At a time when my children were teenagers, I worried aloud about how best to teach them to love the gospel and choose the best from the myriad of choices they faced. My cousin Leslie, herself a mother of teens, gave this advice: “Let them see you finding joy in the gospel.”
That simple thought gave me pause. We lived in a small ward at the time, so it wasn’t unusual for me to have a food assignment, an entertainment assignment, and a music assignment all for one activity. My children had certainly seen me find stress in the gospel!
When a Sunday School or Relief Society lesson had gone well, that usually came up over Sunday dinner, so they had seen me find satisfaction in the gospel. And yes, with a large family who all had turns with talks, and lessons, and service projects that needed to be calendared and supervised to some extent, my kids had seen me be exhausted in the gospel.
But joy? I wasn’t sure.
I’d felt joy in the gospel, of course. Sometimes exuberant joy as in the birth of a baby, sometimes a more quiet version, as when the Spirit suddenly gives you just the right words for a talk or lesson. In both cases, one component of the joy is a deep humility that Heavenly Father, with a whole universe to shepherd, took the time to grant that gift.
Recognizing joy is easy. Sharing that feeling with children in family home evening or quiet conversations happens naturally with children. Conveying that experience to adult children who have made it clear the gospel path isn’t their choice, is not. I’ve found, though, that just adding one sentence to an ordinary conversation can make a difference.
One source of pleasant surprises in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is friendships with people we might not have learned to know outside church activity. When talking about a dear, long time friend who has become a family friend as well, who is twenty years my senior, and who has had a totally different life experience, all I have to add is, “We would never have gotten to know each other if we hadn’t been assigned as visiting teaching partners.”
On a trip to the mountains near Waterton Lakes National Park, my husband, daughter and I came upon a scene of majestic, awe-inspiring beauty. With a backdrop of tall mountains, on a mirror-like pond surrounded by trees and wild flowers, was a pair of trumpeter swans, utterly graceful in their every movement. No words were needed, but I added, “Heavenly Father must really love us to create this for us.”
When my adult son came to visit and observed me reading scriptures in the early morning, and I sensed that he was glad he didn’t feel that obligation, I smiled and said, “I don’t do it because I’m afraid I’ll be punished if I don’t; I do it to please Heavenly Father who has done so much for me.”
In advance of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about how church members should treat the thousands of non-member visitors who would soon arrive: “We urge our people to be friendly and gracious and hospitable in every way; not to try to proselytize them (the visitors) but to just welcome them and extend a hand of friendship and outreach” (“Come and enjoy this great international party,” Church News, Updated Feb. 9, 2002). Surely our grown children deserve the same courtesy. No one likes to be preached at, but almost no one is offended when we share the moments or the thoughts that bring our lives meaning.
I have been greatly blessed by what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf called “the gospel joyful” when he spoke in the Women’s Session of General Conference.
“To qualify for these glorious blessings, you must humble yourself, exercise faith, take upon you the name of Christ, seek Him in word and deed, and resolutely ‘stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places’” (“Living the Gospel Joyful,” Ensign, Nov. 2014, 120-123).
In doing that, we can increase our experience of gospel joy. But the nature of joy is that we want to share it with those we love. Maybe we can begin to do that one sentence at a time.