[Stake Conference, October 2018]
My comments today are intended for both young and old, but I confess that I have our youth and young single adults particularly in mind. I hope that you will recognize the Spirit teaching you something that is important for you to know or act on this morning.
Let me first give three examples of difficult, even painful situations which, despite our hopes to never encounter them, occur every day around the world to those who are, as the Savior said, “both the just and the unjust.”
First, imagine the scenario of an unexpected emergency or catastrophe. It could be a flood or an earthquake; an outbreak of war or a disruption in the food supply; it could be a loss of power or a collapse of our financial system. Think of the different levels of preparedness at which an individual or family might be the moment the problem strikes. Some might be well prepared to weather the storm until normalcy returns. Others might be completely unprepared and have some very difficult times. Many would be somewhere between those two extremes.
Second, imagine the challenges that can follow a person who takes little or no interest in learning. Being “educated” doesn’t necessarily mean having one or more college degrees. It means being interested in learning enough to invest time and effort into it—which might be through formal schooling or may be through practical, hands-on learning. Those who don’t pursue learning may have some extra challenges in life. Some may be financial. Others may involve personal relationships. Some may be easily taken advantage of or struggle to solve their own problems. In contrast, someone who actively accumulates knowledge and know-how may be in a better position to navigate life and its financial, emotional, interpersonal, and other challenges.
Third, imagine the person who needs employment but can’t find it or has suddenly lost it, perhaps through no fault of his or her own. The lack of a job can, obviously, create financial hardships, but it can be even more challenging than that. Work often includes an enhanced sense of purpose and value and the satisfaction of contributing. It can include valuable friendships and learning opportunities. When Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden, Adam was given the gift of work. Work is a gift and the absence of it can be a very heavy burden.
Those three scenarios illustrate three concepts that are critical when we talk about “self-reliance.” They are: emergency preparedness, education, and work (or employment). God wants each of us, individually and as families, to be self-reliant. He wants us to be physically, mentally, and economically healthy and to be able to care for ourselves and our loved ones—and, ideally, for others as well. He wants us to be prepared to handle problems that come to us unexpectedly, perhaps through no fault of our own. Temporal self-reliance is important to God and should be an active pursuit for each of us.
But I would like to emphasize today the concept of spiritual self-reliance. And here, perhaps, is where I would like our youth to be especially listening. God also wants us to become spiritually self-reliant. He wants us to be able to stand on our own two feet spiritually, not having to lean too heavily on parents or others in our lives. He wants us to be able to face and withstand challenges and he wants us to be in a position to help others become spiritually self-reliant. I will admit that I think our circumstances in Highland Utah can sometimes create a spiritually protective, somewhat homogeneous environment around our youth that can leave them vulnerable to a lack of spiritual self-reliance if they have not sufficiently established it before encountering the world away from here.
Now let’s revisit those three scenarios, but this time from a spiritual perspective.
The first one regards emergency preparedness. What spiritual emergencies may confront us in our lives? They are not uncommon. Members of our stake have unexpectedly lost loved ones in the past year. Some have been abused or mistreated or perhaps felt betrayed. Some have been confronted by arguments against the Church that they had never considered and unexpectedly find themselves in the so-called “crisis of faith.” Events happen in people’s lives which cause them to question foundational things they have relied on including the very existence of God. People who have felt confident in their beliefs about God and His plan for us—perhaps they’ve even stood and borne public testimony of those things—experience some event in life that makes them wonder if they were fooling themselves all along and that maybe, on second thought, none of it actually is true.
How would you prepare for such a spiritual emergency? How would you become spiritually self-reliant to the point that your faith would be a strength to you at such a time of crisis?
We might start with the words of Helaman, who said we must build a spiritual foundation that is based on the Savior, “that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds,… when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you…, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
Another Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, taught us to hold dearly to the word of God. Nephi described the iron rod as, “the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them.”
Notice Nephi doesn’t just say to read our scriptures: he says to “hearken unto the word of God,” which surely means to practice what those scriptures teach.
In fact, it is not enough to say our prayers each day and read our scriptures each day if we do so mechanically without really engaging mentally and spiritually. For example, we might study the challenges that faithful people in scriptures went through and ponder questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “why does God not seem to intervene more when people hurt each other” or “why does God permit suffering in the world?” or “why don’t I get a more vivid and unambiguous answer to my prayers?” Strong foundations are built upon coming to know God and coming to understand His plan for us through thoughtful study and prayer and application of scriptural teachings.
Elder Holland said, “When those moments come… hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” The more bricks we can lay in our spiritual foundation before large challenges arise, the better we’ll handle them.
Now let’s take that a step further with the second scenario. The second scenario illustrates the issues around education and learning and the question of whether we will actively seek out learning or not.
In this last General Conference, President Nelson announced a tremendous opportunity for us in this regard. He announced, quote, “A New Balance between Gospel Instruction in the Home and in the Church.” The resulting headline has been that we’ll only have two hours of church on Sunday. That’s the wrong headline! The bigger story is that the living prophet of God is exhorting us to increase our personal and family study—our “spiritual education” if you will—outside of church—and especially at home—and especially on Sundays.
Just as a lack of worldly know-how can make financial and other challenges more difficult, a lack of understanding of true doctrine and other spiritual matters can decrease stability, increase uncertainty, confuse direction, and exacerbate other problems in our lives.
How do we learn spiritually? As already mentioned, we study (and don’t just “read”) our scriptures. We invest time in seminary and institute. Sister Hansen in our stake teaches a wonderful class for the sisters each week. We use the Sabbath and “home evening” and family scripture study. And we don’t just engage mentally, we engage spiritually. We pray and we seek the Holy Ghost to guide us. Jesus said that “if any man will do His will, He will know the doctrine,” so, much spiritual learning comes from faithfully doing.
One area related to education some of us can do better in is preparing our children for ordinances and covenants. If we’re not careful, we’ll do more to prepare for missions and wedding receptions than we do to prepare our kids to understand the covenants they make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Endowment, or the Sealing Ordinance. The result of that can be a very unhelpful ignorance and a delay (or worse) in receiving the blessings of consecrated discipleship.
We must diligently “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
The third scenario was about employment and the blessing of work and the problems created by not working. This, too, has a spiritual parallel in service, ministering, and working to build the kingdom of God. We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor, but it isn’t enough to have loving feelings for them in our hearts when we are able to also do things to bless others and to express that love.
Let me mention three ways we can be “employed,” so to speak in the Kingdom of God.
- We can be actively involved in ministering to others, including those we’re assigned to minister to. Being assigned to love someone is highly underrated (from what I sometimes hear). Some of the people I feel the most love for and most love from are people I have come to know either because I was assigned to them or they were assigned to me.
- We can, if not limited by circumstances, serve in church callings and do our best to magnify them. Every church calling is about serving and helping people. Finding the ways we can best do that is both fun and rewarding.
- Lastly, we can engage in the work of salvation, specifically missionary work and temple and family history work. I can consciously engage in missionary work right now, every day, and I can make time in my life for temple and family history work.
We can do all these things in wisdom and order, considering the realities and priorities of our individual circumstances. The more gospel activities are an important part of how we live our lives, the more spiritually strong and self-reliant we will become.
Brothers and Sisters—and especially you youth and young single adults—our Father in Heaven “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Before we came here, we lived with Him. But we needed to experience some things outside of His immediate presence in order to grow and in order to prove ourselves. That experience includes strong opposition. I hope you have experienced and do experience many sunny days, but none of us, no matter how righteous, is exempt from rainy days. We need to develop the spiritual strength to be able to withstand a downpour—and, perhaps, a prolonged downpour. And even on those partly sunny, partly cloudy days we need the strength of faith and testimony, both built upon a foundation of the Savior, to guide us as we navigate the every day challenges and questions of earth life.
May we each act and not be acted upon. May we look to the Savior, hold to the rod, heed the words of a living Prophet, and not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness”—or simply by the lies and deceits of the Devil. There is good and there is evil. God lives, and Satan and his strategies and philosophies are real. The best defense is a good offense.
I testify that you are a child of Heavenly Parents. God is not a creation of man. You are a part of His family. Jesus Christ is our brother. We love and worship Him. He sacrificed everything for us and offers forgiveness and mercy to all who demonstrate to Him a broken heart and contrite spirit. This is His Church. Fifteen men hold critical and legitimate priesthood keys. President Nelson has been called to exercise them. We will be blessed if we follow him. I express my love to each of you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Left-Handed Smoke Shifters (and raising our kids)
[Given by Becky Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents, August 2016.]
It was the summer of 1984 and I was 16 years old. My sister was the Girls Camp Director at Camp William Penn, a camp in the Pocono mountains for underprivileged children from Philadelphia. One of her counselors needed to leave abruptly before the last 2-week session of camp and I was asked to fill in. A few days after my arrival, our 9- and 10-year-old group went on an overnighter which consisted of walking about a half a mile around the lake, heading into the woods, and camping in tents for the night instead of in the regular cabins. When we had almost arrived at our camp site, the head counselor of my unit asked me to return to the main camp for the forgotten left-handed smoke shifter.
Now, I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed and, remember, I was 16 and the new kid. So I dutifully headed back to camp to retrieve the left-handed smoke shifter from the nurse who’d reportedly had it last. Surprisingly, she didn’t have the left-handed smoke shifter, so she sent me to the Activities Director who sent me to my sister (Benedict Arnold) who sent me to the Head Cook, who finally took pity on me and told me that there was no such thing as a left-handed smoke shifter.
Well, I went to my cabin, laid down on my bunk, and pouted for a while; then returned to the camp site and took my revenge. But that is a story for another day….
So I ask you: What are the left-handed smoke shifters of our day? What are the views the world presents to us as fact and truth, which simply are not?
- “Wealth = happiness.”
- “If you’re busy, you must be important.”
- “You CAN have it all.”
- “You’re an unsuccessful parent if your children can’t read, multiply single-digit numbers, and play the hymns on the piano before they go to kindergarten.”
Tonight I’d like to address one left-handed smoke shifter that I feel we sometimes struggle with as parents in Highland, Utah. It’s the lie that our children need to be good at everything or the best at something; that our main job is to keep them busy, whatever the cost; and that being at home is somehow second best. (So I guess that’s actually three lies!) I think buying into these lies stems from the harmful practice of comparison and the sin of pride—both of which I’m sad to say, I know about first hand!
I know that all families are different. All children are different. Only you can know (with the help of the Holy Ghost) the best way to avoid the worldly lies that you might struggle with. But may I suggest six things we did in the Juchau home to combat those dreaded left-handed smoke shifters. And if you’re tempted to leave feeling depressed or inadequate; please don’t. These are just ideas that you’ll hopefully consider.
Before I begin, let’s be clear. We were not and are not the perfect parents. Here are some painful examples:
How about the time when our daughter Sarah stepped in a hole while playing night games and came home with a swollen toe and a big cut on the bottom of her foot. We looked at it, pronounced her fine, told her to “walk it off” and sent her to Girls State in Cedar City the next day. When she came home a few days later and we finally took her to the doctor (because her foot was oozing, bruised, and still swollen) we found that she had a broken toe and an infection in the cut.
Or the time our daughter Anne left on her mission and Chris and I both sent our emails to her old email account so she didn’t receive an email from either of her parents her first week.
Or the literally hundreds of times I’ve called one of our kids by the wrong name (mostly I got them mixed up with each other, but sometimes I called them Otis, who is the dog).
Or the times we disciplined out of anger.
Or the times I was impatient when one of our normally quiet kids felt like talking—usually around 11:00 at night.
Here’s a note our daughter wrote to us when she was in first grade (she was very precocious).
[“Derar family, I Do Not Want To Give you enethin Agen Bekols No Won Is Paeien Atenchen To Me. From: Emily”]
I don’t know what’s more pathetic: the content of this note or that I think it’s kind of funny.
Here’s another note (from Anne; with each letter glued onto the page separately, serial killer style).
[“DEAR DAD I’M SORRY I HIT Adam IN THE STUMICK! Anne”]
Anne must have spent an hour painstakingly placing all of these stickers. She probably had plenty of time after she was sent to her room for her misbehavior. (Please don’t tell President Scoresby that we sent our kids to their rooms!)
We aren’t the perfect parents. We don’t have perfect children. We didn’t do the following six things perfectly. But we tried to do them (then tried again when we failed) and I think they were all important.
#1: “Quiet time”
Every day before our kids went to school, and also in the summers when they were school age, our family spent one hour a day having quiet time. This was time to nap (for young children) or to quietly play by themselves or to read. Through this practice, our kids learned how to amuse themselves, they learned to be creative, and they learned to recognize that they could be quiet for a little part of each day. It wasn’t a punishment because we started it way before they knew normal people didn’t do it and we were consistent.
The world today has so little peace. Children need to learn how to be reflective and how to be by themselves (and not have to be entertained by electronics!). I found that we even got along better after an hour apart each day. And maybe children have a greater capacity for reverence at church when they spend some regular time being quiet at home.
I recognize that most of us are past the stage of very young children and an official “quiet time” isn’t an option, but I hope you’ll recognize the need for older children to have time to be quiet, too. At the Mt Timpanogos baptistry they encourage all patrons to spend a few moments in the quiet chapel even if the font is empty when they arrive. The temple presidency believes that our youth need time to sit quietly, read the scriptures, and think. I agree.
Psalm 34: 14 says: “…seek peace, and pursue it.”
#2: Family Home Evening
Prophets have been counseling us to have Family Home Evening since 1951—that’s longer than most of us have been alive! It’s hard, I get it! If it was easy, we’d all be perfect at it and we’re not.
My husband is an organized fellow. This is how he handled family home evening assignments for many years.
Every Sunday night this spreadsheet would appear magically on the refrigerator. We would look at our assignments for the following evening and prepare to varying degrees. Sometime after Chris became a bishop, the spreadsheets stopped appearing on the fridge. As time became more limited, our family home evenings became a lot more casual. Now, many years later, with just Adam at home, our family home evenings consist of prayer, a calendar review, a short gospel discussion, and scripture reading. Sometimes we go to a movie or we go bowling. Sometimes we go out for a treat.
Family home evening, no matter how messy or imperfect, teaches our families that we try to follow the prophet. It teaches our families that we have a desire to share testimony and gospel principles with them—that we don’t just rely on the church to instruct us. It shows a commitment to Heavenly Father and His plan.
#3: Read with your children
Some of my most tender moments with my children have happened with a book open in front of us—whether it was snuggling with a toddler at bedtime or reading aloud all day the very first day a new Harry Potter book came out. We read to our children every day and our children read to us every day [when they were young]. Our kids received books as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Jim Trelease wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook which was the text used in my Teaching Reading class at BYU almost 30 years ago. He has since printed six additional editions which include lists of great, current read-aloud books. If you want to know why you should read with your kids, read his book. If you want the short answer, Mr. Trelease writes:
“Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.” (readaloud.org)
To those of you who can’t fit your children on your lap anymore, may I suggest setting an example for your older children of reading often and reading varied material. They will learn that you value learning and knowledge and education, all without one parental lecture!
Please read the scriptures together as a family. When you do, you send the message that Heavenly Father and His word are a priority in your family.
#4: Eat dinner together
Those of you who know me well know that around 3:00 every afternoon I am shocked and dismayed to remember that I’m expected to feed people in a few hours. I frankly find it annoying that my family wants to eat every single night and that there should probably be some vegetables involved. Making dinner is not my strength. But I know family dinner time is important. Elder Oaks knows it’s important, too. That’s why he encouraged it in his talk, “Good, Better, Best.”
Researchers have found it to be important, also. Dr Anne Fischel, a family therapist and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School wrote in 2015,
“For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art. Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance.”
She also wrote:
“In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments, or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other…. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them….” (Washington Post; January 12, 2015)
It doesn’t matter what you make for dinner or how well you make it. It does matter that you are spending time together talking and laughing and listening; that children are learning how to help with food preparation and clean-up. Which leads me to # 5.
#5: Work together
Elder L. Tom Perry said:
“Teaching children the joy of honest labor is one of the greatest of all gifts you can bestow upon them.” (The Joy of Honest Labor; Oct 1986)
Every family handles work at home differently. Some parents ask their kids to make their beds and have a tidy room before they leave for school every day. Some parents have chore charts. Some parents pay their kids to do jobs and that’s how their kids earn spending money. I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong way to teach your children to work but I do think children should learn to work. They should have responsibilities that contribute to an organized and (at least, relatively) tidy house and yard.
The fundamental reason we’ve had a garden the past sixteen years is to give our kids a job in the summer—we certainly never had any intention of harvesting or actually eating what we grew!
There is nothing better than waking up on an early summer morning and looking out of your back window to see your child squatting over the vegetables, weeding before it gets too hot. Now, to be honest, that only happened a few times over the past sixteen years, but it did happen!
Teaching kids to work is difficult. It takes a lot of consistency and a lot of effort. I’m not suggesting our kids be our slaves and that we make their lives a drudgery, but I am suggesting that unless you were born a Kardashian, you need to learn to work. You need to learn to start and finish something, even if it’s not fun. You need to learn to clean up after yourself. You need to learn to contribute to a household.
Sometimes we think we can do a job better and more quickly than our kids so we just do it ourselves. I have been and still am guilty of this. Make sure you work with your children so you can show them how to get things done.
Sometimes we are quick to hire people to do work in our homes and yards that our children can and should learn to do. We think, “Our kids are too busy.” Or, “We can have more fun as a family if certain chores are hired out.” Or, “We have more money than time.” This is, of course, an individual family matter, as every family’s circumstances differ, but Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“Work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity.” (Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel; April 1998)
#6: Carefully consider out of home activities
Sometimes we believe the left-handed smoke shifter that says, “If my kids aren’t really busy with lots of worthwhile activities, they’re sure to become overweight, unhealthy, unambitious, couch potatoes who play video games all day and eventually turn to a life of crime!” This kind of frantic and false thinking can come from many sources, all of which lead back to Satan. When deciding which activities are best for your children, ask yourself:
How will this activity benefit my child? Will it benefit our family?
Why do I want my child to participate in this activity?
Is it something I wish I’d gotten to do as a kid, but didn’t?
Am I trying to keep up with what my neighbors are doing?
If I’m completely honest, is my pride dictating this choice?
Will this extra activity cause stress in our home?
Are we already too busy for one more thing?
And maybe the most important questions: Who do I want my child to be and will this activity help him or her become that?
Picking and choosing activities would be a worthwhile discussion in a family council. Be deliberate and careful in your choices and plan well so you have the time and energy to be a family!
Please understand that I’m not against every sports team and music lesson and dance class. The Juchau children were involved in all of those (and more) worthwhile activities. Our kids need lots of opportunities to learn and grow outside of the home. I hope, though, that we can be excellent at “intentional parenting” as Elder Nelson has encouraged, and not just let our kids’ activities run our family lives.
Elder Oaks said:
“The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth.” (Good, Better, Best; Oct 2007)
And President Uchtdorf said:
“Strength comes not from frantic activity, but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.… It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.” (Of Things That Matter Most; Oct 2010)
What divine things matter most to your family? How can you pay attention to them?
I’ve never been a big fan of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, but a few years ago my daughter and I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I discovered something that made me appreciate him much more. In that beautiful museum, there is a room filled with Van Gogh’s art depicting houses and rooms and people at home. Apparently, he had a bit of a fascination with every day, ordinary home life. He liked to use the Dutch word, “menessesten,” translated into English as “people-nest.” He loved to think of, and paint, families cozy and safe in their homes the way birds find comfort and shelter in their nests. I, too, love that image. Home should be a place where our children find safety and refuge.
I like to think of our homes filled with reading and gospel learning. I like to think of them filled with fun family dinners and a little quiet time. I like to think of our children learning how to work at home. I like to think of us being “intentional parents” and helping our children choose wisely the activities that take us away from home and each other.
Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said:
“All of us—women, men, youth, and children, single or married—can work at being homemakers. We should make our homes places of order, refuge, holiness, and safety. Our homes should be places where the Spirit of the Lord is felt in rich abundance and where the scriptures and the gospel are studied, taught, and lived. What a difference it would make in the world if all people would see themselves as makers of righteous homes. Let us defend the home as a place which is second only to the temple in holiness.” (Defenders of the Family Proclamation; April 2015)
I pray that this school year and always, we will find ways to make our homes holy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
On Trust, Patience, Lilies, and Peace
Life is hard. I doubt there’s much debate over that. I am in awe of those for whom life is exceptionally hard. As Father Zosima (in “The Brothers Karamazov”) did to Dmitri out of respect for Dmitri’s suffering, I sometimes feel to bow to those who experience life’s more profound hardships.
It is easier, I think, to speak of the Lord’s peace (“not as the world giveth, give I unto you”) and of placing our trust in Him (“trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”) when life is, for whatever reason, not as hard for us as it is for others. But what about when you’re the one facing any number of very difficult things: an ominous health diagnosis, betrayal from a spouse, same-sex attraction, a disabled child, a rebellious child, joblessness, rejection, depression, poverty, etc.
Nevertheless—and without being dismissive of the enormity of those challenges (as the word “nevertheless” might suggest)—the Savior’s message to us is that He will, in fact, give rest to those who are “heavy laden.” (In one sense, “heavy laden” is relative, with some thinking they’re heavy laden even while, in fact, they have it much easier than others; while in another legitimate sense, we are surely all “heavy laden.”)
“Take my yoke upon you,” He said, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The phrase “take my yoke upon you” means two things to me. First, get after it; head up, chin up, and keep going. If we’re going to be yoked together, we’ll need to do push as best we can. Second, trust Him to do His part. A key to the scripture is in the phrase “learn of me.” The more we become acquainted with Christ and with his attributes and motives, the easier it is to place our trust in Him. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Coming to know him better should be an active life-long pursuit for all of us.
The Savior also taught us to not worry about worldly things and things that we just don’t need to fret over right now. For “which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” On the other hand, “Consider the lilies” and the Lord’s willingness to take care of us who are “much better than” even those beautiful and perfectly obedient lilies.
No matter how much of a struggle we get into, it is always made worse by losing our perspective: when we decide our poor circumstances are permanent; when we doubt God’s existence (or at least His caring) because our troubles persist and He does not seem to respond to our requests to make them go away; when we believe that we must handle things on our own when we, in fact, can’t; etc. Such false ideas accentuate stress and lead to despair. They tend to lead us toward both giving up in our efforts and distrusting God—two things that will prevent us from finding rest for our souls.
I am reminded frequently of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” How much we need to remember that!
I am also reminded of one of my favorite short verses of scripture (if only I could apply it better!): “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
Get to know God, trust Him, work, and be patient. This is part of living after the manner of happiness. And surely leads to the rest we seek.
On Growing Up
I sure am glad that my parents encouraged me (and my siblings) to grow up.
I think I was about ten years old when I got my first job: delivering The Northshore Citizen to maybe 50 or 60 homes in our neighborhood every Wednesday morning. Seems like I split the job with my sister, but my early-onset Alzheimer’s leaves me a little uncertain. Wasn’t long after that, though, that I definitely got my own daily route. I spent about four years unwittingly distributing a lot of liberal propaganda (known then and now as The Seattle Times) to my neighbors, most of whom probably appreciated it (the propaganda, that is).
“Daily,” of course, meant daily: 365 days a year. Mercifully, there were three or four of them each year on which I made it home dry. I remember the dark, wet night I stepped on a nail as I ducked under some dripping rhododendron bushes to get to the Harkenon’s house. It was hard to tell if that sucking sound (and feel) was the nail coming out of my foot or my sneaker coming out of the mud. Saturdays and Sundays—and every Christmas and New Year’s Day (thank goodness for sobriety)—were delivered in the mornings. Nothing like a 5 a.m. wake-up call every weekend morning to try to make an old man out of a young man. School seemed like a pretty desirable place compared to delivering papers in the cold, dark, and rain.
When I was fifteen, my buddy Jeff (who already had a driver’s license) and I were on our way to a church softball game. (I often played catcher and not particularly skillfully. He sometimes enjoyed a little too much watching me get blown up on the occasional play at the plate. We had a competitive stake.) Anyway, he needed to stop by his workplace—as a dishwasher at the prestigious Inglewood Country Club—to pick up his check, since his Trans Am drank a lot of gas. Curious to see the insides of such a posh place, I went with him. Before long, we found his crusty old boss, who summarily dismissed him (on suspicion of breaking some rules, which Jeff vehemently denied) and then looked at me, squinting narrowly, and said, “Son, you want a job?” I said, “Sure,” and after the game Jeff dropped me off for my first night of work.
Those nights cleaning up after country club party-goers sometimes ended at two or three or even four in the morning, depending on how late the evening’s festivities lasted. Calling and waking my parents for a ride home at such hours seemed a bit much—and they rather agreed—so I usually walked. It was just a couple of miles (but, yes, it actually was uphill). The inevitable rain seemed to cleanse my spirit to a certain extent—and that wasn’t all bad after spending the evening in a country club bar kind of environment.
That job didn’t last long, though, as I soon got hired by Jeff’s brother-in-law to work at his art and picture framing store. I cut frames, glass, and mattes—mostly tens of thousands of mattes—after school and full-time in the summers for about three years. Some Saturday mornings (yes, 5 a.m., again), he took us waterskiing. And…
Well, the story of jobs just keeps on going, but I’ll quit boring you. The point is: my parents encouraged responsibility, financial independence, and, to a large extent, emotional independence from my early years. They also encouraged independent thinking, thankfully, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course, there were also chores growing up. (By “growing up,” I’m referring to the 14-year period we were given to turn 18 years old.) Tuesday nights were mine to do the dishes. We actually had a dishwasher, but we never used it. My parents said it was broken, but years later, I’m increasingly suspicious about just how broken it really was. When I was eleven or twelve or so, my mother taught me how to do laundry. I had a hard time remembering which colors to wash in which temperatures, so I made a chart and nailed it to the wall of our unfinished laundry room. It hung there for probably close to 30 years.
My biggest chore, though, may have been our vegetables. (And by “vegetables,” I am not referring to the three rows of our model vegetable garden I was expected to weed every day of the summer.) Mother served at least two vegetables at every dinner and the rule was you had to eat two of them and no less. I’m pretty sure the zucchini, lima beans, spinach, and occasional brussel sprouts were all calculated to be encouragement for us to achieve independent living at the earliest possible age.
Leaving home and going to college was a foregone conclusion. I don’t recall ever considering an alternative. My older brother went off to college after high school. So did my older sister. Three months after graduating from high school, my parents drove me down to Provo, where, believe it or not, I met my new roommate, Shannon. Shannon, you’ll be relieved to know, was not only male, he acted and sounded a lot like Rocky Balboa, only more educated. I wrote my parents a letter most weeks and called home some weeks. When my freshman year was done, I went home and cut another gazillion mattes before leaving on my mission. The rule was you needed to pay for everything you could.
My mother has never forgiven me for this (though having conspired with my father to turn me into an independent adult at an early age, she really has no one to blame): after my mission, I was home for a week and then never lived at home again. And that’s not because I disliked my home or my family—I come from the greatest family on the planet! And who doesn’t want to live 15 minutes from Dick’s Drive-In and 30 minutes from the Seattle Mariners?! It was just time to be the autonomous adult they’d taught me to be.
Why do I mention all this? Well, last Saturday Becky and I were asked to teach a class on helping young women prepare for adulthood—college, missions, the temple, career, marriage, etc. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the role parents play in helping their children become successfully independent—which I guess I would define as having both an understanding of how to live after the manner of happiness and the desire and motivation to independently do so. (Which seems easier to do if you have some practice at it before the actual moment arrives.)
As I mentioned to one of the classes Saturday, I think it is common for young children in our church to hear about “families being together forever” and picture themselves in heaven as little children with their loving parents forever with them and taking care of them, maybe even holding them. I think, though, that there may be parents with the same vision, hoping against wisdom that little Johnny and Suzy will stay their little Johnny and Suzy forever and continuing to nurture an environment that will keep them physically, emotionally, or financially dependent. It seems my parents tended to see me as the adult I would become more than the child I was—and, like I said, I’m glad they did.
In the family Becky and I lead today, we don’t speak so much about achieving emotional, spiritual, and financial independence (though everyone understands that’s the goal; it’s even written in our family plan) as much as we talk about “building character.” Most things that our kids should do but don’t want to do are about (at least as they hear it from us) “building character.” Truth is, we’re trying to build independent adults who know God’s plan and can independently achieve happiness and who have as much character as they are willing to develop.
A favorite scene from five or six years ago gives me great hope. It was early on a weekday morning in the middle of the summer, maybe 6:30 or 6:45. Must have been July. It was one of those nothing-but-blue-sky Utah summer mornings that starts out quite warm. I was getting ready to go to work and, for some reason, glanced out the bedroom window which faces our backyard. There was our son, bent over pulling weeds in our, well, modest vegetable garden. He’d figured out that the faster you get your work done, the cooler the temperature you can work in and the more quickly you can start playing. I suppose the bad news is that our kids won’t be kids forever. But if my parents were right, that’s actually the good news.