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.  

Developing patience: A great key to happiness

As a young man, I was pretty impatient. Even worse, I was proud of my impatience. I remember hearing people talk about patience, but when they did I always thought to myself, “I’m too ambitious for that. Patience is a word that lazy people use to justify themselves.”

Boy was I wrong.

I’m writing today to extol the heavenly virtue of patience and to tell you of the profound effect that discovering it has had (and continues to have) on my life.

As usual, I credit my wife here, because she has been telling me I was wrong about this for as long as I’ve known her. Early in our marriage I remember her telling me over and over, “Being patient isn’t about slowing down or expecting less — it’s about not getting upset and losing your mind when things don’t go the way you want.” It has taken all this time for me to find out that she was right.

At work, I started to notice the impact that my impatience had on my coworkers. I noticed that when I got upset with people or expressed frustration, I usually got short-term results, but at a high long-term cost. I noticed coworkers starting to withdraw from me or tell me only those things I wanted to hear, which was in fact the exact opposite of what I really wanted from them. I also noticed how impatience tempted me to cut corners and to be less honest with others.

One day while reading the bible I began to notice just how patient the Savior was. He never tolerated sin (not even a little), but he was always patient and willing to forgive. He told the woman taken in adultery “go, and sin no more.” He let his disciples ask him silly questions. He didn’t get angry and destroy his persecutors for mocking him, even though he could have very easily have done so. Ultimately, in the very act of being crucified, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It occurs to me that if anyone had a right to be impatient, it was the Savior — the only perfect person to ever walk the earth. But he wasn’t, because patience is a divine attribute.

With all of these experiences present, I began to realize that I needed to change.

Developing patience
This has been a journey for me, and I definitely don’t have all the answers. But here are a few tactics that have helped me to develop patience:

1. Focus on the big picture. For me, patience comes from looking beyond what’s right in front of me. For example, rather than seeing my children simply as little people who can’t control themselves, I try to think of how they’ll grow up someday and do amazing things. Instead of seeing my team at work as inexperienced and error-prone, I try to focus on our potential. Look for the hand of God in your life and you’ll see him gently developing it.

2. Empathize. Put yourself in others’ shoes. I have come to believe that for the most part, others behave exactly the way we would behave if we had their same circumstances. When working together, people are rarely out to get you — there’s almost always some other reason they’re not meeting your expectations. Try to imagine “if I had that much pressure going on at home” or “if I had just gone through what that person went through” or “if I only had as much training as that person had, I would probably act exactly the same way.”

3. Live and observe. Pay attention and you’ll notice that things always have a way of working out. After living a few decades on this earth, I’ve learned to stay calm when things go wrong because I’ve seen how similar issues played out before.

4. Practice. Once you’re aware of the concept of impatience, you’ll start noticing when you’re feeling it. Once you acknowledge the feeling, it becomes easier to manage. The next time you feel impatient, take a deep breath, search for perspective, rack your brain for an empathetic experience and try to keep your patience for just a little longer than last time.

5. Pray. I know of no better way to develop patience than to pray for it. I like to pray right at the moment when I feel my impatience surging — “Lord, help me love these children. Help me have patience. I was once in their shoes, and I acted exactly the same way. They just don’t know any better. Their souls are precious to you and to me.” As I pray, I can feel the Lord giving me perspective, empathy and love, which are essential ingredients in patience.

I’m grateful that an appreciation of this virtue has come into my life. I want to be more patient. I want to be able to endure trials and frustrations without losing my head. I don’t want to let impatience interrupt my peace. I believe that as I cultivate this heavenly virtue, I’ll be happier.

Elder Richard L. Evans summed it up well when he said, “There seems to be little evidence that the Creator of the universe was ever in a hurry. Everywhere, on this bounteous and beautiful earth, and to the farthest reaches of the firmament, there is evidence of patient purpose and planning and working and waiting.”

Why do you appreciate patience? What have you done to develop it?

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.”

For guys: Learning to communicate your feelings

One of the struggles that has characterized my late twenties/early thirties has been learning to express my feelings. To be sure, I was (and maybe still am) more emotionally inept than most, but it does seem like this is something a lot of others (especially men) struggle with, so I’d like to take a minute to share what I’ve learned about it with you.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a cognitive psychologist. I’m sure there’s a well-documented body of work that explains everything I’m sharing here, probably in a more helpful, useful way. If you’re aware of any such resources, I’d love to read them.. Otherwise, please enjoy my story for whatever it’s worth 🙂

My background
Those who know me know that I was a computer geek and a gamer for most of my young life. I had some serious dress/style problems that lasted at least until I was married when my wife took away my velcro wallet. I had some strong (albeit uninformed) opinions — it still makes me cringe to read some of the stuff I used to write about. All I knew about “emotion” was that some people sure had a lot of them (not me, of course) and they seemed to get in the way a lot, causing perfectly normal/smart people to do and say illogical things.

Becoming aware of my emotions
I have to credit my wife with first introducing me to the ideas of emotional awareness and intelligence. The polar opposite of me on every personality test we’ve ever taken, she’s a pillar of purpose, love, meaning and humanity. She’s not much for facts & figures or to-do lists & calendars, but she’s an incredible human. Over time she began introducing me to emotion, but I still didn’t really believe that they were an important concept, so it was a long struggle. I think one of the first real “breakthroughs” she had with me was when she got me to read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Long story short, the book teaches that when we are unwilling to feel/experience negative emotions, we also inadvertently deaden our ability to feel positive emotions, and that most people have developed a series of numbing “shields” that prevent them from feeling more deeply

As this idea started to solidify in my mind, I took another step and enrolled in an online “Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” course from Case Western University. I didn’t actually finish the course (oops!), but one concept really stuck with me — in order to teach emotional intelligence, the teacher didn’t just go through concepts but instead invited students to remember and write about specific types of experiences from the past. As I wrote, those emotions were recalled, and then the teacher would say “That was the emotion of fear.” I learned that to learn about emotions, I needed to feel them — not just read about them.

The biggest step of my emotional intelligence journey so far came from making the decision to participate in an encounter group or “T-Group” put on by instructors at Stanford University in October 2014. I’ll explain more about the impact of this experience below, but essentially it amounts to putting 10 strangers in a room to practice communicating with each other while simultaneously paying close attention to the feelings that the conversation generates. As we communicated, I learned a whole range of emotions I could feel, and I remember being surprised at (1) how nuanced they were and (2) how many I could feel simultaneously or in short succession.

Noticing the effects of my emotions
Emotions are a big part of life at home, but I think I first started becoming aware of them in the workplace. They just seemed more obvious at work — probably because they kept either helping or getting in the way of work to be done. I credit my business partner, John Gough, here, because for whatever reason he has always been extremely emotionally intelligent and has probably helped me hundreds of times in business meetings to consider how others are feeling, be aware of how I’m feeling, etc.

As I began to notice the effect of my emotions, one of the first things I realized is how much my emotions were related to my underlying beliefs about people/things. It was around this time that I read Ownership Spirit by Dennis Deaton, which turned out to be a fantastic read that I now highly recommend to just about anyone. In the book, Dr. Deaton teaches precisely this — that what we believe about a situation dramatically impacts how we feel about it, and that our beliefs are not always right. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic and you curse at them — how could they be so rude? But if you instead imagine to yourself that they’re speeding to the hospital with their mortally sick child in the back seat, you suddenly feel empathy, patience and helpfulness instead of anger. The same thing happens at work — are your co-workers lazy and out to get you? Or are they just busy trying to keep their own lives together and doing their best to work with what they have? Dr. Deaton encourages readers to examine the thoughts/beliefs that are giving us negative emotions, then practice seeing them in a new light that puts us back in control, which is what “taking ownership” means.

One other thing I’ll say that I’ve noticed about emotions is that, at least for me, they are heavily influenced by how tired I am. Over 90% of the fights Katie and I have had have occurred after 9pm, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When I’m tired, I can’t feel as well, and I notice that my negative emotions are amplified. I think for others it happens when they are hungry (“hangry”). Conversely, I’ve found that early in the morning is the best time for me to do my most important work, because I’m bubbling with energy, creativity, positivity and patience — before the work of the day has run me down 🙂

Learning to share the emotion
Once I had learned to name my emotions and became aware of the effect they were having on me, the next step was to learn to share them. Again, the T-group was instrumental here. I learned that an amazing thing happens when we share our emotions — others can feel the same too! In T-Group we were encouraged not to use the word LIKE, but instead to name the actual emotion. So for example instead of saying “I feel like you don’t care” (which not only implicates the other party, but also doesn’t really tell us how you feel about your observation), try saying “I feel hurt because the story in my head is that you don’t care.” When you express the second one, the typical response is remorse, empathy, care and concern whereas the response to the first is typically defensiveness, anger and retaliation. You tell me which one you’d rather have others feeling towards you 🙂

After being taught this concept, I began to notice others who were really good at sharing their emotions, and I started to join in on the fun. My bishop, Bishop Ken Bawden, is awesome at this. I’ve watched him in dozens, maybe hundreds of interactions with others where he has simply expressed his feelings — be they love, gratitude, care or concern — and the other party has responded in incredible ways. It has been powerful to me to see another man who is so comfortable expressing his feelings, and has gone a long way towards dispelling my own mistaken notions about how men should handle their emotions. There have been others too: John Gough, Ben Skinner and Russ Perry to name a few. I’ve also watched with sadness people who are unwilling to share their emotions — either because they can’t or don’t know that they should, and I’ve felt sorry for all the life they’re missing out on. I hope in time they’ll get to experience what I have experienced.

Conclusion
I don’t mean to get all soft on you here, but I do think there’s way too much societal pressure on men to keep up a stern facade and never let their emotions show. If they’re anything like me, they may not even realize they have emotions, although of course everyone does. And as long as they’re ignoring them, they’re not feeling them, which is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Thoughts? Experiences?