ALL IN – Episode 74

We couldn’t find our 11-year old after he went hiking with the neighbor boy, up the mountain across the street from our home. I was pretty nervous. I ran up the side of the mountain – literally – calling for him and hoping I wouldn’t find his bloody corpse strewn on the rocks. 

I came across a hidden cave. I wondered if the boys had been dragged inside by a wild beast. But … what were the chances the beast would beat both boys in a bloody battle?

I kept hiking up that mountainside until I was winded, and had to sit down on a rock for a rest. What a view! No filter!

And from up there I saw two boys, running toward our house, from a different hill, just north of where I sat.

Found them!

I love being a mom. I love the children coming through the front door, looking for their mom and smiling when they see me. I am “mom”. Today Justin Coulson takes a look at parenthood – like me with my view of the boys from atop the mountain, Dr Coulson gives us a different, more complete view of parenting, from where he is sitting.

I want to share three specific things he discussed today:

FIRST. Agency.

“Spoiler alert. Our children are going to make poor choices… That’s part of being human… Sometimes it’s painful to see our children use their agency poorly. And yet, we have this perfectly loving, compassionate Father who only wants to give us good things and He knows that the best thing that He can give us is the choice to direct our life.”

I have thought about this a lot, since becoming a parent. How can our perfectly loving Father have the ability to watch us make such horrendously hurtful choices? How could He not jump in, out of fear, or lose His sanity all together.

I guess I answered my own question there. The Lord never acts out of fear, only out of love. If His thoughts are, “They need this experience to grow and to learn”, if those are His thoughts, then He will only feel love and acceptance and patience with our mistakes, rather than fear and anxiety and a desperate need to coerce. Right? Let’s look at what a prophet of the Lord has said about God and agency:

“To fully understand this gift of agency and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God’s chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation. He acts by gentle solicitation and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that we possess. He wants to help us and pleads for the chance to assist us, but he will not do so in violation of our agency. He loves us too much to do that, and doing so would run counter to his divine character.”

Howard W Hunter, The Golden Thread of Choice

Dr Coulson gives such a strong interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants 121:37,41: “When we undertake to … exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves… No power or influence can or ought to be maintained … only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”

“When we take our children’s agency from them and rule by force or coercion (or manipulation), we are not following the example of our Heavenly Father. We’re not living according to what He’s asked us to. In fact, when we undertake to ‘exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness’, that is, when we’re trying to force them to do things and the Spirit is not guiding us, ‘Behold, the heavens withdraw themselves. The Spirit of the Lord is grieved. And when it is withdrawn, Amen to the authority of that parent.’ In verse 38, it says he is left to kick against the pricks and to fight against God. That’s really, really strong counsel. Heavenly Father is saying your job is not to compel and fix your children, your job is to love them. And when you do try to compel them unrighteously, the heavens are withdrawn. I don’t think anybody wants the heavens to withdraw themselves from their homes. And ironically, this is what happens precisely at the time that we need the Spirit most.”

SECOND. Compassion.

“If we can step out of our own perspective for a moment, what we see is that they’re being challenging usually because they’re feeling challenged. And if they’re feeling challenged (if they are struggling and having a difficult time), they don’t need our judgment. They don’t need another critic in their life. They need us to see them in their struggle, and to meet them right there, in that struggle. To literally look at them and say, ‘Let me hold you and let me love you until you feel whole, until you feel accepted, until you feel worthy and loved just the way you are. And my compassion will draw you to me and ultimately help you overcome this and be better.’ And our Heavenly Father is the perfect example of this.”

I had an experience when I was 12 years old, living in Iowa. A girl I knew, not well, but I knew her, got pregnant. So young and so scared. And it occurred to me, even at such a young age, seeing those criticizing her and ostracizing her, that she did not need one more reason to feel unworthy or unloved or harshly judged. Life was hard enough for her already – she was pregnant, and in this on her own. She didn’t need preaching, she needed loving.

And so do our struggling children. Elder Eyring said that most people know when they are doing poorly. Right. And if the Spirit inspires us to correct with love, then we can do that. But, probably, what the struggling child really needs is compassion.

“And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.”

Jeffrey R Holland, Teaching and Learning in the Church

THIRD. And then this one, drawing on Mosiah 3:19 for direction as a parent:

“The natural parent is an enemy to children. And those natural responses are unhelpful. They actually turn us into, literally, turn us into the enemy of our child rather than the ally of a child.”

The natural parent?

  • Liam: That’s not fair!
  • Natural Parent: Do you want me to double your work? You have no idea how easy you have it!
  • Jono: I don’t want to go to church. Church is boring.
  • Natural Parent: How do you think God feels when you talk like that? You are hurting God’s feelings.
  • Ella: I feel so overwhelmed with the amount of homework I have today.
  • Natural Parent: This is nothing. If you can’t handle this, wait until you get older and the pressure really gets turned on.

What kind of parent do I want to be? How would I like my replies to differ from the Natural Parent? How can I make a Christ-like reply more natural to me, every day? Practice. Thoughtwork. Listening and speaking with the Spirit’s direction. Repenting. Ultimately, parenting with the same motivation with which the Lord parents: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for He loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24).

Remember, this favorite quote, I try and read every day:

“Ultimately love is where we’re trying to get to… You are your best, most creative, most confident, most genius self when you’re operating in love.”

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