Dr. Henry C. Link has said that “nothing does so much to put order in a man’s life as do sound principles. They are worth more to him than a library full of books, or a den decorated with diplomas, or a lifetime of round table discussions. They are standards which clarify and simplify his thinking. They are points of reference which help him to avoid complexity and confusion. They rescue him from the necessity of prolonged and useless debate. They give him a base for decision and action.” (So Shall Ye Reap, Deseret Book Company, p. 159.)
It is in the home and family that the base for wise decisions and fruitful action is established. There is no other place of such challenge and such opportunity. Thank God for the heritage of a good home and family and the challenge and opportunity to build such.
Our homes are divinely ordained. Americans, from the very inception of our nation, have been lovers of home. It has been true of nations generally. What fond memories and emotions have surged up in our hearts at the mere mention of home, family, parents, children, brothers, and sisters. Some of the sweetest, most soul-satisfying impressions and experiences of life are associated with home and family ties.
How precious are the memories of daily devotion in the home, the simple but powerful practice of family prayer, secret prayer, and the old-fashioned practice of the singing of hymns and the reading of the scriptures. How much more happiness there would be, how many fewer divorces there would be, if these simple practices were followed today.
My heart fills with gratitude as I recall the joys of our rich family life when all six children were at home. May I mention just a few that have enriched our lives and continue to do so.
Prayer has been and is the ever-present anchor for strength and a source of direction in our family activities. I remember kneeling at the bedside of our young children, helping them with prayers in their younger years, and later seeing the older brothers and sisters helping the younger ones. We had family prayer night and morning, with children given the opportunity to lead, and had special prayers to meet particular problems. Mention was made in family prayer, for instance, of children with assignments such as a 2 1/2-minute talk in Sunday School or a new teaching assignment in the MIA. We asked for help when one of the children faced a difficult examination in high school. Special mention was made of members of the family away at girls’ camp, Scout camp, school, or working. This special mention of particular concerns in our family prayers gave confidence, assurance, and strength to members of the family facing difficult problems and assignments.
The inspired home evening and family council program, which carries such promise and which dates back more than forty years, has provided many happy hours and great joy together. It has built faith, strengthened testimonies, and created a family solidarity and unity that will endure throughout all eternity.
When the children were young, we enjoyed personal, intimate visits with them at their own bedsides or curled up before the fire. Later it was a joy to have them travel with me on Church and business trips throughout the state of Idaho and later throughout the nation. Sometimes these trips were a reward for achievement—our oldest son, Reed, was taken on a trip from Washington D.C., to the west coast when he became the first Eagle Scout in the stake. His achievement was followed a year later by that of his brother Mark. It was on a day during this trip with Reed that I was called to a position of leadership in the councils of the Church. The intimate conversation and experience of that day will remain a precious memory always.
I remember taking a trip to fulfill a speaking engagement at a great convention in Omaha. In reporting the event, the Omaha World Herald showed Bonnie, our third daughter, who later became Relief Society president at eighteen years of age, in a picture on the front page and reported her father’s speech on the back page. This trip was reported in some detail at the weekly home evening of the family.
Another family joy was to have guests in our home. At such times we always tried to arrange to have the children at the table also, to participate in the delightful conversation of the evening. The impression made on a judge and national farm leader as our daughter Barbara, age nine, led in family prayer at our dinner table was reported later by this beloved leader at a meeting of farm, labor, and business leaders in Florida.
It seemed that the family happiness increased as the children advanced in years. It was a joy to see daughters Beverly and Beth teaching in Sunday School, as they prepared for marriage each in turn. Their classes of girls came to the home where our daughters displayed and talked about their trousseaus, their temple clothes, and their plans for marriage. What a joy to hear the young girls pledge that they would follow the examples of their teachers and all be married in the temple.
One source of family joy was the correspondence that came from the children when they were away. We would gather around the kitchen table and enjoy together letters from sons and brothers at Scout camp or on missions, letters from our son Reed while he was a chaplain in the Air Force, or news from older sisters away at college. Joy came to the home when recordings were received at Christmastime or on birthdays, recordings filled with faith-promoting experiences, expressions of love, testimony, and gratitude for the gospel. These we shall never forget.
There were difficult and challenging days also, like the one when I returned from a distant trip to find my faithful and ever courageous wife directing our sons with boxing gloves on their hands sparring with each other. One son had challenged the high school bully, who had been teasing and trying to make fun of younger classmates. The coach had set an hour and a day for the fight. Preparations were on—training, diet, and prayer were all a part of making ready. Our prayers were answered. The outcome brought increased respect and strong friendship, even with the bully.
Even when I was a busy Cabinet member serving as Secretary of Agriculture we kept close together through picnics in the park, travel into the country, and exploration in jeeps and on horses into the hills of Virginia.
The invitation to appear on the popular Edward R. Murrow show on CBS to present a typical Mormon home evening was a serious challenge. The eyes of the nation would be focused on this popular show. Not only the family but, to a great extent, the Church would be on trial before the people. There was some reluctance on the part of the wise mother. She did not want her daughters publicized; but with the persuasion of her sons that this would be an opportunity to do missionary work, she readily agreed. There followed prayer and fasting, but no rehearsing. It was to be an informal Mormon home evening. Questions were to be answered, as the children decided, with “a Church answer.” The Lord heard our prayers, and afterwards letters came in by the hundreds. Later, in a national magazine article, Mr. Murrow expressed his pleasure and surprise when he received more fan mail on the Mormon home evening with Secretary Benson’s family than on any other program of his years-long “Person to Person” series.
As I traveled on trade trips to many nations of the world as Secretary of Agriculture, family joys were still an important part of our lives. Whenever all the space was not taken by members of the press and my staff, President Eisenhower urged me to take members of my family along with me so that “the people of the world might see an American family in action.” Although space on the government plane was provided, meals, hotels, and other expenses were borne by the family.
Yes, these were busy trips, but always family joys were realized. Members of the family traveling with me would be assigned various jobs, such as keeping a diary, making memorandas, keeping a record of letters of thanks to be written later, checking carefully the ever-present question of protocol, and, always, teaching the gospel by word and example.
And now, with all six children happily married in the temple of God and with families of their own—we have twenty-eight grandchildren—the joys continue and are multiplied. Weekly contacts are made by telephone or letter. Birthday cards are sent to each one. Family reunions are held with 100 percent attendance, and we join together in prayer and fasting as the signal goes out of illness or serious problems facing any member of the family.
And the joys continue, such as the report from our son Mark that his family had achieved its missionary goal of bringing into the Church one neighborhood family each year for five years. Parents and six children cooperating—using the home evening—to bring some thirty new converts into the Church.
So much more could be said. Thank God for the joys of family life. I have often said there can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from a good home. The sweetest influences and associations of life are there. Life cannot be fully successful, no matter what goals we attain in the material world, no matter what honors of men come to us in our lives, if we fail as fathers, mothers, and children.
God bless us as Latter-day Saints that our family life may be such that we will have no serious regrets. May we heed the counsel given us and follow the inspired programs of the Church.
It is my conviction that even in this richly endowed world, there can be no enduring prosperity and happiness in nonreligious homes. The integrity of the home must be maintained. The spiritual foundation of our homes must be strengthened. Happiness here and hereafter is tied up with our successful discharge of this great responsibility. Thank God for family joys.