“Heavenly Homes, Forever Families,” Ensign, June 2006, 98–103
It is in a spirit of humility that I represent the First Presidency as the concluding speaker for this meeting. We have been inspired and edified by the remarks of Elder Bednar, Elder Perry, and Sister Parkin. Our thoughts have centered on home and family as we have been reminded that “the home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions.”1
A home is much more than a house built of lumber, brick, or stone. A home is made of love, sacrifice, and respect. We are responsible for the homes we build. We must build wisely, for eternity is not a short voyage. There will be calm and wind, sunlight and shadows, joy and sorrow. But if we really try, our home can be a bit of heaven here on earth. The thoughts we think, the deeds we do, the lives we live not only influence the success of our earthly journey, they also mark the way to our eternal goals.
Some Latter-day Saint families are comprised of mother, father, and children, all at home, while others have witnessed the tender departure of one, then another, then another of their members. Sometimes a single individual comprises a family. Whatever its composition, the family continues—for families can be forever.
We can learn from the master architect—even the Lord. He has taught us how we must build. He declared, “Every … house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matt. 12:25). Later He cautioned, “Behold, mine house is a house of order … and not a house of confusion” (D&C 132:8).
In a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, December 27, 1832, the Master counseled, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119; see also D&C 109:8).
Where could any of us locate a more suitable blueprint whereby he could wisely and properly build? Such a house would meet the building code outlined in Matthew, even a house built “upon a rock” (Matt. 7:24, 25; see also Luke 6:48; 3 Ne. 14:24, 25), a house capable of withstanding the rains of adversity, the floods of opposition, and the winds of doubt everywhere present in our changing and challenging world.
Some might question, “But that revelation was to provide guidance for the construction of a temple. Is it relevant today?”
I would respond, “Did not the Apostle Paul declare, ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’” (1 Cor. 3:16).
Let the Lord be the general contractor for our building project. Then each of us can be subcontractors responsible for a vital segment of the whole project. All of us are thereby builders. In addition to building our own homes, we also have the responsibility to help build the kingdom of God here upon the earth by serving faithfully and effectively in our Church callings. May I provide guidelines from God, lessons from life, and points to ponder as we commence to build.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6). So spoke the wise Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.
On this, the American continent, Jacob, the brother of Nephi, declared, “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith” (Jacob 3:1).
This divinely inspired counsel comes to us today as crystal-clear water to a parched earth. We live in troubled times.
Just a few short generations ago, one could not have imagined the world in which we now live and the problems it presents. We are surrounded by immorality, pornography, violence, drugs, and a host of other ills which afflict modern-day society. Ours is the challenge, even the responsibility, not only to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27) but also to guide our children and others for whom we have responsibility safely through the stormy seas of sin surrounding all of us, that we might one day return to live with our Heavenly Father.
The training of our own families requires our presence, our time, our best efforts. To be effective in our training, we must be stalwart in our examples to our family members and available for private time with each member, as well as time for counseling and guidance.
We often feel overwhelmed by the task before us. However, help is ever at hand. He who knows each of His children will answer our fervent and heartfelt prayer as we seek help in guiding them. Such prayer will solve more problems, alleviate more suffering, prevent more transgression, and bring about greater peace and contentment in the human soul than any other way.
Besides needing such guidance for our own families, we have been called to positions where we have responsibility for others. As a bishop or counselor, as a priesthood quorum leader or an auxiliary leader, you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. There may be those who come from part-member or less-active families; some may have turned from their parents, disregarding their pleadings and counsel. We could well be the instrument in the Lord’s hands to make a difference in the life of one in such a situation. Without the guidance of our Heavenly Father, however, we cannot do all that we have been called to do. Such help comes through prayer.
A prominent American judge was asked what we, as citizens of the countries of the world, could do to reduce crime and disobedience to law and to bring peace and contentment into our lives and into our nations. He thoughtfully replied, “I would suggest a return to the old-fashioned practice of family prayer.”
As a people, aren’t we grateful that family prayer is not an out-of-date practice with us? There is real meaning behind the oft-quoted adage, “The family that prays together stays together.”
The Lord Himself directed that we have family prayer when He said, “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed” (3 Ne. 18:21).
As parents, as teachers, and as leaders in any capacity, we cannot afford to attempt this potentially perilous journey through mortality without heavenly assistance to aid us in guiding those for whom we have responsibility.
As we offer unto God our family prayers and our personal prayers, let us do so with faith and trust in Him. Kneel down to pray.
For our example, we turn to the life of the Lord. Like a glowing searchlight of goodness is the life of Jesus as He ministered among men. He brought strength to the limbs of the cripple, sight to the eyes of the blind, hearing to the ears of the deaf, and life to the body of the dead.
His parables preach power. With the good Samaritan, He taught, “Love thy neighbor” (see Luke 10:30–35). Through His kindness to the woman taken in adultery, He taught compassionate understanding (see John 8:3–11). In His parable of the talents, He taught us to improve ourselves and to strive for perfection (see Matt. 25:14–30). Well could He have been preparing us for our role in building an eternal family.
Each of us—whether a priesthood leader or an officer in an auxiliary organization—has responsibility to his or her sacred call. We have been set apart for the work to which we have been called. In Doctrine and Covenants 107:99 the Lord said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” As we help to bless and strengthen those for whom we have responsibility in our Church callings, we will in effect be blessing and strengthening their families. Thus, the service we perform in our families and in our Church callings can have eternal consequences.
Many years ago, as a bishop in a large and diverse ward of over a thousand members located in downtown Salt Lake City, I faced numerous challenges.
One Sunday afternoon I received a phone call from the proprietor of a drugstore located within our ward boundaries. He indicated that earlier that morning, a young boy had come into his store and had purchased an ice-cream sundae from the soda fountain. He had paid for the purchase with money he took from an envelope, and then when he left, he had forgotten the envelope. When the proprietor had a chance to examine it, he found that it was a fast-offering envelope with the name and telephone number of our ward printed on it. As he described to me the boy who had been in his store, I immediately identified the individual—a young deacon from our ward who came from a less-active family.
My first reaction was one of shock and disappointment to think that any of our deacons would take fast-offering funds intended for those in need and would go to a store on a Sunday and buy a treat with the money. I determined to visit the boy that afternoon in order to teach him about the sacred funds of the Church and his duty as a deacon to gather and to protect those funds.
As I drove to the home, I offered a silent prayer for direction in what I should say to compose the situation. I arrived and knocked on the door. It was opened by the boy’s mother, and I was invited into the living room. Although the room was barely lighted, I could see how small and run-down it was. The few pieces of furniture were threadbare. The mother herself looked worn out.
My indignation at her son’s actions that morning disappeared from my thoughts as I realized that here was a family in real need. I felt impressed to ask the mother if there was any food in the house. Tearfully she admitted that there was none. She told me that her husband had been out of work for some time and that they were in desperate need not only of food but also of money with which to pay the rent so that they wouldn’t be evicted from the tiny house.
I never did bring up the matter of the fast-offering donations, for I realized that the boy had most likely been desperately hungry when he stopped at the drugstore. Rather, I immediately arranged for assistance for the family, that they might have food to eat and a roof over their heads. In addition, with the help of the priesthood leaders in the ward, we were able to arrange employment for the husband so that he could provide for his family in the future.
As priesthood and auxiliary leaders, we are entitled to the Lord’s assistance in magnifying our callings and fulfilling our responsibilities. Seek His help, and when the inspiration comes to you, move on that inspiration concerning where to go, whom to see, what to say, and how to say it. We can think a thought to death, but only when we move upon the thought do we bless human lives.
May we be true shepherds of those for whom we have responsibility. John Milton wrote in his poem “Lycidas,” “The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed” (line 125). The Lord Himself said to Ezekiel the prophet, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that … feed not the flock” (Ezek. 34:2–3).
Ours is the responsibility to care for the flock, for the precious sheep, these tender lambs, are everywhere to be found—at home in our own families, in the homes of our extended families, and waiting for us in our Church callings. Jesus is our Exemplar. Said He, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep” (John 10:14). We have a shepherding responsibility. May we each step up to serve.
On the journey along the pathway of life, there are casualties. Some depart from the road markers which lead to life eternal only to discover that the detour chosen ultimately leads to a dead end. Indifference, carelessness, selfishness, and sin all take their costly toll in human lives. There are those who, for unexplained reasons, march to the sound of a different drummer, later to learn they have followed the Pied Piper of sorrow and suffering.
In 1995 the First Presidency took note of those who had strayed from the fold of Christ and issued a special statement entitled “An Invitation to Come Back.” The message contained this appeal:
“To you who for any reason find yourselves outside the embrace of the Church, we say come back. We invite you to return and partake of the happiness you once knew. You will find many with outstretched arms to welcome you, assist you, and give you comfort.
“The Church needs your strength, love, loyalty, and devotion. The course is fixed and certain by which a person may return to the full blessings of Church membership, and we stand ready to receive all who wish to do so.”
Perhaps an oft-repeated scene will bring closer to home your personal opportunity to reach out to rescue. Let us look in on a family with a son named Jack. Throughout Jack’s early life, he and his father had many serious arguments. One day when he was 17, they had a particularly agitated one. Jack said to his father, “This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m leaving home, and I will never return!” He went to his room and packed a bag. His mother begged him to stay, but he was too angry to listen. He left her crying in the doorway.
Leaving the yard, he was about to pass through the gate when he heard his father call to him, “Jack, I know that a large share of the blame for your leaving rests with me. For this I am truly sorry. I want you to know that if you should ever wish to return home, you’ll always be welcome. And I’ll try to be a better father to you. I want you to know that I love you, and I’ll always love you.”
Jack said nothing but went to the bus station and bought a ticket to a distant point. As he sat in the bus watching the miles go by, his thoughts turned to the words of his father. He began to realize how much courage, how much love had been required for his father to say what he had said. Dad had apologized. He had invited him back and had left the words ringing in the summer air, “I love you.”
Jack knew that the next move was up to him. He realized the only way he could ever find peace with himself was to demonstrate to his father the same kind of maturity, goodness, and love that Dad had shown toward him. Jack got off the bus. He bought a return ticket and began the journey home.
He arrived shortly after midnight, entered the house, and turned on the light. There in the rocking chair sat his father, his head bowed. As he looked up and saw Jack, he arose from the chair; they rushed into each other’s arms. Jack later said, “Those last years that I was home were among the happiest of my life.”
Here was a father who, suppressing passion and bridling pride, reached out to rescue his son before he became one of that vast “lost battalion” resulting from fractured families and shattered homes. Love was the binding band, the healing balm; love so often felt, so seldom expressed.
Kneel down to pray. Step up to serve. Reach out to rescue. Each is a vital page of God’s blueprint to make a house a home and a home a heaven.
Balance is key to us in our sacred and solemn responsibilities in our own homes and in our Church callings. We must use wisdom, inspiration, and sound judgment as we care for our families and fulfill our Church callings, for each is vitally important. We cannot neglect our families; we must not neglect our Church callings.
Let us build with skill, take no shortcuts, and follow His blueprint. Then the Lord, even our building inspector, may say to us, as He said when He appeared to Solomon, a builder of another day, “I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (1 Kgs. 9:3). We will then have heavenly homes and forever families and will be able to help, to strengthen, and to bless other families as well.
I pray most humbly and sincerely that this blessing may come to each of us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.