Treats are the easy part of Family Home Evening, this tradition that has us gather our families around us every Monday night for a gospel lesson, an activity or game, some songs, a prayer, and then refreshments.
I am an ardent believer in Family Home Evening. I have tried to faithfully hold it every Monday night, and the kids look forward to it.
I do not, always. It's like exercise. Sometimes you hate doing it, but you're always glad you did it once it's over.
I remember Family Home Evenings in my family growing up. Like a circus, they were, with nine children to entertain, uplift, and educate, while keeping a modicum of control. The cycle continues in my own family now, circus and all, no matter my pleas (or threats) to the contrary. But I will persist because I believe in the promises made by a prophet to those who will obey. And, I think it really does make our family happier. Eventually, anyway.
Yesterday's treat was easy to decide on. I knew I didn't want something too sweet because of all the Halloween candy that has been consumed over the last several days, so Lion House Banana Bread went into the oven early in the morning. But the lesson?
As the kids have gotten older, I have felt more pressed to make every lesson count. The weeks that the teens have left in our home are numbered and the pressures they face outside of our home are increasing. I want to pack a punch with our family time. I think long and hard each week. I search idea websites and the oodles of manuals and resources that I have here at home. And sometimes, at a loss, I pray. This was yesterday.
I told God about my concerns for my family, the things weighing on my heart for each of my children. I asked Him what He would have me teach. And very clearly, yet softly, came the answer.
I stayed on my knees for a time, thinking. Yes, service. To one another. There is too much contention. Too much mean-spirited humor. Too little kindness. How can we have the Spirit in our home if we're not even nice to each other? How can testimonies grow in mean little hearts?
I went back to some websites and found just a few scriptures. The classics.
"When ye are in the service of your fellowmen, ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17)
"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it." (Mark 8:35)
I found a great quote by Elder Robert J. Whetton that said, "Every unselfish act of kindness and service increases your spirituality. God would use you to bless others. Your continued spiritual growth and eternal progress are very much wrapped up in your relationships—in how you treat others."
Yes, yes, this is the perfect lesson for us. Teens who are struggling with their own spirituality--who find it difficult to be sober and reverent--need to be reminded that their growth is connected to the way that they treat people.
I decided to have the kids play "The Biggest Loser", a mock of that weight loss reality television show. But in this game, points are given for "losing yourself" in the service of others.
I knew it was the right lesson. Still, evenings are chaotic. Homework is strewn about. I'm teaching piano until 6pm, and then dinner (which was, thankfully, cooking in the crock pot) had to be assembled, served, and eaten. Teenage girl gets home from work after 7pm, and then the battle begins with the toddler, who every week wants so badly to be a part of "Family Evening", but who is the main source of disruption and frustration. One chance, I tell him. Again.
We sing a song, "Have I Done Any Good". Teenage boy rolls his eyes and moves his lips, but without producing a sound. The toddler jumps from the couch where he is sternly directed to sit without moving, and begins to dance wildly around the room. Teenage girl is feeling homework pressure. I can see it in her face, but she never complains. Now the toddler is jumping on the teenage boy who is laying on his stomach on the livingroom floor. I get up from the piano, and put him back on the couch. Keep smiling. Talk sweetly.
A prayer. (Hasn't worked yet.)
A few announcements and then we stop again because the toddler is now kicking the boy on the couch with both feet, and with all his might. I pick him up and carry him, crying and begging, up to his bed. As I come back down the stairs, having been gone for, maybe 15 seconds, the boy on the couch is now crying and holding his stomach. Apparently in that 15 seconds, the teenage boy has "played too rough" and has punched him and knocked the wind out of him.
So, then sweetness goes out the window. I am sick and tired of teenage boy thinking that his bad attitude can control this family. He has his hand out way too often to be given that kind of power, and I won't stand for it. So, now he has his head down. Way down. But I don't think he is ashamed, as much as he is ticked off and cursing me in his mind. Fine, let him.
I sit down. I want to cry. I want to run from the room and curl up in my bed. Throw it all out the window. The tension is thick. I wonder in my mind, "What is the point? We should just do this another night."
But no. We are supposed to have this lesson, darn it.
I take a deep breath, and I look at their faces. I start to cry, but only a little. I tell them how much I love them, and how important this is, and how just that afternoon I had been on my knees asking Heavenly Father what I should teach them, and I just knew this is what He wanted. They each read a scripture. I read the quote to them, and tell them that if we are unhappy with how we are feeling spiritually, then we need to examine the way that we are treating one another (myself included, of course). I tell them that Heavenly Father wanted us to play a game this week, and are they willing?
I told them the game. I even told them that if they thought I wasn't being serious, that they should ask Heavenly Father themselves and receive their own confirmation that this is what our family should be doing this week. I bore my testimony to them. The Spirit in the room changed. Even teenage boy looked up through his hair at me.
I gave them each a baggie with 50 pennies in it. I told them that for each act of service they did for a member of our family, they could put a penny inside the jar. But no mention of the acts of service can be made. The person who gets rid of the most pennies, who loses himself in the service of others most frequently throughout the week, is the "Biggest Loser" and will win a prize.
Immediately after closing song, prayer, and refreshments, I went to Teenage Boy and put my arm around him as he sat at the table. I apologized to him and told him, with a kiss on the cheek, how much I love him. Then I went upstairs to wash my face. Teenage boy came and met me in the bathroom. Towering above me as he does now, he put his arm around me and said, "I love you, Mom." What a moment! And then? He started looking around for acts of service. He saw the flashlight next to my bed and replaced the batteries for me. He hung out in my room after the others had gone to bed, and told me about his friends, and school.
This morning there are already several pennies in the jar. Scripture study went much more smoothly this morning. We talked about the steps that Nephi followed to receive his own personal revelation. The kids were helping each other, passing out red pencils, and opening up Book of Mormons.
Family Home Evening works. It won't work once. It won't work now and then. But consistently, patiently, over the weeks and months and years, it will work.
And it better, because it's killing me.