39 years before the groundbreaking October 2018 announcement that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be transitioning to a “home-centered, church-supported” approach to our worship and learning, President A. Theodore Tuttle (then of the Seventy) gave a prophetic address admonishing families to prepare and improve their spiritual instruction in the home.
“How would you pass the test, parents, if your family was isolated from the Church and you had to supply all religious training?…Tell me, how much of the gospel would your children know, if all they knew is what they had been taught at home? Ponder that. I repeat, how much of the gospel would your children know if all they knew is what they had been taught at home?” President Tuttle asked a 1979 audience.
He gave the example of an International Mission of the Church which specifically took in members of the Church around the world who live “outside of the boundaries of regularly established stakes and missions.”
“Many of these families regularly conduct ‘church’ services,” he said, “Actually they are ‘home’ services for their family. The mother may gather her small children about her and hold Primary. In this case she serves as the president of the Primary, the counselor, the teacher—and always the janitor. If the family has priesthood-age sons, all the regular priesthood offices somehow merge into one—the father—as he teaches them their duties and ministers to his family.”
“Typical of these” he said, “is a family down in the Indian Ocean on the island of Réunion. There is a family of eight living in Benghazi, Libya. Another family of five lives in Karachi, Pakistan. For these and many other families there is no organized unit of the Church. They have to teach their own children.”
Now, in the world of the as-yet-uncontained novel coronavirus, even those families living in Lehi, Utah surrounded by other members of the Church and within walking distance of several Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, are an island unto themselves.
So, what can we learn from President Tuttle about how to give our children a rich, spiritual experience with gospel learning when it happens in the home?
“The Lord organized the family unit in the beginning. He intended that the home be the center of learning—that the father and mother be teachers. He has given counsel that applies whether the family lives within or without the boundaries of an organized unit of the Church. I cite but a few of the scores of verses:
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28).
“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. … I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:36, 40).
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15).
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
The Lord fixed families to give parents more influence on children than all other agencies combined. There is safety in this arrangement. It provides parents the privilege, the awesome privilege, of molding the life and character of a child, even though outside agencies have influence.”
So, what are the steps that can increase a parent’s positive influence on the spiritual development of their children?
“Suppose conditions changed.” President Tuttle speculated. “Suppose you could not receive all the services to which you have become accustomed.”
That is our current reality and whether we were prepared or not, it is here.
His advised steps to prepare for such an eventuality can still be taken now when it may feel like the time for that preparation has passed:
“Spend time together. Establish and maintain family traditions that build happy memories. Maintain a discipline with fair rules and regulations. Express unconditional love to one another through word and act. Develop within each one self-esteem and self-respect by loving and believing in him and having him belong.”
Quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing; whatever your area of the world or your health conditions require of you—we are now spending more time than ever with the people in our household.
So, look to those other admonitions:
- Establish and maintain family traditions that build happy memories.
Unusual circumstances often bring out the most cherished traditions. Perhaps, some seemingly silly invented activity of this desperate moment will become the thing you come back to again and again.
- Maintain and discipline with fair rules and regulations.
Despite an ever-changing backdrop that we are asked to adapt to, we can still make our expectations for our children clear and the consequences predictable and fair.
- Express unconditional love to one another through word and act.
We’ve seen strangers singing together from their apartment windows in Italy, do-gooders frantically sewing additional protective gear for healthcare workers, care packages of hard-to-find items anonymously left on the doorsteps of those in need; it has been a time of moving and tender service in our communities. Are we showing the same kind of love and awareness in our own homes?
- Develop within each one self-esteem and self-respect by loving and believing in him and having him belong.
I loved in a recent article from Meridian author Michelle Lehnardt when someone asked her husband what they do when their children talk back. “I listen,” was her husband’s profound answer. Truly listening and respecting every member of our family as a person with valid thoughts and feelings (no matter how young they may be or how on top of each other you feel) is crucial inQ giving each individual a feeling of respect and belonging.
Despite the seemingly dramatic circumstances of our times, President Tuttle’s conclusion is an important reminder of our most impactful role:
“Some few of us may receive public acclaim for our deeds. Most of us will live out our lives in comparative anonymity. This need not matter. Serve your fellowman. Love and teach your children. Then one day we will merit a tribute from them, which in the eternal plan will mean more than fame or wealth: ‘I … [was] born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught.’”