Parents today, especially young parents, are faced with a very special set of challenges. As a father, I’m torn between wanting my children to have an opportunity to be member missionaries and a desire to keep them locked away from the world for the rest of their natural lives.
Now look, a caveat here: I am not an expert on parenting. I’m not a psychologist. I’m a father. I have both daughters and sons. On top of that, I’ve worked in a public high school for a little more than a decade. I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life surrounded by teenagers. Also, like so many church members, I am a first generation convert.
All this is to say that I’m disturbed when I hear my peers in the church talk about the standards of the world using terms like low standards or even evil. You may have heard this too, as in, the evils of the world, when talking about the habits of good people living in their own unique circumstances outside of the restored gospel.
In a 2014 talk entitled Loving Others and Living with Differences, Dallin H. Oaks asked “Why is it so difficult to have Christlike love for one another?” He goes on to answer… “It is difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs and values and covenant obligations.”
Consider the commandment to love your neighbor — notice that when he issued this commandment, the Savior did not append the clause, “So long as they don’t disagree with or offend you.” As Elder Oaks said, “we must live among those who do not share our beliefs and values and covenant obligations.”
You simply can not shield your children from the world. You can not hide them from the realities of what the world is really like. In today’s political climate, in particular, it is worth remembering that the definition of ‘bad person’ is not ‘person who disagrees with me.’ We must teach our children to seek the good in others despite our disagreements.
Elder Oaks addressed this as well, saying that “Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”
Solid advice for the more politically-minded among us, I think.
The Sheltering Paradox
I’m particularly concerned that the way many of us in the church are moving is toward sheltering our children from the world, convincing them through our words and actions that their peers who do not share their beliefs and values are, in a word, “trouble”, and are not worthy of their time and friendship. I’m sorry to report I’ve witnessed this time and again.
President Thomas S. Monson, in a talk from the same conference entitled Ponder the Path of Thy Feet, reminds us of a lesson from the Savior: ”He instructs us to stand up bravely for our beliefs, even when we are ridiculed and persecuted. He asks us to let our lights shine so that others may see them and may desire to glorify our Father in Heaven.”
The followers of Jesus Christ are the light of the world, and children are some of our brightest lights. In thinking we protect our children, are we hiding their lights under a bushel?
Though I was not raised Mormon, I had many LDS friends as a child and as a teenager. The light of those good and worthy friends drew me a little closer each day to the gospel path. Those young people were the influencers I needed. And as a direct result of their light in my life, I am sealed eternally to a wonderful daughter of my Father in Heaven, raising my own little basketball team of member missionaries.
Let Your Light So Shine
On behalf of all the youth out in the world who wander in darkness today, I beg of you, one scared parent to another, do not shield your children from the world, but teach them how to live in it. Help light the fire of their testimony when they are young, and continue to fan that flame well into their teenage years. Allow them to stand on their own and be the beacon that others need to find their way to Zion. This is so hard to do, and so frightening as a parent. In a few short months, my oldest daughter will be a freshman at the school where I work.
To put it bluntly, I know what happens in that school, and it keeps me up at night.
The world is filled with darkness, but there is no darkness strong enough to put out the light. In fact, it is only when surrounded by the dark that you can see how strong a light truly is.