The greatest threat to my family

During a recent priesthood lesson, the teacher asked this question:

What do you think is the greatest threat to your family?

I think he misread the question, or misinterpreted the question: I think he meant to say, what is the biggest threat to the family, as in the institution, and then we could all produce our various social bogeymen and parade them around. But by posing the question the way he did, my answer was so quick in my mind and so strong that it felt like some sort of inspiration.

The biggest threat to my family is me.

Let me set this straight: I do not abuse my children or wife in any way. I hold a steady job that provides for them. I attempt to teach them correct principles. I think, by most measures, I am a pretty good father and husband.

However, I can be a jerk. I occasionally lose my temper. Sometimes I overreact to minor misdeeds. I have a school teacher’s expectation of being listened to. I sometimes see that look in my kids’ eyes when I’m on a bit of a tear, avoiding eye contact and hoping it will blow over fast, and I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I can envision that look snowballing into the emotional distance and alienation that characterize the relationships that many of my teenage students have with their fathers.

During the lesson, all of this crystalized for me in a way that was really useful for me as a man attempting to be a Christlike father. In that moment I resolved to do better and to set aside some time to reflect on what I can do to create a consistently positive emotional and spiritual climate in my home.

But the lesson had left me behind, and when I reconnected with the discussion, I found we were talking about the usual suspects: working mothers, the media, alternative families, etc. Oddly, as a body of men, we said very little about what men do in a family. And in fact, those social topics are certainly useful discussions to have as they apply to us, but the families we talked about were decidedly not us. Our instructor made frequent unconscious waves of his hand toward the window, indicating those beyond our sanctified walls.

Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin: that rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses. I am not denying the power and influence of our various moral environments, but in my personal struggle with sin and my tiny steps in coming closer to God, I would appreciate more introspection and self-examination. The gospel has the power to save us from the influence of the world, but it also has the power to save us from our sins if we are willing to see them.

Comments

  1. “I found we were talking about the usual suspects: working mothers, the media, alternative families, etc.”

    The media – Maybe, depending on how you consume media.
    Working mothers, alternative families – Wow, that’s offensive. I wonder how many people in that room are working moms, the child of a working mom, or have gay relatives.

    I would say
    *uncontrolled stress/temper
    *overconsumerism
    *other money issues

  2. Thanks for this post, your description of yourself sounds just like me! I appreciate your attitude, if only we could all have the same one…

    E.D.-I sincerely doubt there were any working mothers in the group, considering it was in a priesthood class…but thanks for your contributions of threats to families.

  3. Sounds like the question was just right. And your answers sound pretty good for you. I share your concerns.

    As for the biggest threat to “the” family? People who enter covenants and then do not live up to them.

  4. Amen.

  5. When asked what the biggest threat to my family is. I also say Norbert.

  6. Julie M. Smith says:

    Matt W FTW.

    (I loved this post, by the way.)

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Terrific. And terrifying.

  8. You said it Steve. And that’s why the conversation drifted back to the usual suspects. It’s a lot easier than looking for something we can change in our own lives.

  9. I loved this. Thank you Norbert.

  10. This hits close to home, but is something I thoroughly agree with. Thanks, Norbert.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree, Norbert.

  12. MaliMormon says:

    It is unfortunate that the teacher had to “misinterpret” the question in order to ask such an excellent one. Why is it that we don’t use Sunday church time to really dig in to how the gospel relates to our lives, rather than sticking to the safer and more comfortable finger pointing? If I’m ever asked to give a lesson or talk about threats to the family, I’m going to borrow this approach.

  13. Peter LLC says:

    I sincerely doubt there were any working mothers in the group, considering it was in a priesthood class

    Ok, then it wasn’t offensive.

  14. Wow! Great post.

  15. Norbert,

    I appreciate that we too often talk about what happens outside our walls and not enough about inside our walls. And we all need to do better to be more Christlike. But I think you overplay the drama by calling yourself your family’s greatest threat and other fathers the greatest threat to their families. Not so. Fathers are a great strength to families, imperfect as they may be on an individual basis. Fathers who honor the priesthood and who try to be Christlike are great strengths to their wives and children, even with their small personal weaknesses.

    I know there is a “let’s each open our kimono” thought that we need to share all our flaws and show how vulnerable and failing we are, but I haven’t yet adopted that approach.

    I suppose I’m reacting to a thought here on this LDS-themed website that fathers are the greatest threat to families. That isn’t true. Our adversary would love for more people to believe it, though, even though it isn’t true.

  16. Maybe over-reacting…

  17. Norbert,

    I am sorry that I didn’t merit consideration for this great honor.

  18. @15 I don’t think you got what Norbert was saying. I think each of us is the greatest threat to our own familiy simply because we have the most constant impact on them. Thanks, Norbert (from a working mom).

  19. Mark Brown says:

    Lord, is it I?

    Solid work, Kilmer.

  20. I loved this post, Norbert – mostly because of the thoughtful, repentant, charitable heart it illustrates so well. We really should be more introsepctive in our classroom discussions than we often are.

    From what I have seen in my life, I believe there are “real threats” to my family that are outside my family – but I’ve also lived long enough and seen enough to agree that the greatest harm caused in many, if not most, families has been caused from within the families themselves.

    I had a wonderful professor, a famous Protestant theologian, who used to talk about the “Zen slap” – the moment in a story when it takes a sudden turn away from what is expected and you feel like you’ve been slapped out of apathy and/or auto-pilot and caused to consider something in a new way. Thank you for snapping my head back and making me think deeply about something that is far too easy to overlook.

  21. I call that the “checklist of (other people’s) sins”–we can feel smug that we don’t/aren’t a, b, and c, but somehow we never get around to discussing charity or forgiveness or all manner of commandments with which we may not be perfect.

    I like how you took a perhaps uninspiring lesson and used it for your own edification. I need to work on that.

    ji–I don’t think that Norbert is saying that ALL fathers are the biggest threat to families–that is absurd. He is simply , and usefully, reflecting on himself and his contributions to HIS family. I dare say we all have room for improvement there. Certainly the factor I actually have the power to change in my family is me, and that is where I should start.

  22. Christian J says:

    “Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin”

    Can i use that!?

  23. The instructor asked a similar question in our lesson last week (but it was focused on THE family rather than YOUR family). I didn’t speak up, but my answer was that selfishness is the biggest threat to the family. But instead the lesson trended toward gay marriage and porn. Whatever.

  24. it's a series of tubes says:

    Norbert, this is a good post, and I’ve found myself feeling much the same way recently. I’d submit that, rather than threat, it might be more accurate to say influence. Some other commentors have noted similar thoughts above.

  25. I could relate to this. When my son was young, he was like Calvin on crack, full of mischevous energy, bouncing off the walls. Disciplining him was a challenge, because it was so easy for me to let the anger I felt in the moment take over. One time I angrily lifted him up to my height, and then I caught myself and put him down again. After I had calmed down, in a quiet moment I had a conversation with him. I told him how much I loved him, and that I would always love him, and that if I failed in my reactions to him and got angry, he should understand that that was my failing and it would have nothing to do with my absolute love for him, and that I was going to try mightily to do better.

    And after that conversation we both seemed to relax and to calm down. I think that was the last time I felt myself getting red-facedly angry at him. I think we both took that conversation to heart, and our relationship just blossomed after that.

  26. This is a great post. I often feel uneasy when discussions at church turn to the comparison between “us” and “the world.” It would be great if we could just focus more on our own struggles and how we can best overcome them. Thanks so much for your words.

  27. Chris Gordon says:

    Norbert, about the only corollary I would insist upon for your posit that each of us are the biggest threat to our individual families due to the influence we have within them, is to reinforce that a penitent parent, striving for humility in leadership is also the biggest source of strength.

    I appreciate the look inward and equally resent the consistent outsourcing of sins, however at least in a priesthood setting I’m sick of classes and messages from leaders making me feel un-empowered and guilty for sins I may or may not be having difficulty with. In the gospel, healthy self-analysis shouldn’t end with resignation and guilt-inspired motives to change. We have the benefit of hope through the atonement, and tapping into that hope can be hard. I hope that we don’t fear to look inward because we don’t know how to find that hope there, finding instead discouragement and ungodly sorrow.

  28. I learned this lesson from my older sister. On our way home from church I asked how it all started. She said that she used to sit in church and hear a talk and think ‘I wish Sis/Bro X was here because s/he really needs this’ or ‘I hope my husband/children are listening because this is their greatest weakness’, etc. Then one day she thought, ‘I’m here and I’m not perfect’ so she started working on herself. At the end of a talk, she writes down one thing she is going to do that week to improve. I had her read me the 5 things she wrote down that Sunday–3 Sac Mtng talks, 1 SS & 1 RS thought. They weren’t earth shattering…I think one was to re-read her patriarchal blessing after a talk on divine worth. I have also seen that by doing these small and simple things, she has become a great woman.

  29. Thanks, Norbert. I agree that this is a much more interesting, heartfelt, and worthwhile discussion than occurred in your Priesthood class.
    But I have to say I’m with Ji here. The “greatest threat” seems too much. You deserve more credit. Perhaps “biggest influence” or “most power.” Still pretty scary, I know.

  30. Norbert, I’m thankful 1) for the inspiration that struck you when asked the question, and 2) for the inspiration that struck you to share something personal but so widely applicable with me. I especially appreciate how you were able to redirect our typical ‘us vs. “the world”‘ mentality to something more reflective of circumstances on the ground. We can be our family’s best blessing and worst curse. That’s what family is for, really.

  31. I’m kind of excited. I was sitting here wondering why I didn’t remember having this lesson on Sunday but then I realized that we had Ward Conference. That means that we will probably have this lesson this Sunday. I’m looking forward to dropping this little bomb on the class.

  32. Perfect. It always begins with us. Even seeing external dangers is through our own eyes. We need to see if our eyes need to be renewed first before we can clearly see threats along the exterior.

  33. Ray and Ji, I disagree with you. I think Norbert is absolutely correct in saying I am the biggest threat to my family. But I do agree with you when you say Fathers who honor their priesthood can be a great strength to their families. Like Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The bottom line, is that every day we get to choose whether we will be a threat or a strength by how we choose to honor our priesthood. If I choose to dishonor my priesthood, that is going to have a much greater impact on my family than seeing two men marry each other, or watching somebody’s mom have to go to work.

  34. “rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses.”

    This is exactly the issue I find occurring most often in my Sunday lessons. Great quote. And how did you get in my head so accurately to write that post? Well done, sir.

  35. Wow. Great post.

  36. Seing myself as a threat is probably hyperbole, but sometimes hyperbole helps one see things more clearly, as it did for me in this case.

    On the other hand, if we’re serious about the father’s role as presider and read D&C 121:39

  37. I’m a large man with a loud voice and a beard. The neighbors downstairs have admitted that they have told their kids that if they are naughty I might come down and visit them. So Matt W, you may just be right.

  38. #33 – Ron, fwiw, I think you meant Raymond.

  39. #37 – BCotW nomination

  40. januaryrowe says:

    I am not an LDS member (a friend of mine “liked” this post on facebook) but I truly appreciate your viewpoint, introspection, clarity, and… transparency. Annnnnd as a former English teacher, I love that you used the word hyperbole in your comment! haha

  41. “Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin…” Bingo. We’re all guilty of this to some degree. Awareness is a step in the right direction.

  42. Mommie Dearest says:

    I hope the hyperbolic description “greatest threat” doesn’t become the focus here. Neither the male POV. We had a RS lesson last Sunday that left me smoldering a little. (Yup, I’m at that stage.) The topic, extrapolated from a conference talk, was the moral illiteracy of the world, and the unspoken subtext was that we are morally superior because we understand what moral really means so much better than the rest of Them. It was quite pharisaical, and definitely had all the nourishment of one of those spiritual Twinkies.

  43. I wanted to say something funny about Norbert being a threat to my marriage, too, but uh, we haven’t met. Now Tim Robbins and that other guy (you know who you are), yeah, kind of a threat.

    I digress. Because your post touched me on a more serious level. I’ve spent most of my thirty years of marriage feeling “less-than” and responsible for all the crap. I married above myself. Bill bought into that, too, on a subconscious level. So did many, many others. The big mouth gets the blame. However, Bill (and subsequently, those others) have had a paradigm shift due to unforseen circumstances which revealed him as a less than perfect human being. I cannot tell you what a relief this has been to me. It probably came as a shock to everybody else.

  44. Rechabite says:

    Well done, Norbert. Thank you.

    @Ray, #20–“Zen slap” is my new favorite thing ever. Thanks to you too.

  45. Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin: that rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses.

    You hit that nail on the head.

  46. Antonio Parr says:

    This one cut to the core. Thank you for the opportunity for honest self-reflection. Well done.

  47. Aaron Brown says:

    Perfect.

  48. Mommie Dearest says:

    Can I repeat this again? “…rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a sinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses.” This is powerful, partly because it puts all the other “usual suspects” in proper perspective.

    I write my comments on my computer’s notepad, and I left this paragraph off my comment. madhousewife #45 brought it to my attention. I don’t think we’ll suffer too badly from having it posted more than twice.

  49. …rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a sinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses.”

  50. Thanks. This really struck home.

  51. Neal Kramer says:

    Imagine being almost 60 years old and being invited to look back on all the ways you harmed your family. Thanks a lot. Smile?

  52. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I like this post, but it brings back a bittersweet memory of a missionary companion that I had for the longest 30 days of my life. When I would mention that we as elders had received criticism from a ward member or someone whether just or unjust, his quck answer was always, maybe they are right. I didn’t take this response very well, not that I considered myself too proud to admit that I would have been at fault, but moreso because I was the junior companion to an elder that had just become a senior companion and it was often his way of doing things that led to the criticism. Yet, I seemed to be judged an unruly elder if I spoke contrary to his wise plans. Well, that is way off the topic…but I agree that with my own family, the biggest threat IS me…indeed NOT my companion in this companionship! :)

  53. Zen slap: replicated

  54. “Terrific. And terrifying.”

    What Steve said.

  55. This was a really great post. We had a lesson on Lehi’s vision of the tree of life a few weeks ago and I commented that in many ways, the vision is not so cut and dry when we apply it to ourselves. While we hold to the rod, we can also be wandering in mists of darkness and holding spacious buildings in our hearts. Everyone looked at me like I had two heads, but there is nothing useful to US in shaking our heads with righteous sadness at all those alternative families and working mothers and porn. Outsourcing sins is just a way of making yourself feel righteous when you’ve done nothing at all.

  56. Such a great post.

  57. My mother worked outside the home and I was greatly blessed because she did. It’s incredibly wrong to even suggest mothers who work outside the home could be a threat to their family. For shame!

  58. Whenever the lesson urns into “us versus them” I have a hard time sticking around. Like when we sit in a room surrounded by overweight people and talk about how awesome we are for not smoking cigarettes. Or the Sunday School lesson I sat through where we talked about Sabbath day observance, and spent the entire lesson discussing how our friends go swimming or to the mall on Sunday, but we don’t, so we win.

  59. it's a series of tubes says:

    how our friends go swimming or to the mall on Sunday

    FWIW, at our house, swimming is an essential part of surviving the 115+ degree summertime heat. Seven days a week.

  60. StillConfused says:

    I would say that the biggest threat to the/a/my family is “losing sight of basic Christian principles” and namely “becoming/remaining selfish”. When a person put his or her needs routinely in front of the needs of others, the results on the family can be disastrous: whether that is the mom who puts her sexual needs above her husband by engaging in adultery, or a dad who abuses his role as a parent by doing absolutely everything for a child and depriving the child of the basic skills needed to assimilate into adult society, or a child who can only think of himself and not the hurt he is causing his parents.

  61. I felt like I was punched in the gut when I read this. Do men REALLY sit in PM and say things like “working mothers” are a threat to families? I’m rather intimidating–especially to men (or so folks tell me), but no one says that around me. Forgive me if that makes me clueless about the realities of men’s meetings. All women are working women and have been since the dawn of time. Some in an office, some in a laundry room, some on a farm. Sadly, I think that man was talking about me. I work outside the home. Always have. God knows this too and in me he is well-pleased, because I know I’m using the brains and talents he gave me. And using them well. How horribly sad to know what happens in Priesthood meeting.

  62. Why does the word “threat” threaten us so much. It’s causes a useful rhetorical discomfort for the purposes of a Sunday lesson, but I think in reality it hits the nail on the head. We men are the greatest threat in the family–we are the elephant in the room, where future good and bad in the family swirls around our axis as “head” of the family. Obviously, our “influence” is essential and that word makes it sound like we are generally more benevolent than not, but the equal potential for both good and bad rest entirely within us and that’s the unpredictable threat that we carry around our family’s daily life. Of course, in the end it’s what we DO that makes the difference and can downgrade the threat for the rest of our family.

  63. Norbert, excellent post. I see many others have already noted your absolutely stellar summary point, but since it’s already been established that it bears repeating, I’ll go ahead and do it too:

    Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin: that rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses.

    Brilliant!

  64. This reminds me of an experience I had working as a staff instructor for wilderness therapy. As staff we often try to use nature to teach principles to the clients. I found that the clients were usually bright enough to draw parallels themselves, so on this particular occasion I decided to leave it to their creativity to interpret a lesson from the desert. We had paused our cross-country backpacking for lunch, and on some errand I came across a particularly gnarly, burly, and in all other ways fearsome spider in a net-like web low in a bush. I threw a fly in the web, and Shelob’s spouse came out in his brutal glory, violently assaulting his prey and returning to his lair with the prize.

    An hour later, I gathered the group around the bush. They didn’t know what I was up to until I fed the spider. After a bit of marveling (that thing was huge, strong, fast, and deadly), I asked them to identify what the webs and spiders were in their lives. Now these are troubled teens- I figured they’d say their friends, marijuana, refusing to face their problems, parents, etc. Now it was my turn to be taught by them. Every one of them gave the same answer: “my biggest enemy, my spider, my spiderweb, is myself. It’s me.” They shared stories in turn about how they thwarted their own happiness, their functioning, their relationships, their goals, their progress- and they knew it. The conversation went on for some time. It was a profound moment for me- to realize how percipient they were in knowing the stumbling blocks in their lives: themselves. I strive for that kind of clarity in my self-perception.

    “we try to outsource our sin: that rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole.” Love it.

  65. Great article! I recently saw a movie on this very topic! It’s called Courageous. I think it was made by a Baptist group? I’m not sure. But it had a wonderful message about the importance of the father’s role in a family. I highly recommend it!

  66. #64 – What a great story, Brad. Thank you for sharing it.

  67. “Sometimes it seems to me that we try to outsource our sin: that rather than wrestling with our status as sinners, we wrestle with our status as basically good guys who live in a stinkhole, and we pontificate on the best ways to hold our noses. I am not denying the power and influence of our various moral environments, but in my personal struggle with sin and my tiny steps in coming closer to God, I would appreciate more introspection and self-examination. The gospel has the power to save us from the influence of the world, but it also has the power to save us from our sins if we are willing to see them.”

    This was amazing. Thanks!

  68. Great article. I hear that question often in Priesthood lessons: “What is the greatest threat to the family today?” and the usual answer is “gay marriage.”

    I’ve always had a problem with that line of reasoning, but couldn’t pinpoint why until I read your article. By labeling an external threat to our family’s safety, we’re offloading all our guilt and responsibility to someone else. I have a long list of personal faults that would destroy my family long before I need to worry about a judge altering the definition of a traditional family.

  69. Very late in the post. The greatest threat to our families:

    Ignorance – We start out as amateurs, as every parent must. Some have inherited good memes, some bad. If we have inherited good memes we have a leg up on success. If we have bad memes, inherited from our own troubled parents, then we must learn. We do not learn, usually, but just repeat the same stupid crap we learned at our dysfunctional mother’s knee. Or the crap we observed at the hand of an abusive or absent father.

    We wish that every parent had the capabilities of a Zen master, which take a lifetime to master. Or that every parent was full of all Christian virtues.

    So, I agree, it is our fault almost half the time because we are not Zen masters. The other half the time it is the stupid children’s fault. Who would expect them to be Zen masters? Then we can blame the media, materialism, sex, etc., for the remainder 2%.

    All my parenting life, now going on 45 years, has been a race between the problems and my ability to learn to deal with them. Most of my solutions have been how to turn myself into the proper tool for the job.

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