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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 17: "Preserve and Protect the Family"

“The family is the most important unit in time and in eternity and, as such, transcends every other interest in life.” The family is more important than you or me as individuals. The family is the engine of social and spiritual growth. There is nothing we can accomplish in mortality that can equal the power for good a family can provide. There is also nothing we can accomplish in mortality that a family cannot effect for far longer. The effects of a good family can reach down through many generations, affecting the lives of countless thousands. The cumulative effect of one good family after another in a family line is incalculable.

Think about President Hunter’s comment in the lesson that states that the Church has the responsibility and authority (from God) to preserve and protect the family as the foundation of society. That is no small claim, nor is it any small task.

The problem with the world today, as defined by President Hunter, is that the world’s councils are trying to redefine the role of people in society outside of the Lord’s definition and direction. This redefining of gender and marital roles is causing the breakdown of not just families, but of society in general. Those pushing for these changes don’t see the destruction they are causing because they don’t believe God has ordained the importance of the family and our roles within it, nor do they listen to His prophets.

Priesthood Responsibility

Families in mortality are not always the ideal of a father, mother, and loving children. Many homes have only one parent or have a generation missing, as is the case where grandparents are raising grandchildren. There are also people who are not yet married. All of these people need “priesthood watch care.”

“Often those which may need the most careful watch care are those families of the non-traditional structure. ... None should be neglected.”

Just because someone is not part of a traditional family doesn’t mean they should be denied any of the benefits of priesthood blessings. The responsibility of providing those blessings falls on those who are part of a traditional family or those who are able to serve others outside of whatever type of family structure they live in.

One of the main lessons living in a family teaches us is to live for the welfare of others. This principle needs to be used in the care and watchfulness of those not blessed with the traditional family.

Responsibility of Parents

Here is a quote from my commentary on this lesson (found at mormonbasics.com):

“Loving a child is not encompassed in a bedtime kiss goodnight or in a weekend outing to go play. Love for our children is a 24/7 duty to nurture and teach. There is no such thing as time off for good behavior. Children continue to grow and change from hour to hour, and if a parent opts for a break for any length of time they are sure to miss those changes and important teaching opportunities. By the term “breaks” I am referring to handing the children off to childcare when childcare is not truly needed or sending them to someone else’s home to spend time because you want some quiet. Admittedly, sometimes we need the “sanity” breaks. It is the breaks of convenience to which I am referring. Being a parent takes a lot of energy and stamina, and sometimes we just need to recharge our batteries. But there are also those who have no need to recharge, but neglect the rearing of their children because they would rather be doing other things.”

Children are like exotic plants. They can be left to grow like weeds, and they will, if unattended and not watched with care. They will be unruly and wild. But if they are nurtured and cared for, taught and cultivated by their parents, they will tend to grow far more responsibly and constructively. They will mature into responsible, contributing adults.

It is important to note that children cannot be told how to do something just once. They must have it demonstrated to them time and time again. They must see that what you are teaching is the normal way to live and that it has beneficial consequences. This principle applies to gospel teaching as well as the mundane things of life, like brushing teeth, making beds, and cleaning the house. Remember that whatever you demonstrate repeatedly for your children is what they will come to deem as “normal.” This will become their expectation when they leave home.

“The greatest training that can be given to a child is that which comes from the example of parents. Parents need to set the example for young people to follow. Great strength comes from the home where righteous principles are taught, where there is love and respect for each other, where prayer has been an influence in the family life, and where there is respect for those things that pertain to God.”

Special care should be taken to read and reread President Hunter’s comments about love in the home (this is section three of the lesson). He talks about the importance of family prayer, Family Home Evening, and of course, that we should not forget family scripture study.

It is easier to let these things slide when the children enter the teen years and they start having many activities outside the home. But this is the time when these activities will help them hang onto their values you instilled in them as little children. It is during these years that the world will try to steal them away from what you have taught them. Hang on to your children during these years. If you were ever involved in their lives before, now is the most important time of all to be there every step of the way.

The Successful Parent

Every child comes to earth with their own personality. We cannot parent all children in the same way because every child has different needs and abilities. We will make mistakes of ignorance, in judgment, in temperament, and yet we still love them. “Surely our Heavenly Father knows, when he entrusts his spirit children into the care of young and inexperienced parents, that there will be mistakes and errors in judgment. … As parents, we often assume that, if our child doesn’t become an overachiever in every way, we have failed. We should be careful in our judgments.”

There are few parents who are blessed to have only obedient children. Most of us have had at least one child who has wandered off spiritually. These children cause us pain and heartache as we struggle to help them find their way back to the Lord. Sometimes they only stray a little, but sometimes they go away for years, living lives that will cause them sore repentance before they can return.

One of the difficulties for the parents of these children is not blaming themselves for the choices their children made. Logically, you can grasp that if you can make a child good then if they turn out bad it is all your fault. But that doesn’t take into account each child’s agency and desire to obey. We can’t take credit for another person’s righteousness any more than we can take credit for their wickedness. If we, as parents, have done all we know how to do to help them make good choices and we have loved them all along the way, then all we can do is turn them over to the Lord and continue to pray and fast for their welfare. The least productive thing we can do with a wayward child is to take credit for their bad decisions.

“My concern today is that there are parents who may be pronouncing harsh judgments upon themselves and may be allowing these feelings to destroy their lives, when in fact they have done their best and should continue in faith.”

Our Holy Place

The temple is not the only holy place in our lives. Our home is also a holy place. It becomes holy because of how we live our lives in our home. A holy home is one filled with love, prayer, scriptures, obedience, sacrifice, and service. Living godly principles makes for a godly home.

President Hunter taught that, “If you will diligently work to lead your families in righteousness; encouraging and participating in daily family prayer, scripture reading, family home evening, and love and support for each other in living the teachings of the gospel you will receive the promised blessings of the Lord in raising a righteous posterity.” But what if you are part-way through raising your children and are just getting started down this path of family prayer and scripture reading? It is more difficult to start downstream than it is at the beginning of the journey, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still have a significant impact on your family.

Anytime we change routines with children they are likely to fight us on it, especially the older ones. All we can do is pray for the strength and inspiration to find ways to connect with the children so they come to depend on the routine. If we can make that connection, then they will be more likely to want that same thing in their home when they marry.

Final Thoughts

We all want peace in the world and in our community, but if we cannot achieve peace in our homes we will never collectively see it in our communities. Peace and cooperation begin in the home. If you look at the behavior of a country, you will see what is going on in their homes. This is why the family unit is so critical to the health of the nation. We cannot have a nation in chaos if we are raising children in our homes who turn to the Lord for answers and communion each day, who read and study the gospel and serve others.

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