Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Chapter 16: Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth

Posted by jennywebb on August 13, 2014

The lesson is available here on lds.org.

The following is not a lesson plan, but rather a series of questions and thoughts intended to aid in the study of the lesson material.

From the Life

President Smith recalls the various ways in which both of his parent each taught him the Gospel with evident fondness. I found his description of his mother’s methods interesting. He says,

She used to teach me and put in my hands, when I was old enough to read, things that I could understand.

While this whole section could serve as an argument for reading and telling stories with one’s children, the part that struck me here wasn’t so much the reading, but the emphasis on his mother’s actions: she “put in [his] hands” the things that she wanted to teach him. As an image, that implies that his mother understood both what she wanted to teach her son as well her son’s preparation and abilities to learn from such material. The principle I take away here is that parents (and teachers generally) can be more effective teachers when they know their students well enough to give them material that not only teaches the point the teacher wishes to convey, but does so in a manner that the child can understand. The limitation isn’t on the content itself, but rather the way in which it is presented and made accessible.

The other point I found useful was made when his daughter Amelia described the ways in which President Smith taught them:

one who not only taught us from his great store of knowledge but encouraged us to learn on our own

So many times it can seem that a parent’s duty to teach their child can appear to be to teach them everything, but I think the pattern described here is not only more useful, but ultimately more in line with gospel teachings. The duty isn’t to cover everything: it’s to teach children how to learn on their own.

Understanding the parental responsibility in terms of teaching methods rather than material also casts a new light on D&C 93:40:

But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.

What does it mean to “bring up” someone in “light and truth”? Why are both “light” and “truth” mentioned specifically and individually? Personally, I like the reading that “light and truth” refer back to the point made in the previous quote: in other words, that teaching an attitude and aptitude for learning is, in some essential way, an act of light and truth.

To withstand the influence of the adversary, parents must bring up their children in light and truth

Spiritual solidarity in family relationships is the sure foundation upon which the Church and society itself will flourish. This fact is well known and appreciated by the adversary…. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ applied in family relationships will thwart this devilish destructiveness.

What does it mean to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ in family relationships? When we speak of applying the scriptures to our lives, we often do so in terms that reflect an understating of “modeling” or “imitation” underlying the term “apply.” That is, we say we will apply something, and we mean we will model certain behavior or imitate a specific process.

But this use of the term “apply” has a certain sense of singularity to it as well—”we” may apply something to “our” lives, but it is understood that we are each individually doing the application.

How, then, do we understand the application of the gospel to family relationships, which are, of course, inherently plural? What would such an application look like in practical terms?

Parents are primarily responsible for the teaching of their children

The part of this section that struck me most was not directly related to the main point of this section (which, in and of itself, seems fairly straightforward). But the first two sentences were, for me, beautiful:

The Father has never relinquished his claim upon the children born into this world. They are still His children.

Of course we know that we are children of God—every Primary child can literally sing that truth. But the specific wording here—”has never relinquished his claim”—put that truth in another light for me. Being a child of God is one perspective; being actively claimed by a God who, Himself, recognizes and legitimates that lineage, even in the face of challenges to that claim, is another.

The Church helps parents in their efforts to teach their children

The Church and its agencies constitute in effect a service organization to help the family and the  individual.

In what ways does the Church function as a “service organization”? What does this designation say about the Church, its functioning, and its goals? With all the demands that can be put on a family’s time through Church activities, how can we ensure that the Church serves the needs of both families and individuals? (Note that these needs are not the same thing.)

Dependent upon the needs of the class, this quote could also serve as an introduction to a discussion on what the Church is, and how it is distinct from the Kingdom of God. Part of what stood out to me in this quotation was the very matter of fact, even a bit banal, way in which President Smith categorized the Church not as an eternal institution, but rather a temporal institution designed to meet the specific needs and demands of people living on the earth.

Parents should do all they can to help their children understand and live the gospel of Jesus Christ

The point made in this section constitute a fairly well-known set of guidelines and practices that a family can employ in order to nurture the “family project” of “gaining and … keeping” a testimony: teach through example, begin young, teach prayer, study the scriptures, hold Family Home Evenings, teach morality, prepare for missions, and prepare children to marry in the temple.

While there is obviously plenty of material in this section to discuss, at times the tone of the quotations (which are, of course, short excerpts and therefore removed from their original context) was, to me at least, a bit disheartening in that they seemed to make appeals to the fears of parents (that they might lose their children, that they might fail their children, etc.). So it might be due to that impression that the last paragraph of this section stood out to me precisely because it didn’t rely on such appeals:

Let us try humbly to keep our families intact, to keep them under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, trained in the principles of the gospel that they may grow up in righteousness and truth…. [Children] are given unto us that we might train them in the ways of life, eternal life, that they might come back again into the presence of God, their Father.

What role does humility play in one’s efforts to teach one’s children? To teach others’ children? What does it mean for a family to be “intact”? (It might help to consider the relationship between “intact” and other words such as “tactile.”) Is the Spirit of the Lord the same thing/person as the Holy Ghost? How would one help keep another person under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord? (It might help to consider the word “keep” in terms of “care” rather than “guard.”)

Training received as a child appears to open a door, so to speak, for the possibility of returning to God. And yet, in the Church today, many members are adult converts who may not have had a religious upbringing. Additionally, many young adult members in recent years have left the Church. How can this teaching from President Smith bring hope and peace to members who might not fit the “traditional” member to which President Smith was historically contextually speaking? (Note this quote was from the April 1958 General Conference.)

Additional Thoughts

Given the potentially sensitive nature of this topic—some members are married, some are single, some are divorced, some are widowed; some have children, some choose not to, some cannot; etc.—I would encourage teachers to spend extra time in their preparation reflecting on the specific individuals in their classes and what their needs might be.

As members of the Church, we are all, in some sense, involved in a life-long work of teaching and raising children in light and truth, whether as a a parent, a relative, a teacher, a friend, a home/visiting teacher, etc. Additionally, much of the material in this lesson could be adapted to discussions of effective teaching more generally in the Church, if one felt prompted to take the discussion in that direction by the Spirit. I believe that if we prepare as teachers with an awareness of the individual situations in our classes, that the Spirit will help guide the lessons with charity.

4 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 16: Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth”

  1. Robert C. said

    Great thoughts, Jenny. I think these are too late for others’ benefit (according to site stats, visits to your page peaked last weekend — and there were a lot of visitors, even though no one commented!), but here are a few thoughts in response:

    * I love your thoughts about teaching light and truth as mostly about putting materials in children’s hands and teaching them to learn on their own (a nod to Ranciere here) — and how your question in the final part of your lesson about “intact”/”tactile” subtly reinforces this idea (although I worry that younger generations raised on virtual media might miss the force of this, I guess Kindles and smartphones can still hands-on devices…).

    * Regarding “apply” as a communal rather than individual concept, in this context: I think this is a great idea. As an experiment, I’m going to start reading scriptural passages by first adding the word “individual” wherever possible as an adjectival prefix, and then I’ll go back and replace the word “individual” with the word “communal” and see how this changes my understanding of the passage.

    * Regarding “claim,” I’ve been thinking about Nephi’s warning about being “at ease in Zion,” and I really like how your comment suggests a God that is constantly calling us out of our natural inclination to get too comfortable in our own (individualistic) skin, and to lose this individual self in the creation of a new and better (and communal) life….

  2. Karen said

    Hi Jenny! I’m glad I came across your notes. Our ward must be behind most — this lesson is still two weeks out for us!

    No surprise, but I also liked the Ranciere-like encouragement to put things into their hands and watch children learn on their own. I think that’s not only crucial for their future spiritual development, it also builds trust between parent and child. (The child can sense that the parent trusts them to read and learn, which is a compliment and builds friendship. It also opens up a space for conversations where child and parent can learn from each other.)

    The line that stood out the most from those you shared was: “to keep them under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord.” That’s not an easy task. You can’t be assured a child will be under the influence of the Spirit by telling them what they can or can’t do, or where they can and can’t go. In order for a child to be under the influence of the Spirit, they need to be humble, know how to listen to the Spirit, be worthy of it, and so forth. And then to help “keep” them under the Spirit’s influence seems to mean watching their concerns, emotions, questions, selfish tendencies, etc. to see when they need guidance to be humble again. That’s a big job but I really like the picture it’s giving me. Being a parent isn’t 1) controlling or 2) just giving them information and walking away. It’s some other way of doing things where we are attentively helping them be attentive to something besides us. (Again that sounds very much like Ranciere…)

  3. Teaching in RS has really taken me out of my comfort zone, I feel more comfortable around children and just served 6 yrs in Primary. I have felt the promptings of the Holy Ghost help me when preparing for my lessons…but it is so wonderful to see everyone’s input and ideas and has already helped me as I prepare to give this lesson (16) this coming Sunday 9/14. I’m in AZ and was surprised we aren’t all on the same lessons. Thanks again for the awesome helpful ideas – hugs to all of you, Teri

  4. Amy M said

    I am teaching this lesson tomorrow. 9-14-14. I was really having a hard time with it. Thank you for this page. It really helped me out too.

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