How To Stop Being The Referee And Teach Kids How To Resolve Their Own Problems

“I need two volunteers!” As my two volunteers came up to the front of the room, I took out a full-sized candy bar and a tootsie roll. I explained, “These are for the two of you. Both of you need to decide who gets what. The only rule is that you cannot break the candy in any way.” I stepped back to watch how they would handle it. How would you handle it?

A FAMILY FIGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES

What does this object lesson have to do with Genesis 13:5-7? Abraham and Lot had too much substance to live on the same piece of land. It was starting to cause contention between Abraham and Lot’s herdmen.

How did Abraham solve it? Did Abraham say, “I’m the uncle. I’m very rich and have more stuff. I need the bigger land.” No. He decided to let Lot choose which piece of land he wanted (Genesis 13:8). Lot chose the land that was “even as the garden of the Lord.” He picked the candy bar and left the tootsie roll to Abraham!

One Saturday when I was younger, my mom wrote down a bunch of chores she wanted us kids to do before we could play. My older brother held out the slips of paper and let his younger siblings choose which ones they wanted to do. It was a race to get the easiest chores! I vividly remember picking the 2-3 easiest chores I could find and being slightly annoyed when my younger sister beat me to the simplest one! I remember looking at the chores my brother held in his hand. They were hard and I knew they would take a lot more effort. He didn’t utter a word of complaint. He said, “Let’s get them done fast and then we can play!” As I recall, he finished his chores before we did and then he came to help us. I always remembered that – how happy he was to sacrifice for us.

This was exactly how Abraham felt towards Lot. He didn’t hold a grudge. He meant it when he said, “Let there be no strife” (Gen. 13:8). As a result of his generosity the Lord poured out special blessings for Abraham including land and endless posterity (Genesis 13:14-18). I used to think this was just a lesson on karma – you are generous and the Lord is generous to you, but there is more to it. The Lord blessed Abraham with prosperity because he knew Abraham would use it to bless all the people around him (as we will see shortly). The Lord is more willing to bless those who are eager to bless others.

What did Lot get? Yes, he got the better land, but that was definitely only a short-term advantage. Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12). He was selfish and ended up living by (and eventually with) selfish, evil people. We need to be very careful with our thoughts, words, and actions. We end up becoming friends with the people we are like! And that can have dire consequences. People often end up doing things they never dreamed they would do because of the influence of bad friends and they sometimes get the consequences of their friends’ bad choices. Because of Lot’s proximity to Sodom, he was captured in battle. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but he fell victim to the wicked kings in that area.

Lucky for Lot, Abraham truly didn’t hold grudges. He “armed his trained servants (Abraham was always prepread!), born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan” (Genesis 14:14). Abraham raises an army and rescues Lot! He risked his life to save a man who had taken the better land. Abraham also ends up rescuing all the prisoners of war and their goods. The King of Sodom was so grateful he told Abraham to keep all the goods and just return the people. Abraham replied, “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich” (Genesis 14:23). Abraham understood that all the earth belongs to God and any wealth we obtain comes from Him.

“We are here on His [God’s] earth, we breathe His air, we behold His sunlight, we eat His food, we wear His clothing. ‘Our own’ property belongs to Him.”
–Joseph F. Smith, “In The Presence of the Divine,” Ensign June 1979

Abraham wanted the glory to go to the Lord. He wanted people to know that the Lord had blessed Him with victory and with riches, not the King of Sodom. Abraham didn’t want anything to do with wickedness. He stayed as far away from it as possible. He wouldn’t even accept a shoelatchet from the King of Sodom! Abraham didn’t get anything of worldly value for himself in rescuing Lot. Truly, Abraham was the epitome of unselfishness.

THE UNHAPPY ENDING OF LOT’S STORY

Sadly, Lot doesn’t learn his lesson. Some time after the battle, he ends up living IN Sodom! Many a righteous person has declared, “I can be around these people. I can choose to be righteous even if they do wicked things. I’m just having some fun. I want to enjoy life.” But the words and actions of those we associate with rubs off on us.

Lot learned this lesson the hard way. He reaps the consequences of living among the wicked. The city is destroyed and although he escapes with his life and two daughters (but none of his possessions), he loses his wife and his married daughters. He could not convince his sons-in-law to leave the city (Genesis 19:14). Yes, Lot didn’t succumb to wickedness, but he paid a heavy price for living among the wicked. Let us be diligent in teaching our children what good friends are, what bad friends are, and the dangerous consequences that come from choosing bad friends. We are nice to everyone, but our close friends should influence us for good. The definition for a true friend is someone who makes it easier to live the gospel and become like Jesus Christ.

THE DANGERS OF SELFISHNESS

Neal A. Maxwell described the dangers of selfishness. They are much more potent than meets the eye.

“Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem because it activates all the cardinal sins! It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.
By focusing on oneself, it is naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves one’s purpose. It is easier to ignore one’s parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what one wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them….
The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God, but himself….
Selfishness has little time to regard the sufferings of others seriously, hence the love of many waxes cold.”
–Neal A. Maxwell, “Put Off The Natural Man And Come Off Conqueror,” General Conference October 1990.

One of the greatest hindrances to peace in our homes is selfishness. How many of our disagreements could be solved if we took a step back to think about the other person’s perspective?

TEACHING CHILDREN TO RESOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS

In the book Siblings Without Rivalry, the authors talk about having problem solving sessions. We have used this technique and love it. We had to use it a lot at the beginning, but as we’ve used it more and more our kids have discovered, developed, and invented more ways to solve problems and they can work out many more problems by THEMSELVES! My favorite thing is to hear them talking out a problem in a different room. Music to my ears!

What is this technique? You simple call a family meeting (or call a meeting of the disagreeing parties) and lay down some ground rules. Each child gets to talk about the problem and describe their feelings (without any interruptions). Then, they get to list all the solutions they can think of without any fear of their idea being rejected or ridiculed. It is imperative that ALL solutions are written down (no matter how ridiculous!). If ideas are immediately vetoed, kids are less likely to offer solutions and they learn that their ideas don’t matter. Some may conclude, “Mom or an older sibling get to decide my problems for me. I’ll just sit here and let them solve it.” That’s a sure way to get more future fights because if you have a child who doesn’t know how to solve a problem, there will be endless fighting exactly because they don’t know how to end it!

I let my kids exhaust all possible solutions before I offer some of my own (sometimes I don’t need to, but for younger kids or tougher problems, I do step in and offer some solutions). The next step is to decide which solutions will work for everyone. If someone isn’t happy with it, then we move on to the next possible solution.

This has been a marvelous opportunity for my kids to learn to listen to each other, understand the other sibling’s feelings and perspective, and use critical thinking skills and creativity to develop some pretty awesome problem solving skills! They have come up with solutions that I never would have dreamed up! Never underestimate children’s abilities to work out problems. My three-year-old has come up with some impressive solutions. If mom always steps in to solve problems, the children never learn how to communicate, cooperate, compromise, or negotiate. Their only solution is to run to mom. And as fair as mom tries to be, there is often one kid who feels like the winner and another one who feels like he lost which can create resentment and bad feelings toward their sibling or mom. But if the kids work it out, they find great joy and pride in coming up with their own solutions and there is often a mutual feeling of fairness – they both win!

This strategy also works well if mom (or dad) is having a chronic problem with a child (for example: child A isn’t getting ready for school on time or child B resents practicing the piano). I’ve found it works much better to sit down with that child and work through this process. Child A is much more likely to follow through (and have a better attitude!) with a solution that he/she helped come up with.

Russell M. Nelson has given great advice about teaching children.

“The family has been under attack ever since Satan first taunted Adam and Eve. (See Gen. 3) So today, each must guard against the hazard of contention in the family. It usually begins innocently…In a large family of boys, those with the longest reach were the best fed. In order to avoid obvious contention, they adopted a rule that required them at mealtime to leave at least one foot on the floor.
The home is the great laboratory of learning and love. Here parents help children overcome these natural tendencies to be selfish.”
–Russell M. Nelson, “The Canker of Contention,” Ensign May 1989

I echo his statement: the home really is the great laboratory where we TRAIN our children to be selfless and Christ-like. I used to despair that there were so many problems every day, but now I see that it is, in large measure, a good thing. Where better to learn how to deal with the challenges of life than in a home where you are loved? The next time your kids start arguing, take a deep breath and remember that this can be turned into a great learning opportunity for them!

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Can I Chew Gum While I’m Fasting?

One day as I was teaching a class full of teenagers about fasting, they were bombarding me with questions like, “Can I chew gum while I’m fasting?  Can I suck on a hard piece of candy?  Can I just fast for 2 meals or does it have to be for 24 hours?”

While these were sincere questions, they were completely missing the point!  They wanted to know exactly how little they could do and still count it as a full fast!  I was reminded of Isaiah’s words:

Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? (Isaiah 58:4-5)

Apparently, the Jews were fasting, but not for the right reasons.  They were going through the motions and “afflicting” their bodies with hunger, but they were not reaping the spiritual benefits.

In our church, we set aside the first Sunday of every month as a Fast Sunday.  We go 24 hours without food or water.  We also give the money we would have spent on our meals that day as a Fast Offering to help the poor.  Now, the definition of our fast is to go without food or water for 24 hours, but if that is ALL we are doing, we are NOT fasting.  We are just starving and that is a miserable experience!

Fasting is NOT about food.  It’s not about being hungry and miserable.  It’s not about showing everyone how righteous you are because you’re fasting.  It’s about connecting with heaven and having a deep, soul satisfying spiritual experience.  Fasting is about your spirit, not your body.

Paul described the natural man as someone who “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  We all have “natural man” tendencies – it is quite natural to be lazy, selfish, angry, and dishonest.  It is exactly those tendencies that we have to fight off in order to develop Christlike character traits and make our spirits strong.  When we are fasting, our body wants food and the battle between spirit and body begins.

Some of the greatest battles we will face will be fought within the silent chambers of our own souls. (Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” Ensign, September 1988).

When I was a little girl growing up, I woke up to the smell of pancakes on Sunday!   We had cold cereal every other day for breakfast, but my sweet dad would wake up early on Sundays and make sure a delicious breakfast was waiting for us.  It helped me look forward to Sundays and taught me that they are special.  I remember one Sunday running (and I mean running!) into the kitchen for breakfast.  Dad served all of us his delicious pancakes, but I noticed that he hadn’t eaten anything.  “Dad,” I said, “Aren’t you going to have some pancakes?”  My dad just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m fasting.”  I wondered what kind of a man could make pancakes and not eat them!  I was sure I would NEVER have that kind of willpower! I was also pretty sure that fasting could definitely NOT be worth it if you had to skip pancakes for breakfast!

As I got a little older, the dreaded Sunday came when there was no smell of hot pancakes on the griddle.  At first, my parents just had us skip breakfast and then we gradually worked up to the point we could fast for 24 hours (which I think I first did as a teenager).  It was tough.  It was probably even tougher for my parents (I’m sure we complained more than once that we were hungry!), but they knew the power behind fasting and they wanted us to discover it for ourselves as well.

Do not think that there is not a spiritual significance in the little principle of fasting.  Do not think, parents, that you are favoring your child when, out of compassion, you say, “Oh, give him his breakfast; oh, let us have breakfast; let us have dinner; I have a headache; the little boy is too young to go without his meal, and so on.  You do not know what you are doing by such teaching as that.  I want to tell you that the children of our Church can be so taught this principle of self-denial that they will set worthy examples to their parents in the observance of it (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 105-106).

Physical hunger is hard to fight off!  It gnaws at you!  Your body knows it needs food to survive and it will fight for it!  It takes a lot of self discipline to resist.  And that is one of the greatest blessings of fasting – it develops our self mastery.  We become a master over our bodies instead of our bodies being the master over us.  We develop some serious willpower!  In my humble opinion, there are few things on earth that can develop our willpower quicker than fasting!

Fasting increases your power to resist temptation.  And not just the temptation to eat, but EVERY temptation the devil will throw at you!  Wanting to eat while we’re fasting is one of the strongest temptations there is, and if you can control that, you can control anything!

Developing our self discipline is crucial in fighting against Satan.  Just think about it – EVERY time we’ve sinned it’s because we lost self control.  We weren’t disciplined enough.  We didn’t have enough willpower.  We caved to the temptation.  Through fasting, we gain more power over Satan.  It’s not that sin is not as tempting as before, but we are stronger than before and are less likely to give in!  Every time we do give in to sin, it weakens our willpower.  If you feel like you’ve been losing a lot of battles with Satan lately, maybe it’s time to fast and gain that power back.

When I was 21, I decided to do a service mission for my church.  I was assigned to serve in Germany and Austria for 18 months.  At the beginning of my mission, I was pretty discouraged.  I was struggling to learn a new language and the lessons I was trying to teach people weren’t coming across very well.  I knew I needed some extra help.  I decided to fast, but I also realized that I couldn’t become a master teacher in 24 hours.

That’s when I came up with a plan that transformed the way I fasted and I truly reaped the POWERFUL blessings from fasting.  I decided to have a monthly theme for each fast.  I started each month (on that first Sunday) with a fast.  I went without food or water and begged Heavenly Father to help me learn how to be a better teacher.  At the end of the 24 hours I knelt down and said, “I am going to end the food part of my fast, but I am NOT going to end my fast.  I’m dedicating this whole month to Thee and learning how to teach Thy word better.  Please help me and teach me the things I need to learn.”

That entire month I focused, read, prayed, pondered, and studied how the Savior taught.  I woke up early, studied during lunch, and pondered during the day and miraculous things began to happen!  They probably wouldn’t have been considered miraculous to other people, but they were to me.  I was amazed at how many experiences, stories, poems, scriptures, and analogies came to my mind.  I was amazed at how easily lesson outlines came together and how many different kinds of teaching methods I came up with.  God was so very merciful to me that month.  The heavens were opened and a constant stream of brilliant ideas flowed down to me.

The next month I chose a different theme and marveled at the fabulous results.  To this day, I still choose a monthly theme each month.

The monthly themes also work when you are fasting to help someone else in need.  It’s great to fast for them for 24 hours, but even more powerful if you dedicate an entire month to helping that individual!

I have also fasted to strengthen relationships.  I’ve fasted to strengthen my marriage, help a child who was struggling with a certain issue, etc.  Every time I’ve come away with a far greater understanding of that individual, how much God loves them, and received a ton of new ideas on how to help that individual (or how to help me deal with them).  It’s been during these months where I’ve come up with some of my most brilliant parenting strategies!

Sometimes we feel like we’re being pulled in a million different directions.  We have a millions different responsibilities, and it seems we’re not making much progress in ANY direction.  We are stretched too thin.

The trick is to pick ONE direction – ONE thing you really want to improve, and focus on it for a month.  It’s amazing how much progress you can make in becoming more patient if you dedicate an entire month to fasting about patience (believe me, I know!  I’ve done it!).

Isaiah was lamenting the fact that the Israelites did not understand the powerful blessings that came from fasting.

Look at these beautiful promises in the book of Isaiah to those who fast:

FASTING WILL:

  • Loose the bands of wickedness
  • Undo the heavy burdens
  • Let the oppressed go free
  • Take care of the poor (Isaiah counseled them to “deal thy bread to the hungry and “bring the poor that are cast out to thy house”) (Isaiah 58:6-12)

BLESSINGS FROM FASTING

  • Then shall thy light break forth as the morning
  • Thine health shall spring forth speedily
  • Thy righteousness shall go before thee
  • The glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward
  • Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer.
  • Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
  • And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Can we chew gum while we’re fasting?  It depends.  It’s all about our inner desires and motivations.  If we’re chewing gum to freshen our breath, maybe.  If we’re chewing gum to take the edge off our hunger, maybe we should think twice before popping our favorite spearmint gum in our mouths.  Feeling hungry during our fast is actually a blessing.  Each time we feel hungry, we are reminded of the reason we are fasting and can focus our attention on that.  In addition, the harder it is to go without food, the more willpower we develop!  If it were easy to go without food for that long, maybe our spirits wouldn’t grow quite as much.  Although, there have been times when it was easier to fast than others and it was precisely because I wanted the thing so badly that I was fasting for that the sacrifice was easy to make and the temptation to eat didn’t phase me at all.

Fasting without a purpose is torture, but fasting with a monthly theme in mind is powerful and rewarding.  I used to dread fasting each month (especially when I was younger), but now I look forward to having a month of one on one time with the Lord where He can personally teach me how to overcome my next challenge.

And yes, I get up early Sunday mornings and make my kids pancakes.  None of them are old enough to fast yet and, as I pour syrup over hot pancakes, I think back to my four-year-old self who never would have believed that she’d be able to resist pancakes on Fast Sunday!

Joseph in Egypt: life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you decide to do about it!

Joseph’s life was riddled with trials and bumps in the road that he never saw coming.  As soon as he rose to the top, he seemed to get slammed back down to the bottom.  When Joseph was seventeen, he was sold, by his brothers, into slavery in Egypt.  What probably made this a particularly bitter experience is that Joseph had seen a vision showing that he was chosen of God to be a ruler over his brothers.  Being sold into Egypt as a slave must have seemed like a DIRECT contradiction to a promised blessing from the Lord.  It seemed the Lord had promised one thing and allowed quite the opposite to happen.  That must have been, to say the least, a very confusing time.  As Joseph trudged along to Egypt, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking, “Yes!  Becoming a slave is the next logical step to becoming a noble ruler!”  But there is no record of any bitterness or complaint from Joseph.  I am astounded that Joseph’s attitude seemed to be, “Well, I’m a slave now.  I can’t change that, but I can be the best slave there ever was!”  He put his whole heart and soul into his work and before long, his master, Potiphar, “saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 29:3).  Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house.

All was well until Potiphar’s wife desired Joseph.  Joseph chose to be chaste.  He did the right thing and ended up being thrown into prison.  And prisoner is a step down from slave!  Whenever I think my life is unfair, I think of Joseph and suddenly, my life doesn’t seem so bad =)  He could have a few good talks with those of us who think life isn’t fair =)

As if being a slave (or a prisoner!) weren’t hard enough, I think maybe the hardest thing about it was the fact that he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.  The scriptures teach that if we keep the commandments, God will bless us.  While that is always true, the blessings may not always be immediate or obvious.  Being righteous does NOT guarantee that we will not have trials.  But we do have this promise:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). 

There may be no better example of the truth of this scripture than Joseph’s life!   

Please remember this one thing.  If our lives…are centered upon Jesus Christ…nothing can ever go permanently wrong.  On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success can be permanently right (Howard W. Hunter, “Following the Mater:  Teachings of Howard W. Hunter,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, pg. 21)

There is a purpose to every trial we are called to endure.  Though we may not know the reason, no trial is a waste.

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.  All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God…and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.  (Orson F. Whitney as quoted by Pres. Kimball in Faith Precedes the Miracle, pg. 98)

Thrown into prison, Joseph could have become very resentful, but again, there is no record of complaint and once again, his attitude seems to be, “Well, I’m a prisoner.  I can’t change that, but I can be the best prisoner there ever was!”  It would have been so easy for him to have turned his back on God. It would have been so easy for him to have felt betrayed by God.  It would have been so easy to sit in a corner and rot with bitterness.  It says a lot about Joseph’s character and work ethic that “the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.  The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper” (Genesis 39:23).

Joseph interpreted the baker’s and the butler’s dreams while he was in prison, but it was two years before Pharaoh had a dream that he was called to come and interpret.  Joseph was 30 years old when he was appointed second in command of all of Egypt.  Finally, after 13 years in Egypt, his life started making sense!  That’s a long time to be patient and wait for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled!  To his credit, he had kept himself so pure and so close to the Lord that when the time came to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he was worthy to do it and he was so in tune with the Lord that he not only gave Pharaoh the interpretation, but was also able to devise a plan to save all of Egypt!  Pharaoh recognized this immediately and asked, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” (Genesis 41:38).  It was obvious that Joseph was a spiritual giant.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from Joseph is how to react when life doesn’t make sense.  When I feel like I’m doing everything I should – keeping the commandments to the best of my ability – and yet feel like my life is falling apart, do I shake my fist at the heavens or trust that the Lord is in control and can see the whole picture while I often just see a tiny piece of it?  Joseph’s trust in the Lord was unwavering.  He had truly learned that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything works out in the end.  If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end!  He wasn’t obsessed with how unfair his life was and how things weren’t working out.  He made the most out of every situation he was thrown into!

We know that Joseph’s life turned out great.  We know that he ends up being second in command in Egypt.  We know that he ended up saving his family from starving to death.  But he didn’t know that’s how it would turn out!  THE reason his life was so hard is that he didn’t know what was going to happen.  He didn’t know how long he would be a slave or how long he would be in prison.  He just knew that he wasn’t going to turn his back on God.  All he knew was that if he did his best, God would help him get through anything he was called to pass through.

I remember taking my son to the doctor to get his first set of vaccinations.  The nurse had me hold his head in my hands as she did the first shot.  My poor, unsuspecting, baby wailed at the shock of the pain!  He looked up at me with eyes that pleaded, “Please, mom, help me!  Someone is hurting me!  Please save me!”  My heart broke as I looked into those tear-filled eyes and realized that the only thing I could do was hold him.  How I wish I could have explained that these shots were necessary – that they would save him from contracting terrible diseases that would have caused much more pain than these shots – but I knew that there was no way he would understand my explanations.  I knew it was for his best interest.  It was to prepare (and protect) him for the future.  If he could only know what I did.  If he could only see what I could.  How could I explain that I wasn’t doing it to hurt him?  I was doing it to help him.

So often we want an explanation from God.  We want to know WHY we have to endure certain things.  We want to know why we are having marriage problems, financial problems, parenting problems, employment problems, health issues, etc.  That has caused me to ponder:  why does God often withhold explanations?

Then my epiphany:  If God did explain why we have to go through a certain trial, it would not be a trial!  If God had told Joseph (when he was sold into slavery) not to worry because he would end up being second in command in Egypt and saving his family from starving, would his life have been difficult?  No (or not nearly as much), because it would have made sense.  Joseph’s trials were hard because they didn’t make sense.  He was doing everything God asked him to and he kept getting negative consequences for it (or so it seemed).  He could have said, “Lord, you told me to be chaste and I was and then I was thrown into prison!  That’s not fair!”  But Joseph didn’t complain.

God could have explained, “Joseph, my son, you need to be in prison so you can interpret the butler’s dream so he can introduce you to Pharaoh and so you can save Egypt and your family from starvation.”  But Joseph would never have increased in faith if the Lord had done that.  Explanations remove the need for faith.  The real test is whether or not we will be consistent in keeping the commandments even when things don’t make sense.  True faith means not giving up no matter what happens.  The only thing that is important to keep is our faith.  We are not in control of anything else.  We can’t control many of the things that happen to us in this life, but we can control the strength, vibrancy, and efficacy of our faith.  We are in control of our character and who we choose to become.  We must learn to trust the Lord even when He hasn’t revealed all the answers.

THE TAPESTRY

My life is but a weaving,

Between my God and me.

I do not see the colors,

He worketh patiently.

Oft times he weaveth sorrow,

And I in foolish pride,

Forget he sees the upper

And I the underside.

Not ‘till the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly,

Will God unroll the canvas

And explain the reason why

That the dark threads are as needful

In the skillful weaver’s hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern he has planned

ADDITIONAL READING

“See the end from the beginning”

by Dieter F. Uchtdorf

My young friends, today I say to you that if you trust the Lord and obey Him, His hand shall be over you, He will help you achieve the great potential He sees in you, and He will help you to see the end from the beginning.

Allow me to share with you an experience from my own boyhood. When I was 11 years old, my family had to leave East Germany and begin a new life in West Germany overnight. Until my father could get back into his original profession as a government employee, my parents operated a small laundry business in our little town. I became the laundry delivery boy. To be able to do that effectively, I needed a bicycle to pull the heavy laundry cart. I had always dreamed of owning a nice, sleek, shiny, sporty red bicycle. But there had never been enough money to fulfill this dream. What I got instead was a heavy, ugly, black, sturdy workhorse of a bicycle. I delivered laundry on that bike before and after school for quite a few years. Most of the time, I was not overly excited about the bike, the cart, or my job. Sometimes the cart seemed so heavy and the work so tiring that I thought my lungs would burst, and I often had to stop to catch my breath. Nevertheless, I did my part because I knew we desperately needed the income as a family, and it was my way to contribute.

If I had only known back then what I learned many years later—if I had only been able to see the end from the beginning—I would have had a better appreciation of these experiences, and it would have made my job so much easier.

Many years later, when I was about to be drafted into the military, I decided to volunteer instead and join the Air Force to become a pilot. I loved flying and thought being a pilot would be my thing.

To be accepted for the program I had to pass a number of tests, including a strict physical exam. The doctors were slightly concerned by the results and did some additional medical tests. Then they announced, “You have scars on your lung which are an indication of a lung disease in your early teenage years, but obviously you are fine now.” The doctors wondered what kind of treatment I had gone through to heal the disease. Until the day of that examination I had never known that I had any kind of lung disease. Then it became clear to me that my regular exercise in fresh air as a laundry boy had been a key factor in my healing from this illness. Without the extra effort of pedaling that heavy bicycle day in and day out, pulling the laundry cart up and down the streets of our town, I might never have become a jet fighter pilot and later a 747 airline captain.

We don’t always know the details of our future. We do not know what lies ahead. We live in a time of uncertainty. We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. Occasionally discouragement may sneak into our day; frustration may invite itself into our thinking; doubt might enter about the value of our work. In these dark moments Satan whispers in our ears that we will never be able to succeed, that the price isn’t worth the effort, and that our small part will never make a difference. He, the father of all lies, will try to prevent us from seeing the end from the beginning (“See the End From the Beginning,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference April 2006).

 

David and Goliath: When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed

David didn’t wait for the Lord to call him to kill Goliath.  He tells King Saul, “Let no man’s heart fall because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” (1 Same 17:32).  Other men had to be called and they were scared to death (Moses, Jonah, Gideon, etc).  David saw a problem and immediately jumped in! He was already so courageous that he was able to persuade the king to let him, a shepherd with no military experience, battle a man that would decide the fate of his entire nation.

Have we prepared today to fight our Goliaths of tomorrow?  When David woke up that morning, he didn’t know that he would have to fight a giant, nine foot-tall warrior!  But it didn’t matter because he was ready!  We need to have a testimony so strong that it doesn’t matter what trial comes our way because we are strong enough, determined enough, and courageous enough to tackle anything!  Then we can be at peace because we know that whatever comes, with the Lord’s help, we will come off conquerors.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Another reason Daniel was fearless is that he had past spiritual experiences to sustain him.  David didn’t know that he would someday have to fight off a terrifying monster of an enemy, but God did.  So God sent him experiences to prepare him.  As David was tending the sheep, a lion and a bear (see 1 Sam 17:34-37) came and he, with the help of the Lord, was able to kill them.  These past spiritual experiences let him KNOW that the Lord was with him and would help him.

We all have a Goliath of a problem to face (depression, divorce, abuse, grades, contention, low self esteem, friends, homework, poor health, eating disorder, loneliness, sickness, addiction, rejection, discouragement).  What would be the saddest tale of all is WHEN (not if) our Goliaths come, we are unprepared for the challenge!

To every man there comes… that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour. -Winston Churchill

5 Characteristics of “Goliaths” in 1 Samuel chapter 17

  1. vs 4 – they seem bigger than life – insurmountable
  2. vs 5-7 they are tough to fight (well protected)
  3. vs 9 desires to make us its servant
  4. vs 16 feels it never goes away (constant nagging)
  5. Vs 11 makes us afraid (takes away faith)

HOW TO OVERCOME A GOLIATH  – Have students read through verses 26-51 and find how to overcome Goliaths.  Have them pick their favorite one and then share it with a neighbor.  Share it with the class.  Journal:  How have you overcome big problems in your life?  What do you do when you’re going through a hard trial?  Think of a time when you or someone you know, overcame a tremendous obstacle

  1. Vs 26 see the problem for what it truly is
  2. Vs 32 be willing to fight it
  3. Vs 33 don’t let others discourage you or tell you it can’t be done
  4. Vs 36 know your strengths
  5. Vs 37 have faith
  6. Vs 39 be yourself
  7. Vs 40 realize it may take several tries (David didn’t collect ONE stone; he took five)
  8. Vs 47 realize God will help you (you are not alone)
  9. Vs 50 do the little things (small and simple)
  10. Vs 51 completely kill it,

“There are Goliaths all around you, hulking giants with evil intent to destroy you. These are not nine-foot tall men, but they are men and institutions that control attractive but evil things that may challenge and weaken and destroy you. Included in these are beer and other liquors and tobacco. Those who market these products would like to enslave you  into their use. There are drugs of various kinds. . . . There is pornography, seductive and interesting and inviting. It has become a giant industry, producing magazines, films, and other materials designed to take your money and lead you toward activities that would destroy you.

The giants who are behind these efforts are formidable and skillful. They have gained vast experience in the war they are carrying on. They would like to ensnare you.

It is almost impossible to entirely avoid exposure to their products. You see these materials on all sides. But you need not fear if you have the slingshot of truth in your hands. You have been counseled and taught and advised. You have the stones of virtue and honor and integrity to use against these enemies who would like to conquer you. . . . You can triumph over them by disciplining yourselves to avoid them. . . .

Victory will be yours. There is not a [person] within the sound of my voice who needs to succumb to any of these forces. . . . You have His power within you to sustain you” (Gordon B. Hinckly, Ensign, May 1983, 46, 51).

This article is a great resource for teaching the importance of spiritual preparation.

At a recent stake conference, a returned missionary spoke on the subject of preparing for missionary service. He used the analogy of a father saying to his son, “I will be happy when you play in your first basketball game so you can learn to dribble and shoot the basketball.” He compared that example to a father saying to his son, “I will be happy when you go on your mission so you can learn to be a good person and teach the gospel.” This analogy had a significant impact on me as I reflected on my life.

When I was a young boy, my greatest desire was to play basketball. Fortunately, I had a father who was anxious to see that his son’s desire was met. Dad and I would practice the basics of passing and dribbling the basketball hour after hour in our small kitchen. I would listen to college basketball games on the radio and dream of playing college ball someday. Serving a mission was far from my mind at that time; consequently, I spent very little effort in missionary preparation. In an attempt to ensure some balance in my life, my dad—who had not held a Church calling in many years—accepted the call to serve as my Scoutmaster. He operated by the book, and due to his diligence, some of my friends and I became Eagle Scouts. I realize now that Scouting is great preparation for a mission.

My boyhood dream came true when I made the basketball team at Utah State University. During my second year at Utah State, a returned missionary befriended me. Because of his example I began looking at my associates at school, including those on the basketball team, and realized that the people I most wanted to be like were those who had served missions. With the kind and loving mentoring of my good friend—and, I am sure, as a result of my mother’s prayers and good example—my desires changed. After my second year at Utah State, I was called to serve in the Western Canadian Mission.

Three months into my mission, a new missionary from Idaho was assigned to be my companion. We had been together only a few days when I realized something very significant: my new companion knew the gospel, while I only knew the discussions. How I wished that I had prepared to be a missionary as hard as I had prepared to be a basketball player. My companion had prepared for his mission throughout his life and was immediately a valuable member of the team. How important it is for fathers and sons to work together on the basics in preparing for a mission.

I believe it is appropriate to compare the game of basketball to missionary work. The game of basketball includes not only the time you compete with another team on the court but also the hours of proper training and practice. The great work of saving souls is not limited to the two years that you serve a mission but, rather, requires years of righteous living and preparation in order to meet the standard for full-time missionary service. (Daryl H. Garn, “Preparing for Missionary Service,”  Ensign, May 2003, 46)

We love all our missionaries who are serving the Lord full-time in the mission field.  But there is a difference in missionaries.  Some are better prepared to serve the Lord the first month in the mission field than some who are returning home after twenty-four months.  We want young men entering the mission field who can enter the mission field “on the run,” who have the faith, born of personal righteousness and clean living, that they can have a great and productive mission (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, [1988], 192).

THE POWER OF PRAYER TO FORTIFY AN INDIVIDUAL AND CHANGE THE FATE OF A NATION

Daniel was a man of power and influence during the reign of King Darius.  The King had 120 princes and 3 presidents who ruled over these 120 princes.  What was Daniel’s role?  He was the FIRST of the three presidents.  The only man more powerful in all of the kingdom was the king himself.

The other presidents and princes conspired against Daniel to get rid of him, but “they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him” (Daniel 6:4).  They came up with a clever idea – since they couldn’t find anything wrong that he was doing, they would simply find something right that he was doing and get him in trouble for it!

It is interesting to me that, out of all the myriad of things they could have chosen, they chose prayer.  These men KNEW that Daniel would be willing to die for the privilege to pray.  How did they know that?  What must Daniel’s prayers have been like?  How did he pray?  What did he say?  How long and how often did he pray?

These wicked men convinced King Darius to sign a decree that no man could ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days except the king or they would be cast into a den of lions.  How does Daniel respond to this decree?  “Now when Daniel KNEW that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime”  (Daniel 6:10).  Daniel prays!  He could have simply waited 30 days to pray, but he didn’t.  He couldn’t go for 30 days without prayer and these wicked men knew he couldn’t.  I’m sure Daniel wouldn’t have been able to go without prayer for 20 days or 10 days or even one day.  If that decree had only been in effect for ONE day, Daniel would have still ended up in that lions’ den.  For Daniel, life wasn’t worth living if he couldn’t pray.

Daniel wasn’t a 90% Saint. He didn’t just keep the commandments when it was convenient for him.  He didn’t care what people thought. He didn’t stop keeping the commandments to please his boss (the king), his co-workers, his friends, or anybody else. He only cared about what God thought of Him.

When Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den, King Darius fasted all night and RAN to the lions’ den at first light crying, “O Daniel…is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?”  Daniel told him of his miraculous protection and the King rejoiced.

I have often wondered what would have happened had Daniel chosen to simply pray silently for 30 days.  What if he had just closed his windows and prayed in his closet?  That way he could have still kept the commandment of God to pray while avoiding the lions’ den entirely.  But Daniel was a man of integrity.  The decree was a wicked decree.  It specifically forbade anyone from praying to God.  Daniel wasn’t going to stay silent and let evil win.  He refused to sit around and just wait until a wicked law was changed.  Instead of privately protesting the law, he actively, publicly fought against evil.  He let EVERYONE know he was not going to comply with this wicked law.  Because Daniel boldly made a stand, his righteous example led the King to believe in the true God of heaven.  Darius sent out a decree that the entire nation was to worship Daniel’s God.  Daniel’s religion became the new state religion!  His standing up for what was right not only wrought miracles for him, but for the King, and opened up the way for the entire kingdom to be converted to the true and living God.  If Daniel had been too scared to stand up for what was right, King Darius may never have been converted.

Daniel’s need to communicate with his Father in Heaven was as strong as his need to breathe.  Daniel knew he could never have real joy and peace in his heart if he turned his back on what he knew to be true and refused to make his convictions known. And so, in spite of worldly pressures and trying circumstances, he chose to stand up for what was right.

World’s Worst Battle Plan

This is a true story of going from zero to hero.  Gideon viewed himself as a nobody (he states “my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house [Judges 6:15]), but an angel of God calls him to save Israel from the Midianites.  I love how THE first thing the angel said to Gideon was, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” The angel could have said, “Well, Gideon, you’re not worth much now, but you could be if you listen to me.” The Lord knew Gideon was a hero. He knew Gideon was capable of performing miracles. The Lord needed Gideon to know that Gideon could perform miracles. This is Gideon’s story of learning how important he is to the Lord, learning how much the Lord loves him, and learning he could accomplish things he never dreamed he could do.

Gideon amasses an army of 32,000 men, but the Lord reduces it to only 300.  Gideon’s men must have been thinking, “Gideon had better have the world’s best battle plan and some high tech weapons!”  But Gideon simply hands them a pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet.  It’s amazing the next verse doesn’t read, “And behold, 298 men returned home confused and disheartened.”  These men did not go into battle with weapons.  They went into battle with their testimonies that Gideon was a prophet and that God was leading them.  The weapons are symbolic of the weapons we need to bring into battle against the evil influences of the world.  We are the clay pitcher and God is the potter.  He can mold us into the child of God that we are meant to become.  We need to radiate the Lord’s light and use our voice (our trumpets) to declare our convictions to the world.

Gideon’s army defeated the Midianites by surrounding them at night, breaking the pitchers, blowing the trumpets, waving the lamps and shouting, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.”  The Midianites, who had been sleeping in the valley, awoke and must have thought a huge army was upon them!  In their confusion, they end up fighting each other and then fleeing.

The Lord did not pick a war hero to lead His army.  He didn’t need a warrior.  He just needed someone who would obey him and Gideon was probably THE only person on the planet that would take pitchers, lamps, and trumpets into battle. The Lord knew that Gideon would obey him. The Lord knew that Gideon was a mighty man of valor. Gideon needed to know that Gideon was a mighty man of valor.  Gideon learned that the Lord can make a lot more out of us than we can make of ourselves.  If He calls us to do something, He will give us the ability to accomplish what He has asked.  We don’t have to be the most talented men and women on earth to do His work.  God can teach us what we need to know.  ALL we need is to humbly obey and trust Him.