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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
When children struggle, we parents often feel like failures. Nevertheless, despite what we might view as evidence to the contrary, we are uniquely endowed to become saviors to our wayward children. We are more successful than we think. Elder Mark E. Petersen taught parents: “You are ministers of the Lord unto your children, and if you will do your duty by your children, you will be as saviors on Mount Zion to them”[i]
Ye Are Gods
Anciently, King David had a remarkable revelation concerning our premortal stature and concern for the condition of the earth and God’s children. David recounted his vision in Psalm 82, part of which Jesus quoted during his ministry.[ii] Effectively, David saw the righteous sons and daughters of God, who were yet spirits, petitioning God to end injustice, wickedness, poverty, and ignorance. The people, “walk in darkness,” they complained, and consequently “the foundations of the earth are out of course.”
Then the Father makes an extraordinary observation and lays the responsibility back on their shoulders. “Ye are gods,” he declared; “and all of you are children of the most High.”[iii] In other words, you have attained to a high station and have the power within you to fix the conditions you are so concerned about. Therefore, go down and fix them, and I will help.”
If we could see past our present frailties, we would see gods, who were once empowered to accomplish unfathomable divine feats, the greatest of which were the acts of redemption. Because we have temporarily forgotten our exalted premortal stature does not negate the fact that exceptional abilities lie within us. Most certainly, we are up to the task of partnering with the Father and the Son to rescue a wayward child.
Raising Children Unto God
After God created Adam and Eve and united them in eternal marriage, he gave them a commandment, which he has renewed with every married couple, and which he has never rescinded: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.”[iv]
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the prophet and Apostles made this statement: “The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”
When Heavenly Father entrusts us parents with his children, we are under obligation to raise them unto God, to do all we can to return them to Him. President Howard W. Hunter said,
Anyone who becomes a parent is under strict obligation to protect and love [God’s] children and assist them to return to their Heavenly Father. All parents should understand that the Lord will not hold guiltless those who neglect these responsibilities.
After the Exodus and while Israel was in the wilderness, Moses, in teaching his people, instructed them that the commandments of the Lord should be taught by parents to their children in the home. He said to them: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And 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” (Deut. 6:6-7).[v]
What is a “Successful” Parent?
Nevertheless, President Hunter added, “There are children who have come into the world that would challenge any set of parents under any set of circumstances.” When we have taught our children correctly, he said, we can consider ourselves successful parents, a comforting reassurance from an Apostle. “A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent.”[vi]
Mourning over her wayward children and struggling with her self-worth, a mother in Nevada wrote, “I always feel I could have done more, and I feel the guilt that comes when my parenting skills fall short. I always struggle when my children struggle, but I stand firm in my love for them and ask for help from my Heavenly Father. I try hard to forgive myself but always feel if I had been a better mom maybe they would have had a different life.”
Like this suffering mother, too many parents take their children’s problems personally. But as noted above, our job is to love, sacrifice, care for, teach, and minister as much as our children will allow. These are comforting thoughts for parents whose children exercise their agency and refuse to respond to their parents’ pleading, long-suffering, and sorrow.
Elder Hunter reminded us that “we should never let Satan fool us into thinking that all is lost. . . . Each child is unique. Just as each of us starts at a different point in the race of life, and just as each of us has different strengths and weaknesses and talents, so each child is blessed with his own special set of characteristics. We must not assume that the Lord will judge the success of one in precisely the same way as another. As parents we often assume that, if our child doesn’t become an overachiever in every way, we have failed. We should be careful in our judgments.”[vii]
We are Novices at Parenting
We are novices when it comes to parenting; we are like new missionaries arriving in their fields of labor. We, like missionaries, are called to do the work of salvation, but the Lord is patient with us as we strive to meet new challenges. The instructions that the Lord gives to missionaries might be applied to parents:
Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. [Something marvelous is about to occur in your family-a new baby!] Therefore, O ye [parents] that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
According to the scripture, desire qualifies parents for the work, and they qualify for salvation by fulfilling parents’ first commandment in righteousness. Continuing, what qualities does the scripture state that parents should strive to develop? “Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” And of course the promise is that God will not leave us alone in this monumental responsibility: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” [viii] Answers and support are just a prayer away.
The miracle of God’s work is that weak things are divinely empowered to accomplish great things. “Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit.
“[ix] The mighty are not necessarily chosen. The Lord is willing to call us children to rear His children. When it comes to parenting, we are mere babes; nevertheless, He allows us this privilege simply because we “desire” to do His work-to give physical life to his children and to teach them the principles of salvation. Because we desire, we are called to the work.
We Were Called, Prepared, and We Have Covenanted to Save
During the process of creation, God “came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences,”[x] and there, as President J. Reuben Clark said, “he found many that were great and good . . . there were many of the noble and great ones.” President Clark continued:
Following upon this general principle, the Prophet Joseph said: “Every man who has a calling,” every man, “to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand council of heaven before this world was.” . . .
I do not know whether we have a right to interpret the Prophet’s statement . . . but I like to think that it does include those of us of lesser calling and lesser stature. We have been told ever since I was old enough to remember that those who are coming forth among the Latter-day Saints were choice spirits, and I like to think that perhaps in that grand council something at least was said to us indicating what would be expected of us, and empowering us, subject to the reconfirmation here, to do certain things in building up the kingdom of God on earth.[xi]
Our parental calling and preparation likely began in the premortal world-the “first place,”[xii] as Alma calls it. There, a select group of people received a calling into the holy order[xiii] because they had “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”[xiv] The premortal holy order, of course, was comprised of those righteous men and women who were worthy of the blessings of the priesthood. We latter-day parents were included in that select group because we desired to help redeem God’s children. Elder David B. Haight commented,
John A. Widtsoe provides insight to an earth-life responsibility made in that premortal world which is of great importance. He highlights a contractual agreement we made concerning the eternal welfare of all of the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father:
“Since the plan is intended for all men, we [the covenant people of the holy order] became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but . . . saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. . . . The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.”[xv]
Parents in Israel are uniquely endowed to Save
The group of premortal noble and great ones that formed the holy order was called Israel, whose founding fathers would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Israel is an eternal people. She came into being as a chosen and separate congregation before the foundations of the earth were laid; she was a distinct and a peculiar people in preexistence, even as she is in this sphere.”[xvi]
As Israelites (or Israelites by adoption through baptism), we, like our father Abraham, wanted to come to earth to teach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and become a “father [or mother] of many nations, a prince [or princess] of peace.”[xvii] Righteous men, who were premortally appointed “High Priests of God,”[xviii] having proved themselves by choosing good over evil in the conflict in heaven, had “undoubtedly labored among the spirits in the premortal world and were ordained and prepared to descend to earth and be leaders in the Lord’s redeeming work here.”[xix]
Additionally, as President Kimball noted, “faithful women were given certain assignments,” which, like their male counterparts, they were accountable for, just as are the prophets and Apostles.[xx]
By becoming part of the holy order in the premortal world, we entered into a covenant to become Saviors on Mount Zion to the whole human family, starting with our own families. Catherine Thomas said the following:
It is likely that many of the premortal house of Israel . . . entered into covenants with those who would be our ancestors as well as with those who would be our posterity. We did this for the express purpose of having a saving influence in both directions-on our ancestors through work for the dead and on our posterity through nurturing work for the living, all under the continuing direction of the great Redeemer.
Likely our own labors with many spirits commenced in the spirit world, our hearts being bound together in love from our associations through eons. . . .
We would, by our premortal covenants with loved ones and with the Lord, become extensions of God’s power during our mortal probations and actually be able to exert a saving influence on an increasing number of people. [xxi]
Learning the Principles of Redemption is Essential to Exaltation
Why would learning the process of redemption be so important?
Those who will persist in learning and perfecting that power will be exalted to the stature of their parent Gods. Is it any wonder, then, that God places so much weight on our learning the principles of redemption? And if that is the case, could we doubt for a moment that covenant relationships are left to chance or that children enter families as randomly as a dealer distributing cards?
Clearly, as prophets have said, there are few coincidences for covenant people,[xxii] and therefore no important person is in our lives by accident. That realization leaves us only one course to pursue: because we were called and prepared to do the work of redemption among our children, we must move forward in faith and labor diligently, even when no hope seems to be in sight. Mormon’s exhortation to
Moroni should become our mantra: “And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.”[xxiii]
Changing Our Paradigm
The fact that many of us deal with wayward children indicates a divine trust, not a mortal failing. Premortally, we exercised righteousness and developed a love of redemptive principles that qualified us to be called gods.
As such, when we observed the conditions of this fallen world and foresaw the risks that those conditions would present to our children, we petitioned God and he responded by assigning us to come to earth and counter the conditions by the power of our righteous actions.
Thus, we became saviors in training, and our commission now is to fulfill our premortal calling. As long as we rely on the Savior, who commissioned us, our prospects of eventual success are, according to the prophets, grand and glorious.
[i] Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, October 1959, 14.
[ii] John 10:34
[iii] Psalm 82:6
[iv] Genesis 1:28.
[v] Howard W. Hunter, “Parents’ Concern for Children,” Ensign, November 1983.
[vi] Howard W. Hunter, “Parents’ Concern for Children,” Ensign, November 1983.
[vii] Howard W. Hunter, “Parents’ Concern for Children,” Ensign, November 1983.
[viii] D&C 4:1-7, emphasis added.
[ix] D&C 35:13.
[x] Abraham 3:21.
[xi] J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1950, 169-171, emphasis added.
[xii] Alma 13:5.
[xiii] See Alma 13:1.
[xiv] Romans 8:29.
[xv] John A. Widtsoe quoted in David B. Haight’s “Temples and the Work Therein,” Ensign, November 1990, 59.
[xvi] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 510.
[xvii] Abraham 1:2.
[xviii] Alma 13:10.
[xix] M. Catherine Thomas, “Alma the Younger, Part 1,” Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
[xx] Spencer W. Kimball, “The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, November 1979.
[xxi] M. Catherine Thomas, “Alma the Younger, Part 1,” Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
[xxii] See Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Lessons Learned in the Journey of Life,” Liahona, May 2001.
[xxiii] Moroni 9:6.