Thursday, August 27, 2015

Filling our Homes with Light and Truth

Here is the talk I gave a couple of weeks ago in Sacrament Meeting. Of course, when I gave it it came out materially different than how it is written; some things were added, some changed, and some excluded altogether. But here is the written version (mostly for my own benefit).

[Here I have chosen to excerpt the banal introduction I gave of our family]

I was asked to choose a talk on marriage and family from the Women’s Session of April General Conference, and am going to base my comments on Sister Cheryl A. Esplin’s remarks, entitled, “Filling our Homes with Light and Truth.”

Having four little boys, this topic is always a concern for me to certain extent, but I feel it has been dwelling in my mind and heart more particularly as we have moved and settled into our first semi-permanent home and our older boys are getting to the age where they are figuring out what the Gospel means and how it applies to us. The duty to make my home a place of peace and refuge, safe even from my own temper and impatience, presses on upon me frequently. As the Savior said to Joseph Smith, I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. (D&C 93:40)

The Soda Can
Sister Esplin spoke of an example that she had seen demonstrated at a meeting many years ago. The presenter showed two soda cans. One was empty, and the other was unopened and filled with soda. The presenter then squeezed each can. The empty can was, of course, easily crushed, while the full can was impervious to the presenter’s grip.

Satan’s Efforts
We all know that the world is full of influences that seek to destroy our spiritual foundations and capitalize on any weakness that may be found in our homes. Sister Esplin said this: Satan knows that in order for us and our families to withstand the pressures of the world, we must be filled with light and gospel truth. So he does everything in his power to dilute, distort, and destroy the truth of the gospel and to keep us separated from that truth.

Satan has a remarkable ability to deceive, confuse, and imitate truth, and as a result we live among conditions long foretold where many put evil for good and good for evil (Isaiah 5:20). It can be a confusing place for anyone, no matter our age or experience. But if our goal is for our homes to be filled with light, you can see really how dangerous it is to confuse light and darkness. In order to combat Satan’s efforts, we must have a keen sense of spiritual discernment. This requires us to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost through our obedience and loyalty to the Savior, His Gospel, and His chosen servants.

I am going to share one area where Satan is placing particular emphasis in our day: the doctrine of the family.  In another talk from the Women’s Session, Sister Oscarson counseled us to be defenders of the Family Proclamation, particularly of marriage, of the roles of mothers and fathers, and of the sanctity of the home.

Because the family is a topic close to our hearts, bringing much joy in many cases and unfortunately bringing much pain in others, it can be a sensitive one to talk about. Satan is quick to turn that sensitivity into offense, defensiveness, confusion, and contention. These reactions can quickly drive the Spirit out of a discussion or prevent us from receiving counsel in the spirit in which it is intended. In order to stand up as defenders of the truth, we need to know it, to understand it in its varied nuances and applications, and to receive the confirmation of the Holy Ghost so that we can testify of it with purity and power.

Each of us has a different set of experiences, blessings, trials, and gifts that will enable us to understand and defend the family and other gospel truths in special and unique ways. By utilizing this storehouse of all of our collective contributions, the Lord can combat Satan’s forces and gather His sheep from out of the world according to the needs of each individual or circumstance. That requires all of us to develop our own testimonies and refine our gifts in order to be able to be a part of that force on the Lord’s side.

Sister Esplin put it this way: Many of us have been baptized and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose role it is to reveal and teach the truth of all things. With the privilege of that gift comes the responsibility to seek truth, to live the truth we know, and to share and defend the truth.
This idea of having a responsibility to seek, live, and defend truth was really impressed upon me one day in my constitutional law class during my first year of law school. We were speaking about the constitutional implications of California’s Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to specify the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and which was on the ballot at the time. As law professors are wont to do, he asked us for our analysis, and then challenged our responses (which is a nice way of saying that he summarily shot down most everything we said; at the time it seemed to me that this was the main job of law professors). Then he said something that has stuck with me ever since, and that was that we as law students and members of the Church need to be able to articulate our opinions and beliefs to the world in the terms that they understand. In our case, those terms were the terms of the law, and if I was going to say that the definition of marriage should remain between one man and one woman, I needed to be able to give a cogent constitutional analysis and be able to dig up the jurisprudence to support my opinion. The Lord needs people who can articulate His position and stand for it in every type of venue, and if I was receiving the gift of a legal education, I needed to put in the time and effort to consecrate that gift for the defense of truth in my sphere.

It certainly is not just lawyers who the Lord needs to use our gifts and experiences to stand up and defend the home and family; it is all of us. As I have mentioned, my husband John, for example, has a very different educational background from me. Last year during a clinical rotation in psychiatry, John commented to me that without fail, every patient that he saw with severe ongoing problems had some sort of family trauma or abuse in their past. He was reminded how important strong, righteous families are and how much damage can be done when parents don’t provide that for their children. His experiences will enable him to defend Gospel truths regarding the family in a much different way than I can. We can each fill our lives with light and truth by standing up to defend our homes and families through righteous living and by consecrating our talents and experiences to the Lord’s work.

Filling with Lesser Things
Another way that Satan seeks to distract us is by having us fill up our lives with things of lesser value, so that there is less room for light and truth in our lives and homes. Having little children at home has given me a lot of new perspective on what kind of media I want in my home and for myself personally. Whenever my kids are awake, if the TV is on it is usually a children’s show, and when they are asleep, I am usually too tired to watch anything geared toward adults. This has led to a kind of default media purge on my part, and I found that when I do see grown-up TV shows and commercials now, I am much more sensitive to the images, the messages, the innuendo, and the influences that I don’t want my children to see. And I began to think, if I don’t want my children to see this, does my Father want me to see it? Is it worthy of my time and attention?

When considering any media in our home, I think we could do well to ask ourselves these questions: (1) Is this something that would offend the Savior if He were watching with me? Would I feel the need to skip parts or change the channel? Would I find myself trying to justify or explain my viewing choice because of the images or language included? (2) What messages are being communicated to my family in this show? Pretty much any show, whether it be a drama, a comedy, or a documentary, has some kind of message. Some of the more dangerous messages are communicated to us without our recognizing them because they are weaved into a funny story or we say, “It’s just entertainment.” How are the women being treated and portrayed in the media we consume? How about the men? What are the attitudes about marriage and family? Is there irreverence toward God or others? (3) Do I feel uplifted and closer to my Savior after participating in this media, or do I feel farther away? Does the media I consume meet the standard set in the 13th Article of Faith; is it virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy (and not just for its comic appeal or special effects)?

The same could go for the music we listen to, the books we read, the art we view, and anything with which we fill our time and our homes. If we want to be filled with light and truth, we need to make room for it and not crowd it out with things of lesser value.

How to Fill Up
Now that we have opened up some space for more light and truth to enter, so to speak, how do we keep that space properly filled? Sister Esplin continued: When filled with the Spirit and with gospel truth, we have the power to withstand the outside forces of the world that surround and push against us. However, if we are not filled spiritually, we don’t have the inner strength to resist the outside pressures and can collapse when forces push against us.

If our homes are to be impervious to the attacks of the world, we need to consistently work to fill them with light and truth. And most of us know the “Primary answers” that teach us the basic things we need to do each day to fill ourselves up. For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (D&C 84:45) As Sister Esplin said, We are continually counseled to increase our spiritual knowledge through prayer and through studying and pondering the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. 

Shortly after we had our first little boy Ethan, I recall thinking how the number of prayers and scripture study sessions in my life had multiplied in a few short years. When I was single, I worried only about my own personal scripture study and prayers. When John and I got married, I continued my own and we also tried to make it a priority to read and pray together daily. After Ethan was born he joined in on our routine, but then once he was big enough to understand a little, it was necessary to add a third separate family scripture study and prayer to the mix. At one point when I found myself short on patience or frustrated or down at home, I recall thinking how wise it was that the Lord had instructed us to have all of that study and prayer as we became parents, not just so that our children would learn, but because I needed so badly to be guided and taught constantly if I wanted to raise my children in light and truth.

I love this statement from Sister Esplin: Strong eternal families and Spirit-filled homes do not just happen. They take great effort, they take time, and they take each member of the family doing his or her part. Every home is different, but every home where even one individual seeks for truth can make a difference.

Consistent, Everyday Efforts
Having a home that is spiritually full means that every day we need to keep the counsel of prophets past and present, even when it seems that no one is listening or we can’t keep up or it isn’t making a difference. If we seek the Lord in prayer, He will consecrate our performance and our efforts to us, and that will make a great difference in what kind of foundation we and our children have to build on and how we will be able to withstand tests and trials in life.

This idea brings to mind an October 2009 talk by Elder David A. Bednar. He said, As our sons were growing up, our family did what you have done and what you now do. We had regular family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Now, I am sure what I am about to describe has never occurred in your home, but it did in ours.

Sometimes Sister Bednar and I wondered if our efforts to do these spiritually essential things were worthwhile. Now and then verses of scripture were read amid outbursts such as “He’s touching me!” “Make him stop looking at me!” “Mom, he’s breathing my air!” Sincere prayers occasionally were interrupted with giggling and poking. And with active, rambunctious boys, family home evening lessons did not always produce high levels of edification. At times Sister Bednar and I were exasperated because the righteous habits we worked so hard to foster did not seem to yield immediately the spiritual results we wanted and expected.

This seems like my life exactly! This last week, for example, I spent some extra time preparing something for Family Home Evening that I thought was fairly important for the boys. However, I ended up feeling like I spent most of the lesson trying to corral the boys and threatening to withhold the treat at the end if they didn’t sit down and listen. So I am particularly encouraged by what Elder Bednar shared next: 

Today if you could ask our adult sons what they remember about family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening, I believe I know how they would answer. They likely would not identify a particular prayer or a specific instance of scripture study or an especially meaningful family home evening lesson as the defining moment in their spiritual development. What they would say they remember is that as a family we were consistent.

Sister Bednar and I thought helping our sons understand the content of a particular lesson or a specific scripture was the ultimate outcome. But such a result does not occur each time we study or pray or learn together. The consistency of our intent and work was perhaps the greatest lesson—a lesson we did not fully appreciate at the time.

Elder Bednar then likened our efforts at home to a painting composed of thousands of tiny brushstrokes:  Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes.

I know that as we consistently strive to seek after the Lord and to invite His Spirit into our homes through our everyday obedience, He will grant us the guidance we need to keep our homes safe and filled with light. As He said, Blessed are all they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 5:6, 3 Nephi 12:6) If we seek daily to feed our Spirits just as surely as we seek to appease our hunger and nourish our bodies, we will be filled with the light and truth we seek.

The Temple
In addition to consistent study, prayer, and gospel teaching, our attendance at the temple will help us to fill our homes with light and truth. What better way to see and feel what a light-filled home should be like than to attend the very House of the Lord? As the Psalmist said, O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. (Psalm 43:3) The mountain of the Lord is the standard to which our homes should aspire. That isn’t to say that we should beat ourselves up about having imperfect homes; that is an inevitability of life. I recall reading an account in the Ensign a few years ago in which a sister told about a cleaning assignment at the temple. The supervising Brother told the volunteers that they were not there to clean things that were dirty, but to keep that sacred place from every becoming dirty; to keep it unspotted. (“Unspotted From the World,” July 2012) My first thought was, if my home is supposed to be like the temple, I am never going to manage that! What’s the point? And of course in that line of thought, I entirely missed the point.

Just as we aspire to build ideal families even though inevitably that isn’t possible for everyone, we can aspire to make our homes clean both temporally and spiritually so that the Spirit can dwell in them. Just because we can’t achieve an ideal doesn’t mean that its shining example is not of value! By definition an ideal is a state of perfection, an ultimate objective and not a working model. But day by day we work in our own homes, and the more we see and bring that reminder of the Lord’s sacred house and the eternal family formed therein, the better we can better shape our homes according to that image.

We talk of Christ
And my final and most basic point centers in the One who is the center of everything we do in the Church and in our homes, who Himself is the way, the truth, and the life¸and the Light of the World. Paul counseled the Ephesians to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:19) Weekly we are reminded that if we always remember Christ, we may always have His spirit to be with us. Nephi said, And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. (2 Nephi 25:26) Christ Himself said, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

If we want our homes to be filled with light and truth, we must make Him feel at home there through the things with which we fill our space, our time, and our hearts. If our hearts are set on Him and our priority is helping our family members come to know and follow Him, His spirit will fill our homes and make them safe havens from the pressures of the outside world.

I am so grateful for the peace and the assurance that comes from that promise, and particularly for what it means for my children. Despite my failings and imperfections, if I press on, seeking and defending truth, teaching it consistently, seeking it in the Lord’s house, and following Him who is its very definition, my children will know to what source they may look for light and truth, redemption and forgiveness.

I know that Christ lives. He loves us. He wants to bless and guide and comfort us. He is our advocate with the Father, which to me as an attorney means He is on our side, understanding our motives, looking for every possible argument in our favor, and seeking forgiveness and leniency for our sins and mistakes. If we make room for Him in our homes by loving Him and keeping His commandments, He will fill them with His presence, which is light and truth. As he said, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)