise up in the morning, Give me Jesus!” When we wake up in the morning, is Jesus the first thing that comes to our minds? We have tried to do that and when we do, our days go better. We remember our prayers more faithfully and are filled with gratitude during the day.
How do we prophesy and write according to our prophecies? Should we be writing in our journals about the prophecies concerning the Savior? Do we talk enough about the Savior’s crucial role in our lives? Do our children really understand the atonement? Do they know what to do when they make mistakes? Have we told them often enough that mistakes are inevitable…that we will all make them and that repentance a tool of joy which makes it so we don’t have to carry our mistakes with us like a heavy bolder on our backs? Do they know exactly where to go for a remission of their sins. It’s good to contemplate. We can all do better, we can all be better!
The Repenting Bench
In trying to figure out how to make our home more repentance “friendly” we decided to have something that was “hands on” since there was always a huge need for repentance in a house with a gaggle of strong-willed kids! Finally we became exhausted trying to be the referee and the judge and jury over arguments between kids, which were occurring regularly enough to take us to the end of our rope. .
We decided to establish a “repenting bench” where kids would be sent when they were arguing.
We had a family home evening to demonstrate just how the new system was going to work when kids were fighting. We told two of our kids who had been in a fight the day before to recreate their argument. They tried and got the giggles. We told them that when (not if) that happened again we would be sending them to the new “repenting bench” to work out their differences. In the meeting we had them role play what would happen: 1) they would have to sit there until they each figured out what they did wrong. (We reminded them that it usually takes two to tangle and they each had a part in the argument). When they knew the answer, they would call a parent to the bench and let them know what they did wrong. Then in order to leave the bench they were to say to the other child, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I’ll try not to do it again.” And then give the other person a hug.
Admittedly, somethings the “sorrys’ were perfunctory and just a way to get off the bench, but there were three things came out of that family ritual that were important. 1) After about the 10th time being sent to the bench, they knew how to repent. 2) We, as parents were no longer referees or judges and 3) It cleared the air on lots of small things and kept grudges away—and now our adult children are all dear friends. It gave them a chance to work out their problems with each other before their anger toward each other became lasting.
“Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual “I admit it; I’m sorry.” Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgement of error and offense to God and man. . Elder D. Todd Christofferson The Power of Repentence.
We all make mistakes. Some are bigger than others. What a joy to explain the atonement to our children what they can do be released from the terror of guilt and shame. We are the guardians of those supernal moments when our children come to us with a sin and we can express our faith in Jesus Christ’s greatest gift through his atonement and guide them to the safety of forsaking sins and being forgiven…”that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
At the end of the rainbow after every storm of repentance is this magnificent promise: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”[D&C 58:42]
8. We Can Try to Build “Spiritual Grit” and we can Let them Struggle
Life is messy and imperfect and it’s important to help our kids understand that that’s ok. If we teach our kids that perfection is the goal they are likely to feel inadequate, full of shame, unworthy of the redemption and perfection that only comes through Christ.
I was a much better mother before I had kids. I had it all figured out in my head, so many great ideas, so much energy and drive to love and teach and learn as a parent. When children were just figments of my imagination, a part of my future vision, they never got in the way of any of my brilliant plans. And then real live kids came along, not the American Girl Dolls I was imagining, and totally threw things off! It turns out they have their own ideas, desires, short attention spans, struggles and resistance. Ironically, it often feels like my children get in the way of my parenting!
I’m sure this feeling applies to most of what we do in this life. We make plans to study, to work, to form new habits, to eat well, to be a certain kind of person. And then real life comes along, complete with all of its complexity and it so often throws us for a loop.
I’ve found that the trick here is to embrace the messiness of this fallen world. To realize that life wasn’t meant to be the flat, black and white, single dimension that it is as we envision and plan. Although it might feel more manageable in those moments before it becomes real, it is lifeless and has no power to move us, to enlighten us, to bring us closer to God. Just as it is the darkness and contrast that gives art its beauty, it is the jumble of life, the color, the multi-dimension of struggles and challenges that makes it stunning, that gives it the power to change us and bring us closer to the Divine.
So, if you’re feeling like your approach is messy and imperfect, carry on! I believe this is what the path towards God should feel like.
Struggling is a important part of retaining a testimony. Here are a few examples of young adults who used the struggle to find their testimonies:
- My parents weren’t active and I most often went to church on my own as a child. One Sunday as I sat there alone, we sang I Know that My Redeemer Lives and the love of that Jesus Christ had for me filled my heart and I felt safe and secure. It was the beginning…of my life with Jesus Christ as the center.
- When I was a child, I bore my testimony at church every fast Sunday. Everyone loved hearing from me and I think was sort of the darling of the ward. But when I became a teenager, I found a lot of the wrong kind of fun and made some big mistakes. I am now trying to work my way back into the church.
This young man, without any support from his family, has struggled to make a comeback on his own.
- When I moved away from my family and had no living person to rely on, I really had to struggle to find a testimony. So I asked, as I had never asked before. The Spirit comforted me and I felt the Savior’s love as I struggled through that difficult time with only the three of them (God, Christ and the Holy Ghost )to support me.
Finding her testimony through a gritty struggle was probably one of this girl’s greatest blessings and she needed both an iron rod and a Liahona to guide her.
Shawni, our daughter and mother of several teenagers wrote:
“Just thinking about that young woman struggling for a testimony brought me to tears. Because I wonder if we (my husband and I) are giving our children the opportunity to “struggle” enough? I’m thinking our new house as a metaphor. Before we built it, we asked everyone we could for advice. We wanted to know all the ins and outs of what it would take before we were up to our elbows in the work. We gathered all kinds of tips from near and far. But as we moved into the actual building phase we realized we had NO IDEA what we had gotten ourselves into. Sure we could learn to stay away from the same mistakes others had made, but we, in our own unique situation, had a whole different set of problems and worries that we never could have anticipated.
“I feel like testimonies are so much the same. We can gather advice from far and wide. From our parents during scripture study, from seminary teachers, from friends who have been through trials and made mistakes. But when it comes right down to it, WE are the only ones who can really build that testimony for ourselves. We have to be the ones firmly placed right smack dab in the middle of the work. We can’t borrow it from anyone else. Neither can our kids. I’ve realized the last couple weeks that I’ve been trying to spoon feed this stuff to my kids rather than being ok with them to have their own “struggle.
“The problem is that I don’t really know how to do that. I want so much to give them all these precious pearls but they’ve got to open their own hearts to them. And often they do, but opening their hearts may look completely different to them than it does to me. They may have their own “born again” experiences like mom did on that hill during the pageant or something different like I had kneeling by my bedside in my little bedroom surrounded by mint green-and peach-hearted wallpaper pouring out my own heart on my knees. But maybe their testimonies will be more just remembering and grouping together the myriad of smaller glimpses of light that help build their spiritual connection to Heaven…and are we the ones as parents who create those? I think we parents can be a powerful force in that way. I know that the purpose of this whole thing is to help kids recognize and weave together all the light infiltrated into their lives in a comprehensible and tangible way. But I think that it isn’t as simple as all that.
“Because you may have a mom who feels compelled to add a little lesson into everything she says and a child who may not like that way of teaching….or who has gone deaf to it years ago…or you may have a child who doesn’t realize the importance of searching and is complacent to have things handed to him. Perhaps our kids will never have that real born again experience we tend to cater our mothering to create. Perhaps in some ways we are stifling the opportunities for growth through our incessant teaching.
“The bottom line is that we may not know how to do this thing. BUT GOD DOES. These are His children and He wants them to be born again even more deeply than we do. We need to be a healthy conduit in His hands and let our kids teeter without us holding them up sometimes.
“And that is scary.”
Struggles of Service
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, one of the greatest pathways for our children to find their testimonies through struggling comes as they find and lose themselves in through missionary service. As missionaries, these young adults are suddenly responsible not only to take care of themselves, they are basically charged to take care of everyone they meet. They struggle with a new place to live, a new companion who may not be altogether pleasant and a new charge to tell strangers some of the deepest feelings of their hearts. Missions are the ultimate way to learn to love the struggle.
That plunge into the unknown is not only breathtaking it is spirit-reviving! Many make the leave for missions with very elementary testimonies, sometimes consisting only of a conviction that the Church has been good for them and can be good for others. This kind of testimony expands rapidly in the service and gospel study realm of a mission.
In our first interview with arriving missionaries in London, we always asked about testimony and encouraged candor and “real” answers rather than just telling us what we wanted to hear. Many missionaries essentially go on their missions by faith and still have a lot of testimony developing to do. And that is just fine. We felt that the only initial thing they needed was a love for the Church and the Gospel, even if on an elementary level, and the faith that what they would be teaching was good for people and good for their families. As Alma put it, they just needed to know that the seed was good. And what a blessing it was to watch those seeds grow up into the full trees of complete testimonies and get passed on by the Spirit to their investigators.
Many of those missionaries base their beginning testimony on Moroni’s challenge and their reading of the Book of Mormon. Millions of testimonies have been born through accepting that challenge, But feeling the spirit of the truth in those pages with that challenge in mind is a beautiful struggle. If you have access to young, full time missionaries, not only invite them to dinner, invite them to testify to your children about the specifics of how they gained their testimonies.
Indeed, there are so many ways to find a testimony. Sometimes they come in a moment. Other times they don’t come for years. Everyone has to find a testimony their own way. We can tell our children what we believe and how we came to know it. We can give them opportunities to feel the guidance of the Holy Ghost and we can do everything we can think of to put a love for the Savior on the fleshy tables of their hearts, and a well of living water there that they can draw on throughout their lives. But in the end, each child has to find a clear, true testimony on their own.
An Ensign article many years ago when President Howard W. Hunter was our prophet, his son tells what it was like to grow up as a son of a Prophet. He was asked, “Do you think your father was really a prophet of God?” He answered, “I have come to know he was a prophet of God but that knowledge didn’t come from knowing him, watching his example, or being touched by what I saw him do and say. Those things help. But that knowledge was given to me as a merciful gift by the same God who called him.”
Struggling for a testimony is hard work! It doesn’t just happen. In a talk in conference in October 2004 called Securing Our Testimonies, Elder Donald L Staheli suggestions for the struggle for truth both for us and for our children: “Frequently reading, pondering, and applying the lessons of the scriptures, combined with prayer, become an irreplaceable part of gaining and sustaining a strong, vibrant testimony. He continues..”never give up on the Lord. The answer to your prayers may not be as clear or as timely as you would like, but keep praying. The Lord is listening! As you pray, ask for help in understanding the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And then do your very best to be worthy to receive those promptings. As you recognize or feel the impressions and whisperings of the Spirit, then act upon them.”
Every single member of the church has his/her own story of conversion…and doubts…and struggles…and reaffirmations….and questions….and answers. I (Linda) am so grateful for my wake-up call on the Hill Cumorah but no two conversion stories are the same. Yet all of them have the common element for us and for our children: Light and truth revealed with the benefit of a struggle.
9. We Can See and Follow our Heavenly Parents’ Model and Open our Children’s Minds to Truth in All Places
Can we emulate or mirror God’s parenting? Can we commit ourselves to the agency of our children as He has committed Himself to ours?
Many would say that we can’t make that comparison, because these children come to us as helpless babies, they are too little to have agency, and it is our stewardship to teach them, to discipline them, to manage them, so that they will make right choices and maximize their chances of living righteous lives.
Yet that is exactly the model of our Heavenly Father that we should follow. Agency came to us after we had lived as His spirit children in his spirit home and after he had doubtless taught us His ways and imparted to us His principles. Only then did He extend to us the agency and this mortality in which to use it. And when he gave us our agency, he gave with it the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, and an always open channel of communication directly to Him.
May we do the same with our (His) children.
We follow His model by doing all we can to influence our children for good, but as they grow we need to gradually control them less and allow them to decide and to act and choose more and more.
Sometimes we find ourselves wishing real life were more like the Temple—perfect, orderly, calm, focused—and we wish the Church and all of its leaders past and present were perfect.
But wanting things to be perfect here in mortality is a false hope, and acting like it is can be deceptive and disruptive for our children. Parents that try to come across as perfect and to present the Church and everyone in it as perfect discourage their kids and make them a. wonder what is wrong with themselves; and b. expect more of the Church than is realistic.
As mentioned earlier, parents who say “the Spirit spoke to me” or “I felt a burning witness” or who say “I know” too often make their children wonder why the spirit doesn’t speak to them or why they can’t feel totally sure and complete on every Gospel principle they are exposed to or taught, or wonder if they should say they know things they really don’t or accept everything whether they have thought about it and prayed about it or not.
We also need to be careful of our definition of “active.” We say someone (or one of our children) is active because they go to Church. Yet there are many robotic, clone-like people who go to Church every week but whose minds and spirits are anything but active because they are not asking questions or studying or praying hard about spiritual things.
Seek Truth wherever it can be found
Along with opening every opportunity for our children to feel the Spirit, we need to give them the broadmindedness and perspective to appreciate that the light of Christ is in all people and that truth and goodness and love can be found among all peoples and in all places. If they grow up with the black-and-white, only-true-church, one-path-only-to-happiness they will be confused and disoriented when they meet those outsides of the Church who are happy and good and perhaps more Christlike than they are.
I will never forget the experience I had late one night on the M-1 Motorway outside of London as President Hinckley and I returned from a Zone Conference and Fireside in Southern England. I was the Mission President and he had come on assignment to the place he loved so much—the place of his own first mission.
As we drove along, he was kind enough to complement me on the number of people we were baptizing. I responded by telling him how inadequate I felt and how much more we had to do. “There are more than 10 million people in this mission” I said, and if we baptize one thousand of them, that is only be one ten-thousandth of those who need the Church.” The car was dark and I couldn’t see his face, but as I drove, I heard his amused chuckle. “President”, he said, and I will never forget what he said next, “Don’t ever think that the Mormon Church is the only tool the Lord has to bring about His purposes.”
It is so critical that our children understand that God loves all of His children equally and that he blesses people throughout the world with truth and light—and that He uses many and varied “tools” to bring to pass His work.
Because we have been blessed to travel all over the world and have spent so much time teaching incredible Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh families as well as those of many Christian faiths and good people who don’t claim any religion, we have found many who are probably more “in tune” with the spirit than we are as they have shared experiences of receiving revelation for their families. The light of Christ (though some may not recognize the source) that provides inspiration and revelation abides everywhere!
There is truth and light in all religions, and there is much we can learn from other faiths, including remarkable levels of dedication and devotion to the Lord and His Grace in other Christian faiths. And so many without professed faith have adopted values-based personal philosophies that give their lives real depth and joy. If our children know this, and know that we know it, they will not only be more tolerant and capable of learning from others, but also less likely to “expect everything from a perfect Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and nothing from others” which is an almost sure recipe for future disillusionment and confusion.
We had a ward mission leader in Boston who told us that one of his main goals in working with the missionaries in our ward was to help them to realize that as they navigated through their missions they’d likely meet many people who were closer to God than they were, and without the help of the profound truths revealed through the restoration. There are people, “religious” or otherwise who have worked their whole lives to follow the light of Christ born inside of them. People who, through that guidance, formed a strong, deep and true relationship with God. With this attitude the missionaries he worked with made deep spiritual connections with people and were able to work together with them to teach each other and help each other draw closer to Christ.
If we can teach our children to walk through the world…embracing the truths of the restoration while also looking for light in others, seeking everything that is honest, good and true, they can discover deep and lasting paths towards every good thing. When our kids see us looking for light and accepting truth in all places, they will learn to do the same. This gives us a perfect opportunity as parents to help them learn the important spiritual skill of discernment. With this tool, they can recognize truth outside the bounds of the Church and also recognize the parts of culture that are not true or right.
Today, many of those experiencing “faith crisis” and leaving the Church are doing so partly because they were raised to think that the Church and every leader in it is perfect, and that it is “The Only True Church” and that all other churches and philosophies are false. With this kind of mistaken mindset, as they get out in the world and find Church members that are imperfect in countless ways, and as they find many outside the Church that are happy, leading full lives, raising happy families, and possessing all kinds of truth, they can become confused and disillusioned and a faith crisis can be triggered. Many missionaries struggle with this as they find, to their surprise, that people of other faiths and of no faith can be values-driven people who are successful and happy in their families.
Once, at a family gathering when we asked our adult children how it was that we were lucky or blessed enough that they had all retained their faith, the most prominent thing that came out was that they had been encouraged to look for the good and truth in all people and all places and to know that God worked in and through all who wished to find and practice correct principles.
This may have unburdened them from the “Only True Church” notion which can create intolerance and also cause a perception of the Church and its leaders as perfect, which makes kids vulnerable to doubts and faith crisis when they inevitably run on to imperfections either in Church history or in local leadership. One son recently said something like “Thanks Dad, for helping me to see that there is good and truth and happiness in all people and in all faiths and that we should look for it wherever we go”
Let us quickly add two personal caveats to this story: First, our kids are as imperfect as we are and we don’t want to portray them in any other way. Second, they came as who they are, and to take any credit for their faith and testimony would be as mistaken as to take the blame for those with less believing hearts.
Of course, we should teach our children to be grateful for the Restoration and for the extra measures of truth and insight that it revealed—additional truth that we should be incomparably grateful for—but not grateful in a way that makes us judgmental or condescending to those of other faiths or of no faith. Avoiding this second, false kind of gratitude and teaching our children of how far God’s goodness and truth and salvation extends (to all people everywhere who will head the Light of Christ whether they understand it or not) may inoculate them from one very prevalent testimony-undermining malady
10. We Can Remember that Testimonies Grow with Fertile Soil and Lots of Fertilizer
Walking among the glorious flower gardens in early April, when the plants were young and tender at Temple Square one afternoon, thinking about ways we can help our children grow firm testimonies. How can we help their testimonies produce the beautiful plant or flower they were foreordained to become? As I walked past garden after garden, it became clear that a lot of work had been poured into those gardens. First, a watering system had been installed. Then tons of fertile soil had been placed in the enormous planter boxes and each little green shoot has been carefully placed with room to grow and soak in the sunshine. Tiny pebbles of fertilizer were ready to absorb the water and sink to the roots, where it would continuously help that flower to grow.
Perhaps not all would blossom with the flowers they were meant to be but most would show proof of the hundreds of hours of tender loving care had come from their gardeners so that they could fulfill the measure of their creation.
As parents in the church we have spent thousands of hours nurturing our children in our own gardens. We have provided fertile soil of a loving home, a watering system of exposure to spiritual experiences and the sunshine of love, all of which help young testimonies to grow. If they are rooted in a love for Jesus Christ, they will sprout testimonies but those baby testimonies will need the fertilizer of understanding the astonishing blessings of the restored gospel to help their testimonies really blossom.
Sometimes kids are totally clueless about how the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with all it’s incredible blessings fits together. Often people leave the church because of a problem with seer stones or polygamy or gay rights or women and the Priesthood. They know more about what they don’t agree with than they do what they do.
As our children’s testimonies begin to sprout, they need to know about things that are troubling in church history but they also need to see the enormous number of blessings that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ brings to the earth that were lost, that often even we adults take for granted. Ask your children to list the things that were restored in the Restoration and see how aware they are of the remarkable insights and understanding that were revealed to Joseph Smith.
This discussion can open a host of related questions and result in more spiritual experiences with your kids. As we draw ever nearer to the second coming of our Savior this scripture from Helaman 3:35, which written about the Nephites who were surrounded with evil, applies to us as well: “Nevertheless, they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”
Each of the ten sections in this article has talked about a tool that can help our children find and retain a testimony of the Restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Some tools are simple and others are heavy duty. You will add more tools and ideas of your own as you discover what resonates with your own child. It is hard work, and none of us will do it perfectly, but nothing is more important than our efforts to help our children find an enduring testimony that includes God, our Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Those feelings are a source of pure joy, and we are entitled to find them, both for ourselves and for our children.
“Faithful parents are entitled to know how to best teach to meet the needs of their children. As parents seek and act on personal revelation, counsel together, minister and teach the simple principles of the gospel, they will have power to strengthen and protect their families.” Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President
It’s not about giving our children testimonies, because they cannot go very far on borrowed light. Instead, it is a matter of creating an atmosphere in which they can seek and find their own faith. Our example can help, but so can our respect which we show by backing off a little and letting them develop the spiritual grit that comes with struggle.
Making the Spirit as real and recognized in our homes as the physical will to some extent shape how they see things and what their personal paradigm develops into. Pushing our kids too hard and trying to manipulate them into believers can backfire. In fact, the parents who lose their kids are likely to be on both extreme ends of the involvement spectrum. On the one end, are parents who don’t care and who essentially are not interested enough to do anything but disengage with their kids. On the other end are the spiritual helicopter parents who hover and try to shape their children’s testimonies proactively and by intervention are equally sure to fail.
What we need and want is the middle ground where kids are respected and listened to and where parents do a lot of listening themselves—to God’s Guidance via Family Revelation
Questions for Reflection:
- How widespread is the concern of parents over the testimonies and Church activity of their kids?
- What do you think are the keys in helping children to want (and believe it is possible) personal revelation for themselves?
- What protects kids from future “faith crisis?’
- How do we give children agency while at the same time trying to influence the growth of their testimonies?
- Which of the methods for helping your child receive their own testimonies through inspiration and revelation are most applicable to your family? What are some of our own?
Please join us here next week for the final article in this series where we will try to discuss how to seek and receive Family Revelation in the darkest, hardest parts of our lives, when we are faced with challenges like sickness, addiction, depression, faith crisis, loss of work, and death.