Last week my wife said that she was getting tired of the same old family activities and wanted to change things up a bit. She compiled a list of a few hundred activity suggestions, printed them on paper, and then cut them into individual strips of paper which we folded up and put in a big ceramic urn. Then on Monday night during our Family Home Evening (more on that later), we opened the jar and pulled out one strip of paper. The rule was that we had to do the activity written on the paper that night, if at all possible. We call this game “Forced Family Fun (In a Jar!)” because that sounds better than “Forced Family Fun (In an Urn!)” The first strip of paper we pulled out said, “Visit the place where Dad works and get a tour.”
I said, “Alright, everyone. Let’s go!” and we packed into the van and drove to the clinic. By the time we arrived the baby was asleep, so ironically my wife sat in the van while the older kids came with me for our Forced Family Fun (In a Jar!) activity. It was after hours, so no one was in the clinic but us. After a quick tour I had one of my kids sit up on the exam table and I demonstrated a neurologic examination. This went over well, so we went into the other room and I performed a quick nerve conduction study on another kid, who laughed every time his hand twitched, and a neuromuscular ultrasound examination of another kid’s median nerve. I considered doing electromyography on one of them, but I thought better of it and instead did the needle examination on my own hand muscle. The kids were duly impressed with my specialized geek skills, and went home with a better appreciation of what I do every day at work. Even the ones who were initially grumpy about the activity had to admit that they enjoyed it.
So what is Family Home Evening? In June 1915 the First Presidency wrote to the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families, at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They encouraged the inclusion of prayer, scripture reading, songs, stories, games, and refreshments on these occasions. “If the Saints obey this counsel,” they concluded, “we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them” (Improvement Era, June 1915, pg 733-734). Typically Monday is the day set aside for Family Home Evening, but we have done it on different days of the week as occasion has required over the years.
At our Family Home Evening last week before we did our activity we sang a hymn, offered a prayer, and had a short lesson about Adam and Eve and Article of Faith #2. That is a typical Home Evening at our house. We have included many different activities over the years, and I have a lot of fond memories of Monday evenings in my family dating back to my early childhood.
Our church is rightly known as a family church. This has always been the case, and the leaders of the Church have intentionally maintained our family focus over the years. This has been done not simply to resist trends in the broader culture but as a matter of doctrine. We are a family church because our theology places such great emphasis on the role of the family in God’s plan.
In 1995 the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which is a concise declaration of our family-related doctrines and their immediate practical applications. These doctrines date back to the early days of the Church, but the 1995 proclamation placed them within one document for the first time. Many topics are included, but the center of the doctrine, and what I think sets us apart most from other belief systems, is this: “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
The authority to unite a married couple on earth in such a way that their union will also be recognized in heaven is part of the sealing power which Jesus gave to his chief apostle Peter: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19).
The notion that true love somehow transcends the otherwise impenetrable boundary of death is not unique or unusual; this is an intuitive cultural belief reflected in literature, film, music, and other arts, despite the fact that traditional Christian wedding ceremonies state that the union is to be in effect “as long as you both shall live” or “until death do you part.” What is unique about the Latter-day Saints is our specific declaration that the sealing power referred to in the scriptures is held today by the president of our church and is exercised in our temples.
Recognizing that the family is at the center of God’s plan helps us to understand the importance of doctrines and commandments regarding the exercise of reproductive power (Exodus 20:14 being the most famous of these). There are also practical implications regarding the responsibilities of family members, and priorities for the use of family time. For instance, the Family Proclamation declares: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Family Home Evening is one way to follow this wise counsel.
The Family Proclamation has been an important guide for my wife and I as we have tried to build our family on the Lord’s teachings. We are grateful to belong to a church with a strong and steady anchor on the subject of marriage and family. The world is “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), but we have not changed. The late President Boyd K. Packer, speaking about the Family Proclamation in 2008, said this: “You’ll note as we go through this that declarations such as this are challenged. The world wants to change it. We will not. We cannot.”
The world and its standards will change and are changing around us, but we will not move from what we believe because we are “built … upon a rock” (Matt 7:24-25, see also Helaman 5:12). We will keep working to build happy Christian families, with weekly Family Home Evening and other “wholesome recreational activities.” We will reach out with love and tolerance to those who disagree, and ask them to extend that same tolerance to us. God gave us the pattern for marriage and families, and we will do our best to follow it while praying for his blessings to help us.
I have wondered many times how different my life would be if I didn’t have the family focus of the church and its teachings in my life. I love my wife and kids, my parents and my siblings. Recognizing that my family relationships are the source of my greatest joys, I consider these doctrines and commandments to be the guardrails on the road to this happiness. I don’t want to fly off of this road; I want to keep driving and enjoy every mile!