When I was a Mormon missionary in the late 1990’s, we used to deliver memorized discussions word-for-word. I’m grateful that missionaries don’t do this anymore, even though I concede that there were some genuine benefits to the old deliver-in-rote approach. For example, it helped me learn Spanish subjunctive phrases. And it often kept the discussions free of tangents, like with that one missionary everyone knows who always wants to talk to people about Quetzelcoatl or polygamy.
The toughest thing about the memorized discussions was that they clearly weren’t written by 19-year-olds and could make us sound quite stiff. I remember once we sat out on the grass of the Salem Commons on a wonderful sunny day and taught a group of teenagers. Partway through, one of the girls interrupted us with something like, “Did you seriously just say: young Joseph departed into the woods?”
Shortly after we both got back from our missions, Wendy (Brazil) and I (Massachusetts) took a road trip together through Utah and Colorado. On the way, we stopped by the great little Mormon historical site called Cove Fort. Instead of wandering around on our own, we took a guided tour with a sweet little married couple of Senior Missionaries. And it turns out they also used memorized discussions that made them sound a bit stiff.
As we moved from room to room, their friendly chit-chat would abruptly change to well-rehearsed recitations and then transition right back once the memorized piece was finished. Years later, we still giggle about one room that had an open set of scriptures on the desk. Look around the room and you’ll see several sources of light…a candle….a fireplace….a window. But the greatest source of light in the room is the set of scriptures sitting open on the table.
We giggle because it was sweet and clumsy and we could empathize. But not because it was wrong.
Four months ago, we had a wonderful visit from our Home Teachers who asked what we most needed in our home. We shared with them that we’ve never been a family that consistently reads the scriptures and that we would really benefit from being held accountable to a challenge to study them daily. The challenge was issued, and we haven’t missed a day since.
There are plenty of days when we read just one verse. Or days when read like tired zombies. Or days when we read Isaiah and wonder what he meant when he wrote “…and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant places.”
But even those “off days” weave a habit of daily vigilance into our lives. And within their jumbled pattern, we also discover some treasures: evenings with the sweetest, sincerest discussions our family has ever had. Wendy and I share experiences from our own lives. The kids ask and answer questions about how the scriptures apply to them. And we create moments of pause and reflection that can so easily be missed in all the frantic busyness.
In the April 2010 LDS General Conference, the Apostle David Bednar promised that regular scripture reading would “invite the power to reduce temptation and produce feelings of love within our families.” He promised that discussions about the scriptures would “help parents discern what their children are learning thinking, and feeling…as well as the difficulties they may be facing.”
This has been so very true for us. And our daily reading really has made the scriptures the greatest source of light in our home.
A few weeks ago, the power went out in our house. (Just our house! Not the neighbors'! Scary!) It was a Sunday evening, and we actually had a wonderful time with it. As the great gentlemen from Idaho Power dug up our driveway to fix the problem, we thoroughly enjoyed an evening of “roughing it.” We pulled the flashlights out of our emergency kits. We played card games. We cooked eggs, toast, and hot chocolate on our gas stove. (Plus, we had to light the gas stove with a match! What an adventure!)
I recalled another LDS Conference talk in April 2013 by Sister Rosemary Wixom: “Precious moments of opportunity to interact and converse with our children dissolve when we are occupied with distractions. Why not choose a time each day to disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other? Simply turn everything off. When you do this, your home may seem quiet at first; you may even feel a loss as to what to do or say. Then, as you give full attention to your children, a conversation will begin, and you can enjoy listening to each other.”
Being the people we are, of course we took pictures all night. Most of them were far too dark and shadowy to be kept. But some seemed to capture the moment. And, when it was time to read scriptures, we realized with delight that we had the greatest photo op of our lives.
The flashlight shining into the glossy pages of scripture cast a bright reflection on Isaac’s face and illuminated him starkly against the background of a perfectly darkened room.
Finally! A perfect illustration of the scriptures as the greatest source of light in the room!