«“With All the Feeling of a Tender Parent”: Parenting Lessons from the Book of Mormon President Cecil O and Sharon G. Samuelson This address was ...»
“With All the Feeling of a Tender Parent”: Parenting Lessons from the Book of Mormon
President Cecil O and Sharon G. Samuelson
This address was given Friday, May 1, 2009, at the BYU Women’s Conference
© 2009 by Brigham Young University Women’s Conference. All rights reserved
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BYU Women’s Conference
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Provo, Utah 84602 801-422-7692 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Home page: http://womensconference.byu.edu ______________________________________________________________________
Sharon Samuelson: We are grateful for the opportunity to reflect on some very important lessons we have learned about parenting and families from the Book of Mormon. The primary role of the Book of Mormon is to be another witness for Jesus Christ and His great atoning mission. Central to our Father in Heaven’s great plan of happiness is the Atonement of His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ. And key to the fulfillment of the plan of salvation or plan of happiness is the success of families who are sealed together and can return to the presence of the Father and the Son to experience eternal life. It is not a small wonder then that the Book of Mormon would not only teach and testify of the Savior and His mission, but also give much needed counsel and direction in the vital matters of family life and the essential duties and roles of parents. As we have thought about this dimension of this “most correct book,” we have learned much that we probably did not fully appreciate when we first gained our testimonies of its truthfulness.
Cecil Samuelson: In fact, the lessons taught and available to parents and future parents are so replete and pervasive that only someone looking to avoid them would fail to see their relevance to family life. From the beginning verses in First Nephi to the concluding pages of Moroni, we find remarkable and clear evidence of the centrality of the family in Heavenly Father’s Plan and also much of practical help and example for those wishing to be successful parents in nurturing their children, grandchildren, and other younger people in the ways of the Lord. I have known since my youth that “all the prophets who... prophesied ever since the world began” (Mosiah 13:33) testified in one way or another of the Savior, Jesus Christ. It is only as I have gained some maturity, a few gray hairs, and a growing posterity that I realized that the prophets have also promised “that God should redeem his people” (Mosiah 13:33) and that families have a very significant role in bringing each other, and especially children, to Christ.
Sharon Samuelson: Right from the beginning, Nephi, who confessed “having been born of goodly parents” and thus being “highly favored of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:1), understood how important family was to his father, Lehi. You will remember that Lehi was instructed by the Lord to leave Jerusalem and go into the wilderness because of the danger and wickedness in that great city. Lehi was immediately obedient. Listen to Nephi’s description of his father’s priorities and
“And it came to pass that [Lehi] departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:4, emphasis added).
Nephi understood that his father and mother considered their family to be most “precious” and far above anything else. In fact, Lehi and Sariah allowed themselves to bring only those things essential to sustaining their family and their lives.
Cecil Samuelson: The importance of family and the desire Lehi and the Lord shared that Nephi and his siblings should have a righteous posterity led the Lord to instruct Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem a second time. Here they were to enlist Ishmael and his family to their cause so that Lehi’s “sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise” (1 Nephi 7:1).
Incidentally, you will recall that the Lord instructed Lehi to have his sons return to Jerusalem the first time to obtain the scriptures. We will say more about that later; however, we should never forget the significance of the effort required of Nephi and his brethren so that they would be privileged not only to have the word of God with them on their journeys but also as a resource to teach their children.
Sharon Samuelson: Speaking of the scriptures and particularly the Book of Mormon, I did something that I have never done before in preparation for this presentation. I have read the Book of Mormon many times over the years, but this time I made a serious effort to go through the entire Book of Mormon and record all of the lessons I could find that relate to parenting and family responsibilities. I must tell you that there are so many that we will not be able to be comprehensive in mentioning all of the great examples we found. I recommend that you think about taking this same approach because it works with respect to almost any issue, doctrine, problem, or concern you might be wrestling with or wishing to understand better. Thus, it really makes sense to study the Book of Mormon regularly because it gives such important insights to so many significant issues.
Cecil Samuelson: On a personal note, the first application we can remember of finding family answers from the Book of Mormon occurred about thirty-two years ago. As we have mentioned to some before, our children didn’t always come into our family when or how we hoped or planned. At the time in question, we had two sons, ages nine and four, who came into our family in the usual way. We understood it was very unlikely that others would be naturally born to us and so we were thrilled when we learned that we would be able to adopt a newborn set of twins (a boy and a girl) from Guatemala. Further, we knew that their lineage was from father Lehi. As we discussed possible names for our new little ones, the excited big brothers wanted to name their new little brother after King Benjamin, one of their heroes from the Book of Mormon. Our son Ben, as he now likes to be called, might well have been named something else without an understanding of King Benjamin’s great and wonderful example.
Sharon Samuelson: The boys were not as determined about naming Ben’s twin sister from the Book of Mormon lexicon, but we all agreed that we very much liked the name Rebecca with its scriptural associations. Interesting to us, upon reflection after these many years, is that our study of the Book of Mormon from the very beginning with our two oldest sons—as imperfect and incomplete as it always has been—was never focused on finding the names for future children or siblings. In fact, for several years before the twins arrived, we were quite sure that there would not be others. In so many ways, this example teaches the principle that the Lord and the scriptures will reveal important answers to vital questions we have not been smart enough or wise enough to recognize or ask. Thus, while targeted study is essential, as we have mentioned, important insights also come by regularly immersing ourselves in the scriptures.
One of my favorite accounts about the complexities of teaching, loving, helping, and holding children accountable while also honoring their individual agency is Nephi’s description of Father Lehi as he dealt with Laman and Lemuel. After his vision of the tree of life in the early years following their escape from Jerusalem, you will remember that Lehi saw the future of his family and rejoiced over what he saw for his wife, Sariah, and his sons Sam and Nephi. He was distressed, however, by the evidence that Laman and Lemuel were likely to refuse to partake of the fruit of the tree of life or to hold onto the iron rod, which symbolized safety and the correct path to eternal life. I hope you will think about this entire eighth chapter of First Nephi because many insights and principles are articulated. Let me just recount what Nephi reports his father
said to the two rebellious sons:
“And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off; yea, my father did preach unto them.
“And after he had preached unto them, and also prophesied unto them of many things, he bade them to keep the commandments of the Lord; and he did cease speaking unto them” (1 Nephi 8:37–38).
Cecil Samuelson: Father Lehi loved all of his children equally and felt strongly about teaching, counseling, and correcting them. He also understood that they had their own agency and would ultimately need to make their own choices, which they did. While he was deeply and profoundly saddened by the poor choices made by some of his sons, his grief over those going in improper directions did not deflect his joy from the good choices made by other family members.
Certainly Lehi was not tempted to violate his own covenants or criticize the Lord for the failings of others. Likewise, while he did his best with Laman and Lemuel and the outcome was not what he had hoped, worked, and prayed for, he also did not find fault with himself for the failings of others.
In both the scriptures and in life, it is very rare to find situations where there are not at least some small family disappointments or choices that someone wished might be different. Think of Alma, himself an adult convert, and his son Alma the Younger. Young Alma and the four sons of Mosiah—all five from righteous families who taught their children the gospel and where parents modeled faithful lives—went about seeking to destroy the Church. These young men considered themselves to be non-believers and at least Alma the Younger is described by the scriptures as “a very wicked and an idolatrous man” (Mosiah 27:8). Although the record doesn’t give much detail to this particular point, I would suggest that these young men were a source of great embarrassment to their parents and church leaders. I’m also sure that these faithful mothers and fathers developed calloused knees from their continual prayers because the angel of the Lord
who appeared to them to call them to repentance said:
“Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith” (Mosiah 27:14).
Sharon Samuelson: Some of you have likewise uttered vocal and silent prayers for your errant children. Our hope is that we pray for all of our children and families regularly, daily, and even continually. We don’t need to wait for them to have problems, difficulties, sins, shortcomings, illnesses, or any other worry. An added dimension is that not only do we need to pray for them, they need to know and understand that we pray for them. Why is that important? Let’s return to the experience of Alma the Younger and jump forward a generation.
We know that after his dramatic interview with the angel, Alma and the sons of Mosiah repented and became exemplary young men and missionaries. Likely some of you have had or will have similar wonderful conversion experiences in your own families, although almost all will not have angelic visitations or visions.
After young Alma became a father, he fully understood the vital role of teaching and example.
Although he was not proud of his sinful youth, he felt it important to explain to his own sons in some detail—but importantly not fully—the foibles of his younger years. There is a rather complete summary of the significant details in Alma chapter 36, but the point about his father’s prayers and teaching during the time of his rebellion is found in verse 17 of that chapter. Here Alma describes the horrible experience of going through the painful, cleansing repentance process after his interview with the angel. Said he, “And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17).
It would seem likely that Alma the Elder probably felt that his teaching, testimonies, and prayers were falling on deaf ears, at least in the case of his son. Perhaps you have felt like this yourself.
We must never underestimate the influence our behavior and faith will ultimately have even in the face of apparent rejection or lack of appropriate immediate response.
Cecil Samuelson: Another important point for us to glean from the scriptures and one we must never forget is that our children are not all alike. In fact, every person is absolutely unique. What influences one may not faze or touch another. What inspires one might discourage another. What tempts one child might repel a sibling, and so forth. That means our praying, our counseling, our correcting, our teaching, and even our encouraging and complimenting must be customized not only to the person but to the time, the circumstances, and the rapidly changing and varying needs of each person.
You will know that Lehi and Sariah dealt with their sons differently according to their needs and circumstances. Coming back to Alma the Younger, we see that he also did the same with his three sons, Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. Try reading and studying chapters 36 through 42 in the Book of Alma. The instruction was carefully and uniquely crafted for each son. Apparently, both Helaman and Shiblon were largely exemplary in their devotions.
On the other hand, Corianton was in need of very direct correction and his father left no doubt, I’m sure, about what was bothering him. I’m also quite sure that prior to this interview, Corianton was fully aware of his father’s love and expectations for him. These are the words of