I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    Our Sabbaths seem to be long and boring to our small children. What can we do to promote happy Sabbaths?

    Sharon and Wayne Dequer, parents of three children, Monrovia Ward, Arcadia California Stake The Savior clearly taught that the Sabbath is a day to distinguish between idle wants and real spiritual and physical needs. Little children are irrepressibly active, and we must recognize that need in planning their Sabbaths. Rather than asking “Should they be active on Sunday?” we could probably more appropriately ask, “How should they be active on Sunday?”

    We want our children to learn that Sunday is a day for being able to do different things than we get to do the rest of the week. They can readily see that daddy doesn’t go to work or mow the lawn on the Sabbath, and mommy doesn’t shop or clean or bake cookies—we do different, more restful things. How can the day be different for our children as well?

    First of all, we save Sunday as a day to be together with just our own family, rather than a day to play with friends or to spend watching television. Then it’s up to mom and dad to make it an interesting and enjoyable day. To accomplish that, instead of stressing the “shalt nots,” we begin teaching our little ones to ask—and answer—the question, “Is it appropriate?”

    That question led us to such activities as reading, coloring, singing, and playing musical instruments. But while these seemed to be quite appropriate, they didn’t go far enough to stretch through the day. So then we learned to turn to other ideas: helping one of our children “write” a letter, acting as scribe for another while he dictated a page in his personal history, having personal interviews with each child, just talking together and sharing thoughts and ideas.

    Low-key creative play, we feel, is entirely fitting on the Sabbath. The question of appropriateness can generally be answered by looking at the amount of preparation and clean-up work a particular activity requires. We also choose games that are different from those normally shared with friends. We’ve decided that playing in the dirt, for instance, isn’t a Sunday activity, but blocks and other construction games seem more acceptable. And they can be tied in with the gospel. So after reading the story of Noah’s ark or Lehi’s journey to the New World, we can have each of the children build his own representation of their ships.

    The key to helping our children have an enjoyable Sabbath seems to be our spending time with them. Certainly other Sunday activities also demand our time, but a half hour here and there with our children, strategically placed, goes a long way. Many families find that walking to church, at least part of the way, really helps the children sit restfully and quietly when they arrive. We have also made a special effort to help our children appreciate Sunday church services. Here, again, the question of appropriateness has proven useful. Quiet toys and coloring books are valuable for occupying the littlest ones, but of course they must be closely monitored, since nearby children and even adults find these distracting. We always rejoice when we find a book that is gospel-centered; those we use only in church and at other special times. The child soon learns that the book is different from his other books and hopefully will associate church and reverence with it.

    We feel we must begin this training as early as possible. A toddler’s cooperation span may be frustratingly short, so we encourage him or her with “when-you’re-big enough-to-stay-in-the-meeting-with-the-rest-of-the-family” comments.

    The occasional time does arise when we must take one or more of the children out of the meeting. When we do, we’ve found it important to help the child to act as if he were seated inside the chapel—seated and quiet. Otherwise, going out of the meeting becomes a “reward” for misbehavior. We feel that threatening punishment would make our children dislike going to church, so we try to make separation from the rest of the family the alternative they’ll want to avoid.

    When our children begin to stretch their capacity to stay in the meeting and to postpone coloring and playing with toys until after the sacrament, we as parents really try to make the service more meaningful for them. We do this in several ways.

    We encourage even our littlest ones to participate actively in the singing. We share a song book—letting them hold it—and point to the words and notes as we go along. At home we sing the more familiar hymns, and teach a few special ones (“Come, Ye Children of the Lord” and “All Creatures of Our God and King” are among our favorites) so that when they are sung in church it will really be a special occasion for our children. Some parents even find out in advance the songs that are to be sung each Sunday, in order to prepare their family to participate.

    Encouragement to participate in other “standard” parts of sacrament meeting, such as sustainings and releasings, and especially partaking of the sacrament itself, is also helpful. Some wards regularly incorporate a children’s story into the service, further enhancing children’s appreciation of the meeting.

    Discussion of the speakers’ remarks after the meeting is good, but usually too late to meet the need. During the talks, then, we whisper in a child’s ear brief comments about the speaker’s topic. (Any other conversation is firmly refused.) This is where the scripture stories we’ve read to the children begin to tie into their lives, where they find elements of the worship service which are truly of value to them. This is also where they begin developing the capacity to wean themselves away from coloring books and other distractions.

    In tailoring Sabbath activities for children it is important to remember the Savior’s love for them and his statement that we must become as a little child to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Did he see the childlike qualities of boundless energy, curiosity, and enthusiasm as characteristics merely to be tolerated, or as divine attributes to be nurtured? With his perspective in mind, we can use appropriate activity, goal-setting, and quality family time as keys to helping our children discover and share the joy of the Sabbath day.

    My wife and I have become aware of a problem in our marriage: each of us is always trying to change the other. How can we resolve this conflict?

    Clark Swain, associate professor of marriage and family studies at Boise State University, Idaho, and marriage and family counselor Since successful marriage is a continual process of change and accommodation, you are not alone in coming up against some rough edges in your own adjustment. Ongoing changes in some areas are necessary for a good marriage. So change itself is not the problem—but admitting the need to change and helping one’s spouse make changes can be.

    Let’s look at the issue of change in that light. Let me propose some questions that you can ask yourself:

    1. Is this change that I’m getting messages about one that I should make? I think everyone will agree that it’s not much of a marriage if we’re not willing to make certain kinds of ongoing changes in ourselves, for the simple reason that we want to please our partners.

    For example, one husband was bothered by what he considered to be too much talking on the phone. His wife interpreted his fidgeting when she was on the phone as a sign of displeasure. Instead of acting defensively, she kindly asked him about it. They both agreed to limit their evening calls to a few minutes, if possible, so they could spend more time together.

    This wife’s action exemplifies good judgment in human relations. When we feel criticized, we tend to counterattack with a complaint of our own, or a statement of our “rights.” Instead, she asked herself what making the change would be worth to their relationship, and then she willingly made it as an act of love. One of the benefits was that her husband was more willing to make some of the changes that she desired.

    2. How can I persuade my partner to make certain changes? Here’s how Eleanor, my wife, convinced me to change my attitude about typewriters:

    When I was in graduate school, Eleanor thought that a standard typewriter would be more useful than the little portable we had. I was used to the small typewriter and resisted, but Eleanor had a standard model delivered to our house on a tryout basis and asked me to see how I liked it. I reluctantly yielded to the idea, but within a few days was using the standard more often because I liked it better. She used persuasion—not coercion or nagging—to get me to change.

    Timing is important: if you want your husband or wife to make certain changes in attitude or behavior, be careful not to bring up the subject at mealtime or bedtime: tired, hungry people are often not receptive.

    And there is another consideration: What is your motivation? Why should your spouse make the change? Is it really necessary? Is it a flaw in his or her behavior that needs to be improved? Or is it something that you should change your attitude about?

    3. Can we improve our marriage by either compromising or kindly agreeing to disagree? A newlywed couple that I counseled made an easy adjustment about weekend entertainment. He liked to bowl; she preferred movies. Each, of course, wanted the company of the other for his or her favorite activity. Having a sense of fairness, they compromised by agreeing to go bowling one weekend and to the movies the next weekend.

    Another solution where the husband and wife genuinely don’t share interests is for each person to concentrate on what he likes and leave the other space and permission to pursue his own interests. One older couple, after trying to compromise for years, discovered it worked much better to let the husband watch his football alone while the wife went to the symphony with a girlfriend. A sincere effort to share the other’s pleasure wasn’t enough to create a valid interest. And their solution certainly didn’t reduce their love for each other.

    4. What circumstances can we change to improve our relationship? It must be recognized that as much as you may want a certain change, sometimes neither you nor your partner will be willing or perhaps able to make that change. In this case, you might try changing the circumstances. Eleanor decided that a firmer mattress would be better for her back, so we put a sheet of plywood over the box springs. Then I started waking up with backaches and wanted the plywood to go. Eleanor wanted it to remain. By cutting the board down the middle and removing half of it we changed the circumstances and thereby resolved our disagreement.

    5. Will altering my attitude about the desired change improve our marriage? You may wish that your husband had more money or more hair, or that your wife were slimmer or had more education. But your partner cannot change some things and will not change others. Then it’s time to change your mind or attitude—not about your mate, but about what you think you have to have in a marriage partner in order to be happy.

    In conclusion, husbands and wives in satisfying marriages realize that adjustment is a never-ending process. A successful marriage requires a continual effort to bring about positive changes in yourself, in your partner, in unwanted circumstances, and in your attitude.

    Should a teacher always follow the manual? Can he or she draw from other sources as well?

    Grant E. Barton, manager of adult curriculum, Church Curriculum Planning and Development Division The Church-approved and produced lesson manual is a vital part of a teacher’s preparation. Each teacher should read and study the designated lesson. However, he will also find it useful to consult other approved sources, such as the Gospel Principles manual, the new scriptural helps (see October 1979 Ensign), and the general conference addresses, especially those of the living prophet.

    A teacher who reads through these approved sources and prays to understand the needs of class members is entitled to inspiration so that he may teach by the Spirit. The Lord has counseled teachers to “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85). When teachers are “strong in the knowledge of the truth” and have “given themselves to much prayer, and fasting,” they will teach with the “power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2–3).

    A teacher is like a good cook. A cook takes basic foods and, using appropriate tools, prepares, seasons, and garnishes an appealing and nutritious meal; he then serves it with enthusiasm. Similarly, the teacher starts with basic eternal truths and, using the tools which the Lord has provided (the scriptures, Church resources, and prayer), he seasons and garnishes a lesson with an inspirational experience, a chart, a thought-provoking question, or a small-group experience. In short, he serves up an interesting and accurate spiritual feast, always accompanied by his fervent personal witness.

    The Church-prepared manual provides the teacher with well-researched, correlated, and approved lessons for teaching the gospel to class members. But the teacher must provide the prayerful study, the testimony, the setting, the enthusiasm, and, often, an adaptation of explanations and illustrations. Through spiritual preparation, a teacher can speak “by the power of the Holy Ghost,” and eternal truths can be carried with renewed import “unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1).