Some of the most sublime truths restored to the earth in the dispensation of the fulness of times have to do with families. Eliza R. Snow hinted at one of these truths:
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
(Hymns, no. 292.)
How wonderful! There is a perfect model for our own earthly families.
We know that in our premortal life, we were part of a family, and our divine parents provided us with inspired guidance and unerring examples of righteousness. There we had agency to choose, and they provided us with opportunities to use our agency to learn and grow. Here on earth we continue our education, and knowing that each of us would fall short of the perfection we had seen in our heavenly parents, Father provided a Savior and a plan of redemption for us.
How appropriate it is that the eldest Son would suffer and die to atone for our sins!
Through the Restoration we learn the simple yet profound truth that these family relationships are eternal. The Lord’s words to Peter come into sudden focus: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19.) Of course, fathers and mothers and children can be sealed in eternal family relationships. Families really can be forever. What we see in our families here on earth can and should be a reflection of the glorious realm where once not long ago we sat at the feet of our divine parents.
And as earthly parents encourage their earthly children to achieve their fullest potential, so, too, our eternal parents want each of their children to become as they are. The stunning truth, lost to humankind before the Restoration, is that each of us is a god in embryo. We may become as our heavenly parents. We, too, in exalted families, may one day preside in our own realms, under him who is our God and our Father forever.
The Church tries to help us make our mortal families reflect the beauty and happiness of the larger eternal family unit. It might be said that everything we do as a church and as individuals is to strengthen the family unit, both here and hereafter. Indeed, the family unit is where most of the important lessons of life are learned and practiced.
Here is how it worked for one couple, Mike and Laurie Wilson.* “Early in our marriage, we decided we would try to do the things we had been taught from our youth to do. We would have family and personal prayer. We would hold family home evening. We would pay tithes and offerings. We would avoid unnecessary debt. We would attend our meetings. We would follow the counsel of our leaders. We would keep our covenants with the Lord and with each other.
“Our approach was that success was to be found in living according to a certain formula and that the teachings of our Savior and his church were that formula.”
For a third of a century—from being newlyweds to becoming grandparents—Mike and Laurie have stuck to the “formula.” They hold personal and family prayer every day. They hold family home evening every week. They pay tithing and give generous offerings. They have avoided unnecessary debt, all inducements and temptations and rationalizations notwithstanding. With rare exceptions for illness and emergency, they attend all their meetings. They have diligently tried to follow the counsel of general and local Church leaders.
And they have kept their covenants with each other by remaining always best friends, genuine sweethearts, equal and willing partners. They pray together, work together, plan together, go on dates together. They spend their Sundays together—with children, and now with grandchildren. They love and trust each other, and that love is the bedrock upon which everything else is founded.
The scorecard to date: a predictable mix of joy and sorrow, success and frustration. One daughter struggled for a time with a speech impediment. Another daughter’s marriage ended in divorce. Cars have needed repairs when funds were scarce. Children sometimes had to forgo the new clothing and “things” that seemed so important at the time—and so unimportant later.
But out of it all has emerged a mortal family that is becoming a divine family. Through it all the Wilsons have learned that the “formula” works. Those who adopt it and follow it—consistently, faithfully—will reap great benefits, both here and in eternity.
There is another doctrine concerning families that was unknown until the Restoration: Not only can the nuclear family be sealed in eternal relationships but so, too, can extended families. A person may be sealed to spouse and children—but also to parents and grandparents and so on back to Father Adam and Mother Eve.
And the sealing can extend in the other direction as well: Parents may be sealed to children and grandchildren and so on to the last generation of the human family on this earth.
The implications of this doctrine are unique to the restored gospel: The human family in all its generations and in all its locales is one family. And the nuclear families of which it is composed seek not only to strengthen their posterity but also to seek out their ancestors to have them sealed in an unbroken chain as far back in time as records are available.
Through the Restoration we gain an understanding of an individual’s eternal worth. As literal sons and daughters of heavenly parents, as members of the race of the gods, we begin to understand the full weight of the statement that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10.) God loves all members of his family—in all times and in all places.
Consider Bryan and Margaret Moore.* Like the Wilsons, Bryan and Margaret decided early in their marriage to avail themselves of the tools that the Lord makes available to couples. They, too, held daily personal and family prayers. They, too, had daily scripture reading with their children. They, too, attended their meetings and accepted calls to provide Church service. They availed themselves and their children of Church magazines, the seminary program, home teachers and visiting teachers, and all the rest. And they provided in their own eternal marriage and eternal friendship a pattern for their children.
Yet along with the joys and successes, there were plenty of problems and challenges—all of which were met within the gospel plan.
“While our daughter was a senior in high school, she met a young man who was serving in the navy near our home in California. He was not a member of the Church, but after several dates with him, our daughter became very fond of him, even though she told him (and us) that she would not marry anyone who wouldn’t take her to the temple.”
After several months, the young man was sent to sea for several more months. They wrote, and their feelings grew stronger. He had now joined the Church, but while at sea he hadn’t gone to church and had resumed his smoking habit.
According to the Moores, “When he returned to the U.S., he invited our daughter to go with him to meet his parents on the East Coast—and proposed to her.
“Our daughter had always been a spiritual and faithful girl, committed to the Lord and his church. But now she faced a dilemma. She loved this boy and wanted to marry him. But though he had been baptized, he was not very committed to the gospel. He was not worthy to be sealed to her in the temple, though he promised that if she married him, he would eventually take her to the temple.
“She asked us for counsel. She asked us to pray with her and asked Bryan to give her a blessing, which he was happy to do. Eventually, she made the difficult decision that she could not marry her sailor. He was unwilling to make the changes in his life necessary for a temple marriage, and so she broke off the relationship.”
The daughter’s difficult decision was not made in a vacuum. She had had nineteen years of family prayer. She had had nineteen years of family home evening lessons. She had had four years of seminary instruction. She had read articles and stories in the Church magazines. She had received her patriarchal blessing.
This lovely girl had been taught by parents, whom she had grown to trust. She had learned fundamental truths from wise home teachers and visiting teachers, from Primary teachers, seminary teachers, Sunday School teachers, and Young Women advisers. Now, in the time of her great trial, this daughter was able to make the decision that would bring her the lifelong (and eternity-long) happiness she really wanted. Having been raised in the Church and in a good family, she was able to make the wise choice.
But what of those families who have tried the formula and felt the anguish of seeing a loved one make mistakes? Many faithful parents find that family prayers and family home evenings and family activities and the resources of the Church notwithstanding, one or more of their children has gone astray. Not even the strongest families in the Church are immune to such problems.
No one need suppose that such parents were fundamentally remiss. Children retain their agency to choose which way they will go. But the end is not yet. How many supposedly lost children and grandchildren have returned to the faith of their fathers after months or years or even decades? How many straying children have repented and reformed their lives and stood to bear powerful testimonies of the truth? Faithful parents who do the best they can need not berate themselves with feelings of guilt and self-accusation.
And how many single brothers and sisters are there who have not yet formed eternal families? How many are there who hear and read again and again of the importance of families—and have no families? The doctrine is true, but the time-line is open. Every righteous desire will have its fulfillment in the Lord’s own time. Every faithful Saint will yet find his or her place in an eternal family. Again: Patience, for the end is not yet.
Certainly, one of the most significant contributions of the Restoration is its marvelous insights into the importance and purpose of the family. The doctrine of the eternal family is one more glorious facet in the exquisite jewel that is the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.