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.
During a road trip, my husband and I took turns discussing these 3 questions: (1) What lessons have we have learned from the past? (2) How we can prepare for the future? (3) How can we enjoy living today? It was a fascinating and unifying activity. Of course the lessons learned from the past were usually gleaned from trial experiences. Though everyone’s list will be different, I’ll share just a few ideas we came up with from each category.
- Learn from the past: In the strength of the Lord, we can do hard things; Joy is in God, not in circumstance; recognition of countless divine rescues and tender mercies; the need of a Savior in the eternal plan of happiness; learning what is really important.
- Prepare for the future: Seek learning, both sacred and secular; continue to budget and save; practice prudence and generosity; maintain habits of healthy eating and exercise; establish emergency plans and supplies; maintain and repair property and possessions; nourish strong family relationships; view life with optimism and cheer; have a positive attitude about aging.
- Enjoy today: Appreciate each moment as a gift from God; increase gratitude; perform acts of service each day; prioritize best options for use of time; cherish each other and strengthen our marriage; be actively engaged in good causes; smile more; be other-centered; learn balance and pacing of all good things.
Plan to have this discussion with your spouse. It will give you many Reasons to Rejoice!
Home is a sacred place. It is where families are nourished physically and spiritually. “He’s looking for a home, ‘cause everyone needs a place; and home is the most excellent place of all” (Neil Diamond). Why?—because “It is in the home that we form our attitudes, our deeply held beliefs…Our homes are more than sanctuaries; they should also be places where God’s Spirit can dwell, where the storm stops at the door, where love reigns and peace dwells” (Thomas S. Monson). Happy homes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But the happiest of homes share these characteristics in common: “(1) a pattern of prayer; (2) a library of learning; (3) a legacy of love” (Thomas S. Monson). Parents and grandparents have the responsibility to prepare children for trials and challenges they will encounter in life. “We must teach them truth and encourage them to live it, and they will be all right no matter how severely the world is shaken” (Richard G. Scott). My wife and I work hard to make our home such a nurturing place. We aren’t perfect, but we continually strive to improve. We want all who enter our home to be welcomed by a happy glow of the Lord’s Spirit present here.
I have often fantasized about a tensionless state where there are no deadlines, no stress. Isn’t that the ideal we all seek? Isn’t it good to reduce stress in our lives? Victor Frankl (from Man’s Search for Meaning) disagrees: “If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the arcs are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.” He summarized, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal.” I guess I don’t mind stressful work if I can see a worthy purpose—if it pushes me outside my comfort zone to be learning and growing. When Michelangelo was asked if carving stone exhausted him, he replied that it did not; rather, it filled him. Any effort with a worthy purpose produces growth. That’s why God allows adversity and challenge in in our mortal journey. So instead of yearning for a stress-free existence, I should smile and ask, “What am I learning from this?”
Here is an important question to ask ourselves as parents: What behaviors in our children evoke our greatest applause? For example, do we exult when they exhibit integrity as much as when they win a game of sports? Do we rave over quiet acts of kindness as much as we compliment clothes or physical appearance? Do we praise humility and unselfishness as much as we celebrate certificates and awards? Do we respond with swelling pride over their teachable attitudes and hard work as much as we reward final grades? Our children observe with keen eyes those things we value most. They see our eyes light up. We don’t have to say a word. Here is an example. As a young child, I remember distinctly one summer evening being tucked into bed before it was completely dark. In response to my mild protest, my father began explaining the earth’s rotation, raising objects in the air representing earth, sun, and moon. I asked, “Why don’t things fall off the earth when it is upside down?” He gasped with delight—and exclaimed, “Lois, that is an EXCELLENT question! You are really thinking!” I was shocked but absolutely thrilled at his animated response to such a simple question. I recognized that he valued good questions as a reflection of deeper thinking. It gave me confidence to think deeper, wonder more, ask more, as our sweet relationship developed over the years.
- What things evoke your most enthusiastic response? What values are you teaching this way?
Can every parent relate to this dialogue at the dinner table? Parent: “So what did you learn at school today?” Child: “Oh, nothing.” As a teacher, I spent countless hours planning and preparing stimulating experiences to unleash student potential, and would have been crestfallen to hear this! Absolutely nothing? Really? Probably the child did learn something at school, but didn’t value it enough to remember and report. Similarly, my Heavenly Father must be disappointed in my failure to remember, report, and record what I learn each day. Each precious day of life is “school”—and Christ is my Master Teacher. He provides parables and gems of insight if I have eyes to see. If not, I show ingratitude for His efforts in my behalf, like the child saying, “Oh nothing” when asked what he learned in school. So, I decided to recount in prayer what I had learned at the end of each day. And then record it in my journal. At first I struggled to extract spiritual lessons from ordinary days. It was a stretch. But gradually I got the hang of it, and discovered, to my surprise, that there were many lessons drawn from seemingly unspectacular events. (Many of my blog ideas have come from this source.) Give it a try. It has made life more meaningful and joyful to recognize God’s loving efforts to teach me.
“A representative will be with you shortly,” are words that easily push me to the edge of my patience, especially when accompanied with, “Your call is very important to us.” I question the veracity of these phrases because the wait is never short and if my call was really important they would have their representatives immediately available to answer my questions. (Shame on me expecting immediate gratification.) As you can see, patience on phone calls is not an easy thing for me. President Deiter F. Uchtdorf describes impatience as a symptom of selfishness. He further states “It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called ‘center of the universe’ syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.” I obviously have much to learn to fully implement patience. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin helped me understand the approach I should take. “We should learn to be patient with ourselves. Recognizing our strengths and our weaknesses, we should strive to use good judgment in all of our choices and decisions, make good use of every opportunity, and do our best in every task we undertake. We should not be unduly discouraged nor in despair at any time when we are doing the best we can. Rather, we should be satisfied with our progress even though it may come slowly at times.” I need to celebrate even baby steps towards developing more patience.