Was Our Family Scripture Study a Failure?


I wondered if our attempts were worth the effort. Then I learned that scripture study was having an effect.

When Dave and I were first married, I was thrilled with his leadership in our home. Each morning he gathered together all of the children in our blended family for scripture study. It was wonderful—something I had always dreamed of doing with my family.

My enthusiasm lasted about two weeks. I soon found myself dreading 6:00 A.M., when I had to drag myself out of bed and fight to wake up all the younger children, who wanted to sleep longer. Most of the children came to the living room wrapped in their blankets, then curled up in a ball on the floor and promptly fell asleep until it was their turn to read. Our youngest son and daughter did not yet know how to read, so I felt it was particularly useless to pull them out of bed.

I looked at my husband in disbelief the first time he called on the two preschoolers to take their turns reading. He recited one sentence at a time, asking one of the youngest children to interpret what he had said. He helped until they reached the end of one verse together, then he moved on to the next nonreading child to take a turn.

We muddled through our scripture study each morning, despite interruptions. Someone would jab someone else. There would be one or two outbursts of tears from children who wanted to read when it wasn’t their turn, or who didn’t want to read when it was their turn. Sometimes there was a phone call or two from the older boys’ friends.

I am embarrassed now to recall how I felt, as though I had been coerced into having to participate in family scripture study under these conditions. This wasn’t the way I had dreamed it would be. Unfortunately, I found myself complaining sometimes. But I wouldn’t stop trying to make scripture study work, because I knew that Dave was right in trying to establish this family habit.

He was persistent, and we had our scripture study every day. When he began to get too many arguments from the children as well as from me about our early morning study, he experimented with alternate time schedules. He tried reading to us at dinner, but then his food was cold and he was left to eat alone when he finished—if the children saved him anything to eat!

We tried bedtime reading, but our oldest son had a job, and he missed too many evenings.

We went back to mornings, but ran our scripture study in two sessions—an early one for the older boys, then a second session for the younger children, who left for school later. That seemed to work well and we were able to have discussions on the level of each age group—until summer vacation.

As school ended for the year, we were determined to maintain our early-morning regimen. Our two older sons planned to get up early and go running, then return in time for scripture study. But my husband and I just couldn’t seem to get out of bed, since he worked at home and there were no pressing early schedules for us to meet. All of the younger children were too tired to get up early because they stayed up later at night now that it was light late into the evenings. None of them stirred until our youngest came to pound on the bedroom door and demand that I fix breakfast. We soon lagged into a very tardy morning schedule. No one complained, including our older sons.

If scripture study had been a test in the past, it was now approaching a family disaster. What had taken us twenty minutes to read now took more than an hour. With everyone wide awake, the jostling, banter, and horseplay escalated. The children had friends who wanted to play with them about the time we wanted to start reading in the morning.

Some friends were particularly persistent. One morning when one son’s friend wanted him to come out and play, my husband explained that we were reading the Book of Mormon and our son would be through in a little while.

“Well, can I talk to him for just a minute?” was the reply.

Dave invited the friend to either wait outside or join us for scripture study. The boy joined us and sat by our son on the hearth. Then we had to deal with noises and attention-getting antics from the pair of them. Soon another of our son’s friends knocked at the front door, and he also chose to join us for scripture study. Now there were three of them goofing off on the hearth.

When Dave finished the chapter, he asked the children questions to help them understand what had been read. He even asked our son’s friends to answer questions, and I was sure they’d never want to be part of this activity again. But the next morning, three neighbor boys joined us for scripture study and the quiz afterward, followed by family prayer.

Within days, we had half a dozen neighborhood children, along with our own seven, in our daily Book of Mormon school. They weren’t always attentive, and sometimes I wondered if the effort was worthwhile.

When I had an opportunity, I asked my neighbor if her son had complained about his regular morning scripture study. She didn’t know what I was talking about. I explained, and she answered, “Well, it surely can’t hurt him.”

“I’m not sure it’s helping him, either,” I replied. “With all the confusion, I don’t know if they get one thing out of it.”

“At least they’re developing the habit. That’s better than nothing,” she said. Still, I wondered.

But my husband never wavered from his determination to lead our family in this spiritual activity, and I stopped murmuring when I realized that I wasn’t offering support to him or a good example to the children.

One day I heard our son Joe telling someone that he got a lot more out of family scripture study than he got when he read alone, because Dave discussed the scriptures with us and explained them in a way we could understand. I thought about the understanding and knowledge I had gained since Dave had shared with me some of his insights on the teachings of Isaiah; I knew that we were very blessed to have a teacher at the head of our family who had an understanding of what we studied. I realized that Dave had developed his love of the scriptures by reading and rereading them from the time he was a very young boy. I found myself wanting to know the scriptures much better, and wanting to help our sons learn to love them as Dave did so the boys would be better prepared when they were called as missionaries.

Despite my insights, our children’s attitudes didn’t seem to change very much—at least not in ways I could see. I couldn’t be sure that they got anything at all out of our scripture study time. The boys generally continued to wrestle and complain. Sometimes the younger children hid under chairs or crawled under the dining room table.

One son was particularly challenging. With one small gesture or a face pulled at the right person, he could set off a chain of events that would take us ten minutes to put behind us. And yet he surprised me at the dinner table one evening when we all were talking about the future and what we might do. He was about twelve years old then, but he looked ahead to the day when he would be a father. “I’m going to have scripture study every day,” he announced.

My mind went back to something one of my friends had said to me. She had been abandoned by her husband when her three children were small. Consistently, she had daily family prayer, and weekly family home evening with them. She told me that she had often wondered why she continued to carry out those rituals when her life didn’t seem to change. But on the day of her oldest son’s mission farewell, she said with great conviction, “Now I know why we are counseled by our prophets to persist in these activities. The rewards are not immediate, but I am seeing them years later in the testimonies of my children.”

Since those early days of our family scripture study, our oldest son has gone on to learn how valuable the habit, and the principles he learned in our discussions, can be to a missionary. And I can now see results in the lives of our other children as well.

I am convinced that seeds sown in mundane, daily actions yield a mighty harvest. The law of the harvest (see Gal. 6:7) may work slowly, but it works surely. I have come to understand better the eternal principle Nephi taught when he said, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (1 Ne. 16:29.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Greg Newbold

Coleen Bay is Relief Society pianist in the West Bountiful Ninth Ward, West Bountiful Utah Stake.