"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
April 2, 2009
Reverent children are self-controlled
by Orson Scott Card

We weren't even late to church last Sunday, but we still had the shocking experience of starting up the aisle only to realize that our bench was occupied.

What interloper, what stranger, what unbelievably thoughtless person had taken the third bench from the front on the right?

True, there was no plaque with our name on it affixed to the bench. But all of the people sitting in that region of the chapel were longtime members of the ward, and all of them usually sat in that general area; none could plead ignorance.

In our bafflement at this breach of Sunday etiquette, it did not cross our minds to sit in any of the wide expanses of empty bench in the middle section. We are edge-sitters. We are also near-the-front sitters. But we discovered that on this occasion, at least, edge-sitting trumped front-sitting, and we made our way to the second bench from the rear.

As every Mormon knows, the rear of the chapel is the great wasteland of noise and Cheerios, for this is where the families with small children sit. And there we were, with a bench of young children behind us and another directly in front.

We knew the family in front of us very well. I had taught the father, Cheeto Arellano, in Sunday school when we first moved into the ward sixteen years ago; my wife has been Shena Arellano's visiting teacher for years.

But we knew nothing of their sacrament meeting habits, since they are back-sitters. Usually we only greet them and move on to our zone.

Cheeto sat at the aisle with four-month-old Addelyn on his lap. Shena sat next to him, with Kelson (6) and Analise (3) beside her. Then came Cheeto's sister, the children's Aunt Lettie (whom I had also taught in Sunday school when she was a teenager), and finally the oldest boy, Cade (8), against the wall.

Kelson and Analise were as fidgety a pair of children as I had ever seen. I looked forward to hearing exactly none of the meeting, and opened my scriptures to read my way through the meeting.

But a strange thing happened. The moment Brother Cabeza got up to start the meeting, the children fell silent.

And did not make another sound until the meeting was over.

Let me be specific. These children weren't quiet by nature. They clearly wanted to be as noisy and active as any of the discipline-neglected children in that room. But they knew the rules.

Cade, the eldest, followed those rules perfectly. Kelson had a bit more of a struggle; Analise was still learning. (Addelyn was still pre-reverent, but she apparently thought of herself as a high councilor and slept through the meeting.)

Here were the rules: Make no sound, stay seated on the bench, and no poking.

I knew what the rules were because every now and then Analise thought of them as low priorities and began to disobey.

I say "began" because the instant she was in noncompliance, her parents took action. Apparently, though they were watching the podium and seemed to be listening to the meeting, they were completely alert to every twitch of their children.

When Analise made her move to hit the floor and head for the aisle, Shena's foot came up to block her path. Cheeto, just as alert, flicked a finger -- that's right, just flicked a finger -- and Analise scrambled back up to her place on the bench.

Later, Kelson started to slide forward as if to stand, but before his feet could reach the floor, he got a look from his father.

Not an angry look. Not even a questioning look. Cheeto simply turned his gaze on his younger son, and the boy got right back up on the bench.

Later, it seemed Analise needed help understanding the no-poking rule, so she was pulled up onto her mother's lap, where Shena took the little girl's hands and gently but firmly put them together on her lap. For two seconds, Analise resisted. Then -- knowing her mother would be implacable -- she relaxed, and from then on she held that reverent pose of her own free will.

Indeed, she leaned her head so far back that her irresistible grin was fully upturned toward her mother -- which earned her a kiss from Shena. But when Analise wanted to follow this with a conversation, Shena merely touched her daughter's lips with her finger.

Analise fell silent -- and put a finger to her mother's lips in return. Shena allowed this silent game to continue for a few moments, and then it was time for Analise to sit on the bench again.

Kelson made a move as if to get up on his mother's lap, and got another look from Dad. Not an option for the six-year-old.

During the sacrament, the children were allowed to look at the books Shena had made for them -- the alphabet, illustrated with pictures of gospel and family. D was for Daddy, K was for Kelson, M was for Mommy; E, for Eternity, was illustrated with a picture of Mommy and Daddy and the temple. F, for family, was a family portrait.

The rest were all gospel- and scripture-themed pictures; X, resourcefully, was for "eXaltation."

When, after the sacrament, Brother Cabeza began to speak again, the children instantly changed behavior -- slightly. They retrieved paper and crayons from their place behind the hymnbooks and began to draw silently. Cade emerged from the other side of Aunt Lettie and also took part in these activities -- but also listened to the speakers from time to time.

Through the entire meeting, they made no sound.

These were not browbeaten children, afraid of parental wrath.

Instead, they were children who had been given clear boundaries, from which their parents never varied. They were disciplined with firmness, gentleness, and love, without a trace of anger or even disapproval. They were happy ... and silent.

What was this miracle? What, for that matter, was the equal silence from the little children on the bench behind us?

Inadvertently, in the back-right corner of the chapel benches, I had discovered the Zone of Reverence and Love.

These parents love their little children so much that they had taught them civilized behavior at an age so early that they would have no memory of a time when they were not reverent.

These children had learned the vital skills of "Delay of Gratification" and "Resistance to Temptation" -- or, to skip the psychology-speak, they had been given the gift of self-control, which is the foundation of maturity and citizenship.

Yet none of their natural exuberance had been stifled, and they were sure of their parents' love.

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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