Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Teaching Our Children to Have Deep Faith

I have learned a few things about parenting in the church. I have always believed that I’m pretty good at it, but I have learned lately where I can do better. 

We have been counseled to do specific things to strengthen our families. We hear it often: Daily scripture study, daily prayer, Family Home Evening, and church attendance. We have been promised that if we do these things, our families will be strengthened and protected.

Having Family Home Evening, family scripture study, family prayer and attending church together are indeed important. Letting our kids see our examples of paying tithing and fast offerings, attending the temple and serving others is also very important. They learn more from our examples than perhaps any other source.

But these things are not enough. Lucifer is far too clever and cunning… downright evil… and his tools and his forces are getting worse. We need to ingrain these basic gospel activities into our children as core principles with tangible benefits, and not simply as casual exercises in obedience. But we still need more...

When our teenage kids become old enough to learn to drive, we don’t just ‘teach them’ by our example. We don’t depend on them watching how we drive, handing them the car keys and saying, “Now go do what I did.” No, we get our kids behind the wheel with close supervision and a lot of prayers for protection. That’s the only safe way they can learn… if we can even call that safe! Eventually we do turn them loose with the car keys… and even more fervent prayers. And they survive it. Why? Because they learned by doing. Will they make some mistakes? Probably… that’s why car insurance for teens is so expensive. But they will correct and strengthen their abilities.

In a work environment, management trainees get to experience the daily frustrations of running an organization and making tough decisions while under the supervision of someone who can mentor them. The trainees are learning hands-on, making their own decisions and dealing with difficult situations, not just by watching someone else or reading about it in a book. Co-pilots learn side-by-side with the captain of the airplane. Eventually, after many hours of hands-on training, the co-pilot will be in command of an aircraft. They cannot accept the responsibility for the lives of those they are transporting until they have experienced many different situations including weather, mechanical failures and administrative challenges.

When we follow the counsel from our prophets that I mentioned above, we indeed are helping develop testimonies in our children. But I have come to realize just how much these testimonies are borrowed. Our kids are leaning on our faith. That is good as they get started. But the time comes when they will be tested and tried. I mean really tested with something serious. And we won’t be there to shelter them or for them to lean on. What happens then?

If we have prepared them well, they will rise above the challenge with strengthened faith, better able to endure and overcome the next trial. If we have not prepared them well, they might be likened to the seed that fell upon stony places, as the Savior described in His parable of the sower:

5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. (Matt 13:5-6)

We need to allow our children to ‘learn by doing’ in the gospel. This means that we need to let them exercise their own faith. We need to let them struggle. We need to let them feel the pain and fear of significant trials. We need to let them plead to their Heavenly Father for answers or relief, whichever is appropriate for the occasion. We even need to let them fail at times… and encourage them to get back up and keep trying. And as the crowning part of this exercise, we need to help our children recognize the answers and blessings that come from the trial of their faith. They need to see these results.

Seeing the results of their own exercise of faith is like the experience that comes from driver training… there is no substitute for doing it. Seeing someone else do it is not good enough. It’s helpful but insufficient on its own.

One way we can help our children is to include them and involve them in family issues. If we have lost our employment or are dealing with a serious illness or other substantial trial, we should not try to protect our children’s feelings by keeping it a secret. While doing so seems emotionally protective, it can be spiritually destructive, as it denies them the chance to grow in personal faith. As long as confidentiality is not a concern, we need to include our children.

Example: Dad lost his job, and this creates a potential hardship on the family. By discussing the situation at Family Home Evening, all of the children can be aware of the concern. The family can pray together. The children can pray individually as well. Perhaps they can fast together, and the kids can feel some personal sacrifice / investment by being hungry for a little while. They can all provide encouragement to Dad as he looks for new employment. And when they see him get another job, they can rejoice together in the blessings. What the children take from this is that they personally exercised their faith and saw the promised blessings. They are genuinely stronger.

Many years ago my family was on a vacation in Colorado. My four-year-old daughter was miserable with mosquito bites all over her body. She was so itchy that she could not sleep. It seemed that all the Calamine lotion in the world could not bring her relief. So I suggested that we pray together and ask Heavenly Father for help. As I remember it, we both prayed, and she gave the sweetest, cutest little girl prayer. The next morning, she came to me excitedly and let me know that the prayer had worked, and that she was able to get a good night’s sleep.

I have always loved this story. It shows a child exercising her own faith, and when the blessings come, seeing that faith strengthened. That faith is not borrowed, and the experience can never be taken away from her. This is the beginning of real depth to a testimony.

Heavenly Father has a job to do… “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) He cannot accomplish this by sheltering us and letting us forever lean on His knowledge of eternal truths. He must let us learn for ourselves, including some tough, heartbreaking experiences. And if we want to give our own children the same blessings, we must let them learn the tough lessons of life as well. We must let them struggle, exercise their own faith, make their own sacrifices, and see the blessings come. Depth of faith can come in no other way that I am aware of.

 I would like to see my children have enough experience exercising their faith on their own and seeing the blessings and answers that come, that they could never doubt what they know. Jacob, the brother of Nephi, gives perhaps the best description of what I hope to see in my children:

"And he (referring to Sherem) had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken." (Jacob 7:5)

Whether we see angels is not important here. What matters is that we have enough experiences with the exercise of faith and seeing the blessings come that we know for ourselves and cannot be easily shaken. And if we can help our children gain genuine depth of faith and experience, I believe we truly will have done our jobs as parents in Zion. 

Right now I feel like I have some work to do.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"In the Church" vs. "At Church" - Some Revealing Questions

The spiritual challenges that people in the LDS faith are having in this day and age stir me to want to bear witness of some truths.

One of my favorite church books is “Christ and the Inner Life” by Truman Madsen. I have loved this book since I was missionary age. One of the chapters in the book is titled “Twenty Questions,” where Brother Madsen describes a conversation he had with another man who had drifted away from the church. He asked the man about twenty varying questions to gauge his depth of experience and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of the conversation, Brother Madsen concluded that his friend was ‘a member of the church but was not really “in” the church.’ I love that chapter of the book. It is perhaps the best ‘litmus test’ of sorts that I know of to measure a person’s depth of conversion and faith in the gospel. I have created my own list of questions here, based on Brother Madsen’s list. I give reference to this book because I didn’t want to plagiarize something I respect so much and believe to be quite profound.

Here are the questions I would like everyone to ask themselves:

Not Lost in the Crowd

Do you feel like just another obscure person in the church, one in a crowd of people trying to worship a disconnected being that nobody knows? Or do you know that God is your Heavenly Father – your Father – and that He knows you personally? Have you ever experienced a feeling of closeness to Him when you have fasted or prayed, or simply pondered on spiritual things?

Feasting on the Word

Have you ever become so interested in reading the scriptures that you just did not want to put them down? Granted, it probably didn’t happen while reading Isaiah, but have you ever enjoyed reading to the point where boredom, other priorities, or even sleep fled from you? Joseph Smith stated that ‘he who reads [the Book of Mormon] most will like it best’. Have you experienced this?

Speaking Directly to You

Have you ever felt while reading in the scriptures, wherever in them you were reading, that the words jumped off the page and spoke directly to you? Have you ever been able to do what Nephi did and ‘liken them unto yourself, that they might be for your own profit and learning’? Moroni told us that he ‘saw our day, and knew our doing’. Have you ever felt that some verses of scripture fit your circumstances or concerns so accurately that these ancient prophets could have meant their words just for you?

Just For You

While pondering about the Atonement of Christ, perhaps during the administration of the sacrament, have you ever stopped to really think about what the Savior did for you personally? Not as a general service for all, but for you? Have you ever thought about the big mistakes you’ve made in your life, and considered how He can just make them go away? Perhaps you have personally felt the cleansing that comes from feeling forgiven. Have you ever really studied with an open heart the words of Hymn 193, “I Stand All Amazed”? Have you ever become emotional when considering the incredible gift of redemption that Christ gave to you?

Words Beyond Your Own

Have you ever born your testimony, given a talk, given a blessing, or shared or defended the gospel of Jesus Christ in some other situation, and realized that you were using words that were not your own, or that thoughts came to your mind that did not originate from any memory or experience you had had? The Savior taught us that the words we need to share would be given to us at the very moment. Have you ever experienced this, and been able to understand where those words came from?

Thin-Veil Experience

Have you ever had the experience when you definitely felt the presence of more people, perhaps many more, than you could physically see? A ‘crowded’ place where you couldn’t see the crowd? Perhaps the death of a loved one, or a birth, or an experience in the temple?

Loving Those You Serve

When you have served other people, whether it be a home teaching or visiting teaching assignment, an extra act of service like taking a meal or repairing a car, or something else for someone who needed help… did you do it because you felt obligated? Did you do it because you felt the need to ‘give back’ what had once been given to you? Or did you do it because through a life of serving others, you have learned to feel love for those in whom you have taken some personal ‘ownership’ in their happiness or well-being?

Talking to a Friend

When you pray most earnestly, perhaps while in the car alone, or during a personal trial, do you really open up to Heavenly Father and talk to Him as if He is sitting there next to you? Do  you talk to Him as if he is distant and mildly interested in you, or do you talk to him openly and candidly as if He was a personal  friend?

Sweat Equity

Have you ever really struggled? Ever had your faith tried and tested by some challenge in your life? Pushed to what you believed was your breaking point? Did you plead with your Father for answers or relief? It can be something as simple as paying tithing when you feel like you can’t afford it, and you see blessings come that are otherwise unexplainable. It can be as simple as recovering from a sickness or injury after a priesthood blessing. It can also be something bigger, like seeing a loved one healed of a terrible disease, or finding a job when your financial back was against the wall. And when you did your part to exercise your faith, to increase your obedience or humility, did you see the blessings come? Did you recognize where those blessings came from? Have you repeated this process enough times in your life to know that it will continue to happen as you humble yourself and draw near to your Father?

Listening Deeply and Patiently

When you pray about something that is deeply concerning to you, do you prepare? And do you listen? I mean, really listen? Before you actually starting ‘talking’ in your prayer, did you take some time to ponder on the situation? And after you ended your prayer, did you just get back to the mundane tasks of life and forget about the process of spiritual communication and revelation, or did you continue to ponder for a while and listen closely to the Spirit? In the same way we need to let our eyes dilate and adjust to darkness if we want to look at the stars at night, we must let our minds eliminate the noise of life and become more sensitive to revelation. Have you ever just listened for a while after praying?

Your Will or His Will

When you have prayed during tough times, did you ask for guidance to help you grow from your trial, or did you ask for relief to make it go away? Most often the Lord wants us to grow. He wants us to work through it and become stronger. He has the objective of growing us and preparing us to be like Him and to do what He does. That cannot happen if He just bails us out. Did you pray for what you wanted, or did you pray to know His will in your circumstances?


A person who can answer all or most of these questions affirmatively – meaning that you have depth of experience in the gospel – is not one who is ‘delicate’ in their faith, and who is not prone to have their spiritual foundation weakened by issues like Ordain Women, Joseph Smith and polygamy, or some newfound controversial documents about Joseph Smith or other church-related issues that have suddenly appeared on the internet. A person who answers these questions affirmatively has depth to their faith. They have a deeper knowledge based on their experience with spiritual things. They put their trust in what they have proven time and time again – tests of faith followed by consistent and dependable blessings, as well as personal revelation in many contexts. They do not trust the wisdom of the world more than they trust God, His prophets and His divinely revealed word.  Those who answer affirmatively are like Jacob when he was confronted by Sherem in Jacob 7:5. Their faith cannot easily be shaken by worldly ‘wisdom’.

Those who have not had the experiences I ask about in these questions are not only likely to look to the world, but they are more likely to mock those who don’t do the same. They may be ‘at church’ but they are not ‘in the church’. They do not understand the spiritual essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They try to prove… or more accurately disprove… the validity of the gospel, using worldly evidence. This is impossible. See 1 Corinthians 2:11-14. Yet they try because they have no other methods available to them in their state of denying the Spirit of revelation.

There are no examples in the scriptures of anyone who embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ because they proved it using physical evidence, documents they read, or because they heard it from someone else. They embraced it because they had a spiritual witness, much like Peter did (Matthew 16:16-17). Trying to prove spiritual truths through worldly physical evidence is not only impossible, but it is frankly absurd in my opinion. Yet those who cannot receive a spiritual witness, either because they refuse to earnestly seek the truth at the risk of being wrong, or are simply unable to humble themselves before the Lord, will always be frustrated. So they mock.

“Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble” (Alma 32:16).