“Choosing to Be Part of Family Life,” New Era, Sept. 2020, 20–23.
Growing up in a small village in Kenya, we were basically peasants. My father had a job in agriculture on the lowest rung of the government. He worked in the fields with farmers. And so at home, he always asked my brother and me to join him on our small farm as he worked to provide food for our family. When he was away, he assigned us each a portion of the field to plant, or weed, or harvest, depending on the season.
I learned a lot of lessons working with my dad. I remember admiring how well he weeded his patch. He was so thorough in removing the weeds. He would carefully remove the weeds and all their roots. The plot he weeded was always so clean, while my plot was often messy with weeds that I hadn’t completely removed. He never lectured me while we weeded, but his example taught me a lot. And I applied it to other areas in my life.
Because of his example, when I did school homework, I was careful and thorough. Because of him, today I don’t leave details unattended. I don’t leave “weeds.” When I help people, I try and get at the root of their problems. That came from spending time with my father on our small farm in the early years of my life.
My mother also taught me in her own unique ways. She understood the importance of teaching us through action, not lectures. I remember occasions when my brother and I would play outside. We would be enjoying ourselves when we heard my mother call. When we stopped and I came into the house to attend to her call, sometimes she would ask me to grab her something that was close to where she was sitting.
I would obey and then wait to hear the real reason she called. When she didn’t speak up, I asked, “What else do you need?” And she would reply, “That’s it.” I would wonder why she didn’t just get the thing for herself, why she wasted energy calling me into the house.
I didn’t understand then, but she was teaching me about serving others. Later in life, I came to understand that serving others almost always involves giving up something that I prefer to do. She was teaching me through life, not lectures, that family and obedience are important and that we are stronger when we help each other.
My mother also had my brother and me do all the chores we could do, including chores that, at the time, were traditionally done by women. Many people in our village made fun of us for fetching water and firewood and for cooking. But doing those chores taught me that work is more fulfilling than keeping up appearances (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:40–42).
Helaman’s 2,000 stripling warriors had mothers like mine. These warriors were taught by the words and examples of their mothers. They also learned by being obedient to their mothers and by watching their mothers be obedient. They did not doubt they would be protected because they had acted before (see Alma 56:47–48) and had developed unshakeable faith.
It is the same with us. We don’t learn obedience simply by reading the Book of Mormon. It is in the actions we take after we have read. It is through living the principles in the book as we work with our families that we make ourselves stronger.
Every family situation is unique. My parents wanted me to be a part of their lives, and I wanted it too. The things I learned from spending time with my parents doing household duties became part of me, and I have used them in my education and in my work all over the world.
Though my parents and the parents of the stripling warriors made an effort to teach their children by example, I know that not all parents do so. You don’t have to wait for an invitation from your parents—you can take the initiative and find ways to spend quality time with your family. Whether your parents have faithfully taught you or not, you can determine to make your family better.
I recently met a young woman whose family stopped attending church when she was young. When they moved to a new place, this young woman started going to church again. Then she brought her brother back, and eventually her parents also returned to the Church. This was only possible because she spent time with her family. They worked together, went to movies together, and had dinnertime discussions. Her parents knew her friends and knew that she was going back to church. Her parents were engaged with her in good things—they just needed some help from their daughter to return.
There are many small and simple things that you can do to learn from and enjoy your family more (see Alma 37:6). You don’t have to work on a farm or fetch water like I did. You can be involved with your family in the small and simple things that make your lives work from day to day and as you eat, pray, and play together. You can also show genuine interest in the needs of other family members. For example, by asking how your mom’s day went or by helping your brother with homework. Make that decision to spend time with your family, and the work you do will be magnified.
If you feel lonely, spend some time with your family. I promise you that you will find joy, belonging, and satisfaction as you reach out to them. Eat together and talk about your life and theirs. Don’t be afraid to bring up God as part of the dinner discussion. Cut the onions, wash the dishes, make your bed, polish the shoes, give a hug. You might be surprised by how good you feel when you do this to bless the lives of family members, and you will discover how pleasant your family is to be around.
If you look for lessons in your time with family, you will find them. Working and talking together with your family can help you be successful in this life and connect you to the core purpose of life—to prepare to return to our heavenly family (see Alma 34:32).