I was just a young child when my father died of pneumonia. My fourteen-year-old brother died just a few days later from an unrelated illness. It was the early 1930s, the middle of the Great Depression in the United States. Jobs were scarce and so was money. My mother, a nurse, struggled to provide a living for the five remaining children. It wasn’t an easy life for any of us, and I often wondered how it would all work out.
But one thing happened during those tough times that I remember as well as if it had happened yesterday, something that made me look forward with courage and hope.
About a year after my father’s passing, his cousin came to visit our home. Israel Bennion came, not just on a social call, but as the stake patriarch. Each of us children, scrubbed clean and dressed like we were going to church, waited in turn to have this dignified man place his hands on our heads and give us our patriarchal blessings.
I was only seven, not old enough to understand the significance of all that was going on. (Today, the Church advises you to wait until you’re older to get your patriarchal blessing.) But I felt a great reverence, the same sort of feeling I felt during fast and testimony meetings. I remembered his instructions, although they were brief, that my blessing should be a guide to me, something I could use to chart my course through life.
Although I was young, I was impressed by the statements Brother Bennion made as he gave me my blessing. He told me that the Spirit of the Lord would be with me as I was growing up, that the gospel would be in my heart, that I would love the work of the Lord, and that the Lord would bless me.
He spoke of the future, that I would someday be a judge in Israel, that I would have children, that I would have a strong body and a sound mind.
But most of all, he stirred something in me. He helped me to begin to realize how literally I was a son of God. The Lord knew who I was and what I was doing. If I lived the right way, the Lord would help me.
My patriarchal blessing is only 263 words long. But it has always made a deep impression on me. As I have read and reflected upon it through the years, that impression has never diminished.
To a child of seven, the phrase “a judge in Israel” seemed much too profound a term to understand. In my teenage years, however, I learned that this was a phrase used to describe a bishop. I couldn’t imagine myself being a bishop, but I knew that if I was going to be one, I’d better live worthily. I charted a course that included honesty, high standards, and moral cleanliness. (And eventually, I was called to be a bishop, by men who did not know of that patriarchal promise.)
I carried my patriarchal blessing with me during service in the United States Navy in World War II. I had grown up in Taylorsville, Utah, sheltered and shy, the product of a tranquil pioneer community. I now entered a harsher life, where oaths and profanity were common, where some men made bragging about sexual exploits part of their daily ritual. But again, my patriarchal blessing served as a beacon. Its promises gave me hope that I could stay clean, that I could survive the conflict and live to serve in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.
Throughout my mission in Europe, a phrase in my patriarchal blessing about preaching the gospel in power reminded me I was on the Lord’s errand, and therefore I should speak with authority. When I returned home and began searching for a wife, I knew I must find someone who would help me be worthy. After all, my patriarchal blessing made reference to the joys of a righteous posterity. Today, I am thrilled to go to the temple with my six children and their companions, and I do find joy and rejoicing in my posterity.
There is one sentence in my patriarchal blessing that has always intrigued me. It says, “You shall see great progress in the work of the Lord; for Zion shall be the head and not the heel.” This phrase has repeatedly come to my mind in recent times as we all have observed the growth and progress of the Lord’s Church throughout the entire world.
I can truly say that my patriarchal blessing, though short, has been a guide to me during my entire life. Your patriarchal blessing can do the same for you, if you read it often and chart your course by it. In these challenging times, when you are faced with temptations and pressures to compromise your beliefs, a patriarchal blessing can be the source of great strength that will instill faith in a loving, personal Heavenly Father.
How do you obtain a patriarchal blessing? Begin the formal process by talking to your bishop. He can answer questions and help you prepare. When you’re ready, he’ll give you a recommend.
Bishops are instructed to issue recommends only to those who are old enough and have been in the Church long enough to appreciate the sacred nature of the blessing.
The blessing is given in private, although a few family members may be present. Come to your appointment in an attitude of humility and prayer. You might also choose to fast.
Don’t compare blessings or share them, except with close family members. They should not be read in Church meetings or public gatherings.
A patriarchal blessing is not having your fortune told. It is a source of guidance as you grow in maturity and spirituality. As with all blessings, the fulfillment of your patriarchal blessing depends on personal worthiness and staying close to the Spirit.
Blessings within Blessings
Patriarchal blessings are not just for the future. The experience of receiving one is a blessing itself, an experience of learning firsthand how important and wonderful you are in the Lord’s sight. Just the same, you may have some concerns.
I’m not sure if I’m old enough or ready enough for a patriarchal blessing.
Why not talk it over with your parents or your bishop? Ask them if they think you are old enough and if you’re ready.
Can my parents tell me about their own patriarchal blessings?
If your parents have received their blessings, ask if there are portions they would feel comfortable sharing with you. You will probably find you are one of the blessings they were promised. For example, if they were promised righteous posterity, you are an important link in that chain.
What if my parents aren’t members of the Church or don’t support me in Church activities?
Check with your bishop or patriarch—they may have suggestions about how to appropriately include your parents.
I don’t feel worthy to receive a patriarchal blessing.
If you feel unworthy, become worthy. Put your life in order. Talk to your parents and to your bishop if necessary. But also remember that we’re all learning and growing. One of the important reasons for obtaining your patriarchal blessing is to receive guidance and strength.
I’m afraid the Lord will reveal what he expects of me, and then I’ll be obligated.
Actually, the Lord has already revealed many things he expects of you: righteousness, obedience, compassion, honesty. You’ve been taught about them all your life. And you’ve already made commitments—at baptism, each time you take the sacrament, when you receive the priesthood. Remember, a patriarchal blessing is an expression of the Lord’s love for you personally. More than anything else, it will help you understand through the Spirit your own marvelous potential and some of the great blessings the Lord has in store for you as you keep his commandments.