Many families today are in serious danger. We are warned that unless families are strengthened, our society itself faces disaster.
However, as a Latter-day Saint, I am deeply comforted by the message in the Book of Mormon. Even though it was written long ago about another society, and even though its main purpose is to testify of Christ, still it has an important message about what fathers, mothers, and children should do in their relationships with each other.
For example, near the beginning of the book is a very important lesson for husbands and wives. Lehi and his family have left Jerusalem, but the sons have returned to obtain the plates of Laban. Both father and mother spend a great deal of time worrying (see 1 Ne. 5:6–7), but Sariah reaches the point where she complains to her husband about the unbearable conditions. It’s understandable: she has not seen her sons for some time; she worries about their well-being; and she finds living out in the wilderness miserable—especially considering all the comforts she has left behind. She tells her husband that she has three things against him: (1) he is misguided and a “visionary man,” (2) they have lost the land of their “inheritance” and are going to “perish in the wilderness,” and (3) worst of all, “my sons are no more.”
This sounds like the beginning of a big argument, and Lehi could have responded by defending his actions and then making complaints he may have had about Sariah.
However, even though the pattern of complaint and counter-complaint may be what we could expect, Lehi responds to his wife by offering her comfort. He acknowledges that he is a “visionary man.” He then reassures her that he has followed the Lord’s commandment in sending their sons back for the plates, that he knows the Lord has been directing him, that God has indeed promised them an inheritance greater than the one they left behind, that had they stayed in Jerusalem they would have perished, and that he has faith that God will protect their sons.
In other words, the Book of Mormon clearly advises us that what a spouse needs to do when the other spouse complains is to give comfort, not defense or counter-accusation. When people complain, they need comfort. And the best kind of comfort for Latter-day Saint husbands and wives is knowledge of God’s direction and faith in his protection.
If this simple rule were followed in Latter-day Saint families, children would see their parents resolve conflicts by stating a fundamental belief in God and in showing their concern for others, rather than trying to defend their own behavior. And it works! When we offer comfort to a loved one, they respond by returning comfort to us many times again and again.
A Wife’s Faith in Her Husband
While the example of Lehi and Sariah demonstrates a husband’s concern for his wife, the example of King Lamoni’s conversion is a story of a loving wife with faith in her husband and concern for his well-being.
If you remember, Ammon, the great missionary son of King Mosiah, went among the Lamanites and succeeded in converting King Lamoni. The king, overcome by the Spirit, fell to the ground, and his people thought he was dead. However, the queen believed he was still alive and begged Ammon to go to the king and see what he could do.
Ammon assured her that everything would be all right, and then asked the queen if she believed him. She replied that she only had his word—“nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.” (Alma 19:9.) Ammon blessed her because of her great faith.
The queen then watched over her husband all night and into the next day. When he woke up, he reached out to her and said: “Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.” (Alma 19:12.)
Like King Lamoni, far too many husbands among us today behave as though they are spiritually dead. Wives of such husbands can find comfort and strength in the example of the Lamanite queen who believed in her husband, sought counsel from a spiritually reliable source, trusted it, and, with great devotion, watched over him through the long dark nights.
The Duty to Teach
The Book of Mormon is full of examples of principles regarding parent-child relationships. Nephi refers to his “goodly parents” and the fact that he was “taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.” (1 Ne. 1:1; italics added.)
Enos gives additional information about the connection between good parents and teaching. “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of God for it.” (Enos 1:1.)
In these examples, and many others in the Book of Mormon, it is obvious that “just” and “goodly” parents should teach their children. But what should parents teach children? Parents in those ancient days taught languages, history, and cultural behavior, but the book lets us know that the most repeated lesson was that of the divinity of Christ and the atonement.
Alma’s instruction to his sons about the important role of Jesus Christ has particular value for us today because of the way that he did it. To Helaman he says, “And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me.” (Alma 36:3; italics added.) Alma’s purpose is to teach of Jesus Christ and his atonement, but he does so by teaching his son about himself—about his own conversion and redemption from sin. If we will put it into practice, we, as parents, will be amazed and humbled by applying the simple power of Alma’s lesson. Our children will be more willing to follow us, and we, in turn, will again feel the strong desire to know Christ as Alma knew him, as our personal Savior.
Mormon’s final recorded act of instructing his son is, in many ways, similar to Alma’s. Mormon sees terrible sin all around and in response teaches of Jesus Christ and his atonement. He begins that letter to Moroni by describing husbands and fathers and mothers and children. One of the signs of their total degradation was the rejection and perversion of that which is good about the family.
After describing his society’s great wickedness, Mormon gives his final instructions: “My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings … and the hope of his glory and eternal life, rest in your mind forever.” (Moro. 9:25.)
Oh, that we who are parents in Zion in these last days would learn from Mormon’s record! When our society violently rejects that which is most sacred about the family, we must gather our children around us and teach them of Jesus Christ who was crucified.
The Children’s Challenge
If the important responsibility of parents is to teach, what does the Book of Mormon say is the responsibility of children?
Lehi and his son Nephi provide us with the beginnings of an answer to this question. When Nephi hears his father’s teachings of the coming Messiah, he says, “It came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, … I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him.” (1 Ne. 10:17; italics added.)
Nephi is impressed with his father’s teachings. He believes his words, but believing is not all that Nephi does. Nephi desires to know for himself what his father knows. He desires to see, hear, and know by the power of the Holy Ghost. He goes before the Lord in prayer, and in the Spirit of the Lord is caught away to the top of a high mountain where his prayer is answered.
We learn two things from this incident. First, children have the responsibility to believe in the words of their fathers. Second, believing in the words of their fathers is not enough; they should desire to know for themselves, by the promptings of the Holy Ghost, whether the teachings of their fathers are true.
Consider the following examples of children who have become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ by remembering their parents’ teachings years after they had been taught.
Alma the Younger teaches his sons about Christ by teaching them about his own redemption from sin. To Helaman, he describes three days of terrible torment, caused by remembering his sins. He wished that he could have “become extinct both body and soul.” (Alma 36:15.) At that very moment, in the depths of despair, he remembers “to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.” (Alma 36:17; italics added.) Alma’s sorrow because of his sin eventually turns to relief through the power of redemption.
Like Alma, Enos, another of the Book of Mormon prophets, is deeply motivated by the words of his father. He says, “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forest; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul.” (Enos 1:3–4.) After praying all day and into the night, he heard a voice saying, “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed … because … thy faith in Christ … hath made thee whole.” (Enos 1:5, 8.)
How significant that in the moment of Alma’s and Enos’s conversions the people who helped them remember Jesus Christ were their very own fathers, fathers who had taught them about the importance of the atonement.
The challenge for children is to know for themselves whether the testimony of their parents is true. The promise to children is that the righteous teachings of their fathers will be a help to them during tribulation; and that if they will remember and act upon these teachings they can be led to Jesus Christ. When we consider this repeated pattern—fathers teaching sons, and sons following Christ—the Savior’s words take on added significance: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.” (John 5:19.)
Especially for Fathers
The Book of Mormon has a sobering message for fathers, particularly the fathers of our generation. Like Mormon, we see our society violently rejecting family values through child abuse, divorce, wife beating, and shameless sexual sin.
What should we do? Like Alma, we must gather our children around us and tell them how we came to know freedom from sin through the atonement. Like Alma and Mormon, we must pray unceasingly for our children’s spiritual welfare. Like Lehi and Mosiah, when our children plead with us to know what they should do with their lives, we must go to the Lord in mighty prayer, desiring to know his will concerning our children’s decisions. Like King Benjamin, we must obey the commandment of teaching our children. Like Lehi, we must teach with all the feelings of a tender parent. Like Jacob, we must speak to them of the joys of eternal life. Like Nephi, we must ponder the scriptures and write of our own spiritual experiences for the benefit of our children.
To defend ourselves against society’s attack on the family, the Book of Mormon counsels—father, teach your children. From Nephi’s opening words to Mormon’s farewell letter, fathers teach their children. It is no accident. With the teaching in many Latter-day Saint homes today being done by mothers, fathers must seriously think about this important message. No message could be more appropriate. The Book of Mormon, brought forth by God for us in our day, speaks with a plainness to fathers that cannot be misunderstood.
Darwin Thomas, director of the Family Research Institute and a professor of child development and family relations at Brigham Young University, is bishop of the Spanish Fork Fourteenth Ward, Spanish Fork Utah Stake.