Several years ago, I attended the musical production Cheaper by the Dozen being performed at the SCERA Theater in Orem, Utah. I enjoy attending community theater but specifically attended this one to watch my nephew, Steven, who is in the cast. His good friend, Dane, is also in the cast of this perfect family show. From the audience, it appeared both of these young men were enjoying being part of this entertaining show. Afterwards, I waited in the lobby to greet Steven and let him know I enjoyed my evening. He and Dane came out together with grins on their faces, laughing and obviously enjoying themselves. As I was talking with them, taking part in their excitement for what they were doing, I was impressed by the spirit these young men possessed.
As I drove home I thought about them, other youth whose lives are troubled, and the difference between them. The quiet whisperings of the Spirt confirmed the scriptural teachings that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10) and “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Elder Howard W. Hunter taught, “Throughout your life, you will be faced with many choices. How well you select among the alternatives will determine your success and happiness in life. Some of the decisions you will make will be absolutely critical and can effect the entire course of your life. Please measure those alternatives against the teachings of Jesus Christ. To be able to do that you must know and understand his teachings. As you exercise faith and live worthy of inspiration, you will be directed in the important choices you make. The very wise know and obey the will of our Father in Heaven” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 78).
Both of these fifteen-year-old young men are active in the Church and have a great love for the gospel. Each do well academically and are involved in various activities---for Steven that includes being on the school track team. Both families take the time to travel, explore, communicate. Family is important and is emphasized. They both come from large families, guided by parents whose lives are anchored in the gospel. Both families encourage gospel study and the building of testimonies, that each child is of infinite worth as a child of our Heavenly Father, and each has a purpose for being here on earth. They encourage their children to develop their talents, expand their interests, and to be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men . . . If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report of praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (The Articles of Faith: 13).
These good parents also know that Lucifer, “because he had fallen from heaven and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind” (2 Nephi 2:18) and will seek the destruction and misery of their children. They prepare their children for the onslaught of the world, peer pressure, and difficulties of life. As President David O. McKay warned, “Sin thrusts itself upon you. It walks beside you, it tempts you, it entices, it allures. You do not have to put forth effort. . . . Evil seeks you, and it requires effort and fortitude to combat it” (The Prophets Have Spoken, Vol. 3, p. 375).
When Eve partook of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, she did so in order to experience mortality---to understand that all things have their opposites: good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness, health and sickness, pleasure and pain. This is what the gods know and learned through their experience. As each of us enter mortality, in our quest to become like our Heavenly Father, we too must learn how to distinguish between opposites. Heavenly Father has given us many opportunities to grow in light and truth, to reach up for that which is the best within us. He has even given us Jesus Christ as our example. As President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “Our mission is to pattern our lives after him and do the things he wants us to do” (1 October 1971, The Prophets Have Spoken, Vol. 3, p. 554).
Our Heavenly Father, through families, encourages us to become the best we can. Through loving parents comes the encouragement to develop talents, learn and do our best academically, care for and serve others, to look for the good, be positive, and use the blessings of the gospel as a guide---scripture study, prayer, attending meetings, seminary, missions, temple preparation, family home evening, and obedience to the commandments. This is not an effort by parents to control, but to protect and point the way to the happiness they know will come because of their experiences. As President George Albert Smith testified from his experience, “I can say to you, my brethren and sisters, the happiest people in this world are those who love their neighbors as themselves and manifest their appreciation of God’s blessings by their conduct in life” (3 April 1949, The Prophets Have Spoken, Vol. 2, p. 1293).
Just as our Heavenly Father cannot force His children, parents cannot force their children to grow in the gospel, to choose righteousness over evil, to stand strong against the tide of wickedness. The world pushes upon all of us the concept that we have a need for fun that must be fulfilled. Rules, regulations, and commandments are there to keep us from fun. It is important to encourage children to view life as more than today, to capture some ability to look at life through a larger picture. The enticed fun of today is often the sorrows of tomorrow. The so-called fun of the world leads eventually to addiction, broken homes, unwanted pregnancy, disease, poverty, crime, depression, and more. The heavy price includes parents broken hearts, and often, the broken spirits of those who must live with the consequences. Someone once said a happy life is a life without regrets, or as Oscar Levant put it, “Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.” Our choices today determine our peace of mind and happiness in the future. This is often a difficult lesson to learn.
While we all reach upward to become who we need to become, we all fall short of the goal. Hence the greatest evidence of our Father in Heaven’s love for us is fulfilled through the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. First he gives us the opportunity to come to earth and to have the experiences of good and evil we need to grow and then, through repentance, He provides our escape when our choices are to learn through our mistakes. There may be no greater lesson for children to learn than to not allow he who is miserable, Satan, to keep them miserable like he is when they do make a poor choice. Through our Savior, there is always a way home.
As Steven, and Dane, continue to experience life, the teachings of their parents and their desire to do what is right will lead them to a path of happiness. As they work to develop their own testimonies, that will grow as they experience reaching upward and taking advantage of all that the Father has provided for our growth, their search for happiness will lead them to the fruit that will fill their “soul with exceedingly great joy” (1 Nephi 8:12), “the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). And the day will come when, with Nephi of old, they will cry in gratitude, “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).