Many years ago, I heard President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles say to sisters like me whose husbands did not attend church, “If your husband doesn’t feel at home going to church, then do everything you can to make him feel at church while he’s at home.” 1 This was a terrific concept to me, and it was my guiding theme for many years before my husband returned to full activity in the Church.
One of the ways I thought I could help my husband feel at church was through family home evening. But I believe family home evening doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is likely to be most successful in a home where prayers are said before meals, the scriptures are read, and pictures of the Savior and the temples are part of the decor. These things were all part of the gradual transformation of my husband’s attitude toward the Church from openly hostile to sincerely trying to gain his own testimony.
I started out slowly. When we had just two tiny tots, family home evening was not a structured occurrence; it was more of an ongoing idea. The children and I included scripture stories each night at bedtime, sang Primary songs every day, practiced folding our arms to pray for meals, and learned to recognize pictures of the General Authorities.
With three children, we began to hold an actual event called family home evening. It lasted about 20 minutes and featured songs, prayers, a short lesson, and treats. My husband, Kelly, joined us sometimes. On one memorable occasion as we sang “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” three-year-old Josh suddenly stopped in midverse and asked his father in astonishment, “How come you know this song?”
“Well, I used to go to Sunbeams at church too,” he said, smiling. “Well, why don’t you go now?” Josh replied in a puzzled tone. There followed an awkward silence.
But we continued to hold family home evening. Many nights Kelly would go over to the neighbors’ house or find something else to do. We held family night anyway—not in a defiant way and not to be divisive; we simply enjoyed it. He had his own reasons for not wanting to participate, and he didn’t want to spoil it for us.
There were several key things I did to help make family home evenings successful, and that meant trying to involve my husband:
I made a chart for keeping track of who had which job. Each family member, including Kelly, had a specific assignment every Monday night. Then I rotated the names and responsibilities each week. When Dad had the lesson but wasn’t there, we read a story or just talked. Someone substituted when he wasn’t there to give a prayer or lead the music.
I invited my husband to join us every week. I didn’t leave it unspoken. I would mention it in the morning before he left for work and then remind the whole family at dinner. Then I’d say privately to him that I hoped he’d join us. I tried hard to be friendly and neutral with my weekly invitations.
It was OK that we didn’t always have a doctrinal lesson. Several times over the years when it was Kelly’s turn for the lesson, he’d talk about fire safety, and we’d practice a fire drill. Sometimes we would even set off the smoke alarm so everyone would know how it sounds. Other times he focused on Scouting requirements or held discussions on specific topics like drug and alcohol abuse or stranger safety.
Many family home evening nights involved playing board games, going for a bike ride or a walk around a park, or looking at Christmas lights and singing carols. I know we are urged to have a gospel lesson, but our family dynamics at the time often precluded that. Just being together as a family was a testimony-building experience. Family night helped show us all that we didn’t have to live on a separate track from Dad.
Above all, I recognized my husband as the head of our family. I always asked him to join in and lead family home evening. I didn’t hesitate to get everything set up and have everyone gather in the living room. But then I would turn the time over to Kelly, literally and figuratively.
And finally, I never gave up on family home evening. There were many spectacular failures—with surly teenagers, nine-year-olds who just had to tease, and restless toddlers. Sometimes it seemed like there was a quarrel between Kelly and me every Monday night. Satan was doing his best to keep any spirituality from entering our home. He didn’t want my husband to get used to feeling the Spirit and become comfortable with the gospel.
Through those difficult years, I learned that blessings result from following the counsel to hold family home evening and diligently striving to include every member of the family, even those who might be hostile to the gospel or disinterested. By bringing the family together to play games, go for walks, or just talk, we have been blessed. In my husband’s case, our family nights showed him that even though he had chosen to opt out of the lifestyle of the other family members, he hadn’t opted out of the family. In my case, I found that my family, my marriage, and my own heart were strengthened.