The Generations of Belief


I've been thinking a lot in the last few years about time. We know mankind's story arc seems to be the constant and frustrating circular rut of the pride cycle. At the same time, we know there is also a more linear story arc of God's work in the world which is not circular, but unfolds line upon line until the Second Coming of Christ, and exists side-by-side with mankind's rut-like path.

But there is also a third timeline, that of families. Many times the timelines of families simply match that of the pride cycle's stages in their culture, whatever and whereever and whenever that may be. The Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are replete with stories of families that transcended the pride cycle going on in their culture. In the Old Testament, they are often called "the righteous remnant," that is, those families which remained true despite what was going on all around them. Think Noah and his family, but there are many others. They often experience miraculous temporal salvation while everything else in the culture is destroyed. Sometimes they have to be removed to be saved, and some are able to eventually return to their place. Think Ezra and his family.

So it's these three timelines I've been thinking a lot about. How they intersect, and how they parallel, and what it all means for those trying to live this mortal experience.

I grew up during a historical place/time when the future seemed very bright. It seemed inconceivable to me personally that the types of swift and egregious decline seen in the Book of Mormon could ever happen in my culture. I admit to feeling quite shocked to learn my society is not exempt from the rut. And the types of swift decline seen in the Book of Mormon--just a few years seeming to make all the difference--has been played out before my eyes. I know now that my culture is ripening for destruction, and there is absolutely nothing that will stop that from happening.

As a mother, that is quite a sobering thought. While at one level I know I brought my children into the world to eventually face death, that's not the same as bringing them into a world that is increasingly dark, increasingly treacherous, increasingly doomed. It's a bit like giving birth on the Titanic. You feel to abjectly apologize to your chldren.

At the same time, given the story arc of God's work in the world, it is possible that our temporal salvation (not to mention our spiritual salvation) may be at hand. Christ's millenial reign will stop the pride cycle, stop all tears, stop all terror and war. That's more like giving birth during the Blitz. There's more hope in that scenario, but you honestly don't know the timetable for the End which will usher in a bright new beginning.

Titanic or Blitz, there is nothing I can do to stop those plot lines. For years I felt if only good people kept contributing their talents, the pride cycle for my culture could be stallled. In my own small way, I tried to be one of those people. I see now that was a foolish feeling. My culture is going down, and nothing will stop that. Whether the end of my culture will be one of the events of the Second Coming, I also do not know and have no influence on. It will come when God decrees it.

Searching for some hope of safety for my children, I have no choice but to turn to the third timeline--the timeline of my family. Every family has its own story arc, but here the plotlines are not set in stone. Yes, there are some common trends, but it is possible--possible--to buck those trends.

One commentator describes the trends this way: "First Generation - conversion and fervent belief. Second Generation - strong belief, and normative behavior. Third Generation - Normative behavior. Fourth Generation - indifference, if not rebellion." I think this is accurate. Four generations and it all goes to pot--as it did in the Book of Mormon after Christ's visit. Every time we visit Utah, my children marvel at the "indifference and rebellion" among their peers in that state. It is so incredibly sad to behold.

The diagnosis is not hard to come by: "Because true belief, that binds and enlightens, has to be a conversion of each and every person, not just a set of rules and creeds that everyone adheres to." Belief becomes a dead thing unless there is a true striving by each generation to know for themselves that what their believing parents have taught them is true.

Of course, awful behavior by parents stops this process in its tracks. But how do good parents who are believing foster a steadiness, rather than a decline, across the generations that follow? Truly loving your chlidren is a prerequisite, of course. But I know many families that truly loved their kids and lost them to the world.

How is it that a family becomes part of "the righteous remnant"? I don't have any definitive answers, but I do have a few thoughts.

1) Give your children experiences where they have to be "the odd man out" in their peer group. Show them it's possible to live through such an experience, and still keep most of one's friends. Help them experience what it is like to be different and to not go along with what everyone else is doing. Help them develop a thick skin and coping mechanisms. In our family, we've done this in several ways: not giving our kids a cell phone until they get a driver's license; not playing youth sports on Sundays; keeping certain dress standards.

2) Inhibit peer group ascendancy in your child's life. We don't allow sleepovers; as mentioned, we don't allow cell phones until the child get a driver's license; and for almost all of our kids, we homeschooled them in middle school.

3) Watch media consumption carefully, and consume most media together where you can comment on what you're seeing or hearing in front of your children. Let them see how you reject seeing certain things; let them see you reject parts of things but not the whole thing; let them see you make discriminations about what can and can't be tolerated and let them hear you reasoning about that out loud in their presence. If you embolden them in this way, and give them practice in discrimination and rejection of that which is not good, you will have done them a great service. For example, we were watching a great series, and literally in the last 5 seconds of the series there was something inappropriate. All the kids were so mad, and our youngest voiced everyone's opinion which was that they would love to show the series to their kids, but they would refuse to show them the last 5 seconds! It didn't take any prompting from us parents, for they knew how to make that kind of discrimination for themselves.

4) Talk to your children in the home about what you believe and why you believe. Start belief-centered conversations over dinner; ask a question and let them answer. In this way, they will see the belief of their parents is a living belief, not some dead rote rules.

5) Love each other as parents. Our destiny is to live in families and to live in God's family. Model for your children what it looks like to have a Mother and a Father who love each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. They will believe in Heaven if you do, and they will want to qualify to live in heaven.

Of course, in the end, it is truly up to every soul to come unto Christ. It is a personal choice and journey. But at least we can remove stumbling blocks in their way. We can do at least that to stop the trend of decline over time in the generations of belief.

Do you have things you do in your family to prevent the decline over time? Do tell . . .