Tough Gospel Questions: How to respond when you don’t have the answers.
By: Kirsten Smith
A guide for navigating tricky family night conversations. Plus one simple phrase to use when you don’t know the answer to a gospel question.
We’ve all been there. Your kid says something that leaves you speechless. Maybe it is a comment in public or a question at the dinner table that you are not ready for. It has happened before and it will happen again. So what is a parent to do?
We have one simple phrase today that will buy you some time without shutting down the conversation. The best part, this tip will work for a wide range of tough questions and can be used anytime. Keep reading to find out more.
Gospel Truths about Questioning
There are two important gospel truths at the foundation of asking and answering questions. Let's explore both of them.
First, questioning is not bad. If you are triggered by the idea that your child is asking a question you need to remember that questions are not bad. They are not a sign of disobedience. In fact, asking questions and seeking answers from trusted sources is how we grow. It is part of the Lord’s plan for us here on this earth. When we view question askers as “truth seekers” and not “doubters” we give them the room they need to grow.
“If we want to grow spiritually the Lord expects us to ask questions and seek answers”
Second, parents are not expected to know everything. If you find yourself anxious about not knowing all the answers, please remember that learning is a lifelong process. Just like your child has the obligation to learn and grow, parents too are still learning and growing. Even Jesus Christ, our perfect example, “grew in wisdom” while here on this earth. (Luke 2:52) Your ability to remember and recall details is not a reflection of your testimony. And you do not need to be a master scriptorian to have a testimony worth sharing with your family.
Feeling Safe to Ask Questions
Our children need to feel comfortable talking with us in our homes. We want to be a source they look to for guidance. We create this atmosphere every time we respond positively to a child’s questioning.
President David O. McKay counseled:
“Parents must … show a willingness to answer questions. A child that is asking questions is contributing happiness to your life”
Happiness?! I’m not sure I’m exactly happy answering the endless questions from my 5 year old about how or why things are the way they are. But I do know that I can find eternal happiness by guiding him on his path back to his Heavenly Father.
We must create an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable in sharing their experience and thoughts. We do this by acknowledging and connecting with their questions. If we want our children to come to us with their big questions, we must be willing to answer their small questions. Children asking questions during your family home evening lesson is a sign that you are doing something right.
Learning through Curiosity
Once we have established a safe environment we can continue to encourage learning by increasing curiosity and engagement. Kids are curious by nature. They will ask questions if given the opportunity, so let's give them the ample opportunities in the safety of our home. We do this by exposing our families to a variety of gospel centered principles. We can’t shy away from tricky topics and expect our children to learn and grow in those areas.
“Insatiable curiosity should be our landmark!”
-Henry B Eyring
Home Centered learning is the ideal place for our children to be curious. Family members are safe to explore new ideas with you as their guide, and remember to always bring them back to our Savior.
Family Home Evening and Beyond
Family Home Evening is one of the best times to teach our children gospel principles. Consistently holding Family Home Evening shows the value we place on gospel learning and provides regular opportunities to learn and grow together.
One fear we often hear from families is “I don’t know enough to lead gospel learning in my home”. Here at FHE123 we help by providing complete lesson plans ( www.fhe123.com ) that guide you through weekly topics associated with the Come Follow Me curriculum. Using the scriptures and quotes provided you will be able to easily explain gospel principles to your family.
Gospel discussions can also happen during simple moments found in regular family life. As your family becomes comfortable having gospel centered discussions, you may find these discussions naturally increase in frequency. Maybe at Dinner time, or as you take a walk together in the park. The key to success is consistency. When you often talk about spiritual things as a family, your children will become comfortable discussing gospel related topics any time they have a question come to mind.
Tough Gospel Questions in the Home
If our home is a center for gospel learning, and questions are part of learning then we can reasonably expect gospel questions to become a frequent occurrence. These questions may run the spectrum from simple to complex. Because gospel learning will occur during structured lessons as well as during simple moments, there is a need to be prepared at all times.
Does this mean we need to have all the answers, all the time? No. Remember the gospel truths mentioned above. We are all still learning and that is okay. We don’t need to fear tough questions when we realize they are learning opportunities and not a reflection of our testimony.
Instead, let’s turn that fear into faith.
“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear”
Fear can paralyze us if we let it. Satan will use our insecurities to keep us from moving forward. But we can combat that fear through faith, preparation and action.
Faith will ground us in the knowledge that questions are important and we are all still learning. When you worry “what if I don’t know the answer to a gospel question?” Remember, it is okay to have questions. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to learn together.
Preparation, doesn’t look like knowing everything. Preparation means having a simple response that you can use in the moment. And that is what we want to share with you today. You can respond initially to any question with a simple phrase.
Taking action is what ultimately dissipates fear. Making a plan to move forward and actually following through with that plan takes the fear out of the unknown. The second part of our helpful phrase involves making this plan.
Acknowledge, Connect, Make a plan
When you are asked a question you don’t have an answer for, use this simple script.
First, acknowledge their question and connect with them by responding with:
“What a great question. I’m so glad you asked me that!”
This shows your child that their questions aren't bad and their curiosity isn’t inappropriate. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, you need to reassure your child that coming to you with their questions is the right choice. You can build a safe and welcoming environment with those simple words. “Great question, I’m so glad you asked me.” You have acknowledged their curiosity and then connected with their desire to seek truth.
Second, make a plan by saying something like:
Let’s find the answer together.
I’m not sure, I’ll do some research and get back to you next family night.
I’m not able to have that conversation right now. Let’s have a chat after dinner tonight.
The key to using the prompts above is that each one involves making a concrete plan to address the question depending on your available time and resources. By doing this, your family can trust that you will address their concerns. And as you learn together, you teach by example that learning is a lifelong process.
Address the Question
Knowing what to do when you don’t have the answer is the first step. You acknowledge, connect, and make a plan. But then you’ll need to actually address the questions. Each situation will be unique depending on the question asked and the individuals involved. In all cases you want to reaffirm being on the same team and teach proper methods for finding answers.
A few things to consider. It is important that you make sure you clearly understand the question being asked and the learning level of the asker. We have been instructed to learn line upon line, precept upon precept. This doesn’t mean you should avoid answering tough questions. Instead, it means that you may need to take some time to clarify the intent behind the question. And always be willing to turn to the Lord in prayer for guidance as you meet the specific needs of your family members. Once you have clarified the question being asked, you are ready to search out the answer.
Where to Find Answers
If it is a straightforward question you may find the answer through simple study and research. These would look like questions about story lines, people, or terminology.
To find these answers, turn towards trusted resources either alone, or with your family members, to seek out the answer. Usually this can be done with a quick scan back through the scripture story. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has ample resources available to provide doctrinal answers. You can search the gospel library app to find answers in the scriptures, conference talks or even old lesson manuals.
“As we seek answers, we must know that we will never find light and truth in the dark corners of the Internet. When seeking truth, we must seek it where there is light, where we can feel the Spirit.”
Model using trusted resources to find answers, no matter how complex the question is. The Holy Ghost, Scriptures and words of our Prophets should be our source of truth.
Some questions will not have black and white answers. These questions require prayer, pondering and faith in God’s timing as he teaches us line upon line. Acknowledge the complexity of the question. Then, together with your family, seek out the revealed truth on the topic and encourage continued research. Remind your family that we can be lifelong learners.
When we are able to bring our families' questions out into the open we take away the power they may hold to fester and build up doubt within. Shine the gospel light on those dark corners. And then walk side by side with your family members as they search for truth and meaning.
Progress over perfection
Once we know the importance of questions and how to respond in a warm and welcoming way, we may be tempted to think that we should be able to react perfectly 100% of the time. This is not only inaccurate but it is also harmful. There will be times that we regret our initial response. Don’t let that keep you from trying.
“There are no perfect parents and no easy answers, but there are principles of truth that we can rely on.” Elder Larry R. Lawrence
As we study gospel principles with our family we will be blessed. Our testimonies, our homes, and our relationships will be strengthened. Family Home Evening and Home Centered Learning is part of the Lord’s plan to help us learn and grow together as a family. When we follow this plan to teach our families we will be led and guided to find the answers for our specific circumstances. We can do this by creating a home where gospel questions are welcomed, where curiosity is nourished and where everyone knows that learning is a lifelong process.
(“Will you Engage in the Wrestle” BYU-I devotional / May 17th 2016 https://www.byui.edu/devotionals/sheri-dew)
(David O. McKay Gospel Ideals , 480)
(Education for Real Life, Ensign Oct 2002 P. 14 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2002/10/education-for-real-life?lang=eng)
(Is This What You Want Your Life to Be?/ Alan C Batt/ BYUI Devotionals)
(“Courageous Parenting” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2010/10/courageous-parenting?lang=eng )