Religious Family Life: Application of the Proclamation

Abbey Olsen, “Religious Family Life: Application of the Proclamation,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2005 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 139–151.

Religious Family Life: Application of the Proclamation

Abbey Olsen

I sit in our living room, comfortably curled up on the overstuffed couch. I turn another page of the latest spy-thriller nestled in my lap when a loud, yet not unexpected, shout is heard reverberating down the staircase and throughout the house: “Family night!” It is Monday night again and time for the family to get together. This situation has played out many times in the home that I share with five sisters. The events following the “Family night!” announcement vary. Sometimes immediate footsteps are heard pounding up the stairs in a rush to be the first one to the living room. Other times, the call resounds several times without success, before Dad’s deep voice rings a perceived ultimatum in the ears of unheeding children. Despite busy schedules, it is a given that Monday night is family night. A similar call is heard each night: “Scriptures!” Each call brings immediate or delayed responses, involving either glares or eager participation.

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” says, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” [1] As I grew up, these elements were evident in our home. My parents exemplify through word and example the teachings and lessons of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Good parental example can help children desire and seek out truth based on the principles they are taught.

Faith

Demonstrating faith in family life requires work. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Some evidences of faith through works are paying tithing, attending church, attending the temple, and reading scriptures.

Since I was young, tithing has been an important principle in my life. My sisters and I had little savings boxes where we would divide our money into spending, savings, and tithing. At an early age I learned the importance of giving 10 percent back to the Lord through tithing. From the time my allowance was a dollar to when I had my own job, it wasn’t a question of whether I would pay tithing, but rather it was something that had grown with me. The Lord has given us so much; the least we can do is give a small amount back to aid the spiritual growth of the Church through temporal assistance. The Lord provides the way for us to have our needs met when we rely through faith on paying tithing. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (3 Nephi 24:10). I know that when I pay tithing I am blessed.

Every week, whether the meeting was early in the morning or late in the afternoon, we would get up and get ready for church. When we were small, our dad would curl our hair to make us feel special. “Studies show that fathers also have a special role to play in building a child’s [self-respect]. They are important too, in ways we don’t really understand, in developing internal limits and control in children. . . . Research also shows that fathers are critical in the establishment of gender in children. Interestingly, fatherly involvement produces stronger sexual identity and character in both boys and girls. It’s well established that the masculinity of sons and the femininity of daughters are each greater when fathers are active in family life.” [2]

After getting ready for church, we would either walk to church or pile in the car as a family. We went to all the meetings, and our parents would provide rides and support for attending Primary and Young Women activities. Through attending these meetings and seminary, I learned essential lessons that were supported by my parents’ examples.

Going to the temple to make covenants and participate in ordinances is essential to our salvation. Each Tuesday night my dad goes to serve in the temple. Every Saturday morning my mom serves in the temple. Their example of temple attendance and service has shown me the importance of temple work. The Nephites gathered at the temple as families to hear instruction from King Benjamin. “And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest, every family being separate one from another” (Mosiah 2:5). As a family, we took turns going to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City with my dad to learn how to find family names. Then we would go to the temple and do baptisms for deceased family members. The importance of keeping a journal and doing genealogy work has been emphasized both by my parents and grandparents.

Every night my mom would gather the family together and my dad would lead us in reading scriptures. Sometimes it was very hard to get everyone to come, as it was with family home evenings, but we realized that this was an example of how hard Satan is working to stop the word from being shared.

Prayer

The First Presidency said, “We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.” [3]

When we were little, right before we went to bed my mother would come down and listen to us say our prayers and recite a scripture, and she would sing us a song, usually a hymn. Having her help me get in the habit of saying my nightly prayers is something that has stuck with me. President Thomas S. Monson said, “As parents listen to the prayer of a child, they too draw close to God. These little ones, who so recently have been with their Heavenly Father, have no inhibitions in expressing to Him their feelings, their wishes, their thanks.” [4] Reciting scriptures helped me gain a love for and an understanding of the scriptures that has answered prayers and been an inspiration when I’ve needed to understand certain aspects of the gospel. “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:12). Hymns are prayers unto God. Having hymns sung to me not only helped me learn the words but also helped me understand the power of inspiring music.

President Monson continued, “Family prayer is the greatest deterrent to sin, and hence the most beneficent provider of joy and happiness. The old saying is yet true: ‘The family that prays together stays together.’” [5] Each night as I grew up we would gather together for family prayer. Dad would choose someone to say the prayer and we would kneel down together. Then we would give each other hugs and kisses and get ready for bed. The Spirit bore witness of truth, and joining together brought harmony and happiness into our home. Family prayer aided in providing a haven and protection from the outside world for our family. It made our home a safe place to be—a place we could turn to when the storms of life beat down on us.

In addition to family prayer, our family would gather on several occasions to pray and end family fasts for family members, friends, or ward members. The power of those prayers combined with fasting brought an outpouring of the Spirit, which brought us closer as a family and closer to God.

Sometimes I would wake up very early and walk in on my mother praying. It was an example to me of her faith and love. She would often counsel me to pray about decisions or questions I had. Listening to my parents pray for me and my sisters gave me the extra boost I needed to face challenges as I recognized their faith in Heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ, and in my potential. Their counsel to seek answers on my own helped me gain my own testimony of the power of prayer.

Repentance and Forgiveness

Elder Francisco J. Viñas said, “It is in the home that one learns that faith is intimately related to the Atonement, ‘this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.’” [6]

It was in our home that I learned the principles of repentance and forgiveness. Whenever I would get into an argument with one of my sisters and I was either unrepentant or unforgiving and vindictive, my mother would intervene. Interestingly, she would wait for a while to see if we could solve it on our own before stepping in. When I got a little older and watched her intervention with my younger siblings, I realized the wisdom in her actions. When an argument came about between my youngest two sisters, the older one would want justice done to the younger one for her offense. The older one could see perfectly that the younger one deserved the punishment, and the younger one was not repentant. The scriptures give counsel on the importance of forgiving everyone, even those who are unrepentant: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” (D&C 64:9–11).

To teach the importance of feeling sorrow for one’s mistakes, we would be disciplined through the loss of privileges for a while. The one who was unforgiving of the other’s trespass would also lose privileges—usually if they did something in retaliation for the other’s offense. Eventually each would recognize the importance of getting along and would say, “Sorry,” and would forgive the other, becoming good friends again. My mother and father would act as mediators in the conflicts and try to provide a Christlike example of love and mercy.

Often our Father in Heaven works with us this way. He lets us go along in our lives, and we sin and make mistakes. He tries to let us have room to make our own choices to forgive and repent. When we do not follow His counsel, privileges are taken away that we normally would have had, had we not sinned. It is only when we feel sorrow for what we have done, make restitution, and turn away from sin that our privileges are restored through the mercy and Atonement of Christ.

Respect

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Successful families have love and respect for each family member. Family members know they are loved and appreciated. Children feel they are loved by their parents. Thus, they are secure and self-assured.” [7]

In our family we each felt respected. Our home was a place where we could share our comments and ideas without fear of being laughed at. Our home was a secure place where we could learn and grow together through mutual respect. Sarcasm and backbiting were not the way to communicate or deal with problems. According to Rex A. Skidmore, “We cannot use the psychological weapons of depreciation, manipulation, criticism, or sarcasm on others without bruising ourselves.” [8] If we did have an issue, it would usually come right out into the open where it could be resolved with minimal hurt feelings.

Our family would hold family council when an issue arose that my parents felt needed extra attention. We were each asked to contribute our ideas for resolving or improving the issue. In this way our home became a place for growth where members contributed to how things were run.

My dad had the unique role of being a father to six daughters. His respect for us was evident in the way he treated us. Whenever we went for a walk, he would always walk on the street side. He would open doors for us and be a gentleman.

Love and Compassion

Elder Robert D. Hales noted, “The family is strengthened as we draw near to the Lord, and each member of the family is strengthened as we lift and strengthen and love and care for one another.” [9] Love and compassion were evident in our home. “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things . . . charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Moroni 7:45, 47). Although our family was far from perfect, we tried to love and help one another. When harsh words were said it would drive away the Spirit, which could only be restored when the conflict was resolved through repentance and forgiveness. Many times I remember being discouraged or feeling alone or upset, and one of my sisters or a parent would come down to my room and give me a hug. They offered a listening ear, hope, and a release to the frustrations that were built up. After talking, I’d feel a renewed sense of self and an increased ability to continue enduring my challenges.

Service in our family was a key to showing our love for each other. Sometimes my mother would feel overwhelmed by all the various activities, projects, and errands there were to do. My dad would pitch in and help pick up the slack either by doing some of the errands or doing an extra service for her. Sometimes a sister would do a chore that was assigned to another sister, creating a feeling of gratitude and love. My mom would often stay up late helping us finish school projects that we’d procrastinated. Our family showed love in numerous ways through service and gratitude.

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states, “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.” [10] In addition to providing for and nurturing their children, husbands and wives must show their love for each other. It has always been evident that my parents love each other and want to make their marriage celestial. Every Friday night they go on a date or spend time together. This helps them renew their relationship and continue to face life’s challenges together.

Another way my dad shows love for his family is by honoring his priesthood. Every school year he would take each of us one by one and, with Mom present, give us a father’s blessing to help us with the challenges that would come our way. In addition to the blessing, we would have a talk and discuss important issues, cares, and concerns. This brought us closer as children to our earthly father as well as closer to our Heavenly Father. The love expressed in these blessings sustained us through many challenges. Blessings for healing and comfort were also available because my father honors his priesthood.

Simply expressing the words “I love you” can uplift and help families grow closer. Many times my sisters or parents say those words, and it is remarkable how they lift a spirit weighed down by various burdens. Sharing hugs also brings comfort and a show of love and compassion. I remember several occasions where all of us sisters would pile on Dad’s lap for a big group picture and hug. The love and happiness shared during these occasions was real and wonderful.

Work

Bishop J. Richard Clark has said, “We are cocreators with God. He gave us the capacity to do the work he left undone, to harness the energy, mine the ore, transform the treasures of the earth for our good. But most important, the Lord knew that from the crucible of work emerges the hard core of character.” [11] My parents firmly believed in teaching their children to work.

I remember the first time they brought the family together to establish a system of chores. We weren’t too thrilled at the idea, but when we got a creative job chart with little cards that we could turn over when our chore was finished, it was a bit more exciting. My mother had the challenge of keeping us excited about doing our chores. The continual reminding and pleading to clean, vacuum, mow the lawn (yes, in a family of only girls we got to mow the lawn), baby-sit, fold laundry, and complete other chores was sometimes annoying, but my mother never gave up. She taught us the importance of work.

Our parents did not intervene when things were difficult for us. This taught us the importance of self-reliance and independence. They expressed their faith in us and provided encouragement and sometimes discipline to help us in our chores or school work, but they ultimately gave us the choice to work and reap the consequences of our obedience or to not work and reap the consequences of our disobedience.

My parents have always supported educational excellence. Although we, their daughters, might never have to work to support a family, the value of a good education goes beyond providing for a family’s financial needs. Elaine Shaw Sorensen reaffirms this concept: “The potential lies within each of us to become educated . . . to educate our posterity, that the human condition may be enriched and improved. The way is open for you and me to step onto a path of progression toward excellence. Education can be pursued by all of us, wherever we may be. Indeed, we have only to open our minds and hearts, drinking in the fulfillment and exhilaration that flows from the expansion of our souls.” [12] Fulfilling my potential for obtaining knowledge and excellence through hard work, encouraged by parental example and teachings, has always been a strong motivation for me in my education.

Wholesome Recreational Activities

Our family has had many opportunities to grow closer through wholesome recreational activities. Every Monday night, after the family home evening lesson, we would have a game or activity. It would not be too long but it would help us laugh and grow closer through interaction.

Our family has also gone on several family vacations. Whether to the Oregon Coast, Mesa Verde, a museum, or the sand dunes, we spend a few days every summer away from the cares of daily life and spend time doing activities as a family. These vacations create memories and forge relationships that will be cherished throughout life. We’ve also gone to several family reunions with our extended family. Here we learn and grow closer to our extended family. I’ve forged some deep friendships and bonds with my cousins because we are able to get away and spend time together.

Participating in wholesome recreational activities helps unify our family and strengthens our relationships without the distractions of day-to-day living.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

How beautiful is that home where lives a man of godly manner, who loves those for whose nurture he is responsible, who stands before them as an example of integrity and goodness, who teaches industry and loyalty, not spoiling his children by indulging their every wish, but rather setting before them a pattern of work and service which will underpin their lives forever. How fortunate is the man whose wife radiates a spirit of love, of compassion, of order, of quiet beneficence, whose children show appreciation one for another, who honor and respect their parents, who counsel with them and take counsel from them. Such home life is within the reach of all who have cultivated in their hearts a resolution to do that which will please their Father in Heaven. [13]

The righteous pattern for a successful family and marriage is evident in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Righteous traditions established while growing up in a gospel-centered family can be carried on through college life and eventually in future families. Elder Hales said, “What if you are single or have not been blessed with children? Do you need to be concerned about the counsel regarding families? Yes. It is something we all need to learn in earth life. Unmarried adult members can often lend a special kind of strength to the family, becoming a tremendous source of support, acceptance, and love to their families and the families of those around them.” [14]

The call of “Family night!” can now be heard when my family home evening group gathers on Monday night in our small kitchen or living room area. Although the circumstances of life are different, establishing principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities in classmate and roommate relationships will help solidify values learned and better prepare us to fulfill the mission and potential that Heavenly Father sent us here to perform.

Notes

[1] “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.

[2] James E. Faust, “Fathers, Mothers, Marriage,” Ensign, August 2004, 4.

[3] “Strengthening Our Marriages, Families, and Homes,” Ensign, June 2002, 67.

[4] Thomas S. Monson, “Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Ensign, October 2001, 4.

[5] Thomas S. Monson, “Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Ensign, October 2001, 4.

[6] Francisco J. Viñas, “Applying the Simple and Plain Gospel Principles in the Family,” Ensign, May 2004, 39.

[7] Ezra Taft Benson, “Counsel to the Saints,” Ensign, August 1993, 2.

[8] Rex A. Skidmore, “Getting Older, Getting Better,” Ensign, August 1988, 42.

[9] Robert D. Hales, “Strengthening Families: Our Sacred Duty,” Ensign, May 1999, 34.

[10] “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.

[11] J. Richard Clarke, “The Value of Work,” Ensign, May 1982, 77.

[12] Elaine Shaw Sorensen, “The Educated Woman Within Us,” Ensign, March 1983, 31.

[13] Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Please Our Heavenly Father,” Ensign, May 1985, 50.

[14] Robert D. Hales, “Strengthening Families: Our Sacred Duty,” Ensign, May 1999, 34.