Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Grandfather, Don't Shove Me!"

Every family has a few beloved stories about themselves that get enshrined in the family pantheon of memories. Today's post highlights one such story from our family. As most who read these pages will know, my maternal grandfather was President Harold B. Lee.

My mother preserved this insight among her writings to give the backdrop for the story that follows:

President Harold B. Lee
While I was serving as the chorister in our ward Relief Society when our first two sons were about two and a half and four years of age, I had arranged with Mother to come and tend my little boys while I attended a Friday afternoon stake leadership meeting. [This was circa 1951 - imagine how poorly attended a stake leadership meeting on a Friday afternoon would be today]. Mother called early that morning, however, to say that she had awakened with a bad cold and wouldn't be able to come. She felt badly to disappoint me but I assured her I could arrange with our pianist to excuse me and to bring me the information that would be given at the meeting. Sometime mid-morning, the phone rang again. This time it was my father, calling from his office in the Quorum of the Twelve. He said, "Dear, you plan to go to your meeting and I'll come tend the boys." I was appalled at such an idea and strongly protested. But he persisted and asked, teasingly, "Don't you think I'd be an acceptable babysitter? "Of course," I replied, "but-well-I just couldn't have you do that! I'd feel like I was thwarting the work of the Lord to have you leave your important work at the office just to come and tend my babies!" His reply was sobering and taught me important lessons: "Why, my dear, who is to say which is the most important work of the Lord - to stay at my desk at the Church Office Building, or to tend two choice little grandsons while their mommy goes to her Relief Society meeting?" He came; I went to my meeting, and two little boys were blessed that day by the full attention of a loving, devoted grandfather.

Indeed, our whole lives we have been blessed by grandparents we knew and loved on both sides of the family. The story to which I made reference earlier is this one:

On June 11, 1953, [Elder Lee] took "Skipper" (David), age five, and "Hal" (Harold Lee), age four, to attend the Mutual Improvement Association Dance Festival in the University of Utah stadium. His official diary entry stated that "they were tired boys, but seemingly very happy."

David, Grandfather Lee, Hal
The inside story, however, was a contest of wills from which this General Authority grandfather learned a lesson he often used in his sermons. As the long evening wore on, it became obvious that four-year-old Hal was not able to sit still that long, nor have his interest sustained in the panorama going on some distance away on the stadium floor. Grandfather Lee, not wishing to disturb his General Authority friends who surrounded him, tried in vain to quietly direct him to sit still as Hal taxed his patience by running up and down the aisle. Finally, in exasperation he caught the restless youngster with a firm grasp, sat him down very hard on his own lap, and held him tightly. A second later he felt the impact of a little doubled-up fist against his cheek, accompanied by Hal's indignant response, audible to all, "Grandfather, don't shove me!"

Embarrassed and realizing too late his mistake in handling the matter, he relaxed his hold on his young grandson, and reassuringly and lovingly cuddled him in his arms. It was not long until Hal submitted to the warmth and security of Grandfather's arms and drifted off into a contented sleep.

The title of Elder Lee's next sermon to Primary leaders? "Love-Don't Shove!" (L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet & Seer, 314-15).

* * *

Sometimes in life the "contest of wills" is an unrestrained force to test us and threatens to destroy every relationship. As parents of children who have a tendency to stray from the path, our immediate reaction is to "shove" not love. We are invested in the outcomes of the decisions our children make. We sometimes recoil in horror when we observe their rowdy behavior when it does not comport with the careful life lessons we have sought to imbue in them. To uphold our reputations as Church leaders and neighbors in the eyes of others becomes first and foremost. 

Next time you're tempted as a parent to "shove" one of your children into a certain acceptable path of behavior, think again and remember the moral lesson here - love, don't shove!

Too often we succumb to the tendency to use the heavy whip hand and beat those around us into submission. We know the way, they don't, crack the whip. Resist using the whip. Instead, slowly recoil it in your hand, set it down and do what is hardest to do when confronted with a defiant child - try loving them instead. Relax your grip. Risk failure for a season. Look to the long-term day of the harvest, just as our Father in Heaven does with each of us.

"And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard." (Jacob 5:75, emphasis mine).

Why is it so difficult to resist the natural man in such extremities? It's usually because our pride is invested first in the outcomes. Set aside your pride. Take the long view. Stop focusing on the offensive abhorrent behavior and look a little deeper into their soul. What is it you can discover about the underlying reasons for the outward behavior? Often what is needed is a little more cuddling instead of thirty-nine lashes in your flogging of them.

Most children understand and already know when they have done wrong. Their inner spirit knows. Trust that the Spirit will guide them unerringly. Teach them, instead of flogging them, how to recognize the still, small voice that speaks to them. You don't need to shove them into righteousness. Trust that the Spirit will do it better and more convincingly than you ever can. Be invested in the long-term outcomes. Be assured that if you have taught them correctly they are fully capable of governing themselves.

* * *

This was not an easy lesson for headstrong and self-willed Harold B. Lee to learn. Here's another sample from his history. I heard President Lee tell and retell this story many times:

A favorite, oft-repeated teaching lesson, which had its origin in President Lee's early welfare experiences, found renewed application immediately following the October 1973 general conference. President Lee found it necessary at this time to counsel with a Church-appointed administrator whom he had sustained in a stressful personnel controversy but whom he later privately counseled with love so he would become more compassionate with his workers. President Lee wrote to this leader of "lessons that I had to learn the hard way," recalling this experience:

On one occasion, just before I was called to the Council of the Twelve, a certain matter was referred by the Welfare Committee to the new Presiding Bishopric, the President of the Relief Society and myself, for a study and a recommendation. I waited to be invited to a discussion of that subject, but I received no invitation. Shortly there came a letter signed by all three members of the Presiding Bishopric announcing a decision. This, of course, was construed by the Welfare Committee as a slight and an affront to the Welfare Committee.

Brothers Henry D. Moyle and Robert L. Judd of the Committee went over to see President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and voiced their disappointed feelings. President Clark, being a good diplomat, sidestepped any head-on controversy between these brethren and the Presiding Bishopric.

Within six weeks of that incident I was called to the Council of the Twelve. President Clark invited me one day to ride with him to his ranch in Grantsville so that he could have the opportunity of talking with me about some matters, and during the course of our visit together I made mention of the incident with reference to the Presiding Bishopric refusing to meet with me, representing the General Welfare Committee, and then I made some such remark as, "I suppose that now the Presiding Bishopric would be willing to sit down with me and discuss the problem."

President Clark saw in this remark a continued feeling of resentment on my part. He said to me, rather sharply, but with a fatherly look: "Yes, my boy, now you do have the whip hand, but in your position, you must never use it."

As additional responsibilities have come up to the present time I have found that President Clark's counsel was very wise and timely. The greater my responsibilities the more careful I must be in using that authority in a way that would be not inconsistent with my position. The greater authority one has the more careful he has to be to not use his whip hand.

Then, after assuring his leader-student of his personal love for him and confidence in his operation of one of the Church's largest corporations, he summarized: "I would have you think, as I have been taught to think over the years, that the greater my responsibility the more careful I must be in using my authority to the hurt of individuals whose feelings might be more tender because of my position." (Ibid, 554-55).

* * *

May this lesson from the life of President Harold B. Lee serve to guide us in our interactions with our children, grandchildren and co-workers. My hope is that by sharing it we may not have to learn it "the hard way." Restraint, patience, love unfeigned and long-suffering is the way of the Master.


  1. Thank you for your stories. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face as I feel your mother near me. I can almost hear her voice as she shared those stories with me as I worked with her in the Cal. Arcadia Mission home. Your words have given me comfort. Thank you again.
    Cathy Allen Dover

  2. How well we remember your contribution to their mission, and all the memories they shared with you! Nice to know you're out there. . . all the best