This post is a bit of a departure. It isn't related to my study and doesn't contain a bunch of scriptures or conference talks. It's just me sharing something I feel strongly about. Hopefully it's worth a look.
On a recent Wednesday evening my seven-year-old daughter Grace asked, “Are you going to help people tonight?” This may seem like an odd question, but it wasn’t odd at our house. It was the result of a calculated effort.
Gracie, our first child, was still a baby when I was first called into our ward bishopric. For another year or so, my frequent absence because of my calling didn’t register in her young mind. But before too long, she started to notice. Suddenly it seemed to her that I was always heading out the door in suit and tie. These departures started to come with questions: “Where are you going?” and “When will you be home?”
At first I responded in typical Mormon fashion. How many times has a mother or father told their child, with a sigh, “I have to go to a meeting” or “I have to go to the church”? Such was my reply, apologetically telling her really nothing at all other than that the Church was making me be somewhere other than home with her.
I’m a lover of words and speech, and for years I’ve analyzed and questioned words and phrases, especially common sayings in Mormon culture. Why do we say some of the things we say? (See below for a short list!) Analyzing patterns of speech can yield great insight. While you can take it too far, there is great power in what we say and how we say it. I thought about the message I was sending with the apologetic, "I have to go to a meeting…" It left a bad taste in my mouth. I resolved to never again tell my children “I have to go to a meeting” or “I have to go to the church.”
My logic was as follows: First, I don’t “have to,” I choose to. I was in the bishopric because the Lord called me, and I accepted the call because I wanted to. "If you have desires to serve God, you are called to the work" (D&C 4:2). I have found this to be true! Second, I wasn't leaving simply to "go to a meeting” or “go to the church.” I wanted to tell my children what I was really doing, which would remind my family, and myself, why I was leaving. As I thought about all the different reasons my calling took me out of the home (recommend interviews, baptisms, mutual, bishopric training, home visits, etc.) I saw two overarching purposes: helping people and learning. So for nearly six years now, every time I’ve left home for my calling, I’ve told my family either “I’m going to help people” or “I’m going to learn."
Will this simple change make a life-altering difference? I’m not sure. All I know is that in the years my daughter has watched me come and go, as she’s sat in church without her Dad for as long as she can remember, she’s never heard me grudgingly say, “I have to go to a meeting.” This is important to me because I’ve sent her a consistent, honest message of what I’m doing and why. Are there days I’d like to stay home with my family? Sure. Do I sometimes go to meetings that aren’t an amazing use of time? Of course. But I don’t want my kids to ever think that I was sorry to be doing the work of the Lord.
Granted, this doesn’t make my kids magically happy every time I leave. My four-year-old son recently groaned, “Aargh! Why are you always going to help people?!” It is in those moments I kneel down next to my kids, give them a big hug, and thank them for sharing their blessings. “We are so blessed. Heavenly Father has asked us to share our blessings with other people. Can you share?”
“Ya Dad, I can share.”
What are some things you frequently say that might be sending the wrong message? Maybe there's a better way.
As always, thank you for reading. love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and please share with a friend if you like what you're reading.
*I have a whole list of grievances with cliche Mormon vernacular and attitude. I admit I can get curmudgeonly on the topic. Why do all the children say “thank you for this day” at the beginning of their prayers? Does that statement mean anything to them? Why do we constantly call the most fundamental commandments “the little things” as if they were inconsequential? Why do we so often begin talks by saying how much we wish we weren't speaking? Is there any worse way to start a talk? Why do we so often bag on Isaiah's writings and so readily excuse ourselves from understanding them, when he was by all accounts Christ's favorite prophet to quote, and Nephi said he was easy to understand if you have the Spirit? Why do the youth so consistently pray that the donuts or cupcakes or cookies will nourish and strengthen our bodies?