“Why Should I Ask God?”

Dear Will:

My wife Dana and I have been grappling with a difficult decision in recent weeks, one which for years to come will have a rather powerful impact on Luke (our eldest)—and on our whole family for that matter. Because Dana and I are both smart enough to know how little we really know, it seemed like a good idea to us to make the decision a subject of fasting and prayer to see if maybe we could get God’s help in sorting it all out. He knows what’s best for us, we figure, and so why not try to get Him to tell us?

Thus resolved, we invited Luke to join us in our quest for spiritual insight, assuming that he would do so without much prodding. But this was another of those times in which a teenager zigged just when Mom and Dad figured he would zag. “I already know what I think I should do, so why should I ask God?” he explained. “Even if he gives me a different answer, I’m going to do what I want anyway.”

His honesty was refreshing even if his attitude was not. Try as we might, we were unable to persuade him that it would be helpful to know ahead of time if he were about to embark on the wrong course of action. As all of this was taking place, I was reminded of a time when I was—get this—about his age, a time when I did not want to ask God for guidance for fear that, once informed, I would be held accountable for whatever He told me. I was familiar enough with the implications of religious living, and I was not yet prepared to commit. So while I wish Luke had a little less hubris, I have a hunch I know where he got it. (Don’t you just hate that?)

I don’t believe that Luke is particularly unique in this regard. The world is full of people who live strictly by their own counsel—we all do from time to time, I suppose. Likewise, our history books are rife with those who have risen and fallen based almost solely on their own cunning. But what I hope for Luke—and anyone else similarly inclined—is that the day will come when he feels the need for help from One wiser and more powerful than he, and that when that moment arrives he will know where to turn and do so with appropriate humility.

Fortunately, as our family struggles onward, help is on its way. This weekend the Church will be holding its semi-annual General Conference, and we’ll have the chance to hear from our prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.  It’s the next best thing to hearing from God Himself, but I’m hoping that my son might pay attention since it will be coming to him through the TV screen. In my view, it’s a chance for him to get an answer to questions he has not yet been willing to ask.

Who knows if it will really work that way for him. I can tell you this, though. It often works that way for me, which is why General Conference weekend is always one of my favorites. If nothing else, maybe it will provide me some insight on how to be a better father. God knows I need that. Besides, I’m sure there are plenty of questions which I have not yet asked for which God, through his servants, has already prepared an answer. Now the only remaining question: When He tells me—as surely He will—what am I going to do about it?


Let’s Do It Again Next Year

Dear Will:

A long time ago I promised my son Luke that when he turned 12 I would take him to Salt Lake City to attend General Conference in person. Not exactly the bar mitzvah he was maybe hoping for, but to my delight, he called my bluff. So a few weeks back he and I piled into the ol’ Camry and headed north.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but there was something liberating about heading off, just the two of us, knowing we didn’t really have to answer to anyone for about 72 hours. If we wanted to drive too fast or make a pit stop or skip lunch so that we could gorge ourselves on a big steak dinner (and let’s be clear: we wanted to) we could do it (and did). As we drove, it was just me and my son—the two dudes—telling stories, playing games, or just sitting in silence. We weren’t exactly Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, but it was fun.

It took us 10 hours to reach our destination—11 if you count the grubfest at Outback. The next morning we took our seats in the nosebleed section of the new Conference Center just off of Temple Square. It was a magnificent facility and we were delighted to be a part of the scene. But the excitement of that morning didn’t prepare us for the thrill of that evening, when we found ourselves—I’m not making this up—on the fourth row of that 20,000+ seat auditorium, directly in front of the prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.

It was very cool. Directly before us sat the President of the Church, his two Counselors, and several of the Twelve Apostles. People speak of “sitting at the feet of the Prophet,” and there we were, living the metaphor. Unforgettable.

The real test came the next day, however, when we piled back into the Camry for the return trip. Maybe we talked less—I’m not sure—but certainly we felt a bit less giddy. Still I felt an easiness as we traveled together that I often don’t feel when we’re living together. As a dad, it felt good and right. Nonetheless, as we headed down Cajon Pass, back into the L.A. Basin, chasing the weekend warriors and desert rats toward home, I nervously asked the Big Question: “Well Luke, was it worth it? Now that you know what’s involved, would you do it over again if you had the choice?” He didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely. Let’s do it again next year.”

That ain’t gonna happen, unfortunately, but it was a good reminder—I hope to both of us—that it never hurts to step out of the usual routine and spend some time together—just because. Would that I could find a way to pull that off without having to drive 1400 miles in the process.

I’m reminded of a children’s book in our study called The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz. It tells the story of a poor man named Isaac who has a recurring dream in which a voice tells him to go to the capital city and look for treasure under the bridge by the Royal Palace. Finally, he takes the long, arduous journey through forests and over mountains, walking most of the way until he arrives in the capital city. To his disappointment, he finds that the bridge is guarded day and night. When at last he tells the captain of the guard of his dream, the captain laughs at him. “If I believed a dream I once had,” the soldier tells him, “I would travel to your town and look for a treasure under the stove in the house of a man named Isaac.” Bowing respectfully, Isaac embarks immediately on the long walk back, journeying over mountains and through forests until he comes to his humble home—wherein he finds the treasure he sought. The moral: Sometimes we must travel far to discover what is near.

I hope that this hits “close to home” for you as it did for me.


Arms, Legs, Attitude, and Divinity

Dear Will:

Greetings from around the corner. I hope all is well with you and that your summer is shaping up to be full of fun, adventure, and prosperity. Failing that, then at least I hope you find a good book or two to read. I have several—I just don’t have time to read them.

But enough whining about petty things—here’s something really worth whining about: Today my oldest son Luke turned twelve. It didn’t exactly come upon me unawares, but it is a jolt nonetheless.

Feeling just a tad nostalgic, tonight my wife Dana and I leafed through photo albums, reminiscing about when he was little and cute. He’s still cute, of course, but in a completely different way. Now he’s all arms and legs and attitude, with a squeaky voice which reminds me that my little dude is quickly becoming (gulp!) a man.

The wondrous thing about watching a child grow is witnessing the discovery of interests and talents that seem to predate this mortal existence. Luke, we are finding out, is a reluctant pianist but gifted with the clarinet. He dislikes math yet won the Math Olympiad at his school. He is a fledgling artist (a genetic mutation if ever there was one) and, to my complete delight, a rather remarkable writer. I know that around twelve years ago I lost all ability to look at him objectively, but I do see in him a divine potential that I can only hope not to screw up.

Nevertheless, there is much that Luke still needs to learn, much that is far more important than the ability to paint a picture or compose an elegant phrase. I speak, of course, of the divine attributes which are the true sign of maturity. In that regard, Luke would do well to remember the words of our Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley:

There is something of divinity in you. You have such tremendous potential because of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world. Cultivate the art of being kind, of being thoughtful, of being helpful. Refine within you the quality of mercy which comes as a part of the divine attributes you inherited.  (Stand a Little Taller, p. 185)

That’s good advice for all of us, even people like me who don’t possess even a fraction of Luke’s talent and potential. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could cultivate a bit more of our divinity and in the process maybe make a difference in the lives of those around us? I know that my family would sure like it if I did.