I taught Relief Society today and it was one of those lessons where I was just so happy to hear the wisdom, observations and testimonies of the women there. I associate with world class women, I really do. They’re young and they’re brilliant. They’re figuring life out and they’re learning and failing and forgiving and succeeding and just working on it and I just think I’m lucky to witness it now and then.
The lesson came from Howard W. Hunter, whose prophetic insight, I think, defined the language for The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which would be shared with millions under the direction of his successor Gordon B. Hinckley. Hunter’s my guy. He gets me and I like to think I get him. There’s something about how he put together his sentences that I just dig.
We started in Enos 1:1-3. I’ve always loved the Book of Mormon story of this man, who acknowledges a need to turn his life around- so he goes out by himself and finds a place to plead to his father in heaven in prayer. He kneels all day and night, sincerely calling on the Lord for help and mercy. What perseverance; what humility! Interestingly though, I often omit from memory where his prompting to change comes from:
Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man- for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord- and blessed be the name of my God for it-
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
Enos’s father laid a foundation of faith in Enos’s life. He conducted himself in a way that his wayward son could say that he was a just man. He had taught Enos in his language- he’d spent his time with his son; testified to him of important things. He had nurtured him- he’d loved him!- and he had taught him the commandments. His example was so sincere and true, that its impact resonated with Enos. Enos wanted that same joy that came from being a covenant son of God, as his father was. Like Nephi of old, Enos too was “born of goodly parents.”
Together we shared observations of “goodly” family members, whether our own or not, with one another and the class.
- A mother in a grocery store took the time to teach her young children how to count the groceries on a shelf
- A father watched popular chick-flicks with his daughters just to spend time with them
- Children in a new kindergarten class couldn’t wait to share their experiences in class with their waiting parents
- A mother’s optimism and hope kept her struggling children going as they crossed the plains in 1840’s America
- A father made sure he always made it home for dinner with the family
- A family reported their successes each day at family prayer time
Many other examples were given, and we discussed the idea that these ideals for the family are those taught by President Hunter, and in turn, in the Family Proclamation.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman in 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 honour marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. 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.
Today, the world rejects God’s model of the family and we’re looked upon as old-fashioned, disrespectful of the “modern” family, and closed-minded in our conviction for “traditionalism”. So I wanted us to examine why, when the world rejected this model, we clung to it. We discussed the scientific and sociological advantages of families being spear-headed by both a man and a woman. We learned of the need for a couple to share the weight of parenting. The birthright of children who needed complete, healthy homes. Then we looked deeper. Could it be done? Was it impossible for a child to grow up with one parent, or two parents of the same gender, and be happy? Probably not. But in the simplest of terms, we discussed- why are we here? What are we here for? To be like God?
The basic definition of God is a man + a woman, together working equally, creating together. We talk often in the Church of ways that we can be like God- we can be more charitable, forgiving, compassionate. We can serve and we can be scholars of the scriptures. But sometimes we forget that just important is the framework, the very skeleton of Godhood. It is first this partnership; and second, the family, into which those spirit children of Godly parents are born and organised.
So what did that mean for us today? I took a moment to reflect that over half of the sisters in the room did not come from happy homes, or homes that fit into the model we’d studied together. Perhaps they came from divorce, or had been bounced around foster homes. Maybe they were raised by tired siblings, or were left to forge their own way in the world. Maybe their families were intact, but fought every day of their lives. I recalled that my own father had slept under the stairs, or on a pull-out camp bed in the dining room while his three sisters each had their own room. Many of us in the room had a cause to be unsettled, disappointed, maybe even fearful of what family meant to them.
When I studied for this lesson, I wondered how I could reconcile those hard truths. I read in the Proclamation:
We ward that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
and from Hunter:
A worried society now begins top see that the disintegration of the family brings upon the world the calamities foretold by the prophets.
In a world where success is measured in finance, government and worldly affairs, where could we place the family of the future? Hunter counsels:
We should never let Satan fool us into thinking that all is lost. Let us take pride in the good and right things we have done; reject and cast out of our lives those things that are wrong; look to the Lord for forgiveness, strength, and comfort; and then move onward.
I thought of the girls who I knew were hurting; broken by the crippling circumstances they came from. I wondered: are we destined to be the products of flawed, earthly circumstances? Whatever our mortal state, we are daughters of Heavenly Parents. Our heritage and inheritance is divine. We can choose to be the creator of our futures, because what’s in store for those true and faithful is exactly that. Our Heavenly Parents did not create us to live good lives and be rewarded by heavenly riches alone. They created us so that we might have all that they have: kingdoms, powers, principalities, dominions all heights and depths! We were created to one day be Gods: one man and one woman, hand in hand, working and creating together in equal capacity; the family as the framework for this success. Crudely, I identified the simplicity of our mortal challenge:
AGENCY + ATONEMENT = ARCHITECT
This evening, a sweet friend and I talked together about agency, and the power that our attitudes have toward the impossible. She shared with me from a book she was reading, the following philosophy from a Holocaust survivor:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate. Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
… We all said to each other in camp that there could be no earthly happiness which could compensate for all we had suffered. We were not hoping for happiness—it was not that which gave us courage and gave meaning to our suffering, our sacrifices and our dying. And yet we were not prepared for unhappiness. This disillusionment, which awaited not a small number of prisoners, was an experience which these men have found very hard to get over and which, for a psychiatrist, is also very difficult to help them overcome. But this must not be a discouragement to him; on the contrary, it should provide an added stimulus.
The preface of the book, Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, suggests simply: “What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms—the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.'”
The atonement provides that needed help from a brother who advocates for us with the Father. In Matthew he pleads with us,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Surely no earthly flaw can be untouched by the atonement of Christ, who has borne the sins and weaknesses of the world. As we turn to Him to reconcile those demons of our past or current circumstance, He will heal stunting wounds and strengthen us as we strive to keep covenants with Heavenly Parents that will bring us closer to Godhood.
At this unique phase of life, the women in our room (though a handful had families of their own with children and grandchildren), sat with futures before them. What would their families look like? What could they prepare now? Were they exempt from practising family values right now? What did their “family” today look like? (I shared the following portrait of my flatmates and I)
How could we prepare as single sisters, as visiting teachers, as sisters and aunts and cousins, as finaces or girlfriends- for a Christ-centred home and life? How could we choose today to “lay aside the things of the world and seek for things of the better”? What responsibility did we have today to preserve and protect God’s model of the family in these latter-days. I asked them to ponder these questions as I read my favourite Rah-Rah-Womanhood quote from Sister Dew (which I have shared here before):
We are here to influence the world rather than to be influenced by the world. If we could unleash the full influence of covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God would change overnight. No one has more influence on husbands than wives, on children than their mothers, or on young men than young women. Show me the women of any family or community, and I will show you the character and soul of that family and community. I repeat, if we would unleash the full influence of covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God would change overnight.
This is why Satan has never underestimated us. He knows we are at the heart of the
Father’s plan. So from the beginning, Lucifer has worked with a vengeance to distort the very definition of womanhood and to confuse everyone about us, including us.
Here are just a few of Lucifer’s lies: That men are smarter, have all the power, and are
more important, so if we want to have influence we should be more like them; that
marriage and family are confining; that motherhood is menial and a waste of any talented woman’s time; that women are perpetually frazzled and failing; and that a woman’s value is based on her size, shape and what she accomplishes outside the home.
Too many women have bought these lies… Sisters, we’re smarter than this. We know too much to fall for Lucifer’s lies. If the world can’t look to us for a true definition of womanhood, where can it look?
… For twenty-nine years, we have been quoting a prophecy President Spencer W. Kimball made about us. Let’s quote it one more time: “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world . . . will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world” (Ensign, November 1979, 103–4).
It has been three decades since that call to action. Are we all that different from the other good women of the world? Are we ever going to do more than just quote President Kimball? We have the gift of the Holy Ghost, a living prophet, spiritual gifts that magnify us, access to priesthood power, ordinances that endow us with knowledge and power, unique leadership training, and the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. We should be far more distinctive than even the very finest women in the world. But are we? In our everyday lives, do we talk of Christ, rejoice in Christ, preach of Christ, and testify of Him (2 Nephi 25:26)? Are we women on a mission to build His kingdom?
Like Nephi and Enos of old, I am fortunate to have been “born of goodly parents” whose influence I see daily, though today they live half the world away. I am grateful that my father chose to be the architect of his future; that he was innovative enough and humble enough to partner with the Saviour and leave some ghosts in the past. Without mistakes they are not; but they’ve taught me about forgiveness and grace, and standing, always, in holy places.
You can download the lesson handout I created here: protect-and-preserve-family