The 15th annual education conference at Southern Virginia University began Friday with the theme: Family . . . Forever. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints gathered from around the country to receive practical lessons and doctrinal instruction on how to strengthen their families and improve their most important relationships.
Day one of the two-day conference featured a keynote address by New York Times bestselling authors Richard and Linda Eyre. Other speakers included Michael A. Goodman, associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University; Scott and Angelle Anderson, popular speakers on the topic of parenting; and Barbara Heise, assistant professor of nursing at BYU. Attendees also enjoyed two musical performances by accomplished soloist Vanessa Joy and pianist Marvin Goldstein.
The Eyres expounded on the theme with their keynote address, encouraging parents to endure the mundane, day-to-day challenges of parenthood by allowing glorious eternal principles to permeate their lives.
Speaking of the difference between the ethereal view of families and the “common light of day,” they reminded attendees that although the family is forever, it is the most difficult and complex management challenge parents face.
Richard Eyre, who received a masters degree from Harvard and served as a mission president in London, warned that the “cult of the individual”—focusing too heavily on individual rights, individual freedoms, freedom of expression, self-help, self-love, or valuing the individual at the expense of all else—threatens our society and is contrary to the plan of happiness.
“Individuals are not eternal,” he said. “In the sense of progression, growth, expansion and worlds without end, it’s the family that’s eternal.”
The Eyres told conference attendees that according to their research, children’s sense of entitlement is the most difficult parenting problem facing the world today.
“Nothing destroys like entitlement,” brother Eyre said. “The actual practical effects of entitlement are always the same: the loss of initiative, motivation and creativity at the onset of instant gratification and higher and higher expectations.”
Relating personal experiences as well as instructions from their soon-to-be-released book, “The Entitlement Trap”, the Eyres taught parents to combat entitlement by encouraging ownership and responsibility in the children’s lives.
“Ownership is this antidote to entitlement and the prerequisite of responsibility,” they said.
Michael Goodman: “Marriage & Family: The Great Plan of Life”
Michael A. Goodman presented a doctrinal approach to understanding the role of marriage and the family in the plan of salvation.
Comparing eternal marriage to a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, he said that it would be nearly impossible to complete such a puzzle if we are unable to see a picture of what the end result should look like. Quoting President Boyd K. Packer, he said, “It’s much easier to figure out where we are once we figure out where we are trying to go.”
Relating this to the doctrine of eternal marriage, Goodman said, “If we don’t keep clearly in our mind the end goal, sometimes we lose the motivation to do what’s needed.”
Goodman, who served as president of the Bangkok Thailand Mission and has a doctorate in marriage, family and human development, said the diagram Latter-day Saints’ often use to represent the plan of salvation should rather be called a map because it says nothing of the Atonement of Jesus Christ or of the eternal family.
Quoting President Spencer W. Kimball, Goodman said, “The family is the great plan of life as conceived and organized by our Father in Heaven.”
He explained that the “three pillars of eternity”—the Creation, the Fall and the Atonement—more accurately describes God’s plan of salvation because they outline the necessary requirements for us to become like God.
“Marriage is the very definition of our theology,” he said. “If you and I are to become as god is, live with God and be like God, we are to learn to live a married life.
Scott and Angelle Anderson discussed the challenges and joys associated with marriage, family and parenthood, teaching that we should love those who are most important to us with Christlike love.
A faculty member at the Sandy and Jordan Institutes of Religions with Ph.D. from BYU in marriage and family therapy, Brother Anderson likened Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon to our journey through mortality.
“Sometimes [life] can feel like a dark and dreary waste,” he said. “Promises that aren’t being fulfilled; relationships that might be struggling; children that might be having a difficult time; people you love dealing with illness; unemployment or whatever.”
Brother Anderson testified that Nephi escaped the figurative dark and dreary waste in the first years of his marriage because he had been to the Tree of Life and felt the power of Christ’s Atonement.
“The foundation in Nephi’s life that made the difference was his capacity to love, to see things from an eternal perspective and to see things as a wilderness not a waste,” he said. “I testify its because he’s been to the tree.”
By outlining the pattern for loving God in D&C 59:5-6, the Andersons taught that we must seek to love with all our heart, might, mind, and strength in all of our relationships. This is Christlike love, they said.
Sister Anderson explained how applying this pattern of love for several years to a son struggling with his testimony eventually bore fruit when it seemed that there was no hope. Through her faithful efforts to display Christlike love, her son would go on to serve a mission and bear testimony that his mother’s love changed his life.
Barbara Heise, who received a doctorate in nursing from the University of Virginia and specializes is gerontology and end of life care, focused her remarks on the importance of faithfully enduring to the end of our lives in order to reap the blessings of eternal families.
She described some of the many hardships she has faced and the faith required to endure them as she cared for and nursed several family members through illness and eventually death since converting to the Church 36 years ago.
Quoting Brigham Young, Heise reminded participants, “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”
While struggling financially on a small Missouri farm and caring for four children (one with Down’s syndrome) and a chronically ill husband, Heise sacrificed and worked her way through nursing school by trusting in the Lord, studying in an unheated outbuilding from 2 a.m. till 6 or 7 a.m.
“Please don’t think that all was hard on our Missouri Farm,” she said optimistically. “We had many, many happy and joyful memories there of laughing, of riding horses, of becoming closer as a family and of many spiritual experiences.”
Over time, Heise lost a son to Leukemia, as well as a little sister, her husband, and both her parents to death. Despite the pain of these tragedies, she said she has learned to look for lessons to be learned and to glory in her trials.
“When challenges come—and come they must because that is why we are here to learn—we choose how we will respond to those challenges,” she said.