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How to give the gift of your faith to your children

This post is not going to say what you think it will say.

I expect that when most people hear "give the gift of your faith," they would think of sharing religious ideas with another person. That's a wonderful thing to do, in its place, but that's not what I am talking about here.

I know there are a lot of parents who pray for their kids. They probably would even say things like, "I pray for my children by name every night." That's nice. But what do you do for them during the day? It's good to ask God to do things for the people we care about, but it's much more effective after we do all that we can for them ourselves [1] with the bounty of blessings he's already given us.

One of the most high impact things we can do as parents is exercise faith in behalf of our children. By faith I mean the process I explain in "Through Faith," which if you have not read, you really ought to (it's downloadable from the sidebar on this blog, purchasable at print cost on Amazon, and listenable for free on the UpwardThought channel on YouTube).

Perhaps I can explain with a simple story. The other day was the birthday of my twin boys. They have a friend who lives a ways away, and they are too young to drive. My mind is always scanning for ways I can create more joy in this world. A bit before their birthday, I imagined that they might appreciate if I arranged for their friend to be here for their birthday. I talked to my wife about it, contacted their friend's dad and made sure he was ok with it, then told my sons they could invite him if they wanted. Before I spoke to anyone, I had a sketch of what I thought the ideal would be and a list of everything I could do to make it happen, including things I was hoping others would do and how many of those things I was willing to do myself in the event they weren't. In this case, the people involved (mostly in the logistics of driving the friend around) were all willing to do their part to make it happen, and it all happened exactly how I had imagined it. My sons had a much more joyful birthday as a result.

If I hadn't been actively thinking about how things were and how they could be, none of that would have ever happened.

Faith exists in vastly different levels across different people at at different times in their lives. If you were to measure your faith, how would you do it? Perhaps one way would be to ask "how much has improved on this planet because of what God has accomplished through me?" That is an interesting question. 

The impact of your faith as a parent can be measured in a similar way: "How much better of is my child because of what I have done for them?" That is a very important question. How do you fare?

Every aspect of each life can be thought of as a sort of inverse highway. On a normal highway, the easiest thing to do [2] is to stay on the highway. Taking an exit requires extra effort. In life, remaining in the ideal stream takes consistent intentional effort. 

Just like all of us, every child is on a path to their future, and each day presents the next step toward what lies ahead. For some reason, it seems like a rare thing for parents to actively sketch out the present trajectory of each of their children, using their wisdom and experience to link present realities with future outcomes and enumerate and entice towards changes that will bring them closer to pass. Maybe one of those reasons is that it is so rare for parents do think of their own lives this way.

It is vitally important for parents to exercise their ability to accurately anticipate the future, enumerate possible alternatives, and execute actions to obtain better outcomes, both for themselves and for the family members for whom they are responsible. Revisiting the plan from time to time is important, but the first step is to have a plan in the first place.

I teach my kids to have a plan of where they want to be at various time points in their lives. I teach them to come up with goals measuring outcomes they want to obtain at these time points and help them devise actions they can do at the daily level to orient them towards obtaining them. That is something I think all parents should do because the expected outcomes for a child who does this will be incomparably better than they are for a child who does not. They will achieve more--and more importantly, become more--in far less time than others, enabling them to achieve a truly abundant life (see John 10:10), doing much more for others than they otherwise could, obtaining for themselves and creating for others much more joy as a result.

But that activity is to help the child enumerate what they will do for themselves. Perhaps more important than this is for the parent to work through a similar exercise in behalf of each of the children on their own.

This is a technique I stole from my father in law, and I believe it is brilliant. He looked at his children at a young age, sketched out what he believed were their strengths and weaknesses, and considered the world as he knew it to be and how he expected it to be in the future. He had an idea of what they could do for a living, the kind of spouse they could qualify for, and so on. His calculations were not based on where they would end up if left to their own devices, but included the inputs he was willing to add. He asked the question: "what would this child look like if they achieved their full potential, given everything I am willing to do to help them?" What he was willing to do to help them wasn't limited to merely coming up with a sketch of their potential, but actually doing things on a regular basis to help lead them into it and support them in fulfilling it. 

For example, he decided one of his sons could be a surgeon. He would clip articles from newspapers and magazines about this career (this was the 80s and 90s) and give them to his son. He would talk about how he would need to perform early in school to build to a successful application. He looked into and shared the other preparations that would be necessary so that the son could be competitive. And sure enough, the son became a surgeon. This son is a solid guy, and definitely would have achieved things even without his father. Notwithstanding, if he had grown up in a vacuum of faith, as I did, he would be trapped in South Africa instead of immigrating to the US, he would probably be divorced, he would have way less money. But, saddest of all, he would not have become the man he is. The difference between how he would have been and how he is is as wide as eternity. Massive miracles happen through faith. Rather than seeing our family interactions as exceptions to this rule, we ought to see them as closer to its perfect fulfillment.

As you can imagine, what I'm describing here is much more involved than simply telling your kids what they are going to do for the rest of their lives. This is a long, dedicated, invested path of persuading and supporting. The good news is that, on the whole, it is actually less work than doing what most parents today do: merely giving your kids whatever they want in the moment. That is quite expensive, both in terms of the inputs and also the outputs, both of which you will have to bear the cost of as their parent. The way I am proposing here, as with all good things, yields more and more benefit and gets easier and easier over time.

It is a shock to me that more parents don't realize the value they could provide their children by exercising more faith in their behalf. Instead, they treat their children like the mother of Moses, expecting that if they place them to passively float down the river of life, they will end up as princes. If you put a canoe in the water without a paddle or a map, it will drift wherever the current goes. You don't have to be a prophet to correctly predict the outcome. Most adults today are miserable, broke, and divorced. And we already know it will get worse. I am 39, and at least 30% of my generation live with their parents. If I recall the statistic correctly, more than half of those 20-30 live with their parents. 

How many of those under 30 today will ever own a home? How many will even own a car? How many will be able to afford even one child?

There used to be a time when the average outcome was good enough. That time is forever gone. If you want your children to achieve an abundant life and to be anywhere near as happy as you are (even if you are not happy), you need to look at their potential through the lens of your faith, and work together to bring to pass what would absolutely not happen otherwise. There is nothing of greater impact that you can do as a parent.



An interesting topic to study is the idea of judges in the gate. It used to be the case that the wisest people in a town would sit at the gates of the town in order to serve everyone else by using their wisdom on their behalf. Besides the legal duties of overseeing court cases and vetting potentially harmful visitors to the town, these individuals would be called on by townspeople to help them orient their lives to higher ends. This was not merely an ancient custom--it was a commandment of God through Moses. I will say much more about this in the future, as in the end times God will restore judges as it was before. One of the best ways you can apply the wisdom of this aspect of God's way of doing things is to become the "judge" of your house. I am speaking particularly to fathers here, though mothers can obviously contribute much in this regard as well. Fathers have a great responsibility to develop into and serve as a wiseman to their families. They must become more than the potential of all in their house, and then turn to serve them in lifting each person as high as they will come. This pattern is of utmost importance, first in families, and then in larger groups. It is the way the kingdom of God is organized and operates.

As with all blessings in the gospel, the tendency of most people is to look beyond the mark by seeking larger, shinier applications of gospel principles that are afar off while completely ignoring their application in their daily lives. The way to prepare for what lies ahead is always by doing what devolves upon you today in your present circumstances. This is the pattern. Walk in it today to best prepare for what comes tomorrow.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me early will find me. (Proverbs 8:17, MEV)



[1] - For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

[2] -  Unless you are driving in Utah, where the highways are just about the only thing that makes less sense than the religious traditions. I'll leave it to the reader to ponder the striking similarities between the genius of the earlier way (grid system) compared to modern "innovations" adopted from the less inspired world at large.