I ease out of my chair and take my turn at the head of the room. My nervous, marshmallow white fingers grip a wobbly portable podium, faded by time and tears. My eyes study my hands, then the slanted wooden top, then the stubby yellow No. 2 pencil resting on the rail. A sticky note says, “Don’t forget to tell us your name.”
I lift my head and pick a single spot on the wall at the back of the long, shoebox-shaped meeting room. It is the moment of truth, and there’s no denying what everyone in the crowd already knows. I breathe deep and lean into the microphone.
“Hi, my name is Jason, and I’m a family home evening survivor.”
It’s a dream I could have nearly every Monday night. Perhaps you’re also a member of one of the world’s largest support groups?
Whatever you call it — FHE, family home evening, family night or The Fight That Begins and Ends With a Prayer — the goal is the same: We set aside Monday evenings and aim to uplift our families with spiritual discussions and wholesome activities that teach values and bring us closer to our Savior.
Why, then, do we endure weeks when simple survival feels like the best possible outcome?
In the Wright home, we begin family home evening with a song and a prayer. If we don’t allow our youngest to choose what song we sing, the tears begin before anyone has even thrown a couch cushion. Our little Pavarotti chooses the same song every time. It’s “Do As I’m Doing.”
“Do as I’m doing; Follow, follow me! Do as I’m doing; Follow, follow me! If I do it high or low, If I do it fast or slow, Do as I’m doing; Follow, follow me! Do as I’m doing; Follow, follow me!”
If he claps his hands, we must also clap. If he bobs his head, we bob ours. If he pretends to sweep the floor, we do that, too.
Except that he does none of those things. He has exactly one go-to move, and he goes to it all the time.
He jumps on one foot. So, naturally, we jump on one foot, and every Monday we act as if it’s the greatest idea he’s ever had.
After a prayer, we follow a tradition that started when I was a child. We call it Family Council, which is just a fancy way of saying we go around the room and announce what we have coming up that week. For example, Dad has a day trip to Richmond on Wednesday, Mom has a photo shoot for a newborn on Saturday, one child has piano lessons on Thursday and another has voice on Friday.
By this point, Dad is getting anxious because one son has the other in a headlock and Mom is crating the Goldendoodle because he’s chewing on our 12-year old daughter’s left fibula. And we haven’t even started the lesson yet.
My daughters often lobby for a chance to teach the lesson so they can use their younger brothers as helpers — or, as I call them, victims. In recent weeks we’ve learned about honesty, fasting, prayer and what the children like about one another. That last one was, um, entertaining.
Some of the lessons have been extraordinarily memorable. Once, to help my daughter manage her longstanding fear of a hurricane wiping our home off the map, I filled a bowl with over 100 green M&M’s and mixed in a single blue. I explained that anything is possible, and one day a hurricane or other disaster could destroy our home, but it’s so highly unlikely she need not worry about it. To demonstrate, I had her close her eyes and try to pull out the blue M&M that represented complete and utter devastation.
She picked the blue.
Other lessons include talk of Jesus Christ, the scriptures, why we pay tithing, how we pick friends and what peer-pressure is. Sometimes the lessons are very practical, as in which bad habits can make a bedroom smell like a locker room.
An activity usually follows the lesson, and often the lesson actually becomes the activity. One week we dressed in our pajamas, pretended the house was on fire, and climbed out our bedroom windows to practice how we would react. We met at our “safe spot” in the yard across the street. Looking back, that’s probably the night we became the “weird neighbors.”
We’ve watched movies, played board games, and fought over which to see and which to play. There have been races to the emergency room, drives to the river, late Monday-night snack runs and early trips to bed for conduct unbecoming a child or parent. But there have also been plenty of pardons granted for good behavior.
FHE usually ends with another song and our nightly family prayer. By now, we’re all exhausted from fun, chaos, contention or some combination of all three. After some of the kids brush some of their teeth we flop them in bed and retire to our own.
With the lights off, lying flat on my back, I put my arms under my pillow and say to my wife, “We survived.”
Then I give in to the weight of my eyelids and hope I have my favorite dream again.