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Advice & Commentary on Mormon Life
Inside This Issue:
Teancum in the U.S. Army
Blessings Along the Way
Letters to the Editor
Women and the Premortal Councils
Does Civilization Begin in Sacrament Meeting?


Issue 14 / June 1997 Hatrack River Publications

Children should be impressed with the inappropriateness of confusion and disorder in a worshiping assembly and should be made to realize that it is the height of rudeness to leave service before dismissal. Young people who ignore such proprieties are two hundred and fifty years behind the times. They should have lived in colonial days when just to make sure they stayed out the service, young men were locked in their pews by their superiors.

-- David O. McKay


Teancum in the U.S. Army

I first developed the regular habit of reading the Book of Mormon while attending Ricks College. By the time I was first commissioned in the military, I had read the Book of Mormon cover to cover five times. Unfortunately, I had let myself get pretty complacent about the scriptures, and reading them started to get boring.

In order to re-kindle my interest, I decided at that time to read the Book of Mormon from a soldier's point of view. Without going into charts and diagrams and the like, I found that the descriptions of the battles and the tactics used made a lot of sense when compared with accounts of similar battles fought in the Old World in the same time. However, it wasn't the hissing of the arrows, flashing of the swords or tramping of feet that really interested me. It was the way that the personalities of the leaders developed that really intrigued me. I found that I could find a modern-day analogy for just about every character.

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General Moroni was a soldier's soldier. He had to be, for he began fighting as a teenager, took supreme command of the army in his mid-twenties and had to deal with an insurrection at home while simultaneously fighting a protracted war with the Lamanites. As it was, he lived for only a short time after he stopped fighting, dying in his mid-forties. His heart probably just gave out from the fatigue.

I have a lot of respect for General Moroni, but I don't think I would have liked him personally. He was like an infantry colonel I knew, very intense and very single-minded. When supplies and reinforcements weren't forthcoming, Moroni's reaction was to write a nasty letter to Pahoran. When Pahoran answered the letter, explaining that the full scale civil war he (Pahoran) was dealing with was the cause for the logistical hold-up, Moroni didn't apologize for the misunderstanding . . . he just got back to fighting.

Teancum was cool. He seems pretty tough and very good at his job: fighting Lamanites. I picture him as an unimposing figure when first met, but upon examination proving to be very alert, very smart, light on his feet, and field-wise, like a Green Beret or a seal. In contrast, I picture him as being very personable, as befits a good small-unit leader, possessing the implicit trust of his warriors. Unfortunately, he did have the tendency to do things on his own, which worked very well sometimes but ultimately led to his death.

Helaman, son of Alma, is very dear to my heart. He is the National Guardsman to Moroni and Teancum's regular soldier. He seemed to me that he was as nervous about going to war as the 2,000 stripling warriors he led, but between the guidance he constantly sought from his Father in Heaven and the love he showed for his boys, he was able to persevere.

It was the esteem he felt for his young warriors that speaks to me most eloquently. Though the stripling warriors were, in fact, mostly young men, I've always thought of Helaman as a scoutmaster with 2,000 boys in his troop and no committee.

The point of all this isn't whether or not these impressions are completely accurate. The point to remember is that envisioning them as real men of flesh and blood was important. Once I made that kind of identification, I found reading the Book of Mormon to be much more riveting and more personal. These were guys like my fellow officers and myself.

They were real.

-- David Deitrick


Blessings Along the Way

While surfing the net a month ago, I encountered a letter written by a woman, a member of the Church, who expressed frustration and feelings of hopelessness. Over the years she had heard many talks on the importance of goal setting, and yet had spent years of her life unable to attain the goals she had set for herself professionally and was stuck in a job she hated. She said she felt thwarted and unworthy.

Her letter rang a bell in my soul and I composed a reply. And then found I had misplaced her e-mail address. Here is the letter anyway. Perhaps it may be of use to someone.

My dear friend:

I found your note and thought I would respond. There is a saying in the part of the country where I live (the hard-scrabble, never-endingly economically struggling Northeast), "If you want to make God chuckle, tell him what your plans are."

A few thoughts on goals and goal setting in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

When I was first embarking on adulthood, I was given advice by a woman many years older than I. She had spent her life raising a large brood of children on her husband's very meager salary. Her words to me were, "Always remember that happiness is not found at the end of the road. Happiness is found along the way."

Do you remember the story of the ruler that came to Jesus, imploring him to come and heal his dying daughter? Jesus and his disciples turned and followed the man toward his home, through the throng of people that always seemed to be dogging his steps. In the midst of this urgent journey, a woman with an issue of blood briefly touches his garment, hoping to be healed. He stops. The ruler is frantic. The disciples think he is crazy, but he stops and what follows is one of the most touching scenes of kindness, listening and compassion in the Savior's ministry, I think. Christ would have missed the whole encounter and the joy and service it embodied if his mind had been single only to the goal of reaching the ruler's house before the daughter died.

As it is, he doesn't make it to the house before the girl dies. He and the ruler failed to reach the ruler's goal of making it there before his daughter passed away. But he hasn't failed. It is only the beginning of more of Christ's blessings. The daughter is raised from her bed and made well.

The purpose of goals isn't to reap the joy that comes from obtaining them (though that sometimes happens). The purpose of goals is to give us direction so that we are not "blown about by every wind of doctrine." But when we are so upset because our goals seem beyond our reach that we miss the opportunities to recognize the joy along the way, then we have missed the whole point.

Perhaps you have seen people do this -- missionaries who do not reach their goal of twenty baptisms and count themselves as failures, never realizing the power of the Lord's work in the hour they spent listening to a lonely old woman who didn't want to hear the discussions but desperately needed someone to talk to; mothers who do not reach their goal of raising children that can all attend the temple together and count themselves as failures, never realizing the tremendous difference and blessing their influence has been in the lives of their wayward children; men and women who never rise to the tops of their professions and count themselves as failures, never understanding the blessing their goodwill and kindness has been to their co-workers; church workers who never hold positions of leadership and count themselves as failures, never fully understanding the Lord's great love for their endless, quiet service.

Years ago, as a young missionary, I listened as S. Dilworth Young, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, spoke to a group of us. He said, "If you are going to set goals (and missionaries set tons of them!) remember what the Lord said about goals through the prophet Micah. 'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.' [Micah 6:8] This is God's vision for us. Do we lose sight of it in our many restless pursuits? You bet we do."

So, my friend, stop and talk to the person in need and love and do the Lord's work where you are, not just where you will be down the road. As you lose yourself in the now, you will find that you have traveled farther than you ever thought possible.

And drop the unworthiness thinking. That's one of the adversary's favorite lies.

God bless you.

-- A Reader in Maine


Letters to the Editor

When reading the Careers and the Church essay in Vigor #13, the thought that comes to my mind is this: how do I teach my kids not to fall into the same career trap when I am so securely stuck there myself and will be for many years to come probably? Everyone has the inexplicable joy of having to endure the consequences of their actions and decisions, but how can someone like my girls actually turn their back on the great lie when we're in a society that more and more is demanding two-income families?

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I look at the newly-married couples in my ward, most of which are living with their spouses in their parents' homes because they can't even afford rent while going to school. When my wife and I first married, it was tough being a student and working at the same time, but we were able to pay rent and live just the same -- though humbly. But now, with rent prices soaring to ridiculous levels, the young kids are immediately taught that they must have two incomes or they can't survive. (They are also taught that they are failures if they don't have a decent car and live in their own home by the time they're twenty-five too, but that's another story.)

-- A Reader in Utah

Ah, but that is the story -- that message about failure being measured on the basis of material possessions is at the heart of the whole dilemma.

Those kids living in their parents' homes because they can't afford rent? Well, there you have it -- that's the solution for the time being. And when they do get jobs, they need to be willing to live modestly -- and ride the bus -- and not have a "nice" car -- and do without until they can get what they need without the wife leaving the home.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that your girls shouldn't be prepared to be breadwinners. They may not marry immediately; they may have to work, not to have nice possessions but just to survive; they may be the breadwinner who has to work while the husband stays home; and they may have non-career careers (i.e., if someone has great talent, they should use it -- so that if one of your daughters is a writer, she and her future husband will need to work out a pattern of life so the children always have a parent and she can write!). There are a thousand ways to do it right, every one of them involving some sacrifice of material means -- but that is always better than a sacrifice of children's needs.

-- Editor

Many people are realizing that college won't do it for them and they are enrolling in technical colleges, trade schools, etc. There are very few jobs that should require four years of training to prepare for a life of earning. I have counseled students to learn a trade first, then go for a career. If technology or society or down-sizing cause their "career" to vanish, they will have an earning capability to fall back on.

I was satisfied that I was teaching in an area [educational media] where practical teaching helps were learned and not any of the "theories" or dead history of education that students have to bore their way through (play on words intended). We were concerned with what a student would actually be able to do when through with our courses. Most education courses are of "tits on a boar" value. And the same is true in many academic areas -- I think. I had to take several librarianship courses to get my masters degree. The only thing I remember of value to me is "ask the librarian." -- A Reader in Utah

I am writing with concern about the letter in Vigor #12 about avoiding the appearance of evil. It is not that I am for the appearance of evil, but I worry about worrying about our appearances. Having grown up out in the "mission field" and now living in the heart of Utah, I have been the watched and am now a watcher of Saints. I agree that staying away from the many forms of evil is important, but I also believe that the person who's opinion really matters will see the good if it is really there in whatever form or see the bad regardless of the sheen we put on it. When worried about others, we can become obsessed with the "seeming" good and less concerned with the "being" good.

I believe that eventually our true nature shows through. For example, I grew up next door to Chris, a staunch Born-Again Christian who feels that his calling in life is to convert the world, especially the few wayward Mormons he goes to high school with. One day, Chris got into a discussion with a group of LDS teens on whether or not Mormons are Christians. Well, Chris is very knowledgeable in the scriptures and well practiced in debate and when the dust cleared, Chris had embarrassed the LDS kids. How the LDS youth reacted is interesting. Because Chris had embarrassed them and left them speechless, they decided to throw eggs and toilet paper at his house. I am sure that as Chris cleaned up the eggs and toilet paper he thought, I guess I was wrong. Those Mormons really are Christian.

So many times in the New Testament, the Savior teaches of the danger of showing our religion for the sake of showing it. One of the reasons he was rejected by the people was because he "seemed" to be less righteous to some, whereas others followed him completely (and still do today). There are people who will only see the bad, and others who will only see the good. Hopefully if we really are good, it will show through and will be said of us like the publican, "This man went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:10-14). We can and should worry about the evil in the world, just don't let everybody see you worry.

-- A Reader in Utah


Women and the Premortal Councils

The role of women in the Church and in society is discussed more and more every year. Women's Studies is now a legitimate academic discipline; feminism has been around so long that it has had time to experience an alleged "backlash," and a modest recovery. Luckily, in the Church, we know the answer to all the questions brought up about the role of women in society -- or do we?

At a recent stake fireside for temple recommend holders, we were taught some interesting doctrines pertaining to women by the stake patriarch. The patriarch attempted to lift the men in the stake by instructing them about their important missions in this life as holders of the priesthood. He began by describing the important roles that men had played in the premortal world. It was necessary for men to realize that they had participated in the grand councils before the world was as foreordained priesthood holders. He suggested that women would be more obedient to and respectful of their husbands if they could only remember what important contributions they had made to these councils. He instructed the sisters to go home and sit across the table from their husbands and to look deeply into their eyes to remember their great importance. Remember their elect calling. He said that every priesthood holding male was foreordained to be what they now are.

Not to leave the sisters out, he explained that women, too, were in their own relief society councils, learning where human eyes and noses would be properly placed so they could fulfill the great calling of motherhood. He threw in a reciprocal exercise for the brothers in the audience. They were to also look into their wives' eyes at home and remember who their wives had been before the world was.

At this point, a friend of ours walked out of the meeting. She was deeply distressed. In her mind, she was being told that men were given all the important roles -- both in the previous life as well as this one. No one had ever told her that she had not sat in on the great council, and this new knowledge was a confirmation of suspicions that had run deep in her for years. To someone who felt that most Relief Society homemaking meetings were a little superfluous anyway, the knowledge that in premortal life she was taking classes on "beautifying your cloud" while the men organized the important things was a slap in the face.

She called the next day to explain her feelings to us, how deeply it had affected her. And we were not the first to receive her call; she had turned to several other people for answers and help on this topic.

The first people that she turned to were her former bishop and her father-in-law. Both were highly esteemed when it came to religious matters. They both assured her that nowhere in the scriptures was there any evidence that women had not taken part in the premortal councils.

She called numerous other friends to get their opinions on the topic. The general consensus was that there was no evidence to support the separation of men and women in premortal importance. There were some scriptures offered for her to look up, some hints that the temple ceremonies could answer some of those concerns, even a quote from Elder McConkie that indicated women were not relegated to second-class spirit citizenship.

While many who were there and others who heard through the grapevine were content to realize that the patriarch had been offering opinions independent of revealed doctrine, this particular friend of ours was unable to let it stay at that. Perhaps most disturbing to her was the response of another friend of ours in the stake.

This friend had not attended the fireside, but after listening to the well-rehearsed description of what was said, she shrugged her shoulders and said that she didn't doubt that it all happened just as the stake patriarch had said. When questioned, she indicated that this did not bother her in the least and that every other woman should just learn to accept it eventually because women's roles in the Church are roles of submission to their husbands. Women fulfill duties while men are allowed and encouraged to explore their callings and seek their personal spiritual fulfillment. Furthermore, the next life will be even worse. The men will be able to parade around with their numerous wives, creating worlds left and right, continuing in their important roles, while women will be relegated to the status of "one of many."

Notwithstanding all the public reaffirmation of the role of women as shown in talks, articles, and books on the topic, the body of the Church still seems horribly divided and confused about what it means to be a woman. In a recent general conference, we counted several admonitions to men that women play as great a role in our Heavenly Father's plan as men do as well as several encouraging words to women who may feel relegated to a second-class status. Yet, the men and women of the Church remain confused about the proper "place" of women in the plan of God.

Listening to the stake patriarch, what we found interesting was that he was not relegating women to a secondary position, but elevating them to it. He did not speak as if to put women down, but as if we were all under the assumption that women weren't involved in premortal councils of any kind. In other words, he spoke it as if we would be surprised and pleased to learn that women indeed had a place, albeit a small one, in the councils of heaven.

Our friend was disturbed that such a doctrine was even hinted at. In spite of all the comfort and scriptures offered by friends and family, she continued to remain upset -- not at the patriarch, but at God. Although she had long since professed that women were equal to men, she had never inwardly accepted it, waiting in the wings to pounce on the slightest indication that she was actually in the backseat of the Church's car.

Our other friend wasn't disturbed in the slightest. As a women, she had somehow developed a belief that she wasn't as important to God as her husband and son, merely because she had different reproductive organs. This is perhaps the most disturbing element of the story -- that she could feel good by feeling so bad about herself.

There are undoubtedly many out there, male and female, who agree with her. And even those of us who disagree, occasionally say and do things that cast a shadow of doubt over what we profess to believe. Another example of this in our stake is the recent admonition by our stake Relief Society president that the visiting teachers not pray with the sisters they visit. When the inevitable questions about why such a policy should be enacted arose, many started to speculate that it was the home teachers' responsibility to pray with the families, since they were the priesthood holders, and the proper authorities for spiritual guidance through prayer. What is amazing is not that people were offended by this potential explanation, but that many received it without even a second thought. As if the world had an excess of prayers going around and any unauthorized praying -- unsanctioned by the priesthood -- would certainly be dangerous.

Could it be that years of being treated like second-class children of God could possibly make women take that role to themselves? Not overtly told that they are less important than men, as in the example at our stake fireside, but told the same with more subtlety. In a culture that prizes capital accumulation above all else, isn't it inevitable that little girls will grow up feeling inferior to their male counterparts who will have the opportunity to amass power and prestige by entering the workplace? Yet our answer continues to be "Motherhood is a sacred calling."

Is it surprising that in this environment, a young man we know of earnestly tried to win an argument with his date about whether they should go out for Italian or Chinese food by asserting his priesthood?

All of this shows us that in spite of our best intentions, it is still possible for our friend to feel that she is less than her husband in the eyes of God. She is not a whining ultra-feminist or a paranoid ultraconservative. She is an educated woman who sees the world through rational eyes; yet, she harbors the fear that in spite of all her efforts and faith, she will hear the Lord say, "Enter into my rest, and oh, yes, I guess you can bring your wife with you."

Thus, though we can see the problems, we can offer few solutions. Perhaps you have some. We are left to reflect on the views and behaviors of those around us, seeking in their experiences and in our own some hope. So we reflect on the concerns of our friend and her personal battle with humility. She eventually confided in us that she had to place her testimony above this issue and stand firm in the knowledge that the gospel was true, regardless of the gender issue. In spite of all the revealed knowledge she had access to, she was unable to solve the problem, because the problem wasn't one of formal doctrine or institutionalized discrimination, it was instead a subtler beast, one that rests in the hearts of men and women today, plotting against the success of the Church. And doing a very good job at it.

-- M. & J. McQuivey


Does Civilization Begin in Sacrament Meeting?

Why do they put rough, scratchy carpet on the walls in new chapels? To torture bare arms that rub up against it? To keep people from leaning against the wall and dozing? To allow the custodian to vacuum the walls?

I suspect they put it there to muffle the noise.

We've all been in sacrament meetings where one child begins hooting during the prayer, to be joined by others screeching, howling, and jabbering during every lull in the meeting. Passing the sacrament, a quiet passage of a musical performance, a crucial pause in the climactic moment of a talk -- little children have an inborn understanding of exactly the right moment to let loose with a piercing wail or the banging of a metal toy against the bench.

No wonder the builders of our meetinghouses put carpets wherever they possibly can. It keeps the chapel from sounding like the monkey house at a zoo. (It also kills the vital resonance of a choir or musical instrument, but that's another essay.)

And it's not just the babies who work to defeat the reverence of our sacred occasions. We've all been at meetings where, among a group of teenagers seated on the stand, there are at least one or two who can't keep from poking and joking, visually distracting the whole congregation from the speaker and making a mockery of the whole proceeding. Not to mention the inevitable clumps of teenagers out in the foyer, showing their contempt for the meeting by refusing to attend it.

In fact, the foyers often tell us more about our sacrament meetings than the noise inside. Loudspeakers attempt to allow people in the foyer to hear the meeting, but to no avail. Between the teenagers laughing, the little children playing and running around, the older children scurrying to and from the bathrooms and drinking fountains, and the adults chatting loudly about subjects having nothing to do with the sacrament meeting, it is often impossible to make out the words of the speaker. And if you dare to raise your voice and ask people to pipe down so you can hear the meeting, you are met with glares and resentful comments as people either leave the foyer or, more often, talk a little more softly for a few moments before quickly resuming the previous noise level.

For the adults, teenagers, and older children in the foyer, I refer you to the standard talk on reverence and courtesy that you've heard and ignored a thousand times. You are beyond help, unless you choose to help yourselves.

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But the noisy little children, whose cacophony disrupts the meeting until they are taken outside to run around and screech in the foyer, are not to blame for their behavior: Their parents are training them to do it by rewarding them for it, thus guaranteeing a new crop of unruly teenagers and discourteous adults in the foyers of the future. Schoolteachers, employers, health providers, and law enforcement officials are already dealing with the achievements of such parents in the past.

Raising Barbarians

Parents who train their children to have contempt for sacrament meeting are training them to be uncivilized throughout their lives -- to be discourteous, easily distracted, inattentive, careless, selfish, unhappy, and generally lacking in the skills needed to earn the love and respect of other people.

Some children recover from such parental training in irreverence, but the later they come to the realization that they need these skills, the harder it is to acquire them and the less naturally they use them. It's like learning a language: There's a window of opportunity when the skill can be acquired almost effortlessly, with no memory of the process of learning it. But to learn it later, you have to overcome many unhelpful habits, and you are never as natural and fluent as those who have had the skill from infancy.

I mean it quite literally when I say that parents train their children to be irreverent. For children by nature can be both attentive and inattentive, obedient and disobedient, and -- wittingly or not -- parents choose which behavior to reinforce at different times.

We train our children, for instance, to watch television with great attentiveness. We buy or rent the most entertaining tapes, and frequently put them down in front of the television when we want to do something else without distraction. The children quickly learn that if they stay in front of the TV, Mom and Dad are happy with them, but if they keep coming into the room where a parent is talking or working, they'll meet with impatience, rejection, even anger. On those rare occasions when parents watch TV with a child, they talk right over shows they're not interested in -- but if the show is interesting to the parents, they hush any child who tries to talk.

In sacrament meeting, a toddler is sometimes quiet and sometimes noisy. Not understanding the talks or the music (both skills are acquired later), the public events of the meeting quickly become boring, and the toddler's attention wanders. Here is where the parental training begins.

All else being equal, the child will continue to do whatever gives him pleasure. No pleasure, however, is more important to the child than the thrill of making other people, especially adults, and most especially parents, take an interest in him.

If the parents ignore the child no matter what he does, then he'll do his best to interest other people in his activities. It is not an accident that the child gravitates to the noisiest toy in the bag: The metal car that can be banged against the bench; the electronic toy that beeps and buzzes; the rattle; the toy that is in another child's possession, so that taking it will make the other child scream. All of these draw a satisfying amount of attention from others, and if the child keeps it up long enough, eventually the parents themselves will take notice and reward the child.

And how is the child rewarded? The parents, unwilling to look like oafs in front of the other parents, will generally not punish the child there in sacrament meeting -- certainly not with a punishment severe enough to discourage repeat performances. If the parent uses a punishment that causes physical pain, the toddler will, of course, cry -- the parent quickly learns that such punishments compound the problem.

So parents, when they finally respond to the noise-making or fight-provoking toddler, usually give the reward direct or the reward deferred.

The reward direct is to find a new amusement for the toddler and engage in that activity with him. The crayons come out; the Cheerios are opened; the child is held and hugged. Mission accomplished: The parent is now devoting his or her entire attention to the child. And the child has learned: To get a parent to play with you in sacrament meeting, make noise or start a fight.

The reward deferred is a bit more complex. The child gets a glare or a lecture -- parental attention but not fun. Or the child is deprived of the device that he is using to create the noise -- the sibling he is provoking or the toy he is playing with. The child soon learns that this level of parental attention is unsatisfying. The fastest way to hasten the reward is to scream; the more creative way is to immediately find another noisemaking or fight-picking opportunity and set to work until the parents finally give in and provide you with:

The ultimate reward: The Foyer. The parent who is serious about raising a barbarian always ends up by providing the child with the best of all possible rewards: The parent physically removes the child from the sacrament meeting. What victory could be more complete? The child now has the parent's undivided attention. The speakers and singers and sacrament servers are all gone. In their place, the child is in an environment surrounded by chatting adults, boisterous teenagers, older children running to and fro, and fellow toddlers playing together as their parents watch glumly (or join in the chat). Thus the child has succeeded in getting complete control of the situation.

In some cases, the parent is angry and punishes the child in the foyer. This is not pleasant for the parent or the child. But the punishment causes the child to cry, and then the parent will comfort the child, and there will be hugging. In the meantime, there will be other children to watch, and even with the anger and pain, there is still the undivided attention of the adult. And since the adult is embarrassed by the whole situation, it is likely the adult will remain outside the sacrament meeting as long as possible. Indeed, the more unpleasant the child has been inside the sacrament meeting, the less likely the adult is to want to return to the meeting and resume the struggle. Ergo: The fun in the foyer lasts far longer than the punishment.

It is hardly surprising that children learn to make noise and provoke fights in sacrament meeting, when parents so carefully teach them that if they make a noise that is loud, annoying, or persistent enough, the parent will reward them.

Parents who try to make the problem go away by ignoring their children's noise find that the opposite occurs: The children become even more disruptive. This is because noise in church meetings is not the same thing as a tantrum, which is best ignored. For in a church meeting, the child has allies in his project: The adults who begin to glare and then make pointed comments to or about the parents who are ignoring the disruptive child. The parent cannot keep ignoring the child forever without losing the fellowship of the other ward members. So eventually the child will win, one way or another. After all, if the parent, offended by the criticism of others, goes inactive, the child's victory is absolute.

Most important, the disruptive skills the child has been trained in can apply in so many other situations, school being the most important. All those techniques the parents rewarded will now be tried out on the teacher, with similar effect, for the child soon learns that enough disruption gets him special attention, often including extra visits from Mom and Dad. By the time the child learns that these disruptive techniques are ruining his life, it is too late -- at best the child is now undereducated; at worst he is committed to friends and patterns of life that lead to great unhappiness.

The Skills of Civilization

Teachers in public schools in Mormon country can affirm what I'm asserting here: An astonishing number of Mormon schoolchildren come to kindergarten and all the later grades with great skill at disruption and distraction, and a desperate need to be entertained at all costs, while they are almost utterly lacking in the opposite skills: The ability to pay attention to something that is not, at first, entertaining, and the ability to ignore his own impulses and needs for extended periods of time, thus helping maintain a classroom in which everyone has a chance to learn.

For just as bad as the training in disruption that these children have received is the utter lack of training in those vital skills on which civilization depends: Delay of gratification, resistance to temptation, and the ability and willingness to cooperate with others in achieving a purpose that is not yet understood.

Think of all the activities we engage in that require or create public order: Forming lines and taking turns; remaining courteously quiet in a public gathering so speakers or a movie or a play or a musical performance can be received by the audience; obeying traffic regulations even when nobody is there to catch you breaking them; playing and working with people who have different ideas and desires from you.

Window of Opportunity

Parents who are raising barbarians generally think of sacrament meeting as an hour of hellish torment, for it seems to them that everything they do with their toddlers backfires and makes things worse.

The truth is that bringing a toddler to sacrament meeting is one of the most valuable, even crucial, passages in the process of raising a civilized child.

For that is the responsibility every parent owes to the public at large: To produce civilized children, who not only refrain from disrupting public order but also actively create and maintain it. It is not easy, but the rules are relatively simple and the process with most toddlers is completed within a few months. Only minimal maintenance is required in later years, and the child will have no memory of any unpleasantness involved in the learning process.

This window of opportunity is only open for a few years. The window opens as soon as the child can understand some language, which is long before the child can speak fluently. Usually the window is fully open by age two, but many children can begin at one year or eighteen months. By the time a child is three or four years old, the window is closed, and then these skills can only be acquired through great effort and struggle, all of which will be remembered by the child, often with resentment.

I suspect many parents train barbarians because they don't realize how smart and teachable their toddlers are. Because they think their children are too young to learn reverence, they end up inadvertently teaching them irreverence.

Other parents, however, don't teach their children to be civilized because they have some half-baked notion that it's bad to stifle a child's natural exuberance. If you tried to keep children from ever playing or making noise, then you would indeed harm them. But when you use sacrament meeting as the occasion to begin civilizing your toddler, you are requiring of the child only that he control those natural impulses for a little over an hour, one day a week.

It is true that the child will probably be angry and frustrated during the early stages of teaching. Tears will be shed. And the parent will have to be -- dare I say it? -- pitiless. That is, you will feel pity. Indeed, your compassion for your child will tempt you to give in when those tears are shed.

But you can't teach self-discipline to your child unless you have learned it yourself. You have to be the mature one, able to recognize that acquiring valuable skills is hard, and learning can be painful, frustrating, and infuriating. As God in his wisdom has shown us, when you love your children you don't shield them from every tear; instead you do your best to make sure that the tears all lead to learning.

How to Civilize a Child

The pattern I'm about to tell you works. I have never seen it fail. My wife and I have used it with four children who are amazingly good, loving, happy, righteous, creative, free-spirited, and patient -- in short, civilized. We have also seen it used by friends and family members, with similar effects. The details of the process are infinitely adaptable; the fundamental principles must be followed without fail.

Set Clear Rules. You have to decide exactly what standard of behavior you are going to expect of a little child. Once you set these rules you are as bound by them as the children are. You must follow them yourselves.

Our family's sacrament meeting rules for toddlers are fairly simple: Because sacrament meeting is a time that belongs to the whole congregation for the purpose of learning about and communing with the Lord:

1. No talking out loud.

2. No interaction with people on other benches.

3. The child never touches the floor.

4. Silent reading and drawing are the only permitted activities.

5. No food or drink during sacrament meeting, ever.

6. Partake of the sacrament.

7. Any activity that results in laughter or loud noise must stop immediately.

8. No hitting or hurting of anyone, by anyone.

9. Bathroom needs, diaper changes, and physical injuries are the only acceptable reason for leaving the meeting, and only long enough to solve the problem.

10. Willful violations of the rules result in removal from the meeting and containment.

(Other families have tighter rules. I let my three-year-old daughter pull my beard and play with my tie, which other families might regard as disorderly or disrespectful behavior. I see such familiarities as a necessary counterpoint to my sternness when teaching her discipline. As long as she is not distracting other children or making noise, the particular rules are up to us.)

Containment. Containment can be viewed as a punishment, but if you do it properly it can be more positive than that. Traditional punishments -- spanking, depriving the child of a toy or treat, etc. -- are usually counterproductive. Since the point is to teach the child that sacrament meeting is a time for silence and stillness, it hardly makes sense to punish the child in ways that cause him or her to make more noise!

We do not resort to containment at the first peep. Rather, we give one reminder, and take into account whether the infraction was willful or inadvertent. You must first make sure there are no physical causes for the child's fitfulness. An uncomfortable diaper, an earache, an upset stomach, or the beginning of a fever can cause disruptive behavior, and the solution is not discipline.

Tolerance must include more than physical distress, I believe. A child can't help laughing at something funny -- so you remind him (and any accomplices) to stop the activity that resulted in laughter. A child falling off the bench is inadvertent -- but the same child slowly sliding off the bench while watching you for a reaction, even after one reminder, is testing your discipline, and you must not fail him. When a child is clearly determined to break a rule, containment must begin immediately, so the child can clearly understand exactly what he did to cause you to contain him.

Since containment will only be used with toddlers, you can still hold the child easily in your arms, and overpower all attempts at resistance. The process begins at the bench in sacrament meeting -- but you never attempt to stay in the meeting during the containment. Instead, you scoop the child up and leave for the foyer immediately. This usually silences the child for the duration of the trip to the foyer.

The moment you reach the foyer, however, you must follow an unvarying pattern:

1. Hold the child firmly in your arms (but not so tightly as to hurt).

2. Hold him in front of you so that he is looking into your eyes. Don't hold him at your shoulder, like a burping baby, or he'll kick you mercilessly. And never hold him on your lap so he is looking away from you, toward all the pleasing distractions of the foyer.

3. His arms must not be free, and any limbs that he is flailing about must be made immobile. It is essential that you achieve this through persistence, not through pain. That is, don't grip him so tightly that he stops struggling because it hurts. Rather grip him firmly enough that he can't get his limbs free, but whenever he stops struggling there is no pain or even discomfort. In fact, when he isn't struggling, he finds that he is merely being held close to the warm body of his loving parent.

4. Your face is the only interesting thing that he can see, and what he sees in your face is not anger, but rather patience and love.

5. Talk to him quietly and incessantly, even if he is screaming and crying so loudly you can't even hear your own voice. He can hear you, or at least feel the vibration of your voice through your chest and his own body, and the sound must be sweet and soothing.

6. Explain to him, in simple words, repeated over and over: "I know it's hard to be quiet in sacrament meeting. But we have to be quiet so everyone can hear. As soon as you're quiet and still we can go back inside. As soon as you're quiet you can go back in and draw more trees. When you're quiet we can go back in and read the Big Bird book. Oh, I know you're so sad. Poor baby, you're so frustrated. Be still, my sweet child, so we can go back inside and be happy." And so on, and so on. Your voice must be loving and musical.

7. Sing quiet songs. Especially early in this process, the child does not understand what all your words mean, but he understands that being held and sung to is a sweet and happy experience. Alternate quiet songs with more of the simple conversation.

8. When the child is quiet enough to hear you, smile and continue talking, only now you start praising his stillness. "Look at you, you're doing so well. Look at how quiet you are. That's just right for sacrament meeting. Are you ready to go back inside?" Thus you reward, not the child's disruption or tears, but his cooperation. And the ultimate reward is to return to the meeting.

9. Wait for genuine calm before going back into the meeting. The child may be silent, but if you can still sense resistance or franticness in his demeanor or his body movements, you must keep on soothing and quieting him.

10. Once you return to the meeting, the child may test you by immediately starting to cry again, or resuming the disruptive behavior, or starting a new disruptive behavior. Without rancor, scoop him back up and start over, never losing your temper or getting angry. The containment experience must be identical every time.

11. If the child obeys the rules upon returning to the meeting, reward him by taking part in a permitted activity: Hold him (but not confiningly) if he wants, or let him play with your tie (if that is permitted under your rules), or turn the pages of his book with him. Or, if he wants to shun you for a while, accept that and allow him to assert his independence. Your goal is not to break his will, but rather to train him to willingly remain quiet in sacrament meeting.

Self-Discipline. This process is much harder for the parent than it is for the child. You have to school your own emotions, for it doesn't do at all for you to become angry or impatient with the child -- he must see and feel that your love and concern for him are real.

You also have to refuse to become distracted. The activities in the foyer can as easily distract you as the child. The worst interference comes from uncivilized adults, who think that because you're in the foyer, it's a great chance to chat. All you owe such adults is a brief, polite statement: "Excuse me, but I can't talk right now." If they persist in trying to talk to you, they are the ones being unbelievably rude, and you have no choice but to turn your back and walk away from them. If the other activities in the foyer are so distracting that you can't keep your child focused on your face, then you have to leave -- walk outside or down the hall to an empty classroom.

When singing, you must not sing playful songs, or containment will become a game, and this must never happen. The goal of containment is stillness, not laughter or fun.

Because the child will usually cry when containment begins, it is easy for you to lose your original purpose -- to help the child acquire the self-control to remain quiet in sacrament meeting -- and get sidetracked onto a completely different purpose -- getting the child to stop crying and act happy. The latter purpose will lead you to play with the child, and at that moment you have utterly failed. By making the foyer experience a game, the child has learned that at the cost of a brief period of tears, he then gets to play with his parent in the foyer. Your failure at this moment is complete.

Instead, you must remember that stillness is your goal, and if your child tries to play with you, you must refuse. "No, sweetheart, this isn't playtime. We can play quietly in sacrament meeting, but we can't play out here. Out here we have to be quiet so we can get ready to go back into the meeting."

Ignore Criticism. There will no doubt be people in your ward who will see what you're doing and criticize you for it. Or you will be so uncomfortable with your parental role that you will imagine they are criticizing you. After all, your child is crying, and you caused it. Therefore you must be a bad, abusive parent. Right?

Wrong.

You are not venting your rage. You are not inflicting pain (though the child's struggles against your unyielding arms may cause pain). Your child is not receiving anything but loving guidance from you. Your child's furious tears are the same tears he will shed someday no matter what. Better to shed those tears in your arms, as a toddler, than to shed them years later, when his inability to control himself has led him to grief.

It is exactly analogous to taking your toddler for his shots. He sees the needle. He fears the doctor because he's been given injections before. You don't lie to the child, you say, "It does hurt a little, but be brave. Here, I'm with you, I'm holding you, and even though it hurts, it will help you stay healthy and strong. Can you hold still and help the doctor do this?" You take the child for the shot, and the child cries, and you caused it! But it is the parent who yields to his child's weeping and does not get the injections who is the bad parent. The good parent is not afraid of his child's necessary tears.

After all, we're supposed to be the grown-ups. We're supposed to do the right thing even when it hurts.

Fathers, This Is Your Job

I have been saying "parent" throughout, and when the father is not available, the mother can and indeed must go through this process. But when the father is present, this is his job, and not because of some arbitrary notion of patriarchal responsibility.

The fact is that children respond differently to fathers. I don't know a mother who hasn't had the frustrating experience of pleading, arguing, yelling, begging, threatening, even bribing to get a child to do something, only to have the father come in, speak once, and immediately get the obedience that the mother could not get no matter what she did. The youngest infants respond differently to their father's voice. They turn to their mother for comfort. What they crave from their father is judgment. They fear their father's disapproval; they long for their father's praise. This means that an ounce of discipline from the father can be more effective than pounds of it from the mother, though this varies from child to child.

Unless your work requires you to be away from home, it is vital that you be there for every sacrament meeting during this crucial time in each toddler's life. Even if you are in the bishopric or are ward clerk and your calling normally would take you away from your family's pew, explain what you are doing and sit with your family during that time -- or, failing that, watch closely so that you can swoop down from the stand and scoop up your child when the need arises. It would take your wife far longer to accomplish the same task, and would probably cost her more emotionally than it will cost you.

What Children Get

Children are all different, and this process has been different for all four of our children. My first boy learned very quickly. A few trips to the foyer and he never had to be disciplined again for irreverence until he was eleven, at which time one quick reminder was all it took.

My first daughter, however, was stubborn. I think some people in our ward in South Bend, Indiana, must have thought I was inactive for about six months, since I spent every sacrament meeting in the foyer. Part of the problem, though, was my ineptitude -- I had not yet learned the rule about keeping her facing me and talking to her kindly throughout. I suspect I would have succeeded far faster had she not been on my lap, facing all the distractions of the foyer instead of focusing on my voice and face. Even so, she gradually learned that if she stayed still in sacrament meeting, she got loving, quiet attention from her parents and her older brother, and she, too, was fully able to stay quiet in sacrament meeting long before she turned three -- so that the struggle is lost in the time before memory, and only the skill of self-control carried forward into her conscious life.

Our second son is afflicted with cerebral palsy, and we were unable to determine how well he understood us. He was also a happy child, and the few times he made noise we took him out but with no attempt at containment. Not until he was about six years old did we begin to attempt to teach him stillness in sacrament meeting -- and we paid the price of delay. He was already too old to learn from containment, and so we did not attempt it. Instead we took him to the foyer and explained the rules to him, emphasizing the need to allow others to hear the sermons. We did not play with him in the foyer, of course; and while it was an entertaining change of scenery, he knew we were displeased and gradually learned to keep silent in meetings except when he had a physical need. This moral choice was complete before he was baptized.

Our three oldest are now nineteen, sixteen, and thirteen years old. But we also have a three-year-old, and I'm happy to report that she successfully completed her basic course in civilization -- a year ago. She requires an occasional lifted eyebrow or finger to the lips urging quiet, but she obeys all the rules without complaint. She looks forward to going to church, and while it's nursery that she is eager for, she is perfectly content to climb up into her place on the bench. Not only that, but she is already learning to be genuinely aware of the meeting, watching for each step in the sacrament, reverently taking her own bread and cup. She bows her head and folds her arms for the prayers, not because we make her do it, but because she wants to be part of the meeting.

During the months of training her, my older children were bemused at the process. Did you do that with me? they ask. We told them all about what their training was like. And we realized that the skills they were seeing us teach the littlest were the very skills that had served them well in all their associations: The ability to be silent at will, to hold still and pay attention. The skills that teachers and bosses demand, that friends expect, that loved ones need. And along with that specific skill, the ability to delay gratification, to resist temptation, to foresee the consequences of their choices.

And another benefit: They never doubted that we loved them and cared what they did. That, too, came partly from those struggles over stillness in sacrament meeting.

Will this work with every child? Children with serious behavioral disorders are not going to respond to this -- but such problems are rare and usually show up long before sacrament meeting reverence becomes an issue. For most toddlers this training process works -- every bit as well as the more common practice of training little ones to behave disruptively.

Orderly Progress. The rules for toddlers, of course, are not the rules for older children. But the changes should not be arbitrary. In the family I grew up in, my parents set specific ages. Along with baptism at eight years old, for instance, we knew for years in advance that we would then be expected to fast one of the two meals on fast Sunday; by twelve, both meals. Similarly, there was a set age at which books and toys had to be set aside during meetings, and because the transition was linked to our age, we would have been ashamed to continue doing something so clearly marked as "childish."

Age-linked progression is at the heart of orderly life in the Church, and parents do their children and their neighbors no favor when they violate that order by not expecting their children to live up to those rules. (An obvious example is the rule against dating before age 16. When parents succumb to their children's pleading for early exceptions, usually because their child is so "mature," they harm the child by teaching contempt for good order and by promoting the idea that the child is too good for the rules; and they harm the entire community by making it that much harder for other parents to hold to the rule while maintaining peace at home.) If compliance to rules of good order were perfect, those rules would not chafe. Children suffer only when they see other children not being bound by those rules.

There is no clearer example than the rule that children should sit with their families during sacrament meeting. If all parents would insist on this rule, the teenagers would all bear it pleasantly enough; only when many teenagers are free to wander the building or to sit in unruly clumps far from adult supervision does the burden of sitting with one's family become shameful to the few teenagers whose parents are trying to maintain order.

The rules don't have to be insanely strict, of course. Once our children reached the age of twelve, we permitted them, if they asked, to sit with friends -- but only if the friends were sitting with their own family, so that adult supervision and reverent attention to the meeting were assured. And they had to get permission each time, permission which was only granted if we knew that the family was one which made an effort to maintain reverence. (It must also be said that permission was never denied under this rule, because our children never asked to sit with a family that did not make the effort.)

Cooperation among Families. Training toddlers to be reverent is something each family can do entirely on its own, regardless of what the rest of the ward is doing. Of course our little ones hear the noise made by toddlers who are being trained to make noise in church, but at such moments we pat our little one affectionately and thank her (in a whisper) for being so quiet. "See how hard it is to hear the speaker with all that noise? But you never make noise like that. We're so proud of you."

Does this teach our children to look down on those who misbehave? I should hope so. It would be madness to think that we could teach virtues to children without also teaching them to hold the opposite of those virtues in low esteem. You cannot praise good behavior without, by impli-cation, criticizing bad behavior. Of course we teach our children never to look down on some-one for something he cannot help; and we teach them never to treat anyone badly or to talk someone down. But within our family we candidly discuss our own failings and the lapses of others, because only by recognizing error can we learn to avoid it.

I cannot imagine serious moral teaching without it. Jesus had no qualms about naming folly and hypocrisy when he saw them, even as he kindly and patiently embraced the repentant sinner. And so we have no qualms about thanking and praising our children for their obedience and their contribution to the good order of the community, often in pointed contrast to those who do not obey or contribute. This is not to lift ourselves above others: We are just as quick to point out our own lapses and errors, as well as the lapses and errors of our children. A community that is afraid to name offenses is doomed to drown in them.

As children get older, however, parents are no longer their sole wellspring of approval. By the junior high years, children acquire enormous power over each other, and this power gravitates to the most arrogant and disdainful of the children. Parents find that their child is much more afraid of the contempt of a peer than of the disapproval of his parents. It is at this point that it becomes vital for all the parents of a ward to be united in enforcing the rules of good order in the ward, or chaos results: The children whose parents fail to enforce the rules are cut adrift and unhappy, many of them pushing farther and farther away from the Church in the effort to find some point at which their parents care enough to draw a line; and the children whose parents still try to enforce the rules suffer either from conflict with their parents or isolation from their peers.

Yet if every family, or all but one or two, insist that their teenagers sit with an orderly family in sacrament meeting and attend all their meetings, there will be no peer pressure and far less conflict over the matter. The kids can whine to each other all they want, but the result is that good order is maintained, the children know their parents care what they do, the teenagers have a chance of actually hearing and learning from sacrament meeting, the younger children see the example of the older children complying with the rules of reverence -- and all this without rifts being created among the teenagers themselves.

Make no mistake about it: All parents who permit their teenagers to sit anywhere but with their families in sacrament meeting are committing an offense against every other family in the ward, and wards that are plagued by teenagers roaming the building during meetings should agree together to repent all at once, so that no one family is thrown into sharp conflict within the home. And this, too, would be a great help in the teaching of toddlers.

And you who complain about the lack of reverence in our meetings, make sure you aren't part of the problem. How much whispering and note-passing do you do? Do you think the children don't see? Do you wink and play with children on other benches? Do you let your children tempt other families' kids to break their rules of reverence? Does your anger at noisy families introduce a spirit of contention and division in the ward? When you are out in the foyer, do you chat with other adults, thus making it impossible for you and harder for others to hear the meeting?

Instead of making it harder for each other, we should be making it easier. If a lone parent is struggling to deal with a group of unruly children, offer to help. "I'd be happy to sit with your other children if you need to take the little one out." At the very least you can make sure that the unruly child who leans over the bench in front of you never sees you doing anything interesting, but rather sees your entire bench full of people looking toward the speaker, listening intently.

Every Mormon ward is a village, with all the drawbacks and all the advantages of village life. If all parents would establish clear rules for their children, and, by persuasion and longsuffering, labor to bring them into compliance with good rules of behavior, not only would our sacrament meetings no longer sound like zoos, but within a generation our foyers would be empty because everyone would be in the meeting. Our children and each new generation of adults, blessed with skills of self-control learned young, would find themselves living in a world that was more civilized because Mormon parents, at least, were no longer raising barbarian children.

-- Orson Scott Card

 
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