If there was one thing I could teach my children, it would be to listen and discern the Spirit within their lives, how to embrace that perfect teacher without fear, hesitation or resistance but with excitement, clarity and confidence. It’s one thing to teach them obedience, another to meaningfully understand the lessons of obedience. Commandments would be understood in power, and when commandments are not understood, faith would be embraced and trust in Father increased. They would be able to apply life lessons to all situations, identify falsehoods, recognize wisdom, and not fear the unknown.
Oh, how much time is spent on repeatably teaching what it means to be obedient in the home, at church, at school and at work, what it means to be loving in our relationships and human interactions. Although the teaching of obedience is essential in our spiritual growth, I wonder if we miss precious moments to enable our children and loved ones to learn through trial and error. Because we are in a rush or too busy in the moment, we demand obedience and for them to comply, as opposed to establishing a pattern of spiritual insight and learning.
If you have have a teenage son who is overly distracted, frustrated, tired and unable to focus on his homework. In the hope to teach obedience, responsibility and to just finish that assignment, you become the broken record of parenthood, which only seems to aggravate both child and parent without much success. This can even leading both to resentment hard feelings towards each other and feelings of failure. The Spirit is nowhere to be found.
Allow them to fail. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the more difficult things to teach them.
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
In these difficult moments, we struggle with the thoughts and perceptions within ourselves of what it means to be a good father or mother. We may be concerned that our child's successes and failures are an indicator of our ability to parent or our own worthiness. Or we may be driven by the overwhelming feeling of teaching our child the lessons of being responsible at all cost. But I wonder if taking ourselves out of the equation might be the best and most effective approach of all. I learned this powerful lesson on my mission many times and many times again since then.
One of the mistakes I made in my mission was believing I had all the answers and that it was my responsibility to convert individuals. I loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and had a profound testimony of its teachings. It was an absolute joy and passion of mine to bring every investigator all that I had learned, teaching them into conversion. I had every answer and knew how best to present the gospel message to them. It was my calling and my responsibility. Of course I knew it was the Spirit that converted individuals. Nonetheless, I also believed my ability as a missionary reflected on my ability to bring individuals to the gospel. Fortunately the Savior’s atoning sacrifice covered me in this naïve and incorrect belief, and through that mercy I was taught a principle I was never to forget.
We were teaching a part-member family. Jeff, the husband and father was the only nonmember in the family. For years, missionaries had visited and taught him the lessons. Jeff was a good man with a heart of gold. By the time I met him, he had had the lessons so many times I am confident he could have taught us every lesson. Nonetheless, it was my duty to convert Jeff. I would teach him the discussion in a way that no other missionary had before. Needless to say, by the end of our discussions no commitment for baptism was made. I struggled with my companion in fasting and prayer. We retaught and retaught and retaught principles and concepts WE believed he needed to hear. Nothing.
Teaching the gospel to Jeff, I regret to admit, was getting frustrating to me. But we had one last brilliant idea. My companion and I had become familiar with a wonderful lecture series on Joseph Smith the Prophet by Truman G. Madsen.
Surely no one could listen to this great scholar and not be converted. We brought these recordings to Jeff and used them in the structure of our lessons. One night, during a lecture we felt was moving and powerful, Jeff appeared distracted and uninterested. This was unlike Jeff. He was always interested and engaged. I believe he even asked for a break in the lessons. This was difficult for me, and I questioned my ability to bring him the gospel message.
It was at least a month later that Jeff invited us back, but not for a lesson. When we arrived, he and the family announced thet he was going to be baptized. He explained that earlier that week he escaped to the bathroom from the hustle and noise of the morning when his family was getting ready for work and school. There he felt a need to pray. As he prayed, the Spirit filled his heart and mind and taught him what he needed and, he knew it was time to be baptized. I was both thrilled and humbled. At that moment, he was telling me of his spiritual experience and I was realizing my prayers and fasts were being answered. But not in the way I was expecting.
My prayers and fasts were to find ways that I could convert Jeff. In that moment, it was clear I had nothing to do with his conversion. In fact, I might have been getting in the way of the spiritual lessons that needed to be taught to Jeff. My fear, my sense of responsibility as a missionary and the way I was measuring success were distracting from the spiritual lesson. Sometimes the most responsible thing to do is get out of the way. Jeff's conversion was deep and between the Lord and him. He has been a faithful member ever since and currently serves as a bishop in Arizona.
“The Prophet further directed Brigham Young as follows:Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.
They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God.” (23 February 1847, Manuscript History of Brigham Young: 1846–1847, ed. Elden J. Watson (Salt Lake City: Elden Jay Watson, 1971), 529)
I wonder how often we get in the way of the spiritual lessons that our children need to learn. As a parent, it’s my duty to teach my children how to be successful. But it is equally important that after we have adequately instructed them to provide them an opportunity to struggle and even fail. It is better that their own experiences in their moments of failure be their guide then repetitive parental reminder. Additionally, there is great power in our children discovering that they can succeed on their own. Both in the failure and success we can lovingly remind them and provide an example of how to seek out the answers with the Spirit.
Seeking answers is a process and can even be time consuming. But like Jeff, I have learned the value of stepping out of the hustle and noise to seek peace and guidance from the Spirit. Additionally, instead of fasting and praying about how you can teach your children better, fast to find and recognize opportunities for your children to learn from the Spirit.