Tag Archives: Mormon

Teaching Children to Be Believers

The first thing you might notice about a Mormon sacrament meeting is the noise.

In almost every Mormon congregation (besides college wards and nursing home wards) there will be a moderate-to-loud roar of children. Children crying, children asking, children chewing, children humming, children making car noises, or if you were near my pew today, children burping.

But now imagine you are a four-year-old boy.

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You have to sit still for an hour and ten minutes.  You are scrunched between three sisters, a mom and a baby while you listen to people give sermons using words which you don’t understand.  You are told you are not to make noise unless you are singing hymns from a hymnbook that you can’t yet read. And when you feel the urge to kick or run or jump or yell your mother hands you crayons and expects you to draw. For my 4-year-old who can’t even stand to wear shoes on his feet, I would have better luck making him eat the crayons than use them.

There are strategies I’ve used over the years. I’ve brought food, bottles, blankets, books, notebooks, markers, pens, magnets, toy cars, silly putty, flannel toys and truckfulls of Cheerios. I’ve drawn things for him, read things to him, explained things to him, colored pictures of him, spelled words for him, folded origami for him, created pipe cleaner animals for him.

But there comes a time when the child can no longer stand the monotony of the meeting, and no pipe cleaner animal or origami creation or cheerio will suffice. If he does not get to beat his chest and howl or toss his shoe three pews back he will explode. And since you are not allowed to howl or throw your shoes at church, that is exactly what he does.

When this happens he must be taken out.

They say the most effective way to correct an unruly child at church is to take him to an empty classroom where there are no treats, no snacks, no toys to play with and they can sit there and calm down. The theory here is that he will see that it is more “fun” to come back to the pew than be in a toyless, sugarless room.

Once I took my misbehaving 4-year-old into a deserted room to let his temper tantrum run its course. He yelled and screamed and pounded the wall. I told him we would stay in there until he calmed down. My plan backfired on me, though, when a man who was teaching a class on the other side of the wall my son was pounding on opened the door and  asked if everything was alright. We had to leave, of course and go some place else.  But the other classrooms were full and it was raining icicles outside. So we went back to the pew. Child 10 points, Mom 0.

Another time I took him to a deserted room and turned off the lights, hoping that a toyless, sugarless, lightless room would do the trick. I didn’t leave him in there alone, of course. I stood next to the door, frightening the next three adults who unsuspectingly opened the door to see my face staring at them from the darkness.

And then there was the time that he was being good. I remember it very clearly: he was sitting with his hands folded, swinging his feet and making soft buzzing sounds with his lips. Ahhhh . . . I thought . . . this is great. This is nice. He is calm and quiet. And just as I was basking in those thoughts the woman in front of me turns around and asks, “Do you want me to take your son out?”

After which I promptly burst into tears and had to walk around the parking lot by myself for 15 minutes.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves and our children through this mutual torture session? Why? Is anybody getting anything out of this? Is it worth it?!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

We Mormons are pretty over the top when it comes to teaching our kids about religion. We bring them to three hours of meetings on Sunday. We give them another devotional on Monday night. We read scriptures as a family every day. Teenage boys pass the sacrament and hold the priesthood. Teenage girls can preach from the pulpit. Children of every age take the sacrament (our communion).  Youth give lessons, participate in leadership meetings and sing in choir (the choir pianist just got his driver’s license last year!). At 6:00 am every weekday morning they take seminary classes where they memorize scriptures from the New Testament, Old Testament and Book of Mormon. They are expected to dress modestly, act modestly, they have a pamphlet of standards they carry around with them. They don’t have sex. Once a month they fast. They go on missions.

Who does this anymore?

I’ve heard some people say we brainwash our kids into believing the doctrines of our church. But that is not brainwashing. I’ll tell you what brainwashing is, but we have to switch into a darker gear.

The Dark Side of Teaching Children

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State.  In it they interviewed children that escaped Islamic State military training camps where children as young as 8 regularly witness beheadings. Where children are gathered, school-field trip style, and given candy as they watch executions. There are many more graphic details that I can’t go into on this blog because my children read it. But suffice it to say that Islamic State knows how to do a few things really well. And one of them is to raise a generation of devout believers.

In his book Acts of Faith Eboo Patel wrote:

“Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

Are we Christians doing our part provide today’s youth with “a clear identity to make a powerful impact”? Americans in particular have set aside many rituals that once gave children purpose and destiny: prayer, baptism, repentance, chastity. So how do we expect children to make good decisions when they have no moral foundation? Many parents seem to have no problem releasing their children into an immoral world without giving them a spiritual direction. Instead we arm our kids with phones so that they can get answers to their problems from Google instead of God.

I even have Mormon friends who do not want to “indoctrinate” their own children with Mormon beliefs so that they can be “open-minded” and make decisions for themselves.   This is crazy!  Children come to earth with minds like open buckets. If parents do not fill that bucket someone else will.

But how do you know what you are filling their bucket with Truth?

I don’t know if I’m filling my kids with Truth or not, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truest thing I have found, since it has already brought a lot of happiness to my own life. My aim is to give them the hope that there is so much more to this sad, earth; that there is a greater Plan, a greater Designer and greater Hope, and that death is not the end, but just graduation. I am teaching them that no matter what horrible mistake they make they have a Savior who has died for them and will forgive them if they repent.  I teach them to not forget they are children of God, and not to forget that everyone else is, too. I can’t prove to them that God exists, but no one can prove that He doesn’t.

“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” We unapologetically flood our children with this knowledge.

We can’t be ambivalent about our children’s spiritual education when there are people on the other side of the world teaching their children there is value and honor in intimidation and killing. We must match their increasing darkness with our increasing light.

Children need a moral education that goes beyond teaching them to recycle, wash their hands, play by the rules, and don’t do things that will get them in jail. They need to have a spiritual identity. And with that spiritual identity will come an inner voice that will guide them to make choices consistent with their beliefs.

Humans are born hungry to believe in something. If we neglect our children spiritually they will find other places to fill that void. Science can prove a lot, but one thing that science will never be able to tell is us what happens to us after we die. Only faith can claim that prize. And why not choose a faith that in the process will make you into the best possible person you can be?

Last Sunday I watched my son, now 5,  get ready for church without prodding and without complaint. He sat in the pew reverently and thoughtfully, cradling scriptures he brought himself. This lasted for a record 20 minutes before he finally stood on the pew and tried to swipe the scriptures from the girl in front of him. Hopefully this trend can keep improving, and by the time he is a young adult he will have the power and knowledge to make an impact on the world because he will have a gained personal testimony. He will choose light instead of darkness, he will choose to spread the Good News instead of spreading hatred, and he will choose to ignite hope instead of instilling fear . . . or worse, indifference.

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Eight

There is something magical about turning eight years old.

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You can think for yourself. You can ride a bike, swim, do math, read, make goals and most most importantly, have self-control. You are practically a grown up, except that you haven’t yet forgotten how to have fun.

In the scriptures the number 8 symbolizes new beginnings. Think about it . . . Jewish babies were circumcised at 8 days, there were 8 people on the ark, and there were 8 Jaredite barges that travelled a new land in the Americas. (If you are unfamiliar with that Bible story, don’t worry. There are a lot more where that one came from.)

So in the Mormon church we believe 8 is the age when a child can make decisions for herself. She has faith in Jesus Christ. She understands how to repent. With this knowledge she is ready to be baptized.

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We do not baptize infants because infants they are too young to be accountable for the things they do. Small children are innocent and guiltless, and there is no need for baptism, for their salvation has already been paid for by the Savior’s atonement.

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After she is baptized with water she will be baptized with fire. That is, she will be given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If she keeps herself clean and worthy the Holy Ghost will be a constant companion and friend who will teach her the truth of all things. Did you catch that? I said: The Truth of All Things.

Baptisms are significant. They are a “saving” ordinance, meaning you cannot be saved without it.  Many people come to watch this great event in your life. Grandparents travel across continents and you get to invite your best friends.

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Even your little brother gets all dressed up . . .

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. . . for a little while, at least.

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(By the way, the tie has been found, and the reward will be given.)

Grown-ups get a little excited about baptisms and they do all kinds of nice things for you. Like your mom might ask all your aunts and uncles and cousins to send you their testimonies.

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So thanks for being born, Naomi. And thanks for turning 8. We are proud of you.

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Now you can stop growing up, okay?

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Strange Mormon Customs: The Bishop & Me

Here is a crazy scenario for you: What would you do if your husband, just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job, was suddenly asked to be the minister of your church? How would you feel about that? How would it affect the relationship with your neighbors and friends? Would they treat you differently? Would people start to expect more of your family?  How would you feel, being married to the minister?

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Me and the bishop in a meadow filled with flowers. This is going to take some getting used to.

Most people don’t have to worry about this scenario. But Mormons do.

What is a bishop?

A bishop is the Mormon version of a pastor or a minister. He is called to serve and preside over a congregation (ward) of about 300-400 people.   I asked my husband what the official duties of a bishop are and he said, “There’s like . . . a thousand of them.”  So I looked it up and the bishop’s duties are mainly six:

1. He is the spiritual leader of the congregation

2. He presides over the Sunday services in the church

3. He leads the youth and teaches them about their priesthood responsibilities

4. He helps people who have committed serious sins and encourages them to repent

5. He manages tithes and organizes financial assistance to members of the ward who are in need

6. Organizes and manages other organizations in the ward (Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women, and Primary)

See, Scotty? The bishop doesn’t do that much.

How is a bishop selected?

In our church you don’t “run” for bishop. You don’t campaign for it, you don’t petition for it, you don’t apply for it, and you don’t ask for it.  Because “aspiring to the honors of men” is the opposite of what the priesthood is about.

All assignments in our church, including the bishop are given by revelation. Although a bishop is selected by the stake president, the calling must be confirmed in the stake president’s mind by the still small voice. There are many qualified people who could serve as the bishop of a ward, but it all comes down to the Spirit. We believe that in the end, it is God who selects the bishop.

How is a new bishop trained?

The new bishop usually has very little warning that he is going to be bishop– no time to go to a divinity school or seminary. There is no training period. Everything is learned on the job. One day he is sitting with his family in the congregation, the next day he is whisked up to the stand, leaving his wife and children on the bench to weep like orphans.  Then he stays behind the podium for five to six YEARS until it is time for someone else to have a turn. Sometimes a man will serve as one of the two bishop’s counselors for a while before becoming a bishop (as in Scott’s case; has been a counselor for the past 3 years) and that is helpful, but it is not a prerequisite.

How much does he get paid?

Zero. Every calling in Mormondom is pro bono. And that is why it works so well.

All of my past bishops worked in other professions. For example, I had one bishop who was a painter of fine art. One owned a golf course. One sold motorcycles and atvs. One was a computer programmer, one sold real estate, one was a plant manager, one was a biostatistician.

Now our ward will have a tax professor.

When you consider that Mormon bishops are not trained clergymen, and are unpaid for all of their time, you should also come to the conclusion that Mormon bishops have a learning curve. The bishop (like the rest of us) deserves forgiveness. In advance. His over-supportive, enthusiastic, blogger wife? Even more forgiveness. Which leads me to my next topic:

The bishop’s wife

I found it interesting that when the stake president called Scott to serve as bishop he met with us both. He spoke to both him and me. He told us it was our calling (plural) not his calling. There will be much of Scott’s calling that I will not know about because he will be helping people work through the process of repentance and he will be helping people with welfare needs–both are confidential matters not to be discussed with anyone, even (and probably especially) a wife. But there will be many ways I can help him. Also, I will have to do more at home without him since I will have to share his free time with the rest of the ward. And, when he is overwhelmed with responsibilities and concerns it will be my job to make him laugh and recuperate. But if Scott has a burden to carry, I will not let him carry it by himself. I mean really, look how strong my arms are. That man needs me.

There is a quote by C.S. Lewis, the most famous non-Mormon to be quoted constantly by Mormons, that says,

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only–and that is to support the ultimate career.

Scott’s main job as bishop is going to be to strengthen families by bringing them to Christ. But that is what I do for our family every day. minute. second. Some people might say that I will be supporting my husband in this calling. That I am his sidekick. That I am his cornerman. But you could also look at it the other way around, that his calling is supporting me, and that, by being a bishop, he is my sidekick and my cornerman.

We are partners with the same vision that, if everything goes as planned, will result in the same destiny. We are two parts of a whole. His contribution is like the bones of the body, giving it structure and definition. My contribution is like the muscles of the body, keeping things moving and strong. A body cannot  function without both.

One of my good friends is married to a bishop in another ward. One day I emailed her to ask her how she was doing. This was her reply. I found it very beautiful and insightful, and her words stayed with me for many months.

We are doing well, thanks for asking. We do our best to help our ward. Of course, there is only so much I can do but I do try to support my husband. There is so much we cannot talk about but there are some things I can help him with or at least give my opinion. I truly believe that this is not a male-dominated church. My testimony of that has grown so much. You may not see the faces of the women as much but they are there and their influence is among us whether we know it or not. I think it must work like that with Heavenly Father too.

What it means to be a leader

Some people get the idea that the bishop (and his family) are selected because they are better at keeping the commandments, or they “have it all together” or they have less problems than everyone else.

Excuse me while I laugh and wipe the tears out of my eyes.

Just because you have been called as bishop does not mean you are extra special or that you have “arrived.” Being the bishop does not mean you are most likable or popular person in the ward. It doesn’t even mean that you are the most righteous person in the ward. (Although sometimes, as in Scott’s case, it might mean that you are the best-looking.) It means that you are the person that God wants to be the leader for a while.

And what is God’s definition of a leader?

It is this:


I am honored to have a husband who is worthy and willing to be called to serve the wonderful people in our ward. I realize I am probably naive, and that this will be much harder and more of a sacrifice than I am expecting. I’m sure the “coolness” factor will wear off pretty fast.  But I know from experience that in our family we would much rather serve than be served.

So let the work begin.  Wish us luck. And a prayer or two wouldn’t hurt, either.

 

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Strange Mormon Customs: How We Pray

First, we kneel.

fold our arms,

and close our eyes.

And then stay very still.

Then we thank our Father in Heaven for all of our blessings.

And then ask Him humbly for the things we need.

It is not always easy to do all of this, especially when you are four years old, you don’t want to go to sleep, and there are distractions. . .

. . . in the room.

 

But we go through this ritual every night with our children. We do it because we know that beyond the tennis lessons, swimming lessons, and music lessons, learning to pray will be their most valuable life skill.

Besides teaching them to kneel and close their eyes, we will teach them to ask God questions. Lots of questions. Questions about life, about love, about small decisions and great ones, too.

We want them to understand that He is the source of all Truth, and that all doubt and fear and regret can be resolved through Him.

We want them to know that God pays special attention to the prayers of children.

We tell them that there was once a boy, not much older than they are now, who grew up in a small town where the all the adults were confused. Listening to people argue about what was true and what was false made the boy’s head spin. He read in the scriptures that if you lack wisdom, you should ask God. When he read those words he realized that if he wanted to know what was true, asking God was the only way to really know.

So the boy went out into the forest one morning to be alone. He knelt on his knees and asked his question, and his prayer was answered.

Read the full story here.

Adults are still confused. A lot of them are confused because they have forgotten how to pray, or were never taught. When they have a question the first place they go to is Google. Then they read articles written by other people who are more mixed-up than they are.

We are trying to teach our children that there is a better place to go when life gets too complicated.

We want them to know they can go to Him with any problem.

We want them to know that they don’t always have to be kneeling to pray. They can pray while they run, too. Especially if they are being chased by. . . say. . . a bear.

We can’t always pray to change someone else, but we can always pray to change ourselves.

We want them to know that their prayer does not end with “amen.” That they can keep a prayer in their heart the entire day while they search for the answers to their prayer.

We want them to learn to recognize that the answers can come by way of promptings, dreams, visions, thoughts, ideas and the goodness of other people.

We want them to know that sometimes the answers don’t always come easy. Sometimes they will have to wrestle with God to get an answer, not because He doesn’t want to tell them, but because He wants them to become strong.

We will teach them that if their bedroom is too noisy they can go somewhere else. A closet. A bathroom. A car. A trail. A forest. Somewhere they can be free to speak what is on their mind without distraction.

We want them to know that even though we are the parents of their bodies, God is the parent of their spirit and His spirit will speak to their spirit in a soft, quiet language that they must learn to understand.

We want them to know that they are never alone.

We tell them to never let a day pass by that they don’t check in with the Lord, and we make sure they understand that we are not telling them to do anything we are not already doing ourselves.

Well-meaning people sometimes whisper to me, “enjoy your children while they are young, before they are corrupted by the world.” But my children cannot be corrupted if they learn from a young age that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and is eager to help when they ask. If they continue to do pray every day for the rest of their lives they won’t have struggles that will bring them to their knees because they will already be there.

They are destined for hard times, to be sure, and when they are in trouble we hope they come to us, their parents. But as long as they keep going to their Heavenly Parent it really doesn’t matter. If we can teach them to pray on their own to their Heavenly Father, He can teach them everything else.

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Strange Mormon Customs: Big Families

Once, when my husband told a co-worker that he had four children the man joked, “So are you Catholic or Mormon?”

Ha! And that was only for four.

It is obvious why devout Catholics end up with big families. But Mormons? What is their deal? Do they not use birth control either? Do they get a tithing discount for every child they have? Are they doing it for tax incentives?

Or are they trying to take over the world?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps it is because it makes us happy. My husband’s mother bore six children and my mom had seven. We both loved growing up in large families.

I have three amazing sisters to laugh with, cry with and swap kids with. I have older brothers who picked on me mercilessly but also stood by me when I was in trouble. Growing up, I adored my many cousins and still keep in contact with them.

As a child in a big, loving family I never even considered having less than twenty.

It is no secret that our church leaders tell us regularly to “multiply and replenish the earth.” The fact that we would take such counsel seriously makes some people squirm.

But before you think we are all just mindless rabbits, let me assure you that we are faithful people, not stupid people.

There is no quota. We are not asked to procreate at will without considering the mother’s health (physical, mental and emotional) and many other factors that may make it difficult to support a large family.  Whether or not birth control is used is up to the couple’s agency and discretion. In my opinion, to keep adding children into a family without thought and planning is as bad an idea as using abstinence (in marriage) as birth control. Having a child is a huge decision, but having a healthy relationship with your spouse is paramount.

Church leaders are simply asking us to not let selfishness or fear of the future overcome our desire to have children.  Once, when Scott and I were deciding on when to have our third child, it seemed as if there was always some impediment nine months away that would make it difficult to have a baby. But we decided that if we waited for the “perfect time” to have a baby it would never happen at all.

More often than not babies find a way to be welcomed, cared for, loved, and never regretted–even when at first it seemed like it would be impossible.

Many people who don’t have large families can’t understand the desire to have one. My grandmother, for instance. Each time my mother would call my grandmother–who was not a Mormon–and announce  she was again pregnant, my grandmother would tell her she was a “glutton for punishment.”

Since I am number six, I’m glad my mom didn’t listen to her.

I have found that the blessings of having a big family are innumerable. When you have a large family you are automatically part of something. You belong. (And if you have a big enough family you are sure to have at least one sibling that you like.) Everyone needs to belong, to be inherently admired and loved…not because they have done something special, but merely because they exist.

That is why people who don’t have supportive families join gangs.

When you have a big family every day is a party. There is always someone to play with, to serve, to talk to, to commiserate with, to make you laugh.

There is a reason why they call families of lions “prides.” You feel great pride when you are part of a large, respected family, headed by a matriarch and patriarch who lead and teach with love and a great affection for their posterity. You feel that you have a stewardship to your family and you are constantly encouraged to honor the family’s name, to keep it untarnished.

People who have never grown up in a family like this don’t think that it is possible.

But it is.

I do know of one Mormon friend who felt “lost” in her family. She felt like there were so many kids that she didn’t matter. She was one of 15. All the more reason for parents to be wise and thoughtful when making decisions to have another child.

Another reason we have lots of kids is because Mormons are alwasy on a quest for self-improvement. We have a great desire to become better, to refine ourselves, to achieve excellence. Is there no greater refiner’s fire than to raise a child? 

Peter de Vries wrote “The value marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.”  I know of no other occupation that demands so much focus, creativity, endurance, wisdom, unconditional love, selflessness, generosity, humor, patience, sacrifice, kindness, innovation, organization, composure, self-control, cleanliness and tolerance. The more I try to “master” my children, the more I learn that it is more about mastering myself.

It is true that kids can be a pain sometimes, but they are also a lot fun.  They are fun to tickle, to teach, to hold, to laugh with, to cuddle, to sooth, to heal, to learn from. They each come with their own very unique personalities–even my identical twins–and it is fascinating to get to know them as they grow and mature.

As Latter-Day Saints we believe in the eternal nature of families. The family relationships we nurture here will be one of the few things we can take with us to the next life. If being with your family forever and ever and ever doesn’t give you motivation to get along, nothing will.

I used to think that the things that would give me the greatest joy would be to sing on big stage in front of thousands (which I’ve done) to go kayaking on a glass-smooth river (which I have done) or to publish a novel (haven’t done that one yet). But the greatest joy I have is to hear my kids laughing  together. To watch them playing together. To witness them doing something kind for a sibling without being prompted.

That is true joy.

Perhaps I will change my mind when I finally publish a book, but I doubt it.

 As I sit here and finish this post I am entering my ninth month of pregnancy.  I am large and so obviously pregnant that it is no longer taboo for perfect strangers to ask me how far along I am. And they almost always add, “Is this your first?”

I love to smile and say, “No, this is my fifth.”
This post was first published on February 26, 2013 on Turkeyboys Girls

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