Justin Coulson: How Might Jesus Parent?
How do you follow the Savior’s example if your child has left the Church or is struggling with their faith? What’s the balance between giving your child room to use his or her agency while showing your love for them? In this week’s All In episode, parenting guru Justin Coulson explains how the Savior’s teachings about love, compassion, and mourning with those that mourn apply to the family. Whether we’re a parent or not, we can all learn from the Savior’s example of how to “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14).
Sometimes in our angry moments, or in our tired moments, or, let’s be honest, in our selfish moments, we might be less loving than we could be towards our children. Sometimes we feel inclined to hurt rather than to help, or...we’re neutral or ambivalent, or we shrug our shoulders and say ‘Whatever’. But He doesn't. The scriptures tell us again and again, His hand, His arm is stretched out still.
7:00- God’s Example of Parenting
16:55- Respect for Agency
20:59- If Your Child Leaves the Church
34:06- If Your Child Doesn’t Want to Go to Church
44:16- If You, As a Parent, Feel It’s Too Late
49:27- Blurred Lines
54:51- Encouraging Gospel Discussion in the Home
1:00:06- What Does It Mean to be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Links & References
Elder Vinson, “True Disciples of the Savior,” October 2019
Parable of the Prodigal Son
Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, Klyne R. Snodgrass
Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Virtue of Kindness,” April 2005
Howard W. Hunter, “The Golden Thread of Choice,” October 1989
Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching and Learning in the Church,” June 2007
Julie B. Beck, “And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit,” April 2010
All In episode with Steven Sharp Nelson
Morgan Jones 0:00
Justin Coulson's passion is helping families, his own and others, flourish. But it is not because he thinks he has it all figured out. In fact, it was a recognition that he was struggling with his own family relationships that led him to return to a full-time study in his late 20s and later receive a PhD in psychology. Justin wanted to learn how to be a better husband and father, and that is still something he is striving for today. Justin Coulson has written six books and is a four time best-selling author. He is an occasional contributor for the New York Times and appears regularly in all of Australia's major news outlets for television, radio and print. He is a TEDx speaker and has also served as a consultant to the Australian Government's Raising Children Network. Justin lives with his wife and six daughters in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Morgan Jones 1:05
This is "Fair Dinkum," where we ask the question, "what does it really mean to be fair dinkum about the gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones and I am so excited to have Dr. Justin Coulson here with me today. Justin, welcome.
Justin Coulson 1:20
Fair dinkum. It's so good to be with you. This is great!
Morgan Jones 1:26
Okay, so listeners are probably very confused right now, but we thought that it would be really fun - Today is April Fool's Day - So April Fool's everyone! Hopefully we got you. But I just thought it would be fun because Justin is from Australia, and that's what you say there for "All In," is that right?
Justin Coulson 1:44
Well, yeah, fair dinkum can means that you're, you're you're legitimate. You're absolutely serious. There's no, there's no question. If something's fair dinkum, it's the real deal. And just a little bit of perhaps, it's something a little bit poetic about all this, fair dinkum was obviously made a big deal of in a recent general conference talk when Elder Terry Vinson spoke about being fair dinkum about the gospel of Christ. My brother's wife, my brother's father in law, I should say, is Elder Vincent.
Morgan Jones 2:11
Justin Coulson 2:11
So I am a distant relation to him in some way. So I think that it's just fantastic that we're talking about being fair dinkum today.
Morgan Jones 2:18
Awesome. Well, let's actually talk about being all in. I'm so excited about this. Well, I have been so looking forward to this conversation. I have to give listeners an idea of how I came in contact with your work, Justin. My best friend lives in Nashville, Tennessee. And she contacted me a couple weeks ago, and she said, I want you to listen to this man. She said, I have become obsessed with this guy's work. And so, I looked you up and started watching some videos and I was instantly impressed not only by the things that Justin teaches, but also by kind of your countenance, Justin, and I just think you have so much to offer our audience. And this is a topic - parenting - I think that is so close to people's hearts. And we haven't done nearly enough about it on this podcast because I am not a parent. So we are going to try to tackle this today and I appreciate you being willing to go down that road with somebody as unexperienced as me.
Justin Coulson 3:22
Well, I'm so excited to talk to you about this and a couple of things that I would love to share with you as well. One of my employees actually told me about the "All In" podcast just a few months ago, and I've been listening devotedly, ever since. And when I got your email, I just I literally I started dancing around the room. I was like, "No, way! I can't believe I'm going to be talking to Morgan Jones on 'All In'. I was just thrilled about that. And as for your friend, we have a family tradition. When our children turn 16. We bring them to the United States to participate in EFY, and last year, we brought a couple of our kids across to go to the Nauvoo EFY. While they were there, my wife and I popped down to Nashville. We didn't meet your friend, but we had such a great time in Nashville. So hearing that story and bringing it all together, it just, it's just, it's a fantastic story to hear. Thanks so much for telling me.
Morgan Jones 4:17
Well, she's gonna be really bummed that she missed you on your trip to Nashville. But, this is so funny, because the reason that she knew that you were a member of the church is because she saw a picture of your daughter wearing a Nauvoo t-shirt.
Justin Coulson 4:31
Yeah, that's a dead giveaway isn't it? Who else goes to Nauvoo but the Latter-day Saints?
Morgan Jones 4:36
It's not really a hotspot for other vacationers, but it is a great place to visit. So this is awesome. And shout out to Katie Bourlin for this podcast that we're about to give you. But Justin I want to start - you have six daughters - the oldest is 20, the youngest is six. Meaning that you are the epitome of a Girl Dad. #GirlDad What is that like and what do you think of this whole girl dad movement?
Justin Coulson 5:04
Well, I don't really know any different. I'm grateful, more than I can say, for my six daughters, but I want to be really clear we were never trying for a boy, we really just, we love our kids. We wanted to have a large family and every time we felt that prompting or that desire for another child, we would talk about it and consider it and pray about it. And we were very, very explicit together and with Heavenly Father that we did not care what we had so long as we had a baby. And, and that's just being, our children is such a joy. Now, let me also be really clear: Research shows that children do not make us happy. They tire us out, they drain us, they make us exhausted, and we've had this research knowledge now since the late 1970s, early 1980s. Sara McClanahan from Princeton was one of the first ones to really highlight the data that shows that having kids doesn't always make you feel great about life. But we feel so grateful for our daughters. As for the Girl Dad movement, I'm not really focused on movements and such. My emphasis is really can I help parents? Can we help parents to build happier families? and if we can do that, regardless of the makeup of the family, regardless of who's running the family, whether it's a single parent or both parents, whether they're all girls or all boys, or a wonderful mix. My emphasis is just on helping us to find genuine happiness in family life.
Morgan Jones 6:31
Yeah, so Justin, people can find you they if you look up Dr. Justin Coulson on YouTube, you can find some different videos of Justin sharing different thoughts on parenting and things that can be helpful to parents. On today's episode - and I should add, we're going to link those in our show notes - but on today's episode, we want to focus specifically on parenting in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so, I have asked because I don't know anything about what it's like to be a parent - I am an older sister, and I love my siblings. I probably take way too much pride in being a big sister, but I don't know anything about being a parent - So I asked a couple of different people, specifically my friend Katie that I mentioned before, if they could help me come up with some questions, so we're locked and loaded and ready to hit Justin with some of these questions. The first question is "Heavenly Father is the ultimate parent. What are some of your favorite parenting characteristics that Heavenly Father has? And how can we use his example and apply it and parenting our own children?"
Justin Coulson 7:44
Wow. I've thought a lot about this over the years. As you can imagine, being a member of the Church and having faith in a perfect Father gives us a great opportunity to consider his characteristics and attributes that he holds in perfection, and use them as a model for what we can do as parents. Now I need to warn you I get a bit weepy when I talk about the gospel, and I get a bit weepy when I talk about raising our children in a godly way. And so I might struggle to get through some of this but maybe, because of time, maybe I can just highlight three characteristics that really stands out to me.
Justin Coulson 8:22
The first one: We read in the scriptures that there's an assurance in 2 Nephi 26:24 - it's one of my favorite scriptures - that says "He doeth not anything for the world say that be for the benefit of the world." And then we read about the gift being given of a Savior, our Heavenly Father's only son. He wants to help us. Not just to help us, He wants to save us. He perfectly loves us because we are worthy as His children. As I talk with young people - I've just recently written a book about teenage girls. It's only available in hardcopy in Australia, you can get it electronically overseas - But the book is called "Misconnection." And as I interviewed around about 400 teenage girls and asked them all sorts of questions, one of the questions that I asked them was this, I said, "I'm writing a book for your parents, if there's one thing that you want me to tell them on your behalf, that you can't tell them or won't tell them or don't tell them. What do you think that they should be reading about you?" And I was overwhelmed with one answer in particular. Well, two answers, in fact. One of the answers was, these girls said, "We love you, mum or dad. We love you. We don't tell you very often, sometimes we stomp our feet and we slam doors and we even say horrible things to you, but we love you." The second thing that really stood out was a plea to know that I am worthy, that I'm good enough. In fact, one girl was so explicit about it, she said "I would want to know if my parents had the opportunity to either have me or $1 million every day, would they choose me?" She wanted to know that, and I think when it comes to the attribute of our Heavenly Father, He wants to help us perfectly because He loves us perfectly. And as a result of that, He only gives good gifts. Even sometimes the things that are in our lives that don't feel good. "He doeth not anything save it be for our benefit." Sometimes in our angry moments, or in our tired moments, or, let's be honest, in our selfish moments, we might be less loving than we could be towards our children. Sometimes we feel inclined to hurt rather than to help, or at least we're neutral or ambivalent, or we shrug our shoulders and say whatever. But He doesn't. The scriptures tell us again and again, His hand, His arm is stretched out still. How often would He gather us but we won't. He's ever loving. So I think that would be the first thing.
Justin Coulson 11:08
The second one is this: Jesus told us that he doesn't do anything except what he's seen his father do. And one of the consistent themes in the Synoptic Gospels and also in John, actually - it's a powerful foundation theme in John - is just how often we read that Jesus had compassion on the people that he served. Compassion is this extraordinary attribute that - not just our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly parents, must have compassion beyond our capacity to comprehend. And I think it's worth unpacking what compassion actually is. So I don't speak Latin, but I I've looked up the etymology of the word compassion. We use this word all the time. Compassion, if we distill it into two English parts is com and passion. Com means together, it means with others. So we communicate. We're in the company of others. We are part of a community, we have combat. COM means we do something together, we do it with others. And passion - most people when they think of passion, I think "oh, I'm really enthusiastic about this. Tony Robbins rah, rah, let's walk across hot coals and do passionate things." But that's not actually what passion means, or at least not what it meant in its earliest iterations. Passion literally means to suffer. And I think that is profound because when we consider the characteristic of our Heavenly parents of compassion, when we look at the example of Jesus in the scriptures of compassion, what that means is that He literally suffers with us. Not only does He suffer with us, He suffered for us. He literally said, I will suffer so that you don't have to. The level of compassion, the depth of the mercy there, I think, is so profoundly deep. And so as parents, as we, as we sit and suffer with our children, you know, children struggle when they experience challenges and hardships, and sometimes I hear parents say things like, "Oh toughen up, get over it, you'll be fine. Stop being such, a stop being such a little sook." And there is no compassion in there. But some of our finest parenting moments are those times where we, where we stop what we're doing and we get out of our own selves and step compassionately into our children's suffering. We see them struggling and experiencing challenge. And we, we do what what Job's friends did is he went through his trials. His friends came and they literally sat with him and mourned with him for three days. They didn't try to fix it, they just mourned with him. In Mosiah, we read about this wonderful baptismal promise that we make, that we will mourn with those that mourn. It doesn't say that we will fix them. It doesn't say that we'll say to them, "Oh look, you'll be okay. You know, tough times come but it's going to be alright." It literally just says that we will mourn with those that mourn. And Morgan I think that this is, I think that this is the most Christlike thing that we can do is to sit and just suffer with our children when they're struggling. When we do that, we become more Christlike. We restore relationships.
Justin Coulson 14:28
The story of the prodigal son is one of my favorites. It's probably one of my top two, I don't know that I can tease them all apart, but it's one of my top parables of Jesus. And when we look at that parable, the word compassion is actually used in this context. We read that the father was watching from afar. So his son's gone off and lived riotously, and all this time, the father watches from afar. You can feel the love that this father has for his son, even while he's not there. And then it says this, and I'll quote it, it says "And he arose" - this is when he's come to himself - "and he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." And there's a couple of things that really struck me there. First of all, the father was watching. He saw him a long way off, and I can just see a loving parent, watching from a distance as a child struggles and just waiting for them to turn so that they can run. I read in a Bible Commentary by a guy called Snodgrass. He says that in ancient Israel, for a man to run was unholy. It was quite, it was almost a thing that would bring disgrace upon a man. And yet this father loved his son so much, he had so much compassion, that when he saw him a great way off, he ran. And he didn't just run and shake his hand or run and say "it's so good to see you," he fell on him. The embrace that he gave him was everything that he had. The compassion there, I think, is extraordinary. So that's the second thing.
Justin Coulson 16:17
And maybe I can just expand on that a touch more. Because when our children have been challenging, it's hard for us to be compassionate. But if we can step out of our own perspective for a moment, what we see is that they're being challenging usually because they're feeling challenged - sometimes we're the one that's challenging them - and if they're feeling challenged, they don't need our judgment. They don't need another critic in their life. They need us to see them in their struggle, and to meet them right there. In that struggle, to just say, literally, to look at them and say, "I know that there is goodness inside you. I've seen it before. I know what's in there. And the reason that we're not seeing right now is because you're struggling so much. So just let me hold you and let me love you until you feel whole, until you feel accepted, until you feel worthy and loved just the way you are. And my compassion will draw you to me and ultimately help you overcome this and be better." And our Heavenly Father is the perfect example of this. So that's the second attribute that I want to share.
Justin Coulson 16:55
I think the third one is that He respects our agency perfectly. And I reckon this is a really tough one for us as parents because we want our children to have agency when it's convenient, but sometimes they do things, they make choices, especially as they get older, that can break our hearts, that can leave us reeling. President Howard W Hunter, I dug this quote out for a conversation, he said this, "To fully understand this gift of agency, and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God's chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation. He acts by gentle solicitation and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that we possess. He wants to help us and pleads for the chance to assist us, but He will not do so in violation of our agency. He loves us too much to do that, and doing so would run counter to his character."
Morgan Jones 18:40
That is powerful.
Justin Coulson 18:41
It leaves me reeling, Morgan. I think about the way I want to dive in and control my children and save them from every bad thing, protect them from anything that could harm their soul or taint their spirit, or just cause them to be disruptive and challenging in my home. Let's be, let's be frank: Sometimes it's just a pain to see our children use their agency poorly with the little things. And yet, we have this perfectly loving, compassionate Father who only wants to give us good things and He knows that the best thing that He can give us is the choice to direct our life.
Morgan Jones 19:18
Yeah. I I think that, Justin, the three points that you've just made are so - we could spend all day unpacking those - but I want to touch on just a couple things that you said.
Justin Coulson 19:32
And we can do that, if you want! That'd be fun!
Morgan Jones 19:34
No, no, no! I've got, we've got way more we have to get to. But really quickly, I just wanted to say, I think, the point that you made about mourning with those that mourn, especially your children, it reminded me when my brother was in high school, he was dating a girl that was going through a difficult time. And my brother was like really struggling as a result of watching this person that he cared about go through this experience. And my mom was such a good example of that idea of mourning with those that mourn, especially your children that are mourning. And there is a song, it's called "When You've Got Trouble" and it says, like "when you've got trouble, I've got trouble too." And my brother, years later, he said, that song always reminds me of Mama, because that's the way that she is. If one of her children are having a hard time, she always says there's this quote, that's like, "a mother is only as happy as her saddest child." And I think that that is the beauty of having a parent, somebody that loves you to that extent, and I love that you made that point. Like I said, we could stay and chat about just these three points all day, but I want to move on to something that kind of is connected to what you were just talking about with the agency.
Morgan Jones 20:59
My friend said that she asked on her Instagram recently what parents biggest worries are when it comes to their children. And almost all of them answered something along the lines of worrying that their children wouldn't make good choices. Obviously something that parents worry about because they can't make the choices for their children. And so then she said, my question is "Free agency as a gift is a gift that we were given. But as parents, we sometimes don't want our kids to use their agency unless they're going to make good choices. What advice would you give to parents who are worried that their kids are going to make poor choices or specifically leave the Church?" I think that this is kind of a preface to the next question, so this question is going to deal with parents that are worried about those things happening. And then the next question, I want to talk a little bit about what you do when those things happen.
Justin Coulson 21:55
Wow, okay, well, the first thing that I would say is our children are going to make poor choices.
Morgan Jones 22:03
Justin Coulson 22:05
That's part of being human. But I'm not sure that that's exactly what the question really is. I think the question is more a fear that "what happens if my child makes choices to vacate covenants, to step away from faith, to no longer attend religious services or even hold their faith in their heart? What if they leave the church?" I have one daughter whose faith has faltered, and the grief that my wife and I experienced and continue to experience as a result of that daughter's choices has been crushing at times. And it flows into our lives in extraordinary ways. As we were going through the worst times, I remember saying to my wife at one point, "I don't, I don't see how I can credibly write or speak ever again on the topic of parenting. What authority do I have when my child has made these choices? How can anybody ever take me seriously?" And she said, "Well, there are plenty of scriptural examples of extraordinary parents, including a Heavenly Father who had children who use their agency and unwise ways and that does not reflect necessarily on those parents." But something else has happened over time as a result of the experiences we had with with that daughter, who we, who we just, who we love. And what has happened is that, now, I guess, I know how to mourn with those that mourn, and help those whose own children have made similar decisions. What it's also done is, it's taught me some powerful things about giving good gifts, and about loving perfectly, and being compassionate, and about respecting agency - those three things that I think informed - in fact, it may even be the experiences that I've had that informed my first answer to your question before. The way that I would answer or respond to this question if I was to flesh it out a little more though is this, Morgan, I'd say, the reason that our Heavenly Father - who let me reemphasize does nothing except it be for our benefit - has given us our agency is less about testing us. I know in the church, we often use the line, you know, "life is a test, we're here to be tested." But I don't really see our supreme being, our Heavenly Father, sitting up there conducting a, you know, an examination and ticking and crossing our lives off. It's a common description of the purpose of our life on Earth, but I think that we can have a little more nuance and consideration in the way we look at that. I don't think he's submitting us to this lifelong mortal exam. He's given us agency because it's the only way that we can live as He lives. So, when we take our children's agency from them and rule by force or coercion, we are, as hard as it is for me to say this, we're not following the example of our Heavenly Father. We're not living according to what He's asked us to. In fact, in Section 121, it teaches us that when we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness - I'll say that again, slowly and intentionally - when we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon our children in any degree of unrighteousness - that is, when we're trying to force them to do things and the Spirit is not guiding us - we're doing it for any, any purpose that's not pure and in harmony with our Heavenly Father's instructions - "Behold, the heavens withdraw themselves. The Spirit of the Lord is grieved. And when it is withdrawn, Amen to the authority of that parent." In verse 38, it says, behold, here is where he is left to kick against the pricks and to fight against God. That's really, really strong counsel. Heavenly Father is saying your job is not to compel and fix your children, your job is to love them. And when you do try to compel them unrighteously, when you start to do anything that doesn't have the Spirit as your guide, you're kicking against the pricks, you're losing the Spirit, the heavens are withdrawing, I don't think anybody wants the heavens to withdraw themselves from their homes. And ironically, this is what happens precisely at the time that we need the Spirit most. You know, we've got a child who's rebelling, or a child who's refusing, or a child is making life hard, and it's in that very moment that we, essentially, we start to get upset, we start to get annoyed, we start to become frustrated. That's our natural response. And when we do that, the Spirit leaves. In a sense, we're actually saying, "the Spirit of God? It's okay, I've got this. I'm feeling frustrated right now and I know how to handle it. Just leave it to me." I have a saying when I'm talking to parents: as our, as our emotions go up, our intelligence goes down. And one of the most unintelligent things we can do is fail to rely on Heavenly Father's spirit in those moments of contention and conflict. 3 Nephi tells us clearly in chapter 11, that contention is not of Jesus, it is of the devil. When we allow that into our relationships, which is what happens in these high stress moments, we say goodbye to the spirit, because we think that we can do it on our own. We try to do it on our own, and that's when everything goes wrong. I like what Paul says - oh, by the way, before I go to Ephesians, allowing our children to use their agency, which is what I'm really emphasizing here is not the same thing as stepping back and raising the white flag of surrender and saying, "Oh, you know what? It's your life. You go do it your way." What Paul taught us really clearly is that we need to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So nurture - most people understand nurture means if we're going to nurture a child, we protect them, we support them, we encourage them, we give them our time and our interest in our affection. But admonition is a word that we don't quite understand very well, I think in the Church. When we look it up in a dictionary, Merriam Webster's Dictionary says, it's 'gentle or friendly reproof.' But it also adds a second definition. It says 'counsel or warning against fault or oversight.' Now, when I read that definition, I actually thought that admonition means "well, if I'm going to admonish you, I'm going to tell you what I think I'm going to correct you. I'm going to say, What do you think you're doing? That's not how you do it, it's time from admonishment? Let me admonish you,." But what the Lord seems to be saying through Paul, when he says this, I think admonition actually means counsel, guidance, advice, caution. And sometimes our children don't want to hear that, sometimes our children - as you asked in that question, well, what do I do if they do want to leave the church? What do I do if they won't listen to my admonishment? My counsel my best efforts to work with them? And I love Elder Holland's counsel. And this is a quote that's become a meme and you can find all over the place. He says "And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can't teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow."
Morgan Jones 29:37
I love that. It's so good. I think the thing that is so hard - having just observed other parents - I think the thing that is so hard is when you have put your whole heart and soul into being a parent and wanting so badly to get it right, because nothing in your life has ever mattered more than wanting to be a good parent. And I'm the one getting emotional over here, Justin, what is happening? But I think that parents, it's like the biggest investment of your life and so you want so badly to get it right. But I love that point that you made about if we are not allowing our children to use their free agency, then we're going against the example of our Heavenly Father and I don't know that there's anything that helps people become more like God than the opportunity to have children. And so thank you so much for sharing those things. Do you have any additional advice for parents whose children have left the Church and are struggling or to parents who may be struggling with that choice?
Justin Coulson 30:56
Maybe just one thing. One of my all time favorite General Conference talks was delivered, I think it was maybe in 2004, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin spoke about the virtue of kindness. Here's what he said. This is what Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said. He said, and I quote, "Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes. There is no substitute for kindness in the home." And then a little later in the talk, as I just scroll down here, he asked some rhetorical questions. And I just I love these questions, and I love his response to these questions. Here's what he says. He says, "But you asked, What if people are rude, love them. If they're obnoxious, love them. But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then. Love them. Wayward? The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them." So my response would be, and this is what I try to do as well with my daughter who no longer even struggles with her faith, she simply is not thinking about it at the moment. Well, maybe she is, but she's not talking to me about her thoughts about it. We love our kids, and we'd love them regardless of the faith related choices that they make.
Justin Coulson 32:40
One of my other favorite scriptures, I have a handful of them as most of us do, is in Section 123 verse 17. And this may be the most comforting scripture that I've ever read when it comes to struggling with a wayward child. This is what it says: "Wherefore dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let us cheerfully, let us cheerfully, do all things that lie in our power. And then may we stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." And I just love the promise. We need to do all things that lie in our power. And the reality is, you know what lies in our power? We need to be faithful, and we need to love. And probably repent for our own souls as well. But we need to, we need to be faithful and we need to love. If we do that, if we do all things that lie in our power, we're commanded then to stand still, with the utmost assurance - oh, and by the way we need to do that do those things that lie within our power, cheerfully - and if we do those things cheerfully, we can stand with the utmost assurance and see the salvation of God. I just think that's an extraordinary promise. God wants our faithful cheerful hearts. And He says, I'll take care of the rest.
Morgan Jones 34:06
Yeah, I think I've always thought of that scripture, Justin, as our own salvation, but I love the way that you just explained it. I'm like, okay, we can also see the salvation of others that we love and that we care about and the people that we pray for and that brings a lot of comfort. My friend said that a few months ago, she was putting her son to bed, and he said, "Tomorrow is the worst day of my entire life." And he's like, four, maybe? And she said, she asked him why, and he said, because they had to go to church the next day. How do we allow space for our children to feel the things that they're feeling, but also to teach them the importance of living the gospel without them feeling forced to live the gospel or that it's being forced on them and what is the best way to teach our kids to embrace the gospel?
Justin Coulson 35:04
Well, you know, I've got young kids who have said that as well. And just on reflection, I think that even as adults, at some point now, at some point in our lives, we've probably felt the same way about going to church. Going to church is really hard. And I think it's really important distinction, because I don't like going to church, because church is boring, or because I've got a challenge with a person at church and I don't want to be there, you know, I'm a teenager or even an adult, there's still a distinction between not enjoying being at church sometimes and not having faith. Just because somebody isn't enjoying church, that really doesn't tell us a lot about their faith. It might tell us some small things sometimes. But I don't think it tells us everything that we need to know about their faith, especially for our child who just, let's face it, church has got to be tough for children. It's tough for us as grown ups sometimes. So a couple things that I'd say first of all, a natural reaction, a fear-based reaction, is typically unhelpful because when we, when we become fearful, we sometimes also become either dismissive, disagreeable, or disapproving. What I mean by that is, so if we look at being dismissive, we say things like, "Oh, don't be so silly." Or we say, "Oh, you'll be fine. And it's going to be great." And what we're doing in that moment, our child is coming to us with a genuine concern: "I don't like going to church. Tomorrow is going to be horrible" and we're saying, "oh don't worry, it'll be fine." Now, if you've ever been really unhappy about having to do something tomorrow, and you're not looking forward to it at all, and you say it to one of your loved ones, maybe, Morgan you say to your mom on the phone, or you, if you're in a marriage relationship, or you know, in any kind of relationship, you say to this person that you trust, "I just don't want to do this thing tomorrow." And I say, "Oh don't worry about it, you're going to be fine." Do you ever look at them and say, "Yeah, good point. Actually, I'm being irrational and overdoing it, nothing to worry about at all"? Like that's not what we do, right? We tend to dig our heels in even more and say, "No you don't understand this and this and this is gonna happen. It's going to be terrible." So that's the dismissive response. And I don't think that that's helpful. We might become disagreeable, and I've heard many parents say something like this to the children, "You don't want to go to church? Oh you don't mean that you love going to church." We actually tell them how they're supposed to be feeling. We tell them how they're feeling, which couldn't be further from how they're actually feeling. I don't think that's helpful either. And sometimes we actually become disapproving. And many of us with children who have experienced these kinds of things have probably said and done something like, "Oh, you know, better. Don't speak like that." We might even go with the guilt. "How do you think Heavenly Father feels knowing that you don't want to go to that youth activity? You don't want to go to the temple? You don't want to pray over the food tonight?" And when we become disapproving, you know, "I'm tired of all these tantrums every Sunday. Why do we have to have a fight every Sunday about you going to church? You're going!" None of these are helpful. Now they're totally natural reactions, but we all know about the natural man.
Justin Coulson 37:57
One of my wonderful, wonderful friends and mentors, a member of the Church, who is now in Logan. He was a professor of Family Life over at the University of Arkansas - his name is Professor H. Wallace Goddard - Well he says that we should liken the scriptures, as Nephi said, and he goes to Mosiah 3:19. And he says, instead of the natural man is an enemy of God, he says, the natural parent is an enemy to children. And those natural responses are unhelpful. They actually turn us into, literally, turn us into the enemy of our child rather than the ally of a child. Imagine if we followed the counsel of King Benjamin in Mosiah chapter three, and yield unto the enticing of the Holy Spirit. Imagine what would happen then, we would actually become our child's ally rather than their enemy. And we'd do what Paul says in Galatians. We would bring the fruits of the Spirit into our conversation with a child who's struggling, that is we would bring into that conversation, love and compassion and long suffering and meekness. My mission president gave a definition of meekness that has stayed with me for decades. He said, "Meekness is being refined in the Spirit." When we're meek, we have the Holy Spirit flowing through us, and we respond accordingly. And I think that there's actually a way to do that whether your child is four or 24 or even if you're dealing with a spouse who's feeling that way, or you know, an older brother or sister or somebody that you love. Our natural reaction is to be upset, we become scared. And what if my 12 year old decides never to come to church again, because she's telling me this morning that she hates church and she doesn't want to be there? What if she never wants to go? And when we become scared, or sad, we often become angry. Anger is a secondary emotion. It comes from somewhere else, usually fear or sadness. And we're typically going to experience both in this situation, especially if it's been ongoing. But I think that there's something better to do. I think that if we can get curious, not furious, if we can lean in to what our child is telling us, I think we're going to get a lot further. We're going to be a lot more helpful, rather than more harmful.
Justin Coulson 40:12
So I teach parents about the three E's of effective discipline. And the three E's go like this: we need to explore, we need to explain, and then we empower. So explore goes like this: "Well you seem really upset about going to church, help me to understand why you don't want to be there?" Or "I've noticed the last few Sundays you've really struggled in Sacrament meeting, and you've been really eager to get out of the church building as fast as you can when the meetings are over. And you're not happy at church at the moment." Can you see how positioning yourself like that rather than those disapproving or disagreeing or dismissive statements, it automatically brings your child, it draws your child in because you're being compassionate. You're not stopping on their agency. You're just saying, "I'm really curious about this. I've noticed this about you. And I'm worried for you. I want to know that you're okay. Let's talk about this." It's such a beautiful way to ally yourself to your child. Then we explain, and we might say to our child, well, you know, living the gospel may be the most important decision that we can ever make in our lives. Or we might start to share some things about our faith and our testimony and why we think it's important. There is a warning that goes with explaining though, and that is that our children often fall asleep. They take their brain elsewhere while we're talking to them and explaining how things are. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are parents, in my experience, tend to be very, very good at lecturing their children in detail all of the reasons why this, that and the other. Now those reasons are important. But I think that there's a better way to do this, Morgan. I think that instead of us explaining it to our children, we might ask them to explain it to us. So I might say to my child, "Well, I understand why you feel so poorly and so horrible about going to church. I really do get where you're coming from. I've felt like that myself sometimes. Can I ask - why do you think I want you to be there? Why do you think it's so important?" Get them to explain it to you. And what you might do is listen carefully, and as they tell you why. You can say, "Wow, they're great reasons. There's also a couple that you've missed. May I share them with you?" Get their permission, so that they're willing to listen. And you might get three or four reasons from them and then add one or two reasons yourself. And then we empower, we say to them, "Okay, well, I really get how you feeling. I understand why you don't want to be there. But you also understand, because you've just shared that with me, why it's important that we do participate in our church meetings. So how do you think we're going to fix this? Like, how do we resolve this? What can I do to help you?" Those questions set us up again to stand side by side with our child and work it out together, as their ally, as a resource, as opposed to: "Well, now that we've talked about it, you know where I'm coming from, and whether you like it or not, you're gonna go to church." And all of a sudden, we're their enemy again. But we explore, explain and empower. We invite our children to come up with great solutions themselves because they feel heard and validated. We're demonstrating that the relationship is, is absolutely at the center of what's going on. But secondly, when giving them credit for having a brain and being able to come up with good solutions. We're saying you're competent and capable. And finally, we're actually supporting their autonomy. We're giving them their agency. Now, if that child gives us a solution that's completely unsatisfactory, we might say, "Well, I guess that's one solution. But I have some concerns with it. I wonder if we might work together to come up with another one." And we can work through that process. Now, obviously, I'm being very rational here. And when we're in the moment, it can be hard to do it. But that's the process. Lori Young is a researcher at BYU and the Department of Psychology, and she's done some beautiful research around this area. And essentially what she finds is that when we go through these kinds of processes with our children, they make better decisions. I could go through the research in more detail, but the upshot of it essentially is they make better decisions when we go through these processes. Whereas when we become authoritarian, autocratic, when we trample on our children's autonomy and agency, they tend to rebel because force creates resistance.
Morgan Jones 44:16
Right. I think one question that I have kind of as a follow up to that, Justin, is, what advice do you have for parents who feel that it's too late? You mentioned earlier that in dealing with this situation with your daughter that you have felt a lot of, I don't know if guilt is the right word, but you said, you know, you thought, how can I teach other people about parenting? And I think a lot of times parents are like, "Well, how can I feel good about my efforts as a parent? I feel like it's too late. I should have done this differently." They're dealing with with not only regret, but guilt and shame. They feel like they've let their kids down or, I think the thing that's hard about parenting is, essentially, every child is a guinea pig, because every child is different. And each parent is trying to figure out, you know, with this child, how do I need to do things differently even if you've had multiple children? So what advice do you have for those parents who have grown children and feel like it's too late for them to have been a good parent or to have a positive influence on them?
Justin Coulson 45:29
I think that I can respond to this one fairly briefly, because much of what I've already said very, very much applies. The counsel from Elder Wirthlin, Doctrine and Covenants section 123, those things really apply. But there's a couple of other things that I would say. First of all, Morgan, the, the Lord asks us to have faith and to repent. That's the plan. Have faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, and show that faith by repenting. If we feel guilt, then let's do what the Lord says we need to do to take away that guilt. That might mean having a conversation with our children and saying, "Gee, I wish I could have done some things differently." But of our children typically know that we did the best that we could. And we know that as well. And that's when we rely on grace. We ask our children for grace, we ask Heavenly Father for grace. We lean on his ample arm, and rely on that to sustain us. Guilt is going to happen and we're all going to have regrets and wish that we'd done this differently or differently, but what's done is done. Now we simply have to, we have to cheerfully do all that lies in our power, which is exercise faith, repent, and seek His grace. I think that's really all I can suggest. And continue to invite that child into your life, even if they're an adult, even if they're in their 30s or 40s or 50s,c ontinue to invite them into your life and just love them, just love them.
Morgan Jones 47:06
Yeah, and I would say also, Justin, just an observation from an innocent bystander, I think that sometimes parents interpret children making choices that are different than the choices that they would like for them to make as being personal. Like, as being associated with their parent, and I don't think that's true. Do you agree with that? I feel like, for most that I've seen, the child still loves and adores their parent, but they just have chosen to make different choices.
Justin Coulson 47:46
I'm so grateful that you have had that insight. That's such a profoundly important thing to say. My daughter loves me. She still calls me and I still call her and we go for walks every, well, sometimes every week, sometimes every couple of weeks where we walk, you know, maybe five or 10K, and we walk and talk. Her faith decisions are not about me, they're about her, and they're about her faith journey. And to be able to step away from, it's such a hard thing to grieve, and go through it and question yourself, and I still do. We all do. But it's actually not about us as parents, especially once they're adults. It's about them and their use of agency. They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting God, or they are rejecting faith, or they're rejecting covenants, or they're rejecting certain aspects of the gospel, if not all of the things that I've just mentioned, but they're not rejecting you. And while while the gospel feels like it's an intrinsic part of who I am or who we are, they still love us and they still desire closeness with us. And ironically, our guilt and our putting that guilt on them, is going to be the thing that keeps them from faith more than anything. They're not going to say, "Wow, because you've made me feel so guilty about leaving the church, I guess I should come back." But what might make them come back one day is the fact that they know that we love them unconditionally, even through their faith crisis or even through their faithless decisions. It's love that draws people in. It's not judgment. It's not criticism. It's not guilt and shame. It's love.
Morgan Jones 49:27
Absolutely. Perfect. I'm glad that we touched on that. Justin, in a world where good is called evil and evil is called good, what would you say is the best way to teach your children to love everyone and to be respectful but to still teach them to stand for what's right? I think, this question came from my friend Katie again, and I just think it's so good because that line, if you can even call it a line at this point, is becoming blurrier and blurrier between good and evil, and so, I think it's so tricky, but what would what would be your advice on that?
Justin Coulson 50:07
I love this question. I think that this is something that Latter-day Saint parents do particularly well. We explicitly teach values and principles, and that's not something that the general population seems to do quite as well. We have, you know, things like family home evening. We're encouraged to have one on one conversations with our children. We really do love to teach our children. Sometimes though, we become a bit overzealous, and that can really drive our children away. I've heard so many stories of children of parents who were unflinching in their expectations. And that actually sometimes can harden children. Like you said, it's a really fine line. And it seems to me that the job that we have is to say, we will always be tolerant of what other people believe. We will always allow people their agency and allow them to live their lives. But this is what we believe. And this is why we believe it. And so long as we can have good conversations around that and engage our children in those conversations, I think that's all we can do. If we, if we push too hard, my sense is, and I mentioned this before, I had a video that went viral a little over a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago with Goal Casts - Goal Casts does these videos that tend to go pretty well on Facebook and I think it's been seen by something like 75 million people now - where I talking about how force creates resistance. We must acknowledge what's happening in the world, and we also, we need to provide a really clear rationale or really clear reason for why we're doing what we're doing, why we believe what we believe why we live the way we live, but do so in a way that doesn't make our children feel like they have to ostracize themselves, cut themselves off. We want them to feel like they can actually get along with people and and embrace diversity, while still standing strong for what they believe.
Morgan Jones 52:09
Yeah. I will just add to that, I think one thing that I have noticed, and you touched earlier on empathy, and how this experience of raising children and allowing them to make their own decisions, it gives us the chance to empathize with others and to have compassion for others that are going through a similar situation, and I personally have seen that with people that I love and care about. But one thing that I've noticed is, it also tends to, once you've experienced something like this, it seems to eliminate judgment a little bit. And so, I'll give you an example. My aunt, I was talking to her a few years ago and she said, you know that she used to see girls come with their parents to church and she said the girls would have been like short skirts. And she would think like, "what is that parent thinking, bringing their child to church dressed like that?" And then years later, fast forward, my aunt has had grown girls. And she said, "I know exactly what that parent was thinking now," she said, "She was thinking, 'I just am so glad that she came to church.'" And I think that it's interesting once you've gone through these things, that judgment kind of starts to go away, and you start to recognize what's in people's hearts. And maybe that's part of the purpose of this whole thing. But I think that it's so important as parents to set that example of not being judgmental of others, because that trickles down.
Justin Coulson 53:50
Such a great example. I love your insights. We just had a modesty conversation just on that in our home recently with one of our daughters who said, "I don't understand why I can't wear this. It's still modest. It's not like I'm showing too much off." Yeah, she was really, really passionate. And so we had a conversation about modesty and what the word 'modesty' actually means and how, sometimes, some members of the church may actually be overzealous in the way they interpret modesty. What it actually is, what it actually isn't, and what matters most in modesty. And then as a family, we sat down and said, so let's work out what we believe draws attention to ourselves and what we believe doesn't draw attention to ourselves, and let's agree that modesty is a good thing and work it out from there, but also give other people the freedom to make those decisions around modesty for themselves based on their understanding and their struggles and their challenges. I think that's such a such a wonderfully pertinent example. Thank you so much.
Morgan Jones 54:51
No, thank you. I have one more question before we get to our 'all in' question. And this is probably me, painting this beautiful picture of what I want my future family to be like, and someday, years down the road, I'm going to get slapped upside the head. But I have a dream that one day in the family that I raise, that we will be a family that enjoys gospel discussions, gospel conversations, and I've rarely seen that done and done well. But I just wondered, what would you say is the best way to encourage that in a home?
Justin Coulson 55:32
Oh, that is such a great question. And this is something that I've really wrestled with. And I feel like I've made some really great progress on just in the last few years. It's taken me 22 years of marriage and raising children to feel like I can actually maybe shed some light on that. Before I do, you used a phrase in your question, where you said that you might get slapped upside the head and I hope that never happens to you. That would be devastating, and tragic. But let me answer the question. In our family, we've talked a lot about the values that we want our children to adopt, the values that we want them to internalize in their hearts. And over the last little while, particularly as we've had some struggles with that one child in particular, it's occurred to us and we've heard general authorities in general conference and in other places talk about the importance of this, but it never really quite sunk in until the last few years. But in a recent conversation with my wife, I said, you know, we sit around the table at night, we have conversations about what we're grateful for today, or who did you help today, we talk about all these important principles, these things that we want our children to internalize and become, the character that we want them to develop. But I said to Kylee, "Of all of the things that we want our children to develop kindness, inclusivity, respect, a heart for service, the most important thing, more than anything, is faith in their Savior, Jesus Christ, and in his restored gospel." I said to her, maybe we're not asking the right question. So we began an experiment some time ago where we sit around the table, as we're having our evening meal, and we let the conversation flow and people talk about their day and so on. But at some point during the dinner conversation, we'll say this, "Let's go around the table and talk about an experience that you've had today or very recently, where your faith in Jesus Christ has been strengthened, or where your testimony the restoration of the gospel has grown." And we asked the children to tell us explicitly what they have done or what they've experienced, what they've felt. We give them an out clause as well, because Sister Julie B Beck said that the ability to qualify, receive, and act on promptings from the Holy Ghost is the most important ability that we can acquire in this life. So the out clause is, "if you can't think of anything that's built your faith and testimony in the Savior today or in the restoration, how have you felt the guidance of the Spirit today?" We want our children to become conversant in the language of the Spirit. And we want them to be finding ways to strengthen their faith and their testimony. And what we've discovered is that some nights it's an absolute disaster. And you know, a child will be in a bad mood and say "I won't tell you anything." And because of this thing called agency, we say, "Well, we'd sure love to hear from you later if you feel like you could share with us then." And then we move on to the next child because we have so many children. It's okay. And well eventually most of them want to share something pretty much every night. Just last night, we have a fairly distinct sort of wrap up time. After dinner, everyone goes all in the kitchen and and we tidy up and get the children to bed, but last night, the conversation didn't stop. And what I love most about it is, as the children shared their experiences about how they've experienced the spirit or about how their faith has grown during that day, they seem to be more inclined to dip in and out of the scriptures. They seem more inclined to become conversant in talking about the gospel of Christ, and the restoration. And at the end, we get to Kylie and I - Kylie and I always go last - and what we've discovered is we get to have, because the children have been able to share, they understand that when you share, you also listen to other people share. And they've become so engaged, so beautifully engaged in our conversations as we talk with them about the experiences that we have had. The other thing that this does is it forces Kylie and I to become consistent in our daily spiritual practice, and to become aware of how the spirit might be prompting or guiding us, or to be looking for things in podcasts or in books or in the scriptures that will build our faith because we know that we need to set that example for our children. Now, there's all sorts of other things that we can do - the Church has been teaching us for such a long time - but for me, that has become the single most important answer to that question.
Morgan Jones 1:00:06
I love that so much. Justin, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to share these things with us. I feel the need, before we wrap up, before I ask you the final question, to just express gratitude for every person trying to parent their children in the Church. I just think, like, I wish that I could give every person a hug and just say, you know, you're doing better than you think you are. Because I think it is, it's not an easy thing, it's not an easy time to be a parent, but your efforts do not go unnoticed, even when you think that they do. And I know that there are so many children inside and outside of the Church who are so grateful for their parents. So before we finish, the last question that I have for you, Justin, is what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Justin Coulson 1:01:07
Since I started listening to this podcast, I've gone over so many different ways that I could answer this question, never actually believing that I'd be sitting here talking to you about it. And so I'm just so grateful to be able to share. Ironically, in a fairly recent episode, you spoke with Steve Nelson from the Piano Guys. And he gave you my answer!
Morgan Jones 1:01:28
He stole your answer!
Justin Coulson 1:01:29
He was so good. He went to John 13 straight away, which is one of my other favorite stories from the New Testament where Jesus is washing the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. And he comes to Peter, and Peter says, "No, no, no, no, no, you're not washing my feet." And the Savior says, "If I wash thee not, there has no part with me." And Peter's response is, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head." That was what I was going to say. But since Steve took that answer, I have thought about it some more and and I had two subsequent thoughts, and I'd love to share them because they really do describe how it feels to be all in for me. Much of the first thought was this: much of the conversation in the "All In" podcast on this particular question revolves around the second word of the phrase that is 'in.' But since we've been talking about parenting and families all day today, I want to emphasize the phrase a little differently. I want to emphasize the first word 'all,' 'all' in. So I alluded earlier that at night when our family has finished dinner, and we finished our conversation, I say, "All right, kids, we're all in, all in, all in the kitchen. Let's go. We're united. We're together. We're all in. We're going to go and clean up. And so the first thought that I had as I reflected more because Steve took my answer was 'all in' to me, means at least in part, it's not just about me. It's about my wife and it's about my daughters and it's about my brothers and sisters. It's about the people that I love, and even the people that I don't know, it's all of us. We're supposed to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ united and together - 'all in.' So that really stood out to me as I reflected on the conversation that we're having today and and what 'all in' might mean. But I also want to be cheeky Morgan if I can be and just expand and so back to the usual response. And I just had this one of Latter-day Saints' favorite hymns that is not in the hymnal is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." And we sing in that hymn - no, no, we don't sing, we pray in that hymn. We plead in that hymn. In the third verse, as we acknowledge our fallenness and our wandering heart and our reliance on the grace of Jesus and His Atonement, we sing one line right at the very end of the song, we sing, "Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it." To be 'all in' is to give him the one thing, the only thing that I can actually give. That's my heart.
Morgan Jones 1:04:19
Thank you so much. That's such a beautiful answer. And I just, I thank you. Thank you so much, Justin.
Justin Coulson 1:04:27
It's been such a privilege. I'm so grateful to have had this conversation. Thank you so much.
Morgan Jones 1:04:35
A huge thank you to Justin Coulson for joining us on today's episode. To Derek Campbell for making us sound good and as always, thank you for listening. Be sure to check out the show notes for today's episode by visiting www.LDSLiving.com/AllIn for loads of links to Justin's stuff and for all the quotes he shared on today's episode. Also if you love this podcast, could you do us a huge favor while you're stuck in your homes and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts? My mom told me the other day that when she's having a rough day she goes and reads the reviews for "All In," so really you'll be doing us both a favor. Until next week. Please stay home and stay healthy.