Years ago when Sister Nelson and I had several teenaged daughters, we took our family on a vacation far away from telephones and boyfriends. We went on a raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. As we started our journey, we had no idea how dangerous this trip could be.
The first day was beautiful. But on the second day, when we approached Horn Creek rapids and saw that precipitous drop ahead, I was terrified. Floating on a rubber raft, our precious family was about to plunge over a waterfall! Instinctively I put one arm around my wife and the other around our youngest daughter. To protect them, I tried to hold them close to me. But as we reached the precipice, the bended raft became a giant sling and shot me into the air. I landed into the roiling rapids of the river. I had a hard time coming up. Each time I tried to find air, I hit the underside of the raft. My family couldn’t see me, but I could hear them shouting, “Daddy! Where’s Daddy?”
I finally found the side of the raft and rose to the surface. The family pulled my nearly drowned body out of the water. We were thankful to be safely reunited.
The next several days were pleasant and delightful. Then came the last day, when we were to go over Lava Falls, known as the most dangerous drop of the journey. When I saw what was ahead, I immediately asked to beach the raft and hold an emergency family council meeting, knowing that if we were to survive this experience, we needed to plan carefully. I reasoned with our family: “No matter what happens, the rubber raft will remain on top of the water. If we cling with all our might to ropes secured to the raft, we can make it. Even if the raft should capsize, we will be all right if we hang tightly to the ropes.”
I turned to our little seven-year-old daughter and said, “All of the others will cling to a rope. But you will need to hold on to your daddy. Sit behind me. Put your arms around me and hold me tightly while I hold the rope.”
That we did. We crossed those steep, rough rapids—hanging on for dear life—and all of us made it safely.1
Brothers and sisters, I nearly lost my life learning a lesson that I now give to you. As we go through life, even through very rough waters, a father’s instinctive impulse to cling tightly to his wife or to his children may not be the best way to accomplish his objective. Instead, if he will lovingly cling to the Savior and the iron rod of the gospel, his family will want to cling to him and to the Savior.
This lesson is surely not limited to fathers. Regardless of gender, marital status, or age, individuals can choose to link themselves directly to the Savior, hold fast to the rod of His truth, and lead by the light of that truth. By so doing, they become examples of righteousness to whom others will want to cling.
With the Lord, families are essential. He created the earth that we could gain physical bodies and form families.2 He established His Church to exalt families. He provides temples so that families can be together forever.3
Of course, He expects fathers to preside over, provide for, and protect their families.4 But the Master has asked for much more. Etched in sacred scripture is a commandment to “set in order thy house.”5 Once we as parents understand the importance and meaning of that commandment, we need to learn how to do it.
To set our house in an order pleasing to the Lord, we need to do it His way. We are to employ His attributes of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, [and] meekness.”6 Each father should remember that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”7
Parents are to be living examples of “kindness, and pure knowledge, which … greatly enlarge the soul.”8 Each mother and father should lay aside selfish interests and avoid any thought of hypocrisy, physical force, or evil speaking.9 Parents soon learn that each child has an inborn yearning to be free. Each individual wants to make his or her own way. No one wants to be restrained, even by a well-intentioned parent. But all of us can cling to the Lord.
Ages ago, Job taught that concept. He said, “My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go.”10 Nephi also taught, “Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and … hold fast unto it, … would never perish.”11
These tenets are timeless as the gospel and endless as eternity. Ponder these additional scriptural admonitions:
From the Old Testament Proverbs we read, “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.”12
From the New Testament: “Brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught.”13
From the Book of Mormon we learn about multitudes who were “continually holding fast to the rod of iron,”14 likening it to “the word of God.”15 Anchored in truth, that iron rod is immovable and immutable.
Not only are parents to cling to the word of the Lord, but they have a divine mandate to teach it to their children. Scriptural direction is very clear: “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”16
That commandment places responsibility and accountability for the teaching of children squarely upon the shoulders of the parents. The proclamation to the world regarding the family warns that individuals “who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.”17 Today I solemnly reaffirm that reality.
In discharging these duties, we need both the Church and the family. They work hand in hand to strengthen each other. The Church exists to exalt the family. And the family is the fundamental unit of the Church.
These interrelationships are evident as we study the early history of the Church. In 1833 the Lord rebuked young leaders of His Church because of parental shortcomings. The Lord said:
“I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.
“But verily I say unto you, …
“You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments. …
“And now a commandment I give unto you … you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house. … First set in order thy house.”18
This revelation represents one of the many powerful validations of the integrity of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He did not delete from scripture words of stinging rebuke, even though some were directed to himself.19
In our day, the First Presidency has again stressed parental priority. From their recent letter to the Saints, I quote: “We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.”20
With this sacred charge in mind, let us consider what we should teach. Scriptures direct parents to teach faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.21 Parents are to teach the plan of salvation22 and the importance of living in complete accord with the commandments of God.23 Otherwise, their children will surely suffer in ignorance of God’s redeeming and liberating law.24 Parents should also teach by example how to consecrate their lives—using their time, talents, tithing, and substance25 to establish the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth.26 Living in that manner will literally bless their posterity. A scripture states, “Thy duty is unto the church forever, and this because of thy family.”27
Parents and children should realize that strong opposition will always come against the work and will of the Lord.28 Because the work (and glory) of God is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life as a family,29 it logically follows that the work of the adversary will strike directly at the heart of the home—the family. Relentlessly Lucifer attacks the sanctity of life and the joy of parenthood.
Because the evil one is ever at work, our vigilance cannot be relaxed—not even for a moment. A small and seemingly innocent invitation can turn into a tall temptation which can lead to tragic transgression. Night and day, at home or away, we must shun sin and “hold fast that which is good.”30
The seditious evils of pornography, abortion, and addiction to harmful substances serve as termites to erode the undergirding strength of a happy home and a faithful family. We cannot yield to any iniquity without putting our families at risk.
Satan wants us to be miserable just as he is.31 He would animate our carnal appetites, entice us to live in spiritual darkness and doubt the reality of life after death. The Apostle Paul observed, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”32
An understanding of God’s great plan of happiness, however, fortifies our faith in the future. His plan provides answers to ageless questions: Are all our sympathies and love for each other only temporary—to be lost in death? No! Can family life endure beyond this period of mortal probation? Yes! God has revealed the eternal nature of celestial marriage and the family as the source of our greatest joy.
Brethren and sisters, material possessions and honors of the world do not endure. But your union as wife, husband, and family can. The only duration of family life that satisfies the loftiest longings of the human soul is forever. No sacrifice is too great to have the blessings of an eternal marriage. To qualify, one needs only to deny oneself of ungodliness and honor the ordinances of the temple. By making and keeping sacred temple covenants, we evidence our love for God, for our companion, and our real regard for our posterity—even those yet unborn. Our family is the focus of our greatest work and joy in this life; so will it be throughout all eternity, when we can “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, … powers, dominions, … exaltation and glory.”33
These priceless blessings can be ours if we set our houses in order now and faithfully cling to the gospel. God lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church. President Gordon B. Hinckley is His prophet. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.