Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning seminary. He currently serves in the high council as the stake Young Men president.
By nature, I am (or at least I try to be) an organized and clean person. I have always been this way, even as a younger child and teen. I never had to be told to clean my room or do the dishes, those chores just came naturally to me. I realize that being this way was more of an exception than the norm, but I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t feel the same way about cleanliness and organization as I did.
As a parent, I have struggled with this concept even more as my children are like most children, that they do not want to naturally be clean or organized. In fact, I would say they are more the opposite and they need to constantly be reminded to clean up after themselves. My wife and I have made chore charts and had Saturday morning clean-a-thons where we make them clean their rooms and bathrooms. Naturally they push back and fight against us. We often respond, “why do we have to tell you to be clean? Don’t you just naturally want to be clean or have a clean home?”
Commanded in All Things
Transport back with me to 1831, less than two years after the restored church was organized, the Lord gave this revelation to guide its members, which I believe is the scriptural equivalent of what I am expressing:
“Behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant. … Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” Doctrine & Covenants 58:26-28
As a parent, I don’t want to make chore charts, beg, bargain and demand that you clean your room. I want you to naturally want to clean your room. I want you to see the value of cleanliness. Likewise, I feel that the direction of the Prophet and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles lately has been to “teach correct principles and let us govern ourselves”.
An Ongoing Restoration
In the past few years, we have seen several “changes” to policies and procedures within the Church. At first, it felt like President Nelson was changing procedures or multiple procedures every conference. Examples may include ministering vs home and visiting teaching, Come Follow Me and the change to the 3-hour block, the Young Men and Women program changes from Boy Scouts and Personal Progress. In the October 2022 Saturday Morning Session of General Conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf introduced a revised version of the For Strength of Youth.
With each of these new programs and policies we have also seen a change in philosophy. There is a distinct feeling of moving away from lists of “do’s and don’ts”. Elder Uchdorf taught,
“It doesn’t make decisions for you. It doesn’t give you a “yes” or “no” about every choice you might ever face. For the Strength of Youth focuses on the foundation for your choices. It focuses on values, principles, and doctrine instead of every specific behavior.”
A Change of Heart
I believe the leadership of the Church, and ultimately our Savior, is not looking for us to check a box on our spiritual checklist, but to experience a mighty change. Much like my feelings towards my children’s cleanliness, I want them to have their own desire to be clean, not to be commanded in all things. This desire is not just about being clean, but about all areas of their lives. I want them to have a testimony of the gospel and want to go to church. I don’t want to force them to go each Sunday morning.
Likewise, my Savior doesn’t want to command me to be a good ministering brother, or study Come Follow Me as a family, He wants me to naturally do these things. At some point we need to ask ourselves, “Am doing these types of activities as outward showing of my inward commitment? Or am I checking off another to do item on a long list of actions?”
Ultimately my testimony, and in turn my actions because of that testimony, should be a reflection of my love and commitment to the Savior as well as an understanding of His doctrines. I should see these actions as building blocks to lead me to become more and more like Him.
Ambiguity – An Opportunity for Growth
The For Strength of Youth pamphlet now acts as a guide. While it doesn’t shy away from correct doctrines and principles, it also doesn’t list out what clothes you should wear or what movies you should watch. We are encouraged to be agents unto ourselves. We should not be commanded in all things but should be striving to be anxiously engaged in a good cause.
Elder Uchtdorf continued his thoughts with this obvious question, “Is it wrong to have rules?” He quickly answers his own question but stating, “Of course not. We all need [rules] every day.” However, I think this is where many leaders, parents and general members of the Church can struggle. The Latter-day Saint culture is a culture of rules, commandments, and obligations. We seem to strive when we live in a world of right and wrong, do’s and don’ts. Allowing our youth, children and even ourselves to “govern themselves” creates stress, mistakes and in some cases sin. We love the idea of agency as long as we are in control of other’s agency. We tend to see ambiguity as the enemy and not as the opportunity for growth and development.
The question then becomes, how do I strike a balance of rules, guidelines and commandments with the freedom and ambiguity of agency? As a parent and leader, I need to find a way to be clear and firm on the doctrines and principles of the gospel, while allowing the freedom and flexibility of personal application. Perhaps a way to do this is by modeling the behaviors and habits I would hope to see out of my children and those I hold stewardship with.
To continue the example, I gave earlier about cleaning, as a parent I need to take the time to show my children how to clean. Not just demand or command that the cleaning takes place. But I must also let go of the reigns and allow some mistakes to be made. This can be very unnerving for a parent or leader that lives their life around rules, checklists, and commandments.
Teach the Why
As leaders and parents, we need to improve our ability to teach the why and less of the how. As we do this, it gives those we teach the opportunity to draw closer to our Savior because of their own applications, not imposed applications.
The Savior always invites us to follow him, it is never done through force or coercions. Teaching, demonstrating, and inviting in this way also prevents resentment and bitterness from the learner towards the leader or parent. No one likes to feel like they are being forced to comply. Dominion never has and never will be part of the Savior’s plan. However, persuasion, gentleness, patience, and meekness will invite the Spirit where both the teacher and learner can be edified.
This process can be scary and even a little messy. But as we learn to teach in the Savior’s way, we will help those we teach and ourselves to build our testimonies in Christ and His gospel.