Because our faith means everything to us, we have created a family culture that is centered around its precepts. I realize, however, that each of my kids must decide whether or not they want to embrace it. I can teach the gospel until I am blue in the face, but it will mean nothing to them unless it reaches their hearts. They can lean on my testimony for a time, but each of them must ultimately be converted for themselves.
But how can we, as parents, facilitate such conversion?
I don’t know if I have the perfect formula for that, but I do know that, in order to internalize principles of faith, each person must find out for themselves if they are true. My husband and I are attempting to help our kids through that process by applying these six principles:
1. Encourage Questions
Questions about faith can be intimidating because they are often difficult to answer. Sometimes questions lead to more questions, but they also lead to understanding and growth, so we encourage them in our family.
When one of our kids come to us with a question about some aspect of our faith, sometimes we answer it outright. But more often, we answer with another question that causes them to think deeper about the issue that is on their mind. Or, we direct them to the scriptures and other reputable sources and teach them to find answers through their own study.
Some questions about faith do not have clear answers because faith is, by definition, believing in something that you cannot see, so we:
2. Teach Them To Pray
We believe in a God who speaks to his children. Therefore, we teach our kids that they can talk to him about anything and he will answer. When they have a problem or are unsure about something, we encourage them to study in the manner that I have already described and then take their concerns to the Lord. He is the bearer of all truth and can impart his wisdom upon those who seek it.
We also pray as a family every morning and every night and sometimes, we pray with individual children about things that are troubling them. We try to show them through word and example that praying is always a good option, no matter the scenario.
3. Teach Them To Recognize the Spirit
God usually does not answer our prayers with an audible voice. Rather, he speaks through his Spirit, so learning what that feels like is essential.
I believe that putting kids in places where the Spirit abides is key. That is one major reason why we started taking our children to church and other religious meetings in their infancy. We also encourage those who are old enough to attend the temple, and we have frequent gospel discussions in our home.
Sometimes, when the Spirit is especially strong during those meetings and discussions, we ask our kids how they feel. If they recognize a peaceful, warm, or calm feeling, we tell them that is the Spirit testifying of truth. If they don’t immediately recognize it, we explain what it feels like so that they can look for it in the future.
This process takes time, but it is one that cannot be ignored.
4. Teach Them That God Knows Best
Learning to recognize the Spirit is not especially useful unless one follows its promptings. I have learned through personal experience that the Lord often directs me through his Spirit to take paths that I would not have chosen on my own. Sometimes, my will is in conflict with God’s will, and I must choose whether or not to follow the personal direction that he gives to me.
Although those choices are difficult, I can look back on each time I have chosen to follow the Lord’s promptings and see in hindsight the wisdom in the paths that I did not want to take. I have learned for myself that these words from Thomas S. Monson are true:
The wisdom of God ofttimes appears as foolishness to men, but the greatest single lesson we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.
So we teach our kids to listen to the Spirit, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense or goes against what they want to do.
5. Teach Them How To Apply Gospel Principles
Reading the scriptures and learning about the gospel is one thing, but applying them to modern life is a whole different ballgame. We do this in part by allowing our kids to teach us religious principles after we have taught them.
Each week, we set aside one evening for religious teaching in our home. The kids are often in charge of teaching those lessons. Sometimes, we assign them a topic. Other times, we allow them to choose. Even the youngest kids are included in the rotation, which means that the lessons are often simplistic.
But one thing that we always ask them to explain, no matter who is teaching, is how they can apply their lesson to their lives. That gets them thinking beyond the principles themselves, and we are often surprised by the depth of understanding that they have.
6. Tell Them What You Believe
I believe it is vital for kids to know exactly what their parents believe and why they believe those things. I never want my kids to doubt where I stand, even if they ultimately choose a different path.
But, at the end of the day, the thing that will matter most to them in the realm of faith is their personal beliefs. So we strongly encourage them to think and ponder and pray for their own conversion.
We also occasionally ask them, especially the teenagers, this question:
If everybody you love decided to walk away from the church, would your testimony be strong enough to keep you grounded in the gospel? If not, why not, and what do you need to do to get it to that point?
I cannot tell you that any of these strategies are foolproof or will work for every child in every situation. I do not pretend to understand why faith comes easy for some and is heart-wrenchingly difficult for others. I do not have advice for those whose teenagers and young adults have chosen to wander because I have not experienced that, although my heart goes out to them.
I can only say that I am doing what I can to prepare my kids to be able to stand firm in the gospel, based on where they are at right now. While I am acutely aware that they may choose not to continue in the faith of their youth, I am hopeful that encouraging them to ask questions and teaching them how to pray, how to recognize and follow the Spirit, and how to apply gospel principles in their everyday lives will help them through that process.
If you want to learn more about what I believe, you can do that here.