The Family, The Family, The Family

Image by Flickr user Keonl Cabral.
Image by Flickr user Keonl Cabral.

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I liked Elder ElRay L. Christiansen’s talk Successful Parenthood—A Noteworthy Accomplishment. First, I have to remind folks of what is—for me—the most memorable quote of this entire General Conference Odyssey so far. It comes from Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s talk in the April 1971 General Conference Love of the Right. Elder Ashton said:

Following one of our recent general conference sessions, a troubled mother approached me and said, “I need to know what is meant by the statement, ‘No success can compensate for failure in the home.’” Knowing a little of the burdens this friend of mine carries in her mind and heart because of a rebellious, wayward daughter, I shared this meaning with her: I believe we start to fail in the home when we give up on each other. We have not failed until we have quit trying. As long as we are working diligently with love, patience, and long-suffering, despite the odds or the apparent lack of progress, we are not classified as failures in the home. We only start to fail when we give up on a son, daughter, mother, or father.

I think I’m going to keep repeating this often, basically anytime the idea of family and success or failure comes up, because it’s so crucial to keep in mind. As long as you have not given up on your family, you have not failed your family.

Now, getting back to Elder Christiansen’s talk from the Thursday afternoon session of the April 1972 General Conference, the thing that stands out the most is how consistent the theme of family is from General Conference talks more than half a century ago.1

First, I love Elder Christiansen’s optimism: “Now, this is a world in difficulty and trouble, but we shouldn’t merely bemoan the fact. We should, as far as our powers can help us, be anxiously engaged in rectifying it.” I taught lesson 10 from the Book of Mormon on Sunday, which covers 2 Nephi 26-30. There’s a lot of grim, last days kind of stuff going on, but we talked about the importance of keeping our eyes on the light of Christ and maintaining faith, optimism, and confidence. (This Mormon aptitude for tackling tragedy with optimism is something I’ve written about before.)

So, how should we be “anxiously engaged” in combatting the world’s problems? “Just before we sang,” said Elder Christiansen, “I wrote this down: If you and I are to help restore this sick world to its spiritual health, we must begin at the proper place—that is, with ourselves and with our families.”

He went on to give specific direction about what this means, writing that:

Parents cannot, without regrettable consequences, shirk the responsibility of teaching and showing their children through their example the attributes of character that lead them unhesitatingly to appreciate and accept the good, the decent, the beautiful, and help them to develop the desire and the courage to turn from that which is coarse or crude or wrong.

This reminded me of the passage I shared from the March 2016 First Presidency message. Just after quoting Matthew 18:1-3, about the need to become like little children, Elder Monson wrote:

In the Church, the goal of gospel teaching is not to pour information into the minds of God’s children, whether at home, in the classroom, or in the mission field. It is not to show how much the parent, teacher, or missionary knows. Nor is it merely to increase knowledge about the Savior and His Church.

The basic goal of teaching is to help the sons and daughters of Heavenly Father return to His presence and enjoy eternal life with Him. To do this, gospel teaching must encourage them along the path of daily discipleship and sacred covenants. The aim is to inspire individuals to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles. The objective is to develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to become converted to His gospel.

Once again, there’s this consistency not only in the fact that the family needs to be our emphasis, but also how. This is especially important for parents of younger children. Trying to teach them the principles of the Gospel through didactic methods—repeating facts, reading scriptures, and even bearing testimony—is necessary but insufficient. What is needed is the inculcation of habits. What we need to teach is action. It is the action—actions such as praying, reading the scriptures, and learning to forgive and to repent—which can become the foundation for a child’s testimony even at a young age. I’m a verbose guy. I write a lot, and I talk a lot. And so it’s important for me to realize that that’s not the best way to reach my children.

Home is the template for heaven. And so Elder Christiansen writes:

Success in family life calls for parents who take time to enjoy their children; who read with them; who play with them; who let them participate in planning special occasions, seeking to make wholesome family traditions a proud part of family life.

Here is something else that stood out to me:

Another essential in successful parenthood is for fathers and mothers to avoid disputations. Such situations may seem harmless to the parents, but in the eyes of their children, the two most important people in the world are in conflict, and from their limited perspective, the whole world is in trouble.

What this reiterates is that the Church’s emphasis on family is inseparable from concern for the most vulnerable among us: children. Family, in the Church’s teachings, is not an institution for the benefit of spouses. It is an institution for the benefic and protection of children. Along those lines Elder Christiansen also said that it is important for parents to listen to any problems their children have, adding that “if we are wise, we will not minimize [their problems].” It’s obvious, but it’s also important: the primary purpose of the family is to provide a haven for children. I believe this obligation (because family is primarily about duty rather than rights) does not in any way detract from the essential bond of husband and wife. Just as, from a genetic or a biological perspective, a child represents the shared investment of a mother and father so, too, does the shared spiritual goal of protecting and training children create a unifying mission for a husband and wife.

Elder Christiansen concludes:

No nation can long endure unless the great majority of its families and its homes are made secure through faith in God—an active, living faith.

The Church’s emphasis on the importance of the family is not new. The nature of that commitment—tying together our obligation to our children with the Plan of Salvation—is also not new. And the prophetic teaching that the health of our families will determine the health of our society is also not new. This is what has been taught for quite literally longer than I have been alive.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

6 thoughts on “The Family, The Family, The Family”

  1. I’ll be interested in your perception as this General Conference odyssey continues. Having lived it, but not mapped it, I recall family “in the home” in the early seventies, then not so much emphasis for a couple of decades, then family again in the last half of the nineties which felt like an echo but now with an “in society” political turn. For persons of a certain age (which arguably is a characteristic of the bloggernacle) the Proclamation on the Family legimately felt new, and for persons of an older cast (me) I found that the Proclamation felt different.

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