For more than two decades, we have studied the stories, challenges, and triumphs of racially and religiously diverse marriage-based families who have been identified by their clergy as “exemplary.” Since 2001, our American Families of Faith Research Project has explored and shared various secrets of success revealed by these families in numerous articles and three books. Our latest book, Home-Centered Gospel Learning, and Living: Seeking Greater Personal Revelation, is the first written expressly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book was “inspired by several challenges from President Russell M. Nelson—challenges that have included seeking to ‘come, follow’ the Savior, to ‘hear Him,’ to become ‘exemplary Latter-day Saints,’ and to ‘diligently work to remodel [our] home into a center of gospel learning.’”
Over the past two decades, the diverse but exemplary families of faith we have had the pleasure of interviewing opened their homes to us and shared their stories with us. They discussed their successes, their failures, their challenges, their beliefs, and their worship. They invited us onto their sacred ground. Whether families were teaching us about sacred religious practices, about balancing firmness and flexibility, about agency and accountability, or about the spirit and nature of healthy parent-child dialogue about religion, our hope has been that by carefully examining exemplary religious families, all families could benefit and learn from their successes and their challenges.
As a result, when President Nelson and Elder Cook commenced the fall 2018 general conference with a call for powerful home-based learning as a vital pathway to joyful gospel living and deep and lasting conversion, we were profoundly interested. When President Nelson concluded the historic conference with his call to us to “unleash the power of families” and to become “exemplary Latter-day Saints,” we were excited for the blessings we knew would accrue for individuals and families who heeded this counsel. We have seen a rich, colorful, and diverse array of families inside and outside the Church of Jesus Christ—and we have seen that when individuals and families learn of, speak of, and commune with God in their homes, life’s challenges do not stop, but that authentically lived faith makes it possible for even their afflictions to be consecrated for their gain.
Even so, those who have made the intentional journey to joyful and faithful family life have repeatedly told us that the blessings of this promised land are not to be won easily or quickly. The realities of the cultural wilderness that we all inhabit, including increasing materialism, individualism, and distractions in the form of an array of enticements, mean that it requires great personal and family efforts to cross over into that promised land. In the words of leading marital researcher and therapist William J. Doherty, the single greatest danger to marriage and family life may be the wear and tear of everyday living. Indeed, the perennial challenges of “the world,” our own selfish desires, societal distractions, and the chaotic and disintegrating influences of everyday life all require vigilance and consistent efforts to overcome. Even in the face of myriad challenges, we have seen the truth of President Nelson’s words—that those who “feast upon the word of the Lord and apply His teachings” are indeed blessed with “increased faith . . . and patience to endure [their] personal challenges in life.”
Our book provides many examples of faithful individuals and families who are living imperfect but exemplary lives of religious devotion. We hope the examples provided here, from our fellow Saints as well as our friends of other faiths, will inspire you and help you learn various ways “to unleash the power of families” in your own lives and homes.
In addition to the hundreds of diverse U.S. families we have interviewed, we did a deeper dive into how Saints are responding to the Come, Follow Me invitation. During the first year of Come, Follow Me, more than five hundred members responded to the survey. Many responses reflected challenges and barriers they faced in their efforts to study and worship on both personal and family levels, as well as successes. We are grateful to these members who shared their experiences and ideas so that other members might receive encouragement and inspiration.
Exemplars of Home-Centered Worship: Lee and Nadia We now take an in-depth look at portions of an interview involving home-centered worship. Thirty years ago, Lee was a deeply talented and intelligent boy floundering in a directionless array of what social scientists would call antisocial behavior, complete with the full-length trench coat, wild hair, and behavioral rebellion. Lee met Nadia and was fascinated by her—and eventually by her religious beliefs. Several months later, after a one-week personal immersion in the Book of Mormon, Lee decided to be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. He later married Nadia, who was a lifelong member, and they have striven to be “all in” with their individual and shared commitment to the gospel.
For their more than twenty-five years of marriage, Lee and Nadia have studied, loved, and lived their faith while raising their children in a culture that is often hostile and counter to the gospel. However, their faith in God’s revealed word has involved both belief and action. In our interview with her and Lee ten years ago, Nadia explained:
One of the most important [practices] for me is family prayer and [studying] scripture verses. It’s something that we share with our children. . . . [When] they [were] still pretty young [and] not able to have deep intellectual discussions about our faith, . . . we . . . deal[t] with them on their intellectual level. We have family prayer together. We take turns. Each member of the family . . . takes turns saying our family prayer at meals or in the morning or at night right before we go to bed. And then each night we gather together, and we study from the scriptures. . . . When the kids don’t understand something, they’ll stop us. [We’ll talk about] the meaning of a certain word, and [we’ll ask], “What [are] they . . . talking about here?” And it’s a wonderful opportunity for us every day to teach them a little bit more, and to find out what they know, and we never cease to be surprised at how much . . . they understand. And doing that every day is something that I hope will continue to instill the knowledge of what we believe.
Did Lee and Nadia’s efforts at home-based worship pay off? Did their children experience their own deep and lasting conversions? Again, our initial interview with them was more than a decade ago. However, our follow-up revealed that their oldest son served an honorable mission and married in the temple. Their oldest daughter served faithfully in a young single adult ward for years before recently marrying in the temple as well. Their youngest son is currently serving a mission. Another daughter, however, has left the Church. Lee and Nadia, like many of us, hope and pray for the return of a beloved child or children whose current walk is not the covenant path.
Many years of Nadia’s life involved serving as an early-morning seminary teacher in her ward, but it is her opinion that even her best efforts “will not be enough” for most of the young women and young men she has taught unless they are getting significant foundational gospel teaching at home and through their own personal study. In her interview, Nadia explained her continual urging to both her own children and to the seminary-aged youth: “You have got to learn and decide for yourself if this is true. . . . Yes, my parents raised me with the knowledge of the doctrine that I now hold to, but I had to make that choice [and so will you].”
Similarly addressing both home-based worship and personal choice, Lee said:
Family prayer or the study of the scriptures or family home evening . . . it always comes back to this is what we believe. And yeah, we all have our different interests or different hobbies and our different personalities, but we have our religion in common, and it’s a rock we all can hold on to. It’s always gonna be there, it’s never changing, it’s there to comfort us. And the teachings that we [learn] through the scriptures . . . these are things that I as a parent . . . need to take into my own life, and in turn lead my family. . . by teaching those things, by living those things, [by] being an example. And without it, we would kind of be blown around by any wind of what’s bad [out] there.
Lee also emphasized the responsibility he has felt as a father:
With our religion, one of the things that are taught is that as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children correct principles and righteous principles and that if we don’t, we are going to be held accountable as parents. . . . [I] feel a very strong responsibility to live up [to] that. Now, does that mean that if a kid grows up and doesn’t follow, is that my fault? No, but it’s my job to teach that kid the correct things. . . . [I]n our religion we believe in agency, that every person has the right to choose for himself the path that they [want]. . . . But it’s our job to present the correct and righteous principles so that they will know right from wrong.
Nadia and Lee’s efforts are in some ways exemplary. However, no life is without its challenges. Lee works in a maximum-security prison that, at times, feels to him to be almost saturated with “pure evil.” Lee expressed his strong desire that his home sharply contrasts with his work setting:
There is enough bad influence out there in the world. There are plenty of people and media, and whatever that can lead our children astray—can lead them to a place that we don’t want them to go. And there is enough of that out there that we don’t need to have it here in our home, within the walls of our home. The walls of our home should be a sanctuary.
Prophetic Counsel for Challenging Times. President Nelson’s address in April 2018, the conference immediately preceding the unveiling of a home-centered, Church-supported approach to worship, revealed an awareness of the multifaceted challenges that families like Lee and Nadia’s face. Specifically, President Nelson stated, “I am . . . not naive about the days ahead. We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious. The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.”
As foreboding as some of this message is, it is not the whole message. President Nelson also emphasized that in spite of the difficulties, we need not despair. He emphasized:
I am optimistic about the future. . . . Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost. My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation.
The foundational and preparatory work for some of the Savior’s “mightiest works” may be laid by families (like Lee and Nadia’s) who strive to make their home a sanctuary from the world.
The Lord’s words to Peter, the man who would become Cephas, “the Rock,” were, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Individual and family study and worship are pathways to joyful gospel living because when we worship God personally and together, we can experience a fullness of joy (see 3 Nephi 17:20), as Jesus did when worshiping the Father with ancient American families following His Resurrection. Studying the teachings of Jesus alone or with others is a pathway to joyful gospel living. As the Savior said, “These things have I spoken . . . that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).
In this excerpt, we heard the initial and ongoing conversion story of Lee, who went from being a directionless and troubled teen to becoming an imperfect but diligent pillar of faith in his home, ward, and stake. We heard from Nadia, including her conviction that Sunday School and seminary alone are not enough and that foundational individual and family study in the home are essential. Finally, we heard the voice of the Lord’s prophet of the present warning us of challenges ahead but optimistically urging us to strengthen our faith and deepen our conversion. May we continue to do so “that [our] joy might be full.”