If you expect your patriarchal blessing to make wild or unusual promises and predictions, you may be misunderstanding what a patriarchal blessing is. Your patriarchal blessing isn’t a fortune cookie, and the patriarch isn’t a fortuneteller. The patriarch is a prophet, called to convey God’s words and will to you. He is only authorized to pronounce the promises he is prompted by the Holy Ghost to give. Patriarchs are counseled by their leaders to avoid making sensational or extravagant promises in the blessings they pronounce, even if the Spirit shows them rather remarkable things about the blessing’s recipient. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972), tenth President of the Church, explained, “I know of one or two cases … where a brother has been blessed by the patriarch and told that he would become a member of the Council of the Twelve [Apostles]. Usually [the patriarchs] don’t say that … even if the patriarch felt that the chances are [very good] that a man will be called to the leading councils of the Church.” President Smith added, “Patriarchs should be very careful in giving their blessings not to make extravagant expressions and to be conservative in what they say.” Thus, you should not expect extravagant things to be mentioned in your blessing. Patriarchs generally avoid, for example, talking about things like the timing of the Second Coming when they give a blessing. While the young man or young woman being blessed may live to see the second coming of Christ, most patriarchs simply wouldn’t mention that in the blessing. President Smith further explained:
Sometimes the individual receiving the blessing can’t understand all that’s in it. Maybe it’s [just as] well that he can’t…. There are some things the patriarch may say in a blessing that he has to say rather guardedly…. I call your attention to one: … one time a father came to me with his son’s patriarchal blessing. In it the patriarch had said: ‘In a short time you will be called on an important mission.’ That’s all he said. It was only a few months later when the young man was killed.
Imagine if the patriarch had told the boy exactly what he had seen when giving that blessing. Such news would have been both devastating and paralyzing for the boy. The Lord knows what we can handle and what’s best for us to not know. Telling the boy to prepare for an important mission was sufficient warning for him to get ready—even though the young man did not know that what he was preparing for was death. The following scenario illustrates what could happen if the patriarch told us too much when giving us our blessing.
What if … your blessing says someday you will be in a plane crash? Since this is avoidable, you decide never to fly. What blessings—of places seen, relatives visited, special occasions enjoyed, time saved, and experience gained—will you lose? Your choices are stymied [by knowing this extravagant detail]. You act from fear rather than faith and courage. Knowing ahead of [time the] adversity [you will experience in mortality] may block your enjoyment of life and impede your progress…. We can be grateful for those things in our blessings that are vague for our own good.
There is safety in a blessing that offers counsel, promises, and warnings—but which withholds some of the details surrounding those promises and warnings. One stake patriarch suggested, “Sometimes we want the unusual. Sometimes our expectation is to receive a new revelation never given before. However, if we stop to think about the rewards promised for living the gospel, they are anything but ordinary.” Indeed, as one author wisely pointed out, “The content of any patriarchal blessing is of sufficient depth to challenge the thinking of the most profound [person].” If you don’t see in your blessing “extravagant” promises or counsel, it may be because you don’t understand your blessing—and, most likely, because you have not paid the price to get the revelation necessary to see what it is God is really saying to you through your patriarchal blessing.
The vagueness of certain phrases in your blessing may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Pronouncements that leave the details vague should cause you to seek God more earnestly in prayer in order to understand exactly what those declarations or promises mean.
Finally, remember, if we know all of the details, our tests would not be tests—and our agency would be severely limited. If our lives are largely planned out for us (as an overly detailed patriarchal blessing would suggest they are), how would we use our agency to grow or to make choices? We should be grateful that God gives us the hints and details that He does, without orchestrating every aspect of our lives.
How the Messages in a Patriarchal Blessing Can "Change Over Time"
It has been said that “each time you read your blessing, you will see different things. You will perceive a different emphasis at different times in your life. What you perceive in reading your blessing when you are a teenager may be different from what you perceive when you are a missionary or a mother or father. In other words, as you occupy different roles in your life, you will come to view blessings in ways that apply to you at that time.” I don’t know that you’ll necessarily see different things “each time you read your blessing.” Nevertheless, it is absolutely the case that, as you mature and as your life circumstances change, passages that meant one thing to you at one stage will take on an entirely different meaning during a later stage of your life. In this regard, your patriarchal blessing is like any other passage of scripture. This is one reason why it is so important for you to read and reread your blessing often.
Over time—“line upon line, precept upon precept”—God will reveal to you the meaning and significance of your patriarchal blessing (2 Nephi 28:30). President James E. Faust (1920–2007), a member of the First Presidency, spoke of how he and his wife read their patriarchal blessings together when he was eighty-three years old. After reading them, he said, “We found we still have additional work to do.” How could this be? How could there be things talked about in his blessing that he only noticed at eighty-three years of age? Father in Heaven knows when you are ready to understand a certain phrase, promise, or advice given in your blessing. He will reveal those things when it is best for you—and not before. One patriarch suggested, “Though the words of your blessing will remain the same, your understanding of the meaning and the ideas will change in accordance with the circumstances in your life.” Thus, like many who have come before you, one day you will be reading in your blessing—a blessing you have read many times before—and a line or phrase will jump out at you, and you will say to yourself, “I’ve never noticed that before.” This is one reason why patriarchal blessings can be described as “a gift that keeps on giving.”
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- Virginia H. Pearce, “Faith Is the Answer,” Ensign, May 1994, 93.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, “Address of Joseph Fielding Smith,” Advanced Theology, Church History and Philosophy 245 course lecture. June 15, 1956, 5.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, “Address of Joseph Fielding Smith,” 5.
- Gayla Wise, The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing (Provo, UT: Spring Creek, 2007), 94.
- Garry H. Boyle, A Loving Letter from God: Your Patriarchal Blessing (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2015), 56.
- John L. Lund, Understanding Your Patriarchal Blessing (Orem, UT: Noble Publishing, 1980), preface.
- See Wise, The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing, 97.
- Boyle, A Loving Letter from God, 119.
- Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, Your Patriarchal Blessing (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005), 42.
- See Garry H. Boyle, A Loving Letter from God: Your Patriarchal Blessing (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2015), 71.
- James E. Faust, “Challenges Facing the Family,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, January 10, 2004, 2.
- See Gayla Wise, The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing (Provo, UT: Spring Creek, 2007), 93.
- Lester J. Petersen, Your Patriarchal Blessing and the Extraordinary You (Rexburg, ID: Self-published, 1997), 37, 43.