Since families are the means in which we experience the greatest joys in this life, as well as the greatest heartaches, I think it is important to preface a talk on Eternal Families with a reminder that having an eternal family is a fundamental reason for the gospel and if we remain faithful to the covenants we have made – we will be offered the new and everlasting covenant of having an eternal family as the crowing jewel of the gospel we have lived. Whatever our current or past family situation has been – we will have all of the joy and beauty that comes from having a loving, eternal family unit if we are true to our covenants.
As I thought about why Bro. Porter asked three mothers of new babies to talk about eternal families, I believe it is because having a baby into your home, fills your mind with wonder and gratitude for this blessing of eternal families. I know I had a glimpse of it at the birth of our baby. Some of you are aware that little "Ladybug" was born at home. I kind of like to be left alone during labor so I can get into my own little world. My midwife was there and she knew I would let her know if I needed her and I hadn’t thought to tell anyone that the baby was coming. There was a reverent, surprised gasp
Shortly after she was born, I was all cleaned up and in my bed, holding our little baby with all of my little children and husband gathered around me. My parents were also in the room. Some of the children were half-asleep because their dad had just awakened them to come and meet their new baby sister. We were all gazing in wonder at this new little spirit that had just come into the world. It was one of those moments where time stands still and you remember the purpose of why we are here and what really matters in life. I think we all felt, to some degree or another, a great love and desire to help guide this little spirit back to her Father in heaven. Difficult and sad things were going on outside our little room, but at that moment we all felt encircled in safety and love as a family, welcoming another eternal spirit to the world – and we knew our purpose.
I take you to this experience with me because I want you to think back on an experience where you had one of those moments where time stands still and you felt that bond of love that comes with family relationships – maybe it was at your last family vacation, maybe it was a little brother sweetly smiling at you, or perhaps last night as you tucked little ones into bed or a grandchild asked to sit on your lap – remember that feeling for a moment and consider why? Why would Heavenly Father choose to send us to training ground called “Earth” as part of an earthly family? The proclamation on the family states, “The family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” Why is that so?
I wish I could hear some of you insights, I think we can think of several reasons why this is so. I have pondered this a great deal in my life. Ever since I was in 3rd grade and my best friend told me that her parents were getting divorced, I have known that one of my greatest desires in life was to help strengthen families. I've pondered on why that is as I've’ve studied it in the scriptures, modern revelation, in formal school and in the school of experience. As I pondered on the most important message I could leave with you in this short talk, I decided on a guiding principle that I have been trying to live by because I have found it to be true, even though I have a long way to go before I have perfected it!
Before I share this principle, I want to share the some of the doctrine that has led me to adopt it as a guiding truth. First, I believe there is no better training ground for achieving our potential than within a family. In the last conference, Boyd K. Packer stated, “Parents today wonder if there is a safe place to raise children. There is a safe place. It is in a gospel-centered home.” I think we are all aware that our true character comes out in the context of our family. It is easier to be kind, sharing and cheerful when we are among friends and acquaintances, but it is much more difficult when we are among those in our family. Why is that? There are several reasons, but I think one of the biggest ones is that we can only fake kindness for a short time when charity isn’t in our hearts and we don’t need be fake with our families, they know our weaknesses already so we end up being ourselves – sometimes our best selves (when our heart is right) and sometimes our worst (when it is not) – but ourselves nonetheless. So I repeat, our true character comes out in the context of our family. How well we have learned patience, kindness, and charity and so forth – is most evident in the way we treat our family members. As unfortunate as that may be as we look back on our week – it is also coupled with the hope that our families are usually a safe place where we can keep practicing, repenting and trying again.
This makes a lot of sense, really, because our Heavenly Father wants us to inherit all that He has – that is a pretty big stewardship. How can he know we will be wise with it if we are not wise with the stewardship He has blessed us with here on this Earth? That is the second doctrine I wanted to bring up – that if we are faithful over a few things, God can trust us with more. Our Earthly families are the training ground for a much greater inheritance. If we can learn to truly love and treat our family members as Christ would treat them, we can will someday hear those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things – I will make thee ruler over many things.” But if we are not seeking the grace of Jesus Christ to improve those relationships - Oh, how great will be the heartache if instead we are told, “Oh thou wicked and slothful servant” and those relationships that we have not worked to improve in this life are taken from us in the next life.
The last doctrine that has builds the foundation for the principle I wanted to share is that we are here to learn to love. Christ has said that all other laws hand on this great truth that we love God and that we love our neighbor. He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”
“But, you don’t know my family!” We might reply. My little brother talks nonstop – I can’t even hear myself think. Or “my sister is always making fun of me”. Or “My husband is so grumpy” or “my wife doesn’t appreciate me” and the list goes on – and likely with much greater weaknesses and struggles than the ones I have mentioned. So what do we do? How can we love people even when their behavior can be hard or seemingly impossible to love?
That leads me to the principle that I wanted to leave with you today.
In order to be righteous stewards of our families and be trusted with all that Heavenly Father has, we must learn to love as God loves, and that means we must first be righteous stewards of our own hearts. We can’t do that on our own – we are too weak and incapable. To be righteous stewards of our hearts, we must hand them to God and ask Him to fill them with His Spirit and Love. He has given us covenants made possible by the sacrifice of His son to enable us to do this.
As I have tried to live this principle, I have learned some things as I have failed. I have found that if I ever try to correct a child, or a husband, or anyone, without God’s spirit in my heart – I do not do any good, and in fact, often, if not always, I do harm. I may think my intentions are noble – after all, as their mother, it is my role and responsibility to teach them that what they are doing is wrong – but it does no good if they do not choose to change – and they will not choose to change unless they are feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost – and the only way I can invite them to feel that influence is by having Him present in my own heart. I cannot share what I do not have. If instead, I give judgment and condemnation, that is likely what I will get in return.
I have found that the most important question I can ask myself when I see a child behaving in a way that is not in line with gospel principles that they know is not, “How can I change this behavior?” You know, “How can I get him to stop teasing his brother”, “How do I get her to listen to me when I ask her to do something?” “How can I stop him from talking back to me?” It’s not “How can I change this behavior, but it is, “How do I invite the Spirit here?” Pretty much always, the answer to this is that I need to invite Him into my heart first so that He can touch others through me. This makes me so grateful for repentance and the atonement of Jesus Christ that allows someone as flawed and weak as I am – to be able to have a clean dwelling place for that Spirit as I turn my heart to God. And then away - and then back, over and over again!
Of course, this isn't to say that we should never give our children consequences because it may make them mad and drive away the Spirit, but there is a great difference between giving consequences in a loving way and giving consequences in a frustrated, demeaning way. Both get the job of correcting done, but one teaches that our wrong actions have consequences and the other hurts relationships and offends the Spirit.
For example, sometimes I have a hard time maintaining that sense of peace and love in my heart when my children are getting distracted and taking forever to get their jobs done. The other day when this was going on and I had reminded them several times to stay on task, I heard some playing and giggling and decided to go down there and lay down the law. My body was tense and I was clearly frustrated – not a good combination for interacting with others. I started to say, “If I hear one more…” and then I looked in their eyes. They had been happy and were on the verge of turning sad”. Thankfully, I was able to switch gears before it was too late and I smiled and said something funny and told them I would not be reminding them anymore, but that I would enforce a consequence if they did not finish on time because it was so important for them to learn that there are consequences for not staying on task and getting a job done. My heart became right after looking in their eyes and remembering God’s love for them and my role and I knew more clearly what was the right thing to do – and interestingly – I have never found that the right thing is to vent my frustrations on them.
And for you younger members of the ward – you may or may not be aware that your parents are not quite perfect. You may have picked up on a slight character flaw or two. But the same goes for you, you can invite the Spirit into your heart and that will influence your parents to want to get it in their hearts too. Last week, I was feeling frustrated again with how the housework was going, but this time I was not so wise and I did vent some frustrations to my daughter, about how long it was taking and how she needed to learn to be responsible, etc. She looked at me and instead of arguing and making excuses – she said, “Oh, okay, sorry mom.” And went to do it. I was taken aback and her good Spirit invited my heart to change and be loving and kind instead of frustrated.
We are here as families to help each other through this journey called life. What a blessing we can be to one another! I pray that as we go home today, we will try to be a little kinder to those who love us even when we’re at our worst and that we will try harder to turn to God and let Him make our hearts clean so that He may abide in them.