My invitation is to represent the fathers in the priesthood. I address my remarks to the Relief Society sisters whose husbands are not at present active in the Church or are not yet members of the Church. In so doing, I realize I speak to a very large audience. To those of you fortunate enough to have husbands who are active, I would speak through you to the sisters who need some help. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about nonmembers. I just said, to those of you whose husbands are not yet members.
Each weekend as we travel to stake conferences, we meet one or two stake leaders who have joined the Church after many years, through the encouragement of a patient and, not infrequently, long-suffering wife.
I have often said that a man cannot resist membership if his wife really wants him to have it, and if she knows how to give him encouragement. Frequently we give up on this matter. Now you can’t ever give up. You can’t ever give up, not in this life or in the next. You can never give up.
Some have joined the Church after finding it at a very late hour in life or after lingering for many years before taking that step. Then comes the regret over the wasted years and the question, “Why couldn’t I have realized earlier? It is too late for me to learn the gospel or to progress in it.”
I think we should take great comfort from the parable of the householder who hired laborers and set them to work at the first hour at an agreed price. Then he “found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
“They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” (Matt. 20:6–7.)
And so it was, even to the eleventh hour, that he hired others and set them to work. And when the day was over he gave the same pay to every one of them. Those who had come early murmured, saying, “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”
And the Lord said to them, “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
“Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? …” (Matt. 20:12–15.)
He wasn’t talking about money.
The gates of the celestial kingdom will open to those who come early or late. Sisters, you must never give up. If you have faith enough and desire enough, you will yet have at the head of your home a father and a husband who is active and faithful in the Church.
Some who have long since lost hope have said bitterly, “It would take a miracle.” And so I say, Why not? Why not a miracle! Is there a purpose more worthy than that?
At the conference in England I spoke to the sisters along this line and encouraged them to regard their husbands as though they were active members of the Church, to do this with a gesture of faith that it might bring about the very thing they desired. A few days ago I received a long letter from a sister who had attended that meeting. I can only quote a sentence or two:
“In my patriarchal blessing,” she says, “I was told that by gentle persuasion and guidance, teaching love and understanding, my husband will mellow towards the Church and, given the opportunity, he will accept the gospel. He will find it difficult, but if he opens his heart and lets the Lord and the Holy Spirit work within him, then he will recognize the gospel and follow its course.
“I worried,” she said, “because I am not always gentle, loving, and understanding, but more angry with him at times; and yet I knew that this was wrong. I prayed to the Lord to help me, and this help was spoken by you when you said that we were to treat our husbands as though they were members of the Church.
“This I have done these past few days and it has helped me tremendously, for if my husband held the holy priesthood of God, then I would be a more obedient wife and honor the priesthood.
“We have become closer, and I realize that unless I become gentle, loving, and understanding now, I am unworthy to be honored with the priesthood in my home.”
And then this lovely sister added, with hope, “That my husband and I and our six lovely children may be sealed in the holy temple and serve the Lord as a family united in Christ.”
In order to help with a miracle like this, I would like to talk about what a man is and make suggestions as to how you might approach this challenge.
First, virtually every man knows that he should be giving righteous spiritual leadership in the home. The scriptures say very clearly that “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. …” (2 Ne. 2:5.)
Often, when a woman joins the Church before her husband does, or if she is a member of the Church when they marry, she readily becomes the spiritual leader in the family. The father then doesn’t quite know how to step to her side, even though he may see this as his proper place. He somehow feels that he might be replacing her. Often a man will feel uncomfortable, hold back, resist, not knowing quite how to wrest that spiritual leadership from his wife.
There are some very delicate feelings related to this matter that have to do with the male ego and touch the very center of the nature of manhood. And I must say in all candor that not infrequently a woman can become so determined to lead her husband to activity in the Church that she fails to realize that she could let him lead her there very quickly.
Remember, dear sisters, that the home and the family are a unit of the Church. Once you recognize that, you come to know, in a very real sense, that when you are at home you are at church, or at least you should be. Somehow we get set in our minds that a man is not active unless he is attending meetings regularly at the chapel. I recall President Lee saying once that someone close to him, if judged by that term, was inactive, and yet he knew him to be a saintly man. The mere act of his leaving home and going to the other building is somehow a symbol of his activity in the Church.
This, then, becomes the first thing we try to do, to get him to attend meetings at the chapel, when generally this is not the beginning at all. That happens later. Now let me make this suggestion.
It is difficult to get a man to go to church when he doesn’t feel at home there. It may be new and different to him, or perhaps there are habits he has not yet overcome, and he may feel self-conscious and just not feel at home at church. There is another solution, you know—that of making him feel as if he’s at church while at home.
We often don’t properly credit what he does at home. It’s that going to the chapel that gets fixed in our minds as the symbol of church activity. In many ways it can be the things he does at home that are more important as a beginning.
And so the suggestion, Why don’t you begin where you are, right at home? And I repeat, if your husband doesn’t feel at home going to church, then do everything you can to make him feel at church while he’s at home.
How can you do this? Well, the Relief Society can answer that. To me the greatest challenge before Relief Society in our day is that of assisting these lovely women to provoke their husbands to good works.
Recently a study was completed involving families with inactive or nonmember fathers. These fathers agreed, after some persuasion, to institute the family home evening program in their homes. Gradually the fathers were drawn into participation. It had an appeal because it was in their own comfortable environment and they could do it about as they wished, and the family home evening program is just that adaptable.
There was an interesting result. When they felt comfortable with the Church at home, then they began to go to church with their families.
To bring some of the things of heaven into the home is to insure that family members will graduate to church participation. The family home evening is, of course, ready-made for this—a meeting at home that can be organized to fit every need; and it’s just as much a church meeting, or can be, as those held at the chapel.
It may take a miracle for your husband to become active or to join the Church. Some of us think a miracle is a miracle only if it happens instantly, but miracles can grow slowly. And patience and faith can compel things to happen that otherwise never would have come to pass. It took a sister of mine seventeen years of patience, but it was well worth it. I knew a bishop who took thirty years to become active. He said he didn’t believe in rushing into things.
So begin where you are, in the home, and have patience, whether it takes a little while, or a long while, or nearly an eternity. There is a meaningful scripture in the book of Ether: “… dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12:6.)
Building a heaven in your home will do much to make these miracles.
One family in this experiment, when visited after a few months of having family home evening, was asked the question, “Did you have family home evening every week?”
The wife replied, “We don’t know. There was one week when we don’t know whether we had family home evening or not.”
The question was asked, “What did you do?”
With tears in her eyes she said, “That’s the night our family went to the temple to be sealed together.”
The husband, who was now a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, sat straight in his chair and was filled with joy as he related how family home evening had caused them to sense the true importance of family life and the need for spirituality.
The wife explained, “The night we went to the temple was my birthday. I didn’t get a present because now that we are paying tithing we don’t have any extra money.” Then she looked at her husband and said, “The greatest present I ever received from you was the night you took us all to the temple.”
Another woman said of her husband, “The best family home evenings we had were when my husband taught.”
As the husband heard this he said, “Oh, I didn’t do so good.”
She said, “Oh, but you did. I was really proud of you.”
Then he said (and isn’t this like a man?): “I guess I did do pretty good. You know, I’ve always been a black sheep, but when I taught my own family [remember, a church at home], I got a feeling that I had never had before, and everything seemed to make sense.”
And now this man comes over to the chapel and is active there. It all started with church at home.
Now if your husband does not, in the beginning, hold up his end of making miracles, and he probably won’t, then you do your part all the better. Make the gospel seem so worthwhile that he can’t resist it.
Some years ago Brother Tuttle and I called to see a local leader of the Church in the early evening before going on to another city. He had not arrived home from work, and his wife was busy in the kitchen. She invited us to sit at the kitchen table and visit while she continued her work.
Box lunches were set on the counter. She explained that there was a box supper at the branch that night and she’d spent the whole day preparing the finest lunches she could.
About the time he arrived, she took from the oven some hot cherry pies. Being a hospitable woman, she insisted that we be served hot cherry pie smothered in ice cream. Of course, we did not resist.
She then glanced at her husband, and I could tell what she was thinking: “He’d like a piece of pie too, but it will dull his appetite for the box supper later. It isn’t kind to have him sit and watch them eat, but if he eats he won’t enjoy the meal I’ve worked so hard to prepare.”
So finally this silent argument in her mind was ended and she cut another piece of pie—noticeably bigger than the ones we had, with just a little bit more ice cream. She set it on the table before him, slipped her hands down under his chin, squeezed him just a little, and said, “Honey, it kind of makes the gospel seem worthwhile, doesn’t it.”
Later, when I teased her a little bit about spoiling him that way, she said, “He’ll never leave me. I know how to treat a man.”
I repeat—the greatest challenge facing Relief Society in our day is to assist the lovely wives of these hundreds of thousands of men to encourage their husbands, to make a heaven in their homes. Sisters, make the gospel seem worthwhile to them, and then let them know that that is your purpose.
Most women expect men to perceive those things, and get irritated and sometimes upset when they don’t. But men just aren’t that sensitive. A man can be thick-skulled, dull-witted, and unconscious sometimes when it comes to things like this. When you say to yourself, or to another, “Well, he ought to know what it is I want most,” perhaps he ought to know, but he probably doesn’t, and he needs to be told.
I was told yesterday of a home teacher trying to encourage the father to pray in the home. The father resisted and sat down on the couch. Finally he knelt but wouldn’t pray. His wife was then invited to pray, and through her tears she poured out her heart to the Lord, pleading with him for what she wanted most.
When the prayer was over, this husband, a startled man, and I think in many ways an innocent man, said, “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that was what you wanted. You’re going to see some changes in me.”
He needs to know, he needs to be told that you care about the gospel as deeply as you do and that you care about him infinitely more because of the gospel and what it means to you. Let him know that your goodness as a wife and as a mother, as a sweetheart and as a companion in love, grows from your testimony of the gospel.
Now I want to say a brief word to you lovely sisters who are left alone. I should rephrase that, I think, for no one is left alone. I refer to those of you who have not had the privilege of marriage or who have lost your husbands through the tragedy of divorce or perhaps through the inevitable call of death.
Some of you are struggling to raise little families alone, often on meager budgets and often with hours of loneliness. I know there is a great power of compensation. I know there is a spirit that can give you power to be both father and mother, if necessary.
There stands in our small circle of General Authorities more than one man who was raised in the home of an attentive, lovely widowed mother. I heard one of them bear testimony in conference that in his boyhood days they had all the things that money couldn’t buy.
There is a priesthood shelter, sisters, under which you come. There is the bishop who stands as the father of the ward. Let him help, and the others he may delegate. Let your home teacher assist, particularly when you need the influence of manhood in the raising of boys.
Remember, you are not alone. There is a Lord who loves you, and he watches over you, and there is the power of the Spirit that can compensate.
And so, to you also, I say, you must never give up. Never, neither in this world nor in the next. For there comes a time when the judgments are rendered, and as the Lord said in that parable, “… whatsoever is right I will give you.” (Matt. 20:4.)
There is an interesting scripture in Alma: “… behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.” (Alma 37:6.)
So here is a Relief Society sister, a lovely mother, with a spoon and a bowl, with an apron and a broom, with a pie tin, a mixer, a cookie cutter, and a skillet, with a motherly gesture, with patience, with long-suffering, with affection, with a needle and thread, with a word of encouragement, with that bit of faith and determination to build an ideal home. With all of these small things you and the Relief Society can win for yourselves, and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for the Lord, the strength and power of a family knit together, sealed together for time and for all eternity; a great army of men, some willing and worthy, some not yet worthy, but who must serve in the ministry of our Lord; men who now stand by the sidelines—husbands and fathers not quite knowing, some not quite willing, yet all to be strengthened by a handmaiden of the Lord who really cares.
May God bless you, sisters. May he bless you who are the widows and the others who are raising families alone everywhere. May he bless you hundreds of thousands of wives and mothers who through the agency of the Relief Society now can be strengthened to the end that your dreams might be realized.
He is the Christ. He lives. This is his church. The day of miracles has not ceased. And these are the miracles that count with him. Of this I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.