At the time of my writing this article, I am in my mid 50’s. All four of my children are married, and living on their own. From two of the four we have five beautiful grandchildren, and we have a daughter that is expecting. I can really relate to Jacob’s comment (from the Book Of Mormon) where he says that “time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream”. Time has really flown by!
When my wife and I look back at our parenting over the years we acknowledge that we were far from perfect. We do take comfort however in the fact that we really tried our best. We love each of our children so much! Nothing is more important to us. And we did the best we knew how to do at the time. That being said with knowing what we know now, there are many things we would do exactly the same, but also many things that we would do very differently.
If you are like I was 30 years ago, you think you really have got things figured out. You are active in the church and many of you probably have served missions. You love the Lord, attend church every Sunday, work hard at your callings, strive to do things like reading the scriptures individually and as a family, and doing your best to corral your little ones into having family home evening (hopefully) once a week. If you are striving to do these things, good! They are so important. And yet believe it or not, it is possible to do all these things and yet miss the mark. I know this from personal experience.
Things As They Really Are
All the things I mentioned above like “going to church”, “reading the scriptures” etc. are all very important. We want to strive to do all of them. But it is much more important to Christ, who we are, than what we do.
And I can tell you looking back over the last 30 years that I tried as hard as I could (I failed a lot as well) to do all those things listed above. And yet my focus was not in the right place.
If I have any regrets, I regret one thing. I regret that I misunderstood the definition of the word “righteous”. I thought that doing all of those things I listed above was the definition of being righteous. Its not. It is not God’s definition. And yet those are all good and very important things. But they are only a means to an end, not the end.
So if righteousness does not consist of the things that we do, but of who we are, what does that mean? Isn’t what we do who we are? No, its not. What determines who we are, is where our heart is. Even though I had heard these things all my life growing up in the church, I didn’t understand what they meant.
The Responsibilities Of Parents
In “The Family, A Proclamation To The World” it says “husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children”. And also “parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness”. These are not the only responsibilities listed, but they are the responsibilities listed first. What does it mean to “love and care for each other and for [our] children” and to “rear [our] children in love and righteousness”?
To illustrate let me take you through a quick little thought exercise. Think back to what you yourself were like as far back as you can remember; as a toddler, in grade school, Junior High and High School. What were you like as a child? Do you remember how you felt?
Now look at the above left picture of Jesus Christ with the little children. Imagine what it would be like to be one of these little children in the presence of Jesus Christ. What would Jesus Christ be like? How would it feel to be in His presence?
A common thing people say who have seen the savior while in mortal life, either in a dream or vision, or in a near death experience, is how they felt an overwhelming feeling of love emanating from the Savior. They typically say that they had never felt such a strong feeling of love before. And that it was a heavenly and most glorious feeling of love.
Is it possible for us to be like that, or at least more like that, both as a married couple and as parents? How would it benefit our children if even in only a small degree, their being near us was like being near the savior?
If it is true that who we are is more important than what we do, may I suggest that this is who we need to be?
The Love Of God
When I was a child, my two grandmothers were close friends, my father’s mother and my mother’s mother. The two of them once had the very same dream, involving both of them, on the very same night. The next morning my mother’s mother called my fathers mother, to tell her about the dream. My fathers mother quickly told her “I had that exact same dream too!”
In this dream both of my grandmothers were walking along in a beautiful grassy field. From a part in the clouds there was a glorious looking beam of light coming down from heaven lighting up a section of the grass in front of them. My mother’s mother walked over and stepped into the beam of light and said that when she did she felt the most overwhelming feeling of heavenly love and acceptance. It was the most wonderful feeling she had ever experienced. So then my father’s mother came over to her and stepped into the beam of light and felt it as well.
Then up ahead they both saw a building with many people whom they recognized in it. These were all loved ones they had known who had previously passed away. My father’s mother was so excited to see them she left the beam of light and ran to her relatives in the building and had a wonderful reunion with them. My mother’s mother really wanted to go too, but said that the feeling in the beam of light was so wonderful she just had to stay in it a little longer. She said that the beam of light represented the love of Jesus Christ.
Hitting The Mark
This section might seem a bit deep on first reading, but this is very important so please hang in there with me.
To love our children more like Jesus Christ loves them, we need to possess the same love He possesses. But how do we accomplish this? This is only possible if the Lord literally endows or gifts His love to us.
The “love of God” mentioned in the scriptures often literally means “God’s love”, the love that the savior feels himself. He can share His love with us so that we can feel it too. Charity is literally the love that God feels that He shares with us so that we can feel it too.
Now here is the kicker. Jesus Christ can only endow us with His love to the degree that we give our hearts to Him. We are to give our whole heart to Christ, just as He gave His whole heart to His Father. Jesus Christ is the person He is, has the presence He has, and the love that He has, because He gave His whole heart (literally everything) to His Father.
Having our “eye…single to [His] glory” has to do with our motives. The only way we can have completely pure motives, like Jesus Christ has, is to give our whole heart to Jesus Christ, so that He can fill us with His love. It is this love that sanctifies us. This is how we become “perfected in Christ” (see Moroni 10:32).
Think on that for a moment. What would you give to feel the love that Jesus Christ feels? How would this affect your relationship with your spouse and your children?
“47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (see Moroni 7:47-48).
Being Filled With His Love
So how do we obtain this love of God? My whole life I had read the scriptures about charity in 1 Corinthians 13 & Moroni 7:43-48. I knew that this was the most important thing for us to gain in this life, but I really didn’t know what it was exactly or how to get it. I assumed that if I just did my best to live the commandments it would eventually come.
But Moroni says that we need to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love”(see Moroni 7:47-48).
These verses teach us two important things. First, to get this love, we need to seek it. And second, it is a gift we can only get from Jesus Christ. So the correct pursuit of righteousness means to actively seek to have Jesus Christ bestow upon us the actual love He feels; the love His Father bestowed upon Him. This should be our focus!
So what I hope the reader gets out of this article is that this life is about who we become. As a parent who we need to become, is a person full of God’s love. If our life is centered around “being filled with this love”, then we will continually strive to give our heart, our will and our everything to Christ. As charity is a spiritual gift, we naturally seek spiritual guidance.
Instead of just wearing ourselves out doing all the things we believe we should, we allow the Lord to purify our motives. Instead of trying to do it all ourselves, we depend on the Lord to sanctify us and change our desires. Our job is to give our heart to Him so He can fill us with His love. His love changes our very natures.
And finally, if we go through this life and do not obtain this love, we miss out on the ultimate joy possible in this life. And we miss the main point of our existence. In the April 1974 General Conference, Apostle Neil A Maxwell said in his talk “Response to a Call“; “if you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.”
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”