One evening when a father was interviewing his daughter, the young woman said, “Dad, I wish Heavenly Father would tell me what he wants me to do while I’m here on earth. I mean, I just wish he would tell me personally what he expects of me.” Her father smiled and drew from his desk a well-worn copy of his patriarchal blessing. He told his daughter that Heavenly Father has made provision for each of us to have personal revelation and to know what he expects of us when we receive a patriarchal blessing. He said that often the blessing identifies talents, lineage, and potential, that it can motivate, guide, and give warnings, advice, and comfort.
The blessings promised vary from person to person according to need and spiritual preparation. Sometimes it may even seem that the blessings promised could not ever be fulfilled, but we need to remember that our Heavenly Father sees things from a different perspective. Elder Thomas S. Monson tells this story:
“Several years ago a patriarch gave a blessing to one of our young girls … who lived in the land of Poland. In the blessing he felt impressed to promise her that she would marry in the temple of the Lord. He hesitated to bestow that promise, for there was absolutely no way to leave the land of Poland so that she could marry in the temple of God. But he responded to the whisperings of the Spirit and bestowed the promise upon that girl of teenage years.
“He came to see me in my office and said, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ I indicated that a man always does the right thing when he responds to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. He said, ‘But I have bestowed a promise which cannot be fulfilled.’ I replied, ‘Let us trust in the Lord with all our heart. …’ Within a period of two years, to the amazement of the world, a pact was signed between Poland and Germany that permitted those of Germanic origin to return to West Germany, and that lovely teenage girl had the privilege to come to Germany where she could be in a position to go to the temple of the Lord when the time came for her marriage. It’s only when we doubt the Lord that our hearts and minds become clouded. When we trust fully in him, our pathway will be clear.” (Scandinavian Area Conference, 35 Aug. 1976, p. 10.)
Any significant experience in life is more meaningful if we are prepared for it. This is especially true of things that happen only once during one’s life. Receiving a patriarchal blessing is the sort of opportunity which becomes more meaningful the more we prepare ourselves for it.
We do not automatically baptize a child when he turns eight. We teach and prepare candidates for baptism so that the promises made in that important ordinance are made with knowledge and commitment. Likewise, because members of the Church normally receive only one patriarchal blessing, this sacred experience should come at an appropriate time and in the proper way. No set age has been determined for receiving a patriarchal blessing, but it is suggested that the recipient be mature enough to understand the meaning and purpose of the blessing. Implicit in the desire for a blessing should be the person’s sincere desire to do the work of the Lord.
Youth often obtain a patriarchal blessing during the middle or later teenage years, as they begin to seriously ponder decisions about the course of their lives.
Speaking to a group of parents, President Spencer W. Kimball once asked:
“Do you prepare your children for [their patriarchal blessings], or do you let them just happen on to it. … There is an opportunity for every person to have a patriarchal blessing. The patriarchal blessing is a line down the middle of the road. It shows you where to go. It shows each individual what his capabilities are, what the possibilities are. I would think that every mother would begin to talk about patriarchal blessings to her children when they get just a few years old, so that they will be prepared for it. We hope you will not forget this important element of life.” (Manchester England Area Conference, June 1976, p. 23.)
You can make this an even more personal time for your child as you join together in fasting and prayer to seek the Lord’s direction in the child’s behalf and in behalf of the patriarch who will give the blessing. You may want to read together the account of Jacob’s patriarchal blessings to his twelve sons, especially the blessing to Joseph. This discussion will help your child become more familiar with the kind of figurative language used in blessings, which can carry increased meaning as he or she matures.
When a person desires and feels worthy and prepared to receive a patriarchal blessing, he or she is then interviewed by the bishop or branch president, who will issue a recommend for the blessing if he determines that the person seeking the blessing is ready. (If there is no patriarch serving locally, the stake or mission president will need to sign the recommend.)
Soon after the recommend is obtained, an appointment is made with the patriarch. Before receiving a patriarchal blessing, your child may wish to fast and pray to be more spiritually prepared for the experience. It would be appropriate, of course, for him to ask the Lord to grant divine inspiration to the patriarch.
A patriarchal blessing should not be confused with a father’s blessing. Through their priesthood, fathers have the right to lay hands on the heads of their family and to pronounce blessings according to the Spirit.
A patriarchal blessing is given by an ordained patriarch. In each stake of the Church, at least one man is ordained as the patriarch for that stake. His one responsibility is to be spiritually prepared to give patriarchal blessings to worthy members of that stake. The blessings he pronounces upon the heads of those members are so important that they are recorded, preserved, and deposited with the general Church historian.
“Patriarchal blessings [are] an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient, and also where moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give … the realization of all promised blessings is conditional upon the faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord … All [patriarchal blessings] are recorded and generally only one … blessing should be adequate for each person’s life.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d. ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 558; italics added.)
From time to time patriarchal blessings will pronounce blessings that lack fulfillment in this life. It is then important to recall that this blessing is not only for our mortal life, but its benefits and its fulfillment may extend through the eternities.
Help your children understand that fulfillment depends upon one’s worthiness to receive the blessings and benefits. The Lord can promise the blessings, but he cannot force us to receive them.
If you have received your patriarchal blessing, you may want to share it with your child. Read it aloud together and share with the child the impressions that have come as you have studied it. If you have not received your patriarchal blessing, prepare yourself to obtain it. This would be an opportunity to enjoy a spiritual blessing right along with your child.
“Every fast Sunday Jeff and I take out our patriarchal blessings,” reports Joy Young of Denver, Colorado. “Before we ever had children, we would each read parts of our blessings to the other and share wonderful insights the Lord had given about the life we could have together if we would do our part. It has been a continual source of inspiration to us.”
Keeping in mind these principles, bear your testimony to your child of the value of this personal blessing from the Lord. Encourage him to prepare his mind and heart by obeying the Lord’s commandments and by studying the gospel to better understand the meaning of the blessing.
Once you receive a copy of the blessing, you would be wise to make a copy for regular reference and a copy to be stored safely in the family files. Regular pondering of this great blessing will bring added levels of understanding as life’s experiences give perspective. On the other hand, this sacred and personal record should not be passed around or discussed too freely. It is intended primarily for the use of the person who receives it, but may be shared with family members at appropriate times.
Reviewing our patriarchal blessings can be particularly helpful during difficult times, reminding us how much our Heavenly Father loves us. “Sit down and read your patriarchal blessing,” urges Elder Eldred G. Smith, “when you are disturbed, distressed, discouraged, and not satisfied with your life. To read your patriarchal blessing sometimes gives you courage and brings you back to where you started from and gets you in the right groove again. It gets your mind set on the proper goals, keeps you from drifting off to one side. … It can give you a little extra courage sometimes when you need it most.” (Address given at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, 30 Apr. 1971, pp. 6–7.)
As your children see you read, and study, and rely on your patriarchal blessing, and as they see you live to be worthy of the Lord’s promises, they will begin to see a pattern for spiritual growth.
“A patriarchal blessing is a revelation to the recipient, even a white line down the middle of the road to protect, inspire, and motivate activity and righteousness. A patriarchal blessing literally contains chapters from your book of eternal possibilities. I say eternal, for just as life is eternal, so is a patriarchal blessing. What may not come to fulfillment in this life may occur in the next. We do not govern God’s timetable. (Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 66.)
Help your child realize that his patriarchal blessing is a spiritual road map that can be understood only by the Spirit, so it should be read prayerfully. It is given to allow him a glimpse of his eternal existence from a divine perspective. The personal blessings described there will help him appreciate who he really is.