Not long ago it was one of those days around my house where everyone seemed to be grouchy and grumpy and oh, glass egos everywhere. As snipping and snapping like a cage of sharks, we started our day. And I have to admit, I was no better than the rest of them.
Two of my daughters even got into a heated argument over who got to read the new book. The older one grabbed the book from the other, whereupon the younger one grabbed it back and kicked her in the shins – oh, boy!
They managed to work it out, but it troubled me – it really troubled me! As I went to work that day I was thinking, “What is all this arguing and fighting going to do to my family?” I decided I wanted to say something. I wanted to teach them, but what could I say that wouldn’t sound like the drone of a parent’s lecture?
“You should do this; you should do that; yah, yah, yah …”
I already knew that that would be just about as effective as getting a kiss through a screen door. So I sat, and I pondered, and then all of a sudden an idea came to me.
That night I gathered all my family around the kitchen table. I opened up the scriptures and I read the words of the Savior:
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29)
I read the verse, and just as I’d expected, they knew exactly what the verse meant. They knew perfectly well that fighting and arguing were wrong. I also knew that once I was done talking, if I left it right there, they would remember what I had said about like we remember every mile marker post along side the freeway – and that just wasn’t good enough. Some how I had to find a way to turn this message into a colossal billboard. Call it a feeling, but it was important to me. This is what I did:
While they watched, I took a photograph of our family all smiling and happy, and I laid it on the kitchen table right in front of them. Then I took an eyedropper with some bleach in it.
“Guys,” I said, not telling them what was in it. “This,” I said, “is ‘contention,’ and this is what it does to our family.”
And with that, I placed a tiny drop on one of the daughters that had been fighting that morning. Then I dropped another drop on another family member. And then I said, “Let’s just see what fighting and arguing will do to our family.” And with that I dropped drops here, there, everywhere until the whole family was covered.
All of us crowded around and looked down at the picture – just to see what would happen. I didn’t even know; I’d never done this before. All of a sudden right before our eyes, the image of my oldest daughter disappeared from the photograph – then another, and then another, until the entire family was gone.
At that point, I looked up at my children and I said, “Now, what did contention do to our family?”
I can still see in my mind’s eye the stunned awestruck look on my oldest daughter’s face as she looked up at me and she said, “It dissolved it!”
And so it does. A contentious spirit is more deadly to relationships than the last stages of cancer, for it is also infectious and kills more than just its victim.