Gospel Protection in a Poisonous Culture

[ 11 ] Comments

by Angie

Monument to Schindler protecting the Jewish childrenI came to conference this time hoping for real answers to niggly questions about how to protect my children, how to arm them in the face of trials they were weathering individually and the seeming assaults our home was facing. Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk Can Ye Feel So Now and Elder L. Tom Perry’s talk Becoming Goodly Parents led me to remember concrete things I can retool in our lives to better lead us to the protection I sought; the defenses we need.

Elder Cook quoted Peggy Noonan, saying “everyone knows the culture is poisonous and nobody expects that to change.” He suggests that feelings of spiritual drought can be the result of unwise choices, of casual covenant observance, of giving our best selves to lesser causes or allowing our allegiance to be swayed by intense political views or troubling internet material.

I imagined myself finding the gas mask necessary to live in a poisonous culture, to find the necessary antidote for the poisons around us, once ingested. Ultimately, the antidote for exposure to this poisonous culture is the same as the protection against it: to create and maintain a gospel culture of our own within our homes, to make our homes “the places of refuge where kindness, forgiveness, truth and righteousness prevail.”

I’m a sucker for buzz words. I am always looking for something quick I can say to jog my own memory and the memory of my children back to the task at hand. Maybe rallying cry sounds better than buzz words. After Elder Cook’s talk and our subsequent FHE on it, I found myself asking myself and my children in the face of altercation: “Is this kind? Are you forgiving? Are you being true? Are we being righteous?”

There’s a lot of vigilance required in parenthood. Elder Cook reminds us that we must “have the courage to filter or monitor Internet access, television, movies and music. . . .the courage to say no, to defend truth, and bear powerful testimony.” Sometimes I hear about all this courage needed and I need a nap. Vigilance and courage really are exhausting for the non-confrontational introvert that I naturally am. Perhaps that’s why I took such great comfort in Isaiah’s promise that Elder Cook quoted:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Elder Perry’s talk dovetailed perfectly with Elder Cook’s in giving me tools for a better home. First, he defined the gospel culture as coming from the “plan of salvation, the commandments of God and the teachings of living prophets.” The “way we raise our families and live our individual lives” is how we put our unique spin on the universal gospel culture.

I want a strong family culture in my home. That gas mask is what I imagine myself building for each of my children. It is important to me to tie choices to consequences and behaviors to covenants. One day, not too long ago, I thrilled to hear the chastisement of my younger son to his pesky older brother “you should not be bothering me—you have been baptized!” But covenants made, while essential steps in the journey to safety are not enough. Elder Cook reminds us of how many things can interfere with our safety and one of them is casual covenant observance.

Elder Perry outlines five things parents can do to create stronger family cultures:

  • Pray in earnest
  • Hold family prayer, scripture study, FHE, eat together as often as possible
  • Avail ourselves of the Church’s support network—teachers, leaders, presidencies
  • Share testimonies often
  • Organize the workings of the family under simple rules, expectations, traditions and rituals and family economics

None of these items is breaking any new ground. They are the very definition of the Sunday School answer. But the basics are what build strength. I find that having my attention drawn to them repeatedly helps me to note which areas have become weak or which require attention to bring their use to full power in my life.

The admonition to eat together as often as possible struck a nerve with me. Scheduling and food issues have long made dinner in my home much less than a source of power. But listening to Elder Perry’s talk, I thought why not breakfast? So, we’re trying breakfast together with some initial success.

Elder Perry’s direction to avail ourselves of the Church’s support network got me thinking about the many ways in which we can support each other in our ward families. Years ago, as a recent college graduate, I attended my parents’ ward after a long absence. I looked around the chapel at my former YW leaders, my Sunday School teachers, my basketball coaches. I felt overwhelmed with love for the lessons they taught me, reaffirming what I had learned in my faithful home. I felt grateful for the safe landing site during the days of typical teen friction. They were as integral a part in my gospel instruction as were my parents and in that moment, I could see myself as the product of dozens of faithful foot soldiers and I marveled in the rich blessings of a good ward.

I see the same thing now in the ward where my children are growing. I am deeply grateful, for example, for the Bros: my nine year old son’s primary teachers last year who intricately tied each of their lessons to baptismal covenants, to preparation for ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood (they taught a large class of boys) and they were cool, so cool in their faithfulness, that if the Bros said it, my often troublesome son would do it without question. In many other ways we have been blessed by the faithful observance of our ward members and I am reminded by Elder Perry of the beautiful synergy the Lord envisions within His church organization.

  • How do you fortify your family culture?
photo by: Marion Doss

About Angie

I am a recovering attorney, mother of five children who are smarter than I am. I love to learn. I love to think. I love to read and I love to write.

11 Responses to Gospel Protection in a Poisonous Culture

  1. Bonnie says:

    I’ve wondered what the family culture is that my kids will take with them when they leave. They take great memories because it’s human nature to remember the rewarding times, but I wonder if they take great habits with them. I know that my voice is the moral voice in their heads because that’s a fact of parenting, but do they feel at one with that voice? When they hear “have you prayed about it?” will they want to go pray about it? Will the one who is easily stressed remember to self-calm? I wish they understood just how toxic the world is. I suppose that only comes when they have children and suddenly realize that the most crucial part of themselves is walking blithely about unprotected. Perhaps today I will simply have more faith in our family culture.

  2. Paul says:

    Great question! We have some children who are no longer on the same religious path we are, much to our sadness. But we see in them some innate values that do make us happy, values we hope they learned in our family. Each of them, to a fault sometimes, is compassionate and giving, something I would hope for all of my children.

    I was thinking as I read your post about some of our traditions. We effectively have three family nights a week in our home. Sunday nights are usually (unless there is an unusual disruption like a youth fireside) game night: we sit around the coffee table in the living room playing board games. Mondays are traditional FHE with lesson, activity and treats. And Fridays are pizza and movie nights — we eat homemade pizza and watch a movie together (that’s the longest standing tradition in our family, since from before my wife and I married nearly 33 years ago). Those three nights are an important balance since my work keeps me from getting home for dinner some nights (usually unexpectedly) and family members’ activites (like Mutual or mid-week RS meetings or support groups or home teaching visits, or tutoring sessions or school activities, etc) get in the way of family dinnners other nights.

    • Angie says:

      I want the sorts of traditional family nights you describe, but I am lousy at keeping it up, especially when it falls largely to me since DH is the bishop and a busy litigation partner in a law firm. How did your wife keep it up while you were bishop?

      • Paul says:

        It was part of the conditions of her agreeing to my serving. I was to be home for dinner on Sundays every week, and I was to make sure our Friday night pizza night survived (it’s more important than date night…). My work makes me miss 2 out of 5 Monday FHEs, too, which is a bummer. When we lived in Taiwan and I never got home from work before 8 pm (except on Fridays), we had FHE on Sundays instead, and combined FHE and game night.

        When I was a kid in a new convert family, we were very sporadic in our FHE observance. When we did it, it was great, but as my siblings all got older and moved away it was harder to keep it up. I’ll be interested to see how we do when we’re down to just one left at home in a year…

        I will also say this: we had years when our surly teens were NOT willing participants. That’s when we implemented the 10-minute lesson rule (no lesson over ten minutes, ever — it helped with inattentive younger kids, too), and sometimes FHE would be less than 30 minutes start to finish.

        Elder Perry spoke at a stake conference years ago and told of his kids’ less-than-a-minute lessons with their little ones in FHE, and he called that great parental inspiration.

  3. MSKeller says:

    You know, I’m rue to say that I’ve never been a fan of 2 Nephi 4 or Nephi’s lament. I always sort of felt that it was a bit puffed up to be complaining of little iniquities when quite obviously he was an extraordinary man with many blessings from the Lord and much faith. So I just felt like it was unnecessary whinning and rather self-indulgent. There I said it. Unpopular view I know. However. . . I’ve found that directly related to gaining greater wisdom, I know more acutely how much ignorance I have. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn. Just like sin/righteousness. The closer I get to eliminating some of my most pesky iniquities, the more of them I see. The harder it is to accept any degree of disobedience in myself. (Unfortunately not to impossible yet. . . )

    So, just as you say, the deeper we dig, the smaller the jewels we find, but the more precious. Pride, stubbornness, lack of trust and a degree of laziness all need to be attended to daily. It can be both depressing and inspirational. I expect the trick is, asking the right question for right now. . .’Which is my greatest stumbling block today?”

    I’m growing to understand Nephi more, and . . . love him.

    • Paul says:

      I wonder when I read 2 Ne 4 if he intended that chapter for public consumption or not. It’s not clear to me that everything he wrote was with the intent of sharing it.

      I can identify with his feeling inadequate despite his many strengths and blessings. Not that I’m near the same plane as Nephi, but I have times when someone pays me a compliment about a strength they observe in me and my first thought is “if you only knew…” I suspect many of us have those periods.

  4. Liz C says:

    Fortifying our Family Culture, eh? I like the imagery of building a fort–a protective wall over which we can peer, but inside which we’re more protected.

    One of the most fortifying things we do was undertaken at my husband’s request, and it started simply because he considered it “civilized” (and had not grown up with it at all): we pray together, and for one another. We have meal prayers, and prayers before we travel, and prayers before someone goes off to do a hard thing, and prayers to be thankful for a blessing (we’ve stopped the car and pulled over to be grateful, we’ve stopped our day and knelt down to be grateful). We have prayers before starting a building project or sewing project. We have prayers to bless our friends, or be happy for them. We pray for those we love when they are off doing hard things. We pray for our vehicle. We pray over our hens. We often solicit prayer requests (whomever is saying the prayer asks for contributions), and remind one another of important things to pray about.

    The fortification of prayer is one we use constantly, and I love it. I even more particularly love it when my husband, who is not LDS but who shares our Christian belief, offers the prayer. He has a knack, a “prayer mojo”, that I really appreciate, and the Spirit gets very, very thick in our home when he’s the voice.

    I’m actually pretty dreadful at maintaining routine on things like Official Family Night, but we’re very good at interweaving gospel-influenced conversation into everyday life; we don’t have any sort of separation between faith and practice, and I like that.

    • Angie says:

      I love your prayer fort! I have to agree with you about family nights. As much as I love hearing about long standing traditions like Paul’s, I’m lousy at keeping them up amid the crazy that happens in our schedules.

      I have a particularly fearful child and have spent many a night kneeling cramped on his lower bunk bed (too scary to get out of bed, too scary to be alone), praying with him for peace, for feelings of safety. We have fasted and prayed as a family for jobs and health and direction for those we love and I love that my children want to be part of the power that prayer and fasting can bring in particularly trying times. I want (and need) to be better about bringing that hunger for prayer to the regular, the every day for we too need a prayer fort!

  5. We do the basics just like Elder Perry outlined. But, of course, since each family is unique we have our own twists to how those things are done. For instance, for years we had FHE on Sunday instead of Monday. We still do during the summertime when farm work and daylight is of the essence. We are blessedly able to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together as a family every single day {except Sunday when my husband is gone most of the time with church responsibilities}. This is due to our farming lifestyle.

    My favorite thing though is when we visit family and my children recognize the traditions my husband and I have carried on from when we were growing up. They see those simple basic traditions being passed on and come to realize as teenagers that they really do work and are important to carry on when they leave home.

  6. templegoer says:

    Lots of lovely ideas to draw upon here. It’s so enriching to hear what has worked for others.

    Sometimes a tradition becomes a baseline from which our kids cannot wander far, try as they might. It becomes a magnetic north for them. Perhaps the strongest of these will be less about what is said and done, and more about what is felt. I’m sure that the intents of our hearts will matter to our families and will be assimilated by their souls in ways that we may not at first see.
    Families have to change and grow and assimilate other influences over time-sometimes we can see that as a negative, a dilution. But I think as we allow ourselves to be enriched in a way that is congruent with our values, our own family culture becomes more robust.

    Mostly I think what brings us together is what we enjoy, because it will bring us back to one another.

  7. Michelle says:

    In my mind, I think of having at least one ‘gathering’ moment every day. Because of my health issues, and the fact that my husband and I have completely opposite sleep schedules, we don’t have a lot of time during the day when we are all awake and together. Add a busy work schedule and tween/teen stage of life and it can be pretty insane.

    But whether it be dinner (we have done pretty well but there are weeks where it is pretty weak) or scripture study and family prayer (a nightly routine in our house, even if it’s just a verse), I just think about the concept of the gathering of Israel and try to make sure that our little part of Israel gathers every day in some way.

    And on those days where we are every which way, whoever is home will gather. So, for example, I had a YW meeting after YW activity this week and hubby was out of town. I dropped my girls off at home and they agreed that they as kids would do scriptures and prayers.

    We also try to make that gathering time a time for real engaging as much as possible, not just checking something off a list. So I’d rather that we TALK a little about one verse than dutifully read a chapter to say we did our scriptures. Of course, the latter is better than nothing, but like someone said above, I believe that how they feel when we gather matters a whole lot — not just what we do.

    Lastly, for me, the routine of tucking kiddos in bed every night is a big deal. I believe in the power of crossroads. Hubby takes the morning, I do the nights. We try to be here as they come and go and as their days start and end.

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