The words to a popular primary song read: “Teach me to walk in the light of His love. Teach me to pray to my Father above. Teach me to know of the things that are right. Teach me, teach me, to walk in the light.” Prophetic counsel to parents throughout the ages has been to ‘love and care for their children’, because “children are an heritage of the Lord.”
We often think of our children as being ‘our children’. When, in fact, they are the very children of God our Eternal Father. They were in the beginning His children. It is easy to forget they still belong to Him. He knows and understands them infinitely better than do we. His love for them is perfect and each one has infinite worth to Him. It is therefore, not surprising He has commanded ‘parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness…’ to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God, warning that they will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord makes more specific what we are to teach our children that they understand doctrine. “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” “And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.”(D&C 68:25). What does it mean to teach our children to understand doctrine?
To teach is to impart knowledge of, or skill in. Teaching is not the same as telling. It requires a transfer of knowledge and skill. To understand is to comprehend; be thoroughly familiar with or grasp the significance of; to learn or to accept as true; to believe. Understanding is more than knowing the ‘what’; it is also knowing ‘why’. Doctrine refers to principles or teachings, in this context of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Our task is to help our children acquire a personal knowledge of the Savior and His teachings and gospel principles and the desire and ability to use those principles to follow Him and to become His disciples.
Let me provide a simple example. A young child can be taught to give a simple prayer and be told he is supposed to pray. But to keep the commandment to pray always unto the Father in my name, a child needs to personally come to know Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This includes understanding his/her divine nature and relationship to God. Understanding who the Holy Ghost is and how it feels to have the influence of the Holy Ghost teach us to pray. Prayer is an appointed means for us to receive personal revelation from God, which requires us to align our will with His. Praying in the name of Christ means that we have the mind and words of Christ in our hearts. This child will need to understand the importance of being virtuous; in feeling comfortable in the presence of our Heavenly Father. He will need to learn the importance of studying and pondering the scriptures, to have the influence of the Holy Ghost in his thoughts and prayers. He will need to learn to recognize the Holy Ghost and how answers to prayers come. He will need daily examples to show him how and daily personal experience to know and understand the power of personal prayer, to develop his personal ability to pray in faith.
As parents we can provide our children with experiences to grow and learn, to develop talents and abilities physically, socially and academically; all of which are important. However, unless we help them develop personal faith in Jesus Christ and a commitment to follow Him, it will not matter what else we have given them. That is a very sobering reality.
Teaching our children to understand the doctrines is one our single most important responsibilities in life. It can also be one our most challenging. Without the scriptures and the Holy Ghost this would simply not be possible. President Packer has often taught that “true doctrine understood changes attitudes and behaviors”. So, what doctrine or principles if better understood would help us to be the powerful teachers of doctrine we need to be? May I suggest five principles that might help?
1. In our premortal existence each of us knew and worshipped God as our Eternal Father, and accepted His plan. There each of us learned the essential principles and ordinances of the gospel. Our spirits still have perfect knowledge of these things. Because mortality by divine design introduces us into a state of forgetfulness, we need the Holy Ghost to remind us of things we have always known to be true.
2. The Holy Ghost is the perfect teacher. He knows us and understands how we learn, and what we need to know and feel. The influence of the Holy Ghost will reminds us of all things and “by the power of the Holy Ghost we can know the truth of all things.” “The Holy Ghost will show us all things that we should do.”
3. The scriptures contain a fullness of the gospel and the key doctrines we need to understand. They provide a witness through the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and that His teachings are true.
4. Our Heavenly Father always answers the righteous prayers of His children, especially prayers of humble parents pleading for direction in teaching and rearing His children in righteousness.
5. Heavenly Father loves each of His children and has promised to bless us as we keep His commandment and exercise faith in His Son.
These principles help us understand that we have divine resources available to help us rear our children in truth and righteousness. A compelling truth becomes evident. Spiritual truths must be taught and learned according to a divine pattern—the influence of the Holy Ghost. Our responsibility to teach our children to understand doctrine goes well beyond merely telling them or exposing them to the truth. We are under sacred obligation to help them feel the truthfulness of these doctrines and principles by the power of the Holy Ghost.
As we prayerfully seek divine help and learn to listen for direction, the Holy Ghost will help us to know which doctrines and principles our children need most, and how to reach their hearts with the same conviction we feel in our hearts. Shared spiritual feelings and experiences creates strong lasting bonds in marriages and families. As we share our personal testimonies about sacred spiritual truths with our children and spouses, we will draw closer to one another and they will feel our conviction. Faith is kindled by hearing the testimony of those who have faith.
May we more deeply and fully understand our divine responsibility to teach our children to understand and embrace true doctrine. As we do, we have the promise that the Holy Ghost will become the true teacher and will, with power, teach them the truth of all things. I bear witness of the power of true doctrine to change and bless our lives. We are not alone in raising our children. It is never too late to begin. We always have the promise of Heaven’s help.