"Good Things of Great Joy"
by Ruth H. Barrus
A talk given to the P.T.A. at Lincoln Elementary, November 19, 1975
"When you consider how many enter parenthood without preparation, training, or experience, one of the greatest miracles in life is that children turn out as well as they do." So spoke a bishop, many years ago, in a gathering which included myself. Sometimes being a parent is the last thing that young people want to be because of the long tenure of responsibility and sacrifice that attends it, but whether liked or not, it comes to most people. In such cases the miracle is not so apparent, and distortion and pain can result. But the parents who greet their children with love and care, ill-prepared though they may be in the beginning, will strive to overcome their own deficiencies and work for a vision of direction and encouragement for their children. Then the miracle can happen and the results be rewarding.
I like to include myself and all of you in this latter group, for I sense deeply how much you love and care for your children. I am a parent who has many weaknesses and has made many mistakes, and time has not erased them altogether, but I have always cared for and loved those whom I have served. I am a grandparent, now, and I am continually grateful that my family who have, despite my weaknesses, been able to forgive me, love me, and allow me to continue to serve them in some way or another. A parent may not always have a great deal of foresight, but I can tell you a grandparent has a lot of hindsight. Backward though it may appear to be, I hope some of this "hindsight" may prove valuable to you in the direction of your children toward the "good things of great joy."
Elder Sterling W. Sill gave me this direction while I was struggling to become a good parent:
"If you want pleasure, you can have it right now, but you pay for it the rest of your life; if you want joy, you pay for it before you get it, but you have it the rest of your life."
As a result of this direction I keep asking myself and others, when decisions are to be made, are you seeking for "pleasure" or "joy"? There is a strong inclination in all of us to slide into easy pleasure. It is the "everybody's doing it" kind of temptation: everybody's going to ball games; everybody's looking at TV; everybody is going boating weekends; everybody eats at hamburger stands instead of the cafeteria, and so on. You know the rest. It isn't that any one of these things is bad, but, if we are not careful, we get trapped in a pattern of repetition of such "pleasures" and they can soon become no pleasure at all - - just dull repetition. Talk with young people who are caught up in such a syndrome, and they will tell you that they are bored and anxious to move on to something else - - not sure what that something else is, but are sure that "moving on" will cure it. Adults are not altogether immune from such monotony and boredom either. We are all too anxious to take things for our pleasures instead of building things for our joys. Instead of working from the bottom up we strive to take from the top down, and when we dip only into the frosting of life our route is literally "down".
Out of our mass media, mass production, overwhelming materialism - - all the calamities of the machine age - - out of all this has emerged a nostalgic searching for meaning, individuality, and identification. We note this in such TV shows as "The Waltons", "Little House on the Prairie", "The Family Holvak". All of these shows take us into a kind of sentimental journey to try to recover what we have lost at home. All deal with building from the "bottom-up" instead of the "top-down". Our children instinctively relate to these shows - - which should tell us something: We have to build our joys out of prairie timber and season and refine it with work, vision, discipline, smiles, and tears. Our children know that and are disappointed in us when we don't exemplify and require that effort. Even though their voice may say otherwise, their whole being is urging for this kind of fulfillment.
General though I have been thus far, have I spelled out just a little of the dilemma and part of the answer?
I know you expect me to deal specifically with music tonight, and possibly how you can help your children succeed in music, but I would prefer talking about building a life than building a musician. If music doesn't help build a life, it has little meaning or purpose. I remember a wonderful father who used to arrive at our home at 6:30 a..m. each Saturday morning from his farm twenty miles away. He would leave four of his children at our door for music study and proceed to Idaho Falls in his old farm truck to get a load of beet pulp or manure. He would return to Sugar City as soon as possible and intently witness the instruction given his children. As years passed the older children were replaced by younger ones until all seven were given their opportunity to study music. After years of patient sacrifice, this good father said to me one day, in a kind of sorrow:
"You know, I don't think one of them will be a great musician."
I looked shocked and exclaimed, "Heaven forbid! I would not wish such a fate on my worst enemy! The professional world in music is a cruel world, and the only ones who should enter it at all must be those who absolutely can't be kept out. Because of your high goals for your children, and your sacrifice and discipline, all your family are fine musicians.
"You have taught your children to use their hands to milk cows, thin beets, pitch hay, working from dawn until dark, but you have also helped train those same hands to arch delicate melodies, produce vibrant harmonies - - building a noble architecture within their souls. You have shaped these musical temples all together and have had joy in it. You have spent your life storing "good things" in their hearts and minds. As your children find their place in life, you will have the joy of seeing that plenty, which is stored so well, come forth to bless the church, the community, and their families."
He has lived to witness the fulfillment of all this. His family are all married now and he has become grandfather and even great-grandfather. His granddaughter recently told me how "grandpa will often get up in the middle of the night in his long-handled underwear and go into the front room and play his organ. He figures it is his turn for music now.
I have had fathers and mothers approach me with their children for music study, saying, "I really don't care if my children don't go very far in music. If they can just learn to play the church hymns, I will be satisfied." (They don't know how difficult it is to play a church hymn.) The standard - - "I don't care if he doesn't go very far in music" - - has been set by the parents, and I can't think of an instance where a child has ever gone beyond that standard set by his parents, no matter how many years of study. I know much has been said about parents who have set too high goals for their children, and the resulting frustration. But much more could be said of parents who have set too low goals for their children. Volumes could be said of the frustration that comes from mediocrity, unfulfillment, and defeat.
It is one thing to expect great things of your children and continually remind them of it, and another thing to help lay the course and work together in harmony and faith to achieve those goals. Examine carefully what those goals really are: are they to become a great musician, athlete, doctor, engineer, etc., or are they to become a great human being in which are stored an abundance of the "good things" - - things created by the labors of our heart, mind, and body, things that lift us above the mediocre, the crass, the common. These "good things" will help shape, color and ennoble any final course that may ultimately be chosen.
Great art, whether it be music, painting, sculpture or literature, is an interpretation of life, and each masterpiece can become a symbol of creation of order, beauty, harmony - - that can come out of chaos, baseness and dissonance. If we can store up and identify with sufficient masterpieces (and the great masterpiece of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would receive first priority), we can, out of the chaos of the world, create a masterpiece of our life and make ours a world of order, beauty, and harmony. A noble human being can result.
Brother Barrus and I were married right in the crisis of the depression in 1934 - - when $1.00 a day was a good wage. One Christmas when our children were very young, we had only $8.00 to spend. We deliberated long how to spend that money, walking through stores trying to decide. In a bookstore we saw a book of great art. As we turned each page a beautiful color print of a masterpiece was revealed and on the page opposite was a printed message about it. Our children loved to look at pictures, young though they were, and we enjoyed this also. It was decided. This book would be our Christmas. It was received joyfully, and each child, through the ensuing years, has had his opportunity to choose the masterpiece of the week. Many books since have found their way into our library, but that one book with little finger smudges on each picture, is most precious of all.
Another Christmas brought a recording of the fanciful "Scheherazade" by Rimsky Korsakov and a picturesque companion book of THE ARABIAN NIGHT TALES - - you know, the ones about Aladdin, Prince Calendar, etc. This book of "Thousand Night Tales was the source for the musical fantasy of "Scheherazade."
On LaMar's fourth Christmas his Grandmother Hammond gave him a book of Bible stories, which is still a favorite with the grandchildren. Grandpa Barrus still gets requests to read about "Samson". We had a bust of the great Beethoven on our piano which LaMar was very curious about. One day he was looking at the pictures in his Bible book when he came rushing to me in the kitchen and excitedly cried: "Look mamma, here is that guy Beethoven!" I looked down at the book and there was a picture of a sphinx. Well, they might look a little alike! Hopefully, all those musical, literary, visual and spiritual masterpieces have added their part to the shaping of a noble life.
I have a strong witness within me that there is a rare sensitivity to good things in each child. Let the child hear the greatest music, show him the finest art, read him the finest poetry and his eyes will light up with radiance and his body come alive with joy. I have said many times, if I could only afford three pieces of furniture for my child it would simply be a bed, a bookcase, and a lamp. But into that bookcase would flow as rapidly as possible the greatest stories and art masterpieces of the ages - - singers of great joy.
A very concerned young man came up to me after class last week, saying; "I don't understand why so many Ricks students can't appreciate all these good things that are in such abundance here. It's terrible! Something has got to be done, and it's got to be done right now or it will be too late. Why haven't the parents done something?"
I put my hand on Greg's shoulder and pled, "Patience, Greg. We're doing our best. Don't offend them! But please keep showing the way! Encourage them, don't scold them! We need good cultural missionaries just as we need good spiritual missionaries. They are affirmations of each other. Keep working and keep smiling!"
He left, mumbling to himself, "But it has to be done right now before it is too late."
Later on that week I had the pleasure of showing Greg several hundred programs with comments written on them from students who, for the first time, had attended a "good thing" - - The Oratorio from the Book of Mormon. Most comments started this way: "This is the first time in my life I have ever heard anything like this, with orchestra and chorus. I didn't think I would like it, but I did. It was all right. I had chills and bumps all over me. It was real spiritual." Greg felt somewhat consoled.
What can we do as parents to deed and keep alive that radiance and joy, which can come from these good things. May I set down a few guidelines:
1. Don't preach joy - - live it!
If doing "good things" can bring great joy, then, as a family sit down and make a list of the good things the family can do together and individually. Those good things should include physical activity, fun activity, cultural activity, and spiritual activity. Goals for these activities should be both short range and long range. The Family Home Evening offers a great opportunity for such a discussion. For instance: Look at the calendar. Is there a fine musical concert coming soon into the community. The Messiah, for instance? Should we go to it together? How can we make a preparation so that we can really enjoy it? What is an oratorio? Why is this one called Messiah? Who is the composer? Who is performing? How do we dress and act when we go to such a concert? All these questions can lead to a rewarding search for answers that can come from books, telephone conversation, and interviews. Each member of the family can be assigned and directed to find an answer.
If a young child can sit and be quietly controlled at church he is old enough to go to concerts with his family. We started taking our children to most recitals and concerts when they were four, making sure they had a long nap prior to the event. As a result of these many experiences we have never had to lecture about the merits of great music over the mediocre and crass. The music spoke for itself. One shouldn't "drag" children to concerts, but if the preparation is meaningful and the enthusiasm sincere, they will beg to go. You don't have to be an expert in the arts to achieve this, you just radiate the joy of working together, from the ground up, to add masterpieces to your lives. The earlier you start the better will be the results. Our children - - married and with families of their own, LaRue in Dayton, Ohio, Clyn in St. Paul, Minnesota, and LaMar here, separated though we are - - are still sharing masterpieces with us and our joy increases with the years.
2. Don't demand perfection - - achieve it!
We are all willing to make sacrifices in order that our children can take music lessons, dancing lessons, art lessons, etc.; but too often that sacrifice includes only the payment of money and the conveyance of children to their lessons, and then just managing to tolerate the sour notes and harsh sounds from Tommy practicing in the front room - - a great sacrifice, for he is interfering with a favorite TV program. Tommy gets the message, and his attitude towards music soon becomes just as sour as his notes.
I still have a picture of our son LaMar at five playing a special piano duet with his dad, a one-fingered pianist. His dad played the part of the big bad wolf. Each day was an exciting preparation for that special audience at night, and mother was invited to help in that preparation. His dad was always filled with praise and joy over the results - - and the final number was the duet. Through the years our Sundays brought grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins together for dinner, and the high point after dinner was a special musical program given by all the nieces and nephews. Who could fail with such love and encouragement.
As our children grew their responsibilities on the farm grew, but their dad propositioned them: "If you will get up and practice at 5:00 a.m. each morning I will do the chores and milking, but I will expect you to do them at night." It sounds a little sneaky, doesn't it? But dad and mom awakened each morning to music from three places - - LaRue on the piano in the front room, LaMar and Clyn with their violins in the kitchen and back utility room. If competition got too tough, we would often find LaMar practicing in the bathroom, trying to escape some of the noise.
What the children needed always received first consideration from their dad, and everything else stopped if a trip had to be made to Idaho Falls or even to Salt Lake City for music study. I am sure you are doing the same for your children and finding joy in it.
3. Don't argue the need - - just do it!
There are certain patterns that should be established early in a home. The Lord has told us that he "has given us a pattern in all things" and He never questioned what He must do. I would like to talk about some "of course we do it" patterns:
Of course we eat three meals a day
Of course we brush our teeth
Of course we go to bed at a certain time
Of course we breath
Of course we study and read, and
Of course we study music,
WHO WOULD EVER THINK OTHERWISE!
If a child sees a mother and a father daily engaged in such "of course" activities, it becomes a natural expectation in his life to do the same. How can we live without air, water, food, music, art, ideas and sleep. But it isn't altogether the "of course we do it" that counts, but the "of course it takes work, patience, and sacrifice to do it." A child soon learns that accomplishment isn't always easy nor is it always pleasant, but the good moments will compensate for the bad ones and of course we do it. There is never a question about worth nor the ability to accomplish it - - we can do it! Maybe what is meant by "doing it" needs to be clear. Again, does it mean becoming a great musician or becoming a great human being? Watch those goals!
When each of our sons were yet in high school busy with the Future Farmers Program, debate, drama, public speaking, athletics, and music, each, in his own time, came to me and asked: "Mom, what do you want me to be?"
I would smile and say, in reply, "A darn good farmer!'
They would look shocked and say, "Oh, Mom!"
I was serious, for I know of no more rewarding and fulfilling life than that of being a good farmer. How I rejoice in the opportunities it has afforded me and my family. But I knew in my heart that they had other ambitions and dreams, and they knew we would do all we could to help them realize those dreams, but they had to be the one to decide, not Mom and Dad.
Has my hindsight tonight helped to give you a little foresight? I pray it has. The world is darkening with evil, but we must not let it envelope our children. The Lord has said many times: "I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth me not." No generation has as much opportunity for light as this generation - - the light of the Gospel and the light of so many good things. He has told us "that every good gift cometh from Christ" (Moroni 10:18), and he has blessed us more generously than any other people to live on this earth with those "good gifts". And, no generation has as much threat of darkness as this generation. We can help push back the darkness by shunning the evil so attendant in most TV shows, movies, rock music, books, and magazines, for we can substitute the light which is contained in good books, good shows, good recordings, great art, and great music - - meaningful activities in the physical, cultural, and spiritual. Children have unlimited capacity for the charm and vitality of these good things, and you need only to lead the way consistently. Remember the Lord's counsel, though: "Except ye do it with real intent, it profiteth you nothing". (Moroni 7:6). So, right now, before it is too late, do it with all your hearts - - embrace good things that you might have great joy!