When parenting our teenagers I used to ask myself: Am I doing enough to prepare them for the challenges ahead? Is our family prayer and scripture study making a difference, when their body language doesn’t always evidence it? Am I loving them unconditionally, teaching them effectively, laughing with them agreeably, and modeling behavior commendably? Consider this example of how our efforts really DO make a difference, even when we can’t measure them immediately from external cues. “People are like hyacinth bulbs. All we can do is make a good place for them to grow, but each person is responsible for doing his own growing in his own time” (Torey Hayden). Sometimes growth is a very silent thing, like what happens when we store hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator waiting for the planting season. It doesn’t look like growth is taking place at all. Our children are like that. We can’t always tell growth is happening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, providing a milieu of respect, love, and learning in the home is the perfect soil for development. Silent, imperceptible growth is taking place deep inside which will one day unfold into lovely blossoms. Our children will learn from what they see in the examples around them, how much they feel our love, what they hear, and what they experience as we teach and model correct principles.
Before lighthouses were built, legend claims that friends built large fires along the coastline to guide sailors safely to shore. In the dark of night, these signals warned of shallow water that might sink their ships if ventured too close. Jesus Christ is the light and life of the world. If we fix our gaze on Him and follow His teachings, we will be guided to the harbor of spiritual safety. The words of a favorite hymn further describe this beautiful metaphor: “Brightly beams our Father’s mercy, from His lighthouse evermore; but to us He gives the keeping, of the lights along the shore. Let the lower lights be burning; send a gleam across the wave. Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save.” The Lord has provided a way back to Him through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. “Look for the lighthouse of the Lord. There is no fog so dense, no night so dark, no gale so strong, no mariner so lost but what its beacon light can rescue. It beckons through the storms of life. It calls: This way to safety. This way to home” (Thomas S. Monson). I am grateful for our Redeemer who rescues me as I follow His light.
Our one-year-old granddaughter played a game of hide-and-seek with her mommy recently. Rather than choosing an easy place behind the sofa, she crawled inside a cabinet, completely out of view. She forgot one minor detail though, and left the door ajar. This caused me to think about the analogy of God’s children foolishly thinking that they can hide sins from our omniscient Heavenly Father. Our choices in life do not constitute a game. They affect eternal life. Of course God sees when I make a poor choice. He prompts me through my conscience, which is the light of Christ, given to every man—to discern right from wrong. Conscience is light to our souls. Have you noticed that evil activities always lurk in dark places? Windows are darkened or shaded, lights are dimmed and raucous music deafens the inner voice of conscience. But, the door is always ajar. Our loving Heavenly Father will reach out to find us and guide us back if we want to be found. As we repent, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is activated, and we are cleansed. “I appeal to each [person] to ask himself: Where am I? Am I ashamed so that I want to hide, or am I where I should be, doing what I should be doing, and preparing to meet God? Let each of us determine to humble ourselves and repent, and prove ourselves worthy of the great promise that those who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever” (N Eldon Tanner). What a Reason to Rejoice!
We were standing in the wind, rain, and cold at the end of a long queue to tour the Payson Temple open house on the busiest of days. Three teenage girls in front of us were shivering in short sleeves and bare legs—jumping up and down to generate heat. Finally, one girl said to her friends, “Ok, guys—enough of acting wimpy. We’ve gotta be tough. We can do this!” It made me smile—because I think she had heard these words many times before. Good parents teach their children to do hard things. They teach them to work, to endure, and to be “tough.” In this context, “tough” means to weather the storm instead of quitting. It means—no whimpering allowed! But how do parents teach this important skill when it’s our natural instinct to swoop down and pluck a child from distress? It’s a delicate balance to minister compassion while giving challenging responsibilities and accountability. A child will gain confidence when a parent says, “You can do this!” instead of rescuing. Does the Savior rescue us from every distress? No. He allows us to grow as we push through hard things, although He guides us to the finish line. He cheers us on and enables us to do what we could not do on our own. When our children were young, we gave them tasks to perform. If they complained—another task was immediately added, without scolding. Lessons were learned quickly this way. I want to be able to say these words at the end of each day: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
Here’s a little parenting tip that I learned years ago about talking to teens. At age 14, our son had very few words to share in conversation. He kept a lot inside. Then gradually things began to change. It was during our long commutes in the car to school, work, and activities while building our new home. My initial attempts to spark conversation failed because I peppered him with too many questions. He felt interrogated, and his answers were brief, usually one or two words. It was obvious that the kind of communication I wanted was more than a volley of questions and answers. So I shifted gears. I decided to share my struggles, hopes, victories and even failures—and what I was learning from them. At first I was doing most of the talking. But as I entrusted my innermost feelings into his safe-keeping—he gradually began to reciprocate. He told me about his struggles and victories, even his failures—and what he learned from them. We responded to each other with empathy and support as friends navigating a difficult world. The car is like a cocoon that can provide intimate communication. Not long after, while tucking him in bed at night, he said, “Mom, I can tell you everything.” Then he quickly qualified it. “Well, almost everything.” In the many years since that time, we have continued to share freely with each other “almost everything.” Now a father of six, our son makes a conscious effort to continue the tradition of talking openly with his children. They have learned to value conversation and unplug from electronics. Talking builds relationships. Unplug. Utilize time in the car for real communicating.
We used an effective object lesson during a recent family gathering. We discussed how Satan is waging war against all those who are trying to keep the Lord’s commandments. What tools can we use to protect ourselves and stay true to our covenants? My wife and I had purchased 12” lengths of painted rebar for each child to represent the iron rod spoken of in the scriptures. The prophet Lehi saw in vision that many people wandered blindly through mists of darkness, losing their way and following forbidden roads. Lehi saw an iron rod beside the path leading to the Savior. If the people would hold fast to that rod, they would not lose their way. What does the rod of iron mean? “It was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Nephi 15:23-24). We challenged our family to prop the rebar “iron rod” in a prominent place as a reminder to read scriptures daily. This daily habit will be a protection against Satan’s temptations. It will empower us with ability beyond our own to stay on the path. It will open channels of personal revelation from God. These are Reasons to Rejoice!
I will never forget the time I wanted to stoke my wood-burning fireplace with a lump of coal to extend the flame. Being in a hurry and not wanting to take time to change out of my white sweater dress, I decided to just be very careful retrieving the coal. (Silly me!) I went to the garage and gingerly opened the bag while slowly extracting a lump. Holding it out in front of me with extended arms, I walked back into the house and slid the lump of coal on top of the fire. I smiled smugly at my family for this amazing feat before rushing out the door to my meeting. But as I was about to make my presentation, I was horrified to notice a black smear of soot on my sleeve. Here is the lesson I learned that day: It is pride to think I can deviate even a little from the covenantal path without getting smudged in some way. I can’t tango with sin without its dirt rubbing off on me. The smear may not be immediately discernable but it is there all the same—and will bring me down. The Lord gives commandments to protect, not restrict us. He is a loving God—not a punitive God. I trust Him. “The discipline contained in daily obedience…builds an armor of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality” (L. Tom Perry). This I believe with all my heart.