Saturday, February 6, 2016

But What if God Isn't Enough?

In the last post (click here), I wrote a response to a popular article circulating on social media. It presented two options:

A - I will force my children to go to church because it's good for them. (It was implied that children would not desire church naturally.)

B - I won't force my children to go to church. I will do nothing actively to persuade them. I will let them choose. (It was implied this wouldn't work well, and I believe the author is right--doing nothing is not the option I promote.)

I spoke of a third option C - We all have the godseed within us and it is a good seed. If a child is given a loving, wholesome environment of Light, is taught correct principles, and their agency is left unfettered (no force, coercion, manipulation, expectations to follow social norms), then the "seed" will grow--they will seek their God.  I also spoke of a parent's efforts being best spent shaping the environment their "seeds" grow in; of persuading them to know their Savior by example.

I quickly wrote the post and published it. Since then, I've had a lot of positive feedback from many who felt option C resonated with them. Yet, I also had some feedback to remind me many still doubt that option. For them, I have further thoughts I would like to share.

Perhaps you may still be asking: 

"What if I give them a choice and they don't choose what I know is best? Not all children are as naturally faithful as some children. Some children have competing influences at play: one of their parents or friends may be actively persuading them not to believe in God or to choose time with them over church attendance." 

What I hear, is in essence: What if God isn't enough? 

If this is your view, I would gently ask you to consider coming to know God better.

And I would say three things more:


The Parable of the Sower (found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 8). This is in essence what those doubting option C are communicating: what if the soil isn't prepared? What if the seeds of the word of God go by the wayside, fall on stony ground, or are choked by thorns?

If such is the case, the answer is still not to force the child to God or to church. In the parable, the seeds were good. There was no need to worry if the seeds would grow if they were planted in good soil. That is what option C focuses on: preparing the soil. The godseed within each of us will grow in the right environment. Perhaps, yes, some seeds are stronger than others, some will yield larger fruit or a more hardy plant, but the best chance for any seed is the right environment. Forcing the seed without thought (or action) for the environment having influence upon its growth, is like applying silk leaves, flowers or attaching plastic fruit when poor environments yield no natural growth.

A parents work is the soil, not the seed. Trust the seed to God. Focus on the soil.


I think we miss some important lessons if we are afraid to acknowledge the human weaknesses of prophets and leaders, especially those whose lives and experiences are canonized in the scriptures. Yes, our Savior has the power to turn our weaknesses into strengths if we come unto Him, but I think in the mean time, he also has the wisdom and power to strengthen the world (at least our world of influence) BY our weaknesses until they are made strong. That is the beauty of how God works. For me, it strengthens my testimony that God is at the helm; when I open my eyes to see how he accomplishes a great and marvelous work DESPITE the weaknesses of his disciples and leaders.

For example, I think Lehi would have us learn from his weaknesses and strengthen our worlds of influence in the process. In the record of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel do not freely choose to leave Jerusalem when their father receives a vision that the city will be destroyed. What discussions occurred between father and his sons while they resided in Jerusalem we can only guess, but it is apparent Laman and Lemuel felt coerced into joining their family on the wilderness trip.

Lehi didn't want them to be destroyed by staying in Jerusalem. He thought he knew best. In fact, he was right, they would have been destroyed. Yet what good came of them being forced to come? What if Nephi and Sam were the only ones to come--the ones who had freely chosen and who had received a witness that what their father taught was true?

How would the entire story of the Book of Mormon have been different if Laman and Lemuel were told by their father, "I love you. I understand you aren't sure of what I speak. I fear I will lose you and that I will never see you again if I let you stay in Jerusalem, but I will not force you to come. You may stay if that is what you choose."

It's a compelling question. The Book of Mormon is a tragedy. It doesn't end well, and the tragedy is rooted in the conflict that arises because the descendants of Laman (and Lemuel) felt something had been stolen from them. Perhaps it wasn't birthrights or swords of Laban or records so much as their agency?


Let us contrast this example of agency with the 2000 stripling warriors. These "sons of Helaman" were volunteer soldiers, stepping forward so their father's wouldn't have to break an oath they had sworn to never take up the sword again. These young soldiers survived many battles without one life being lost. Not one of the 2000.


I believe they qualified for greater protection because they made greater use of their agency. They freely chose and they chose well. How many of the other Nephite soldiers (who did not have the same protection from harm as the 2000 sons of Helaman) fought for lesser reasons? Was their agency restricted and not as free? Were they compelled to fight because the Nephite government required them to? Was it for the primary reason to feed their family and it was just a job? Was it because everyone else their age was joining the army and they felt compelled by social pressure but didn't want to? We don't know. The record doesn't say. But it does show us the protection and power of the soldiers we know freely chose to go to war, yet would have been allowed not to fight.

With the right soil (enriched and surrounded by the things of God and protected, while young, from the winds and weeds of the world); with the greatest allowance of agency (nothing blocking the seed from sprouting on its own, nothing shading it from God's Light), the godseed in each of us will grow on its own power. I believe this. I have experienced this. The best chance for us all is to follow God's way. 

I'll finish with inspired words that describe what I believe is God's way. Many of you have read these words before, but read them again with the discussion here in mind. They don't only apply to those they were originally spoken to, they apply to parents and all men everywhere. 

(Added comments per this discussion, are included in brackets):

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority [as a parent or leader], as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.  Hence many are called, but few are chosen.  
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [simply because you have authority], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.  
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly [including the virtues of our children and friends]; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. 
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
D&C 121:39-46

Monday, February 1, 2016

I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church - A Response

I hopped on facebook this morning to wish a friend happy birthday and got a little distracted by a post I read. It was an article called "I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church" that you can read by clicking on that link. The article begins quite cleverly and compares the arguments of why some Christian parents choose not to force their children to go to church with the logic of a parent declaring they will stop forcing their child to eat three times a day, a parent stating they will stop forcing their child not to play in the street, or a parent deciding not to force their child to go to school if they feel their teachers are uninspiring and the children mean, for "Who wants to waste their time going somewhere they aren’t being fulfilled?" 

While this article has, at heart, a great purpose (to bring more people to Christ), it feeds a falsehood that I had to say something about--and I'll try to do so with only twenty minutes to write, so forgive the rough post. 

The falsehood is the assumption that at their core, every person is inherently lazy or desires what is not good, or what is not good for them. It strikes at an argument that has been going on a long time (here's a quick version of some of the ideas of Plato, Plotinus (Plato's follower), Augustine, and the Manicheans came up with that I found interesting and makes me want to learn more about how these minds grappled with such questions at the heart of this article).  

The author of "I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church" presents two options: either I force my children to go to church, or I do nothing and let them choose what they want to do. It becomes clear that the author believes giving children a choice means that most youth will choose not to go to church.

I disagree. It isn't a choice of A or B. It's C. There is a third alternative. 

My faith and experiences teach me that at their core, every human being is a son and daughter of God with the potential to become like him. Because of this godseed within us, we are not inherently evil because of our body, we are here to shape and love and nourish the natural potential of our body--to train our dragon.  

We are not here because the earth was broken by Adam and Eve's choice. Adam and Eve triumphantly chose to leave a realm of bliss to experience a mortal world of opposition in their journey of eternal progression AND SO HAVE WE. 

Our Savior is not a victim willing to pay for our mistakes, he is the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Anointed Son of God. He chooses to at-one with each of us individually, to get in the yoke with us, to pull with us when we are weak, to heal us from this world's woes, to guide us through the mists of darkness, to bless us with his enabling grace. Yes, he pays for our mistakes, but it is not because we are always messing up and he's willing to foot the bill, it is because it is ESSENTIAL to experience the bad if we are to know the good. And we cannot be forced in that journey, so he allows us our agency and the experience of opposition and makes it possible for all those mistakes to work toward our good--a glorious good. THAT IS WHY WE ARE HERE.   


Maybe our specific eternal journey doesn't always look like the perfect plan according to temporal wisdom, but I firmly believe that if left free to choose, and given exposure to eternal things, the godseed within us will guide us along the path of progression (not digression). As surely as a sunflower chooses to follow the sun, we will come to Christ and experience the gravity of His love.

The article in question is flawed. No child would naturally follow the Light of Christ to walk out into a busy street if taught the dangers (let's speak of children over the age of eight to simplify things). 

No child would choose (forever) to sit at home and eat bonbons all day and learn absolutely nothing if they weren't in a formal school building being forced to learn (you can't force real learning anyway, that's why God doesn't).

And what child refuses to eat? Only a child that needs healing of some other kind that forcing them to eat won't fix. 

It has been my experience with my siblings growing up, and with most of my children now half grown to adulthood, that when we are taught correct principles, and our agency is left unfettered, we choose things of Light--things that nourish the Godseed within us. 

It is when we are forced, coerced, or manipulated, that we rebel or do things that invite darkness (and seem to give evidence to others that we need to be forced to do good things). 

If we aren't making good choices, maybe we just need time to heal from our agency being restricted? From observing and imitating others acting according to incorrect principles? Maybe we need to be taught true principles. Maybe we are learning necessary lessons about darkness so we can more fully embrace the light? Maybe seeing our loved ones more diligently following truth and light would inspire us to act likewise sooner rather than later? 

Maybe we need our parents to trust us to God's care; to feel trusted to live and act as agents, not as servants being forced to measure up to false traditional norms. Maybe our children would find greater truths than we have with such an upbringing and we could learn from new truths they discover! 
However, if we always control and coerce them into following only what we know to be true (breaking correct principles ourselves), they will not progress further than us. Likely, they will wilt and diminish.  

This I know. I will not force my children to go to church. I will not force them to learn. I will focus my efforts and attention on nourishing the seed of godhood within them and protecting the environment they are planted in. I will trust God to guide me in that work. Then, I will trust their seed to the Master Gardner; I will trust that the seed will grow. For it is a good seed.   

Click here for part 2 of this discussion, "But What if God Isn't Enough?"