Today’s world is becoming brasher and less respectful. Even while people are constantly calling for tolerance for this value or that, they are doing so with increasingly less tolerance for those who disagree. Adults are disrespectful of things that are sacred to other people and disrespectful towards things of eternal significance.
“Children are growing up in a world where reverence for God and civility toward one another are rapidly diminishing. Incivility and irreverence can become normal and accepted by our children unless we teach them otherwise.” (Reverence and respect: teaching children forgotten principles, R. Scott Lloyd, LDS Church News, August 25, 2012)
Civility and reverence are best taught when children are young. As parents, we are the ideal people to teach children to respect and recognize the sacred things of the world, to treat others with respect and kindness, and to become internally reverent in our approach to life.
Often, when children at church are told to be reverent, they interpret this to refer to outward behavior—sit still, look at the teacher, don’t talk, don’t bother others, don’t kick or run around. This, of course, is not reverence; it is behavior. However, reverence does begin with behavior. A child who is misbehaving in Church is not able to be reverent.
Mormon children (Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) learn a song that tells them reverence is more than sitting quietly. It’s thinking of Jesus and feeling love in their hearts for them. Reverence can’t be measured from the outside. When I teach children, I often tell this story:
Susan is sitting quietly, hands in her lap, feet still, not talking, and looking at her teacher. Is she reverent?” The children always agree she is. I continue, “While she was sitting so quietly, she was thinking about going home and playing a mean trick on her brother. Is she being reverent?” They always recognize then that she isn’t. Although she looked reverent, her thoughts and her heart were not.
We need to teach children to look deep inside themselves to find reverence. Children don’t instinctively know they need it, so it must be taught. They can learn to sit quietly—something that often causes adults to order them to “go do something” and to feel what is in their hearts. As they take time to ponder God, their lives, and what really matters, they will learn to recognize a feeling of warmth and love that tells those who are paying attention that God is near.
Once children have learned to reverence the things that matter to their own faith and family, they can learn to value the sacred in the faiths of others. A child who is not a Christian can learn that the cross worn by some Christians is a reverent symbol to be treated with respect, even though it isn’t sacred to that child. A child who sees a Muslim child with a headdress will accept it as part of that child’s faith. A child who has a Mormon friend won’t try to tease her into violating one of her standards.
Jesus showed respect for all He met, including those others did not like or respect. He chose people from unpopular faiths to be His disciples and befriended the friendless. He respected what was good about them. However, He did not tolerate irreverence. He cleansed the temple forcefully when He found it being treated disrespectfully. He taught us that sacred things must be treated sacredly, whether they are Mormon temples, scriptures, religious statues, or sacred clothing.
Teach your children to honor and respect the sacred in the world—no matter whose sacred it is.