Wouldn’t it be great if we could see into the future and live today with the added benefit of our experience a few years down the line? It would be so much easier to teach our families if we had the foresight to know what would work. It’s hard not to get bogged down by the daily “stuff.” Wondering if this “stuff” is helping or hurting our family.
When we were traveling in Georgia, the beautiful live oaks became a total fascination for us. Coming from a dry and arid climate the growth of these massive trees was somewhat of a novelty. One tree, in particular, had been rooted in its spot for hundreds of years — long before any homes were built in the neighborhood. Its branches reach over the rooftops of several houses providing shade and beauty.
The amazing thing about this tree was not just its size, but the process by which it became so large. It did not suddenly appear one morning but grew slowly over an extended period. It became stronger as withstood hurricanes and storms blew through the area.
Slow and steady growth is the most sustainable kind. It helps to build strong and deep roots giving greater strength to the tree and its outreaching branches.
Growing Faith in Our Family
I’ve been asked, “How did you teach your children faith?” Much like the tree, we saw in Georgia, teaching faith in our families is not a one and done kind of lesson. It is a commitment to make a consistent effort over a long period of time.
Teaching faith can seem a little tricky because it is not a tangible object. It’s not something you can buy or stock up on because it has a short shelf life. And maybe the hardest of all, is there are no shortcuts.
The Small and Simple
Hindsight is 20/20. I know you’ve heard the old saying before, and maybe have even said it yourself. As I’ve looked back over my childrearing years, I can see our mistakes, but I can also see what worked. I’ve come up with five small and simple ways to build faith in our families.
1. Family Prayer
There is a faith-promoting power in hearing someone pray for you. Not in the “You are in my prayers” kind of way. But to kneel together and hear your name prayed for specifically. In family prayer, I pray for each of our children by name and ask for blessings specific to whatever they might be facing. As a parent, exercising my faith as I pray teaches them not only of my love for them but exemplifies my belief that prayers are answered.
Again, we used family prayer to teach our kids how to pray. This gave them a foundation to begin having their own personal prayers. Showing them how to communicate with God is a valuable and essential part of faith. Parents can pray to be purposeful in teaching faith.
2. Family Scripture Study
Family scripture study creates a perfect environment to teach the principles of faith. Studying to understand the stories and lessons taught in the scriptures is one of the most powerful teaching opportunities. An important part of this consistent effort is to help our kids become familiar with the word of God.
The scriptures speak the language of the Holy Ghost. Becoming fluent in this language requires consistent effort in studying and reading the scriptures daily. Understanding this language opens our hearts to the guidance the Holy Ghost has to offer.
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
We have ridden the roller coaster of consistent scripture study. Early on, our kids learned to read during family scripture time. Babies were often crawling around the room while those who were old enough would repeat each word or short phrase as we pointed to them. Sometimes we only read a couple of verses, but we tried to be consistent. When schedules got difficult, our efforts would wane. But when the effects of our lack of diligence became evident, we would re-schedule and prioritize once again.
3. Family Time
One night a week we scheduled family time. The phones were turned off, the calendar was blocked out, and our time together was a priority. We used this time to teach a lesson specifically about something interesting to our kids. Sometimes it was what we felt they needed to understand better. We worked to create an environment where it was more of a discussion and not a lecture.
Breaking things up, we would including regular game nights, an outdoor activity, or a family-friendly movie. Again, we were far from perfect, but we tried to be consistent. This scheduled time taught our kids they were important, and our family was a priority. Family time is a determining factor in how receptive our kids will be in what we teach.
4. Example from Parents
Kids are pretty smart. They watch us and pick up on our good and bad habits before we even realize it. When we show, through our example, how important something is to us, it also becomes important to them. We cannot expect to teach our children about faith if we do not actively demonstrate our desires to have more faith.
These small and simple things are for families and individuals. When in doubt I always turn to the greatest example of all, our Savior. He did not just teach one thing and live another. His life was a living example of how we can live ours.
5. Look for Teaching Opportunities
These opportunities are so easy to miss if we aren’t watching carefully. I found when I was spiritually prepared; those teaching opportunities presented themselves more clearly. I remember doing some yard work with one of my daughters, and she asked me a question. I answered with another question to get a feel for the depth of what she really wanted to know. And soon we were having a very impactful teaching moment while weeding the garden.
The most profound opportunities will present themselves while we are doing the most common everyday tasks. Watch for them. I most often saw them when we were driving in the car, while working side by side, or spending fun one on one time together.
Parental Teaching is like being an on-call physician. We always need to be ready to teach our children because we never know when the opportunity will present itself.” -Devin Durrant
Don’t Confuse Simple with Silly
Several times as I’ve been writing, I’ve thought about Moses and the children of Israel. It’s a story we don’t think about very often but applies to faith.
Poisonous serpents plagued Moses and his followers. The bite of the serpent was killing many of the children of Israel. Moses prayed to know what to do. He was told to create a staff with a serpent on top. The simple act of looking on this serpent after being bitten would heal the wound — they would live. Many of the children of Israel refused to look. I can only imagine the simple must have looked silly to them. (Numbers 21:6–9)
The process of acting shows our intent. What we want and desire. When we do things with real intent, we show where our priorities lie. Sometimes the simple seems silly but can make the most significant difference.
The Catch with the Small and Simple
The catch is there are no shortcuts. The trees in Georgia did not grow overnight. Our faith requires the same kind of consistent effort to grow over time.
We don’t want to be uncomfortable, but a quick and dirty “how-to” list for happiness…We don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without work… ”How-to” is a seductive shortcut, and I understand that. Why cross the swamp if you can just bypass it?”
We live in a world of instant gratification. Life today has become so complicated with bids on our time and energy that a simplified version of anything always seems more appealing. But when the small and simple doesn’t offer immediate results it’s easy to lose interest, allow inconsistency to take root, and even avoid trying.
For our family, we tried to focus on these simple acts. I believe it is not a matter of doing one big thing to make a change, but the millions of little things that change us by small degrees every day.