Strengthen Your Family With Choice Gatherings and Loving Traditions

Family gatherings are more meaningful when planned around principles. The specifics of family gatherings and traditions vary from family to family. However, all may share common threads-including an emphasis on honoring and prayerfully searching the word of God, understanding one’s unique role as a son or daughter of God, and cultivating an environment of love and mutual support. Here are three examples:

Traditions Take Time
Following our marriage in the late 1950’s, we Pinegars didn’t set aside regular times to read the scriptures with our small children. As time went on, we realized the importance of family scripture time, so we decided to make it a regular part of the family routine. I would rise early, go to the children’s room, flip on the light and say, “Scripture time!” The children would slowly get up, sometimes dragging their blankets into the living room.

We began reading just a few verses associated with a gospel topic. Then we attempted to apply them to our lives. Studying by topic- and later reading the Book of Mormon and other scriptures-became a tradition. The younger children grew up thinking that was the way each day began…the tradition of scripture study had been established.

The payoff came when our daughter Kelly was giving her farewell talk prior to serving a mission in Ecuador. She said, “I learned to hate my father’s squeaky voice as he awakened us for scripture study every morning.” She paused, began to cry and said, “Oh how grateful I am for my parents, for they taught me to love the word of God.” Joy filled her parent’s hearts. Now as grandparents, we visit our children’s homes and see them establishing the same tradition. Truly, our joy is full!

Foster Talents and Creativity
In Allen family gatherings, we’ve always tried to combine spiritual aspects with an emphasis allowing the children to express themselves in creative ways. As they discover the wonderful gifts they’ve received from the Lord, we’ve made tools available to entice them to experiment with wholesome activities. These included puppet theaters, handmade art easels, musical instruments, plaster-of-Paris mold sets for making creative figures, dress-up wardrobes for aspiring young actors, sewing paraphernalia, outdoor equipment, family service-and-kindness charts, and games like charades that encourage active expression.

We’ve felt joy and gratitude in witnessing talent flowering in many ways: a daughter who became an accomplished illustrator; another daughter who excelled at creating beautiful crocheted afghans; a son who auditioned for a performance with a local symphony after only limited piano instruction; and another son with multiple challenges who produced amazing computer art masterpieces. Talent can flourish in any family setting. All children have gifts and abilities that can be cultivated in an atmosphere of encouragement and positive support. We’ve been pleased to observe this practice continued by our children when founding families of their own.

Extended family gatherings and reunions provide the perfect setting of hospitality and encouragement for talents to be displayed. We’ll never forget the time one of our sons-perhaps ten years old at the time-sat at a small portable keyboard to play for a hundred relatives assembled in the park for a family reunion. Performing a Bach composition, he dazzled the crowd. Applause confirmed his God-given gift of talent he could use to bless the lives of others. Similar family gatherings have given encouragement to our daughter as she performed with her flute.

And so it goes. Creativity encourages in endless, sometimes unusual ways. Pancakes can be fried in various shapes to celebrate particular events. Revolving displays, pin-up boards of photos, and home galleries offer creative outlets. Nighttime vigils allow us to admire God’s handiwork in the starry heavens. We have storytelling sessions where each takes turn at continuing the thickening plot.

Here are other activities families can try: Make excursions to several city parks on the same day. Conduct guess-what-I’m-drawing contests that end only when the last detail added completes the image. Hold rhyming contests. See who can find the longest word in the dictionary. Let parents and children take music lessons together. The list is endless.

The greatest way to instill self-confidence in your children is to listen to them-sincerely, and with an open heart. By listening, watching children perform, and responding in an accepting, non-judgmental way, parents can give them the priceless gift of self-confidence and self-respect. Every child has God-given talents and gifts that can be cultivates and used for the benefit of others.

An old saying maintains, “Children should be seen, not heard.” To test such a misguided hypothesis, we need only recall a famous event from the life of the Savior: “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God…And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16; compare Matt. 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17).

Creating Lasting Memories
My sweetheart and I would ask, “What do we want to happen at the Pinegar family reunion?” How could we bless the lives of ten married couples, 33 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who would be there? Make it simple. The acronym JBN was chosen -Just Be Nice- as the emphasis for the year. There were American flag T-shirts for everyone. Then names of each wearer would be emblazoned on the stripes, with “JBN” appearing on the back. Everyone took it to heart, and the T-shirts were great!

At the next reunion we used the acronym IAL- I Am Loved. We set up teaching stations where our children taught everyone that they were loved by their Heavenly Father and Savior- and by parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors, and by our prophet and church leaders. Each station taught why each of us was loved, and each family member received a square bead with a hole in it. There were threaded onto an elastic string, which became a bracelet spelling out, “I am loved.” At the same reunion, they received a gold heart with the word “Remember,” engraved on the front. This reminds them that they are children of God, and to be pure in heart. These family gatherings are priceless.

Elder L. Tom Perry assures us: “If we will build righteous traditions in our families, the light of the gospel can grow…brighter in the lives of our children from generation to generation…Our family activities and traditions can be a beacon to the rest of the world as an example of how we should live to merit His choice blessings.” (L. Tom Perry, “Family Traditions,” Ensign, May 1990)

Family gatherings and loving traditions help assure us our home and family circles are holy places in which emulate the example of teachings of the Savior. These are places we pray together, study the word of God together, and join together in charitable service to our neighbors. They’re places where we cultivate our talents for the blessing of others, and strive in all ways to honor our covenants with the Lord. We will find his spirit attending our family gathering, and illuminating our worthy family traditions with the light of enduring love.
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