Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parents, Lead Your Children to the Finer Things of Life©

I read something last night which prompted this blog, because it seemed so profound and has so many applications, especially for young parents. More than a decade ago I served as a mission president in northern California. Nearly all of the 450 young men and women whom I presided over during the three years we were in the mission field are parents now. Almost daily I see on FaceBook pictures, read accounts of activities, and rejoice in accomplishments of their children.  I think about these young parents whom I love with a depth only parents really understand. Most are outstanding, some have stumbled and picked themselves up, some have yet to get up, and some seem to have abandoned their religious moorings altogether.  In nearly every case, however, I see troubling signs of worldliness creeping in almost unaware. What I observe in these cases is not confined to my young friends, it is everywhere in our society. Indeed, they are perhaps the least of the problem. Nevertheless, what I read last night combined with these observations prompt what follows.

Richard L. Evans, now deceased, was an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He delivered 2-3 minute messages on the church’s “Spoken Word” from Temple Square every Sunday for forty years!. In one of his messages(1) he quoted President N. Eldon Tanner of the Church’s First Presidency as saying,
The parents that you should honor more than any others are the parents of your children yet-to-be. Those children are entitled to the best parents that it is possible for you to give them–clean parents.(2)
Elder Evans went on to elaborate a bit about this idea.  In the process he also said something that struck me as deeply profound. He wrote:
Honoring the parents of your children-to-be!  Think of the importance of the partner you choose in marriage. Think of marrying someone who shares your own ideal so your children will not be pulled apart by their parents. Think of the importance of learning and working and providing for them.Think of giving children parents who are moral, reverent, clean and kind. Think of giving children homes of love and responsibility and respect; parents who would not neglect to teach them, but who would lead them to the finer things of life.(3)
That paragraph could be the subject of a sermon or a chapter in a book or an essay such as this. However, I was struck most by the last phrase in bold italics. It led me to ask myself, “What are the finer things in life which parents should be leading their children toward?” As I considered this I reflected on the kinds of things which are so often trumpeted on FaceBook pages and elsewhere, and I wonder.

Are sports competitions, small and great (a child’s participation, or attendance at professional sports events), where so often these days winning is the only thing, rules and morals and sportsmanship be damned, really the finer things in life. Or even if these negatives are not present, what does one say about the almost idolatrous affection for one’s favorite team or alma mater sometimes portrayed? Foul language, “trash talk,” self-promotion, arrogance, strutting and swaggering, chest beating, taunting, “in your face” attitudes, anger, and even fighting are standard fare in most of what we see in sports today. Young people learn to do these same things from the teams and models their parents idolize. Finer things?

Many young people are very conservative and are deeply committed to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, as I believe they should be. However, I confess it has astounded me how many seem to be teaching their children how to handle a weapon at very young ages, or who relish the family “hunt” which, of course, involves killing animals. Too often, even when the ostensible purpose is to stock the family freezer with meat, there grows up in the heart almost a blood lust in hunters. Are these things really the “finer things of life”?   Is intentional violence against animals a fine thing? 

How about entertainment in general?  “Fun” is one of the great values of most of America’s youth. If something isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing. The corollary to this is, if it isn’t entertaining (a special kind of fun), it isn’t worth our time.  Is this value, these priorities the “finer things” of life? One contemporary example. Does permitting children to spend as much as 6 hours a day on personal electronic devices playing games and engaging in social media qualify as among the “finer things” of life?(4)

More, but only mentioned without elaboration: rampant materialism; irreverence; disrespect; harsh language; fostering fads and fashions of the world such as casualness in grubby dress and unkempt grooming, ubiquitous presence of facial hair; sexual innuendo; the trashy; the low-minded; off-color jokes; the undignified and ignoble; wasting time; dodging responsibility; blaming others; excuses; cheating employers; breaking laws (traffic laws for example); and a thousand more; critical attitudes about everything from the driver in the car that cut you off to the government to church leaders and church policies. Where do these things fit in the call to lead children to the “finer things” in life?

Do not over react or dismiss this. I am not against sports, entertainment, guns, hunting (well maybe), and fun. But it seems to me that there is overmuch emphasis on these things in the world and in many modern LDS families. I once complained that boys practice skateboarding tricks by the hour in the church parking lot and pavilion behind our house, but could you get one of them to spend even 15 minutes reading and memorizing a scripture in preparation for his mission? One of my great mission assistants said that described him perfectly as a boy. Nor do I expect perfection from young parents. Anger, excuses, critical attitudes, and dodging responsibility are things all of us have to learn to master and for most it takes some time.

This call to my young friends, parents and parents to be, is to give serious consideration to the matter of parenting, especially their manner of parenting, and not assume that what they are doing is the way the Lord wants them to do it.(5) I encourage them to ask themselves, “Am I teaching my children and fostering in my family the Lord’s culture or man’s culture?   Is our goal to lead them to the finer things in life? If so, how much thought has been put into what those “finer things” are? How much thought has been given to the things we stress and do in our family? Can we have fun and be righteous people, keeping the balance so the pendulum doesn’t swing too far away from righteousness?

What are the finer things? Well, in Elder Evans’ book(s) he has a lot to say about that. He constantly discusses sterling character, faith, righteousness, truth, excellence, integrity, culture, refinement, goodness, responsibility, reverence, respect, love, charity, compassion, confidence, education, testimony, knowledge, chastity, cleanliness, empathy, tolerance, manners, morals, communicating well, loving God and his Son, loving mankind, hard work, honorable work, commitment, duty, obedience, action, involvement, generosity, kindness, service and more. Such things as self-control, personal dignity and nobility; duty, magnanimity, common sense, keeping promises, elevated thought, reverence for family life, loyalty (especially family loyalty), are repeatedly stressed in his writings.  

I might add a suggestion or two, not listed in any priority: life long learning, books and reading, writing well, wisdom, judgment, maturity, appreciation of the various disciplines of knowledge, high level music, the fine arts, edifying performing arts, good literature, creativity, elevating entertainment and recreation, meaningful travel, museums and parks, love and respect for nature, humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors, cultivation of religious sensitivity, worship, and service, service, service; certainly these are among the finer things of life.

Parents could do worse than to take the 13th article of faith as their family guide.

Let’s think together again, soon.


1. The book I am presently reading is, Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, Volume Five (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1972).  It is a collection of some of his last “Spoken Word” messages before his death in 1971.

2. N. Eldon Tanner, cited in Evans, Volume Five, 123.

3. Evans, Volume Five, 123-24, emphasis added.

4.  I recently read a report of a study which indicates that nationwide children spend over 6 hours a day on personal devices, over and beyond use in school!  As I have observed my grandchildren, I suspect this statistic is correct. However, it may be that many LDS parents pay closer attention and/or restrict the use of such devices more than most parents because we have received counsel regarding this for 10 years or more.

5.     Several of the General Authorities of the LDS Church have spoken about the difference between the Lord's culture and man's culture.  My plea here is that young parents would take their role seriously enough to study many of the fine books and talks written by church leaders and members about parental responsibilities and parenting, because we are not born knowing how to parent and even in the best of homes there may be traditions and teachings that do not conform to the Lord's way. So they must inform themselves about how the Lord wants them to parent.  I know of no other church or institution which endows its people with such resources about marriage, family, parents, children, family life, and parenting as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Just one example:  Two general conferences of the Church have been held every year since the organization of the Church in 1830.  One would be hard pressed to find a conference where one of the above mentioned subjects has not been discussed; and in the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries there have often been several talks on these subjects in each conference.  We of all people are most blessed, but we are also the most responsible for doing it correctly--given all the Lord's counsel on the subject. Thus the imperative that parents ought to be anxiously engaged and about the work of finding, reading, studying, and implementing this counsel.


  1. President, thank you for the great advice. We've been thinking hard about how to help our kids continue to grow and learn in the Gospel. Perhaps the 13th Article of Faith is a good starting point. Also, how has it been over a decade since our time in California? Time flies, I suppose.

  2. Thank you, as always for these posts. This one has me thinking. I have a 2 year old boy. It is amazing to me that he is already learning to fold his arms and join us for prayers...for a few moments, anyway. He watches my every move so I hope that I can do as this post counsels and bring him to the finer things in life.