In late 1973, Gordon and Marjorie Hinckley reluctantly decided to move from their home in East Mill Creek, Utah, so they could live closer to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. President Hinckley, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, took time on New Year’s Eve of that year to write about their home. His words revealed his feelings about the place, but even more, they revealed his feelings about a loving family.
“How sentimentally sad we are about leaving,” he wrote. He recalled the family’s labor to build the home and to develop its surrounding property. Then his thoughts turned to relationships—with one another and with God:
“Here we played together as our children grew, and here we prayed together. Here we and our children came to know our Heavenly Father, that He lives, and listens, and answers.
“I might go on to write a book … not for the world, but for those five children, their spouses and posterity. And if I can get into words the story of that home there will be tears and laughter, and a great, quiet, pervading spirit of love that will touch the hearts of those who read, for those who lived and grew there loved one another, they loved their neighbors, they loved their God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”1
Throughout his ministry, President Hinckley testified of the importance of loving, faithful families. Under his direction, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve described as “a clarion call to protect and strengthen families.”2 After reading the proclamation in the September 1995 general Relief Society meeting, President Hinckley declared: “The strength of any nation is rooted within the walls of its homes. We urge our people everywhere to strengthen their families in conformity with these time-honored values.”3
The family is divine. It was instituted by our Heavenly Father. It encompasses the most sacred of all relationships. Only through its organization can the purposes of the Lord be fulfilled.4
We are a church which bears testimony of the importance of the family—the father, the mother, the children—and of the fact that we are all children of God our Eternal Father. Parents who bring children into the world have a responsibility to love those children, to nurture them and care for them, to teach them those values which would bless their lives so that they will grow to become good citizens. … I want to emphasize that which is already familiar to you, and that is the importance of binding our families together with love and kindness, with appreciation and respect, and with teaching the ways of the Lord so that your children will grow in righteousness and avoid the tragedies which are overcoming so many families across the world.5
It is imperative that you not neglect your families. Nothing you have is more precious.6
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.7
I am satisfied that nothing will assure greater success in the hazardous undertaking of parenthood than a program of family life that comes from the marvelous teaching of the gospel: that the father of the home may be clothed with the priesthood of God; that it is his privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to provide for their needs; that he is to govern in the home in the spirit of the priesthood “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41–42); that the mother in the home is a daughter of God, a soul of intelligence, devotion, and love who may be clothed with the Spirit of God; that it is her privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to nurture those children in their daily needs; that she, in companionship with her husband, is also to teach her children 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 … [and] to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28.)
In such a home, parents are loved and not dreaded; they are appreciated and not feared. And children are regarded as gifts of the Lord, to be cared for, nurtured, encouraged, and directed.
There may be an occasional disagreement; there may be small quarrels. But if there is prayer in the family, and love, and consideration, there will be a residue of affection that will bind forever and a loyalty that will always guide.8
Now a word to the single parents. … [You] carry exhausting burdens in fighting the daily battles that go with rearing children and seeing that their needs are met. This is a lonely duty. But you need not be entirely alone. There are many, ever so many in this Church who would reach out to you with sensitivity and understanding. They do not wish to intrude where they are not wanted. But their interest is genuine and sincere, and they bless their own lives as they bless your lives and those of your children. Welcome their help. They need to give it for their own sakes as well as for your sake.
We have thousands of good bishops in this Church. We have thousands of good quorum officers. We have thousands of wonderful Relief Society women. We have home teachers and visiting teachers. They are your friends, put in place by the Lord to give of their strength to help you. And never forget that the Lord Himself is a source of strength greater than any other. I was touched by an experience recounted by … a single parent rearing seven children, when she pleaded to her Father in Heaven that she might go to Him, if only for a night, to find comfort and strength for the trials of tomorrow. Tender was the response that came into her mind almost as a revelation: “You cannot come to me, but I will come to you.”9
The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives.10
Behold your little ones. Pray with them. Pray for them and bless them. The world into which they are moving is a complex and difficult world. They will run into heavy seas of adversity. They will need all the strength and all the faith you can give them while they are yet near you. And they also will need a greater strength which comes of a higher power. They must do more than go along with what they find. They must lift the world, and the only levers they will have are the example of their own lives and the powers of persuasion that will come of their testimonies and their knowledge of the things of God. They will need the help of the Lord. While they are young, pray with them that they may come to know that source of strength which shall then always be available in every hour of need.11
I know of no other practice that will have so salutary an effect upon your lives as will the practice of kneeling together in prayer. The very words, Our Father in Heaven, have a tremendous effect. You cannot speak them with sincerity and with recognition without having some feeling of accountability to God. …
Your daily conversations with him will bring peace into your hearts and a joy into your lives that can come from no other source. … Your love will strengthen. Your appreciation for one another will grow.
Your children will be blessed with a sense of security that comes of living in a home where dwells the Spirit of God. They will know and love parents who respect one another, and a spirit of respect will grow in their own hearts. They will experience the security of kind words quietly spoken. They will be sheltered by a father and mother who, living honestly with God, live honestly with one another and with their fellowmen. They will mature with a sense of appreciation, having heard their parents in prayer express gratitude for blessings great and small. They will grow with faith in the living God.12
I can remember when I was a small boy, five years old, President Joseph F. Smith announced to all the Church that they should gather their families together in family home evening. My father said, “The President of the Church has asked that we do it, and we are going to do it.”
So we all gathered in family home evening. It was funny. He said, “We’ll sing a song.” Well, we were not singers. … We just tried to sing and laughed at one another. So we did with a lot of other things. But out of that experience there gradually came something that was wonderful—a practice that helped us, that drew us together as a family, that strengthened us, and there grew in our hearts a conviction of the value of family home evening.13
I am grateful that we as a Church have as a basic part of our program the practice of a weekly family home evening. It is a significant thing that in these busy days thousands of families across the world are making an earnest effort to consecrate one evening a week to sing together, to instruct one another in the ways of the Lord, to kneel together in prayer, there to thank the Lord for his mercies and to invoke his blessings upon our lives, our homes, our labors, our land. I think we little estimate the vast good that will come of this program.14
If you have any doubt about the virtue of family home evening, try it. Gather your children about you, teach them, bear testimony to them, read the scriptures together and have a good time together.15
Not long after we were married, we built our first home. We had little money, and I did a lot of the work. The landscaping was entirely my responsibility. The first of many trees that I planted was a thornless honey locust, and I envisioned the day when its shade would assist in cooling the house in the summer. I put it in a place at the corner where the wind from the canyon to the east blew the hardest. I dug a hole, put in the bare root, put soil around it, poured on water, and largely forgot it. It was only a wisp of a tree, perhaps three-quarters of an inch [2 centimeters] in diameter. It was so supple that I could bend it with ease in any direction. I paid little attention to it as the years passed. Then one winter day when the tree was barren of leaves, I chanced to look out the window at it. I noted that it was leaning to the west, misshapen and out of balance. I could scarcely believe it. I went out and braced myself against it as if to push it upright. But the trunk was now nearly a foot in diameter. My strength was as nothing against it. I took from my toolshed a block and tackle, attaching one end to the tree and the other to a well-set post. I pulled the rope. The pulleys moved just a little, and the trunk of the tree trembled slightly. But that was all. It seemed to say to me, “You can’t straighten me. It’s too late. I’ve grown this way because of your neglect, and I will not bend.”
Finally in desperation I took my saw and cut off the great heavy branch on the west side. I stepped back and surveyed what I had done. I had cut off a major part of the tree, leaving a huge scar about eight inches [20 centimeters] across and only one small branch growing skyward.
… I recently looked again at the tree. It is large, its shape is better, and it is a great asset to the home. But how serious was the trauma of its youth and how painful the treatment I had used to straighten it. When the tree was first planted, a piece of string would have held it against the forces of the wind. I could have and should have supplied that string with ever so little effort, but I did not. And it bent to the forces that came against it.
Children are like trees. When they are young, their lives can be shaped and directed, usually with ever so little effort. Said the writer of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” [Proverbs 22:6]. That training finds its roots in the home.16
Isaiah said, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa. 54:13).
So lead your sons and daughters, so guide and direct them from the time they are very small, so teach them in the ways of the Lord, that peace will be their companion throughout life.17
I recognize that there are parents who, notwithstanding an outpouring of love and a diligent and faithful effort to teach them, see their children grow in a contrary manner and weep while their wayward sons and daughters willfully pursue courses of tragic consequence. For such I have great sympathy, and to them I am wont to quote the words of Ezekiel: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20).18
Once in a while, notwithstanding all the things you try to do, there is a rebellious child. But keep at it. Do not ever give up. You have never lost as long as you try. Keep at it.19
If any of you have a child or loved one in that condition [of rebelliousness], do not give up. Pray for them and love them and reach out to them and help them.20
Sometimes it may seem too late. … Yet, remember my thornless locust tree [see pages 171–72]. Surgery and suffering brought about something beautiful, whose later life has provided welcome shade from the heat of the day.21
[Raising a family] may not be easy. It may be fraught with disappointment and challenge. It will require courage and patience. … Love can make the difference—love generously given in childhood and reaching through the awkward years of youth. It will do what money lavished on children will never do.
—And patience, with a bridling of the tongue and self-mastery over anger. …
—And encouragement that is quick to compliment and slow to criticize.
These, with prayers, will accomplish wonders. You cannot expect to do it alone. You need heaven’s help in raising heaven’s child—your child, who is also the child of his or her Heavenly Father.22
Every child, with few possible exceptions, is the product of a home, be it good, bad, or indifferent. As children grow through the years, their lives, in large measure, become an extension and a reflection of family teaching. If there is harshness, abuse, uncontrolled anger, disloyalty, the fruits will be certain and discernible, and in all likelihood they will be repeated in the generation that follows. If, on the other hand, there is forbearance, forgiveness, respect, consideration, kindness, mercy, and compassion, the fruits again will be discernible, and they will be eternally rewarding. They will be positive and sweet and wonderful. And as mercy is given and taught by parents, it will be repeated in the lives and actions of the next generation.
I speak to fathers and mothers everywhere with a plea to put harshness behind us, to bridle our anger, to lower our voices, and to deal with mercy and love and respect one toward another in our homes.23
It was said of old that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” (Prov. 15:1.) We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention. … The voice of heaven is a still small voice [see 1 Kings 19:11–12]; likewise, the voice of domestic peace is a quiet voice.24
Of course, there is need for discipline with families. But discipline with severity, discipline with cruelty inevitably leads not to correction but rather to resentment and bitterness. It cures nothing and only aggravates the problem. It is self-defeating.25
There is no discipline in all the world like the discipline of love. It has a magic all its own.26
Let us continually work to strengthen our families. Let husbands and wives cultivate a spirit of absolute loyalty one to another. Let us not take one another for granted, but let us constantly work to nurture a spirit of love and respect for each other.27
O God, our Eternal Father, bless the parents to teach with love and patience and encouragement those who are most precious, the children who have come from Thee, that together they might be safeguarded and directed for good and, in the process of growth, bring blessings to the world of which they will be a part.28
President Hinckley taught that the family “encompasses the most sacred of all relationships” (section 1). How might this truth affect our relationships with family members? How might it affect the way we prioritize our time and activities?
Why should parents “devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles”? (See section 2.) How has gospel teaching in your home blessed your family? How can parents improve in their efforts to help their children live the gospel?
Review President Hinckley’s teachings about the blessings of family prayer (see section 3). Why do you think family prayer brings blessings? What blessings have you experienced by having regular family prayer? What do we lose if we neglect family prayer?
What can we learn from Gordon B. Hinckley’s experience with family home evening as a young boy? (See section 4.) What blessings have come to your family through family home evening?
Review President Hinckley’s story of the honey locust tree (see section 5). What applications could this story have for you?
How can President Hinckley’s teachings in section 6 help the parents of a child who is wayward? What are some ways that parents and others can reach out in love?
Why is it important for parents to discipline their children with love rather than anger? What are some things parents can do to discipline with love? How can family members nurture a spirit of love and respect for each other? (See section 7.)
“You may feel that you lack understanding of a certain principle that you are preparing to teach. However, as you prayerfully study it, strive to live it, prepare to teach it, and then share it with others, your own testimony will be strengthened and deepened” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 19).