In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf is getting ready to take his leave from Bilbo Baggins and the other dwarves on the edge of Mirkwood. As he does so he starts to leave, then turns to Bilbo and says, “Be good, take care of yourselves and don’t leave the path.” I will take that piece of wisdom for my subject in this December edition of the Vanguard Beacon. If there is any message that needs to be given to devoted Scouting leaders it is “…take care of yourselves…” as you work so diligently to strengthen the Rising Generation. I once spoke with a friend who told me that he woke up one morning and realized that his “spiritual bucket was empty” and he had nothing more to give. As a result, with no inner compass, he veered off the path and lost all that he once considered precious.
In 1975, President Nelson told of being on a river trip with his family. As they approached some Class 4 rapids, the guide told then-Dr. Nelson to hold onto the side of the raft and have his children hold onto him. As they approached the rapids, President Nelson saw the size of them and decided that he would have his children hold onto the sides of the raft and he would hold onto them – like an anchor. He tells the story of hitting those rapids and being immediately thrown into the river. After they fished him out of the drink, the guide, a young man approached him and, with his nose nearly touching President Nelson’s, said, “Dr. Nelson, I assume you understand English?” “Of course.” “And I assume that you are able to follow instructions, is that correct.” “Yes.” The guide went on: “Last time, you only endangered yourself by not following instructions. These next rapids are larger than the last. If you do not follow my instructions, you will not only endanger yourself again, but your children as well – do you understand?” “Yes.” “Then I suggest that you hold on tight to the side of the raft and then have your children hold tight to you.” President Nelson explained that that is exactly what he did – and they went through the rapids without incident – demonstrating to him that if HE were firmly anchored in the raft, his family would be as well.
This is an important message for each of us – to take time to strengthen and ground ourselves, so that those who look to us for help, and guidance and example will not be placed in jeopardy by our instability. Christmas is a marvelous time for each of us to spend a little “me-time” (as individuals), “we-time” [Husband and wife along] and “Us-time” (entire family) to strengthen us, prepare us for the year to come, and help us feel the true meaning of Christmas. Recently, Zella and I prepared the following brief suggestions for the 2020 holiday season. We hope you enjoy it.
Strengthening Self, Marriage and Family at Christmas
Have you ever arrived at Christmas Eve and thought: “Next year, I’ll do better at focusing on the true meaning of Christmas.” or “Next year, I’ll be better prepared, so the season doesn’t seem so zooey, so busy and so stressed – so I can concentrate on what Christmas is all about.” or “I wish we would have had more time together as a family this year.” or even “I am so glad Christmas is over!” If so, you aren’t alone.
Our modern mortal environment of DOING (with so many tools to help us) seems perfectly situated to distract us from our eternal mission of BECOMING. And it becomes more so during the holiday season. If we are so engrossed with the activities of the season, (or even the isolation of the conditions we are experiencing), we often miss the process of FEELING the spirit of the season and using it to BECOME more like the Savior. So…what’s the answer?
It is not surprising that the solution to feeling the spirit of the season AND to strengthening our marriages and families during these times lies in a return to the basic principles of the gospel. May we share just three:
- “[Jesus’s] life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.” The Living Christ, January 1, 2000.
- Jesus “…went around doing good…His gospel was a message of peace and good will…[and] He entreated all to follow His example.” The Living Christ.
- “…marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and…the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World, September 23, 1995.
If these, then, are the basic principles that should guide us as we strive to strengthen our marriages and families AND to catch the spirit of this wonderful Christmas Season (and the upcoming New Year), here are some thoughts of things you might choose to do personally, as couples, or as a family. [By the way, this is not a “suggested to-do list for December.” If you just add these things to your already full December list, you’ve missed the point. Be selective and consider your situation.]
- Read Luke 2, 3 Nephi 1 and 3 Nephi 11. Read these aloud with your companion and/or your children and talk about how it would have been to be on the hill that night with the shepherds, or with Nephi on the night he prayed. If you live alone, write your feelings and thoughts in a journal, or write a letter to a family member, loved one or friend and share your feelings and thoughts.
- Share favorite Christmas memories from your childhood. LISTEN as your companion shares his/her memories. If you have children, ask them for their favorite Christmas memories and additional ideas as to how to make the season more meaningful. If you live alone, share those thoughts with other family members.
- Simplify. Ask yourself what tasks, responsibilities, activities or even “Christmas traditions” you can scrap this year in order to simplify the season and, in return, find a little peace. Zella used to have all the grandchildren over to do gingerbread houses – which even required her to assemble the houses with a glue gun beforehand. It was a wonderful tradition but became more than we could handle with everything else. It has been gone for several years; and yet we find that the married grandchildren love to come over (two at a time) and, without supervision, make gingerbread houses. No stress, just joy.
- Read a Christmas Classic together. You might have a favorite Christmas story or movie that has become part of your Christmas observance. We know that President Monson had a number of those Christmas favorites that he read each Christmas to help him feel the spirit of the season. Our favorite Christmas books include A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke, Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett, If you’re Missing Baby Jesus by Jean Gietzen and A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy. Our favorite Christmas movies include Miracle on 34th Street (both the 1947 and 1994 versions); It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart; Mr. Krueger’s Christmas with Jimmy Steward and the Tabernacle Choir; The Santa Clause (especially the first two movies), A Christmas Carol (especially the 1951 version with Alastair Sim, as well as two musical versions: One with Albert Finney (“Scrooge”) and one with Kelsey Grammer), The Polar Express, Joyeux Noel (a story of a Christmas Day truce during World War I), White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf (with Will Farrell), Beyond Tomorrow (a wonderful 1941 movie that is little know, but has a wonderful message) and Christmas in Connecticut. We are sure you have many that aren’t mentioned here – choose your favorite and take time to enjoy!
- Do a Sub-For-Santa project together as a couple or family. If you don’t know a family in need, ask the bishop, or call your local elementary school or Salvation Army.
- Visit or telephone a shut-in (with mask and social distancing). It is amazing what a simple doorstep visit or telephone call will do to lift both the caller and the one receiving the call. The call or the visit doesn’t need to be long – just enough to let them know they aren’t forgotten and that someone cares. You might take a small treat with you to deliver – or not! Make it simple!
- Go caroling as a couple or a family (Masks and Social Distancing approved). Shakespeare once wrote, “If music is the food of love, play on!” It is amazing the unifying power of music – especially at Christmas time. Even if you can’t sing a note, sing anyway. Your neighbors will love you for it!
- See the Christmas Lights of St. George. Take a drive to see the Christmas lights – with nothing else on your agenda (unless it is a stop at your favorite restaurant). Don’t rush by the lights. Slow down. Thank about the meaning of Christmas lights – on the night of the Savior’s birth and today.
- Decorate the Christmas Tree – TOGETHER. Make some new home-made ornaments with recent and old family photos.
- Schedule a number of Evenings free during December. No meetings. No deliveries. No work or phone calls or even Church work to do – just a quiet night at home. Make your favorite treat, watch a Christmas movie, read a favorite Christmas book, FEEL the peace of “…no place to go.” The Bishop has already modeled this by scheduling all Tithing Settlement interviews BEFORE December 1st – so he and his family can spend time together during this wonderful month.
We know there are many more ideas to help feel the peace and depth of the message of the season (“the reason for the season”) and we pray that you and your family will feel the “peace that passeth all understanding” during this happy holiday season. Merry Christmas and may 2021 be a blessed year for us all.