Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Home and the Church

(find the handbook here)

The fundamental unit of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (and of society) is the family. If families don’t function, or don’t exist, or aren’t strong, then nothing else really happens. How do we all become well-adjusted, mature, educated adults? It’s not because we would just become that way on our own. It was because we had parents who nurtured us.

In our foster parent training, we learned that studies have found that children do better when they live and are raised by their biological parents, if that environment is physically and emotionally safe. No matter what – it doesn’t matter what kind of parenting style the parents have – being raised by biological parents who are at least semi-functional is a huge indicator of success in life. Of course that is not always possible, and children can do just fine in foster and adoptive families – but being raised in the biological family when it is a safe environment is always better for the child, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Not to mention that the natural way a human being is brought to this earth is through the most sacred intimate act that can occur between a man and a woman – and then comes a child. This would point to the truth that family is central to this whole world – and that a family is a husband and wife, and their children. The parent’s duty is to raise those children so that they will have families of their own some day and then the cycle continues in God’s eternal family.ArtBook__112_112__FamilyPrayer____
“To be a strong and vital organization, the Church needs righteous families.” Just as society doesn’t function without families, neither would the Church, since the family is the basic unit of the Church. The Church exists to strengthen families, and strong families help create strong families. The church has many “ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported.” Think about that for a minute – the ordinances of the gospel (baptism, the sacrament, and temple ordinances) are home centered and Church supported. But that only makes sense – the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament and the temple endowment are all preparatory to receiving the crowing ordinance of celestial marriage, which is what is ultimately necessary for exaltation. And what is celestial marriage? It is the beginning of a family, which will never end as far as the partners in that marriage fulfill their temple covenants.

Sometimes as members of the Church, it is easy to think about “outsourcing” our children’s gospel education to Church leaders, primary teachers, and seminary. However, “Priesthood and auxiliary leaders and teachers seek to assist parents, not to supersede or replace them.” We send our children to Primary to reinforce the gospel instruction they receive at home, not the other way around. It is our duty as parents to instruct our children about the gospel in the home, at every moment of every day, and in every conversation with them so that when they go to Church, it is comfortable and familiar, because they learned it at home first.

Strengthening the Home

“[H]oly places include temples, homes, and chapels. The presence of the Spirit and the behavior of those within these physical structures are what make them ‘holy places.’” I have always loved the concept of “holy places” and was taught early in my youth that any place can be a holy place. I remember a story was told once of a young woman who wrote inside of her shoes “holy places” to remind herself that everywhere she went could be a “holy place” if she would strive to have the Spirit with her. Our homes can be holy places if we will strive to have the Spirit in our homes by loving each other, serving each other, talking often of Christ and His gospel, and filling our homes with things that are “virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.”

In Doctrine & Covenants section 88, the Lord gives some instruction about how the temple should be – and since our home should be like a temple, these things apply to making our homes holy places. He said a temple (and thus, a home) should be a “house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God”. This is a pretty straightforward list of things we should do to make our homes holy places.

As I mentioned earlier, children do better with biological parents in a safe environment. Of course, any safe environment is better than biological parents who create an unsafe environment. So what is a safe environment? “A home with loving and loyal parents is the setting in which the spiritual and physical needs of children are most effectively met. A Christ-centered home offers adults and children a place of defense against sin, refuge from the world, healing from emotional and other pain, and committed, genuine love.” I don’t think I could have put it any more eloquently or straightforward.

“Strengthening families is the focus of inspired Church programs such as home teaching (see D&C 20:47, 51), visiting teaching, and family home evening.” All the Church programs support the family, but these programs are especially focused on supporting the families. And notice that it is families helping other families – home and visiting teaching take mothers and fathers from one home and bring them into another home, so that as families we can help each other. We do not have to feel like we are alone in strengthening our families. Good home and visiting teachers can help us to strengthen our families.

Family Home Evening

“Family home evening is sacred, private family time under the direction of the parents. Priesthood leaders should not give directions as to what families should do during this time.” We try to be consistent with our family home evenings, and while we are not always perfect, we do try. We cherish family home evening time as a time to specifically address the gospel – although gospel discussion can (and should) happen every day, in every setting.

“Family home evening may include family prayer, gospel instruction, testimony sharing, hymns and Primary songs, and wholesome recreational activities.” This is more or less how our Family Home Evening goes. Since we have small children, the gospel instruction is usually simple, and consists mostly of a few questions we ask the children to gauge their understanding of the principle, and then we give a little instruction, and then we try to participate in an activity together that will help us understand and apply the principle. For example, this week we talked about cleanliness – physical as well as spiritual cleanliness. And then for the activity we washed the van (it had been on a camping trip with the youth for Youth Conference, so it needed it badly). Washing the van became the object lesson for our gospel discussion as well as the activity for our family home evening, and working together is never a bad idea.

Strengthening Individuals

“Church leaders should give special attention to individuals who do not presently enjoy the support of a family of strong Church members. These members may include children and youth whose parents are not members of the Church, other individuals in part-member families, and single adults of all ages. They are covenant members of God’s eternal family, deeply loved by Him. These individuals should be given opportunities for service in the Church. The Church can provide wholesome sociality and fellowship that these members can find nowhere else.” This is an especially tender topic for me and my husband, as one of our goals is to be a family that is a family for anyone who needs one (hence our strong desire to foster and adopt). If a person needs a family, we will be that family. I feel that Heavenly Father is pleased with our desire to do this, and will assist us in reaching out to those in need of the support of a family. It is the job of the Church to reach out to those individuals, but aren’t we, as members of God’s kingdom, responsible to do the jobs of the Church, when really the job of the Church is to support families – that should be our job, too.

What things do you do to strengthen your own home and family? How do you strengthen other families? How do you strengthen those who do not have a strong family?

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