At the end of my full-time missionary service I confided to President Curtis that I didn't feel very successful because although I'd had twenty baptisms in the first half of my mission, I hadn't had any in the second half. President Curtis leaned over and said, wisely, "Your success has been in other ways," and reminded me of some of my accomplishments. Then he said "Baptisms are brought about by circumstances only the Lord can create. The missionary who just happens to be in the right place at the right time as part of the plan gets credit."
Today I'd like to share with you some ways to help the Lord create the circumstances necessary for truly spiritual conversions of our spouses, children and friends.
First a word about spouses. I do not advocate dating or marrying a non-member. I firmly believe we should be obedient to the counsel of our prophets and leaders to date and marry within our faith. I also believe in prayer, and in following the promptings of the Spirit. For six months following my 29th birthday, before I met Steven, I prayed fervently that I could get married. Heavenly Father know who would be right for me and He knew where he was. I specifically asked to be led to someone who would love me and whom I could love. Through a series of circumstances, such as my mission president described, Steve and my paths crossed and I received a spiritual witness that he was indeed "the one." Hence my marriage at age thirty to a non-member.
Shortly after we were married, Steven asked me why I had married outside the church if it was so important to me. After much thought I answered that I could teach him the gospel anytime he wanted to learn, but that I couldn't teach him to be loving and patient, to be hard-working and have a sense of humor, to want to be a father, or any of his other good qualities.
I waited for him to ask to be taught the gospel. It didn't happen, and being, by nature, impatient, I decided to experiment a little and see what would happen. Alma describes this experimentation saying:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, it if be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts, and when ye feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves--It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. (Alma 32:28)I began to plant seeds and I watched them grow. I have observed that persons investigating the church, especially those with little religious background, and who are inexperienced in spiritual matters, often feel uncomfortable, nervous, or even frightened as they experience these new spiritual feelings, these "swelling motions." Many times the person withdraws and retreats to his comfort zone of worldliness. It can be frustrating. As I began to notice this phenomenon with Steve it took me a while to remember what I had learned as a missionary and relax and be patient.
With each spiritual experience he advanced a little further and his retreat wasn't as far back as the time before, until the time came when he felt more comfortable with spiritual feelings and less comfortable with worldly ones. At that point, I and several others challenged him to make a decision about the direction of his life. Not long after that he came home from work and announced that he wanted to take the missionary lessons and be baptized.
Each situation is unique and the Lord will not force anyone or rob a person of their agency, but basic principles can be applied universally, and then, guided by the Spirit, we can experience the joy of conversion in our families and among our friends.
From the beginning of our relationship Steve knew that I kept the Word of Wisdom, attended meetings, held callings, did visiting teaching, paid tithing, prayed and read the scriptures. I tried to be an example to him and tried to include him in as much as he was willing to be part of. He knew that I had convictions and would not relinquish them.
After we were married I asked his permission to bless the food at each meal. I encouraged and expected him to call on someone to do so. It took some training and explanation but eventually he got the hang of it and sometimes he would surprise me by saying the prayer himself. Those were tender moments.
We received the Ensign magazine and I left it, and pamphlets such as Joseph Smith's Testimony in strategic places like on his nightstand or in the bathroom. We are both "readaholics" so I took advantage of that and made sure he had some appropriate reading material within easy reach.
I tried to treat Steve as if he were a member. I'd tell him about the speakers in Sacrament Meeting, the Sunday School lesson, the Homemaking nights, what I did visiting teaching, etc. I'd answer all his questions, even if I was telling him things he wouldn't understand. That usually led to more questions and sometimes opportunities to bear my testimony.
Having children began another phase of gospel teaching. We had agreed before our marriage that our children would be raised in the church. It was exciting to see Noble participate in her first Primary Sacrament Meeting program. She knew all the songs and had a speaking part. We got teary eyed and felt very proud. About that time I read a book that opened my eyes and heart to the great responsibility entrusted to us as parents. In Raising Up a Family to the Lord, Elder Gene R. Cook quotes Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. It was one of those passages like Joseph Smith describes as "seem[ing] to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart." (JS 2:12) Elder Tuttle said:
The Lord organized the family unit in the beginning. He intended that the home be the center of learning--that the father and mothers be teachers.
I felt duly called to repentance and set about to change things in our home. Again, I asked permission to have family prayer and to hold Family Home Evening. With little ones it is so easy to involve Daddy. After all, I couldn't hold all three children on my lap, I needed help. So I was able to teach principles of the gospel, and scriptures stories not only to our children but to their father. And you have seen the effect of the prayers of children who say "And bless Daddy to want to be baptized so we can go to the temple and be a forever family."How would you , parents, if your family was isolated from the Church and had to supply all religious training? Have you become so dependent on others that you do little or nothing at home? Tell me, how much of the would your children know, if all they knew is what they had been taught at home? Ponder that. I repeat, how much of the gospel would children know if all they knew is what they had been taught at home? Remember, the Church exists Parents, the divine charge to teach has never been changed. Do not abdicate your duty.
From the beginning I prayed that we would be sent to an area where Steven could join the church. In each ward we've lived I've prodded the home teachers to set appointments with Steve because he is the head of our household. As needs arose I asked them to bring specific messages. I encouraged the Elders Quorums to include him in service projects, sports activities and social functions. The ward in Mount Vernon, Washington was an answer to my prayers. The men of the ward took him into their circle and fellowshipped him right into the gospel. Every ward can be the answer to someones prayer if we will obediently follow the promptings of the Spirit.
When we began to homeschool Noble last year (1994) we decide that religious education was just as important in Kindergarten as Seminary is to high school students, so as part of school we read a chapter from the church's scripture readers each day, as well as a story from The Friend. We sing Primary songs and memorize scripture verses and Articles of Faith. It is exciting to see her knowledge and testimony of the gospel blossom and grow. These spirits saved for the last days are precious. This year she has asked me to read chapters from the "real" Book of Mormon. Our goal is to complete it before she is baptized in two years.
Additionally we have used holidays to teach the gospel and the plan of salvation to our children. We limit participation in secularized or commercialized corruptions of sacred days. When JET was just four months old we got our Christmas tree up and the lights on it but that was as far as I went. The demands of a new baby and two preschoolers was a bit much. Shortly before Christmas I sat in the glow of those lights nursing JET wondering what on earth a pine tree with tinsel and lights had to do with the birth of the Savior. I tried to think of a connection but couldn't. Then I set my mind to pondering what would be a more appropriate and useful image to have for our children to learn about the true meaning of the holiday. Into my mind came the idea of having a manger and a baby doll swaddled to represent Jesus. This past Christmas we had just that. Steven build a sturdy manger, I bought a realistic looking newborn baby doll and made a wrapping of unbleached muslin. Our children were free to touch, pick-up, play with and cuddle that baby. What a difference in their attitude about gifts as we talked of birthdays and service. For months afterwards they playacted the birth of Jesus, complete with wise men and shepherds, angels and animals. It was wonderful to listen to them play. At some time we may have another tree but we will keep the tradition of the manger and baby to remind us so vividly of what we are truly celebrating.
I hope you've gotten something from my rather disjointed explanations. Frustration, discouragement and impatience are devils I have wrestled with as I tried to teach my husband the gospel. I'm still wrestling as we try to teach our children. The labor is long and hard, but the fruit is desirable and worth the struggles.
The four most important things to remember in living the gospel and teaching the gospel in our homes are to:
- Be an example of obedience - this is how blessings will flow!
- Pray individually and as a family. Expect to receive answers and then act upon the promptings we receive.
- Study the scriptures and the current prophet's teachings, again, individually and as a family.
- Hold regular Family Home Evenings to teach principles, bear testimonies and to feel the Spirit of the Lord in our homes.
Remembering that we cannot force another or rescind his agency, these words from Joseph Smith give great comfort:
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (D&C 123:17)
I testify that God lives, prayers are answered and blessings come in ways and when we least expect.