On a shelf in our bedroom closet is a collection of tattered and worn copies of the Book of Mormon. New copies are so inexpensive that one might wonder why we didn’t dump these old copies long ago. But to our family, these dog-eared scriptures have special significance. They represent a unique adventure we call “The Eight-Year Book of Mormon.”
While living in Salt Lake City in 1978, my wife, Linda, and I attended a reunion of returned New Zealand missionaries. This was an all-afternoon affair with time for testimonies, thoughts from our former mission president, a dinner, and the opportunity to share what was going on in our lives. At one point, one of the former missionaries enthusiastically reported that his family had been rising early each morning to read the scriptures.
I had heard about people like that. It was all I could do to read the scriptures myself on a regular basis, let alone get the entire family out of the sack early each day to read a few verses.
However, the idea stuck with us. Linda and I knew it was something we should do. We realized that such a habit, formed when our family was young, could provide a great legacy for our children.
A few mornings later and a few minutes earlier than usual, we gathered the family around our bed to begin reading the Book of Mormon.
We chose the Book of Mormon because of its rich stories and plain presentation of gospel principles. It was also the only one of the standard works for which we had a large-type edition for the children. Angela was six years old, Jamie was three, and Dallas was newly born. At first, Jamie and Dallas had spotty attendance, but Angela zealously showed up each morning.
About ninety seconds into our first morning, a few things became obvious. First, this adventure wasn’t going to be measured in moons, but in eclipses. We were not going to finish for a very long time. Second, too much reading at one time would make this project miserable for all of us. And third, the children’s joy would come as much from reading to Mom and Dad as from the messages they gleaned from the Book of Mormon.
Keeping these things in mind, we decided to read one column of one page per day. We would each take a verse, in order, and read it aloud. For Angela, whose reading skills were limited, it usually meant that Linda or I would say one or two words and she would repeat them.
Some of the names required several attempts to get right. I remember thinking that it would have been best for Angela if those who divided the book into its verses had made the term Anti-Nephi-Lehies one verse.
Discussions were prompted by questions from the children or the need for emphasis from Mom and Dad. Many times a short introduction to what was ahead made the reading more exciting. When a great prophet died, we felt sad and talked about it. When we came to a favorite story or favorite prophet, we mentioned it.
From the first, we recognized that reaching the book’s final verse wasn’t the point; getting there was the fun. We soon lost any compulsion to get the book read in a hurry. If it took five years, so what? If the children, or even Mom and Dad, seemed to tire or become distracted, we would cut the reading short. We could always pick up the next day where we had left off.
We ended each session with family prayer.
As the weeks became months and the months became years, a miracle unfolded. We saw our children learning to read. Better yet, we saw them becoming acquainted with the prophets, stories, and teachings of the Book of Mormon.
As our family grew older, our children slowly mastered the text. They needed less and less assistance in pronouncing words, and they rarely missed a word like Lamanite, even though they sometimes needed help with more common words. That large-type edition was soon passed from Angela to Jamie, from Jamie to Dallas, and then to our newest addition, Jill. As the older children received their own copies of the Book of Mormon, their satisfaction grew even greater.
Along the way there were many triumphs. Whenever a child was able to read a whole verse without assistance, the family rewarded the effort with a spontaneous cheer. When we read 3 Nephi, we all sensed a special spirit. The children felt the importance of the verses. We read some of the passages more than once, pausing for discussion. As we read of the Lord’s love for the children and his blessing of them, our children felt that the Book of Mormon was written just for them.
Another important event was the introduction of the new scriptures. For a while we used both the old and the new versions of the Book of Mormon, but because the page lengths were different it was a challenge to remember where we had stopped the day before. The children were proud of their new scriptures and wanted to use them, so we began reading these exclusively.
The younger children’s eagerness to read each morning was a hallmark of our success. Dallas, now nine years old, became a passionate reader a few years ago. During that period, he would rarely let a day go by without reminding us that we needed to read the scriptures. This was his time to show his stuff!
We also had our setbacks. When Linda and I traveled out of town, we had a hard time getting the baby-sitters to follow through with the program. After a few trips, we assigned Angela to make sure that the children read the scriptures each day when we were away. To our great satisfaction, it worked.
Summer was also a hard time for the program. The children had no need to get up as early as I did, and we missed many days during these summer months. Still, we had no trouble getting back into the swing of things when school started in the fall.
The greatest challenge came in 1983, when we moved to the San Francisco area. We lived outside of the city, and I commuted an hour each way to work. This meant that I had to leave home every morning before the children woke up.
We solved the problem by switching our scripture reading to evenings, just before bedtime. Reading then required much more discipline. Erratic schedules, homework, TV, and even Church activities competed for our time. But after a few weeks the routine was established.
About mid-journey it became obvious that we needed to “quicken our pace and lengthen our stride” if the children were to have the Book of Mormon read before they left home for college, marriage, or missions. We had long since progressed to reading both columns on a page. Now we started reading two pages a night. By Halloween 1986 we set a goal. We would have the book finished by Christmas!
In keeping with our “relax and enjoy it” approach, no one was upset when we finished the book a few weeks late. It was a special night when we read the last page. We planned it so that Jill, who was five, could read the last verse. We didn’t say much, but the prayer that night was one of special thanks for our eight-year journey.
We thought of having a celebration, but in the end we realized that this was only the end of the Book-of-Mormon part of our effort; it was not the end of our daily scripture reading. So we settled for a trip out for ice cream. Our real reward was the quiet satisfaction we each felt. We had read the Book of Mormon, and we had done it together.
We are convinced that the Lord provided a special blessing for our children. They are all fine readers. They have also learned to love the Book of Mormon. Above all, we are bound together by the knowledge that we have obeyed the prophet, by the strength we gained from the counsel in the Book of Mormon, and by the love we developed during those minutes every day when each child was the focus of attention and nothing else really mattered.