My 10-year-old son, Griffin, pitches a different excuse every week to convince us it’s impossible for him to go to church.
For example, he can’t get out of bed, his eyes won’t stay open, the dog will be lonely, his legs and body don’t work so he can’t get dressed, or he needs new clothes. One time he decided to hide and concealed himself so well that we left for church without him because we couldn’t find him (my husband, Brandon, and I felt confident he could fend for himself for a few hours).
Brandon and I have had to get more creative in our efforts to motivate Griff, and often his younger brother Graham as well, without escalating the situation. Both our kids are very passionate about their plight. So far, we have had the most success with promising a prize to whoever can get dressed and ready for church before Mom and Dad do. Brandon will call out, “The timer starts now!” and then we move slowly or even stall just a little bit if it means letting the kids win.
But even our best strategies prove powerless on Griff’s most tenacious days. For example, one Sunday, we successfully got him to church, but halfway through sacrament meeting, he didn’t return after going out to get a drink from the water fountain. Graham noticed Griff hadn’t come back (I was too busy enjoying the absence of his loud pouting to notice) and asked to go get a drink, too. Graham came back almost immediately to report he saw Griff walking out the foyer doors toward home.
My husband and I shared an eye roll and a stifled laugh and then he went to trail Griff in the car, just to make sure he got home safely. I had to respect Griff’s persistence and boldness, but it was so frustrating.
Is This Worth It?
Even though I know some form of resistance is coming every week, it’s still hard to navigate when it arrives, and no amount of preparation makes it easier. Our family will be having the smoothest morning with everyone getting along, but as soon as it’s time to get ready for church, the flood gates open, and contentious waves wash the delight out of our Sabbath day. The fight grates on my soul. We often end up arriving at church late or in sour moods—frequently both. I find it requires a lot of energy to refocus and feel the Spirit as the family tries to settle in on the cold, hard chairs in the overflow section of the chapel.
One Saturday Griff got a horrible sunburn during a mid-day swim party. My husband and I knew that come Sunday morning Griff would legitimately be unable to comfortably put a shirt on—he has very fair, sensitive skin and strong responses to sensory input. Forcing him into a shirt and dragging him to church the next morning would be futile, so we offered to let him stay home before he could even ask.
I was actually relieved knowing I wouldn’t have to engage with Griff in the usual Sunday wrestle. The following morning was relaxing and light.
Church meetings never feel the same when one of our kids is missing, but it had been so much easier to get there that day. I began to wonder why we even push the issue. If it’s so hard for Griff to go, and so hard for us to get him to go, why not just let him stay home?
If I’m being honest, there are many weeks I’m right there with Griff: I don’t want to go either. Showing up for church just feels hard for one reason or another, and I’m tempted to skip that week. After all, I can just listen to conference talks or join the meetings digitally via Zoom.
But then I think about my role as a parent: We have been commanded to teach our children to “walk in the ways of truth” (see Mosiah 4:15). When I’m tempted to skip church, I have to remember that my kids are learning from my example. Elder Oaks’s October 2021 general conference talk helps me stay in touch with why I value church attendance in my life. He said,
“Members who forgo Church attendance and rely only on individual spirituality separate themselves from these gospel essentials: the power and blessings of the priesthood, the fulness of restored doctrine, and the motivations and opportunities to apply that doctrine. They forfeit their opportunity to qualify to perpetuate their family for eternity.”
▶ You may also like: 6 principles President Nelson has pleaded with us to teach our children
I don’t want my family to miss out on the blessings and opportunities Elder Oaks mentioned, especially those with eternal consequence. I also don’t want to miss the opportunity for my family to be surrounded by admirable, Spirit-filled people who help us see more clearly how to live the gospel. But even with those righteous desires, the week-to-week struggle is draining.
Griff’s Surprise Prayer
God must have known that I was questioning our efforts the day Griff stayed home. That night, as I tucked Griff and his aloe vera-coated body into bed, I asked him to say our nightly prayer. In his prayer, he expressed gratitude for all the usual things and then said he was grateful for church.
How could that even be possible?
After the prayer, I asked him why he had said he was grateful for church. He told me that even though he didn’t go that morning, he still took the sacrament. Surprised, I asked him to tell me more. With childlike innocence, he told me how he’d prepared some bread and water and said the prayers before he ate and drank each of them. I knew he didn’t know how to look up the sacrament prayers, so I asked him to tell me what he’d said in his prayers. He then proceeded to recite, word for word, each of the sacrament prayers. He had learned them simply by hearing them repeated each week at church. And I’m sure watching his dad prepare the sacrament in our home during the pandemic also made an impression.
My son is learning how important it is to participate in the ordinance weekly after all! My husband and I teach about and emphasize the sacrament in our home, but it suddenly became so clear that what he’s observed at church has reinforced what we’ve taught.
I know it’s hard to get to church. I know it’s even harder sometimes to get our kids to church. But I also know if God asks us to do something, He will provide a way for us to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). And even if we feel we have not completed the task as intended, President Nelson has taught us that “the Lord loves effort” and the blessings will follow.