Each Thursday evening as my institute students left my home, they quizzed each other on scriptures they were assigned to memorize. One day, one asked another, “Where does it say that man is made in the image of God?” My six-year-old son, Giles, who had often heard such exchanges, answered, “Genesis 1:26–27.” [Gen. 1:26–27]
Overhearing him made me realize that my children, like my students; needed to love the scriptures and be familiar with them. I recalled that Paul commended Timothy for his righteous works, saying that because Timothy had been familiar with and lived the truths found in the scriptures from childhood, he was able to withstand the persecution of “evil men and seducers.” (2 Tim. 3:13.)
As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to study the scriptures and learn truth from them. In our family, we have come to appreciate the strength of example. We read our scriptures before going to bed, and without being told to do it, Tristram, our two-year-old, started to “read” them himself. “Where’s my scriptures?” he says as he climbs into bed. Then he leafs through Scripture Stories, a book of simplified stories put out by the Church, while Giles reads his proper scriptures in the next bed.
But parents’ example needs to extend beyond reading. Our children need to know that we love the scriptures and that we are still learning from them to enrich our own lives.
For many years, I thought studying the scriptures and memorizing references was for seminary and institute students only. Simply reading the scriptures seemed enough for ordinary people like me. I was duly sympathetic when my oldest daughter, Sheila, became a seminary student. I encouraged her in scripture study, though she was not particularly enthusiastic. Then I was called to be an institute teacher in our stake in England. I had to change. I couldn’t ask my class to learn forty references and diligently study the Old Testament if I was unwilling to do so myself.
So I began to study the scriptures. Soon my family joined in. Sheila and I studied our eighty institute and seminary scriptures together. Six-year-old Giles listened to us so often that he learned them also. One day he said to me, “Ask me where the Ten Commandments are,” and he knew. As my family sensed my excitement about what I learned, they too began to learn.
Sharing insights from Church classes or lesson preparations with our children is another way to let them know the joy we feel from the scriptures. Often we may think our children cannot understand ideas from an adult Sunday School lesson or institute class. Like the scripture chase references, however, my family still remembers many of the ideas I shared each week as I prepared my institute lesson.
One of our favorite insights came as we discussed what Elijah said to his people: “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kgs. 18:21.) This expression meant much more to my children and to my students when I told them that in the language used by the Jews of that time the phrase really reads, “How long hop ye about on two boughs?” (Old Testament Student Manual, 1 Kings–Malachi, 1981, p. 60.) We had a rose tree outside our window and used to watch little bluebirds hop about in them as we ate our meals. All but the youngest of our children could easily understand the association of ideas and see that Heavenly Father does not want us to be wishy-washy about the gospel or its principles.
Too often we limit scripture references and spiritual stories to family home evening or a certain hour of the day. This is a mistake if this is the only use we make of scripture. In Deuteronomy, we are told that we should teach the scriptures “diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut. 6:7.) We can turn to the scriptures in all aspects of our lives, and as we do so, our children will learn to think of them as a great source of knowledge and inspiration. To help our children see how important we feel the scriptures are, my husband and I try to answer many of their questions from the standard works.
One day, Carla, tired of homework, asked, “Why do I have to study this dumb history, anyway?” I told her that our Heavenly Father asked us to study history. “Where does it say that?” she asked in disbelief. I turned to the Doctrine and Covenants and read that we should learn of “things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass.” (D&C 88:79.)
When a child is puzzled by a doctrine or instruction, we can read of planting the seed of faith, in Alma 32. If our daughter must make a difficult decision, we can teach her that the Lord will tell her “in [her] mind and in [her] heart” (D&C 8:2) if her choice is right. But she must first seek him in earnest prayer, having already thought through the decision herself. (See D&C 9:7–9.)
In addition to showing them by our example that we love the scriptures, we need to help children become involved in their own study programs. They need to think about lessons from the scriptures and apply them to their own lives. Nephi involved his people in learning the sacred word when he “did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Ne. 19:23.) In a similar way we can involve our children.
Often in our home, we sit around the dinner table and discuss world events. We compare them to situations in the scriptures. When there has been an interesting political maneuver, we compare it to happenings in King Saul’s time, or Isaiah’s, or Pahoran’s. If there is an earthquake, we talk of the great destruction in the Americas at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, when whole cities slid into the sea. The scriptures record events strikingly similar to those of our day. When we see how others handled these past situations, we can learn how to conduct our own lives.
Another way to involve children in the scriptures is to schedule a “favorite stories” hour. (Most children can think of at least one favorite scripture story; many have two or three.) In our home, these generate interest in reading the scriptures. When I told the children my favorite, in Helaman 5 [Hel. 5], they had never heard of it, so they went to look for themselves to see if it was really there.
Sometimes we have used intriguing questions to encourage our children to read stories in the scriptures. “Why did Elisha cause blindness to come upon the Syrians?” for example, sent our kids scurrying to 2 Kings 6 [2 Kgs. 6] for the answer.
A final method which has been effective in getting our children to think about the scriptures is to ask a thought-provoking question. Such questions can reawaken interest in familiar stories. We have had stimulating conversations from asking questions like these: “If you had been the brother of Jared, how would you have solved the problem of light in the boats?” “If you had been an Israelite and Moses had asked you to put a mark of blood on your door, would you have looked around to see if the neighbors were doing it? Or would you have gone ahead, feeling confident that it was the right and sensible thing to do?”
One time we asked Sheila and Paula how they would feel if their father sent a friend to choose a husband for them, as Abraham sent his servant to find Rebekah for Isaac. At first they were horrified. But then we discussed why this was necessary and had a nice talk about dating and marrying people with similar religious backgrounds.
As children learn to compare their lives and feelings to those of ancient people in this manner, they begin to think of the scriptures as a source of guidance and inspiration.
The scriptures are a wonderful blessing, but our children will probably never realize it unless we teach them. This is our responsibility and privilege as parents. President Spencer W. Kimball has said: “Scripture study as individuals and as a family is most fundamental to learning the gospel. Daily reading of the scriptures and discussing them together has long been suggested as a powerful tool against ignorance and the temptations of Satan. This practice will produce great happiness and will help family members love the Lord and his goodness.” (Ensign, Jan. 1982, p. 4.)