From the beginning of their marriage, Ezra and Flora Benson made their home and family their top priority. When their children were young, they began emphasizing that they wanted their family to have no “empty chairs” in the eternities.1 President Benson emphasized this same message during his service as a Church leader. He said:
“God intended the family to be eternal. With all my soul, I testify to the truth of that declaration. May He bless us to strengthen our homes and the lives of each family member so that in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there—father, mother, sister, brother, all who hold each other dear. Each chair is filled. We are all back home.”2
For President and Sister Benson, the effort to strengthen their family started with nurturing their marriage. They were loving and devoted, loyal and true. Although they were not inclined to quarrel, they often had frank discussions.3 They shared an absolute trust in each other, which they felt was one of the great strengths of their marriage. “I have never, never had any question about Flora’s loyalty,” President Benson said.4
President and Sister Benson supported and strengthened each other. “Flora has had more vision for me and my potential than anyone else in my life. Her faith and support have been a great blessing,” President Benson said.5 Often, when he felt inadequate in his demanding responsibilities, Sister Benson would wipe away his tears and comfort him.6 She sought the Lord’s help in sustaining him, and she rallied the children to do the same. “There was a lot of praying and fasting for daddy,” daughter Barbara said.7
Building on the solid foundation of their marriage, President and Sister Benson taught their children the importance of eternal family relationships. “Our parents instilled deep feelings of loyalty and love among us children,” son Mark said. “I don’t think that kind of atmosphere is generated naturally in a home, but is encouraged and promoted by a concerned and loving mother and father.”8
The standard of behavior the Bensons expected, as well as the priority they gave to the family, centered in the gospel. They worked to create a home where love prevailed, where children learned and developed, and where they had fun. The Bensons wanted their home to be a sanctuary from the world. “That doesn’t mean we didn’t have struggles,” son Reed said. “We didn’t always get along. We didn’t always do our chores. We tested Mother’s patience to the limit at times. But, undergirding it all, was a sense of family unity that we were trying to pull together.”9 Sister Benson acknowledged: “No one is perfect. In our family it is not our objective to magnify each other’s shortcomings, but to encourage one another to improve.”10
The Bensons’ children were still young when their father was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and he was concerned about how his travel schedule might affect his time with them. He wrote in his journal: “Extensive travel on Church work will take me from my family to a great extent. … I sincerely trust I may be true to my family, keep them close to the Church, and yet fulfil my obligations as one of the General Authorities. This I know will be no easy matter.”11
The fact that it wasn’t easy prompted President Benson to work hard to keep close to his family. “Some of the sweetest, most soul-satisfying impressions and experiences of [my] life are associated with home and family ties,” he said.12
In 1957, as the United States secretary of agriculture, President Benson made a four-week trip around the world to develop trade opportunities. Sister Benson and daughters Beverly and Bonnie accompanied him. They went to 12 countries, where they met with government leaders and visited landmarks, refugee settlements, and agricultural operations. President Benson felt that the tour was successful in increasing trade opportunities and also in creating goodwill for the Church. When they returned home, daughter Beth was waiting as the plane landed. When she saw her parents, she began running toward them with tears in her eyes. Her father reached out and pulled her into a loving embrace. He reflected, “With all the wonders of the world [we had seen], that moment was suddenly the best of the entire trip.”13
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views the family as the most important organization in time and all eternity. The Church teaches that everything should center in and around the family. It stresses that the preservation of family life in time and eternity takes precedence above all other interests.14
There can be no satisfactory substitute for the home. Its foundation is as ancient as the world. Its mission has been God-ordained.15
No nation ever rises above its homes. This Church will never rise above its homes. We are no better as a people than are our firesides, our homes. … The good home is the rock foundation, the cornerstone of civilization. It must be preserved. It must be strengthened.16
Some people ask me as a Church leader why we place so much emphasis on the home and family when there are such larger problems around us? The answer is, of course, that the larger problems are merely a reflection of individual and family problems.17
Marriage and family life are ordained of God. In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair. God holds parents responsible for their stewardship in rearing their family. It is a most sacred responsibility.18
Marriage, the home, and family are more than mere social institutions. They are divine, not man-made. God ordained marriage from the very beginning. In the record of that first marriage recorded in Genesis, the Lord makes four significant pronouncements: first, that it is not good for man to be alone; second, that woman was created to be a helpmeet for man; third, that they twain should be one flesh; and fourth, that man should leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife. (See Genesis 2:18, 24.)
Later, as though to reinforce the earlier statement, the Lord said: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). He also said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).19
The scriptures tell us: “Adam began to till the earth … as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. … They began to multiply and to replenish the earth. … And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord. … And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. … And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God.” (Moses 5:1–2, 4, 12, 16.)
From this inspired record we see that Adam and Eve provided us with an ideal example of a covenant marriage relationship. They labored together; they had children together; they prayed together; and they taught their children the gospel—together. This is the pattern God would have all righteous men and women imitate.20
Marriage itself must be regarded as a sacred covenant before God. A married couple have an obligation not only to each other, but to God. He has promised blessings to those who honor that covenant.
Fidelity to one’s marriage vows is absolutely essential for love, trust, and peace. Adultery is unequivocally condemned by the Lord. …
Restraint and self-control must be ruling principles in the marriage relationship. Couples must learn to bridle their tongues as well as their passions.
Prayer in the home and prayer with each other will strengthen [a couple’s] union. Gradually thoughts, aspirations, and ideas will merge into a oneness until you are seeking the same purposes and goals.
Rely on the Lord, the teachings of the prophets, and the scriptures for guidance and help, particularly when there may be disagreements and problems.
Spiritual growth comes by solving problems together—not by running from them. Today’s inordinate emphasis on individualism brings egotism and separation. Two individuals becoming “one flesh” is still the Lord’s standard. (See Gen. 2:24.)
The secret of a happy marriage is to serve God and each other. The goal of marriage is unity and oneness, as well as self-development. Paradoxically, the more we serve one another, the greater is our spiritual and emotional growth.21
The counsel from the Apostle Paul is most beautiful and to the point. He said simply, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25).
In latter-day revelation the Lord speaks again of this obligation. He said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22). To my knowledge there is only one other thing in all scripture that we are commanded to love with all our hearts, and that is God Himself. Think what that means!
This kind of love can be shown for your wives in so many ways. First and foremost, nothing except God Himself takes priority over your wife in your life—not work, not recreation, not hobbies. Your wife is your precious, eternal helpmate—your companion.
What does it mean to love someone with all your heart? It means to love with all your emotional feelings and with all your devotion. Surely when you love your wife with all your heart, you cannot demean her, criticize her, find fault with her, or abuse her by words, sullen behavior, or actions.
What does it mean to “cleave unto her”? It means to stay close to her, to be loyal and faithful to her, to communicate with her, and to express your love for her.22
Husbands and wives who love each other will find that love and loyalty are reciprocated. This love will provide a nurturing atmosphere for the emotional growth of children. Family life should be a time of happiness and joy that children can look back on with fond memories and associations.23
Let us strengthen the family. Family and individual prayers morning and evening can invite the blessings of the Lord on our households. Mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body but to feed the spirit as well, with members of the family taking turns reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Nighttime is a great time for the busy father to go to the bedside of each of his children, to talk with them, answer their questions, and tell them how much they are loved.24
The family is one of God’s greatest fortresses against the evils of our day. Help keep your family strong and close and worthy of our Father in Heaven’s blessings. As you do, you will receive faith and strength which will bless your lives forever.25
One great thing the Lord requires of each of us is to provide a home where a happy, positive influence for good exists. In future years the costliness of home furnishings or the number of bathrooms will not matter much, but what will matter significantly is whether our children felt love and acceptance in the home. It will greatly matter whether there was happiness and laughter, or bickering and contention.26
Successful families have love and respect for each family member. Family members know they are loved and appreciated. Children feel they are loved by their parents. Thus, they are secure and self-assured.
Strong families cultivate an attribute of effective communication. They talk out their problems, make plans together, and cooperate toward common objectives. Family home evening and family councils are practiced and used as effective tools toward this end.
Fathers and mothers in strong families stay close to their children. They talk. Some fathers formally interview each child, others do so informally, and others take occasion to regularly spend time alone with each child.
Every family has problems and challenges. But successful families try to work together toward solutions instead of resorting to criticism and contention. They pray for each other, discuss, and give encouragement. Occasionally these families fast together in support of one of the family members.
Strong families support each other.27
The family is the most effective place to instill lasting values in its members. Where family life is strong and based on principles and practices of the gospel of Jesus Christ, … problems do not as readily appear.28
Successful parents have found that it is not easy to rear children in an environment polluted with evil. Therefore, they take deliberate steps to provide the best of wholesome influences. Moral principles are taught. Good books are made available and read. Television watching is controlled. Good and uplifting music is provided. But most importantly, the scriptures are read and discussed as a means to help develop spiritual-mindedness.
Family prayer is a consistent practice in these families. Prayer is the means to acknowledge appreciation for blessings and to humbly recognize dependence on Almighty God for strength, sustenance, and support.
It is a wise and true maxim that families that kneel together stand upright before the Lord!29
Children need to know who they are in the eternal sense of their identity. They need to know that they have an eternal Heavenly Father on whom they can rely, to whom they can pray, and from whom they can receive guidance. They need to know from whence they came so that their lives will have meaning and purpose.
Children must be taught to pray, to rely on the Lord for guidance, and to express appreciation for the blessings that are theirs. I recall kneeling at the bedsides of our young children, helping them with their prayers.
Children must be taught right from wrong. They can and must learn the commandments of God. They must be taught that it is wrong to steal, lie, cheat, or covet what others have.
Children must be taught to work at home. They should learn there that honest labor develops dignity and self-respect. They should learn the pleasure of work, of doing a job well.
The leisure time of children must be constructively directed to wholesome, positive pursuits.30
Designed to strengthen and safeguard the family, the Church’s home evening program establishes one night each week that is to be set apart for fathers and mothers to gather their sons and daughters around them in the home.31
Gospel principles may be instilled through effective family home evenings where youth will be fortified so that they have no need to fear for their future. Such teaching must be done in faith, testimony, and optimism.32
Setting your home in order is keeping the commandments of God. This brings harmony and love. … It is daily family prayer. It is teaching your family to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is each family member keeping the commandments of God. It is … being worthy to receive a temple recommend, all family members receiving the ordinances of exaltation, and your family being sealed together for eternity. It is being free from excessive debt, with family members paying honest tithes and offerings.33
The love we know here is not a fleeting shadow, but the very substance that binds families together for time and eternity.34
No sacrifice is too great to have the blessings of an eternal marriage. To most of us, a temple is easily accessible, perhaps so conveniently that the blessing is taken too casually. As with other matters of faithfulness in gospel living, being married the Lord’s way takes a willingness to deny yourself ungodliness—worldliness—and a determination to do our Father’s will. By this act of faith, we show our love to God and our regard for a posterity yet unborn. As our family is our greatest source of joy in this life, so it may well be in the eternity.36
Home and family. What sweet memories surge up in our breasts at the mere mention of these cherished words! May I wish for you prayerfully, and with all the fervor of my soul, that you may know the unspeakable joy and satisfaction of honorable parenthood. You will miss one of the deepest joys of this life and eternity if you wilfully avoid the responsibilities of parenthood and home-building. As revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the glorious concept of home and the enduring family relationship lies at the very basis of our happiness here and hereafter.37
President Benson taught, “In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair” (section 1). What does this mean to you? What can family members do for each other’s salvation?
As you study President Benson’s counsel in section 2, ponder how it all relates to what he called “the secret of a happy marriage.” Why do you think this “secret” leads to happiness?
In section 3, consider what President Benson said about the practices of successful families. In what ways do these practices strengthen families? Ponder what you can do to follow this counsel.
Why do you think the family is “the most effective place to instill lasting values”? (See section 4, noting President Benson’s specific counsel about teaching in the family.) When have you seen family members help each other learn gospel principles?
President Benson testified that families can “endure beyond the grave” (section 5). What are your thoughts and feelings as you ponder this truth? What are some “sweet memories” that come to you at the mention of home and family?
“Your gospel study is most effective when you are taught by the Holy Ghost. Always begin your gospel study by praying for the Holy Ghost to help you learn” (Preach My Gospel , 18).