Let me get this out of the way up front: no parent, including either of mine, is perfect. When I was five, my mother and father separated (and later divorced). There, of course, have been issues in my life resulting from that. But while my parents aren’t perfect, they did a lot of things right — things I want to share with you.
So here are four things my parents got right — things that helped me develop a testimony. (And regarding the things they did wrong, I just need to get this off my chest: If you’re reading this, Dad, I’m still not over the Kim Possible movie debacle from fifth grade….#NeverForget)
They Never, Ever Talked Badly About Church Leaders
I honestly didn’t even notice this until about a year ago. I was at someone’s home and I noticed a woman talking in a not-so-positive way about an apostle in front of her child.
“He’s too harsh,” she said. She explained that she didn’t like being chastised, and that was very off-putting to her — to the point where she essentially disregarded the apostle’s message entirely. Her teenage daughter was beside her and I felt her absorbing every word her mother said. Because her mom voiced that she wasn’t a huge fan of this particular apostle, I could tell that the daughter was going to feel the same way.
I left that home and later said to my husband, “You know, I’m so grateful that my parents never planted a seed of doubt in my mind about a servant of the Lord. That’s what kind of parents I want us to be.”
I grew up with my father, and I never heard him utter a negative word about a General Authority, let alone our local leaders like our bishop, counselors, etc. It was always very clear to me that he believed they were called for a reason and that while they were not perfect (something he also explained to me), the Lord was going to use them to fulfill His purposes. He never diminished anyone’s authority or effectiveness as a servant of the Lord, and that always strengthened my testimony in the Church’s leadership and in the way the Church is organized.
They Made Sure I Attended Church Activities
From the time I turned eight and was in achievement days (later called “activity” days), I was always expected to go to church activities. In my family, they took precedence over sports, playing with my neighbors (who I often invited to come with me), or even hanging out as a family.
The whole purpose of church activities for the youth is to create an environment where they can feel the Spirit (and make friends with other kids at church), and that’s why it was so important to my parents that we attended. I went to everything provided by the ward or stake: achievement days, mutual, seminary, youth conference, girls camp… You name it, I was there.
Some, if not most, of my earliest spiritual experiences came from participating in those activities. I still remember almost all of the Girls Camp testimony meetings I went to because they were such profound moments in my life. During those times, I felt the Spirit so strongly and knew that my Heavenly Father loved me.
If my parents hadn’t encouraged me to go to church activities, I would have missed out on so many experiences that became the foundation of my testimony.
They Brought Up the Gospel Organically
The gospel was a constant topic of conversation in my home growing up — but it never felt forced or unnatural.
When you love something and it is a huge part of your life, you talk about it. For as long as I can remember, my parents have both brought up the gospel in everyday conversations. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it’s intentional; it is just such an important aspect of their lives that they automatically speak about it.
If I talked about how I felt unattractive, my parents would tell me that God loves me exactly how I am. When someone got sick or passed away, my parents explained how the plan of salvation works. When I felt sad or discouraged or lost, they would talk to me for as long as I wanted — and remind me that I could talk to God about anything, too. When I had hard questions about the gospel, they didn’t shy away from it; instead, they talked things through with me and helped me see situations from a different perspective.
The gospel was a huge part of my life, and not just because I went to church every Sunday (and church activities on other days of the week). It was part of normal conversations and situations, too. From my earliest memories, my parents made sure that the gospel was not something I did, but something I was.
They Held Family Prayer and Scripture Study Every Night
All my life, I’ve read the scriptures nearly every day — not because I’m a really great, super-spiritual person, but because it’s a habit that was instilled in me from the moment I was born.
I am the youngest of five children, so you can imagine that with so many wriggly bodies and chatty mouths, it wasn’t easy to get everyone to pay attention to the scriptures — but I don’t think my parents were very worried about that. We read the scriptures and said a prayer as a family every single night, whether or not we had trouble paying attention or (later, when there were rebellious teenagers in the house) people were mad and didn’t want to participate.
We only read a page every night, but it made a huge impression on me that scripture study is important and that it’s one of the ways we show our respect to and love for God. My father usually said our prayer at night, and hearing him pray for me always made me feel loved, important, and safe. It was a bonding experience as a family, and I’m so grateful it was always a priority in our home. Even when I had friends over, who often weren’t Latter-day Saints, my parents would ask us to come join the family for our nightly prayer.
Of all the things my parents taught us and did with us, these are the things I’m most grateful for. These things certainly don’t guarantee that your child will stay active in the Church all their lives — and if they don’t, it doesn’t mean that you failed them as a parent in some way. Doing these things, though, does help to create a gospel foundation that your loved ones can come back to anytime things become difficult or feel too great to bear.
My testimony is the thing I treasure most in this life because it gives me direction, happiness, and identity — and these four things my parents did helped to shape that testimony into what it is today.