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.

1 comment:

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