Families are where we connect ourselves in relationships to past, current, and future generations.
Our families are where we experience our biggest triumphs and our deepest vulnerabilities—and they are where we have the greatest potential to do good. We believe the family is divine in nature and that God designates it as the fundamental building block of society, both on earth and through eternity. As such, it becomes the foundation for civilization and a sanctuary for the individual. It is where we learn the social graces of loyalty, cooperation, and trust. It is where we learn to love ourselves and each other, to bear one another’s burdens, to find meaning in our life and to give purpose to others’ lives, and to feel the value of being part of something greater than ourselves.
There is a universal desire for oneness among people—we want to belong. It’s why we collaborate, support common causes, cheer for sports teams, feel nationalism; it’s why we build villages, towns, and cities. For the fortunate among us, that desire began with loving parents and siblings in a home that was equal parts refuge and laboratory for experimenting with our potential, our beliefs, and our identity. Those who had less than this ideal situation growing up still have the capacity to forge families of their own making. We can create places where children feel loved and supported, where they’re taught that this life reflects what we previously had in heaven, and that our families will be ours through eternity if we accept Jesus Christ’s Atonement and follow His commandments.
One of the blessings of belonging to a family is the inspiration to make choices beyond self-interest and immediate gratification. The family can encourage our commitment to individuals, communities, and God. To help emphasize the important role of the family, a modern Prophet and Apostles revealed The Family: A Proclamation to the World to help strengthen the family and explain its divine nature and purpose.
One way Mormons demonstrate this family focus is with a practice they call family home evening. For this evening, families gather together weekly on a designated day (usually Monday) in their homes to share music, lessons, scripture, stories, fun activities, and prayer, with the goal of strengthening their relationships. It is an evening when parents engage in a tradition as old as time, but one often neglected in our modern age of 24/7 distractions. They share wisdom, comfort, and laughter and ensure that the lives of their progenitors continue to influence the coming generations.
In over 4,600 family history centers operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world, the fabric of humanity is being woven together through formal record keeping. The Church records important dates and other information about those who have died, stores it, and makes it accessible to the public. This practice allows Mormons to identify their deceased ancestors so they can perform ordinances for them in the temple, a holy place where worthy Church members make sacred commitments to God and perform sacred acts, such as baptism by proxy for the dead. These ordinances on behalf of the deceased allow those who were unable to perform saving earthly rites for themselves to receive them in the afterlife.
The Apostle Paul spoke about performing ordinances for the dead when he asked, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). Today the restored Church of Jesus Christ is engaged in “turn[ing] the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6) by performing saving ordinances for the dead. These acts of service permanently bind the generations of humanity to each other and ultimately create oneness in the family tree of humankind. It is a beautiful, massive tree—seemingly without limits—and one that has room enough for every root, branch, limb, and leaf. Our universal desire to belong exists for good reason; it exists because we do belong.
Imagine a newborn baby: small and beautiful, but unable to eat, stay warm, find protection, or even move from place to place on his or her own.
God sends each of us to earth helpless. It’s a given that we must depend on our family from the beginning. By design, we are given a family to provide for us, to protect us, and to prepare us for the challenges we’ll face in the years ahead.
We’re all familiar with a family’s ideal role. It is at home that we learn to walk and to talk. We share expressions of love. It is through family life we learn (purposefully or inadvertently) the habits, emotional responses, obligations, and values that will begin to shape our adult selves.
Being part of a family is a big responsibility. It’s humbling when we realize that our family on earth is patterned after our family in heaven.
We are children of divine Heavenly Parents who also provide for our needs with a physical world and all the bounties in it. Our Heavenly Father has the power to protect us, though just as mortal parents may do, He sometimes steps aside and allows us to learn from the consequences of our own decisions and actions. And finally, our Heavenly Father provides us with rules (or commandments) that can teach us the skills, the habits, and the values that will continue to shape our spiritual selves.
Just as we need a family for physical support, we need them for spiritual support too.
Part of belonging to a family means we each step up to help each other. While our first role in a family is as a dependent child, the part we play is never small—and it continues to grow in scope and importance as we mature.
It is our duty, even a sacred responsibility, to care for those in our family. In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” God expressed that parents are “to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs.” We are also told that parents “will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129).
Whether parent or child, sibling or spouse, every one of God’s children has a role in taking care of one another. And like the pattern set by our heavenly family, we must provide and care for each other with love. We can follow Heavenly Father’s example by encouraging our loved ones in their trials, listening to their worries, cheering for them in their efforts and successes, and comforting them in their sorrows.
By upholding God’s principles in our homes, we can influence those around us. Many people take pride in their family names and the heritage of honorable people they represent. Others are setting aside past mistakes and seeking to fulfill the divine roles of family anew. No matter our past, all of us can have essential roles in nurturing and strengthening our family ties on earth into relationships that can link generations in love throughout the eternities.