Written by Emilia Julian | June 2018
It took me several years to realize I had the most important and effective “instruction book” at my disposal.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are occasionally asked to give a talk during a sacrament meeting. There are times when a member of the bishopric may present us with a topic, and other times when they ask us to go by what the Spirit inspires us to share. I like it when I receive an option to choose my own topic…it’s often easier for myself, but that’s just me cheating a little. A few weeks ago, I was asked to present a talk. This time I was given a topic and a General Conference address to reference from Jeffrey R. Holland entitled The Hands of the Fathers. The advantage of being given actual material to work with is that I usually learn more about a particular subject that I may not have otherwise known too much about, or I may learn a different point of view. This is one of the reasons why I always accept the assignment knowing I will be experiencing something new that will energize my spirit.
In the conference address, Jeffrey R. Holland says: “Surely the greatest of those things required of fathers will be to have done all they could for the happiness and spiritual safety of the children they are to nurture.” Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? When a mother and father welcome a baby into their lives, I’m sure it’s one of the first things that go into the minds of many parents to do everything in their power to offer their children all the joy and protection and provide them with all they need in this life.
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding blessings given to men and women but can also be one of the most challenging. I remember when my husband and I decided it was time to have children. We were young and were married for about a year. Other than the two miscarriages we had suffered (one of which was twins), we ended up having two lovely children, two years apart. Our sons (who are now adults) are so different in every way that an outsider would never guess that they are brothers. Our first born looks very much like my side of the family, whereas our baby (remember, he’s an adult now, but will always be our baby…lol), looks like his father. One has lighter hair than the other. One is huskier than the other. One is more athletic and musically inclined while the other enjoys video games, fishing and every kind of car, truck or anything that drives. Both of them experienced different challenges in their growing-up years and dealt with concerns very differently. One of the only things they have in common is that they both enjoy family vacations with us at Disney World.
I can distinctly recall when our first son was born. Jason and I felt like we were exceptional parents. He was too good to be true, and it just seemed so simple to be a parent to him. He was such an easy baby! He hardly ever cried, was content, passive, always laughing, dancing, and singing. Our routine with him was enjoyable and we looked forward to every waking moment to spend with him. Even the feedings in the middle of the night were pleasant.
It was such an enormous contrast to when our second baby was born two years later. Our thoughts about being perfect parents when down the drain for us. For the first seven months of his precious life, he suffered from severe colic. He cried for several hours a day and night. We couldn’t grasp a decent routine that would last more than a day, and I was so tired from caring for him that I often would be crying along with him. Friends and family would often offer advice from their experiences, but nothing seemed to help. As he grew out of his colic, things became a little easier as we started to settle down into a new routine with both our boys.
Have you ever wondered why babies are not sent home from the hospital with an instruction book? If they do, I evidently never received one. With our first child, we didn’t feel we needed an instruction book…well…until he became a teenager. Having said that, we wished we did have one for our second child. Having gone through such contrasting experiences with our children, we realized that a generic baby instruction book from the hospital or bookstore would not have added too much value to our parenting. All babies and children have different needs, and all requirements must be treated differently to raise each individual child.
So does this all mean that we are left to have children without any instructions? ABSOLUTELY NOT! There are instruction books that are available to everyone, and it applies to all parents and works on every child regardless of his/her differences. What are these instruction books and how can we get them? Many of us have had them for years at our disposal and may not have known the value of information within the pages to help us with parenting. It is THE SCRIPTURES! Within the pages of the scriptures, we can learn the best ways in which parents can raise their children, and we can also learn, as children, how we should show respect and love to our parents.
I believe that both parents are critical in the raising of a family when possible. Mothers and fathers, with their individual divinely appointed gifts and talents, both have an essential role in the lives of their children. But in the case of the “instruction book,” the same rules apply to both. We are taught how to raise our children with guidance and direction from the Father of all fathers.
First of all, in The Family: A Proclamation to the World it reads: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” It also states that ““By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families” and that, “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” This is a fundamental responsibility given to us as parents, and fathers, who are the presiding patriarchs of the family, must ensure that this path is taken.
I can’t help but think about Adam and Eve. When they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, one of the commandments they were given was to multiply and replenish the earth. They became our first parents, each with their individual responsibilities, and no one before them to offer suggestions or an instruction book on how to raise children. How did Adam ever perform his fatherly duties without instruction? Think of the stress and burden that he must have felt as the patriarch of his family, knowing that he would be the first example of fatherhood on earth and that he would be setting a precedent while leading several generations after him by the pattern of parenthood he leaves behind for others to follow. But Adam did have instructions…and a great example! Adam worked hard to plow the fields and grow crops so that he could provide food for his family. He was very righteous and obeyed the commandments given to him. Since his children had individual needs, Adam went to his Heavenly Father in prayer often to ask Him what he should be doing to raise them righteously. He worked with Eve hand in hand with Heavenly Father in raising their children.
I think about Father Lehi. He had been given such a great responsibility! A prophet with many children, some more difficult than others, had the undertaking of rearing many of them in the wilderness for several years. I’m sure his choice to follow God and His commandments were very unpopular amongst some of his children, namely Laman and Lemuel, and he was hated for it at times, but not one time did he kick his children out of his midst. Not one time did he utter hateful words to them. Instead, he went to Heavenly Father for guidance, and then lead his family with love by example and faith.
Heavenly Father provided us with the greatest of all examples of how to rear our children. He is our instruction booklet. He has provided us with the perfect plan that, if attentive to it, fathers all over the world, along with their wives, can rear their children in a divinely appointed manner.
As parents, we will never have to endure the heart-wrenching nightmare that our Father in Heaven suffered while having to witness the suffering and agony of His only Begotten Son. And He did this for us…His children…so that we can have everlasting life. Jeffrey R. Holland said “I am a father, inadequate to be sure, but I cannot comprehend the burden it must have been for God in His heaven to witness the deep suffering and Crucifixion of His Beloved Son in such a manner. His every impulse and instinct must have been to stop it, to send angels to intervene—but He did not intervene. He endured what He saw because it was the only way that a saving, vicarious payment could be made for the sins of all His other children from Adam and Eve to the end of the world.” I can’t even imagine the measure of His great love for us, for suffering as He watched His perfect Son being severely mistreated and abused. And all this so that He could extend that great love to us by giving us the opportunity to come unto him and grant us the eternal blessings of returning back to him someday.
Elder Holland goes on to say: “we are reminded that this relationship between Christ and His Father is one of the sweetest and most moving themes running through the Savior’s ministry.” This statement reached my memory as I thought back to my scripture study of the ministry of Jesus Christ and His relationship with His Father. A parent’s relationship with his children should never be strained based on the decisions their children make. I realize as a parent it is difficult to watch as our children make choices that may be contrary to the things we have taught them, but our job is not to ridicule, judge, hate, control, or belittle them. That is not in Heavenly Father’s “instructions book” to us. Instead, it is to love, be patient, and teach by example. It is to be there for them in good times and challenging times, and let them fall at times so that they can learn from their own experiences. It is to pray that we can be guided in the best way possible to help them individually, and have faith that their struggles will someday draw them closer to God, their Heavenly Father, once again.
Alma and his relationship with his son comes to my mind. His son was also named Alma, or as we know him, Alma the Younger. Alma was a Nephite prophet in the Book of Mormon who organized the Church in the days of wicked King Noah. He was a very righteous man and had a very close relationship with Heavenly Father. I can’t help but think of how heartsick he must have felt when his own son became a leader among the unbelievers and did everything he could to destroy the Church and sway people from the waters of baptism. Alma the Younger was one of the very worst sinners. He was out of control…wicked and idolatrous, and he caused many problems for the Church. He associated with the wrong crowd, and his friends were no better than him. In spite of his wickedness, however, his father still loved him. He never gave up hope that his son would someday repent and come back to the fold. He regularly prayed that somehow his son would have the desire to change. Alma had faith that his Heavenly Father would hear his righteous prayers on his son’s behalf and that God would take care of the things Alma couldn’t do for his own son.
I’m sure the desire for most fathers would be to have the kind of relationship that Heavenly Father had with His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was obedient to the Father…in fact, His complete purpose and delight were centered in pleasing His Father and obeying His will. Unlike ourselves, Jesus never needed an excuse or crisis in His life to drop down to His knees and communicate with His Father. His entire mortal ministry never seemed to have a moment where he thought of himself, and credit for everything He did was always directed in praising His Father in heaven.
Heavenly Father prepared Jesus as a child, He blessed Him with all He needed to accomplish His earthly mission, He loved Him and was pleased with Him. Once again, I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for Heavenly Father to watch His Son suffer crucifixion, but Jesus wouldn’t allow anyone to stop Him from that mission, because it was essential for him to fulfill the will of His Father. He honored His Father, loved Him more than we can comprehend. What a tremendous example that should be to us.
Elder Holland expresses his wonderment at what that reunion must have been like when Jesus returned back home to His Father. He says, “The Father loved this Son so much, the Son that honored and revered His Father in every word and deed. For two who were one as these two were one, what must that embrace have been like? What must that divine companionship be yet? We can only wonder and admire”.
Elder Holland adds: “As a father, I wonder if I and all other fathers could do more to build a sweeter, stronger relationship with our sons and daughters here on earth. Dads, is it too bold to hope that our children might have some small portion of the feeling for us that the Divine Son felt for His father? Might we earn more of that love by trying to be more of what God was to His child?”
I am thankful for the gospel in my life and for the “instruction book” we’ve been given to help us better raise our children and teach us how to love and respect our own parents. The Bible and The Book of Mormon are filled with beautiful examples of different families from various times and cultures. It didn’t matter if they had one child or fifteen children. It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor, or if they had simple children or challenging children to raise. What I learned most from studying this particular conference address from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland can be reduced to one four-letter word, and that is L-O-V-E. Love…the way that Heavenly Father loves His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and how He loves us. Love…the way that Jesus Christ loves and honors His Father. When we love our children the way we are taught from the scriptures, our divine instruction book, all other things fall into place or become less important. Following these examples shows us how to be more patient and gentle, honest and obedient to the commandments. It teaches us to depend on God for answers to our family matters. The scriptures lead us to recognize how important it is to live by example so that, like Adam and Eve, we can leave behind a legacy of love for our future families to follow. Most importantly, it creates in us a character that is like unto our Heavenly Father and prepare us to live a celestial life.