Circle Living

I believe in circle living.  You believe in circle living and God believes in circle living.  When we gather in a circle something beautiful happens.  Eyes connect, hearts connect, souls connect.  It happens every time.   Think about when you gather around the table for dinner. What happens?   We pray, we discuss, we listen, we laugh, we relate, we learn -- we connect.  There is a nourishing of the body as well as the soul.   Elder Le Grand Curtis said in a General Conference Address: “One of the more important furnishings found in most homes is the kitchen table.  Its major function seems to be a place for the different members of the family to receive nourishment.  But there is a deeper, more important function for the kitchen table, where we can receive more than just nourishment for our physical well-being.   Janine Wolsey Baadsgaard said that we should think of mealtime as a celebration -survived another day.”  In a recent General Conference, Susan W. Tanner said, it was of utmost importance, in spite of many hectic schedules, for us to be together for meals - that it was a crucial time for nourishing spirits.”   President Ezra Taft Benson said that “mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day, and to not only feed the body, but to feed the spirit as well, with members of the family taking turns reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon’” The Savior gathered his disciples around the table on several occasions – the most famous being the Last Supper.  In that private setting he taught them great and wonderful things.   On Sundays we always go around the table taking our turn to talk about things we learned at church, which often opens up into discussions of gospel principles or sharing of our own experiences relating to those principles.      I remember when I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get to the table at night.  We had this enormous round table and some of my fondest memories are things we shared across that table.   There is joy in circle living.

Throughout our marriage, I have said to my husband that when we go out together,  it is important to me that, at some point in the evening, we sit across a table from each other.  What happens is amazing.   I discover he has a real name again that is not Dad, or Brother Nelson or coach, and we connect again after the complicated, confusing living of the week.  I have a philosophy that most of us live “sideways” – hand me a diaper, here are the keys, here’s the telephone, hand me the hot pad.  When we are in a movie or at church –sideways –in a car, in meetings, sideways.  So, the circle is brilliant.  Of course it is brilliant. God created it, and its symbol has profound meaning on so many levels of life and living; it’s very image empowering the mind and the family into eternity.  

We are counseled to gather in family prayer, in a circle. President Hinckley said, “Nothing will so much help to ease family tensions, bring about respect for parents, or affect the spirit of repentance as will praying together, invoking the blessings of the Lord upon the home and those who dwell there.”   I think our children have no idea how much we pray over them.”  I cannot recall a time when a child asked me to pray for something specific – to which I haven’t replied, “I already have been.”  C.S. Lewis once said, “I  pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”   I don’t think children fully understand how deeply they are a part of us, a part of our souls and that we are constantly pleading to God on their behalf.    Some of the sweetest experiences I have had in this lifetime have been when I have been praying for something important in a loved one’s life or when we have all been praying together on behalf of a loved one.  We have watched the Lord open the heavens and pour blessings  upon a child, rewarding our faith and that which they have yearned for and worked long and hard for.   When we hear news of such blessings bestowed,  we usually scream and cry together while jumping up and down, hugging each other.  When we pray for each other I believe we literally become a part of one another.   We are able to feel their yearnings, their pain, their hopes; everything.   It is most certainly a circle “thing” – binding hearts together.

Family Home Evening creates another circle.  This circle can be challenging with young children.  I was raised in a large family and have raised a large family.  My Father would often call this weekly event chaos with an opening and closing prayer.  My parents and we, as parents, however, persevered, with the hope that the promised blessings would come upon this particular circle of often very vibrant life.  President Ezra Taft Benson said, “If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result.  Love at home and obedience to parents will increase.  Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them.”   These blessings, promised by a prophet of God for those who hold weekly family home evenings, were all realized by both my parents and by us, as parents.

There are times when children are resistant to forming the circles of love and life that God intended we form.  When we have encountered this problem we have turned to what we believe is the greatest parenting scripture of all time; 1 Nephi 3:5.   Lehi, speaking to Nephi, said, “And now behold, thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.”  We consistently remind our children that we did not create the rules, the commandments or the counsel, but that is the word of will and word of the Lord .  We notice that immediately when they are reminded of this, their countenance changes and their perspective is renewed.  I remember driving with a daughter when she said to me, “I wouldn’t go to early morning seminary if you didn’t make me go.” I told her that I knew she would go, even if I didn’t “force” her.  I said, “Watch.  Do you believe in God and in His son Jesus Christ…yes…Do you have a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove and that the true church was restored to the earth through him…yes…Do you believe that we are led by a prophet of God today…yes…Do you believe that seminary is an inspired program of the church…yes, ok, you’re right, I would go anyway, but I still want you to force me.”  Children want to follow Jesus Christ and they want to know that we, as parents, have the courage and faith to also remember that we have no right to change or alter in any way the counsels and commandments of the Lord and his prophets.  S.W. Bijou says, “Research has shown that the most effective way to reduce problem behavior in children is to strengthen desirable behavior through positive reinforcement rather than trying to weaken undesirable behavior using aversive or negative processes.”   To me this seems to go hand in hand with President Hinckley’s words, “There are too many who are in trouble.  This is a malady with a cure.  The prescription is simple and wonderfully effective. It is love.  It is plain. Simple, everyday love.”   Encouraging and praising our children as they enthusiastically participate in the creation of the circles that strengthen home and family will strengthen bonds that will circle into eternity.

Family scripture reading is another powerful circle designed by God.  I found a homemade booklet recently, entitled, “Happy Easter Dad”.  Within it were copies of the letters our family sent to our stake president several years ago, when he asked every member of the Stake to send him a letter about how family scripture reading has made a difference in their lives.  These were compiled as a gift to their father.     

Annie wrote, “In our family we have our own scriptures with our picture on the back of it.” Having scriptures readily available has greatly helped in being successful with scripture study as a family. We have a large pile of copies of the Book of Mormon in a basket that can be moved from room to room.  We try to read at a set time in a set place, but often we end up carrying the basket to various places in the house.  If someone is already in bed, we all go into their bedroom to read.  If the state of one room is not conducive to the spirit, we go into another room.  Sometimes Dad will read at dinner because he always is finished before the rest of the family.   If someone is on a crazed beeline to finish a procrastinated project, we all lay at their feet, on the ground, around the computer and read there.  Whatever it takes is what works.  I have always said that the “crazy man wins” approach to life is, in the end, the one that usually works.  If it means enough to you, sometimes you just have to “get crazy”.   Also, next to each person’s bed is a Book of Mormon with a sign on each book that says, “This book must always remain at the bedside of Tom Nelson; or whoever.   Our Bishop once handed me a copy with this sign on it that he had found at church.  The book eventually made it back to the owner’s bedside.  There is also a lamp by every bed that can be reached while laying in bed, because the chances of reading while you are in bed are greatly increased if you know you do not have to get up to cross the room to the light on the wall before going to sleep.  There are copies of the Book of Mormon by the computer, in the dining room, in bathrooms, in all the cars; everywhere.  I ordered many copies of the Book of Mormon from the LDS Church Distribution Center several years ago.  Somehow, when you are tired or life is too confusing, having them so available helps in making it possible to read scriptures every day as a family and personally.  Annie also wrote, “I think it is fun to read the scriptures.  My favorite scripture is 3 Nephi verse 7.”   Sometimes we have emergency scripture reading.  When it is way too late, everyone is finally home and everything is finally over or off, each person will recite a favorite scripture or two.  It is not the best way, but the crazy man is still winning at the end of the day… and the circle is still formed.

Jimmie wrote, “Through my study of the Book of Mormon, I learned to recognize the spirit after discovering the change of heart it produced in me.  Such impressions have helped deepen my testimony of the Book of Mormon and the gospel.  An overwhelming peace of mind has come over me so many times and has carried me through trials as I read and pondered the words.  As I continue to study, it becomes clearer to me that the words were written for our time and such words reach me in different ways as the spirit directs.  I recently read that King Benjamin directed his people to serve the Lord with all diligence of mind, and they would be heirs.  I have learned that our thoughts must be dominated by gospel principles and that to be worthy of the Kingdom of God we need to immerse ourselves in such principles through our study of the Book of Mormon.  I cannot go one day without reading it.”  Joseph F. Smith said, “…instill into the hearts of the children the spirit of truth and an abiding love for the gospel, that they may not only do their duty because it is pleasing to their parents, but because it is pleasing also to themselves.”

Sammy wrote,  “We have come together as a whole so much more.  It is a good time because we are all together.  There has been a sweeter spirit in our home.  The day is not complete without family study.”    President Spencer W. Kimball said, “It is important for us also to cultivate in our own family a sense that we belong together eternally, that whatever changes outside the home, there are fundamental aspects of our relationship which will never change.”

Freddie wrote,  “Every night my family reads the scriptures.  Afterwards I read three pages for a goal set for our class by our Sunday School teacher.  Some of the special things that have happened to me are when I read in Mosiah.  I felt the spirit so strongly.  The scriptures mean so much to me. I love them.”  Anne G. Wirthlin said, “Through the guidance of loving parents and dedicated teachers, small children can become familiar with the scriptures and the spirit that accompanies them.”

Katherine wrote, “My study of the Book of Mormon has always meant a lot to me.  It seems every time I’m having some kind of trouble, I can always be comforted by the scriptures.  They have always been there for me.”  I remember a time, in my own life, when, because I was in the habit of reading the scriptures everyday, I was able to be rescued by the words that were spoken to me from the scriptures.  I could literally hear the voice of the Lord pour into my soul and ears and heart and mind and eyes. It was everywhere and it healed me everywhere.  I know God lives. I know He speaks to us through the precious words in the scriptures.  I know he is more deeply concerned about us than we can imagine, just as our children have no real idea about how deeply we feel what they feel and about the magnitude of our yearning, with all of our everything, for their anything and everything. 

Sammy wrote, “For me, it has helped because it encouraged me to read my own personal scriptures.  This has blessed my life tremendously and has given me a real testimony of the scriptures.”  Boyd K. Packer said, “Spiritual development is tied very closely to a knowledge of the scriptures, where the doctrines are taught.”

Ryan a cousin, said, “I am 13 and as you know, thirteen is a hard age.  I was going through a rough time, school was going badly and I wasn’t reading my scriptures.  Well, I prayed and fasted and then thought, ‘Well, I should start to read my scriptures,’ so I did.  Suddenly I became totally interested in them.  Everything turned upward and went straight.  My favorite scripture is, ‘If all men were like unto Moroni, the fiery powers of hell would be broken forever.’ I like that scripture because it helps me be ‘like unto Moroni’.”   Joseph Smith said, speaking of the book of Mormon, “He who reads it oftenest, will like it best.”

I wrote in my letter, “Every time I am amazed that such a simple thing can bring so much goodness into a family.  The gathering, in and of itself, is powerful as we all have a chance to sit in a circle and actually look at each other at the end of the day and realize that we belong to each other.  We are reminded that we truly and deeply love each other.  We go to bed remembering that we are a part of something beautiful; our family, God’s family.  So much of what happens in family scripture reading is not heard or seen, but felt in deeply stirring ways.  One would think that the sort of power and magic that comes from such a gathering would need to take hours of preparation and performances, but just like daily prayer; a simple bow of the head, knees bent… access to the Father of the Universe… the blessings of God given so simply, so freely for a simple act of obedience.”  President Hinckley said, “That each of us may approach our Father in Heaven, who is the great God of the universe, for individual help and guidance, for strength and faith, is a miracle in and of itself.”

Dad wrote, “We were particularly affected by President Benson’s promise of greater love and peace and joy that results from study.  Sometimes it is great, and the spirit is there.  Other times it is more noisy and chaotic, but the habit and the spirit it brings has changed our family life so that we have been closer, more loving, happy and righteous, as a direct result of regular study.”  President Ezra Taft Benson said “I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein.  The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow.  The spirit of contention will depart.  Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom.  Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents.  Righteousness will increase.  Faith, hope charity the pure love of Christ – will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy and happiness.”

Kimberley wrote, “The spirit is more present in our home.  Our interactions with one another are done with more love and compassion. Though I have always read the Book of Mormon on my own, it means so much to read it as a family and feel Christ as the center of our family unit.”  Howard W. Hunter said, “Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon, lives.  If He lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives.  If he is allowed to lay his hands upon a family, it lives.”

I know God lives and that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that this is His church.  In their honor, let us gather in our circles, that by so doing we may experience all the blessings that will come into our lives when Jesus lays his hands upon our families and makes them live.