¶ 2014-01-04 14:17:16 +0000
[This is the transcript of a talk I gave in church on Sunday, December 29, 2013.]
At the beginning of this month, we hung on the wall a felt advent calendar my wife made. Each morning in December we take a shepherd, or wise man, or angel, or other character from the Christmas story out of a pocket and place it in the scene. As Christmas approaches, the cast of the nativity assembles, culminating on Christmas morning when a small, felt Christ child is placed in the small, felt manger.
Last week I took an inventory of our home. Including this advent calendar, I counted no less than 14 nativity scenes. In each depiction, whether it be felt, wood, plastic, ceramic, glass, metal, or crystal, there at the center lies the Christ. What better way to remind us of what our focus should be than to have depictions of the Savior within our glance almost continually?
Just as each nativity scene is arranged with Christ at the center, we should do all we can to make the Lord Jesus Christ the center of our homes.
Elder Richard G. Scott, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said,
When [Christ] is the center of your home, there is peace and serenity. There is a spirit of assurance that pervades the home, and it is felt by all who dwell there.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi wrote,
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
You are probably already familiar with a few fundamental principles that help make the Savior the center of your home, but allow me to draw on some of my own experiences, both as a child in my parentsʼ home, and as a parent of two small children. The three principles I would like to talk about are prayer, scripture study, and family home evening.
The first fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is prayer. Prophets have long counseled us to pray daily, both individually and as a family. I remember praying together with my family when I was a child. No matter what activities we were involved in or how busy we were, every day began and ended with family prayer. I learned to pray by listening to and following the examples of my parents and older siblings.
From my father and mother I learned to pray for each member of the family by name. When I take the time to think about my wife and each of my children individually, and ask our Heavenly Father to supply their specific needs, I find that the Holy Ghost can teach me how best to express Christlike love to them. In a Christ-centered home, where the Holy Ghost can inspire the hearts of each family member, we can meet each otherʼs needs.
We have often been taught that we can pray for anything, big or small. One day, when I was working on a puzzle with Emily, one of my daughters, we discovered one piece was missing. We searched for a minute but came up empty-handed. As if this sort of thing that happens every day, my daughter said, “We better say a prayer so we can find that piece.”
Without hesitation, she said a very simple prayer, asking Heavenly Father to help us find the missing puzzle piece. After less than a minute of searching, sure enough, we found the piece.
Then Emily said, “Okay, now we need to say thank you.” Again, without hesitation, she prayed to Heavenly Father and thanked him for helping us find the missing puzzle piece. What a humbling example of childlike faith!
We pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. As our prayers become more heartfelt, by necessity we draw closer to Christ. The first fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is prayer.
The second fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is scripture study. If Christ is to be the center of our home, surely the words of Christ should be studied frequently, both individually and as a family. When I was a child, just as my family ended each day with family prayer, that prayer was preceded by family scripture study.
My siblings and I learned to read mostly by reading the scriptures. Before I could read myself, I started by simply repeating the words after one of my parents.
The language of the scriptures is unlike other things we read, so the younger we start to read them, the more understandable and comfortable they will be to us as we grow older. When our first daughter Emily was about six months old we began reading the Book of Mormon with her. We usually read about five verses a day. Last night, about three years and ten months after we started, we read the last few verses of Moroni and finished the book.
One day, about two years after we started this reading, when Emily was two and a half years old, she declared that it was her turn to read. She took the Book of Mormon from me, opened it to a page somewhere near the middle, and launched into one of the most amazing recitations of scripture I have ever heard.
It sounded like she was pulling random scriptural phrases out of her memory and combining them on the fly. There were also some lines I recognized from Primary songs scattered throughout her speech. She made liberal use of, “and it came to pass,” of course. If you werenʼt listening too carefully, you might think she was reciting an actual verse of scripture.
Even though the words of her performance made no sense when strung together like that, we recognized that our daughter understand that there was something different about the scriptures. I pray that this is only the beginning of a meaningful, personal relationship with the words of Christ.
In my family growing up, we would mostly read through the scriptures linearly together. But one summer, we studied the Doctrine and Covenants differently. My father put a list of sections on the wall. Each child could choose a section to study individually, then make a report to the family about what that section was about. When a child reported on a section, it was crossed off the list.
We were pragmatic children, so as you can imagine, the shorter sections were claimed quickly. Even though we were always looking for the easiest way to complete these assignments, I have specific memories of the Holy Ghost testifying to my heart that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that through him the Lord restored his Gospel in these last days. I will be forever thankful that my parents worked to build a Christ-centered home where I could have these experiences and where my testimony could grow.
You may recall the story of the Liahona, that curious brass ball that acted as a compass to Lehi and his family as they travelled through the wilderness. When they had faith that God would use the Liahona to lead them to a land of promise, the Liahona led them. After the travellers arrived on this continent and inherited the land that God promised them, it appears the Liahonaʼs purpose was fulfilled. But rather than discard it, prophets handed down this sacred object through the generations until it was cared for by a man named Alma.
As Alma prepared to pass the Liahona on to his son Helaman, he gave this counsel:
For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. […] For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
The world is full of sorrow, which only seems to increase with each passing day. If we study the words of Christ and give the scriptures a place in our minds and hearts, we can build our homes into a promised land today.
The second fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is scripture study.
The third fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is family home evening. The idea of a weekly family home evening was formally announced in 1915. Joseph F. Smith, the President of the Church at that time, called for families to
[…] spend an hour or more together in a devotional way – in the singing of hymns, songs, prayer, reading of the Scriptures and other good books, instrumental music, family topics, and specific instructions on the principles of the Gospel and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation. [In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:89]
This counsel was followed by a promise:
If the Saints obey this counsel we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them.
In 1970, the Church set aside Monday night as a designated family night, and asked local wards and stakes to not hold activities on that night. I remember spending Monday nights with my family. We sang songs, played games, acted out scripture stories, and took turns giving lessons about the gospel. Sometimes we didnʼt get along. No family is perfect. But as I recall, we usually enjoyed ourselves.
We did not only have family home evening when it was convenient. When my brother Eric and I were in high school, our school choir director announced the organization of an extra-curricular menʼs chorus that would meet to rehearse on Monday nights. Eric and I were both singers and wanted to participate in this new chorus.
We both knew that on Monday nights our place was at home with our family. We talked to the choir director and asked if it would be alright if we were late to the weekly rehearsal. He said that would be okay. So each Monday night, after family home evening, we went to rehearsal.
We never could convince the director to move rehearsal to another night. But even then, I knew that family home evening came first.
So now I have two young girls, and our family home evenings donʼt always go as planned. But in the introduction of the Family Home Evening Resource Book it says,
The most important thing your children will remember is the spirit they feel in your family home evenings and activities. Be sure that the atmosphere is one of love, understanding, and enjoyment. It is more important to have a good time with one another than to get through a lesson.
This is encouraging! We definitely have a good time together, and even if we donʼt think our daughters are paying any attention, we have found that they get more from the lessons than we think they do.
I have faith that as we make family home evening a priority, our family will be strengthened and we will draw closer to Christ together. The third fundamental principle of a Christ-centered home is family home evening.
Remember that building a Christ-centered home will not magically remove trials from our lives. Elder Scott said that
[…] living an obedient life, firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, provides the greatest assurance for peace and refuge in our homes. There will still be plenty of challenges or heartaches, but even in the midst of turmoil, we can enjoy inner peace and profound happiness.
I echo that testimony. We can find joy and love in our homes when we work to put Christ at the center. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.