My wife is in Primary and was faced with an unruly group of children one Sunday. They were having a difficult time sitting still. They were squirming, and talking, with their minds anywhere but in Primary. They were supposed to sing the hymn, “I Stand All Amazed,” but that only lasted a few seconds before the chorister switched to “Book of Mormon Stories,” and “Popcorn.” They handled the two ‘get up and move’ songs just fine, but could not handle the hymn. So what was the problem? Was their reverence and obedience problem a difficulty with their behavior or with their attitude?
Teaching the rules of Reverence and Obedience
If we want to teach reverence and obedience we can teach a defined set of behaviors. When teaching small children in church we begin with behaviors like walking, instead of running, folding their arms when moving from place to place, bowing their head during prayer, speaking in whispers or just being quiet in the halls, and especially in the chapel. We also teach them appropriate topics to discuss. On Sunday, in church, talk about church things, but at home, you can talk about home or school or whatever else you like. Here it is in list form.
1. For small children we teach them to fold their arms in church
2. Walk, instead of run
3. Bow the head during prayer
4. Speak in whispers or be quiet – church voice vs. outdoor voice
5. Talk about appropriate subjects – in church you talk about church things, at home you can talk about home and school things
When we teach our children about obedience, it is often not with the immediate intent that they actually learn to desire to be obedient on their own, it is with the goal in mind of compliance. The higher meaning of obedience will come later. Right now we will be happy with compliance. Here is the list of things we generally try to teach when we teach obedience.
1. Do as requested
2. No arguing – action is more important than talking. Clarification questions are okay.
3. It is preferable to be pleasant while carrying out your instructions
4. Obedience for the sake of obedience does not take into account trust or faith, only compliance.
5. Timely performance of duty is expected – no or minimal delays
I don’t know about you, but looking at these two lists, as purely acts of physical compliance, they seem cold and without meaning. These are behaviors I would expect from any automaton or servant. These are hardly behaviors I would expect from my children at their highest level of development. Yet we have to start somewhere, and behavior, with or without understandable reasons is as good a place as any to begin.
What is Missing?
Simply put, what is missing from these lists are reasons for such behavior. The only implied reason the two lists above suggests is that the children have to be reverent and behave in a certain way because an adult said so. As any adult who has raised a child can tell you, that reason only works for so long. After that you had better have some pretty good reasons handy or all semblance of reverence and obedience goes up in smoke.
Once a child reaches the age of accountability, and certainly as the child nears adolescence, they want the whys and wherefores of things. They begin to see that there are actual reasons for things, and that they can find out what those reasons are. This helps them make sense of their world. So how do you teach reverence and obedience? These are concepts that many adults struggle with.
Reverence is a deep sense of respect (a recognition of worth, an acknowledgment of their rights to have or receive certain privileges), along with a sense of awe (to be overwhelmed by a sense of admiration or fear). I suggest you read that last sentence over several times. I had to. This form of reverence is an emotional reaction, not a behavior. Behavior follows our emotional reaction, but the sense or feeling of reverence is just that, a sense or feeling, a recognition, not a behavior.
That said, reverence is the cause of reverent behavior. When we have a deep and abiding respect for the Lord and His house, we do not run and play in the halls, we walk and speak quietly. When we pray to our Father, he who framed the universe, we speak in reverent language, not in casual phrases like we would to our friends. Reverence strips us of impropriety and flippant behavior. Reverence towards God gives us a sense of place in the universe. It humbles us. Our reverence for our God includes an acknowledgment that He has a right to our submission and obedience.
The behavior of reverence can be imitated, but the blessings from reverence only come when the reverence comes from the center of our being. This is something, like all virtues, that we need to seek after and try to experience for ourselves. The Lord says that those who are made to be humble are blessed, but if we want to be “more blessed” we have to humble ourselves. The Lord loves us and knows that true humility is profitable to our souls, so He will help us discover a sense of reverence if we will go to Him and ask for His help.
In D&C 130:20 – 21 we are told that all blessings are based or predicated upon laws. If we want any blessing from God, it can only come because we have obeyed that law that produces that blessing. Hence obedience is the first law of heaven. Even before we understand the law or have reverence for it, obedience is necessary.
The magic of the gospel occurs when we begin to obey out of a deep sense of reverence towards them who have given us life and law – God and His Christ. When we begin to see that the laws we have been told to live by are those laws that produce godly qualities, and that they liberate us to live our lives from the consequences of sin, our hearts become filled with gratitude, reverence, joy, happiness, and humility. Does it really matter what is going on around us if all this is going on within us?
Teaching True Reverence and Obedience
As usual, the best teaching method is that of example. Christ always taught us to follow Him and do as He did. So how are we doing with that? When we are in the chapel are we reverent? Do we speak in hushed tones, and restrict our conversations to things that will invite the Spirit to be with us? When we walk the halls are we rushing, speaking loudly, or laughing loudly? It is one thing to teach a child to act reverent and to obey the rules in church, but wouldn’t it be more effective if we were showing our children what true reverence and obedience looked like?