This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday afternoon session of April 1976 conference.
Families are the most important unit and they are under attack by the person who is the loneliest creature ever to be born. He hates the idea of families because he will never have one of his own. Having no family will be his hell without end.
Two of our great apostles have stated:
“The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matters–Everywhere In the World,” Apr. 2015).
“Families are not just meant to make things run more smoothly here on earth and to be cast off when we get to heaven. Rather, they are the order of heaven. They are an echo of a celestial pattern and an emulation of God’s eternal family” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “In Praise of Those Who Save,” Apr. 2016).
As much as all families have some kind of problem or another, because families are all far from perfect, deep down we still recognize the joy that comes from this celestially bound grouping of people who have learned to love one another. The good news is that not only do we live in variously shaped nuclei, every single one of us is actually strung together by related DNA from one end of the world to the other. The entire world is one big family and we are all a part of it.
Take, for example, William Grant Bangerter’s talk, “Relationships.” Speaking of relationships, first, he is the father of Julie B. Beck. Second, he introduces his talk with this laugh:
“I don’t know whether I should say this, but I’ve always laid a certain claim to fame from the fact that Sister LaVern Parmley, who was president of the Primary, was my cousin. But you know, Sister Bangerter arranged to have her released. And then she had Sister Barbara Smith, who is her cousin, sustained as president of the Relief Society.”
In the church, we often find these relationships. As much as we joke about it, or try to ignore it, polygamy had its place in the early days of the church. The Lord wanted His righteous family to come forth and because of these large polygamist families, He did just that.
Families are not just for this world. Relationships beyond the veil are so extensive we need computers today to keep them organized. As we sit down to construct our family trees, we might be surprised to see just who we are related to. But first, we need to input our basic four generations into the worldwide pedigree chart of FamilySearch. It’s hard to believe that half of the membership still hasn’t done this. Have you?
If all of us did this one simple exercise we would see for ourselves relationships within our own communities and wards that we had no idea of. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to discover that you are related to several people you already associate with on a daily basis?
And that’s just on this earth. The more Family History we do, the more family will be waiting to greet us on the other side. In fact, when Elisha said, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them,” (2 Kings 6:16) he was talking about family. If only we could actually see all those who are waiting and watching us succeed in this world.
We also understand that it is the gospel that unites us. When we accept the same belief and begin calling one another brother and sister, we become family. This spiritual bond can become powerful as it gives us a place to belong.
When talking about family, there are always those who don’t feel like they fit in. They feel alienated and desperately alone. And ironically, some have felt excluded from their own family wards. Church members should always act like a loving family.
Most people who leave the church leave because they have felt that exclusion and loneliness drive them away.
First of all, those feelings of depression and worthlessness come from Satan, the Family Destroyer. Second, people are imperfect and fighting their own inadequacies. Third, our Heavenly Parents love us and there is simply nothing we can do to ever change that.
Elder Holland once shared a story that shows each one of us just how much our Heavenly Father watches over us. This story happened to his friend Clyn D. Barrus when he was seven years old. It was his responsibility to bring the cows safely home each night. One night, he saw that the cows had crossed the river, and even though the rule was to go get help if this ever happened, he decided to cross the river on his own anyway. After barely making it across the river, he knew he had done a terrible thing and began crying and praying all at the same time. He prayed that his father wouldn’t be mad at him and he prayed that help would come. In his words,
“When I finally looked up, I saw through my tears a figure dressed in white walking toward me. In the dark, I felt certain it must be an angel sent in answer to my prayers. I did not move or make a sound as the figure approached, so overwhelmed was I by what I saw. Would the Lord really send an angel to me, who had been so disobedient?
“Then a familiar voice said, ‘Son, I’ve been looking for you.’ In the darkness I recognized the voice of my father and ran to his outstretched arms. He held me tightly, then said gently, ‘I was worried. I’m glad I found you.’
“I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but only disjointed words came out of my trembling lips—‘Thank you … darkness … afraid … river … alone.’ Later that night I learned that when I had not returned from the pasture, my father had come looking for me. When neither I nor the cows were to be found, he knew I had crossed the river and was in danger. Because it was dark and time was of the essence, he removed his clothes down to his long white thermal underwear, tied his shoes around his neck, and swam a treacherous river to rescue a wayward son.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The MInistry of Angels,” Oct. 2008).
Heavenly Father wants us to recognize that we are His family. We belong to Him no matter what. The test is that we need to know it for ourselves.
I imagine one cure for those crummy feelings of isolation is to do our own Family History work. We can find all kinds of people to love who won’t ignore us, betray us, or snub us in any way. Our world of relationships will extend and we will find that they are completely grateful to us and will welcome us with open arms when we finally arrive in heaven after a long and fruitful life on the earth. Our relationship will be eternal because we are family.
Other General Conference Odyssey posts:
To know Him Marilyn Nielson