Clearly the subject of children is very tricky. On the one hand, it is delightful when the subject of children comes up as there are a plethora of General Conference addresses given by women on the topic, making the lesson friendly to a general female voice. On the other hand…. in every ward or branch there will be a woman or women who are childless and/or unmarried, are dealing with infertility and/or have miscarried. There could be a woman or women despairing and frustrated in regard to their children, or are in challenging negotiations with a current or former spouse over shared children. The journey of women and their relationship with children is cluttered with broken hearts and laden with landmines. Because of this, this is a hard, (or is it just a “tolerated”?) church lesson that can be painfully dismissed in the false assumption of universal motherhood.
In my experience, most women dive into children-encrusted lessons by focusing on the narrow margin of women who currently have young children at home, with a side a nod to women who “aren’t blessed to have children” (oh, how this phrase stings!) referencing “the next life,” and asking for input from the class from “experienced mothers.” In doing this, a number– if not the majority of women– are not addressed, and therefore, not spiritually edified. Worse, and in painful personal experience from previous similar lessons wherein I made a professionally-inspired comment about teaching children, I was rebuked because my childlessness was ranked as a symbol of stupidity. (Their loss, my pain and frusteration.) Sharp bantering can also result from different opinions about parenting styles (i.e. “should we spank?”). So- what is a teacher to do with such a problematic topic?
I think that adapting the lesson to everyone is the only way to go. Yep. Really.
To do this, teachers must broaden the concept of the term “children.” The term need to encompass all of us, as children of God. (If you prefer a more traditional mothering/child approach and feel that your ward is best served in this way, I like this talk by Rosemary M. Wixom as a resource.)
Consider starting the lesson by singing “I am a Child of God,” then reading this quote from Boyd K. Packer:
Those lyrics [in I am a Child of God] teach a basic doctrine of the Church. We are the children of God. That doctrine is not hidden away in an obscure verse. It is taught over and over again in scripture. These clear examples are from the Bible:
“All of you are children of the most High.” (Ps. 82:6.)
And: “We are the offspring of God.” (Acts 17:29.)
– Boyd K. Packer, “The Pattern of our Parentage,” Ensign, Nov 1984
This lesson is applicable to all of us as children of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
(Perhaps just have people answer in their hearts these questions as some are very personal:) How often do you feel like a child of God? What would help us to recognise daily that we are daughters of God? How can we help others to feel the love of God as his children?
Have some of life’s experiences taken from you the believing heart and childlike faith you once had? If so, look around at the children in your life. And then look again. They may be children in your family, across the street, or in the Primary in your ward. If we have a heart to learn and a willingness to follow the example of children, their divine attributes can hold a key to unlocking our own spiritual growth.
-Jean A. Stevens, “Become as a Little Child,” Ensign, May 2011
What is child-like faith? Do we still have this?
Reflect of the title of this lesson, “Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth.” How can we “bring up” others in “light and truth?” Redirect the phrase– often when we think of “bringing up” in regard to children, we think of parenting or raising a child. But consider the conceptual peacemaker definition in 3 Nephi’s beatitudes- “bringing up in light and truth,” can also be applied to bringing light and raising the spirits with everyone whom we come into contact.
What are ways that we can carry the uplifting spirit of life and truth with us, so others can share the spirit with us?
How can you invite the spirit to help you learn and to create an environment in your home than is conductive to the spirit of peace and calm? (note: your home may be an “empty nest,” a shared apartment, a condo for just you, or a house with extended family and friends– it is still a place where the spirit will abide)
Consider sharing this story:
Some years ago I was in the Primary presidency when our stake president called me to be a counsellor in the Stake Relief Society. I loved the primary and felt strongly that I should stay in that calling. The stake president suggested I talk to the Stake Relief Society president. I made an appointment to visit with her. The night before that visit, I prayed long and hard about what I should do. Later I tossed and turned in bed thinking of all I would be giving up if I left Primary- seeing the Sunbeams fold their arms tightly during prayer, watching Kyle stop running in the hall every time he saw me.
The next morning when I went outside to change the water on the lawn, three girls in my ward rode by on their bikes all calling excitedly over and over, “Hi, Sister Jones! Hi, Sister Jones!” I felt my prayers had been answered by these little girls. I needed to stay in Primary.
I went to my appointment with the Stake Relief Society president ready to tell her why I couldn’t accept the calling. After I explained my feelings about Primary she said, “You know, children have a lot of people fuss over them. They have their parents, their grandparents, school teachers, Primary teachers, and lots of people. But many times women have no one to fuss over them.”
The spirit touched my heart. I knew I wanted to be a fusser of women. Young mothers defiantly needed fussing over. Single sisters need it. Even happily married women rarely have anyone who really fusses over them. We all need to be fussed over. I know because I like it so much when I’ve been fussed over. One month when I was sick my Visiting Teacher brought me some cough medicine in a little bottle. Another sister sent me tickets to the Utah Valley Symphony Orchestra where she was a soloist. Another brought me fresh juice that I hid in the fridge and drank only a tiny glass a day to make it last. I love how my current Visiting Teacher always speaks to me at church and makes me feel like I am one of her best friends. I like being fussed over, and I like being the fusser of women.”
– Linda Hoffman Kimball,ed., Chocolate Chips and Charity, Cedar Fort Press, 2012.
Has someone ever fussed over you and made you feel special? Why is it important for all of us to feel important? How does feeling important to others remind us we are children of God? And how does this then reflect the light and truth of Christ?
If we consider ourselves as “fussers” and examples to other women and men—therein applying the idea that we are all children of God who need to be loved as exquisitely as children love and are loved, then this lesson can be adapted to everyone—not just mothers with children at home—but everyone as a child and also as a mentor, or “fusser” of others.
From the manual:
“I don’t know of any man in all the world who has more reason to be grateful than I. I am thankful for my birthright, thankful for parents who taught me the gospel of Jesus Christ and set the example in their home. If I have done anything that I should not have done in my life, it would be something that I could not have learned in my mother’s home. With a large family of children, it took a mother with a good deal of patience, but she was always patient with us. There were sweetness and kindness and love there always.”
Not all of us will be able to say the same about our families of origin. But there is an important idea here: patience.
How patient is God with us? How can we best try to emulate patience in our lives in: parenting, trials, education challenges, economic challenges, lonely periods, etc.?
“Prayer at the Trail’s Beginning”
Linnie Parker Gold, Relief Society Magazine 1936
As I stand at the foot of the mountain
And gaze at the peaks I must scale,
Oh, dear God, give me strength to not falter
As I climb up the rough, rocky trail!
All life’s pathway has been so delightful,
So smooth and so easy before,
That my feet unaccustomed to climbing,
Have thousands of perils in store.
Give my feet and my hand that firm sureness
They’ll need for this dangerous road,
Give me vision that’s clearer and keener,
And strengthen my back for its load.
Give me courage to keep right on climbing;
From here it looks hard but I know
That the trial will grow less stern and rugged
With each forward step that I go.
Give me faith in the One who created
This steep mountainside and the trail.
May I know He who called me to climb it
Will give me the strength to not fail!
How can recalling that we are children of Heavenly Parents help us to feel strengthened? How can childlike faith help us to face trials and manage trials?
The manual offers a lesson about George Albert Smith’s daughter Edith, which invokes the idea that God is watching us. I like (not love) the story, and you can use it if you feel it is appropriate. The manual suggests asking for other stories which are similar in experience, wherein a child did something morally and ethically right because they were instructed by a loving, patient parent. I would invite the same, but with a broader application, such as this story from my life, (this is the first time I have shared this):
When I was living remotely, it took an hour for me to get to the closest full-range grocery store. I was the only church member in the town where I lived, and attended a small branch about an hour’s drive away, when possible. It was an isolated and lonely period of my life. My goal was to go shopping every other week. I would stock up heavily—not just for the next 2 weeks’ groceries, but for the recurring times when the roads were closed so it might be a month or more before I could get back to the store. In the sweltering desert summer as well as the warm winter, I would take insulated cooler bags and containers for fridge and freezer items. It was rare for me to bother to buy ice cream simply because even in insulated containers laden with ice, the end result inevitably turned into a melted, gloppy mess. Grocery shopping was also stressful. If supply rails and roads were closed so certain items could not be delivered to the store, I obviously could not buy them. And because I was yet further from the store, it could be sometimes months before I could hit the roads right and get the majority of things I liked, wanted and needed. On more occasions than I like to recall, I sobbed the entire drive home; alone, frustrated and feeling destitute at the inability to get what I considered to be basic items.
Because I bought in bulk, my shopping trolley was always very full and had large items, the kind where you weren’t required to take the large items out for scanning at the checkout. One time, after checking out and unloading my very precious food supply in the already sweltering car, I noticed a single box of gluten-free pasta. I can still see it today; hidden snugly behind flats of soft drink that I hope had not been already heat-exposed. Its hidden placement signalled to me that I had not paid for it.
I quickly checked my receipt. It wasn’t there. That one box—forbidding me from jumping in and getting the air-con going full throttle to try and protect my fresh produce and precious yoghurts from sweltering and spoiling in the heat of the car, even if only for a few extra minutes. I needed to decide quickly what to do. At a rapid pace, I ran back into the store. Luckily the same woman who had checked me out was without customers. I went directly to her, explained that I hadn’t seen the hidden pasta and needed to pay for it. She laughed, saying she wasn’t aware it had slipped by both of us. She let me pay for it and I was off to the hot car, where in yet another a few more minutes’ precious time, the air con was finally on full blast—hopefully helping to protect my purchases.
I arrived home safely, along with produce and yoghurt that had fared the trip better than expected. But on that day, in a period of my life where my loneliness at living remotely, and my anxiety in regard to closed roads and heated produce could have been overwhelming, I had not driven alone. On yet another long, isolated and fret-filled and sometimes frightening grocery trip, the spirit abided with me so powerfully that I knew I was being watched for and protected. I needed that at that moment in my life. For me, it wasn’t only about honesty in paying; it was about doing what I needed so the spirit could abide and keep me at this challenging time of my life.
What are ways that you were honest or true which resulted in you feeling the love of your Heavenly Parents, even if no one (mortal) was watching? How does living righteously draw you closer to your Heavenly Parents? How can we feel the strength and love of Heavenly Parents with consistency in our lives?
Now, although I like considering this lesson through the lens of all of us as children of God, I think it is important to consider this statement from the manual from the perspective that we are all righteous daughters and/or mothers:
Do not leave the training of your children to the public schools. Do not leave their training to the Primary, to the Sunday School, to the [Church’s youth organizations]…. What I am about to say I am exceedingly anxious that it should sink into the mind of every parent in Zion, and that is, that while the Lord has provided all these wonderful educational institutions, while science has contributed so much for our comfort and our blessing, while the Church has prepared places to which we may send our children to be taught the gospel of Christ, that does not relieve you or me of the responsibility and the obligation that is laid upon us by our Heavenly Father to teach our own children. … It is not sufficient that my children are taught faith, repentance and baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost in the auxiliary organizations. My Father in heaven has commanded that I should do that myself…
Some ideas to address from this:
1. This does not say “don’t send your children to daycare,” etc. Daycares and the places mentioned are “wonderful educational institutions,” wherein children are taught. But just as a child learns and needs help with learning to toilet train, learn algebra, spelling and otherwise, subsequent education is important to include at home. What are ways this can happen? (FHE, by parents’ example, personal study on subject that interest us, etc.) How can we validate and support women who could be struggling with guilt or remorse about “working outside of the home” by recognising that quality parenting time is more important than quantity parenting time? How can we encourage sisters to thrive and learn out of educational institutions, whether in religious or personal choice topics– that they find personally edifying?
2. What are ways that we can assist children, family and friends in increased learning? I do not believe this should be limited to church education. My uncle was a mathematics professor at a college and would enrol his daughters in additional math courses over the summer, taught by him. This served a number of purposes: a) the girls learned more math, b) the girls saw their father at work, learned from his interactions with students and therefore learned some healthy socialisation skills c) the questions the girls had with homework helped him to address areas where he needed to improve his teaching skills and d) it supported his wife in allowing her some personal time while it developed his personal relationship with his daughters…. Sure, this is a family-based example, and it happened at a college, but individual and family-based edification is personal. So what are personal ways you might seek and gain edification?
Going back to school and doing other things gave me more depth as a person so that I have more to offer.If I were giving advice to a young mother, I’d tell her to operate on the basis that you never can know enough. I’d tell her to be a lifetime learner.
-Doreen S. Woolley, Church News, March 1994, 12.
How can developing ourselves help us to develop a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Parents? Likewise, what can we do to best “fuss” over children, friends, the women we visit teach, etc.?
Discuss this statements first in terms of each of us as children of God, then as teachers who are “working” for God:
“In every teaching situation all learning and all understanding are best nurtured in an atmosphere of warmth and love where the Spirit is present.”
-Cheryl A. Esplin, Teaching Our Children to Understand, Ensign, May 2012
From the manual:
… … Now in the midst of confusion, excitement and all the pleasures of life, … let us not lose sight of the duty that we owe these boys and girls who are created in the image of God…
What is quality vs. quantity time with friends, family members and children? How can we develop quality relationship with those whom we love, especially since we live in such a busy lifestyle?
From the manual:
In our homes, brethren and sisters, it is our privilege, it is our duty, to call our families together to enjoy and strengthen and sustain each other, to be taught the truths of the Holy Scriptures. In every home, children should be encouraged to read the word of the Lord as it has been revealed to us in all dispensations. We should read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price; not only read it in our homes, but also explain it to our children that they may understand the … dealings of God with the peoples of the earth.
Let us see if we cannot do more of this in the future than we have done in the past. Let us commit ourselves to the principle and the practice of gathering our families around us in our own homes. Let each one of us ask himself: “Have I done my duty in my home in reading and in teaching the gospel, as it has been revealed through the prophets of the Lord? Have I kept my children close to me and made home a pleasant place and a place of reverence, love, understanding, and devotion?”
How can we improve scripture study skills personally as well as in a joint effort with a spouse, a child or otherwise? How can study of scripture broaden our relationship with those of other faiths, aiding in our homes being a place of sanctity for piety and righteousness?
How can personal dedication and study of scripture at home prepare us to share, recognise and respect piety in areas other than our homes and at church? If you are a young mother and can’t bear the thought of trying to squeeze in scripture study, then how does shared belief between parents and children, spouses and friends increase and strengthen these relationships? (Think of children in the throes of make-believe playing– their friendship is increased because they believe together, model appropriate behaviour in playing and are enjoying time together, i.e. sharing beliefs strengthens relationships)
Close from the manual:
… When we shut out the world and the things of the outside, and under the power of prayer and thanksgiving we give to our sons and daughters those rich truths that the Lord has deposited with us for our welfare and for theirs, a genuine development of faith will follow. I hope that it will be possible for us to return, if we have departed from that advice. Gather our children around us and let our homes be the abiding place of the Spirit of the Lord. If we will do our part, we may know and be sure that our Heavenly Father will do his.
I don’t think this is admonishing us to “shut out” everything, but to recognise, embrace and share the Spirit in a manner that is bestowed through “prayer and thanksgiving.” Both prayer and thanksgiving are universal concepts, yet they might not be familiar or comfortable in every setting.
How can we help to make our homes a place of prayer and thanksgiving thereby teaching the gospel and personal principles we value? How can be better recognise we are children of Heavenly Parents thereby inviting the “light and truth” as taught by the Spirit?
Consider “Children of Our Heavenly Father” (#299) as a closing hymn; for those inspired to do so, change the term “Father” to “Parents” in the lyrics.