What About Jesus?

Dear Will:

Last Sunday was Fathers’ Day. My kids made me this breakfast that was like a cross between scrambled eggs and French toast—a concoction called “Egg-ceptional Breakfast Bake” that Bryn, my nine-year-old, found in a cookbook entitled New Junior Cookbook. I also got treated to a talent show that included a piano improvisation by Seth (who’s five) and a dance concert involving all three kids, only one of whom is a dancer. And it showed.

It was all good fun. Coming into the day, I told my kids that all I really wanted was some one-on-one time with each of them to talk to them about their faith. Specifically, I told them I wanted them to share with me what it is they believe in.

Seth went first. He said: “I believe in God. I believe that Dinosaurs once ruled the earth. And I believe that human beings lived during the Ice Age.”

OK. Then I asked him, “What about Jesus? What do you think about Jesus?”

“Good,” he said. And that was that.

Jesus himself once asked his disciples (essentially) the same question I had asked Seth. The ensuing exchange was telling, even though it contained no apparent references to T rex or any of his cronies:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  (Matt. 16:13-17)

That was a telling moment for Simon Peter. It was, as far as we can tell, his first recorded, verbal affirmation of his faith in Christ. And Jesus tells us that that faith was born of personal revelation, sent by the Father through the Holy Spirit.

It kind of makes you want to stop and consider the question yourself, doesn’t it? What about Jesus? If your answer falls anywhere between Seth’s and Simon’s, it suggests that you yourself have at one point or another been blessed with a moment of spiritual insight that is a rare gift indeed. John the Revelator said, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). You didn’t know you might be a prophet, did you?

I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with you before my own belief. Perhaps it has been implied in previous letters. But let me make it explicit here: I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten son of God, my Savior and yours. His teachings guide my life, and his grace is sufficient, as the scripture says, to help me to receive eternal blessings in spite of my manifest shortcomings.

And I also believe that dinosaurs once ruled the earth.


The Lord and His Lady Give Fanks

Dear Will:

Anon, the Lord and Lady of the Manor return to their castle. (Editor’s note: Anon? Castle?) Noting well the declining state of his family fortune, once again this year the Lord has chosen—alack!—to postpone the digging of a moat until more prosperous times. And tho’ a drawbridge would indeed annoy the Homeowners’ Association, he knows that it would likewise be the envy of the neighborhood—especially should the Huns perchance lay siege to Orange County.

They steer their coach toward the garage, and yet they cannot park, for their path is impeded by the personal effects of the fair maiden Bryn, to wit: a scooter, rollerblades, a copy of Little House on the Prairie, a ballet bag, and a pair of all-purpose, playground-style balls which for some reason she chooses to call Dorothy and Shirley. Ere they are aware, she charges forth on her five-speed.

“Felicitations, my beloved,” says the Lady of the Manor, exiting the half-parked vehicle with flourish both regal and stately. “Prithee, fair one, place these items as before in yon toy box lest my regal and stately demeanor turn unbecomingly common.”

“As you wish, Mother,” the child proclaims reassuringly, skipping off. Alas, the lass lacks both short-term memory and follow-through, and thus the Lord and his Lady remain somewhat less than reassured. Yet tho’ they are vexed, even so are they perplexed and fascinated, unable to comprehend the ways of an eight-year-old girl.

As the nobleman parts the castle doors, the servants scatter—which is to say they scatter socks, books, papers, and markers about the Study as if to conceal the carpet therewith; and therein ‘midst the sundry oddments, Sir Luke sits majestically at the computer. Indeed, since Luke decided to become a writer, he has often been found in this very position, composing his latest text. Tonight’s folio bears the name “Detective Rat and the Curious Case.”

As his master enters, Luke neither genuflects nor kneels to kiss his master’s signet ring. Indeed, it might be noted that he does not acknowledge the presence of the Lord of the Manor in any way. “Beloved son,” his lordship cries, “knowest thou what hath befallen these quarters?” The lad responds not, as is his wont. Indeed, from his mother Luke has inherited an ability to focus on any chosen task without distraction—a gift turned weapon when wielded by a teenager-but-for-the-birthday 12-year-old.

Of a sudden, the Lord of the Manor recognizes that the debris is the product of Master Seth, who, though only three, has decided that nothing brings greater joy than doing homework—doubtless because his older siblings complete their schoolwork with such unabashed enthusiasm.  (Editor’s note: That business about unabashed enthusiasm? A total crock.)

Nearby in the Ballroom (Editor’s note: OK, so it’s a dining room with no furniture), the Lady of the Manor finds more evidence of Master Seth’s handiwork: a bizarre structure that rises and sprawls from the cut-pile carpeting like a mutating organism. It is a veritable mishmash of wooden blocks and cardboard bricks, some jutting skyward with Babel-like determination, others lined end-to-end like a Chinese wall for Weebles. Within the courtyard of said monolith, stoic as sentries, one beholds an assortment of plastic animals, including a zebra, a giraffe, a gazelle and several other favorites. They are assisted in their vigil by various plastic dinosaurs: triceratops, pachycephalosaurus, perhaps half a dozen stegosaurs or more. These are the chosen few, the “guarders” of the diorama; for meat-eaters, “mean guys” in the common parlance, are clearly a threat and are left outside looking in.

There, in the midst of this menagerie, sits Master Seth, the architect himself, who looks up with a grin. “I’m building Baby Elephant’s Cage,” says the boy, as if such an explanation were needed. Although his fortress-like creation has often been razed and raised again, never with the same design, it has always been known simply, consistently, and somewhat inexplicably, as Baby Elephant’s Cage. Somewhere within, Baby Elephant (a plastic piece perhaps 1½ inches long) stands ensconced, consistently and inexplicably accompanied by a small plastic dolphin which has never once had any kind of structure named for it.

Anon (Editor’s note: There’s that word again) the dinner hour approaches. From within, the alarum is sounded, beckoning all to sit and eat with the Lord and his Lady. And yet the children come not. Again the alarum is sounded, and again the children come not. The Lady of the Manor remains unperturbed. Demurely she importunes her husband. “My lord,” says she, “prithee beckon the children that they hie to the table, that we might sup together.” At once the Lord rises from the table and. . . . (Editor’s note: The manuscript at this point becomes garbled, with dubious references to tantrums and indifference and insubordination and threats.)

Once gathered, the family bows in reverence. “Let us pray,” says his lordship. “It’s my turn,” says Seth. “Fodder in Headen: Fank you for da food. Pwease bwess it. Fank you for Mommy and Daddy and Wuke and Bwyn and Seth. Fank you for my famwee. In the name of Jesus Chwist. Amen.”

Fank you indeed.


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.