Editor’s Note: The following is the third installment in a serialization of ‘Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth,’ a series on parenting from Wallace Goddard.
To see the previous installment, click here.
We all do things that make our children crazy. In some parent-child relationships, this crazy-making is obvious; the conflict and distance are constant. Other parent-child relationships seem easier, more natural, and more productive. Yet in every relationship we are failing our children in some important way. That is a part of being mortal parents in a fallen world. It is the curse of humanness. In our quiet moments, we know that we’re not good enough to properly care for God’s children. That reality pains us.
There is really only one solution: we must be changed. When our natures are changed, when we have the mind of Christ, when we have had a mighty change of heart, when we draw our inspiration from Heaven, we can be fit parents.
This truth can be profoundly discouraging, to say the least. We must be godly to be good parents. But we simply aren’t godly. We are weak, fallen, and “because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). The bad news is that “the natural [parent] is an enemy to God [and children] and has been from the fall and will be forever and ever” (Mosiah 3:19). We’re a mess!
Changed Parents and Changed Parenting
While our fallenness weighs heavily on us, it is not the only truth about our natures. We are also children of the Divine. We are heirs of godliness. Our very natures are divine. Glory awaits us.
The Restoration of Christ’s Church adds a vital and hopeful doctrine to our understanding of our natures. We are not mere creations of God that can be adopted into His family if we are faithful. We are His seed, His offspring, and His dearly beloved children with whom He is in covenant for rescue. We may depart from the covenant but He never will, because we are everlastingly His.
Let me say it again. We are not simply shop projects to be discarded if we do not hold up well. We are God’s children. He is woven into our natures. He will move heaven and earth to rescue us. Thank God for that encouraging truth!
With great truths come great caveats. We must not, like wealthy children who are spoiled, let ourselves feel entitled. We must not think we can coast to ease and goodness. Satan himself is spirit offspring of God just as much as we are. He is supremely talented. But he was and is rebellious. He will not submit to God’s plan; instead, he attempts to subvert it.
We are guilty of a related sin when we refuse to “receive all things with thankfulness” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:19). When we protest that the challenges of life are not as they should be, we are suggesting that our plan for our lives is better than God’s.
Of course there is one big difference between our sin and Satan’s. Satan heard the plan from God’s mouth and still declared that he would fight against the plan. In contrast, much of our resistance is due to the veil, which leaves us wondering whether the messy realities of our lives are random and pointless. We commit our sin in partial ignorance. As the spark of faith grows into flames, we suspect that even our aches and pains can minister to our growth. Every challenge of our lives can be a blessing to us.
There is a vital lesson to be learned by comparing our resistance to Satan’s. We may recognize that rebellion and resistance send us into bitter tailspins. They send us to the lonely hell of self-sufficiency. In contrast, submission is the key to power. We can, like our perfect example, declare: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).
The irony of it! The most talented person in the world is also the most submissive. The One who might depend most on His own abilities depends instead and entirely on Father. This life is not some random test of submissiveness. Submission is the key to power. “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6). “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?” (Isaiah 10:15; 2 Nephi 20:15).
Another great latter-day truth is that God Himself is submissive. Three times in the Book of Mormon we are taught that He would cease to be God if He stopped submitting to law (see Alma 42:13, 22, 25). If He must submit to eternal law in order to maintain His divine power, how important that we also submit.
Submission is not some random and senseless test of obedience. It is the process to power. It is through surrendering that we conquer. God demands submission of us because it is the key to becoming like Him.
You may ask how submission relates to the command to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).
I think this relates to a two-stage process of submission. In the first stage, we learn to see His hand and accept His will. This is what we normally think of as submission—having faith, repenting, making covenants, etc. As we become more aware of and tuned to His will, we are ready for the second stage of submission, where we become active agents of His will. We are indeed anxiously engaged, but in doing His will, not ours. Indeed, we bring our will into harmony with His, so that they are one and the same. This is a relatively advanced stage of submission. Jesus exemplified it. We aspire to it.
Submission is the indispensable and essential condition or ingredient of growth.
What Does Submission Have to Do with Parenting?
It may not be obvious how submission helps us to be better parents. Let’s turn to Amulek for the answer. The oft-quoted (and regularly misunderstood) invitation of Alma 34 to pray at all times and in all places neglects Amulek’s vital context for the instruction to pray. The point is not merely to pray lots. Rather there are two phrases in the following verse that teach submission. “Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you” (v. 17; emphasis added).
Note the first of the emphasized phrases, “faith unto repentance,” which is unique to Amulek, appearing four times in three verses (Alma 34:15–17) and nowhere else in all of scripture. It is a very powerful phrase. It suggests that when we have enough faith, we will bring our tattered, weak lives to Jesus. We trust Him enough to run to Him rather than away from Him. Faith unto repentance is the heart of submission.
The second vital phrase is again emphasized in the next verse: “Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save” (v. 18). Note the repeated encouragement to cry for mercy. In this chapter of scripture, I don’t believe that God is merely asking us to pray 24/7. No, He is asking us to recognize our dependence on Him for help with our fields, flocks, responding to our enemies (including the devil), and our crops. We must cry out for mercy in all things. “Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you” (v. 27). In order to be godly parents, we need to submit to God on a regular basis. We must recognize our desperate need and cry out for divine help.
When we are angry, we pray for mercy.
When we are exhausted, we pray for mercy.
When we are resentful, we pray for mercy.
When we are lonely, we pray for mercy.
When we are confused, we pray for mercy.
We pray for mercy in all situations because, as Amulek observed, God is mighty to save. His might extends to parenting. We cannot be the parents we should be unless we are filled with God’s Spirit.
We regularly try to turn parenting into a test of our skills. We’re often wondering how to outmaneuver the child or cure this behavior or discourage that tendency. Skills matter. Even more, our understanding of children matters. But no amount of skill or understanding can balance a heart that is trying to operate independent of God and divine goodness.
When our hearts are right, the right attitude and actions flow naturally. As we read in the New Testament: “How can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
“Getting our hearts right” may seem like a black box with mysterious contents and magical effects. How do I get my heart right? How can I subdue that natural man within me who gets cranky and contrary? How do I draw the spiritual power into my life that will change my nature? I believe the answer is to do all the things to build a relationship with God that we would do if we wanted to build a relationship with a respected human. Listen. Spend time together. Learn about Him. Show your interest and commitment. As we do these things, the bond will grow.
A key time for building our relationship with God is the weekly interview we call the sacrament. During those fifteen minutes we prepare our hearts with a hymn and then are invited into direct conversation with Him. We ask Him to remove our sins, to change our hearts, and to prosper our worthy projects. We should prepare for such important conversations. I try to take some time every Saturday evening to prepare for the Sabbath conversation with my Heavenly Father.
Every time an awareness of God’s power and goodness combines with my own sense of inadequacy, I can have the good sense to cry out for mercy. When I do, God soothes and fills my soul. I find I am better prepared to be a more godly parent and grandparent.
The process of changing our hearts is a gradual one. We get better and better as we more regularly and gladly call on the God we love. Along the way, we can still parent with love and good sense. But that is not enough. We can regularly and steadily pray for an infusion of godliness crying out—following Alma’s pattern—“O Jesus, Thou Son of God, have mercy on my fallen soul and help me bring to my children the kind of grace that Thou bringest to me” (see Alma 36:18).
Reflection and Application
What experience do you have with submitting to God and recognizing your dependence on Him? Will you try crying out for mercy in areas of need—especially in your parenting and family life?
You can buy a copy of Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth at Deseret Book. Brother Goddard has written or edited many other books that may interest you, such as The Soft-Spoken Parent, Between Parent and Child, or Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.