Just who blesses whom?
We hear these words in testimony meetings or in talks: "I'm grateful to have been blessed with such good children."
And they're right -- their children really are good people, living the gospel and treating others kindly and raising their families and doing their jobs to the best of their ability.
But who is blessing whom?
We can certainly be grateful to our Father in Heaven for having chosen to send us children who are disposed to do good.
But it's a core doctrine of the Church that God did not make them good. If we have good children it is because they have chosen to love the Lord with all their heart, and then to love their fellow children of God.
So aren't we also giving thanks to our children for having blessed our lives with their choices? There is certainly nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes, though, we phrase it a different way: "I don't know what I did to deserve such good children."
Does anyone hear the can opener churning away? That's right -- it's opening that can of worms that everyone is always talking about!
(Actually, with my new hobby of birdfeeding, I have bought actual cans of bluebird "treats," which I open from time to time. It gives fresh vigor to the idiomatic expression, "Don't open that can of worms.")
If we are good parents, then our children will have a better chance of learning the gospel from their childhood on, which may help them avoid many of the devastating mistakes that can bring such misery to them and their families.
But we don't get the children we "deserve." Well-behaved or righteous children are not a premium in the Eternal Parent Awards Program.
It is true that when they are young, their parents can help them learn the skills they will need to conquer temptation. If children choose to disobey the Lord -- and therefore their parents -- we cannot say that it is the parents' fault, as long as they have done their best to teach them.
I know a few families that listen to such testimonies or comments with secret pain. "We taught our children the gospel, we took them to church, prayed together, held family home evenings -- but one of our sons is in prison, and our daughter had a child out of wedlock. Does this mean that our children's unhappiness is God's way of punishing us?
It's like counting baptisms on your mission. While you certainly don't baptize many converts if you spend your missionary days lying in bed with your pillow over your head -- but neither can you claim credit for the marvelous achievements of your favorite investigators.
For the missionary who teaches with the Spirit, so that the investigators understand the choice that is being offered them, has done his part. The choice of whether to be baptized or not, and then whether to remain faithful and active Latter-day Saints, belongs entirely to the investigator.
Not everyone chooses righteousness, no matter how well and clearly they've been taught. If our children live faithful lives, it is because they have made faithful choices.
Recently a friend of ours, Melanie Fenton, was asked to give a talk on preparing children to receive the ordinances of the temple. It occurred to her to ask her temple-attending kids what influences helped them want to attain and maintain temple worthiness.
(The full text of her sacrament meeting talk is at http://www.nauvoo.com/mormontimes/columns/2010-10-21-a.html.)
The Fentons' older son is on a mission, so it wasn't convenient to call him up; she could only talk with her recently married daughter Rachel:
"Things which made an impression on her were not earth-shattering or major, life-changing events," said Melanie. "They were things like seeing the dedication and the sacrifices others were willing to make to be in the temple. Hearing members of the ward speak of the temple in emotional and reverent ways. Seeing how others felt about the temple made her want to have that feeling as well.
"She remembers baby-sitting for a couple in the ward who had few opportunities to go out. She noticed when they got the chance to go anywhere without their kids, they chose to go to the temple. This made her want to go there someday too."
Rachel was also impressed by the time that her parents stayed up all night to attend the temple when she was eight. In those days, the Washington temple operated all through Friday nights. They drove five hours to get there, and then little sister Michelle was quite sick in the hotel room.
Mother and Father took turns staying with her while the other took part in a temple session. "The temple must really be important," concluded Rachel, if her parents would "stay up all night to go and leave Michelle when she was so sick."
None of these things was planned as a way to teach a love of the temple to this young girl. Not everyone would have taken the same lessons from these experiences.
The choice remains with each child to take whatever life lessons they choose. But what parents and other caring adults can do is offer examples and teachings, expectations and hopes, encouragement and, when needed, reproof.
After all we can do, it is still the child's choice. But we must do all we can.
Our children's lives are the result of what they choose to do with the opportunities and temptations they find.
We bless their lives when we prepare them and arm them to recognize temptation when it comes, and help them acquire the skills and habits they need to overcome it.
They bless our lives when they heed our teachings even when we aren't there.
Some people, not able to have children of their own, bless the lives of other people's children, and are blessed by them in turn.
Meanwhile, the bad choices of parents can burden their children and the bad choices of children can burden their parents with grief and fear. Those are the burdens that come with love.
We are blessed to be in this world, full of challenges and opportunities. We are judged according to what we meant to do, and tried to do, and did. We can rejoice in the good choices of our children; but their happiness is not our reward, any more than their unhappiness is our punishment.
God himself deserves nothing less than our obedience and gratitude; yet whether he gets it or not, he remains perfect, for he has given us every chance and taught us how to live.
He has blessed us with this life, this world, this chance and hope of exaltation. As with any child, we bless our Father by giving him the joy that comes from seeing a beloved child heed, obey, and reap the happiness that comes.
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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