Imagine, if you will with me, a scene that many can relate to in one way or another: A woman holds her darling infant in her arms and is doing her best to get the child to sleep. This young mom is navigating the newness of motherhood with only two and a half decades of life experience herself. The fatigue in the room is tangible. Feeling the pressures of life mixed with a deep desire for connection, she begins to mindlessly scroll through her social media feed. After some time, she looks down at the baby in her arms and realizes that this perfect little infant is trying to wordlessly get her attention. In the sweetness of that moment, the Spirit softly whispers thoughts and impressions to her mind.
As she looks deeply into her child’s eyes, she hears these words as an internal dialogue. “Mom, I’m right here—I’m right here.”
This snapshot from my life was the beginning of a life-changing journey to learn more about the gathering of Israel.
We often hear that the Lord will “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6), but for me in that moment of epiphany I felt my mother heart turn to my child while also turning toward my Heavenly Father. I was spending too much time looking at things that did not have lasting value. In that moment, I could see how my excessive use of social media was harming my soul. It was inhibiting my spiritual progress. This was a simple manifestation of the spirit of Elijah in every sense of the word. I myself was being gathered and my heart was being changed.
“Wait, wait, wait,” you might be saying. “Hold up, how can this experience with realizing that you are spending too much time on social media have anything to do with the gathering of Israel?”
This has everything to do with the gathering of Israel. Let me explain.
This moment of self-evaluation as I held my baby got me thinking, “What if I were to use the time I would typically spend on my phone doing other things? How much could I actually accomplish? What types of things do I really want to spend my life doing? What kind of person do I want to become?”
I looked to the words of Church leaders for direction, and these are just a few of the quotes I found:
President Russell M. Nelson, “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel”
“My dear sisters, you have special spiritual gifts and propensities. Tonight I urge you, with all the hope of my heart, to pray to understand your spiritual gifts—to cultivate, use, and expand them, even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so.”
“My dear sisters, we need you! We ‘need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.’ We simply cannot gather Israel without you.”
“You remember that last June, Sister Nelson and I spoke to the youth of the Church. We invited them to enlist in the Lord’s youth battalion to help gather Israel on both sides of the veil. This gathering is ‘the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on earth today’!
It is a cause that desperately needs women, because women shape the future. So tonight I’m extending a prophetic plea to you, the women of the Church, to shape the future by helping to gather scattered Israel.”
President Jean B. Bingham, “Gathering Together in the Latter Days”
“What does that mean: ‘gathering Israel?’ Israel is a name for God’s covenant people. That is us—and many others scattered throughout the world who are willing to follow the teachings of the restored gospel and example of Jesus Christ. ‘Gathering Israel’ simply means bringing yourself, your family and other loved ones—either living now or who have passed to the other side of the veil—closer to our Heavenly Father and His Son, our Redeemer. The goal is to unite families who are prepared to live with Them eternally.”
I determined to study the gathering—to really study it and to devote the time I would normally spend scrolling social media to understanding the significance of the gathering in my own life.
I found what Kerry Muhlestein teaches about the gathering of Israel to be true: “To sum up, the covenant is aimed at bringing us into a closer relationship with God, which requires that we love Him and His children, and which allows Him to change us until we can be with Him and like Him.”1 This certainly was the case for me. Studying about the gathering of Israel allowed me to see my relationship with my Father in Heaven with more clarity. It enabled me to access power through my temple and baptismal covenants.
Whenever we hear language regarding covenant Israel or the Abrahamic covenant, one of the most beautiful ways to think of it is that God wants all of His children to have a deeper relationship with Him through covenants. This higher and holier way of connecting with God allows us to change and become better. It not only binds us to God through his loving kindness, but it enables us to look to others with that same love. The gathering points back to what Christ taught as the first and second commandments to love God and love our neighbor.
Connection Between Family History and the Gathering
Family history is a huge part of this gathering. Here are three things I learned about the connection between the two:
1. Family history begins with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. God asks us to act as agents and to willing submit our hearts and minds to Him enabling others to choose to also submit their hearts and minds to God. He is the great Gatherer and the message and mission of Christ are the power behind gathering. Plain and simple, God loves his children and wants them to return. Christ was commissioned during his earthly mission to save the lost, pay our debts, and remove our stains. Just as we cannot think of the Atonement without attaching Christ’s name to the phrase so too it is with the gathering of Israel. This is our Heavenly Father’s purpose. It is important to not forget whose work this is.
2. Participating in the gathering of Israel requires agency. By choosing to participate in missionary efforts as well as temple and family history work, we can receive incredible blessings, insights, and our hearts can be changed.
3. Family history helps us feel deeper connections. Every single part of the plan is salvation is focused on individuals and families and uniting us through covenants. These connections certainly are not limited to feeling connected to our progenitors. We cannot participate in His work and not feel a deep and abiding love from and for our Father. God is love. In his loving way He allows us to be active participants knowing that our hearts will be changed forever.
What May Be Stopping Us
You may be asking “But how can I do this? I don’t know very much about how to do family history?” Don’t let that stop you. When I embarked on this journey, I knew very little about family history and felt very intimidated by it, but I have found that it is actually much easier than it seems. The first step is simply deciding what sacrifice of time you can make. This can truly just be a few minutes each day. If you’re like me, perhaps it is while you are waiting at an appointment, or during the time you would normally scroll Facebook or Instagram. I realized that I could use the time I usually spent on social media to instead start learning more about the gathering of Israel and to actively participate in family history. I downloaded the FamilySearch app and quickly found that my ability to scroll and look through information came in handy. And when I felt that desire to mindlessly scroll, I would instead open the FamilySearch app and work on attaching records, reading family accounts, etc.
While the sense of accomplishment was definitely more fulfilling than the time I would’ve spent on social media, what surprised me most were the unexpected byproducts I observed in myself and my personal life. Among the changes in my personal life noted were:
● Improved self-perception and body image
● Less anxiety for the future
● Increase of the Spirit
● Deep connection to ancestors
● Greater peace in my marriage
● Increased presence and intentionality as a mother
● More time to complete other tasks and responsibilities
Let me be clear, social media is an incredible tool, but it was interesting to note that the same skills that allow me to use social media with ease can also be used to propel God's work forward. And the desire to connect that often turns us to social media? That same need for connection can drive us to connect with our families on both sides of the veil.
In his October 2020 general conference address, “Let God Prevail,” President Russell M. Nelson said, “As you study your scriptures during the next six months, I encourage you to make a list of all that the Lord has promised He will do for covenant Israel. I think you will be astounded! Ponder these promises. Talk about them with your family and friends. Then live and watch for these promises to be fulfilled in your own life.”
I have learned from experience that the gathering of Israel is not something that happened in the past, or something that will happen at some distant day. It is happening today. It is the work of our generation. It will give us meaning and purpose. The gathering of Israel is happening in our own homes. It happens as we gather to study Come, Follow Me. It happens as we gather to partake of the sacrament or gather to kneel in family prayer. We gather in family councils and we gather information to perform ordinances in temples.
Elder Dale G. Renlund promised these blessings to those who participate in temple and family history work. I am a witness to the reality of these blessings:
“Increased understanding of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice;
Increased influence of the Holy Ghost to feel strength and direction for our own lives;
Increased faith, so that conversion to the Savior becomes deep and abiding;
Increased ability and motivation to learn and repent because of an understanding of who we are, where we come from, and a clearer vision of where we are going;
Increased refining, sanctifying, and moderating influences in our hearts;
Increased joy through an increased ability to feel the love of the Lord;
Increased family blessings, no matter our current, past, or future family situation or how imperfect our family tree may be;
Increased love and appreciation for ancestors and living relatives, so we no longer feel alone;
Increased power to discern that which needs healing and thus, with the Lord’s help, serve others;
Increased protection from temptations and the intensifying influence of the adversary; and
Increased assistance to mend troubled, broken, or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole.”
This multiplicity of blessings for doing a single thing the Lord asks of us seems to be one way the Lord shows His love for us. Elder Renlund says, “When God directs us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind. Family history and temple work is not only for the dead but blesses the living as well. When ordinances are performed on behalf of the deceased, God’s children on earth are healed”2
It has been my experience that choosing to participate in the gathering of Israel leads to blessings in so many areas of our lives. Participating in family history brought needed healing into my life, and I am confident it can do the same for you.
1. The Quick and Easy Guide to The Abrahamic Covenant and the Blessings Promised to Covenant Israel, Dr. Kerry Muhlestein
2. "Family History Work and Temple Work: Sealing and Healing" April 2018, Elder Dale G. Renlund