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I hope you’re all loving these online teaching helps as much as I am.  I love the non-judgmental, no pressure community that has been built here at Meridian, especially as we all struggle to get our feet under us in implementing this new home centered curriculum.  I was especially inspired by Kelly Hutchins’ thoughts on how we can alleviate any guilt or pressure we might feel as we discover that our efforts don’t match up to our own expectations or what we perceive others to be doing.  (if you missed it, find it here).

It feels funny to be the one to write these articles since our efforts to teach in our home are often very laughable!  I wish you could all be a fly on the wall during our Sunday third hour family meetings, we would certainly give you the gift of feeling superior!  We’re getting it wrong more often than we’re getting it right. But we’re trying, and we’re having more spirit-filled moments together than we would have had had we not been trying at all.  So I guess that’s saying something.

Before we get to this week’s lesson I want to give you a little pep talk and share some parenting thoughts about adjusting our expectations to fit with reality and connecting with God as we do so.

I was a much better mother before I had kids. I had it all figured out in my head, so many great ideas, so much energy and drive to love and teach and learn as a parent. When children were just figments of my imagination, a part of my future vision, they never got in the way of all of my brilliant plans. And then real live kids came along, not the American Girl Dolls I was imagining, and totally threw things off! It turns out they have their own ideas, desires, short attention spans, struggles and resistance. Ironically, it often feels like my children get in the way of my parenting!

I’m sure this feeling applies to most of what we do in this life.  We make plans to study, to work, to form new habits, to eat well, to be a certain kind of person.  And then real life comes along, complete with all of its complexity and it so often throws us for a loop.  

I’ve found that the trick here is to embrace the messiness of this fallen world.   To realized that life wasn’t meant to be the flat, black and white, single dimension that it is as we envision and plan.  Although it might feel more manageable in those moments before it becomes real, it is lifeless and has no power to move us, to enlighten us, to bring us closer to God.  Just as it is the darkness and contrast that gives art its beauty, it is the messiness of life, the color, the multi-dimension of struggles and challenges that makes it stunning, that gives it the power to change us and bring us closer to the Divine.

So, if you’re feeling like your approach is messy and imperfect, carry on!  I believe this is what the path towards God should feel like.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power personal revelation can play in guiding our efforts to learn on our own and with our families.   In order to get this right we have to spend time communing with God in whatever way works best for us. We need to spend energy formulating and asking the right questions so that He can guide us.  It may be through prayer and scriptures, it may be through journaling or writing, it may be through meditation or soaking in beauty, it is likely a combination of these things. But we need to seek and guard this time and space to commune with God.  

This communion with Heaven may look different at different times in our lives.  A few babies into motherhood I began to really long for those days pre-children when I had more time to sit still with God.  Days where sometimes I could take whole afternoons to listen to beautiful music while reading the scriptures and soaking in nature and writing in my journal.

And then one day while struggling through the intense physical demands of raising small children it hit me that spirituality and communion with God looks different depending on the season of life you’re in.  During those years where babies seemed to be constantly crawling on me and interrupting any semblance of solace, my connection with God came largely in action: serving Him via sacrificing for my children. All that pre-parenthood communion built spiritual strength within me to put my faith into action for that messy motherhood season.   As I put my own needs behind me I found holiness in the chaos and gained spiritual insight as I realized first hand what Christ had meant by losing your life and finding it.

Now that my kids are a bit older and less physically demanding I’m finding a need for a totally new kind of connection with God.   Divine guidance seems critical to understanding and responding to the emotional complexities of this parenting stage. I’m finding it essential to carve time out of my regular routine to connect with God in a more urgent way than I’ve ever felt before.  And I’m sure another season is right around the corner where I’ll find and need that connection to God in ways I haven’t even considered yet. The point is, our spirituality and mode of personal revelation will eb and flow as we move in and out of different seasons of our lives.  And it’s ok if it looks different at different times as long as we’re looking towards heaven with our questions and striving to build a connection to the Divine.

Finding this connection doesn’t take hours of uninterrupted time, but we need to pause long enough to be able to hear God’s whisperings.  It seems nearly impossible to stop the engines of family life long enough for this kind of pause, but I’ve found that when I build little breaths into my daily routine everything else I’m trying to do either comes into focus, or falls away in unimportance.  

I love the emphasis that President Nelson is putting on personal revelation.  I especially love these words from April 2018 conference address: “Pray about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—[especially] the longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.  And your ability to receive and understand revelation will increase.”

I have found this promise to be true in my life.  When I put in the effort to connect with God in a real and deliberate way I can feel God’s direction in my life and I begin to see small miracles.  Yes miracles! Seems like that should be enough to keep me going, yet still I often find myself with my nose is to the grindstone, or my bum on the couch and I fall out of the habit of daily connection.  The natural man, along with the demands of this busy world make it so hard to sustain this cycle, but I’m reminding myself that this natural cycle of getting it right and then getting it wrong is ok. The path to God is narrow, but it’s forgiving and easy to find our way back to when we get a little off course.  This trial and error is what we’re here for and what Christ gave His life for. Correction is an essential part our path to God. I love this prayer: “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.” Waking up and trying again is what’s most important.

That’s all to say that as we work towards incorporating more structured and serious gospel learning into our lives and our homes we need to let it flex with our days and weeks and seasons.  As we seek to spend time with God we will feel a real connection to His vision of us and our families and that will be the guiding star for our efforts to teach and learn on our own and with our families.

This week we get to discuss many of the powerful stories that Jesus uses to teach us.  I love the way Christ’s parables change to suit our needs and apply at a different level every time we visit them.   This week we can re-discover with our children the magic of these teachings and encourage them to want to revisit them over and over again so that they can witness this chameleon magic in their own lives.  

On Your Own or with Your Spouse

Read through Matt 13 and Luke 8 and 13 while prayerfully considering questions such as: What questions do I have for my life?  How can I improve my relationships? What are our children struggling with this week? What bad habits do we need to change ourselves?  What thought or behavior patterns are damaging to our mental health? What are the principles in these chapters that speak to us?  What is their relevance to our teenagers’ lives? How can we model using these principles? How can they help convert us to Christ?

Write down any impressions that you have and use these as your primary guide above any suggestions you find here or anywhere else.  

For the Whole Family

Perhaps one of the most consistent and worthwhile efforts that we’ve made is having each child pick their own mantra from the weeks’ reading, write it up artistically (or not) on a piece of paper and post it on the back of their bedroom door.  The idea is for them to think this short phrase to themselves throughout the week, to put the word to work in their lives. We’re getting into the habit of doing this, but I’m determined to follow up a bit more on how these words have made their way into our everyday lives.  I think if we ask them to report back each week, maybe sometime mid week on how their mantra has come alive in their actions or helped in tricky situations then we’ll start to see some magic. Here are some quick ideas for mantras for this week, but for us it has worked best if we each read through the passages prayerfully consider what might be a good focus for our particular needs that week.  We have been amazed a few times at what our children have come up with.

  • Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
  • For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance
  • But he that receive seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold
  • {Mustard is} the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree,
  • For JOY thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
  • Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
  • I am “seeking goodly pearls.”
  • Jesus is in our boat.
  • Peace be still.
  • Cast out your nets

Hands on learning (for all ages, but especially for younger children):

These parables really lend themselves to hands on activities and object lessons.  Here are some ideas:

  • Plant a mustard seed.  I hear from the internet that you can buy organic mustard seed in the spice section of the grocery store and either sprout them on wet paper towels or plant them directly in sunny soil.  I’m eager to try this with our children. Apparently these seeds sprout and grow quickly. The grocery store variety won’t spring up into a tree for birds to nest in (most think that Jesus was talking about the common and quick growing/spreading black mustard seed) but this easy activity can give us a good idea of the size and quick growing nature of mustard seed and can help children see how small things can turn great.  
  • Conduct an experiment on Christ’s words by taking mung bean sprouts (or mustard seeds) and plant them in different locations, stony ground, good soil a place where they will be scorched and dry up etc.  Give your older kids ownership over figuring out this experiment. Encourage them to read the account in both Matt 13 and Luke 8 where Christ clearly explains this parable. As you would in any experiment, record your observations and talk about how you might cultivate good soil in your own hearts.
  • Make bread with leaven (yeast) and without.  Note the difference and discuss what Christ meant when he said that the Kingdom of God was leaven.
  • Discuss how Christ used everyday/common objects in his parables so that people would relate to and understand His teachings.  Many of the things he talked about are less familiar to us. Come up with your own parable using everyday objects to teach the same teachings.  Maybe act one or two of them out.
  • Look together at this, or other images of Christ calming the sea.  Discuss questions such as: would you be afraid if you were in this boat during this storm?  How would you feel if Jesus was in the boat with you? What if he was asleep? What did Christ do when his scared disciples woke him up?  Sometimes do you feel like you’re in a boat on a stormy sea? How can you remember to rely on Jesus to calm the storms in your own life?
  • See the primary Come Follow Me manual for more in depth ideas on how to make these parables come alive for your younger children.

For Individuals, Older Children and Teenagers, even Adult Children:

One of my favorite things we’ve been trying to do is to have real world discussions, applying principles of the lesson to real world situations that we and our our children are facing.  We are instantly more invested in to gospel principles when we see how they can change our paradigm and us. Also, it is in analyzing and applying these teachings that we see them in in all their dimensions.  It’s important that as our kids get older they see beyond the black and white Sunday School answers so that the gospel can become a rich, dynamic, multidimensional tool in their lives. As you discuss and think about these things, be comfortable with some unanswerable questions. It is in these spaces that we and our children learn to think and really understand gospel truths on a deeper level.

This lesson has so many different things that you could discuss together, debate, or write about.  Don’t feel like you have to get to all of these, especially not during one dinner, but maybe think about how you could weave some of them into bedtime chats, car rides, family walks etc.  If you’re studying on your own, these might be good questions to ponder or talk about with a friend.

Dinner Discussion Questions:

  • Many of the parables in these chapters have to do with the “Kingdom of God.”  The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, leaven, a pearl etc. What is the kingdom of God?  Does it only include those of our faith? How is it like a mustard seed? How is it like leaven?  What can we do to help build up God’s kingdom?
  • In this chapter we hear about “certain women” who were followers of Christ.  We know that female disciples surrounded Christ during his ministry.Why don’t we hear more about these women?  Why don’t we have their first hand accounts like we do from male disciples? What cultural differences were there between men and women in Jesus’ day? From the many accounts of women in the New Testament what do we know about Jesus’ feelings towards women?  How can we follow Christ in regards to understanding the roles of men and women today?
  • In Luke 8 we revisit the story of Christ calming the sea.  What parallels can you find in this story to your own life?  Does it seem sometimes like you’re in “jeopardy” and you feel like Christ is just sleeping and doesn’t care?  When have you felt alone like this? Perhaps Christ is in your boat all along? How does it make you feel to consider that He has the power to calm even the most raging sea in your life?  How does it feel to wait for him to spring into action when you feel you are in jeopardy? What can help you to have faith and remember that Christ, with all His power to calm the troubled seas, is in your boat?
  • How can you see the parable of the wheat and the tares playing out in your world, at school, at work, in your own heart?  What/who is the wheat? What/who is the tares? Perhaps it is not as black and white as it might look, there is wheat in every corner of the world and tares in every place too, including within our own hearts. How can we decipher the wheat from the tares in our lives?  We are sometimes wheat and sometimes tares. How is it that both of these can be a part of us? How can we work towards weeding out our tares?
  • How does the parable of the sower apply in the world you are living currently in?  Can you identify when you or those around you are sowing their seeds in good soil or stony ground?  How do seeds in your life get scorched and discarded?How can you change the soil you’re planting in?  What has worked, what hasn’t?
  • In Luke 13 we read about Christ healing a woman on the Sabbath Day.The pharisees are upset that Christ doesn’t seem to be obeying the religious law.  Read how he explained his actions. Is it ok to break the rules sometimes? Which rules was Jesus obeying as he healed this woman? What does it mean to be “pharisaical”?  What is the danger in obeying without thinking about the higher law? How can we discern how to best oben Christ’s rule of Love? Have you had an experience in your life where you’ve had to break a lower law to obey a higher one?  Where can get turn into justification?
  • Consider the story in Luke 8 where Christ casts legions of devils out of a man. Read through this story (also found in Mark 5:1-20) and think about how this story might be told if it happened in our day.  This man seems pretty scary from the outside, naked, unable to be contained, yelling, living in the tombs, tormented enough to cut himself with stones for relief. Discuss the ‘legions’ of devils afflicting this man. What happened when they were cast out?  Do you think today people are suffering similarly? Was Christ afraid of the devils afflicting this man? Is he intimidated by our crazy behaviors and thoughts? How can we develop a better understanding of our own emotional turmoil and destructive behaviors and Christ’s reaction to them?  What did this man long to do after being healed?
  • At the end of Luke 13 we read about Christ weeping over Jerusalem.  What is significant about Christ weeping for us? Does this make you feel guilty or loved by Jesus? How can feeling Christ’s love, concern and compassion for you change how you experience your life?

Family Challenges:

We’re trying to all take a challenge to be doers of the word each week, to put the principles we’re talking about into action and then to report back to each other.  Here are some things we’re considering challenging ourselves to do for this week:

  • Examine the soil in your heart where seeds are being sown.  What kind of soil is it? What can you do to amend the soil to help your seeds grow better?  Make a list of 3 things you’re going to work on to prepare your ground and report back.
  • Look out for someone who might be feeling low or caught in emotional turmoil. Instead of judging or shrinking back from them and their struggles try to find ways to show empathy and love. Share your feelings and experience in doing this.
  • Find a way to be the leaven in your world.  Perhaps compliment friends or siblings to see if you can raise the mood in your circles.  Report back on how this made you and those around you feel.
  • Think about the wheat and tares in your life.  Which of your decisions and actions are wheat? Which are tares?  Identify three tares that you can work on weeding out of your life this week.  Share with your family what they are and any progress you’ve made.
  • At least once this week when you’re feeling afraid for any reason, trust that Jesus is in your boat and has the power to calm the stormy seas in your life.  Share your experience with your family.

Good luck this week!  Please don’t let any of these suggestions overwhelm you.  Put your efforts where you can and where God directs and although the results won’t be perfect, they will be enough.  I’m learning that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, burdened by the many tasks of trying to live a good, contributing life I just need to take a deep breath and put in what I can. Often when I offer up in faith a few little fishes and some small pieces of bread, God magnifies my efforts and somehow makes them enough to feed the multitude of needs and demands on my plate.   I am certain He will do the same for you.