Fortunately for me I fell in love with a mathematician who is good at what she does. At one point my sweet wife, Elaine, explained to me that the reason algebra and geometry didn’t make any sense to me was because those are just part of the alphabet of the language of math. It isn’t until you get through calculus that you actually start learning to speak the language. The light went on, and suddenly I didn’t feel so stupid. No wonder it didn’t make sense, I had never had a context for my math experience. Now I did. Now I understand that when I learn a simple bit of math I am still working on just the alphabet, not the language of math. I don’t expect it to make sense to me like my own language does.
In our religious life we sometimes treat the gospel of Christ like I treated math. Just like I use math every day to buy groceries, pay my loans, and balance my checkbook, we often take the sacrament, come to Church, minister to others, and hold family prayer, but haven’t learned to put our religious practices into context yet.
Over and over again I hear people make comments about how hard the gospel is to understand. They have been living it for decades, but they still haven’t seen how it fits into what they are trying to do with their lives. They believe what they understand, but ask them about a bit of doctrine and their eyes glaze over.
The High Council has been asked to talk to you this month about how to create a gospel-centered home. When we talk about the importance of the home in the grand scheme of eternity, we are assuming that we are all looking at families from the same basic perspective. Let’s look at a few of our common assumptions about the family in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Families are eternal
It is to this happy union that children are greeted one by one. It is in this context, this environment that children are taught the Father’s great plan of happiness we formally call the Plan of Salvation.
Families on earth were never meant to be temporary. Nor were they meant to be redefined as whatever Satan can get us to redefine them as. Satan knows how important this basic unit of society is, and so, in the last days he has thrown all of his considerable weight and influence into destroying the fabric of the family.
Because of Satan’s direct assault on the family, and all that it stands for, in 1995 the servants of God created for us a proclamation on the family to remind the world what the Lord’s definition of family is, and the importance of that unit, both to God and to us. It is in the context or framework of this proclamation that we can look at all the commandments of the Lord, all the covenants we make, and all the history of God’s dealings with His children, and see a common thread running throughout the tapestry of history. This common thread is the raising and teaching of children to become worthy sons and daughters of God.
The purpose of earthly families has always been, and will always be to teach the children of God about their heavenly parents, and to strengthen them for the struggles of mortality so they can worthily return home, sealed to their own companion as new family units. Families were always meant to be forever. They were never meant or designed to be only a temporary necessity for the few years we are in mortality.
Defining the family
Let’s look at the proclamation on the family and see what some of our latter-day leaders have taught us about what we are supposed to be accomplishing in our homes. (All text in blue is text being directly quoted from the proclamation on the family.)
HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.
By definition, a husband and wife means marriage of a man and a woman. This is how marriage is done in heaven, and the Lord intends it to be the same in mortality.
When the proclamation quotes Psalm 127:3 and says that children are an heritage of the Lord, it is saying that being able to have children is part of our eternal birthright as children of an eternal being. If we live up to our privileges as God’s children we will be able to continue to have children after this life. If we fail to live up to our birthright, that privilege will be taken away forever.
Our birthright, as children of God is to receive covenants from God that, when honored by us, will elevate us to the stature of gods someday. We are a covenant-making people, the only people in the world who do make covenants with God that come directly from Him, and that will someday enable us to walk back into His presence as worthy heirs to His kingdom. These covenants begin with the promises we make at baptism, and extend through those covenants we make in the temple.
All covenants are promises required of us by God, defined by Him, and attached to those promises come blessings of eternal length and eternal glory. The covenants we make, when honored by us, teach us how to behave and become like Christ, our perfect example of what a child of God is supposed to be like.
As parents, it is our responsibility to our children to provide for their physical needs, which includes food, clothing, and shelter, not necessarily smartphones and designer clothes. We are also responsible for providing for their all important spiritual needs. This includes teaching them about their Father in Heaven, about Christ and His atoning sacrifice, teaching them the commandments of God, and instilling in them a desire to exercise faith in God and to return to Him when they leave mortality.
Elder Maynes of the Seventy used this poem in a Conference talk to demonstrate the importance of teaching our children the right way when they are young.
‘Twas a sheep not a lamb
That strayed away in the parable Jesus told,
A grown-up sheep that strayed away
From the ninety and nine in the fold.
And why for the sheep should we seek
And earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger when sheep go wrong:
They lead the lambs astray.
Lambs will follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever the sheep may stray.
When sheep go wrong,
It won’t take long till the lambs are as wrong as they.
And so with the sheep we earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs today,
For when the sheep are lost
What a terrible cost
The lambs will have to pay.
Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
In the scriptures this is the concept of the sins of the fathers being visited on the heads of their children to the third and fourth generations. When we don’t teach our children correct eternal principles when they are young, our sins of neglect will follow our descendants for generations to come. Now there is a reason, if we ever needed one, for holding Family Home Evening, and having daily family prayer.
THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
God decreed that His children were to be raised in families, and raised by a man and a woman, legally married. We are commanded by God, as husbands and wives, to be completely faithful to each other in all things. That means that no other interests, institutions, obligations, or desires are allowed to be more important to us than our relationship with our spouse. No person, not even other family members, are more important to us than our spouse.
Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Truth is truth, wherever it is found, but it is the truth given to us from Jesus the Christ that will bring us the greatest joy in our families. But no amount of joy can be gained from a truth unlearned. We must study the truths of the gospel of Christ daily as a family if we want to be blessed with the joy and strength that come from God’s own truths.
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
If we want our children to learn forgiveness we have to model and demonstrate forgiveness in our daily lives. If we want them to gain a testimony of tithing, we must be full and committed tithe payers. If we want our children to learn respect and compassion for others we must show them respect and compassion then expect respect and compassion from our children. If we want peace in our homes we must teach our children to serve one another and not to fight and argue with each other.
These are difficult things to do, and are things most parents feel like they fall short in accomplishing. But it is our duty to our children to do our best to demonstrate and teach these principles, because these are the things that lead to eternal joy, and eternal families. Remember, families are meant to be forever, and no amount of worldly redefining of what a family is should stop us from working toward that goal.
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
A Bishop is no better than either of his counselors. Nor are they any better than the Bishop. But the Bishop is called to preside over the ward. That means it is ultimately his responsibility to answer to God for what goes on in the ward during the time he is Bishop. He counsels with his counselors, each freely contributing to the efforts of leading the ward, but in the end, it is the Bishop who will have to make the final decision, since he has to answer to God for it.
In marriage, the husband is no better than his wife, but he has been called to preside, a calling from which he will never be released. A husband who does not fully utilize the wisdom of his wife before making decisions that affect his family is a fool. A husband who honors and cherishes the wisdom of his wife is twice blessed, both as a husband, and again as a father.
Together the husband and wife, united in prayer and purpose, raise the children to be covenant keeping, and commandment living adults. This is the source of our joy in the family. Reading the scriptures, the word of God, and trying to understand what He has had written for our benefit is important. Many of life’s questions are answered in the scriptures. Many of our spiritual worries are answered in the scriptures. Read them. Learn them. Memorize verses that hold personal meaning for you. They will bring you comfort in your times of distress.
To build a gospel-centered home we need to read scriptures as a family each day, pray together as a family each day, and hold Family Home Evening. Parents need to set the example of the kind of people they want their children to become so the children can use them as role models. Children need to be taught how to respect one another, and especially how to respect their parents. In regard to human relationships, my mother always said, “No matter what the question is, Love is the answer.” When it comes to how to deal with each other in the home, that is particularly true. Our family is our greatest source of joy in mortality, but we need to be anchored in the definition of the family as God has declared it to be. Only in His definition of family can we hope to gain the eternal blessings we seek when we say that Families Are Forever.
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