Enhancing Reverence
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“Enhancing Reverence,” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 78–79

Enhancing Reverence

This year, reverence is a major focus in Primary and the topic of the annual Primary sacrament meeting program. To learn more about how parents and leaders can work with children to foster reverence in the home and in Church meetings, the Ensign talked with President Michaelene P. Grassli, general president of the Primary.

President Michaelene P. Grassli

President Michaelene P. Grassli, general president of the Primary. (Photo by Jed Clark.)

Ensign: What do you feel is true reverence?

President Grassli: Reverence is an attitude—an attitude of love and respect for our Heavenly Father and Jesus and all things sacred. A sense of reverence helps us not do things that would offend our Father or the Savior. It helps us avoid sins ranging from profanity to immoral behavior.

Often we think of reverence only as being quiet in meetings. But if we are not really hearing the lesson, if we’re not really hearing the speaker, we may not be truly reverent.

True reverence is a basis for putting our faith into action—for living and doing as the Savior taught, because we love him.

Ensign: How do you feel parents can best teach reverence in the home?

President Grassli: If parents want to teach reverence to children, they will need to understand reverence themselves. They need to value reverence enough to be able to teach it. President Spencer W. Kimball once said, “Latter-day Saints should be the most reverent people in all the earth.” (We Should Be a Reverent People, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976, p. 2.)

If we have reverence in our hearts, we avoid criticism of Church leaders and of others, and we show respect for our meetinghouse and for the property of others. These actions teach reverence.

Parents’ attitude of willingness to serve and to sacrifice—which is a part of living the gospel—also teaches their children a sense of reverence for the work of the Lord.

Another thing parents can do is help children identify moments when the children are experiencing reverent feelings. This way, parents can help children to learn for themselves how reverence feels and to invite those feelings of closeness to Heavenly Father.

Ensign: How do you feel the Primary’s emphasis on reverence this year can reinforce what parents teach?

President Grassli: We hope parents are teaching their children about the blessings reverence brings. We have asked Primary leaders to help children understand that showing and feeling reverence pleases Heavenly Father and helps us be happy.

There is a tendency to give treats, prizes, or other tangible rewards recognizing children who are quiet in Primary meetings. I’m not sure this teaches the right lesson; it simply tends to compare the outward behavior of children. Reverence is hard to measure, because it is as much a feeling as it is an action. It’s better to reinforce their spiritual experiences verbally and help them recognize those experiences. We might say: “Doesn’t it make you feel good when we can hear the teacher because everyone is listening and feeling reverent?” or “Doesn’t it feel good when the Spirit of the Lord is near?”

We’ve asked Primary leaders to use several themes to reinforce those experiences this year: “I feel reverent when:

“I learn about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

“I pray.

“I keep the commandments.

“I read the scriptures.

“I worship Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”

Ensign: Do you feel it is hard to teach children reverence?

President Grassli: I think feelings of reverence come quite naturally to children. Our challenge is to explain reverence in terms children can understand. And we must be examples. Often, when children observe some of us who have some rough edges, they lose their natural reverent feelings.

Ensign: If it’s a question, then, of teaching adults greater reverence, how can ward and branch leaders can be helpful?

President Grassli: With preparation, leaders can invite the Spirit to be present in our meetings. This means leaders have to be models of proper behavior—being prepared, on time, and reverent in their own attitude and demeanor. They need to nourish and keep reverent feelings in their own hearts.

We can help generate reverent feelings in others by the atmosphere we create. But it takes thinking—it takes planning.

I once lived in a ward where the bishopric helped members learn this principle by calling a very special man to be a greeter. He would greet people in a warm and friendly manner, yet he was so quiet and reverent that he set the tone for the way all of us behaved in the chapel. I’ve also seen bishoprics talk to their ward members about developing reverent attitudes and behsaviors.

Ensign: Sometimes it can be a challenge to help little children be quiet in meetings. What can parents do?

President Grassli: When a child cries for an extended time or makes unusually disturbing noise, parents need to be respectful of others and take their child out of the chapel briefly until the child settles down. That is common courtesy. But otherwise, I think we need to be tolerant of normal, wiggly childlike behavior.

There are some things we can do to help make meetings enjoyable for children. When they know what to expect, they will be better able to handle the situation. So before we leave our home for meetings, we may want to prepare them for a time of worship by explaining what will happen and how they are expected to behave.

We could bring small, quiet things for little children to do—not metal toys to run across the benches but items that would not make noise or be distracting to others. This helps children enjoy meetings until they are old enough to understand that they are participants in the meeting.

When children are old enough, we can teach them purposeful listening. They can listen for topics or themes. How many times, for example, will they hear the word love mentioned in a meeting?

Ensign: How do you feel parents can make the most of what Primary will teach about reverence this year?

President Grassli: Children will be learning something about reverence each week in Primary. Parents may want to ask children what they have learned. Many children will give talks on reverence in Primary, and parents will have the opportunity to help them prepare. This will provide teaching moments.

Most Primary presidencies will have at least a three-month plan of what they will be doing to teach reverence. We encourage parents to ask Primary leaders about their plans so they can help their children apply the lessons.

Wise parents and teachers can help strengthen the natural feelings of reverence that exist in children, President Grassli says.