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Elder Craig A. Cardon: Helping Our Teenagers Develop Spiritual Maturity

The divine design in developing spiritual maturity is known to the adversary. Knowing of how critically important this development is in all that will follow as the teenager continues through life, because of the adversary’s influence, the world begins to communicate a relentless message to adolescents: “The spiritual voice you heard and felt as a child is not real. It is only your imagination. It cannot be trusted. Don’t listen to it. It is not real.”

Because of this, while patterns of regular individual and family prayer, scripture study, and worship are so important, without conscious and inspired efforts by parents to help their children recognize the spiritual communications received while participating in those activities and to act on them, a central role of the activity is being missed. Ultimately, the goal is much more than having our children knowledgeable of the scriptural account, the ordinances, and how to pray. The goal is for them to hear, recognize and respond to the voice of the Spirit, joyously accepting the fact that the religious activities foster that divine communication.

An experience we had with Craig, our third child and our eldest son, illustrates many of these principles. It is important to note that Craig was fifteen years old at the time.

Seven of our eight children were living at home. The oldest was away at college. The youngest was three-years-old. I had been serving as a stake president for over three years. At the time there were significant economic challenges confronting the entire nation, and our entrepreneurial interests were not immune. Notwithstanding my demanding schedule, Debbie was able to be at home with the children. As had been the case throughout our marriage, her spiritual sensitivity to otherwise slight fluctuations in the flow of our children’s lives was a significant and important factor in our parental role of rearing our children.

As I recall, I had missed the evening meal with the family, which happened from time to time, when I rushed into our home from work one evening, with just enough time to grab a bite to eat before heading off to Church meetings. When I greeted Debbie with a kiss, with an unexpected degree of intensity she told me that she needed to talk to me. It was a communication that I had long since learned to pay attention to. Nonetheless, I asked if it could wait. She was willing to wait, but expressed her feeling that it would be best not to wait. I had also long since learned to respect her impressions on timing. We stepped into another room for privacy.

Debbie said that over the past several days she had noticed that whenever Craig and I talked with each other, there was a degree of tension in the conversation that had not previously been present. I told her that I hadn’t noticed anything particularly different. She said that while that may be, she had noticed that Craig was beginning to react a bit differently. She couldn’t give any specific examples. It was just more of a feeling that she had sensed in him and that had come to her.

I suggested that perhaps this was what occurs normally when two males visit with each other. This thought did not subdue the feelings Debbie was having. There was something more occurring in my communications with Craig that was not easily identified. With Debbie, I began to feel that there was something here that needed to be addressed. But we didn’t know what it was or how to address it. We decided to pray.

Over the ensuing days, as we prayed about this matter and counseled together, the Lord brought a detail to my attention of which I had not been previously cognizant. In almost every conversation Craig and I were having, we were expressing opposing opinions on topics for which one or the other of us had a vested interest. And because of the vested interest and differing opinion, there was a degree of tension.

The Lord had now revealed to us the problem. But what were we to do? How could this problem be addressed to the blessing of all involved? We continued to pray.

Eventually, an impression came to my mind that I shared with Debbie: I would schedule a private time each day with Craig, 20 to 30 minutes, where he and I would talk together under certain rules. With the impression the Lord also provided rules for the meeting. The rules were as follow:

We would meet in the small room near our front door that I used for a home office and we would alternate offering an opening prayer for each meeting.

One of us would be responsible to identify a new topic at the beginning of each meeting that we would explore together.

The responsibility for choosing a topic would alternate between us each meeting.

In every discussion, one of us would be obligated to speak in favor of the topic, the other in opposition.

Significantly, the person identifying the topic was also authorized to specify who would speak in favor and who would speak in opposition, and who would speak first.

While the topic could be of interest to one or both of us, it had to be a topic in which neither of us had any vested interest at all.

If the person responsible for choosing the topic came to the meeting without a topic in mind, he was obligated to choose a current topic from the first section of the morning paper.

That was it. Simple. Straight forward.

As for the timing of the meeting, Craig was, and still is, an early riser. While this may not be true for many adolescents, it was not a stretch to suggest to Craig that we meet at 5:30 AM. With prayerful consideration, I proposed to Craig that we meet with the rules as described above. He initially wondered why such an exercise was necessary, but when I mentioned what his mother had been observing and feeling, he also more fully recognized the tension that had been developing and agreed to meet.

I will acknowledge that I was amazed at the rapid progress we made. Within just days, some remarkable things were happening. We were both learning that the other of us was able to see at least two sides of just about any topic. We were both learning that we could hear opposing views from the other person and respect those views, although we may not agree with them. Admittedly, this was occurring with topics in which neither of us had a vested interest, but there was developing between us a respectful maturity of friendly persuasion. And it was responding in a positive, reinforcing way to Craig’s desire for emotional independence.

But there was an even greater spiritual blessing that neither Craig nor I could have anticipated.

With the great progress that had been made, after just a few days, Craig walked in to our meeting with a slight smile on his face. After prayer, we both sat down, face-to-face and nearly knee-to-knee. It was his turn to identify the topic. But he wanted to discuss something before doing so. The dialogue went something like this:

“Dad, before we get started I’d like to change one of the rules.”

"OK, Son. I think that’s something we can at least discuss. What rule would you like to change and how would you like to change it?”

With his smile growing a bit bigger, he replied, “No, Dad. I want you to agree to the change first, and then I’ll tell you what the change is.”

We had made such marvelous progress. Trust, confidence, and respect between us had grown. In a certain way, Craig was testing all of these things. As I looked at him, although quite uncertain as to where this might lead, with a bit of a smile of my own, and with a degree of uncertainty I responded.

“Well, Craig, this is going to be a stretch, but let’s give it a try. The change is approved. What is it?”

His smile was now complete.

“The change is that today we will address a topic that one of us has a vested interest in. All other rules remain the same. This is the topic: ‘Is it OK for a fifteen-year-old to date?’ Dad, you speak in favor and I’ll speak against, and Dad, you go first!”

I was slightly stunned. What had I gotten myself into? It will be no surprise to know that this and related topics had fostered much of the tension in Craig’s and my earlier communications that Debbie had originally identified. But here we were, and I had agreed to the change.

My mind began to race with the realization that I would be speaking as both a father and a stake president. I don’t remember exactly what I said. Neither does Craig. Generally, I believe I attempted to describe unique circumstances that would be difficult to duplicate, added many qualifiers and disclaimers, and I imagine that I concluded by allowing that under those unique circumstances and conditions, possibly, it could be acceptable for a fifteen-year-old to date.

Craig had watched me as I was speaking with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped in front of him, and although he was looking at me, I wasn’t sure what he was hearing. I spoke for several minutes. As I did, his expression began to change. When I concluded, he looked at me just a moment longer, and then his eyes went to the floor. He was silent. I could not read his expression because I could see only the top of his head. I waited for a few moments in silence. After about 20 to 30 seconds, I spoke. “Son, I’ve finished what I was going to say. Now it’s your turn. Why is it not OK for a fifteen-year-old to date?”

With his elbows still on his knees and his hands still clasped, he lifted his head. Tears were now beginning to stream down his cheeks, dropping to the floor. The Spirit of the Lord was present in rich abundance. Eventually, Craig looked me straight in the eyes and with a resolute voice said simply, “Because a prophet said not to!”

Something miraculous had just happened that neither one of us had anticipated. Craig, questioning, seeking independence, wanting to know for himself, had just received an independent witness from his Heavenly Father on a personal matter of immense importance to him that provided a course correction in his heart and life. At this critical juncture, he had heard the voice of the Lord and had responded in faith.

And in the process, the Lord had blessed a father and a son with new-new-found capacities to communicate with respect and understanding on all topics, with or without one or the other having a vested interest.

Craig’s spiritual resolve and independence were significantly strengthened that day. This was more important than the emotional resolve and independence that accompanied the experience. He now had a much greater capacity to recognize and to respond to the voice of the Spirit.

I also learned how intimately involved the Lord is in helping parents and trusted adult leaders in their efforts to help the rising generation connect with Him. It is His work, and as a loving Father, He is anxious to communicate with His children.

Lead Image: Getty Images

Elder Craig A. Cardon was sustained as a General Authority Seventy on April 1, 2006. He served as a member of the Africa West Area presidency, editor of Church magazines, and an assistant executive director in the Priesthood and Family Department and as a member of the Pacific Area presidency. He was released and became an emeritus General Authority in October 2018.

Elder Cardon studied accounting and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Arizona State University. He received a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to his call in 2006 he was an entrepreneur with multiple business interests. He also previously served as president of the Italy Rome Mission (1983-1986).

Craig Allen Cardon was born in December 1948. He married Deborah L. Dana in November 1970. They are the parents of eight children. As of 2019 they have 44 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

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