What does God expect from mothers and fathers?

There are a lot of things God wants from mothers and fathers, but today I want to share six principles of Christ-centered parenting that have meant the most to me:

1. Appreciate each family member’s unique divine gifts
One of the reasons I know there’s a God is that I can see glimpses of divinity somewhere in the personality of each person I meet. This is especially true of my children. I have never met a little girl who can give a bigger, more heartfelt hug than Charlotte. I have never met someone with a more perfect balance of obedience and creativity than Madelyn. I have never met a 2 year old with more interest in construction equipment than Parker. The more I get to know someone — anyone — the more I am amazed at the totally unique gifts and attributes they possess.

When it comes to being good mothers and fathers, I believe God wants us to really know each member of our family. We need to know what our children are good at and what they will struggle with. We also need to know ourselves — what are we really good at (and need to be sure to pass on to our children), and where do we struggle (and need to find other ways to make sure our children learn those values)?

If you look closely, there’s a beautiful truth here: there are no perfect parents in the general sense, but with a little effort you can be the perfect parent for your child by getting to know his/her needs and interacting with them accordingly.

2. Practice patience and forbearance
Fortunately, God doesn’t show us everything we’re doing wrong all at once. If He did, we’d be overwhelmed to the point of giving up. Instead, he’s extremely patient with us and doesn’t show us our weakness until we’re ready to improve. In like manner, parents should strive to teach their children “line upon line.” Parents who are impatient with or overly critical of their children risk damaging their confidence & self esteem (younger children) and creating rebellion (older children). This is much easier said than done and we all fall short, but I believe God wants us to be extremely patient with our kids.

As a practical strategy for guiding children, my wife and I have found success using something Linda & Richard Eyre call the “5 facet review.” Basically, we dedicate one date night each month to reviewing each of our children spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally and socially. As we conduct our review, we divide up “homework” assignments, such as “Parker is struggling with feeling loved. Your job is to do one thing with JUST him each week this month.” This helps us to focus on supporting and building our kids up one “brick” at a time.

3. Lead by example
In a recent re-reading of the New Testament, I was struck by just how much service Christ did. He of course taught some powerful sermons along the way, but his life was literally full of service to others. I find this particularly interesting because Alma 7:13 points out “The Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh” In other words, Christ could have learned about everything we were going through via the Spirit, but he chose instead to “roll up his sleeves” so to speak and live among us in order to actually experience it.

Likewise, parenting is a contact sport. It’s not about theories and thoughts. It’s not about ideas and instructions. It’s about literally getting in there and working with our kids to show them love and nurturing. It’s about late nights, early mornings, messes, kissing owies, shedding tears and sharing joys. I believe that God expects us to lead by example, modeling good behavior in all things for our children.

4. Practice open communication
I have learned that there are 5 levels of communication, ranging from level 1 (very topical — the weather, sports, news, etc.) to level 5, which is where we share our deepest and innermost feelings, hopes and fears. In my experience, too many of our family interactions happen at levels 1-3 and not enough happen at levels 4-5. We assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them, but we should never assume. We should tell them. When we hold back sharing feelings of vulnerability, we miss out on an opportunity to grow closer. It takes a lot of practice, especially for men who have often been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, but the rewards are immense.

One of my favorite times to express these kinds of feelings is during family prayer. When Christ prayed among the Nephites, they recorded that “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Nephi 17:17) In like manner, we can do a lot of good for our relationships by praying for our families aloud in their presence.

Another great time for marital communication is during what my wife and I call our “weekly tactical.” Each Sunday night, we sit down to discuss the general state of our family, our marriage, our involvement in the community and our week ahead. During this process, we make specific plans to help move us towards our goals.

5. Pace yourself
Mosiah 27:27 teaches “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Leading our families is a marathon, not a sprint, and in a marathon it’s essential to pace yourself and seek appropriate sources of fuel. As I study the life of the Savior, I notice that he frequently took little breaks to meditate and be with his father. I believe this is what he meant when he said “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 15:5) When we seek to maintain our spiritual health, we plug ourselves into the very power that will sustain us through the monumental effort of leading our families.

I have found too though that it isn’t just about spiritual learning. Parenting books, seminars and even just good conversations with our spouse or role model can inspire us and give us the strength to carry on. We need to not be too hard about ourselves when we make mistakes. Learning to be good parents is part of the process for us, too, and God is in control of the outcomes.

6. Lead in partnership with God
As a parent, it’s really easy to give in to the temptation to believe that I have to do it all myself. “If I don’t raise these kids right, who will? If I mess them up, it will be totally my fault.” This kind of thinking can be discouraging, but it’s simply not true. Yes, God gave us these kids to raise, but he doesn’t expect us to do entirely it by ourselves. For me, an essential part of leading our families in the Lord’s way is to learn which part of the parenting job is ours and which part is the Lord’s.

One of my favorite parenting scriptures is found in Moses 1:39, which reads “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” In this scripture, we learn that God is full-time, completely consumed in raising His children. It’s not a side project. It’s not something he throws in after a long day of creating galaxies. It’s literally the entire object of his efforts, and he’s extremely good at it. So the next time you feel inadequate as a parent, just remember that the ruler of the Universe — the same guy who created the solar system and parted the red sea — is on your side.

A little introspection..
How are you doing? As a mother or father, what does God expect of you? Here are a few questions for us to consider together:

  • What are the faults & flaws that I am ignoring in myself that will hurt my ability to lead by example?
  • What strengths do I have that I need to be sure to pass on to my family?
  • Do I truly know each family member? How can I get to know them better? How can I adjust my behavior according to their needs?
  • How can I discipline my children in a way that maximizes the likelihood of that discipline being received?
  • What things will the future version of me thank the present version of me for having done with regard to my family?
  • Do I take time for myself to meditate, pray, learn and develop as a family leader?
  • Am I sharing the responsibility of leading a family with God? Am I trying to do it all myself, or on the other extreme, am I dumping it all on him?
  • Do I fully trust Him to do the part that corresponds to Him?

I believe that leading our families is one of the most important things we’ll ever do. Families are of utmost importance in God’s plan for his children. I believe we’re doing better than we think we’re doing, but if we’ve failed to lead our families the way we should have in the past, then let’s start today. It’s never too late for the Atonement of Christ to have effect in our lives. The Spirit will guide us to success if we seek it.  

Dealing with stress & overwhelm

Dealing with stress & overwhelm has been a constant part of my adult life. As far as I can tell, almost everyone deals with this issue on some level, so today I want to talk about it.

I’m talking about mental exhaustion — like when you’ve been studying for hours and feel like you can’t fit one more thing into your brain. Or when you’ve just made so many decisions in a day and had so many demands on your time that you can’t seem to get your brain to keep working.

I’m talking about physical exhaustion — like when you were up with kids all night, then you had to get up early in order to get all of your work done before the day ran out. Then you stayed up late working on some project, and you had to do it all again the next day, the day after that, and for the seventeen weeks that followed.

I’m talking about emotional exhaustion — like when you had to help a friend or family member through an intense issue while trying to simultaneously keep your own insecurity, fear and self-doubt in check.

If it were just one or two of these issues, you could probably deal with it. Heck, you could probably handle four or five. But what about those times when you’ve had to deal with like.. twenty of them? At the same time? And when they keep popping up day after day, week after week, it kinda starts to get to you… you know?

For the faithful and conscientious, I don’t think stress and overwhelm are inescapable. However, I do believe we can get better at minimizing and managing it. Here’s the “recipe” I follow any time I feel these feelings starting to set in:

1. Take care of yourself. Get a grip.
It’s a little counterintuitive, but my FIRST step when I realize I’m feeling overwhelmed is to take care of myself. I’ve just learned that when I’m in that dark place I’m no good to anyone. By trying to force myself to “plow through”, I usually end up doing more damage than good to myself and others. So I like to take at least a small step back — take a power nap, get some exercise, leave work early.. whatever it takes. For more serious bouts, I may need to take a 3-day weekend or plan a fun (but simple!) outing with my family. One thing that never fails to rejuvenate me is to work on my relationship with God. That means reading the scriptures, praying, performing some quiet Christian service, singing a hymn or meditating.

As in all things, our example here is the Savior. In reading about His ministry lately, I was impressed as I noticed how often he rested. Surely if anyone was busy it was Jesus — he had a lot to accomplish in just 3 years. But even so, even He was careful to build in periods of rest and renewal. Another thing that impressed me was how he never felt sorry for himself. Even in the very act of being crucified, he looked outward at his mother and performed service by asking his disciples to care for her after he was gone.

2. Set inspired priorities (with patience!)
One of my favorite quotes is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh who said “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” There are a lot of worthy places to spend our time! But there’s a basic math problem that results when you add up all of the time it would take to do it and compare it to the number of hours in a day. Like it or not, we HAVE to prioritize, and that means saying “no” to certain things.

Once I’ve got my mind right (#1), I go to work somewhat ruthlessly to set some priorities. I carefully look at each “role” or “responsibility” in my life and decide what needs to be scaled back, changed, delegated or outright dropped. When I’m done, I take a look at the total time needed to accomplish everything and if it’s still more than I have hours in the day, I go back and cut again. The goal here is to cut my schedule down to “I could handle this pretty sustainably forever” rather than “I could only get all of this done if I had a really good day, super human strength and nothing went wrong.”

In the scriptures, the Lord taught us “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided.” Similarly, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.”

3. Re-set expectations
Once you’ve made the tough decisions (#2), it’s time to implement them. Start with the most pressing/biggest cuts and work your way down. What I’ve found at step #3 is that it’s pretty much never as bad as you would think. People don’t depend on us as much as we think they do. I think in many cases they’ve already been watching us and expecting the news, so bringing it up just opens up an opportunity to collaborate on a solution.

4. Ask for help
If God had wanted you to get through life alone, he would’ve put you on an earth all by yourself. What seems hard to you is easy to someone else, so let them share your burden! It can be hard to ask, but just think about how you feel when someone really needs your help — willing, right? For each of the remaining tasks/responsibilities on your plate after #2, ask yourself “who do I know that would be awesome at solving this problem?” then enlist their help.

As you think about who to ask for help, don’t forget Heavenly Father. He’s the ruler and creator of the entire universe. His knowledge, wisdom and power span from eternity to eternity — and he’s your dad! There is literally nothing you can do that will make him stop loving you, but he will not come into your life until you ask him to. Say a heartfelt prayer, then watch for His hand in your life.

5. Be diligent
Once you’ve taken care of your own mental health, set priorities, re-set expectations and asked for help, it’s time to take a breath, square your shoulders and go to work. Rather than bursting onto the scene, I recommend taking a “shifted gear” approach — slower perhaps, but also stronger. As you begin each day, focus on keeping your head down and accomplishing as much as you can, as opposed to worrying about whether it was “enough” or thinking about everything else that needs to be done.

Conclusion
I’ve been following this “prescription” for a couple of years now, and while I would never say that my stress and overwhelm has gone away, it has definitely helped. When I’m in that dark place, it always feels like there’s nothing that will work, but when I force myself to start down these steps, the clouds invariably start to clear.

What do you do to deal with stress and overwhelm?

Exercising Faith – by Carolyn Stout

Our Own Little World

This past summer we took a family camping trip up to Mirror Lake in the Uintah mountains. Our campsite was close to a running river, and someone had created a pool out of rocks so the grandchildren had a great place to play. We went hiking and sightseeing, and watched our three grandsons (ages 5-7) work together to build a path out of rocks so they could cross the river. We roasted hotdogs and made s’mores. It was a wonderful time being in our own little world where we were secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and we could build strong relationships and make wonderful memories.

The Outside World

The evening of our last day there we had a group of kids in their early 20’s pull in and start setting up camp a few yards away. At first we were concerned because they were intruding on our wonderful time together, second because it was a coed campout and we had sweet innocent little children with us. The ‘world’ had entered into our sacred space.
We went ahead and fixed dinner and had our evening ritual of s’mores and stories. As our children were getting the grandkids ready for bed, the music and laughter began getting louder from the neighboring camp, so our sons went over and politely explained that they had small children going to sleep and asked if they would keep the noise down. The other group was very polite and said they would.
As the evening went on and we were playing games inside the trailer, we could hear the drunken laughter and music get louder.

A Test of Faith

I was getting a little concerned but the thought kept coming to me to pray and everything would be all right. So before my son, Ben, went to his tent and my other son, Jason, went to his car where his two kids were asleep, we had a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to protect us through the night – that we would be in a protective bubble from the ‘outside’ world. We went to bed confident the Lord had heard our prayers. I even said another one after I got in bed and felt a peace come over me that we would be okay. But then I would hear loud laughter or someone walking around our tents and trailer, and I started to doubt my faith that Heavenly Father was protecting us. I would remind myself of all the lessons I had taught and learned about how if we pray in faith and trust that He hears our prayers he would bless us, like the scripture ‘Ask and it shall be given.’
When I remembered that and put my trust in Him I could rest, but when I allowed the ‘outside’ to come in again I couldn’t. It was a long night.

I couldn’t wait to talk to the kids the next morning to see how they slept. They both said they slept well and didn’t hear a thing, which was a tender mercy. Prayers had been answered.

Reflections On Faith

That morning happened to be Sunday and our son got permission from his church leader to have our own Sacrament Meeting. As I sat there under the covering, surrounded by family and the beautiful trees, and listening to the river flow beside us, I couldn’t help but think of our pioneer ancestors who held all of their meetings outside as they crossed the plains. I thought of their unwavering faith as they listened to the early prophets and embraced the gospel and then of their courage to set out for an unknown place so they could worship in peace.

As I looked around at half of our beautiful family and especially our sweet little grandchildren who were there and how reverently they partook of the sacrament and listened to grandpa speak to them, I thought of their faith and how it is growing and developing daily, then I thought of my own faith and how I had let it waver throughout the night. Why couldn’t I be like my ancestors and my posterity?

I just have to remember my favorite thought ‘Faith is not believing God can. It is knowing God will.’ I have seen Him bless us in the past when I have asked in faith, so I need to remember that He will bless us in the future IF I am trying to live righteously and IF I ask in faith and put my trust in Him.
I know He is there and loves me.

“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.” – President Thomas S. Monson

The Need for Human Connection

Thesis
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quantity and quality of my use of technology. I’m asking myself how much time I’m spending online; what it’s doing for me and how it’s helping me serve others. I invite all who read this to ask themselves the same questions.

Consider for a second, the following: Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, led a team that explored our capacity for solitude. People were asked to sit in a chair and think, without a device or a book. They were told that they would have from six to 15 minutes alone and that the only rules were that they had to stay seated and not fall asleep. In one experiment, many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit alone with their thoughts.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/stop-googling-lets-talk.html?_r=0

A little about myself
I was born in 1982. I grew up in the 80’s, but the 90’s probably influenced me the most. High school years usually have the most impact on a person and is the era you can claim. The 90’s was an interesting decade. Prior decades all have their unique and specific fashion, music, movies, etc. The 90’s was the beginning of a lot of change. Rapid change. Technology has absolutely exploded since the 90’s. Things are constantly changing, unlike any other era in the past.

A history lesson
A common question I hear is, “How did we survive without cell phones or computers?”. Well, how did we? Sure, everything moved a little bit slower back then and often required more patience to wait for a response without email and text messaging. For those who were born after landlines became ancient history, if you wanted to get a hold of somebody or give them a message you had a few options. Call them and hope they are home, if not, leave a voice message and wait for them to return your call, not knowing if they are home or when they will return. Then, once they get back to you, you may or may not be home, further delaying the connection. You could always go to their house or send them a letter via snail mail. Sounds fantastic, right?

Both sides of the coin
I don’t think society was fully prepared for the changes that took place during and after the 90’s. Although it was an incredible time to be young, we had no idea how much we would miss the power and necessity of face to face communication and connection. Honestly, I can’t blame anybody for not seeing that coming. No doubt, these advances in technology are in and of themselves a good thing. I don’t think anybody could argue with that. There is so much good that can be done using technology and the world relies on it heavily in so many ways. There’s nothing wrong with this. On the flip side, technology also provides a way to escape reality. Yes, we all need a break every once in awhile, but escaping isn’t the answer. As human beings, we will always have personal imperfections to deal with. Things don’t always work out as we plan and we are susceptible to injury, illness and death. These things are natural! We are given two options when faced with adversity – become bitter and angry, or try to deal with the problem the best we know how. If we choose the first option, the problem won’t just disappear. While the second option is easier said than done, it will ultimately bring peace, despite the fact that it will require a lot of work.

Solitude
By nature, I am typically not one to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I usually keep to myself as long as I don’t need help from anybody else. I am very comfortable being alone and disconnected from the rest of the world. However, having been married for almost 12 years now and with 3 kids, most of my adult life has not been quiet! I don’t really have the opportunity to be on my own for very long. Before I go on any further here, I want to make it known that I am incredibly blessed. My wife and children are the reason I am the person I am today and I can’t imagine life without them. Okay, well I guess I can imagine it, but the price I would be paying for dealing with the challenges of life on my own might be too much for me to handle. They have literally saved my life, especially my wife. I feel very fortunate to have known her in high school and then to later be married and start a family. I didn’t have to experience the challenges young single adults face in today’s world. I didn’t have to wonder who I would spend the rest of my life with, or if I would even be able to find that person.

As an adult, I have experienced depression and anxiety. When I look back on my youth, I’m sure I had those feelings growing up but I definitely didn’t recognize them for what they were, nor did I know how to deal with them in a healthy way. I’m grateful that I surrounded myself with friends who uplifted and supported me. There’s no doubt that they helped carry me through those difficult times. Now that I have a family of my own, it is they who are my support. My wife loves me despite my many imperfections and my children love me because I try to be a good father. I have also been blessed by those outside of my family who have helped me to find positive outlets and have given me opportunities to connect with those who understand how I feel.

Dealing with adversity
We all deal with adversity, nobody is exempt. No matter where you live or how much money you have, there will be challenges. Sometimes these challenges come from our own choices we make and sometimes they are the result of somebody else’s choices, whether they intended to drag us into it or not. We can’t control the choices other people make, but we can certainly control our own choices.

How do you deal with your challenges? How often do you turn to something other than a friend or loved one for relief? I’ve admittedly been guilty of this many times. The alternatives are endless and the options ever growing. Whatever your problem is, there’s an app for it! Think about it. More than ever before, connecting with another person face to face has almost become obsolete. Most communication is done over social media, text or email. Most of our “friends” are online. While this is an incredible convenience, if we don’t take the time to talk in person, openly and honestly to somebody who cares about us, we are missing out! Although technology is powerful, it is nothing compared to the power of real person to person conversation.

From the hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth:

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

https://youtu.be/sDnG2Ph21YY

Never forget
As life becomes more automated and distractions become more readily available, don’t lose sight of what’s most important. When the Savior Jesus Christ walked the earth, he spent his time with other people. He listened to, served and taught them. His last and final sacrifice was for us all. His perfect example of love shows us all the way to live.

I don’t believe we are supposed to shun technology or entertainment, but use it when it is needed and when you disconnect from electronics, or whatever is distracting you, take the time to connect with a human being. Spouses, parents and children, siblings, coworkers, even strangers need to see and hear our true selves. You never know what somebody else is going through. You could be just the thing they need to get through a difficult time. God often answers our prayers through another person. Be that person that somebody is praying for. Look for opportunities to serve and uplift. You will find those opportunities if you look for them and it will do so much more for you than you can imagine.

A Lesson from Cleaning Blinds

We go along, busy with life, work, school, church responsibilities, families, thinking things are okay. But when we take time to sit back and ponder having the Spirit or the Light with us, we look a little closer and we can see that there are some things, or “dirt,” that we can clean out of our lives to be clean and pure before the Lord.

I went to Utah to help our son with his boys while his wife went to Girls’ Camp – a week-long camp for teenage girls. I knew she had been busy, not only with her three small boys, but there is a lot to do when you are in charge of a Girls’ Camp: you are planning activities as well as food. So I wanted to help with some of the deep cleaning that I knew she had not had time to do.

One of the things I wanted to do was clean her blinds and windows – sometimes those are the things that get forgotten or are last on the list. I told my son one evening that that would be my main focus the next day. He looked at them and said, “Mom, don’t worry about it. They don’t need to be cleaned.” I thought, “Well, it’s dark, and you can’t see that they do need it without the daylight.”

So the next day, their oldest son and I started to clean them while the other two played beside us. We were about done with the first big window when we looked and saw how dirty the wash water had gotten. I started to think about how this can relate to our spiritual lives. We can sometimes get so caught up in our everyday activities that we forget to do some of the little things that help us stay close to our Father in Heaven. We could say, “I don’t have time to read my scriptures today, so I’ll read extra tomorrow,” and then tomorrow it is easier to put it off one more day. Extracurricular activities may get in the way of Family Home Evening. “I’m too tired to pray on my knees tonight, so I will say a quick prayer in bed.” But we never get to the ‘Amen.’

We are counseled by our church leaders to do these things daily as a family and personally, because, if we don’t, our lives can soon become like the blinds in the darkness. We can’t see the dirt or ‘sin’ that we are letting in. Only with the Light of Christ can we truly see that those little things we do daily can bring us closer to Him and our eternal salvation.

John 8:12 – “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”