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.