Tamathy is our excellent Sunday School teacher, so when I praise the lesson her substitute gave last week, please know that Tamathy is always fabulous, but my thoughts are specific to the topic from a couple of weeks ago.
Do you remember this lesson? It was on keeping the Sabbath Day and Reverence. Our teacher, a former stake president, gave a fantastic lesson. His take was that, as LDS people, the reverence area is one where we fall down a little bit. Many anecdotes were shared. The class discussion was helpful and interesting. I wrote two things in the margin of my scriptures in Chapter 59.
1--When the Lord says to rest from "our labor" he didn't meant that we should rest from "His labor."
2--Light-mindedness is the opposite of reverence.
The first is interesting--Sunday was hard for me on my mission. You would be together, feeling the love and fellowship of the Saints and then church was over and all of these loving families would go home together. We would just go back to work. Because, for that short span in my life, my labor was "His labor."
But it is not the first comment in my scriptures I want to talk about. It is the second. President **** talked a lot about the sabbath being a covenant between the Lord and his people from the beginning. A collective covenant. This idea of covenants got me to thinking about the temple and the nature of my individual covenants. We also discussed reverence not just being a collection of actions--though they are an important part of reverence--but an entire attitude of respect and awe for our Father in Heaven. It isn't what you do so much as how you think. Indeed, the opposite of light-mindedness. No wonder the Lord is so clear about the need to avoid light-mindedness.
In a culture of sarcasm, mockery, skepticism and the carefully delivered joke being the ultimate indicator of intelligence, keeping our minds away from indifference toward sacred things takes an active effort. Does this mean that humor is a problem? Of course not. But humor that depends on the disdain of others and a casual view of Diety is a major problem.
Yeah. I've got a ways to go.
The discussion took another turn in the class with a story shared by President ****. I don't know if he was referencing our last Stake Conference or one from a year or two ago, but he was asked to shuttle the visiting area authority to the airport. On the way, President **** took opportunity to ask for some advice saying, "there is such a youth problem in [the] stake . . . . "
The area authority shook his head solemnly and said, "You don't have a youth problem in your stake. You have a parenting problem." President **** backpedaled a bit on his unexpected response as the wise area authority added, "You might begin by teaching them some reverence."
Arriving just minutes later at the airport, that was basically the end of the conversation, but this good brother went home and gave it some serious thought. His perception was that the youth weren't all that noisy in the meetings (he obviously wasn't sitting in the back!), at least no noisier than the young children, but after some reflection he began to understand what the area authority meant:
That the youth were not being taught proper respect for their Heavenly Father. That their sloppy manners, sloppy dress and sloppy attitudes were spilling over into their spiritual lives.
And now I'm a youth leader and I see it too. But there is a fine line to walk, and for all that that most of these young women are old enough to make their own choices, I think many of them have been given too much freedom before they had the maturity in place to understand about the consequences of unfettered agency.
* Are most 14 year-old girls responsible enough/mature enough/wise enough to own their own cell phones? When we have 14 year-olds who spend their time text-messaging during their hour in YW, is this a youth problem or a parent problem? And, as leaders, when we set down a rule about no cell-phone use, but the parents don't make any effort to stop them from coming to church in the enormous scripture cases (also filled with goodies and distractions), how do we approach the girls firmly and with love, without undermining their parents?
* If we show a church movie circa 1980 to the girls and then get mad when they don't pay attention, haven't we set them up to fail? And if their lack of attention involves drawing in their notebooks then why is it okay for them to have a notebook in the class? Do we just keep staring at the kids, getting more and more bugged, when they may not even realize that they are demonstrating disrespectful and/or irreverant behavior? And if we afraid to call them on this behavior for fear of parents calling and getting after us, then how can we help to mold them?
* If we are bugged that our girls at church are constantly asking for treats, then whose fault is it? If they have come to expect to be fed junk food at church, it can only be because their teachers have given it to them. And if we bring two dozen of whatever treat is prepared and then continue to be surprised when everything is eaten and the girls are gaining weight, is that a kid problem or an adult problem?
* While shadow leadership is the ideal instructional tool for teaching our kids, if new Deacons and Beehives come in and have NEVER seen an adult conduct a meeting, then how will they learn the proper and yes, dignified way to do it?
*If we have a 30% attendance rate in Young Women among parents who are fairly active and ALL of these girls are under age 16, where do changes need to be made? And if a mother goes home each week after Sacrament Meeting, what does her daughter think when she gets chewed out about not wanting to go to Sunday School or Young Women's?
* Is it really love to allow kids to get away with whatever they want over the fear that they "might stop coming to church" even if it means that a sixteen year old boy is not even asked to stop laying underneath the bench in the foyer though his parents, the young men's president and the Bishop have all seen him there?
* At what age do you stop saying to your kids, "Going to church is what our family does. This isn't optional."? In a conversation I had with a friend this morning about this and related topics she quoted President Hinckley as saying that parents needed to be careful not to force their children--and that his own good and loving parents had never made him do anything when it came to Church. But as inspiring as this story is, I can't help but wonder how young Gordon's parents would have reacted if Gordon had shown any inkling to be rebellious. Every parenting and leadership method works on kids who want to basically toe the line.
I honestly don't mean for this post to sound like I have all the answers, and much of what I shared above is anecdotal and not all recent. I promise, I'm not taking notes in church each week of what everyone else is doing wrong. For all my observations of young people over the last 10 years, and my very close observations these last couple of months, I can say that I have as many questions as I do answers.
My heart aches and unpleasant memories are brought to the forefront when I see the funny teenage mixture of fear and faith in their eyes. They shoot in the dark "knowing" they have all the answers, but also attempting to diguise their terrible ignorance. They want to be grown up and they want to be children. They want too much independence, but at the same time, curiously, not enough. And just because a 13 year-old acts a certain way on Sunday, doesn't mean you have any clue how she'll be on Wednesday.
As I've thought more and more about Brother ****'s anecdote about youth problems being parenting problems, I've looked more carefully at my little brood. When they act in certain ways I'm trying harder to say, "what can I do differently" while still trying to remember that I cannot control each outcome. Kim Blue once said that parenting was the fine art of hanging on and letting go.
These thoughts about parenting problems have also given me another dilemma, one in which I need some advice. ALL of the sisters on my visiting teaching route are also women I see regularly because of Young Women's: either because I serve with them or I have their daughters in classes. Having had this same route for many, many months, I know these women fairly well. Like all sisters, they each have their own unique set of challenges and trials, some of which affect their ability to parent as well as each would probably like. As I come to know their daughters and see their challenges too, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me not to feel judgmental toward some very real parenting problems. (But even THAT phrase is probably judgmental! But how will I know how to be a parent if I don't try to learn from others' mistakes as well as my own?)
This judging thing is the great battle of my life anyway (along with my big mouth), but I feel like I'm in a very difficult place when I'm wearing so many hats in the lives of these families. It is hard to serve appropriately and meet everybody's needs when I feel the way I do. So do I just keep getting on my knees and praying like crazy that I'll work this out, or do I contact our wonderful Relief Society President and say "Please assign me to four old widows who haven't had contact with the YW program since the Carter Administration" in the hopes that I can better serve those I've committed to serve? And if the answer is the former, then give me some advice on maintaining my objectivity in this situation so that I don't go mad.