What motivates some people to pore over old papers and sit for hours looking at old-fashioned letters and numbers on microfilm readers? What persuades others to stay up an extra half hour to write down the events of a not-so-happy day or to drive three hours in a snowstorm to perform temple ordinances for people they may never even have known in this life? How does one “catch the vision” of what members like these are doing? The questions poured through my mind.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke on this subject a few years ago. Thinking of our task of saving the billions of souls who have lived on the earth, he said: “One day while pondering prayerfully on this matter I came to a realization that there is something that any one of us can do for all who have died. I came to see that any one of us, by himself, can care about them, all of them, and love them. That came as a great inspiration, for then I knew there was a starting point.” (“That They May Be Redeemed,” Regional Representatives’ seminar, 1 April 1977.)
Love—a starting point? Of course. The gospel requires the heart. Is not this charity, the pure love of Christ we are to obtain and share in order to be the Savior’s disciples? We must love not only those who share our earthly existence, but also those who have gone before us and those who will follow.
Because of charity for the dead, we seek to identify them and have their temple ordinances performed. We gather and organize our family records and submit names of our ancestors to the temple so that they can realize the blessings of baptism, the endowment, and sealings. We also perform these same ordinances for others who have lived and died in other lands and times and whose birth, death, and marriage records have been identified by extraction researchers. (See Ensign, Jan. 1987, p. 12, for further information on this program.)
I remember the many hours my mother spent typing information on genealogy sheets. She and my dad spent the last ten years of their lives doing genealogical research, going to the temple, and enjoying their children and grandchildren. The morning before Mom suffered her stroke, she and Dad had finished performing temple ordinances for those whose names were in their family file. There must have been a grand reunion with those ancestors when she died three weeks later. She truly loved them.
Because of charity for this generation, we love and fellowship our neighbors and teach our children to do likewise. We serve missions and teach our children the value of serving missions. We seek to teach the gospel to our nonmember friends.
I remember an assignment to home teach an inactive family. Since there seemed to be little chance for progress with them, I just tried to be a friend. Progress was slow, but eventually I persuaded the father to help me officiate Church basketball games. Then I moved from the ward and lost touch with them. Some time later they called me, and I was overjoyed to hear them ask my wife and me to go with them to the temple. How beautiful it was when their children joined hands with them across the altar! Can we, I thought, have the same joy in performing temple ordinances for our deceased ancestors? Yes! And there must be equal joy on the other side when we do.
Because of charity for generations yet to be born, we keep our personal journals, in which we record our daily successes and struggles. Here we tell our descendants of our love for the gospel.
I thought of my grandfather’s journal, which I have read many times. John Bennion’s daily record of the last twenty-two years of his life has helped me live with him those interesting but trying years. Even though his writing is often brief and cryptic (many entries state “ditto” for the previous day), his great love and patience with his family is evident. One of his children was a three-year-old orphaned Indian boy named Kanosh, acquired in a trade for John’s prize mare and sealed to John and his first wife, Ester.
Eight of John’s twenty-nine children died before reaching maturity, among them four-year-old Moroni, who fell into a well, and eighteen-year-old Kanosh and eight-year-old Elizabeth, both of whom died of pneumonia. The day after Elizabeth’s burial in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, John wrote:
“I was] repairing up the stable my little children pratling around me but I miss my Lizzy[.] I pray the Lord to help me to endure faithful to his cause to the end of my days, that I may be worthy to receive my children back into the family circle, who have fallen asleep in Christ in the days of their innocence. … Blessed & happy are they because of the atonement of Jesus Christ[.] (Bennion Family History, 3:220.)
Oh, I thought, if we could just teach our children to write in their journals when they are young, they would continue the habit when they are older.
All Church activity must be rooted in charity—a deep, abiding love for all of God’s children. The scriptures tell us that “charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; … beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 7; see also Moro. 7:45.) With this in mind, it is easy to put love and understanding into all of our Church service, whether it be genealogy, home or visiting teaching, or missionary work.
This doesn’t mean that we instantly need to be everything to everybody all at once. Some people are better at one activity than another. To one is given the gift to read ancient records, to another the talent to type entries into the computer. To one is given the ability to convince the unbeliever, to another is given to believe. Some have the patience to work with teenagers, others have a love for children in the nursery. Whether we use our talents to help the living or the dead, it is the same work. The key is to be “anxiously engaged” (D&C 58:27) in doing the Lord’s work. We begin where we are, and as we fulfill each task, our talents expand and our charity increases.
As I contemplated all of this, a calm settled over my mind and heart. I realized I didn’t need to feel guilty because I could not do everything. I did not need to “run faster than I had strength.” (Mosiah 4:27.) As long as I was “anxiously engaged” in doing the Lord’s work in a manner pleasing to Him, my labor of love was accepted. As my talents and time increase, so would my ability to serve.
I also recognized that there are some genealogical activities that most of us can do right now. For instance, we can keep a daily journal. I feel better about myself when I write in my journal. It makes me think of what I have done each day and plan for the future. When I write down a “things to do” list in my journal, I seem to get more done. It is also sobering to realize that if I am going to leave my journal for my children and their children, then I had better live a life that is worthy to be remembered.
Another benefit of keeping a journal is that it leads us into other genealogical activities. When we get in the habit of writing in our journals, we soon want to summarize the entries into a personal history. Then we want to know about our ancestors, which leads us into writing family histories. When we find out more about our ancestors, our love for them grows and we want them to share in the truths of the gospel. This leads us to do their temple work for them. And this leads to a greater endowment of charity, the pure love of Christ.
Being enveloped in this love causes us to be more kind to our neighbors, more intent on sharing the gospel with both the living and the dead, more anxiously engaged in serving the Lord however and whenever he asks us to serve. In short, being bathed in the pure love of Christ sanctifies us and leads us home to God. (See D&C 93:11–20.)
As Elder Packer said, charity is the starting point. Ultimately, it is also the end of our labors.