Raising the Rising Generation
Updated: Apr 21
When children grow up they have beliefs. They get those beliefs from their environment, and from the people around them. When we raise our children we give them beliefs about how to live, how to treat others, and about religion, but this does not mean that they will keep those beliefs. When I was a young child I believed that it was the right thing to go to church, to pray as a family, and to read the scriptures, but I did not like going to church, praying or reading the scriptures. Church was boring, praying was awkward, and reading the scriptures was a chore. But now I like to do all those things, because somehow along the way my beliefs became knowledge. I gained a testimony of the gospel, and that is what made the difference.
When we know that the gospel is true it gives us resilience. Joseph Smith knew from a very early age that he was called of God as a prophet. This gave him the power to resist all forms of persecution. “For [he] had seen a vision; [he] knew it, and [he] knew that God knew it, and [he] could not deny it, neither dared [he] do it; at least [he] knew that by so doing [he] would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (Joseph Smith History 1:25) Your children can gain that same level of resilience when they know Jesus personally.
But what is knowledge?
You and your children will probably never see Jesus face to face in this life, so how could you know that he lives? You did not witness the first vision, so how could you know that the gospel has been restored?
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato defined knowledge as a justified, true, belief. For instance you may look at the clock and find that the time is a bit past 11:15. You have a belief that the time is a bit past 11:15, you learned this belief from the clock, which means your belief was justified, and the clock is correct, so your belief is true. Together this means that you have knowledge of the time.
However! There is one aspect of knowledge that Plato missed. What if the clock was broken, and it just happened to break a little past 11:15?(Bertrand Russell's counter example) Then your belief would be justified and true, but still you would not have knowledge of the time, because there is no relationship between yourself, and the object of your belief. Therefore we must add a third criteria for knowledge, there must be a relationship between you and the object of your belief.
For a child to gain a testimony of the gospel they must find justification for the gospel, they must understand that the gospel is true, and they must gain a relationship with Jesus Christ. If they cannot grasp those three things, then no child, and no person, can gain a testimony of the gospel, which means it is up to us to provide them with justification, reasoning, and a relationship with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But how do we provide them with those things?
Another ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle has the answer. He came up with five persuasive techniques, each of them specifically address one of the aspects of knowledge.
There is ethos, an appeal to authority; and telos, an appeal to purpose, these provide justification.
There is logos, an appeal to logic, which helps a person understand the truth.
And there is pathos, an appeal to emotion; and kairos, an appeal to timeliness which gives a person a relationship with their belief.
Aristotle provides two persuasive techniques for each of the aspects of knowledge, except for the truth aspect. Therefore I will include an additional persuasive technique, which I will call an appeal to experience. This adds an additional way to help a person understand the truth. I will go over each of these to see how they work:
Appeal to Authority:
To justify a person’s belief you need to act with authority. As a parent your words will naturally have a great amount of authority in the eyes of your children, however that is not enough to convince them of the power of the gospel. To give your words more authority you should live the gospel yourself. “Therefore let your light [shine] before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”(3 Nephi 12:16) When your children see your good example in living the gospel they will be inclined to live it themselves.
Appeal to Purpose:
Although your words will have a lot of influence on your children there will come a point where they will have to justify the gospel with something else. What they need is a purpose for living the gospel. Let them know the plan of salvation, from this they will understand that their purpose on earth is to repent and make it back to live with their Heavenly Father again, and they will know that the purpose of the gospel and atonement of Jesus Christ is to help them to do that. Let them know that this is what you want for them. When your children understand the purpose of the Gospel they will have a reason to live it even when they stand alone.
Appeal to Logic:
To convince your children of the truth of the gospel you should appeal to logic. The first step in doing this is to teach them what the gospel is, but this is not enough. To help them understand the gospel you need to show them that it can answer their questions, and solve their problems. When possible you should answer questions that they have, and show them how to find answers themselves. When a child sees that the gospel makes sense, and that it can help them to solve their problems, they will understand that it is true.
Appeal to Experience:
If your children are interested enough in the gospel they will have more questions than you can answer. They need to be able to find their own answers to gospel questions themselves. This can be done as they experience and use the gospel. Jesus taught: “If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17) When people use the gospel in their lives they will answer their own questions using the experiences that they have. The Church has been making adjustments to help families understand the gospel. For instance the ‘For the Strength of Youth’ booklet was changed from a list of rules, to a guide on how to make good decisions. As your children follow sound principles to make their decisions they will experience the truthfulness of the gospel.
Appeal to Emotion:
Lastly, your children need to have a relationship with the object of their belief. This can be brought about through emotions, or more specifically, the feeling of the spirit will connect them with Jesus Christ their Savior. (3 Nephi 11:32) Create opportunities for your children to feel the spirit in their lives, and point it out to them when they feel that connection with God. When a child feels the spirit they form a stronger relationship with their God, and that will cement their belief in the gospel. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost [they] may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 3:5)
Appeal to Timeliness:
Appeal to timeliness is a weird name, so I will explain what it means. It means that you take advantage of certain time dependent events in order to strengthen your claims. Some very important time dependent events are when we make covenants with God. When you put effort into making these events special you can help your children know that God cares about them. Other important events in their lives might be starting a new school year, or a new job, going on a mission, or getting married. You could help your children see that God is looking out for them in these scenarios by giving them a priesthood blessing, showing your support, and giving them counsel on how the gospel will help them through those times. For example my father used to give me and all my brothers priesthood blessings before we started a new school year. Even if I forgot what my father had said in that blessing I knew that I had God’s help with me as I went through school. When you do this your children will know that God is looking out for them at all times, and they will trust Him. They will also be able to look back at these special events for strength to get through their challenges.
Unfortunately, these persuasive techniques are just that, persuasive techniques. They do not have the power to make your children believe, instead they are like spiritual nourishment. Until our children have testimonies of their own it is up to us to provide their spiritual nourishment, and to protect them from spiritual harm. I really like the analogy that Elder Uchtdorf gave on this topic in his conference talk titled ‘Jesus Christ is the Strength of Parents’ he says:
My dear friends, my dear brothers and sisters, building faith in a child is somewhat like helping a flower grow. You cannot tug on the stem to make it taller. You cannot pry open the bud to get it to blossom sooner. And you cannot neglect the flower and expect it to grow or flourish spontaneously.
What you can and must do for the rising generation is provide rich, nourishing soil with access to flowing heavenly water. Remove weeds and anything that would block heavenly sunlight. Create the best possible conditions for growth. Patiently allow the rising generation to make inspired choices, and let God work His miracle. The result will be more beautiful and more stunning and more joyful than anything you could accomplish just by yourself.
How did I gain my testimony?
I learned to love reading the scriptures when I started using them to answer the questions that I had, and that other people had.
I learned to love going to church when I was on my mission because I was going to church to help others.
I learned to love to pray when I needed God’s help and I was begging him for relief.
I gained a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ when I experienced its power in my life.
In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.