A few years ago, I found myself frequently in fervent prayer, pleading for blessings for myself and my family, blessings I knew we needed. I knew the blessings I sought were righteous desires, yet they did not come. Each time I prayed, the only impressions that came were urging me to do family history and temple work for my ancestors. The great irony was that one of the things I was seeking so fervently was more time. I felt overwhelmed with my life. I was the mother of four young children, I worked at least six hours a day on a home business, I had a demanding Church calling, and my husband traveled a lot on business and served in a student ward bishopric. Now the Lord was asking me to dedicate time and energy I didn’t think I had to family history work! It had never even crossed my mind that I should be doing my family history. I had felt that it was “not my season,” that it was something I would do later in life. But in kind persistence, the answer to every prayer was the same—to seek my ancestors and do their temple work. While family history work might not be expected of everyone in my circumstances, I felt sure the Lord wanted me to become involved in it.
I am thankful that I was also at a point in my life where I was learning to better understand and live by the guidance of the Spirit. I knew one of the fundamental laws of revelation was obedience. President David O. McKay (1873–1970) once said, “I want to tell you one thing: When the Lord tells you what to do, you’ve got to have the courage to do it or you had better not ask him again.”1 If I didn’t obey the direction the Lord was giving me now, I knew I could not expect further direction.
One afternoon the demands of my life hit an all-time crescendo. I went to the Lord in prayer, and again the prompting came to seek out my ancestors and do their temple work. But this time I was willing to follow those promptings. As impossible as it seemed, I decided to make a promise that I would spend an average of an hour a day doing family history work. I felt peace in my heart as I made the commitment, but logically I could not see how I was ever going to do it.
I decided I would give the Lord my best hour of each day. I set aside the precious hour when my three-year-old was at preschool and my baby was napping. At first this was a trial of my faith. It was difficult for me to shut out all the other pressing demands in my life, but each day I diligently put in my hour, trusting that the Lord would bless me. I knew nothing about family history, so my first hours were spent doing simple things like calling family members to gather records, sitting at the computer trying to learn the family history software, and entering my family data onto the computer. Even though my daily strides were small, I knew that the Lord recognized the sacrifice I was making because I began to feel His Spirit in my life more than ever before.
Still, I felt like Adam, offering sacrifices unto the Lord but not fully understanding why (see Moses 5:6). Why was I prompted to do family history? Later I was reminded of a scripture, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21). What law applied here? Even before the question formed, I knew the answer: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Then I realized that every time we ask our Father for anything in prayer we are asking for His mercy. We are asking Him to do something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot expect to receive His mercy unless we ourselves are being merciful to others. When we reach out and aid our own forefathers and allow them to be freed from spirit prison (see D&C 128:22), we are being merciful; we are doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves.
Amulek taught this important principle in his powerful discourse on prayer. He urged the people to pray without ceasing for all their needs, including the increase of their flocks and the abundance of their crops. But then he gave them this caution: “Do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things [prayed without ceasing], if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing” (Alma 34:28).
I knew what it was like to pray without ceasing for righteous desires. I also knew firsthand what it was like to feel that those prayers were in vain. Now the Lord was showing me how I could be merciful and in turn receive the mercy I was seeking.
In a very beautiful way I also learned that the Lord’s definition of “the needy, and the naked” was not limited to those of this world and that our “substance” is not always monetary. As I continued to do my family history, one night I awoke from a dream in which I was in my childhood home late at night. The sliding glass door opened, and a little boy walked from the dark, cold night into my home. He was lost, apparently abandoned by his family. He was cold because he was only scantily clothed. And I could see from his protruding ribs that he was starving. I asked him for his name, and he told me “Alexander Mackenzie.” With great empathy for this little soul, I promised him that I would try to help him find his family, and then I awoke. I sensed that he must be someone who needed his temple work. I wrote his name on a pad of paper I kept next to my bed. The name “Mackenzie” was not at all familiar; it was not a family name I had ever seen in my research. The next morning, however, I searched through my long index of names and, sure enough, there was one Mackenzie, and it was him! He had married into a pioneer line that I had decided not to research, thinking it was all “done.” He had lived to be almost a hundred years old but had never joined the Church, and after his death no one had completed his temple work.
Then the Spirit unfolded to me the clearer interpretation of my dream. Alexander Mackenzie came symbolically as a child because he was still young in his spiritual growth. He was scantily clothed because he had not yet received the blessings of the temple endowment. And he was starving because he was hungering and thirsting for righteousness but could not be “filled with the Holy Ghost” (see 3 Nephi 12:6) until he was baptized and confirmed. This experience and many others that have followed helped me realize just how precious our time here on earth is and how many in the spirit world are hoping we will turn our hearts and time and energy toward them.
President Wilford Woodruff said that if “the veil were lifted off the face of the Latter-day Saints … [and they] could see and know the things of God as they do who are laboring for the salvation of the human family who are in the spirit world … , this whole people, with very few, if any, exceptions, would lose all interest in the riches of the world, and instead thereof their whole desires and labors would be directed to redeem their dead.”2
Because of this new and growing perspective in my own life, I found that this “burden” the Lord had asked me to shoulder was indeed becoming light (see Matthew 11:30). In fact, my family history work and temple service became the highlights of each week. I felt joy knowing that I was blessing the lives of my ancestors. I also began to recognize that the blessings coming to my family were abundant and unmistakable. I experienced for myself the truthfulness of King Benjamin’s teaching, “[God] doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you” (Mosiah 2:24).
I had prayed for more time. It didn’t take me long to notice that I was somehow getting more accomplished each day that I worked on family history than I ever got done on the days before I gave this hour to the Lord. Generally, the blessings came in small, almost imperceptible ways: the children weren’t getting sick, the appliances and cars didn’t need repairs, for example. But one day, the divine assistance was obvious. I had a son who needed jeans and a pair of shorts for Scout camp. I purchased some for him, but when I took them home they did not fit and were not the style he had hoped for. So I decided that on the following Saturday I would take him to the mall and try again. I figured that with the driving time, it would take at least three hours of the day. When Saturday came, I attended first to my family history and ran some errands. On my way home an impression came to my mind to go up the street, where I would find a garage sale, and there I would find some jeans for my son. It was only an impression, but I knew it did not come from me. Knowing the importance of obedience, I followed it. Sure enough, at the top of the street, there was a small garage sale being held for a local charity. When I walked in, sitting on a table in the middle of the garage was a stack of new and slightly used jeans only in my son’s size and next to it a stack of shorts also in his size. I bought every pair and still paid less than if I had purchased one or two pairs at the mall. When I took them home my son loved them! That morning I had given the Lord one hour of my time. In return, he gave me back three hours that I could spend with my children and a strengthened testimony that He lives and is mindful of even my smallest challenges.
The Spirit prompted me to work on family history. I was able to show mercy to my ancestors and bless their lives by doing for them something they could not do for themselves, and my family has been blessed abundantly. The Lord has promised each of us that if we are merciful we will also obtain mercy.
“Let us be more merciful. … Let us be more compassionate, gentler, filled with forbearance and patience and a greater measure of respect one for another. In so doing, our very example will cause others to be more merciful, and we shall have greater claim upon the mercy of God who in His love will be generous toward us.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Blessed Are the Merciful,” Ensign, May 1990, 70.