Families can become stronger and more capable of enduring adverse conditions if they will "slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Things That Matter Most," Ensign, p. 19). President Uchtdorf said that we "can learn much about life by studying nature" and how it deals with adverse conditions.
For an example of how nature handles adverse conditions, we need look no further than the growth rings in trees. Scientists learned long ago that they could look at the growth rings in trees and know more about the "climate and growing conditions hundreds and even thousands of years ago." Scientists learned that when the growing conditions were good, the trees would grow at a normal rate and the rings were evenly spaced; during adverse conditions, the growth of the trees slowed down and the rings grew closer together. By slowing their growth, trees were able to devote their energy to their survival.
My husband and I visited our local museum a few weeks ago to visit a traveling exhibit of mastodons and mammoths. I was surprised that the horns of these animals also had growth rings that showed the growing conditions for the animals. During times of plenty, the rings were evenly and widely spaced; during adverse conditions, the rings grew closer together.
President Uchtdorf gave other examples of how to deal with adverse conditions. He described the actions of professional pilots when they encounter turbulence. "Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road."
The "simple but critical lesson" applies whether we are discussing trees, turbulence, speed bumps, or families. "When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be." President Uchtdorf could have been describing me while trying to meet the needs of my family. I remember the pressure I put on myself: If only I were more organized or worked harder or faster or better, then I could do it all. The only thing I really accomplished was to put more stress on myself and family members.
Families often get caught up in so many activities outside the home that they do not have time to take care of the basic principles. I remember a time when my oldest children were young. I had them scheduled for something every day of the week: baton lessons, dance lessons, sports teams, etc. They were busy every day from the time they got out of school until at least dinner time. After several weeks of being this busy, my oldest daughter asked me: "Mom, when can we just stay home and play with our friends?" I quickly realized that I was depriving my children of one of their basic needs, time with friends. Soon after this conversation, I limited their outside activities in order for them to have time for important relationships.
Our lives are so busy. I thought that life would slow down when my children were out of the home. It didn't. I still continue to have more that I want to do than I have time or energy to accomplish. I often think of the following words spoken by Elder Dallin H. Oaks: "We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families" ("Good, Better, Best," Ensign, Nov. 2007, p. 107).
President Uchtdorf continued, "… we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most. Let us be mindful of the foundational precepts our Heavenly Father has given to His children that will establish the basis of a rich and fruitful mortal life with promises of eternal happiness." He then quoted the following words from the Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ:
"And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should
run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he
might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order" (Mosiah 4:27).
President Uchtdorf said "As we turn to our Heavenly Father and seek His wisdom regarding the things that matter most, we learn over and over again the importance of four key relationships: with our God, with our families, with our fellowman, and with ourselves. As we evaluate our own lives with a willing mind, we will see where we have drifted from the more excellent way…"
"First, our relationship with God is most sacred and vital" because "we are His spirit children." We can improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning more about Him, by communicating with Him, by becoming like Him and His Son Jesus Christ by following their commandments.
The second "key" relationship is with our families. It is important that we "place high priority on our families." We can develop strong and loving relationships with our families "by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together." We must take time to show our love by worshipping together, talking together, working together, and playing together.
The third "key" relationship is with mankind - friends, neighbors, members of our church congregations, and people in our communities. We develop these relationships "one person at a time." We build these relationships by "serving them and giving our time and talents" to help others.
The fourth "key" relationship is with ourselves. We must learn to love and speak kindly to ourselves rather than criticizing and finding fault with our words and actions. We can learn to love ourselves by taking time to do the things that strengthen us: having private time to simply relax, to ponder the beauties of life, to enjoy nature, to study the word of God, etc.
"Strength comes not from frantic activity but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.
"Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship - the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace."
Parents can help their children and strengthen their families by focusing on the four key relationships described by President Uchtdorf. We can all strengthen our relationships by taking - or making - the time to focus on the things that are most important.