Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Teaching in the Home

Here is my talk I gave December 26 in Sacrament Meeting:

Good afternoon everyone! I hope you had a very Merry Christmas, especially if you were able to spend it with family. And how appropriate that we can talk about families during this wonderful time of year.

Opening Quote

In 1995 in the April General Conference, President Packer said:

“Our Father’s plan requires that, like the generation of life itself, the shield of faith is to be made and fitted in the family. No two can be exactly alike. Each must be handcrafted to individual specifications.

“The plan designed by the Father contemplates that man and woman, husband and wife, working together, fit each child individually with a shield of faith made to buckle on so firmly that it can neither be pulled off nor penetrated by those fiery darts.

“It takes the steady strength of a father to hammer out the metal of it and the tender hands of a mother to polish and fit it on. Sometimes one parent is left to do it alone. It is difficult, but it can be done.

“In the Church we can teach about the materials from which a shield of faith is made: reverence, courage, chastity, repentance, forgiveness, compassion. In church we can learn how to assemble and fit them together. But the actual making of and fitting on of the shield of faith belongs in the family circle. Otherwise it may loosen and come off in a crisis” (Boyd K. Packer, "“The Shield of Faith”", Ensign, May 1995, 7)

To develop this unique shield of faith for each of our children, we must consecrate our time to the raising and teaching of our children these precious principals. Working together, the mother and the father can forge strong shields of faith for their children. They forge those strong shields by constantly teaching their children in the home.

The Role of the Church in Teaching in the Home

The Church and the family strengthen each other. Neither can thrive without the other. Parents need the Church in order to maintain strong faith and to learn what they must teach their children.

The Home and the Church

In reading the recently updated Church Handbook, I came across this passage:

"In the teachings and practices of the restored gospel, the family and the Church help and strengthen each other. To qualify for the blessings of eternal life, families need to learn the doctrines and receive the priesthood ordinances that are available only through the Church. To be a strong and vital organization, the Church needs righteous families.

"God has revealed a pattern of spiritual progress for individuals and families through ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported. Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and families and are not ends in themselves. Priesthood and auxiliary leaders and teachers seek to assist parents, not to supersede or replace them.

"Priesthood and auxiliary leaders must endeavor to strengthen the sacredness of the home by ensuring that all Church activities support the lives of individuals and families. Church leaders need to be careful not to overwhelm families with too many Church responsibilities. Parents and Church leaders work together to help individuals and families return to our Father in Heaven by following Jesus Christ." (Handbook 2)

Less Church Time, More Family Time

To add a finer light on that passage, let me share with you a quote from Elder Oaks from his classic talk Good, Better, Best:

"Stake presidencies and bishoprics need to exercise their authority to weed out the excessive and ineffective busyness that is sometimes required of the members of their stakes or wards. Church programs should focus on what is best (most effective) in achieving their assigned purposes without unduly infringing on the time families need for their “divinely appointed duties.”

"But here is a caution for families. Suppose Church leaders reduce the time required by Church meetings and activities in order to increase the time available for families to be together. This will not achieve its intended purpose unless individual family members—especially parents—vigorously act to increase family togetherness and one-on-one time. Team sports and technology toys like video games and the Internet are already winning away the time of our children and youth. Surfing the Internet is not better than serving the Lord or strengthening the family. Some young men and women are skipping Church youth activities or cutting family time in order to participate in soccer leagues or to pursue various entertainments. Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death." (Dallin H. Oaks, "Good, Better, Best", Ensign, Nov. 2007, 104–8)

In another quote, the First Presidency gave clear and direct counsel about where we are to place our priorities.

“We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.

“We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform” (First Presidency letter, Feb. 11, 1999).

Those are some very strong quotes from today’s prophets. I share them today to serve as a reminder of how best to spend our time. Time, it seems, is more precious than gold. It is possible to acquire more gold once it’s been spent, but once you spend time, you never get it back.

What Fathers Can Do to Teach in the Home

Besides these critical fundamentals of family prayer and scripture study, there are many other ways that we all can improve our time and quality of teaching with our children. In preparing for this talk, I came across two articles by Ezra Taft Benson. In the first, he directed his counsel to fathers; and in the second to mothers. In each of them, he cites 10 ways fathers and mothers can teach in the home and provide spiritual leadership for their families.

As I read through the list to the fathers, I thought of examples from my life that have demonstrated each point.

“1. Give father’s blessings to your children. Baptize and confirm your children. Ordain your sons to the priesthood. These will become spiritual highlights in the lives of your children.

One of my favorite traditions we have is the Sunday before the start of the new school year father’s blessing. At the beginning of each school year, we formally gather as a family and I give each of our children and Jill a blessing. Each time, we feel the Spirit strongly. I learned how to bless my children and wife from my father. The last beginning-of-the-school-year father’s blessing I received was in September of 2004. I had just started MBA School. Over the Labor Day break, I received a phone call from my sister telling me my grandmother had just passed away. I flew out to Utah to attend the funeral. Just before I was to fly back to Texas, I asked my father and brother for a blessing. It is a memory I hold dearly and I still draw strength every time I think of that blessing.

“2. Personally direct family prayers, daily scripture reading, and weekly family home evenings. Your personal involvement will show your children how important these activities really are.

Let me add to this second point … let your children see you study the scriptures personally. How wonderful an example for our children to see us practicing what we preach. It was on a cold winter day with dark gray clouds overhead outside and a blazing warm fire inside when I stepped into the quiet living room in our home in Oregon and I saw my dad sitting in his chair with his scriptures in his lap. The memory is so vivid that I can close my eyes and see all the details of that scene instantly. What made that impression so strong? I believe it was the power of the Holy Ghost.

And as a side comment – don’t be discouraged if you think your children are not learning from your example. I often find myself reflecting on my parents’ life when I have problems to face. Their examples have probably taught me more than anything else.

“3. Whenever possible, attend Church meetings together as a family. Family worship under your leadership is vital to your children’s spiritual welfare.

Again, this 3rd point strengthens the point that the family needs the Church and the Church needs the family.

“4. Go on daddy-daughter dates and father-and-sons’ outings with your children. As a family, go on campouts and picnics, to ball games and recitals, to school programs, and so forth. Having Dad there makes all the difference.

We are always supporting each other in our events. Especially at this time of year when the kids participate in Christmas programs and choir recitals. Jill is always keen on making these events special for the children. When Emma had a special part in her Nutcracker play, Jill’s mom gave her a Clara nutcracker. This year Ben played Santa Clause in his school play and Jill gave him a Mr & Mrs Clause nutcracker set. There is no doubt in my mind, that when Emma and Ben look on those nutcrackers when they are parents, they will tell their children the story of when they participated in their school concerts and their children will laugh and their love will increase.

“5. Build traditions of family vacations and trips and outings. These memories will never be forgotten by your children.

Everyone loves vacations and trips. I can recall every trip and vacation our family has taken. The first trip we took was at the end of May in 2001. We drove from Dallas to St. George – it was just Jill, Emma and me. We drove 19 straight hours to get there – arriving at 7:00am in the morning. We loved seeing west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. We also loved spending time with my parents. The last trip we took was up to Arkansas to visit Jill’s family during Thanksgiving. I know Ben made at least one memory there when we took him with us to the turkey bowl. We played in the freezing rain. Although I may look back on that experience with a bit of a chill, I think Ben looks at it with warmness.

“6. Have regular one-on-one visits with your children. Let them talk about what they would like to. Teach them gospel principles. Teach them true values. Tell them you love them. Personal time with your children tells them where Dad puts his priorities.

I have tried many times to make one-on-one visits formal and regular. But I’ve found that there are countless opportunities to have one-on-one visits with my kids over the course of a week. When I pick Emma up from Activity Days, I ask her questions and try to engage in conversation with her. She usually has a funny story to tell me. With Ben, we usually talk while playing a game of chess or throwing the football outside. One day a week, I get to pick up Erick from the bus stop. As we walk home I get to ask him how his day went and what he learned at school. It is always fun asking him questions and getting a really thoughtful six year old opinion. Camille will usually come into my office early in the morning and give me a hug and sit on my lap. She also always has a story to tell me. At bedtime, Jill and I will always spend a few more minutes talking to them before kissing them goodnight.

“7. Teach your children to work, and show them the value of working toward a worthy goal.

There are many opportunities to teach children how to work. Both manual labor and mental exertion are considered work. At home, children learn how to work by diligently finishing homework, cleaning their rooms, helping clean the house, folding clothes, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, weeding the garden, trimming bushes, walking the dog and even by reading good books. Extracurricular activities such as playing sports, singing in the choir or participating in a school play can teach children how to be diligent and focused in order to achieve a goal. As children grow older, they can get a job to begin earning money for a mission or college.

“8. Encourage good music and art and literature in your homes. Homes that have a spirit of refinement and beauty will bless the lives of your children forever.

Learning the hymns both at home and at church helps children to learn to love singing. Having classical and uplifting music playing in the home invites the Spirit. Exposing children to good books and infecting them with a love of reading will last a lifetime. My love of music came from my Mom and her family. She would always encourage me to sing and enjoy music. She involved me in singing groups, take me to choir practice, she would play the piano and teach my sisters to play the piano. Our home was full of music. Both my grandparents were beautiful singers. My love of classical music began in earnest when we visited my uncle’s home. He would always pipe classical music through his home’s speaker system – I loved it. I loved it so much, I wrote a letter to him asking what music he was playing. He dubbed a cassette tape of his favorite music and sent it to me.

“9. As distances allow, regularly attend the temple with your wife. Your children will then better understand the importance of temple marriage and temple vows and the eternal family unit.

Temple attendance is one of those things you teach your children by example. I learned to love the temple first by seeing my parents attend and serve in the temple. When Jill and I attend, we make it a point to tell the kids we’re leaving to go to the temple.

“10. Have your children see your joy and satisfaction in service to the Church. This can become contagious to them, so they, too, will want to serve in the Church and will love the kingdom”

Again, like temple attendance, children learn best to serve when they see their parents serve. I see this in Jill’s family. Jill’s parents are always serving. Jill has told me of the many, many examples of the times her mom would serve others. And who can’t doubt the example of Jill’s mom when they see Jill. It seems that Jill is always baking a dinner for a family in the ward or a neighbor in need. And I regularly come home from work to see other people’s kids who she is watching while their mom is attending to an emergency. Jill is the most thoughtful, kindest person I know and thanks be to her and her mother!

(Ezra Taft Benson, "To the Fathers in Israel", Ensign, Nov. 1987, 48)

What Mothers Can do to Teach in the Home
President Benson wrote a similar top ten list for mothers with regard to teaching in the home. I’d like to briefly share this list with you and then share with you a few personal stories of mothers teaching in the home.

1. Be at the crossroads.

2. Be a real friend.

3. Read to your children.

4. Pray with your children.

5. Have weekly home evenings.

6. Be together at mealtimes.

7. Read scriptures daily.

8. Do things as a family.

9. Teach your children.

10. Truly love your children.

(President Ezra Taft Benson Address given at a Fireside for Parents, 22 February 1987)