One of God’s greatest gifts to mankind is the opportunity to receive and care for His little ones. We love our children and grandchildren, and with time our prayers tend to concentrate less on ourselves and more on them.
For all to be well with children living in this generation of errant moral attitudes, dangerous media, and general permissiveness, they must have a desire to do right. This desire comes as they feel the Spirit of the Lord and gain testimonies of eternal truths while being lovingly and properly taught who they are.
If young people truly know who they are, they will generally make righteous decisions; and if mistakes are made, they are more likely to repent and ultimately make things right.
The stripling warriors highlighted in the book of Alma exemplify men who were taught from their mother’s knee and through their father’s words and example to know who they were, how to live, and how to fulfill their destiny as sons of God:
“And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
“Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him. …
“Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them“ (Alma 53:20–21; Alma 57:21; emphasis added).
Knowing who we are underscores the truths inherent in our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for His children. These truths include the fact that we lived with Him in a premortal life, that He loves us, and that He invites us to return to His presence to enjoy His way of life after this mortal probation. Another important truth is that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make our return possible through obedience to the gospel.
When young people have testimonies of these sacred truths, obedience to the commandments of God makes more sense to them. But if they are simply forced to do right, only time and circumstances keep them from wrongdoing. That is why Alma made it clear that “God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:32; emphasis added).
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has taught the principle that children need to know who they are. He mentions a “golden thread” running through surveys on the faithfulness of our youth. The information shows that the most compelling element in helping our youth make righteous decisions is knowing they will one day be accountable to the Lord for their actions. Hence, he invites us to teach them well and have the Spirit touch their hearts so they will “choose for eternity.”1
The Prophet Joseph Smith is an excellent example of a young man taught by loving parents to know who he was as a son of God. His parents also taught him how to work, to be honest and faithful, and to keep the commandments of God. These early teachings by faithful parents were essential in his preparation as the prophet of the Restoration.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”2 Not only does our Heavenly Father invite us to return to Him as families, but the home and family setting has been established as the best place to teach the truths that our little ones will need to sustain them through life’s journey. Dedicated parents must instill in the hearts of their children these principles from their earliest years. King Benjamin taught parents their duty to teach their children:
“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil. …
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:14–15).
Children need to understand that the commandments of God are not given to encumber or restrain them from enjoyment and happiness. To the contrary, every commandment is designed for our development and eternal happiness. For example, as we live the law of tithing with proper motivation, we put off the natural tendency of selfishness, become more willing to share, and literally change our being. The observance of each commandment will help us to become more like our Heavenly Father and will prepare us to enjoy a celestial way of life.
King Benjamin also taught that living the commandments would give us eternal happiness: “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Mosiah 2:41).
We must understand, however, that our teaching will simply not take effect in an environment where hypocrisy prevails. Our children will learn much from what we say but many times more from what we are and what we do.
Although children will learn important lessons in a Church environment, parents put their eternal family at tremendous risk when they fail to do their part and hope instead that the Church or society will save their children. We as parents simply cannot avoid our sacred responsibility: “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25).
The Lord, through His prophets, has tried to help us use an eternal perspective in evaluating the decisions we make. As the Lord attempts to help us see long-range and long-term objectives while living in a world where people have short-range vision, we must teach our children to make decisions from that same eternal perspective. The ability to make decisions based on eternal objectives requires faith in the Lord and faith in His teachings. The natural man will ofttimes err while making decisions because, lacking faith or understanding, he chooses for the moment rather than for eternity. We must help our children “choose for eternity,” as President Faust suggests, by strengthening their faith and understanding.
Doctrine and Covenants 117 invites us to incorporate the Lord’s perspective as we establish priorities and make important decisions in our lives. This scripture recites the experience of three men who were called to establish their families at Far West, Missouri, to help build up Zion. Rather than responding immediately to the call, they stayed in Kirtland, Ohio, to sell their personal properties for the greatest possible gain. As a result of their choice, we have in verse 4 the phrase “For what is property unto me? saith the Lord.” Then in verse 8 the Lord teaches us a great lesson when He asks, “Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman … that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?“ (emphasis added).
As we prepare to teach our children this important lesson on priorities, we might ask ourselves: What is the “drop” and what are the “more weighty matters”? As we examine a drop of water, we observe that it is not permanent and will evaporate. In this case, the men’s personal property was important by their standard of measure but was temporary in the sense that it was earthbound and could not pass through the veil with them as they departed this short mortal life.
In our day, the dwellings we live in are extremely important in most of our social situations. They should be well-kept, comfortable places where our family can be drawn around us, but we need to realize that as we leave this life we cannot take them with us. The same could be said about our automobiles, computers, jewelry, televisions, and thousands of other earthly possessions. As much as we enjoy them and need many of them, they will stay here, remain temporary, and are but a drop when considered from an eternal perspective.
Our children must be taught that the “more weighty matters” help them qualify for and ultimately enjoy eternal blessings. While there is nothing wrong with certain possessions and wealth, righteously attained and handled, we must teach our children that the weighty matters include the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Atonement, the family, the priesthood, Christlike attributes, knowledge, and gospel ordinances and covenants.
We need to teach them never to give up eternal blessings in pursuit of the temporary things of the world. Yet, lacking faith, concern, or understanding, that’s exactly what many young people, or even adults, will do in situations that, if properly handled, could mold them as children of God. Often people choose the glamorous, the shiny—things that provide instant gratification and thrills—or they err in the face of temptation even though the consequences of improper choices may mean the sacrifice of significant, eternal blessings. We must teach our children never to give up those things that matter most in pursuit of those things that matter least.
What a blessing it is when parents and grandparents teach children to recognize and choose those things that are of most worth. I watched my parents teach their family lessons on priorities while serving missions for the Church. Although they missed weddings, births, and other events, they contributed greatly to the testimony and faith of their grandchildren. They helped us establish in their children’s children the values and faith that righteous parents consistently plead for. Their example sent a message that a thousand talks on faith and commitment could not have conveyed.
Our understanding of priorities might be aided through examining a tragic situation commonplace in American society. While purchasing the “stuff” that people in a modern society seem almost obligated to accumulate, couples sometimes find themselves overextended and faced with the need for the wife to work in order to meet obligations. Although the couple may never have intended that this occur, the mother now finds herself outside the home when the children desperately need the nurture that no other individual can provide. If parents are not there, they cannot teach. The opportunity to provide the spiritual nourishment that has just been discussed can be permanently lost, replaced with whatever substitute peers, teachers, or the television may offer.
Both national statistics and experience within our society are proof of the disastrous effects this decision can have on long-term family objectives and happiness. The Lord is aware of the instances where a mother with young children in the home may truly have to work to provide for their needs, and He will sustain her whether it be for an hour or a lifetime. However, when couples opt to take the mother out of the home while little ones are in need of her tender care, choosing instead to buy too much home, too much car, or too many toys, they put at great risk their eternal family and the never-ending happiness described by King Benjamin.
Other examples of giving up eternal blessings for something temporary are numerous and include the sacrifice of eternal relationships through the abandonment of the sacred covenants that cement those relationships in place. Moral and other critical principles must be taught to our children in the home, without hypocrisy, by the instruction and example of caring parents. When the ideal home situation with father and mother is not in place, then we must do the best we can to offer priesthood and organization support; but we must not displace parents in their preeminent role.
That our Heavenly Father anxiously awaits our worthy return to His presence is evident not only because of the Atonement of His Son, but by the declarations of the prophets since the beginning. Our faithful dedication in teaching our own posterity to recognize who they are and how to prepare for their return to our Heavenly Father offers one of the greatest opportunities we can have during our mortal probation. Let us pray that we might be empowered to teach them well.
It is especially important for our youth, newlyweds, and those with young families to predetermine that steps will be taken to ensure their home will provide the proper atmosphere for spiritual success. Here are 10 suggestions that young couples might consider in their own homes:
Our home will be centered in the Savior and His teachings.
Our children will be taught to know they are children of God and to understand what is required to return to His presence.
Our home will be an oasis from the world, where we will have love, patience, kindness, appropriate language, encouragement, proper correction, and respect.
Our children will be taught the meaning of no.
We will plan time to nurture individual children and enjoy family life.
Educational and vocational preparations will be made so that the father has the ability to sustain the family.
We will hold weekly family home evenings that are relatively informal, friendly, encouraging, instructive, and fun.
We will read and discuss some scripture text in the family circle each day in a way that the children will enjoy.
We will help children understand that ongoing repentance is needed for all of God’s children and that we should worthily partake of the sacrament throughout our lives.
We will help children establish long-term goals.