Saturday, July 23, 2011

Children are an heritage of the Lord

Peter Pan is the classic story of a boy who never wanted to grow up. As a kid I thought he had it made. Peter Pan could fly, fought pirates, and never had to take a bath. I have fond memories of pretending to be Peter Pan by flying around my house fighting imaginary pirates with my very own genuine plastic sword.

So you can understand why, as a child, I was so surprised when the movie Hook came out and it showed that Peter Pan had not stayed a carefree boy, but had grown up. He even had a wife and kids! The plot of the movie was that Peter Pan’s arch enemy, Captain Hook, had kidnapped Peter’s children. I won’t spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it, but as Peter is trying to rescue his kids he remembers why he grew up and stopped being the carefree Pan.

What was it that could make someone come down to earth, grow up, get a job, and become a responsible adult when he could have continued living a carefree life up in the clouds? Peter’s reason, in his own words was: “I wanted to be a father.”

Peter Pan grew up because his priorities changed and he realized he was missing one of the most priceless experiences in life. Though Peter Pan is a fictional character, I am sure I’m not the only one who can relate to Peter, being willing to leave the carefree days of childhood behind and take on the responsibilities of being married and raising children.

As Latter-day Saints we understand that “children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them” (Psalms 127:3).

We understand that life is sacred, that having children is a responsibility and a challenge to be sought after, not avoided. We know that families can be together forever and experience a fullness of joy when they have been sealed in the temple and are faithful to the covenants made there.

Yet time passes, life happens, and families and children can feel like very ordinary things. If we are not awake and vigilant with our priorities, our actions will not be those that matter most. It is my hope that each of us will have our priorities reflect what matters most for the good of our children.

1. Ourselves

Of course our first priority for the good of our children is to ourselves. I don’t mean this in a selfish way, but as Elder Ballard taught, “Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children” (Elder Ballard, Ensign, May 2008).

We replenish our well in three ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually.


Physically replenishing ourselves is fairly straightforward, as it centers around taking care of our bodies. How much we sleep, what we eat, and getting some exercise can have profound a profound influence upon how much energy we have. Of course, observing the word of wisdom is vital—what parent of small children does not need the blessing of being able to “run and not be weary, and [to] walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20)?


To replenish ourselves mentally, we need to adopt patterns that keep ourselves mentally healthy. To be clear, I’m not talking about mental disorders, but I’m talking about keeping our minds healthy as we would our bodies. In particular, being negative, unforgiving, and being hard on ourselves are not mentally healthy practices.

Expressing gratitude, being optimistic, and forgiving others can do wonders for our mental health. We like to joke in our family that the key to gratitude—and a happy marriage—is to have low expectations. Expressing gratitude can help avoid or heal resentments we have. When everything seems negative, God can help open our eyes so that we can see the joys in our lives.

Many of us struggle with perfectionism and are very hard on ourselves. By being merciful with ourselves, just as God is merciful with us, our sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings are kept in the proper perspective and we maintain our mental health. Furthermore, Knowledge of true doctrine can help keep us mentally healthy:

Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught that, “Because of the Atonement, [Adam and Eve] could learn from their experience without being condemned by it. Christ’s sacrifice didn’t just erase their choices and return them to an Eden of innocence. That would be a story with no plot and no character growth. His plan is developmental—line upon line, step by step, grace for grace.

He continues, “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away” (Bruce C. Hafen, Ensign, May 2004).


To replenish ourselves spiritually we must invite the Holy Ghost into our lives by following Jesus Christ and living His restored gospel. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the key to staying spiritually healthy and having more to give to our children. This is what gives the gospel of Jesus Christ its power—by living a life of faith, a life of repentance, a life regulated and empowered by covenants made with God, and a life filled with and led by the Holy Ghost—we come to know Jesus Christ.

The church encourages us to adopt regular practices that will keep us close to Christ, and thus be spiritually healthy. These include praying to our Heavenly Father, studying the scriptures, keeping the Sabbath day holy, fasting, and partaking of the sacrament.

Recently Jennifer and I were going through a very emotionally exhausting experience. In the midst of it all, we went to the temple together. There we found the hope, healing, and comfort we so desperately needed. I can testify that we were healed mentally and spiritually by the Spirit of the Lord. I testify that the Lord can help us be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy if we go to Him and pay the price to have a personal relationship with Him. In addition, we will have more to give to our children.

2. Spouse

Our second priority for the good of our children deals with how we treat our spouses. President David O. McKay said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother” (quoted from Theodore Hesburgh, Reader’s Digest, Jan. 1963, 25; in Richard Evans’ Quote Book [1971], 11). This applies to women too.

We show love to our spouses as we follow the words of our Savior from Matthew 20: “Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

We do not need to compete with our spouses, trying to prove that we are smarter or more competent. Instead, we can remember that we are on the same team and take joy in each other’s successes. We need not belittle our spouses with criticisms. Instead we can build them up.

The Lord said, “Strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (D&C 108:7). We can do this in our marriages, strengthening our spouses with our words of gratitude and praise, praying for them and their struggles, serving them, and seeking to strengthen our spouses in everything we do.

Prophets have taught that showing love to our spouses must include being fiercely loyal to them. I think this includes never criticizing them to another person. When you share criticisms with another, that person automatically comes in between you and your spouse. Our children deserve to have parents that are unified, who are fiercely loyal to each other, and “who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (The Family: A Proclomation to the World).

I can testify of the joy that has come into our marriage as we have sacrificed for each other. Because we try to treat each other as our Savior would, our home is a place of peace and a refuge from the outside world. I know that all of us can have this same blessing if we follow the Savior’s example with how we treat our spouses.

3. Children

The church handbook of instructions states, “Parents have the vital responsibility to help their children prepare to return to Heavenly Father. Parents fulfill this responsibility by teaching their children to follow Jesus Christ and live His gospel” (Handbook 2, p. 2).
Thus our third priority, one of the most important things we can do for our children, is to teach them to follow Jesus Christ and to live His gospel.
This is why the first presidency has said, “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).

I was a little shocked when I read this statement by Elder Ballard: “We cannot and we must not allow the school, community, television, or even Church organizations to establish our children’s values. The Lord has placed this duty with mothers and fathers” (M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 1991).

I think that it’s pretty easy to understand why I don’t want television or school to establish my children’s values, but why does Elder Ballard go as far as saying that we can’t leave it to the church to do it for us? Why is this duty placed upon mothers and fathers?

I think an example from my childhood demonstrates why this is. When I was in 1st grade I caught on to reading slower than most of the other kids. When the teacher divided the class into groups based on reading ability, I was in the lowest level. The school was putting in their time and effort, but I just wasn’t getting it. But my mom started reading with me. I have a lot of fond memories of reading with her. She made me feel loved, she made me feel special, and she made me feel like I could be a good reader. And things began to change. The teacher noticed my progress, so she placed me in a more advanced reading group. This pattern continued and I eventually was placed in the most advanced reading group. Today I have no trouble reading and I owe this gift to my mother because she put in the time and attention that would have been impossible for the school to give me.

So it is with learning the gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be impossible for the church to put in the time and attention required to sufficiently teach our children the gospel. This is one reason why the church encourages families to find a way to allow mother to be at home with her children.

Speaking of this subject, Elder Cook taught, “These are very emotional, personal decisions, but there are two principles that we should always keep in mind. First, no woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children. Nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven’s plan. Second, we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions” (Quentin L. Cook, Ensign, May 2011).

Elder Packer counseled, “If Mother is working outside of the home, see if there are ways to change that, even a little. It may be very difficult to change at the present time. But analyze carefully and be prayerful. Then expect to have inspiration… [and] intervention from power from beyond the veil to help you move, in due time, to what is best for your family” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 2004).

I can testify that I have been blessed beyond measure because I had a mother who stayed home with me, and parents who taught me how to live the gospel of Jesus Christ by their examples.
We may feel inadequate or disappointed
Life is challenging for everyone, as each of us must go through certain experiences to become more like our Savior. There are parents here who feel terribly inadequate to raise their children. Others face heartaches as the door to children coming into their home seems closed. Some still long for marriage.

Let me bear my testimony, that regardless of your situation, God has not left you alone.

He said, “Fear not: for… thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

We are inadequate without the help of our Father in Heaven, but I testify that He is willing to help us if we are willing to pay the price to have a personal relationship with Him. My testimony is that of Elder Scott’s:

“I cannot comprehend [my Savior’s] power, His majesty, His perfections. But I do understand something of His love, His compassion, His mercy. There is no burden He cannot lift. There is no heart He cannot purify and fill with joy. There is no life He cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to His teachings” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov 1988, 76).

Like Peter Pan, let us remember how valuable children are. Let us be vigilant as to what our priorities are, that our actions will be those that matter most for the good of our children. Let us be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. Let us love our spouses. Let us teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to our children.