Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Collection, A Treasure

I am not generally a collector. I don't have any curio cases filled with collections of treasures. There isn't anything I go seeking at garage sales. But this experience of losing a child has really brought to the forefront of my life one thing I have been collecting all my life. And this collection astounds and amazes me every time I think of it. It is my overwhelming collection of friends.

I have so many amazing friends. So many of them have done incredible acts of service for me and my family through this trial. They have shared their talents and their love. And I am indebted. I am humbled by them, their talents, and especially their love and concern for me and my family.

A couple of these friends, Paul and Ally Sorenson, were recently asked to speak to an adult session of their stake's conference (this is a meeting for all the adults of roughly 8-10 LDS congregations.) My friend Ally was given the topic of teaching our children about making and keeping covenants. She emailed me to see if she could use my story in her talk and to ask some of my thoughts on the subject. We emailed back and forth a bit sharing our thoughts on the topic.

This morning she sent me a copy of her talk, which she gave last Saturday night. I was touched by her examples, her insights, and her analogy to Christ as our Locksmith. I thought some of you may enjoy reading it as well. I appreciate her permission to share it with you. Thanks Ally! This talk and your friendship are both treasures to me.

“How Do We Teach Young Children What Covenants Are and

How Do We Teach Them to Keep Their Covenants”

In January of 2001, when our oldest daughter Madeleine was three and her sister Amanda was nine-months-old, the three of us were loading into the car after leaving a store. I set down the keys so I could buckle the girls in their car seats. After buckling them both in, I closed their rear door to get back into the driver’s seat, and instantly realized—to my horror—that all the doors were locked, my little girls were strapped in their car seats and my keys were locked in the car. I walked around the car double-checking every door; I tried to coach our three year old to help, but she was incapable. To make matters worse, Paul was on a Young Men’s trip out of town with the other key, and I had no cell phone.

I felt suddenly separated from my children, who you can imagine would have been scared. I felt helpless, and distressed that I couldn’t solve this problem on my own. But I recognized I needed to get help right away! Frankly, at this point the rest is a blur—I don’t remember if I flagged down a nearby gas station attendant or if he saw me franticly pacing around my car and flagged me down! Thankfully, the gas station attendant called a locksmith, and within an hour we had the doors unlocked and my children and I were reunited.

As parents, sooner or later we all face situations like mine: whether of our own doing or not, our family is in a bind; we may be separated—physically, emotionally or spiritually. We can’t figure out how to solve the problem on our own. We need a locksmith—a Savior—to reunite us. Of all the material we discuss tonight, may this lesson of our need for the Savior stand out.

Tonight it is my great privilege to specifically address how we teach young children what covenants are and how we teach young children to keep their covenants. This past week, I told our four-year-old daughter Ashley that I was going to spend some time working on my talk about Covenants, to which she replied, “Oh yeah, what are those again? I don’t remember.” It’s true, young children may have difficulty remembering what covenants are, but with determination and sustained effort they can learn. We want the profound meaning of these sacred agreements to sink deep into the chambers of their souls. The question is, how?

Personal Example and Pure Motive

One answer that has repeatedly come to me is the importance of our personal examples. Recall with me the story of Helaman’s Stripling Warriors. The Stripling Warriors are renowned for their boundless faith and exact obedience. Helaman said in Alma 57:21, “Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.” While I am sure that their mothers taught them by precept, I have no doubt that their personal example was paramount.

Remember, it was the parents who, once converted, buried their weapons of war, and chose to lay down their lives rather than take up arms and break their covenant. What a tremendous example of obedience. If we desire for our children to be exceedingly obedient, we have the challenge of demonstrating exceeding obedience ourselves—whether it be daily scripture study, regular temple attendance, watching uplifting movies, or accepting and magnifying our calling. Let us demonstrate obedience even when it isn't easy because we have made covenants with the Lord, and we do not make covenants lightly.

But perhaps the most important lesson of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies was the condition of their hearts. I believe the secret behind the Anti-Nephi-Lehies power to successfully raise up the Stripling Warriors was that their motive was pure love. Ammon describes it as follows in Alma 26:31-32: “…yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us. For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.”

I think the Stripling Warriors knew that their parents were faithful to their covenants, but they also knew that they were full of love—love for their brethren, love for their God, and undoubtedly, love for their children. It’s critical that our teaching and our example are also motivated by love—pure love. Firsthand experience with parents who are kind, loving and obedient enables and nurtures faith in a kind, loving and righteous Heavenly Father. When we obey, when we teach, when we correct, are we motivated by love—and do our children know it and feel it?

Receiving the Law…and the Lawgiver

To introduce my second point, let me share a story. We have an “Exact Obedience” chart for our four-year-old daughter Ashley. She is working towards the reward of a doll house. She can earn stickers by doing a chore, being reverent in Sacrament meeting, or a variety of other things as Paul and I determine. The other day I told Ashley she could earn a sticker by setting the table. She immediately questioned: “Two stickers?” To which I responded: “Remember, Ashley, you don’t set the terms of this agreement. Mom and Dad do.”

This wasn’t just me being an authoritarian, I was trying to model for Ashley how divine covenants work. Let me explain. The Bible Dictionary teaches that covenants between God and man are different than agreements between persons or nations. In covenants between God and man, “…the two parties…do not stand in the relation of independent and equal contractors. God in his good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts” (651).

That “God…fixes the terms” is an important point that we should teach our young children. As I was trying to teach Ashley that day, she will be blessed as she trusts and obeys the covenant terms set by a loving Heavenly Father. While she won’t set the terms, she can trust that those terms will be for her best good—even and especially when they cause her to stretch.

In addition to teaching our children to receive Divine law, perhaps an even greater responsibility is to teach them to receive and love our Divine Law Giver—Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the author of our covenants, and as we love him we are inspired to make and keep His covenants. The prophet Nephi describes how to inspire this love in our children: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ,… that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” How can we practically “talk,” “rejoice,” and “preach” of Christ? Let us create opportunities for our Children to come to know and love Christ by reading the scriptures as a family daily, by holding regular family prayer, bearing our testimonies frequently, holding family home evening and attending sacrament meeting.

The Value of Our Covenants

As I conclude, I would like to bear my testimony that covenants have meaning because they anchor us to those we love and value most. Let us teach our children to understand the eternal and powerful value of our covenants so that they will feel a strong desire to make and keep them. On June 13, 2008, our family friends Stephanie and Jonathan Waite suffered a difficult trial. Camille, their fourteen-month-old daughter drowned in their backyard spa and died two days later in the hospital. In preparation for this talk, I asked Stephanie to describe the value of her covenants. Here’s what she said,

“For my family, the temple covenants of sealing families together forever have become the central motivating factor to live righteously and keep our covenants. When [Camille’s older sister] Sabrina was baptized I had a powerful witness come to me that what she was doing was bringing her one step closer to being with Camille again.”

More than anything I feel a great gratitude for the covenants Jon and I have made that seal us together as a family because it blesses us even now. It is difficult to explain how connected we feel to Camille even now that she is in heaven. She is still very much a part of our family. That is a great comfort to me and I know even my little Lauren feels the covenant created bond that reaches beyond death and ties her to her sister.”

I think back to the day I locked my girls in our car. In my own small way, I felt a separation. When the locksmith finally opened the door—it was such a relief and a joy. Our covenants are like the locksmith’s tools. They are the tools the Savior uses to unlock the barriers that separate us from our loved ones and from God. Elder Russel M. Nelson said, “Great comfort comes from the knowledge that our loved ones are secured to us through the covenants.” It is such a blessing to know that there is a locksmith and that he has given us the tools. It is incredible to think of the great blessings available to us through covenants. Covenants with our Heavenly Father are the greatest partnership we will ever enter into. May we claim the blessings available to us and our children through covenants is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.