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) 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, and here to read article 7.
In today’s turbulent world, and with the challenge of home centered Gospel teaching, parents and grandparents need personal family revelation more than ever before. And since every home situation is unique, this is not a series on what to do generally—it is on how to get divine answers for your family specifically. The series continues today in the midst of the current Pandemic, with the thought that we may all have more need for Family Revelation now than ever before. As usual, Saydi’s comments will be found in blue font.
We begin this article with another artistic rendition of Christ standing at the door and knocking. While we love William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World painting that is the title slide for all of these articles, we also love today’s opening photograph I Stand at the Door and Knock by our Bulgarian daughter Eva Timothy, whose work can be found at Illumea.com.
In last Tuesday’s article, six obstacles to Family Revelation were discussed—six things that can hold the door closed. This week we will explore five practices or habits that can overcome these obstacles and swing open wide the door of direct revelation and guidance from almighty God for our families.
Practice #1: Carve out time and space to Be Still and spend time with God.
“Be still and know that I am God”
D&C 101:16, Psalms 46:10
Dozens of times in the scriptures, the Lord commands someone to
“stand still” or “be still”—and wait”-
– Elder Holland from “Like a Broken Vessel, October 2013
God can’t speak to us if we don’t give him space in our lives. In order to be in tune and hear God whisper in our ears we need to spend time with Him and proactively work to do things that feed, nourish and fine-tune our spirits.
Remember writing papers back in 7th grade? When you wrote them up by hand you had to be sure to keep the margins clear so that there was room for the teacher to write comments. Similarly, we need to make sure to keep margins in our own lives. If we pack them all the way to the edges God doesn’t have any room to write, to help us know when we’re on track, to encourage us, to direct us, and perhaps most importantly, to communicate His love to us.
In London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, under the painting that appears in each of these articles this scripture is inscribed: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Who doesn’t want to invite God in to sup? Wouldn’t that be a relief, to sit with Him and see clearly the path ahead through our messy lives. He asks us to be still, to know that He is God. He asks us to quiet our lives enough to recognize that He is in our boat, deeply caring if we feel we are perishing, ready for us to wake him up and hear him bring peace and stillness to the storms in our lives.
Find space and quiet that works in your unique situation
In order to get this right, we have to spend time communing with God in whatever way works best for us. As we explored in part one, there are a myriad of ways to spend time connecting with God. It may be through prayer and scriptures, it may be through journaling or writing, it may be through meditation or soaking in beauty, it is likely a combination of these things. But we need to seek and guard this time and space to commune with God.
I can’t lie, there are lots of weeks, even months, sometimes whole seasons when I haven’t gotten this right. When I haven’t been in a regular habit of stopping to connect with God because I feel like I have to keep running on the treadmill for fear of falling on my face. It’s normal for all of us to go through seasons like this, and when we are still living under a big umbrella of faith and hope in God I believe that he is with us through these episodes, that He is awake and aware and doing what he can to insert Himself and fill in essential gaps.
In moments of doubt and amidst feelings of inadequacy I compare myself to others and wonder why it seems easier for them. I have to remind myself then that there are as many ways to connect with God as there are different personalities. How we find this connection will differ from one person to the next, and from one season to the next. This is another reason why it’s so important that this be an individual process, and not measured by or compared with others’ paths.
This communion with Heaven may look different at different times in our lives. A few babies into motherhood, I began to really long for those pre-children days when I had more time to sit still with God. Days where I could take whole afternoons to listen to beautiful music while reading the scriptures and soaking in nature and writing in my journal. And then one day while struggling through the intense physical demands of raising small children it hit me that spirituality and communion with God looks different depending on the season of life you’re in. During those years where babies seemed to be constantly crawling on me and interrupting any semblance of solace, my connection with God came largely in action: serving Him via sacrificing for my children. All that pre-parenthood communion built spiritual strength within me to put my faith into action for that messy motherhood season. As I put my own needs behind me I found holiness in the chaos and gained spiritual insight as I realized first hand what Christ had meant by losing your life and finding it.
Now that my kids are a bit older and less physically demanding I’m finding a need for a totally new kind of connection with God. Divine guidance seems critical to understanding and responding to the emotional complexities of this parenting stage. I’m finding it essential to carve time out of my regular routine to connect with God in a more urgent way than I’ve ever felt before. And I’m sure another season is right around the corner where I’ll find and need that connection to God in ways I haven’t even considered yet.
The point is, our spirituality and mode of personal revelation will ebb and flow as we move in and out of different seasons of our lives. And it’s ok if it looks different at different times as long as we’re looking towards heaven with our questions and striving to build a connection to the Divine.
If we spend time with God He will show us what we should prioritize
Spending time with God gives us the perspective we need to see clearly where we should put our limited resources of time and energy. Like the often demonstrated object lesson, trying to fit more rocks and sand into a cup than it will hold, we find that when we put the big stuff in first then the little stuff all falls into the empty spaces. In reality, it doesn’t always all fit in nicely, but the “rocks”, the important things are in place first, and that’s what matters.
If we carve out time and put in the effort to tune into God first then we can get to work knowing that God will direct us to be anxiously engaged in the best causes.We can combine the good natures and desires of both Mary and Martha: going through our lives being careful and troubled about many things, while knowing that God is with us in our efforts as we put the “one thing” that is truly needful first: connection with God.
Set aside time to connect; and guard against busy-ness creeping in
In order to be sure we have margins in our lives we need to be aware of what is filling up the empty spaces. Like a basketball player defending his hoop we need to box out those distractions and fight for space.
This process may be as simple as making a firm goal to set aside 15 minutes every day to spend with God. Maybe it means taking a little inventory on the Sabbath to assess how much time you’ve given to the Lord that week. It may be more complex, like sitting down with your spouse and really figuring out where you are overscheduled and where you can cut back as a family or individually to have more space for God. It may mean figuring out what kind of emotional anxiety or anguish is crowding in.
If we can see where our busyness and static is coming from we can’t understand how to keep it at bay. In today’s world it’s easy to get addicted to being busy. Busyness tricks us by making us feel productive, and important and feeds our egos. On the other hand, the work required to tune in doesn’t usually feel productive, it doesn’t make it onto our to do lists.
I’ve found that most of the important elements of parenting are often unmeasurable, hard to plan and we rarely get patted on the back for them.
We don’t plan a time to stop and look into our searching daughters eyes and listen to the questions heavy on her heart. We don’t put “stop and help Emmeline work through her worries about her new dance class” on our to do list. I’m just teetering on the edge of full blown teenage parenting and I’m realizing that often when I’m getting it right it feels a little like being in a waiting room. I have to make sure I’m not too busy to be available for them, and that means having more space in my life.
I have to clear things out emotionally and physically to be available when they need me, when they’re ready, on their terms.
This is good practice for making space for God. But it goes against our natures. In our fast paced world we are conditioned to think that if our schedules are packed and busy we are more worthwhile. We need to learn to be ok with being still – aren’t we told to WAIT upon the Lord?
We have to be OK with being a little bored sometimes, to see the value in having margins in our lives, in having a day that is not packed full of busyness. We can’t be afraid of silence or being alone with our thoughts. It is in these blank spaces that God can get through to us. When we can carve out these spaces and tune in, then God is able to speak to us even in the messy chaotic times.
Find Regular Rituals to Still your Heart
It might be helpful to set aside specific rituals, times of the day or week or month where you can be still. Here are some examples, but of course you don’t need to do all of these every day. Likely there will be different rituals for different seasons of life, but the goal is to form a habit, built into what you’re already doing so that you have a few spaces of stillness intentionally carved out as a place for God to speak.
Some things that I’ve found helpful are as simple as taking a moment right after brushing my teeth, closing my child’s bedroom door at night or turning off the key to my car to take a few deep, conscious breaths. There was a time when I got up in the morning and immediately did a little yoga sun salutation stretch, just 30 seconds ending in child’s pose and connecting there for a minute with God. (really, only a minute or else I’d fall back asleep!) I’ve had seasons where getting up first thing and writing a few stream of consciousness pages of blah has helped me to clear space.
It may help to keep a gratitude journal, before going to bed, documenting a few lines each day of how you’ve seen God act in your life. Or perhaps just commit to spending 30 more seconds on your knees before bed listening for a message from God and writing it down.
Maybe you could do a short mindfulness meditation right after your lunch break. Or spend a few minutes each day before starting your car thinking about Jesus and asking in prayer to feel close to him.
I’ve found magic in my life when I set time limits on my phone and set specific times of the day where I will not go near a screen. I especially have found the windows of heaven open and pour out revelation if I charge my phone far from my bed. Those last few moments of consciousness and the first few after waking are where God can so easily speak if we listen.
Finding this connection doesn’t take hours of uninterrupted time, but we need to pause long enough to be able to hear God’s whisperings. It seems nearly impossible to stop the engines of family life long enough for this kind of pause, but when we build little breaths into our daily routines everything else we’re trying to do either comes into focus, or falls away in unimportance.
When we nurture our souls through a deep relationship with God we banish guilt and shame and are filled with love
It’s important to make space for God not just to hear his direction for you and your family, but also, and perhaps most importantly, to feel His love. God’s love does the hard work of scrubbing out our shame and guilt and fear. We learn in Timothy that “perfect Love casteth out fear” and in Isaiah that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. It is always there, available, waiting to encircle us. No matter what! When we spend time with God we feel it and it has the power to melt away any negative emotion that might make us feel unworthy to seek and receive guidance from God.
When we feel close to God and know that He knows and loves us then the channel to His vision, inspiration and guidance is free of static. We become clear, confident vessels, able to move forward and choose and feel blessed and aided by the almighty.
I’ve noticed that when I have invested in my relationship with God and feel close to Him then he helps me to see when I get things right. And boy, does that feel good. It’s not a feeling of pride, more a feeling of praise and gratitude for the joy and peace that comes when I’m in tune and trying to follow the Spirit.
Conversely, when I’m close to Him and get things wrong, instead of feeling guilt and shame God holds me together until I can come through and try again.
Practice #2: Learn how to be Present; And Embrace the Messiness.
Consider the Lilies of the Field. Give no thought for the morrow.
It is only in the present that we can receive revelation. It is only in the present where we can tune in. We need to learn how to be present and how to live in the present.
We love what the writer Anna Quindlen says about parenthood and being in the moment: the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make…. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”
It’s easy to be distracted by the getting things done and forget to be aware of the doing. Life as a parent is busy, but if we’re able to slow down a through the busyness, it is in the mess and the chaos that God will speak to us.
Be fully present in the now
It is important to find a way to embrace reality as it is so that we can live in the present. It is in the present, disconnected with past or future where we can hear God’s whispering, where we can connect with the spirits within our bodies. It is in the present that we feel the divine child of God inside of us. It is in this space where we can communicate spirit to spirit. This is where all revelation is found.
In his book, The Power of Now Ekhart Tolle talks about becoming an observer of our thoughts. He teaches that we are not our thoughts, that there is something apart from our neurons firing that makes up who we actually are. Translated into gospel language, this existence apart from our thoughts is our spirit, our spirit connected with The Holy Spirit, reminding us of the divine substance of our soul, of our eternal identities. Who we really are. When we can train our brains to watch the other creeping thoughts of mortality we can better connect with the Spirit and hear His whisperings.
Tolle says: Pay attention to the gap — the gap between two thoughts, the brief, silent space between words in a conversation, between the notes of a piano or flute, or the gap between the in-breath and out-breath. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.
There is a key here to revelation. When we can quiet our minds, through prayer, meditation, breathing, being present, yoga, and so on we are training our spirits to take over, to tap into God and put us on a divinely guided path.
Again, God doesn’t talk to us in the past or in the future. He speaks in the present.
Ideal vs. Real
In order to keep ourselves in the present and put ourselves in sync with God and open the door, we have to give up on getting everything right all the time. First, this would be impossible. We are imperfect beings. And second, it would miss the point of God’s plan. The imperfection of life is what makes it interesting and beautiful and worthwhile. When we wholeheartedly embrace life as it comes our way, we are open and clear conduits to God’s spirit and direction.
Don’t we sometimes feel as though we were much better parents before we had kids? We had it all figured out in our heads, so many great ideas, so much energy and drive to love and teach and learn as a parent. When children were just figments of our imaginations, a part of our future vision, they never got in the way of our brilliant plans. And then real live kids came along, not the American Girl Dolls we were 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 our children get in the way of our parenting!
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.
The trick here is to embrace the fact that we learn most from the unexpected and the trials, even the agonies that we endure. To realize that life wasn’t meant to be the flat, black and white, single dimensioned one that we had imagined. 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! This is what the path towards God feels like.
I woke at 5 am this morning to Peter’s pleas for milk and walked out all bleary eyed and stepped on some sharp legos before tripping over three huge piles of unfolded laundry piled up in baskets in my hallway. They’ve been there for almost 3 whole days. It seems like 80% of my life I’m stumbling through piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded and put away.
There’s just something about the laundry. It’s always there. I’ve been obsessing lately about how nice it would be if my kids just didn’t have to wear any clothes ever. No clothes shopping, no clothes rotating and storing and picking up, no laundry.
Tell me it’s not just me. Do we all wake up one day to little ugly, difficult details of our lives and ask ourselves, “Is this really my life? This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Maybe we were just dreaming of something a little more extraordinary, a little less mundane, a little more adventurous, a little more glamorous or recognized. Maybe we were just dreaming of a different kind of motherhood: thoughtful, balanced, loving, patient, ordered, peaceful. Happy kids, a clean house, folded and put away laundry.
And then we wake up to reality. The grouchy (grouchy, grouchy) kids. Our tired (tired, tired) body. The rubbed-in spit up stains on the couch. The dried mac and cheese under the high chair. The never shrinking (no matter how hard you tackle it) to do list. The mounds of clean laundry. (always the laundry!) The squalid reality of a real life. Wait, a real life?
The life in my dreaming wasn’t fettered with all these nasty little details…..but it also wasn’t one bit real.
Over and over again in life there comes a point where we must banish our ideals and move on to what is real. It is in this present space, this space of reality where we can plug into God and find all the glory He has in store for us.
I really struggled when I was deciding if I should marry Jeff (which now seems totally absurd).He was amazing. I was in love. But there was a problem. He didn’t match the image of my perfect husband, the one I had carefully crafted in my head using all those lists written during Young Women’s lessons. Sure, he had loads of assets that I’d never thought to include in those lists…..attributes and qualities that would really complete me, but for some silly reason they didn’t seem to matter, he didn’t look the same as the Mr. Perfect I’d dreamt up. And then, one blessed day it hit me. Mr. Perfect wasn’t real. He was made up in my mind. He didn’t exist. I decided that I’d rather live my life with something real and solid and amazing than hold on to this imaginary perfection in my head.
Sometimes we have to step back and take a few moments to recognize those silly ideals in our heads, to kill them, to mourn their loss for a moment and then shake our heads to see how much more beautiful reality is. Reality can be much harder to live in, there are a lot of messy details, but it’s only there that we really are living. And it is only through reality that we can feel a connection with God.
The tricky thing is that the beauty of reality is in the fleeting present. The moments that so easily get stamped out and trampled over by all the details and clutter and busyness in life. The ones that get buried in all those piles of laundry. Over and over again my goal is to clear out my life, all that clutter in my brain, widen my margins and grab on to reality. It’s in that reality where change happens, where God works with us to help us to become who He needs us to be.
Practice #3: Recognize your Stewardship, Celebrate your Unique Situation, and Repent Daily
One key to driving away comparison and feelings of inadequacy is to remind ourselves often that our children did not come to us by chance but as stewardships for which we were specifically selected by our Heavenly Parents themselves, the true parents, and that we are entitled to revelation and guidance from Them.
In this mortality where we own nothing and God owns all, we are given certain stewardships, the greatest of which is the children sent to us. God is their true parent, as he is our parent, and we are the stewards or “baby sitters” of these children, just as they would be ours had they come to earth a generation before rather than a generation after us. Thus we need to respect them as our equals and our brothers and sisters even as we guide them as our children.
I (Richard) was reminded of that one day by our five year old daughter Charity. It was a Sunday afternoon and reading comfortably at home until she pulled my magazine down and got into my face with a startling statement, “You’re not really my daddy.”
“What,” I said, “what are you talking about?”
“Well, my Sunday School teacher told us that we are all brothers and sisters, and Heavenly Father is our real daddy.”
Somewhat relieved, I patted her head. But little Charity wasn’t finished, “And, I’ve been thinking about it Dad, and I really think that I am your big sister and you are my little brother.”
She went on about something her teacher had said about the most noble or mature spirits being saved to come to earth last, and I basically just stared at her, thinking that she was probably right.
It is the asking of the true Father that yields revelation and answers to we, the baby-sitters or the stewards. This is a unique and powerful kind of prayer “How do we take care of this, your child…?” “What would you, the real Parent, have me do for this brother or sister entrusted to me…?” “Help me to understand this child and come to know who he or she really is and what she or he really needs…?”
The Lord’s Church is one of order, and of hierarchy, with Priesthood Lines and Chains of Authority, and there are some questions that should go through our Bishop and Stake President and Area Authority and General Authority and finally through the Prophet—and the answers may come back down that same chain. But in matters of our own families, of the children we have been given stewardship for, there is no link in the chain. We ask the Father directly, and He answers directly. Just as the Prophet has the right to direct revelation for the Church, so we have the right to personal Family Revelation for our children.
And the other side of asking is receiving. To ask is the most frequently repeated admonition in scripture, and it is almost always followed with the promise “and ye shall receive.”
But is “receive” just a promise, or could it also be another, separate admonition? We are told to receive, and as mentioned earlier, it is an active, not passive word. When we are confirmed members of the Church we are told to receive the Holy Ghost, to grasp it and obtain it. Which takes desire, and concentration and thought and work.
Some would relate to the metaphor of a receiver in football. It is the quarterback who throws the pass, but the receiver is not passive—he has to run, to reach his spot, to get his hands on the ball, and to hold it. Even the most perfectly thrown pass has no value or impact and makes no forward progress until it is received.
Another reminder: Any specific ideas or how-tos that you find in these pages are given only as examples, not as one-size-fits-all solutions. Because, other than God, YOU are the only expert on your own children, and something that works for some other parent with some other child may not work for you. But examples can stimulate us and make us think about what will work in our own unique families; and one form of revelation is discernment, or recognizing what is or isn’t right for your family, and re-shaping an idea to fit, or being motivated by something one family did to create a very different and unique way to do it yourself.
Understand that there is no “Randomness” in the Family You Came To or in the Children who Come to You. There are reasons, and you can gain insights into those reasons through revelation. In reading out children’s Patriarchial Blessing recently. I was amazed at how often the Patriarch blessed our children with the sure knowledge that they had been “assigned” to our family.
We are all on a journey to feel more comfortable and more confident in our familial stewardships, and to learn to open the agency-locked heavens by becoming better askers, more specific and more mindful; and to help us become better receivers, more attentive, more listening, more persistent, more active. Because in these two interrelated spiritual skills (of asking and of receiving) lie the secrets of family revelation.
In order to tune into God’s frequency we have to consistently repent and work to make our spirits clear and able to be in sync with God.
As President Nelson said in the General Priesthood session of Conference in April of 2019,
Repentance needs to be a daily occurrence…”
As we become more humble and capable in our own repentance, it will also rub off on our children.
My husband tells this incident with our adolescent son: “When Charlie was eleven, we were taking a year off from normal life, living on a farm, and homeschooling the kids, with only some rough thoughts about where we’d end up next. It was a crazy, unstructured, wonderful time. But we were all struggling with the ambiguity of where we’d end up next and that took a toll on my relationship with Charlie specifically. He was being a pretty normal pre-teen boy, but with perhaps a little more than normal swagger, confidence, and (on occasion) a tendency toward a very vocal sense of entitlement. Add to this the usual lack of follow-through and obedience you find in most kids his age, and I was rapidly losing patience with him. I responded to his complaining or pushing or begging pretty firmly, letting him know where I thought he was out of line, taking too much leeway, or not obeying his parents.
I was commuting a long distance into San Francisco, trying to start a new office at work, and generally not terribly involved in the rest of the family’s efforts at farming. I started trying to listen to a conference talk every day before switching over to sports radio. One day while driving home over highway 92, I was coming into Half Moon Bay and was listening to a talk called ‘The Righteous Judge’, by Elder Lynn G. Robbins. As the talk came to a section on parents as judges, and the need to use love even as we discipline.
As I listened, I had a distinct prompting to be ‘softer’ or ‘gentler’ with Charlie as a parent. More than that, I needed to repent, and tell Charlie that I was repenting, and ask his forgiveness. So that night, as I was putting Charlie to bed, I told him that I had been too hard on him lately, and that I was repenting, and I apologized. He immediately said ‘that’s OK dad’, and went to bed as usual. It wasn’t a huge moment, neither of us were particularly emotional, and I wouldn’t say it was a spiritual experience–I was just trying to execute on what I had been prompted to do.
The next night, I was again putting Charlie to bed. And this time, Charlie was clearly a little emotional. When I asked him what was going on, he said he needed to repent, and told me about an incident from a few months ago with a friend. He had made a mistake, and he knew it, and he wanted to fix it. We talked about how to repent, what the steps were, and what it meant to truly repent.
At this point, the light bulb went off for me. This was an extraordinary experience for me in how direct and clear the message was. I believe that I received this prompting not only to improve my parenting (which has lots of room for improvement), but also because Charlie needed an example of repentance at that point. As a favorite stake president pointed out in a talk a few months later, kids need to see their parents using the gospel like they use a knife in the kitchen, or a tool in the garage. Gospel principles are meant to be used to improve our lives, and without that repeated, regular example in the home, the gospel can easily seem irrelevant to our kids. This prompting gave me a perfect opportunity to show Charlie that the gospel was active in my life and could have a great impact on our relationship.”
Constant, regular repentance, and asking forgiveness from God and from our spouse and from family members brings two incalculable blessings. 1. It cleanses us and clears us and tunes us in to Family Revelation—immunizes us from its obstacles. And 2. It respects our spiritual-sibling children and teaches them by example how to do likewise.
Practice #4 Find entrances to holiness everywhere
Don’t be hesitant to seek revelation everywhere. God is not limited to prayer and scripture study and the temple. A Jewish teaching tells us that there are “doorways to holiness everywhere.” If we only look for them in our little boxes then we are missing out. We learn in the 13th article of faith that we believe that God has many great and important things to reveal to us. God doesn’t just have great and important things to reveal to the church, but also to us, in our lives. Mormon admonishes us to “lay hold upon every good thing.” We need to be open to finding answers and truth in all good things.
When we turn off the distractions of the world and tune in first to God, when we take time to make space for God to speak to us then we find entrances to holiness everywhere.
God indeed speaks to us in “spiritual” moments. But if we carve out time and space to connect with Him then He also speaks to us through not so “spiritual, but “mundane” moments. Even the most ordinary of tasks can become holy. With faith and God’s help we can make the mundane parts of our lives into holy spaces where we can commune with God.
Juile B. Beck has taught us: ”It requires a conscious effort to diminish distractions, but having the Spirit of revelation makes it possible to prevail over opposition and persist in faith through difficult days and essential routine tasks. Personal revelation gives us the understanding of what to do every day to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek those who need our help. Because personal revelation is a constantly renewable source of strength, it is possible to feel bathed in help even during turbulent times.”
In the Book of Mormon we are admonished to: “CRY unto god over your fields and flocks.” God blesses us as we work to consecrate all parts of our lives. When we take this approach it is less about what we do, and more about who we are. When we work to see God in everything then we find Him in everything.
I’ve found that I can take even the most unholy parts of my day and make them holy. The three things I dislike most about life as a mother are the never ending piles of laundry, the ever present task of buckling kids – often screaming and arching their backs – into car seats and the tedious job of putting kids to bed at night again and again and again when my patience is spent and my energy is depleted.
A friend once challenged me to identify the least enjoyable and holy things in life and find a way to make them holy. While I never actually found nirvana in these tasks, I was guided to a few solutions that did flip them into tasks that brought me closer to my children and to God.
My sister in law taught me to fold laundry like you would do a meditation. To take each article of clothing and to think about the person it belonged to as you methodically folded it. To press love into the onesie or the socks as you tried to cast aside any bitterness or anger. I learned to turn buckling seat belts around, from a chore, to a chance to love and connect with each child as I snapped each buckle. And bedtime slowly went from horrific, to tolerable, to enjoyable. On the best nights it became a holy time, sitting bedside, trying to pull out any of their worries and press my love into them, a time to apologize for things I got wrong and say a little prayer, connecting us both together to God.
Of course the laundry is most of the time just piled up laundry, I still lose my temper when the kids get out of bed for one more demand, and even though they now they buckle themselves in, I still find myself resenting all the driving around I do as a mom. But occasionally I get it right and these are holy markers in the mundanity of life.
This exercise taught me that, if we let him, God really does have the power to insert himself into even the most unlikely places in our lives. He has the power to make our weaknesses our strengths, to give us beauty for ashes.”
Julie B. Beck has said: Revelation can come hour by hour and moment by moment as we do the right things. When women nurture as Christ nurtured, a power and peace can descend to guide when help is needed.
Pure love/charity as a conduit for Family Revelation
When we make space for God, then all that we do becomes a sort of Revelation. Especially our loving acts of selflessness and service. Real charity is one of the most powerful channels to tune to. When we feel love for others, God is pulsing through us. We feel His thoughts, we are never more completely in tune with God then when we are loving others. Charity is defined as the pure love of Christ. For years I focused on the task of “developing” charity. Of making my love for others similar in nature and strength as Christ’s love. And then one day I realized that Charity might be more about being a clear vessel through which Christ’s love can be channeled. When we feel Christ’s love moving through us then we know what it is to love as our Heavenly Parents do, because we feel their love coursing through us.
This may be the most powerful form of revelation. We’ve felt it before, and crave to feel it more, that feeling of pure love for a child or a spouse that comes from someplace besides me. It is in this space that God gives us visions of who these people are that we are loving and what they need.
Practice #5: Asking: How Good Questions Lead to Good Answers
This article will end where it started—with the need to ask. As we think about all the ways in which we can seek and receive Family Revelation, we must never forget that they are all tied to asking and to exercising our agency to open the door to Christ and to The Spirit. If we don’t ask then we can’t receive.
As we have explored, there are a limitless number of ways that we can each receive guidance and revelation from God. However, none of these ways are automatic. They all require mental energy and faith, and they all require and involve some kind of asking. And they are all more effectual and result-producing when we approach them with well-formed questions already in our minds.
During our mission presidency, we had one statistically-inclined missionary, and this is before the days of computers and easy searches and calculation, who asked us an intriguing question: “What do you think,” he said, “is the most frequently repeated admonition in scripture?” Our first thought was that it was to love, or perhaps to keep the commandments.
No, he said, those are second and third. The most repeated admonition is to “ask.”
Our knowledge of the plan of agency causes this to make sense. Christ stands at the door and knocks, but we have to open the door, and we open it by asking. He knows all—certainly all we need to know about our children and our parents and our cousins and nieces and nephews and every other family member—but we have to ask to open agency’s door.
And asking is not as easy as it sounds. Oliver Cowdry found that out when he asked to translate and the Lord told him that he had to first “study it out in his mind,” think about it, ponder, tap into the spirit, and ask just the right question. “Seek” is the scriptural version of “ask” and it implies looking, desiring, energetically trying to draw down inspiration and revelation by summoning and asking the right questions.
We live in a world where answers are easy and cheap. We can get as many answers as we want just by Googling. Answers are a dime a dozen. However, just like with Google, in order to get the right answer, we have to ask the right question. A good question is a priceless thing, particularly a good spiritual question, because it leads us to divine answers.
Answers (revelation) are always the response to questions. And the ability to ask the right question is a spiritual gift to which we all should aspire. Perhaps one reason that Joseph Smith was chosen by God as the Prophet of the Restoration was his supreme ability to ask the right questions. Virtually every revelation he received was in response to a question.
God could have just laid out the restoration in a perfect, logistical sequence, but in taking the initiative to do so He would have violated our agency and taken away the opportunity for the hard mental energy of faith. Joseph said “when a man works by faith, he works by mental effort rather than physical force.” His own mental effort led to the questions that prompted the revelations that became the restoration.
And so it can be for each of us in our own families. If we apply our faith or mental energy to understanding the needs and natures of our children, we will be led to the right questions to ask God, which will draw down the right answers through the Spirit.
The answers will not always come immediately, but if we keep working on the right questions we will be drawn closer and closer to the divine answers. Sometimes there is great joy and faith in “Asking it well and waiting” for the answer to come in the Lord’s way and in His timing. This is part of what it means to “wait before the Lord.” As we wait, we watch for the answers. These two “w” words, watching and waiting, are often the bridge that connects our questions to God’s answers.
Knowing the right question is not always easy, and sometimes the first question we ask is the wrong one. One mother asked the question why is my son so rebellious and obstinate, and “Can you please fix him?” but as she prayed, it came to her that what she should be asking was “How can I love this boy unconditionally and better understand the feelings of his heart?”
Rather than worry and fret when we are not sure what the right question is, use it as the perfect starting point by asking what to ask for. A trigger point for revelation is the simple question “Lord, I ask thee to help me know what to ask.”
In asking, “Mental energy” is the key. The results we get and the awareness and perspective we have is usually in direct proportion to the amount or percentage of our mental energy devoted to whatever the subject is. If we spend ten times as much time and mental effort on our job each day than on our family, we are likely to get ten times more job insights than family insights.
But, luckily, it is not just a matter of time, because many of us are required to spend eight or ten hours at work each day and can’t possibly be with our families for that amount of time. But if our mental energy, our priority, our thought pattern, is oriented first to family, it can overcome the time imbalance and draw down the inspiration we need.
Often, in our speaking to business and professional groups, we focus on the deeper meanings of “priorities” and on the need to think first about our family relationships, even if we are required to think more about our jobs and work responsibilities.
Sometimes, when we are presenting fairly basic family communication or parenting ideas to these audiences, people are more impressed than they should be and ask us where we came up with all the ideas. We try to explain that all parental ideas and insights come from the expending of clear, prioritized, mental effort. And we often suggest that perhaps the reason they are so advanced in their professional or career thinking and so elementary and undeveloped in their family thinking is that they are putting so much more mental effort into the former than to the latter.
It actually amazes us, and gives credence to the reality of an adversary that is out to destroy families. Because it is not easily explainable why these smart, logical people, who say that their family is their priority, actually don’t expend much mental energy on it. It underscores that there is a very real, anti-Christ force that is actively working to distract and dim and discourage people’s attention from those they love the most.
There are so many good parents and good marriages in the world—among people of all faiths and people of no faith. Our observation is that it is the ones who devote a significant percentage of their mental energy to these priorities who succeed. The key to devoting more mental energy to our families is to think hard about the challenges and the specific questions we have about our families and individual family members, and to ask those specific questions directly to God.
A wise woman once said, “A question is like the hook at the end of a fishing pole. (Ardith Kapp?) Anyone who has ever been fishing can imagine how useless it would be to go fishing without a hook at the end of the fishing line. Just as there is no way to get what you want if you don’t ask, it is useless to get an answer to a problem if we don’t we don’t ask for specific help. When we’re “fishing” for an answer to a quandary or a problem, often it is much easier to conjure up a question that can be answer as we ponder and pray. It is remarkable how often we can feel inspiration and even revelation as we ask a question and then listen for an answer.
Questions Before Prayer
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” We have probably all felt this way when we are in crisis, when someone’s life is at stake, either physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Many events in our lives may make us feel helpless and hopeless: a child with special needs, an impasse with a spouse, or a child who has lost his way. Even in those very stressful situations, when we are pleading for help, we can try to ask better, clearer questions like, “What can I do to help with this dilemma? Who can help me? What are the words that I need to use to make this situation better or to help this child have the faith to ask God for her own inspiration?
The specificity of the answers usually matches the specificity of the questions. And then, of course, we need to listen. Even as we are “wrestling with the Lord” for answers to our questions, we often make the mistake of not taking he time to meditate, to wait on the Lord and earnestly listen for answers. If we ask our questions and then go about our daily routines or jump in bed and go to sleep, we vastly diminish our chances of being inspired with answers! Our dear friend Stephen Covey once told us in a private conversation that we should be listening for promptings and answers to our questions forty percent of the time spent praying.
Sometimes we need to replace resentment with better questions. From my journal:
Jeff has been gone again this week and when he got home I got a little huffy since he didn’t read my mind and jump right in to what I needed him to do. It was only when I had him home to do or not do, recognize or not recognize what I had been doing without him that I started to feel resentful and unhappy with my mother load. I got a distinct prompting as I prayed at night that I need to remind myself of my own fulfillment in this mothering work instead of wanting it so much from other places. Most of this work is what I want to be filling my life with.”
“I went to sleep wondering why men just fundamentally don’t get women’s experience….and visa versa. And trying to tell myself that really, that is ok. Felt a great connection with other women in the world who have surely felt this same way. Thankful to be a woman and for the sometimes unrecognized, but so nurturing world wide sisterhood I belong to.”
(Linda) Since our children have left our nest and I am no longer awakened in the mornings by a crying baby or a child who has been up all night with a cough, I have found that I actually have time to think about my prayers before I begin. Mostly I am wondering about who in our now large, extended family may need my prayers that day so that I can ask for help. Sometimes inspiration comes before I begin my prayer, but usually a name and a need pops into my mind while I am on my knees. It is astonishing how often I send an email or text to a child or grandchild after thinking about them in my prayer that I get a response saying something like, “How did you know that I needed that message today?”
Try staying on your knees for just 60 seconds and listen. When I do this I rarely get a big puzzle solving answer to a big question, but I ALWAYS feel the spirit, the reality of a God awake and aware. It takes just 60 seconds of the day to feel that divine power in my life and when I do I notice that I am more able to tune in throughout the chaos of the day.
Questions before attending the temple
A friend who is a former matron of the Seattle Temple says that when she is often asked to give a short orientation to youth and adults who are attending the temple for the first time, she always suggests that they will get a lot more out of the experience if they go in to do baptisms or initiatories, an endowment or sealing session with a question. Questions might be something like this:
How can I be a better member of my family?
Is there someone in this session who I can help?
Will the person I am going through the temple for be with me?
How can I respond better to a child who is rebellious?
What can I do to make my spouse happier?
I know the Lord has forgiven me. How can I forgive myself?
Questions before studying the scriptures
If we think of a worry or a concern that we have with a child, a spouse or a friend and then read scripture with that in mind, we have found that it is astonishing to find inspiration almost popping off the page.
As we began this inspired system of studying the scripture at home, I (Linda) decided to consider something I was worried about concerning my children. My mind fell on our oldest son who has never married. All his siblings adore him but he sometimes feels isolated without much in common with them when we are all together. While most of his siblings are bursting with children, he lives on his own and is an extraordinary teacher of third graders. His nieces, nephews and students almost worship him. In addition, he is pretty much a technology genius, a wonderful Sunday School teacher and a classic introvert! Because his life is so different in many ways from our other children I worry about him.
As I read John 1 I had a questions in mind: How can I help this son? What does he need from me and our family? Incredibly, I found several words and phrases and that applied directly to things that I could do to help me become more empathetic to his feelings. I felt prompted to write our son a letter of love and support and a request for ideas that would make our family gatherings easier for him. He responded beautifully and we now know more about what he is thinking. It has become easier for us to be sensitive to his feelings and more aware and more inclusive when we are together. Richard and I, as well as his siblings are doing much better job of helping him feel loved and included.
Similarly, we can ask questions before going to church on Sunday, before going into a fireside, before listening to conference, before taking the sacrament. A friend shared with me recently that she is using sacrament time to think through each of the people she loves and asking “what can I do to show them my love this week.”
While the adversity inherent in mortality along with the cunning efforts of the Adversary place numerous obstacles to opening the door to revelation for our families, the capacity to overcome is built into each one of us. We are children of God. He loves us. He wants to connect with us. When we make space for Him, trust in His answers, allow ourselves to get familiar with His love he will transform our very natures. As we receive or seek or follow promptings it will become less and less about what we do, and more about who we are. Line upon line and precept upon precept we will become clear and open and connected, vibrating on God’s own wavelength.
Next Week: Thanks for being with us each Tuesday for these articles on Family Revelation. Join us here next week as we explore how to APPLY the Revelation we receive within the paradigm of “Home Centered, Church Supported.”