Remember Who You Are

Dear Will:

When I was a boy, every time I left the house my mother would holler at me: “Remember who you are!” It was her way of reminding me to live as I had been taught and to uphold the family name. I have friends who communicate a similar thought to their children through a small sign, hung by the door for the kids to read as they leave each day. It says simply: “Return with honor.”

As a parent, I understand that sentiment. When my three children are at school each day, I hope that they will be enthusiastic in the classroom, fair on the playground, friendly and helpful in their interactions with others. Nevertheless, the command to “remember who you are” or to “return with honor” is really more of a wish when you come right down to it. Ultimately, the choices my kids make when not under my direct supervision are theirs and theirs alone—which is why my wife and I place such an emphasis on teaching correct principles in our home. Home is the primary place in which we get the chance to instill in our children the principles which we believe should govern their daily activities.

As I watched along with you the terrible aftermath of Katrina unfold, I was troubled by reports of lawlessness. When I heard that hospitals and doctors were under siege, that each night homes and businesses were being pillaged and law-abiding citizens shot at, I couldn’t help but wonder: What sort of a person believes that the absence of a viable police force implies a freedom to do merely as one pleases? I try to imagine the homes in which such people were raised, and I wonder what the sign above the door must have read: “It isn’t wrong if you don’t get caught”? “Take whatever you can get”?

But then I heard other stories—of thousands of volunteers spending countless hours trying to rescue and relieve the suffering, of hundreds of millions of dollars in donated aid, of strangers helping strangers and communities reaching out—and I was reminded that even though a crisis such as this can bring out the worst in some, it also brings out the best in many more. And although our immediate response to the disaster may have been horribly inadequate, I couldn’t help but feel that ultimately we will get it right. Because in spite of the lawless few, we remain a society in which parents still teach their children to “return with honor,” and mothers still remind their sons: “Remember who you are.”


Surrounded by Wild Roses

Dear Will:

If you’re anything like me (and I pray that you are not, in this case), you may have a tendency to allow everyday things to sort of blend together to the point that you hardly notice what’s always there. For instance, when I set a book at the top of the stairs with the intention of taking it down to the study later on, if I don’t follow through that same day the book becomes a fixture in the upstairs hallway. It’s as if it were part of the carpeting. I can become accustomed to things which are out-of-place to such a degree that they seem no longer out-of-place.

That bad habit is mostly just annoying, particularly if you’re married to me. Worse than that, however, is another side of that same phenomenon: the tendency to take for granted something remarkable because you see it everyday. When was the last time you paused to consider the amazing dexterity of your right thumb, the miracle of a flushing toilet, the sublime wonder of buttered toast. Hmmmm?

OK, I admit that even that is not really a big deal. What has me musing this evening is how easy it is for us to become unaware of the people who share our lives with us. The clerk at the store. The guy who delivers the morning paper. The 15-year-old kid who refuses to go to bed on time (that would be Luke). This weekend I realized, to my shame, that I devote much more energy to nagging/lecturing/chastising my kids about what they’re not doing than I do to reminding them how terrific they are for all that they do do. What kind of a loser dad am I?

I have a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. He wrote it about his wife, but I wish I had written it about my mine, because it speaks so well of the opportunity to rediscover something familiar:

The Wild Rose

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

And once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

How many wild roses do you have blooming around you? Do yourself—and your loved ones—a favor and tell them today how much they mean to you. I tried it myself, and it was wonderful.


Sufficient Even for Monster Dad

Dear Will:

It is another typical night in the Watkins house. I have stuff I need to do, and my youngest kids are carrying on in their bedroom, refusing to go to sleep. As I get increasingly annoyed, I also have the increasing inclination to holler at them.

Unfortunately, I’m the sort who all too easily follows such inclinations.  As a result, when the house finally goes quiet I feel like the worst father in the world, and my little ones drift off to sleep with Monster Dad as the final image of their day. It happens pretty often around here. And it always makes me feel awful. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I promise myself (and my kids) “no more yelling.”  Within a few days I’m back at it, unable to overcome my weaknesses in spite of the best intentions.

Such moments of fallibility often make me think of Simon Peter, a man who all too often failed to make good on his good intentions.  One story about him has seemed particularly relevant to me of late, which of course means that I’m going to foist it upon you as well.

On one occasion, Peter and his fishing partners had worked through the night without catching so much as a minnow. As they cleaned their nets, no doubt frustrated with their failure, Jesus approached. “Launch out into the deep,” Jesus suggested, “and let down your nets for a draught.”

The results were staggering. Literally. The scripture tells us that when they let down their net “they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them.  And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink” (Luke 5:6-7).

Simon Peter’s reaction to this miraculous haul was immediate. We’re told “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Of course, rather than departing, Jesus did just the opposite: he invited Peter to leave his boat and his nets at the lakeside and to become instead a fisher of men.

There is an essential lesson here for all of us. Consider what took place: Because he viewed himself as a “sinful man,” Peter tried foolishly to keep Jesus out of his life. Even in the face of an overwhelming miracle, Peter’s own sense of guilt and unworthiness caused him, as if by instinct, to ask Jesus to depart from him.

Such is the nature of sin, isn’t it? It fills us with self-doubt, making us feel unworthy even of that which requires no worthiness. The trouble is, we know ourselves too well, don’t we? Deep down in our hearts we know that God knows, that He’s onto us.

At the same time, the great promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that through Him even I can overcome my shortcomings. I must put my faith in Him and in His Atonement, believing as I do so that in the end “his grace is sufficient” to make up that huge gap between what I should be and what I am.  The scripture says:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.  I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.   (Ether 12:27)

I certainly hope that’s true. And, I suppose, so do my kids.