Day 55: Drop Everything for Your Kids

Alma 57

In my quest to become a better mother I have recognized a terrible weakness in myself that I need to deal with. I tend to obsess over things, including projects I take on, to the extent that I will doggedly pursue my objective regardless of what is going on around me. It’s a great trait for getting things done but it has some unexpected consequences for my children.

Alma 57 taught me a valuable lesson today about the importance of dropping a project to pursue a more pressing need of greater long term value. In Alma 57 the Nephite army sends out a prisoner transport under the direction of Gid to bring Lamanite prisoners from the recently acquired city Cumeni to Zarahemla. While the transport is underway, Nephite spies show up to warn Gid that the Lamanite army will imminently attack the city of Cumeni. The prisoners rebel upon overhearing the report and Gid’s transport is faced with a choice: fulfill their orders to take the prisoners to Zarahemla or act on the warning of the Nephite spies and fulfill the larger objective of maintaining the city Cumeni and keeping the army strong.

In many ways I face a similar choice almost every day with my kids. I will be working on a project or just doing something around the house that needs to be done and one of my kids will come tug on me with an urgent request. I usually keep working on what I’m doing and offer an appeasement, “I’ll come in just a minute,” “I’m almost done with this,” “can you give me a minute?” They usually continue pestering me until I come/listen, but my oldest daughter has started giving up if I don’t stop what I’m doing and pay attention right away. “Never mind,” she says dejectedly. Sometimes they don’t even ask me to look at things or to listen to a story anymore.

Gid’s small group of soldiers reacted to the prisoner rebellion as best they could but instead of doggedly pursuing the few that got away, the group of Nephite soldiers “took [their] march with speed towards the city Cumeni” (Alma 57:34). As a result, “we did arrive in time that we might assist our brethren in preserving the city” (ibid.). Rather than doggedly chase down escaping prisoners to fulfill their initial assignment, they heeded the warning of the spies and returned as quickly as possible to Cumeni where they saved the army and preserved the city.

If I want my children to talk to me (ever), if I want to be part of their daily play and investigation into the wonders of the world, I need to be like Gid’s group and drop what I’m doing. I need to stop letting my projects take priority over my children. They are my number one priority and I need to demonstrate that to them by listening, by playing, by being mentally, emotionally, and physically present. Yes there are going to be boundaries because sometimes an adult needs to not be interrupted but when I’m doing something that really could be put down for a few minutes, I need to walk away from the project and pay attention to my children. None of my projects are worth hurting my children’s feelings or damaging our relationship. It’s time for me to prioritize my children in everything I do because my relationship with them has eternal value and significance.

Day 53: Being a Mother Who Knows

Alma 56

The 2000 sons of the people of Ammon agreed to join the Nephite army and help defend their adopted homeland. They requested that the prophet Helaman lead them (Alma 53:19) and when, miraculously, none were killed in battle, Helaman asked how it could be. The answer? “[T]hey had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48).

This is the kind of mother I want to be. A mother who is trustworthy, who inspires confidence in and imparts knowledge of eternal significance to her children. The stripling sons believed their mothers and that reliance on their mothers’ testimonies provided a foundation of faith and space in which they could test their belief and develop their own faith and knowledge. They didn’t doubt that God would save them and their faith in His power was proven many times.

I have spent the last few months learning how to make the daily choices that allow me to become this kind of mother. I have learned that becoming this kind of mother must be intentional; such qualities develop out of the little decisions I make every day when I react to my kids’ behavior, respond to their requests, play with them (or put them off), engage them in learning (both spiritual and secular). I am finally accepting the reality that I have to stop letting less significant things take priority and pull me in different directions. I need to be intentional and proactive to become a mother who knows, whose children never doubt their “mothers knew.”

For further reading on this topic, check out Julie B. Beck’s talk “Mothers Who Know” from October 2007 General Conference.

Day 51: Building Your Spiritual Defenses

Alma 50:1-6

Yesterday I was reading another blogger’s reflections on putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-17, NT). Putting on the armor of God isn’t a new concept to Christians and the need to take defensive spiritual measures is increasingly important in today’s world. It reminded me of a direct corollary in Alma 50, where Captain Moroni carefully fortifies not just the Nephites’ weakest or most strategically prone cities but “every city in all the land” (Alma 50:6).

Moroni’s vision for city defenses expanded well beyond increasing the size of a city guard or building taller walls. First, the army built earth works around every city upon which they constructed “works of timbers built up to the height of a man” (v. 2). Then they built “a frame of pickets” that was “strong and high” (v. 3). Finally, they built secure towers that could serve as protection as well as provide strategic positioning for armed response (v. 4-5). In several instances, the Lamanites were so taken aback by the fortitude of Moroni’s defenses that they ran away rather than risk sure defeat (Alma 49:4-11).

Just as we can put on “the breastplate of righteousness,” gird our loins about with truth, dress our feet with the Gospel, shield ourselves with faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and wield “the sword of the Spirit,” we can build significant spiritual defenses for ourselves and our families. If we (and our families) are the city, what initial activities build our spiritual life and foundation? What daily, weekly, and monthly practices can act like the earthworks, timbers, and pickets to strengthen our testimonies and conversion to Christ? Who can provide additional defense and act as resources to help us on our journey through life?

In one area on my mission we found and used a handy visual aid for teaching the principle of personal spiritual defenses. (NB. I can’t take credit for this visual aid; another missionary had left it behind.)

Alma 50 Visual Aid

Our initial spiritual defenses include Baptism by Immersion by proper authority, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances, and access to priesthood. We fortify ourselves with daily prayer, scripture study, repentance, and the exercise of faith. Consistent obedience to the commandments, regular fasting, participation in missionary work, and service to others increase spiritual strength and resistance to temptation. The support of parents (family), teachers, Bishops (local Church leaders), and the guidance of living prophets and apostles provide additional critical defense in the form of warnings, counsel, and encouragement.

To parody Alma 50:6, “Thus [we can] prepare strongholds against the coming of [our] enemies.” Whether we’re shoring up against a known personal weakness or fortifying ourselves against Satan’s standard but relentless attacks, we can apply Moroni’s example of thorough defense to ourselves and our families.

 

Day 50: A Better Cause

Alma 43:45

The reign of the judges among the Nephites was fraught with dissension and war. In Alma 43 the wicked Zoramites have joined ranks with the Lamanites in anger over the sheltering of converted Zoramites among the people of Ammon. Moroni leads the Nephites in battle, with spiritual guidance from Alma the younger. The scriptures make a point of comparing the Nephites with the Lamanites to demonstrate how and why God blesses and helps one group over the other, and to explain how the Nephites could triumph over an opposing army twice its size.

Both armies expended a great deal of time, energy, and resources to fighting. The Lamanites were especially fierce (v. 44). So how could a smaller army possibly match and defeat them? Alma comes down firmly on the explanation: “Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause…they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” (Alma 43:45). The “better cause” that imbued the Nephites with greater strength and success in the war centered on God, family, freedom, and religion. Described as a “better cause,” these priorities have eternal significance.

How often do we expend time, energy, and resources on things of little value that don’t matter in the eternal long-run? Sometimes I arrive at the end of a busy day and wonder what I did with my time that really matters. I got lots done according to my to do list but the details fade quickly in the absence of eternally significant work. What would be my “better cause” on which to spend time and energy? Could I have a good conversation with one of my kids? Could I minister to someone in need? Could I grow my testimony during more consistent religious study? What would be your “better cause”? What busy work could you drop from your schedule or what daily tasks could you spend less time on to make space for eternally significant work?

 

Day 48: Peace in this life

Alma 38:8

Peace is often connected in the scriptures to promises associated with eternal life and exaltation. In Alma 38, the prophet Alma the younger helps us understand how to receive peace in this life, a peace that prefigures the permanent and eternal peace of the next life.

Alma recounts his conversion story for his middle son, Shiblon, in this father-son interview of counsel and Gospel teaching. Alma hasn’t made any secret of his wild and wicked youth, and uses his experience as a launch pad to help others understand the importance of the Gospel and the reality of Jesus Christ. Alma is a powerful witness of the mercy of God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. He tells Shiblon that after the angel warned him and the sons of Mosiah, Alma “was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul” (Alma 38:8). Have you ever felt “bitter pain” or “anguish of soul”? Can you imagine feeling that constantly for three days?! But when Alma, remembering something his father had preached, called upon Jesus Christ to have mercy on him, he received “a remission of [his] sins” and found “peace to [his] soul” (ibid.)

In Alma’s experience, receiving a remission of his sins resulted in peace. There’s the obvious explanation that a person feeling tormented by his/her sins will be at peace once s/he has repented and received forgiveness from God. But I see additional insight here into the nature of peace and what Alma is really getting at. We experience peace in this life when our conscience is clear and we are in good standing with God. If we are keeping the commandments and following God’s counsel and laws, we will have peace. In my own experience, I can have this kind of peace even in the midst of stressful situations, life challenges, or other problems that typically cause pain and distress.

True peace comes through Jesus Christ as we repent regularly, keep God’s commandments, and live up to our covenants.

Day 33: Stand Fast in the Faith

Alma 1:24-25

Alma the younger was serving as the High Priest of the Church and as the first Chief Judge over the Nephites when the Church began facing a crisis of membership. Persecution, pride, sin, and apostasy began to take their toll and even “many [members] withdrew themselves from among them [the Church membership]” (v. 24). The emphasis on community and interpersonal relationships in this chapter suggested I pay attention to the family and friends who take part in and/or observe a loss of faith.

I have seen people withdraw from Church involvement in my own lifetime and noted what happens to the family members and friends who are closest to the individuals. As a youth I watched helpless as a friend left the church, only to be followed by her parents and siblings. Recently I have watched friends leave the Church, their spouses and young children remaining active for a time but eventually leaving the Church as well. I was a ministering sister to a couple who left the church years ago soon after three of their children “withdrew.” I sensed that my friends’ inactivity was a result of feeling hopeless: They wondered what they could have done more for their children but no longer saw a point in remaining active in the Church.

The response of the Nephite church members is instructive. “Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith” (v. 25). I appreciate that the writer here acknowledges how difficult (heart-rending even) it is to watch members of your church community (friends and family likely) lose their faith and withdraw from participation in the Church. But pay attention to how they deal with their disappointment: “nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God” (v. 25). In the case of my ministering family, I felt strongly that if they would renew their faith and be steadfast in keeping the commandments, they could bring so many blessings to their entire family. It would not be a hopeless case if they would keep the faith and honor their covenants.

I really believe that if we will honor our covenants, keep the commandments, be steadfast and immoveable, God will keep His promises to us, even to benefit and bless loved ones who have left the Church.

Day 13: Seeing Eye to Eye

2 Nephi 11:2

“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah….” It’s about here that many readers of the Book of Mormon groan. Isaiah is notoriously difficult to understand. Nephi, however, found so much of worth in Isaiah’s writings that he quoted entire chapters. But I think even more so, Nephi felt a special affinity for the prophet Isaiah. “[F]or my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.”

It strikes me that Nephi didn’t have a lot of religious peers. He had his father Lehi and brother Jacob, both prominent prophets in the Book of Mormon, but Sam seems to have been more of a follower though he was close to Nephi. And then Nephi had to constantly fend off and protect himself against his two older brothers. It probably felt quite lonely as the God-appointed leader, not just socially but also on an interpersonal level and spiritually as well. The Gospel and his prophetic experiences were so important to Nephi but there seem to have been few people with whom he could share and bask in these experiences.

Nephi not only shared a cultural background with Isaiah but they also shared their socio-political history and geography (prior to Nephi’s travels to the Americas). More than just understanding and enjoying Isaiah’s writings, however, Nephi recognized a kindred spirit in Isaiah. They had something in common that bound Nephi to his predecessor.

Seeing the pre-mortal Savior was likely the single most important moment in Nephi’s life as a prophet. He received an incredible first hand witness of Jesus Christ which is so simply and directly stated in this verse. What I found compelling is how Nephi ties himself to Isaiah with this experience. Both prophets saw Christ prior to His birth and mortal ministry on Earth. Both prophets were called to teach about and prophesy of Christ. Though things were lonely for Nephi as a religious leader, He seems to have found respite, solace, and kinship in the writings of Isaiah.