Sunday, January 24, 2010

When Family Prayer and FHE Don't Seem to Be Enough

Years ago I sat in a stake leadership meeting. The visiting authority was running over his allotted time (and none of us minded; he was great to listen to), and so he closed with a parting shot: Teach your people if they'll have Family Home Evening and Family Prayer that everything will be just fine.

I don't know if I actually blushed, but I felt my head got hot enough to nearly explode at those words.

Two bits of history: at the time I was in a leadership position in my stake (I was in a leadership meeting, after all). And I had three young adult sons who were in varying stages of leaving the church.

FHE and Family Prayer were common in our home. We'd read the Book of Mormon as a family once a year for five or six years running when these boys were small. We took them to church, learned Articles of Faith, and sang Primary songs. I baptized and confirmed them, conferred the priesthood on them, ordained them deacons, teachers and priests, and watched each one peel away from things we held most dear one by one.

In that leadership meeting, I wanted to leap up and yell, "But what if it's not enough?" But I didn't.

I did email my wonderful stake president, a man whom I love and respect. He knows my family and me well. I told him of my feelings in that meeting. In his return email he said, "I was praying about your family this morning…"

I was stunned as I read that line. It jolted me just a bit to realize that of all the people in the stake, my family was on his "list." I felt before I read the rest of his note that I had already received quite a tender mercy.

He went on to offer some consolation. He neither defended nor refuted what the visiting general authority had said; he simply made a separate observation about our family -- and particularly about our sons -- that had come to him in his prayer that day.

I have thought over the years about what this visiting authority said and tried to make sense of it. There were lots of possibilities:

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe everything won't be fine. Medium term evidence seems to support that view in my case. But I reasoned that this general authority has served for years in the senior councils of the church; he surely has seen his share of good LDS families that don't live happily ever after.

Maybe I have a different view of "fine" than he does. I assumed at the time "fine" meant my kids would be sitting with me in sacrament meeting. But maybe "fine" meant that parents and their children who went a different way could still be civil and loving toward one another.

Maybe he had a specific assignment to remind priesthood leaders about FHE and Family Prayer, and he had spent so much time on other interesting subjects that he had to squeeze it in, and this is how he chose to do it.

Maybe his timeline was different from mine. He didn't say it would be fine now, or even tomorrow, or next week. Taking the eternal view, there may be more steps to take still.

In any case, he certainly got my attention. And he drove me to have a very touching and spiritual exchange with my stake president, through which I experienced a wonderful tender mercy.

I don't think he was wrong. There's plenty of counsel teaching us to have family prayer and Family Home Evening. And we still do that with our younger kids who live at home. (And when our older kids are in our home, they still participate politely in prayers, too.) And that regular prayer and learning time helps me to be a better dad – probably a better dad than I was to my oldest boys. (It's that way a lot – the older kids teach parents to be better parents to the younger kids.)

And, for today, that's all fine to me.

- Paul


  1. I'm sorry, that must be a painful situation. In my limited experience, different people leave the church for different reasons...and it's not always permanent. I went through a period of confusion, and inactivity, myself during college. I felt let down, for awhile, not by the Gospel but by certain church members. Throughout that time, some people were pretty mean, but some were pretty great. It was the ones who were pretty great--they accepted me for who I was, and listened to my concerns--that made it possible for me to come back.

    And, I'm sure you are, and have always been, an excellent Dad.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Well, I agree there are lots of reasons to leave, and in our family's case we've had several leave (our sons among them) and for different reasons.

    I can't judge those who choose to step away, whether for a short or long time. I can hope for them to find peace. I happen to have found it in the church, and I'm still surprised that not everyone does (though I'm no longer naive enough to believe that everyone will).


  3. Paul, I know so many people, who have been in the same situation. I feel for you. Just FYI, we have five kids, and one of them is inactive — not aggressively inactive, just passive. Sort of lapsed. Not in lifestyle, but he doesn't feel that religion is so important for him. He's married to a fine young woman, though.

    They'll be fine, given some time. Remember, that if they are beneficiaries of the sealing covenant, that will be a power in their lives; if not before, it'll be in the spirit world.

    Oh, I haven't gone through your history here; are those boys how old and what's happening to them now?

    I mean, I've seen so many aggressively rebellious people come back. Sure, their brain is a little foggy from all the drugs and booze, but their heart is in the right place.

    There is always hope; we just talked about a woman, whose husband had been so violent she'd had to divorce him and raise a son all alone. The son died at 18 in an accident probably caused by booze, although he'd become fully active (he said he'd been in a TR interview and that he'd get a recommend soon. So. She was worried.

    But our lives are not over when we die. Mortality is over; this is like a class we come to, and we all take with us only what we've learned. No money, houses or anything will be as valuable as what we learn.

  4. Well, I also feel for parents who children choose a differnt path, for obvious reasons. Frankly I feel the same for siblings whose sibings do the same thing or friends, too.

    We cling to what is important to us, and sometimes it doesn't make sense that others don't see the value in what we treasure.

    But it is what it is. We each make our own choices in life, and we live with those. I do not love my family members less if they choose to walk a different way, nor do I spend my time trying to figure out how to lure them back. They know from whence they come and if they choose to come back, they know the door is open.

    But they also know they are welcome in my home and in my life regardless of that decision.

    I have another post I'm working on on this subject -- maybe I'll finish it up this week or next.

    Thanks for reading!


  5. In real life, as well as yesterday, on my blog, I get a fair amount of criticism for, among other things, being a civil rights advocate. I've been told, more often than you might think, that I'm either a) an apostate, b) a bad Mormon, or c) not worthy to receive a Temple Recommend. Strangely, the fact that I've devoted my life to defending the less fortunate has never bothered any of my bishops...but I digress.

    I think--and I went through a period of this myself, so I speak from the heart--we sometimes internalize the judgments leveled against us. It might be one voice among hundreds, but it plants the seed--and we start to wonder: am I worthy enough? My own period of inactivity was caused by a deep certainty that, however hard I tried, I could never measure up. I think a lot of people leave the church, because they feel like the church is rejecting them--not because they have any real problem with church teachings.

    What led me back to the church was realizing that I loved the gospel--and when I read it, Heavenly Father spoke to me. Some members may think I'm unworthy, because I do pro-equal rights advocacy, but so long as I'm secure in my relationship with Heavenly Father, their opinion really doesn't matter. That certainty has also helped me to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of friends and companions; I no longer feel beholden to others' judgments on my character, so it's much easier to distinguish jealousy, or criticism, from loving guidance.

    Sorry for the length of this post (it's an essay!) but I just have to say, finding a wonderful husband really helped, too. Just by being his wonderful self, he's given me a really strong testimony of Heavenly Father's plan for the family. I used to think the whole idea of the Priesthood was really sexist, but I don't, now. Being in a true partnership with someone I really trust has made all the difference in my viewpoint.

  6. I was touched by your line, "What led me back to the church was realizing that I loved the gospel--and when I read it, Heavenly Father spoke to me." I suppose that's why we SHOULD stay true, not because of what others think.

    I applaud your choice to be true to yourself rather than to the other voices. (And good for your husband.)


  7. Thanks! That made my day. And, Jim makes me want to be a better person. Every single day, I wake up and think, "how did I get so lucky". Amazingly, he says the same thing.

  8. Also, do you want an invitation to my other blog?

  9. Would that every married couple were so lucky to ask what you and your husband do.

    And sure, I'd be happy to be invited.

  10. What's your email address?

    And, thanks! We are, in some ways, living the stereotype--we both knew we'd found "the one" on our first date! Unfortunately, Jim was about to leave for Sweden in a month, at the time. I wrote him letters pretty much daily while he was gone (and had guys in my student ward say things to me like, "he's in Sweden, but I'm here now!") and we started making plans pretty much the day he got back. I think all that letter writing is part of why, even today, our relationship is strong. Starting out that way helped us stay committed through other things--the stresses of law school, etc.