[Given by Chris Juchau at a Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 26, 2015.]
I would like to address my remarks tonight to parents. I recognize that not everyone who wishes to be a parent is yet. And I recognize that not every parent feels equally yoked with their spouse. But I also acknowledge gratefully that everyone who makes and keeps sacred covenants with a broken and contrite heart will, in fact, be eligible for all the blessings of Abraham, including the blessings (and surely the challenges) associated with parentage and the blessing of sharing the rewards and challenges of parenting with another.
My purpose is primarily to encourage. I hope also that I may share an idea or two that will have practical benefits. I pray that my comments will reflect God’s will and that the Holy Ghost will continue with us while we visit together. It has been a rewarding evening thus far.
I would like to begin by giving away the ending to what I think is the best piece of fiction I know. It is the 19th century Russian novel, Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. To me, it is more of a parable than a piece of fiction. Its message continues to have a very heavy influence on my understanding of the nature of God and of the Plan of Salvation.
Crime and Punishment is the story of a young man, a college student named Raskolnikov, who decides to test a philosophy which promotes that some great people are destined to be above the law—and above other people. And so, wishing to be such a person, he tests this theory by committing a murder, which unexpectedly becomes a double murder of two extremely innocent and helpless women. Dostoevsky intentionally chose a horrific sin to illustrate his message.
Raskolnikov, who has no faith in and perhaps very little understanding of the Savior, begins to suffer greatly as a result of his awful crime. His suffering affects him in every way—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. As is too common with us when we are burdened with guilt, he withdraws from those who love him the most and that causes his suffering to intensify.
While this is happening, he meets a girl named Sonia. Sonia is a symbol for the Savior. She is well acquainted with suffering and is in the process of wearing out her life for those she loves. She has two parents who are sickly and incapable of caring for their children and she has two younger siblings who are destitute. The five of them manage to eat only because of the money Sonia brings in as a prostitute.
There are, for me, three major highlights in the story—all involving Sonia and her responses to Raskolnikov.
The first occurs when she recognizes that he is suffering terribly but she doesn’t yet know why. She reads to Raskolnikov the 11th Chapter of John, the story of the raising of Lazarus, to teach him that no one—not even a dead man—can outdistance himself or herself from the Savior’s ability to heal.
The second occurs when Raskolnikov confesses his crime to Sonia and she responds—not with anger or scolding or by recoiling in disgust, but with compassion and empathy for the unbearable suffering she immediately recognizes he has been and is still enduring.
The third occurs at the end of the book. At Sonia’s encouragement, Raskolnikov confesses his sin both publicly in the market square and formally to the authorities. He is sentenced to labor in Siberia and Sonia follows him. In Siberia he lives inside a fenced prison work camp. For a very, very long time, he seems shut down emotionally and spiritually. He is rather cold-hearted and unresponsive to the kindnesses Sonia shows when she visits him at the fence and brings him food. But she is committed to loving him for however long it takes and, at the end of the book, reminiscent of Lazarus’s response to the Savior’s call to come forth, her steadfast, consistent love for Raskolnikov finally wins. His heart softens and he receives her love—and the love of God. He who seemed lost was found. Love and patience won.
Sixteen years ago in one of my very first priesthood meetings in the Highland 12th Ward (three wards and stakes ago though we’ve never moved in those 16 years!), I had a small but, for me, very profound experience learning about parenting. I was sitting with a group of high priests, who I was just barely beginning to know. The topic of the lesson had to do with parenting. At one point, a discussion broke out which turned into a mild debate with some brethren positing that good parenting requires strictness and rigidity and others countering that a softer, more permissive approach yields better results.
And then “the man” spoke. I didn’t know him yet, but I quickly noticed that when he spoke people paid close attention and I later learned that he was the stake patriarch. His name was Brother Adams. He said (nearest I recall) something like this: “I decided years ago that specific techniques of parenting are of relatively little consequence when compared to one important principle—which is that my children know that I love them and that my love is sincere, genuine, and constant. When I committed to that principle as a guiding principle of my parenting, I became a better parent.”
That seems like a simple concept. It is consistent with something I have also come to believe about our Father in Heaven which is that, more than anything, He wants us to know that He loves us. Love and patience win.
I know a lot of wonderful parents. Recently I have come to know two parents who are prioritizing consistent, demonstrated love in their parenting and who I believe are winning and will win with their children even though circumstances are very difficult and even though it sometimes seems hard for them to discern a light at the end of the tunnel.
One is a mother of a middle-aged son who is in prison. He made some horrible choices years ago which landed him there, but though he is still there, he is a different man today than when he was committing his crimes. He is going about, as best he can under limiting conditions, doing good and helping others. He has a strong relationship with the Savior and with his Heavenly Father. Moreso than many of us, perhaps, he has reached a level of humility that has almost entirely stripped him of pride, pretense, and guile. Though in prison, he enjoys the freedom, ironically, of hiding nothing. He accepts his errors and his failings. He also accepts the embrace of the Savior—and the embrace of his mother. His great progress today is due in no small part to the consistent love of a mother, who might tell you, herself, that she is not a perfect mother but she is winning and so is her son.
Another is a father of a teenage son who is going through intense personal anguish and openly questioning whether he will choose to reject many of the things his parents hold most dear. His suffering has lead him to question God’s role in his life and whether the Plan of Happiness really applies to him. As parents do, his parents are suffering along with him through many tears and little sleep. Recently this father told me that his highest priority is maintaining a warm, loving, accepting, and communicative relationship with his son, no matter what choices his son makes. I am very optimistic for this young man and for his parents, notwithstanding the current acute difficulties.
I am reminded of a story Sister Richards, our stake RS president, brought to my attention a few months ago. It was published in the Ensign quite a few years ago.
It is the story of a young man who told his mother he wouldn’t be going to church any longer and openly quit living the standards of the Church, much to his mother’s distress. Distress so great, she recalled, “Sometimes I thought death would be easier for me. But I loved him no less.”
The writer of the story notes, “John was what you’d call a lost cause. Anybody could tell you that. No one knew what to do with him. But there was one place where he was welcome—home. And there were two people who welcomed him—his parents.”
His mother wrote, “When he would bring his friends to our home, they’d all go down to his bedroom in the basement. I knew they were doing things they shouldn’t. But I loved my son and just couldn’t send him and his friends away as some of my neighbors thought I should. Instead I went into my bedroom and closed the door and got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father what I should do. “Should I send them out onto the street and wonder what they were doing and where they were going? Or should I let them stay here and do things I disapprove of?
“I stayed on my knees until I received some direction. Others might have received a different answer, but for me the impression each time was the same: ‘Get up off your knees and go put on a pot of stew for them. And love those boys.’” Friends condemned her for it. “You’re not upholding Christian standards,” they told her, “by having those boys around.” “I had but one answer: ‘I am trying to live those first two great commandments.’”
Being allowed to remain at home while working through his problems kept him close to his parents. He learned to trust them—even to confide in them. When everyone else seemed against him, he knew his parents still loved him. Eventually his relationship with them made it easier for him to seek activity in the Church again.
I was also reminded a couple of weeks ago by Bishop Sumner of Joseph Smith’s need for his parents when he first began having to endure tremendous hardship when, as just a young boy, faced with having part of his leg bone cut out without painkillers, he requested that his father stay with him and hold him, and that his mother leave so as to not hear the difficulty of it.
I recently read a statement by a Catholic priest who said, “It is through the sacrament of marriage that we learn what God’s love is like.” I do believe that marriage and parenting are schools—schools that teach us much if we will apply ourselves to the lessons.
I have heard people chortle at the notion of joy and rejoicing in our posterity. Parenting is a school. It is a school for our children and it is a school for us. It provides for us a broad range of experiences and emotions, including joy, which has the potential to become permanent—and which potential is strengthened by our sealing covenants and by our keeping our covenants.
May I briefly offer a few suggestions for parents who seek the joy of parenting, whether you feel like you experience much of that joy now or whether it sometimes feels elusive or even distant. I do so at the risk of having some of my own children present who have been witnesses to the poorest parts of my own parenting—but with appreciation to the good things I have learned about parenting from my own parents.
First… Be loving above all else. Don’t just love your children with your heart (although we must do that!). Love them with your words and be affectionate with them. For some people, sarcasm and criticism are a way of life, but it’s a discouraging lifestyle. I do think it’s possible to over-shower a child with praise, but as a rule, our children need to hear much more positive aimed at them from us than criticism. They need to feel love by seeing, hearing, and feeling us take sincere interest in them. Our words should include frequent “I love you’s” and we should be liberal with hugs and physical affection.
Second… It is important that our children sense that we delight in them. I will try to explain what I mean by that. I believe that human beings have a built-in ability to perceive the stance of another human being’s heart toward them. If you have read The Anatomy of Peace or are familiar with The Arbinger Institute, you’re also familiar with the phrases “heart at war” and “heart at peace.” When our hearts are at peace—when they are soft toward or receptive to our children—I believe our children sense it and that results not only in a better relationship, but in more confidence in themselves and a greater sense of courage. When our hearts are at war toward our children—when we are focused on their shortcomings or on our frustrations with them and our hearts are harder or defensive—I believe they also sense that and the result is distance in the relationship, a lack of confidence, and perhaps worst of all, discouragement: literally a reduction of courage. Delighting in your child doesn’t mean acting silly or over-the-top with them, it means having a heart that is truly soft toward them as the Savior’s is toward us. They do sense the stance of our hearts toward them.
Third… Be committed to the gospel and to the Church. (Both matter.) Your children also perceive the posture of your heart toward the gospel and toward the Church. It cannot be faked. When parents show that their lives are genuinely anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that they are serious about their covenants to keep the commandments; and when they hear them teach positively and often about the gospel… Those children have a greater sense of stability, optimism, and resilience. They have greater confidence in their parents and in themselves. The things that are important to you will transfer more effectively to them.
Fourth… Help them learn to manage their agency and become independent. Talk to them about choices and about consequences, including positive consequences. Let them experience choices and consequences. Let them make as many decisions on their own as their age and maturity allow. Teach them to think critically and independently. Teach them about money and work and responsibility. (A teenager having a job is about as important to me as them doing well in school.) Be sure that along with your goal of always maintaining a close, loving relationship with your child, you also have a goal to help your children be able to function and thrive without being dependent on you.
God sent them here to learn to use their agency without undue influence from parents. Be sure your parental control over their exercising their agency diminishes as they mature. Most children will generally force that anyway, so work with them on this cooperatively.
Lastly… Involve your families in the “work of salvation.” Or, if you are already doing so, continue looking for ways to be even more effective. Counseling together as families and working on missionary work and family history and on loving less active neighbors and family members will strengthen your children.
Brothers and Sisters, my father has many sayings. One of them is this: “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” That saying means increasingly more to me as I get older. Parenting is a long-term arrangement. It includes joy and sorrow, delight and frustration, love and growth. It is one of the things that can refine us if we exert ourselves and yield ourselves to its lessons.
I offer my encouragement. I have said before, there are two kinds of parents: those who have been humbled by their efforts to parent and those who will be. But remember: the children in your care are Heavenly Father’s children. His love for them is perfect. His desire for them is no less than that they may become like Him. He sees their potential and, unlike us, His perspective is complete and unimpaired. Do your best and then trust in Him as your senior companion. The Savior, too, is our partner and much more. He will mediate and advocate for you and for your children. Remember that love and patience win.
Let us do all that we can and press forward with commitment, courage, and a sense of optimism; with faith in Christ and in our Father in Heaven. I pray that we will experience joy along the journey and ultimately in our Heavenly Father’s presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A year or two ago, we administered an anonymous, on-line survey in the Highland 22nd ward among the adults. 62 people responded, including 25 men and 37 women. Most had been married between 10 and 25 years, but some less and some more – and a few not at all.
In the survey, we asked five questions, including these three for which they had to come up with their own answers:
- If I had a daughter, I would advise her to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential husband.
- If I had a son, I would advise him to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential wife.
- I appreciate these three things the most in my spouse.
After tallying up the answers and identifying the top three responses to each of the questions, it was interesting to note that all three questions yielded the exact same top three answers. The more I have thought about those three things, the more profound they have become to me – their simplicity contributing greatly to their profundity. It you want to be a good spouse, you should (in no particular order, according to our survey):
- Be nice
- Be committed
- Be productive
Recently I’ve wondered if these aren’t also three critical keys to being a good parent. I’m fond of thinking that parenting might be best measured using the same yardstick Preach My Gospel promotes for measuring missionaries – by our commitment to bringing souls to Christ. The three ideas of being nice (including a whole host of kindness-related attributes), being committed (to Christ; and also to our families), and being productive (demonstrating our commitment through discipline and hard work) seem like three important ways we can help our children know and love the Savior.
Here’s a quick look at what these three things do and don’t look like. Without beating yourself up about your imperfections (seriously! my goodness, ladies, give yourself a break – God does!), ask yourself if being better at something here wouldn’t improve your effectiveness as a spouse or parent (or probably fill in the blank for any other relationship).
Being nice looks like:
- Being patient
- Showing interest in their interests
- Being gentle
- Being affectionate
- Acting happy to be with the person
- Pulling your weight
Being nice does not look like:
- Being critical or sarcastic
- Using harsh language
- Ignoring people or being non-communicative
- Being manipulative or controlling – even with kids
Being committed looks like:
- Acting as well at home as we do at church
- Worshipping privately
- Attending the Saturday evening session of stake conference (and similar)
- Serving in callings; loving those we serve; and magnifying the calling
Being committed does not look like:
- Putting anything else in our lives ahead of the Savior, his gospel, and his church
- Worldliness, including the pursuit of things or excessive emphasis on our own appearance
- Selfishness or a lack of humility
Being productive looks like:
- Being busy / “anxiously engaged”
- On the things that matter to the Lord
- And that matter to our spouses and children
Being productive does not look like:
- Watching T.V.
- Living an unordered life in an unordered home
- Over-indulgence in hobbies and personal interests
- Being the person who never shows up to help someone move or clean their home
The Savior showed us these three things. Living prophets today also demonstrate them. The better we are at them, the better our relationships can be. And relationships are everything. Don’t you think?