A Family Home Evening

Adapted from a talk given at the area general conference in Manchester, England, August 27, 1971.

Generally speaking, I believe that Latter-day Saint parents have always been concerned over the well-being of their homes and their children. I also believe that, as a general rule, Latter-day Saint children respect their parents’ teachings, as well as the standards of their homes. Otherwise, I think we would not have going into the mission field year after year hundreds of splendid young men and women representing the teachings of the Church and reflecting the teachings of their homes.

Today, however, the circumstances of life heighten parental concern, and in all too many instances seem to be impinging upon the desirable parent-child and child-home relationships.

This has given rise to intensified effort on the part of the Church to be helpful by re-emphasis of Church teachings in relation to the home, the family, and its divine destiny. New guidelines have been given us in the form of programs. Among them, foremost I believe is the family home evening program.

I wish to tell a story that to me epitomizes the beauty and the significance of a properly conducted family home evening and clearly depicts the role of the mother. The story is historically true.

The family were farmers. They had had reverses due to drought and unproductive soil and had been forced to move into a neighboring state. The father, a hard-working, righteous man who loved the family, was nonetheless not discouraged. He had counseled with the mother and with the children on the major decision of moving; they had had voice in the move. The mother was of a deeply spiritual nature, with a wise and understanding heart. Her love for her children led her to endure without complaint bitter hardships and even physical suffering.

Eight children made up this family. The children worked together for the good of all in a spirit of loyalty and affection for one another. So deep was the affection of the eldest brother for a younger brother that it endured through endless persecutions, unspeakable suffering, even unto martyrdom. The relationship of these two brothers has been compared to that of David and Jonathan.

One day this younger brother, the third son in the family, a fourteen-year-old boy, had a tremendous spiritual experience; according to his mother, it left him “overwhelmed and astonished.” This was followed by other spiritual experiences in which an angel talked to the boy. Upon the second visitation of the angel, the boy was directed by the angel to tell his father all that he had seen and heard. Childlike, the boy was afraid to do so for fear the father would not believe him, so unusual had been his experiences. The angel, however, knowing the heart and mind of the father, assured the boy that his father would believe what he told him.

The father did listen to the boy’s story with credulity. He evidently discussed it with the mother. Subsequently the father and mother gathered the family together in the peace of the evening when the day’s work was done, so that all might listen while the young Joseph related particulars of the visitation of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, of the subsequent visits of the Angel Moroni, and of the work that Joseph had been appointed by the Lord to do. With the passing of time, many such evening gatherings were held, as new experiences came to this young boy. The mother’s account of those family evenings follows, and I quote from her book on the life of the Prophet:

“I presume,” she said, “the family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth—all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life: he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study.

“We were now confirmed in the opinion that God was about to bring to light something upon which we could stay our minds, or that would give us a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family.”

And then she concludes by saying, “… the sweetest union and happiness pervaded our house, and tranquility reigned in our midst.” (History of Joseph Smith, by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith [Bookcraft, 1958], pp. 82–83.) To me, this is a unique account of an impressive family home evening.

How many of us would make a more determined effort if we could be assured that the sweetest union and happiness would pervade our houses and that tranquillity would reign in our midst?

And now may I pose one or two questions for your consideration:

Did the evening family gatherings significantly help Joseph to accept and devote himself to his divine calling?

Did they have any direct bearing on the great work of Hyrum in support of the Prophet and in his conviction of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and his dedication to the work?

Could the family loyalty to the cause of the restored gospel have been rallied to greater advantage in some other way than in bringing family members together?

Why would the angel have directed the boy to tell his father? Why not his mother, his brother to whom he was so devoted, an intimate friend, or even someone from a church? On whom in this life does the Lord place prime responsibility for a child?

What was the mother’s role in bringing the family together? Did she have any part in influencing the receptive attitude of the children to her son’s miraculous story?

Conversely, suppose the father, busy and tired with his farm labors, had brushed the boy aside or even discredited his story.

Suppose the mother had felt that outside interests and activities would not allow time to bring the family together. Suppose the mother had said to the father, “Oh, let us deal with this matter ourselves. We work hard all day; the older children have their own affairs, and the little ones must be in bed.” Suppose, even, the mother had not been at home to aid in arrangements and to participate in these family evenings.

Suppose the father and mother had not created the right listening and believing atmosphere and had allowed the children to be disorderly, to have laughed or even questioned or ridiculed the boy’s story. Would this have added a burden to an already “overwhelmed and astonished” boy?

All too often parents do not know what is in the minds and hearts of their children. All too often they allow the unimportant to crowd out the important. All too often they are too busy to gather the family together to sit down and listen.

Furthermore, only upon the rarest occasion have parents been given to know the divine mission of a child; but we are given to know that the great men in the presiding councils of the Church are chosen of the Lord to guide and direct this people. We are given to know that they do so through revelation and inspiration. We are given to know that they understand the doctrine of the eternity of the family unit. They know how to bring to our people the guidelines that will bind families together and assure their eternal well-being. Then what is our role as parents? It is a simple one. It is to listen and obey.

The Lord has said, “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:7.)

We remember always that the Lord speaks to us through the voice and the writings of the presiding priesthood of his church. May we follow the counsel of these brethren, not only with regard to conducting family home evenings, if we really wish the well-being of our families, but in all matters related to our lives so that we may enjoy the eternal blessings. This is my prayer for the Latter-day Saint families.