Bill Pringle - [email protected]

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Families and God's Plan

Background

My wife and I were asked to speak in our home ward, even though we were currently serving in the South Philly Branch. As it turns out, we had already made arrangements to not be in Philly that Sunday, since we were leaving on vaction. So we changed our plans to leave after our talks instead of the day before.

For those who are not LDS, we believe that families can be forever. When sealed in a temple, we are married for time and eternity. We believe that our familiy will continue into the next life and beyond

Introduction

I can't start this talk without thanking Bishop Brown for asking us to speak today. We had already made arrangements to not be at South Philly this Sunday, since we are traveling to Pittsburgh to visit family We were going to leave yesterday, but instead we will be leaving after the meeting. He was truly inspired, and I am grateful for the opportunity to stand here and look out at all your smiling faces.

I also must admit that this talk is outside of my comfort zone. As some of you know, many of my talks will quote some scriptures, and then go into the original Hebrew or Greek meanings. Well, for this topic, there are only a few scriptures, and most of them are in English. I did, however, use the church web site lds.org quite a bit when organizing my thoughts.

Also, most of my past talks have addressed doctrinal issues where I would quote various scriptures and how they apply to our lives. For better or worse, this talk contains a lot of my personal beliefs about families. I can't say that these views are doctrinal and apply to everyone, although I do believe that they are true for me. I pray that what I have to say will be of some benefit to some of you.

Family Life

Since I joined the church in my thirties, I didn't grow up in a typical LDS family. I'm the only LDS member in my immediate family. In fact, I don't know of any relative who was a member of our church while alive. I have four kids: three biological children from my first marriage, who live in England, and Linda's daughter Denise from her first marriage. Denise is the only one we are sealed to.

I wasn't around many relatives as a kid. I mostly grew up outside of Pittsburgh. My dad's parents and my mother's father died before I was born, so I only knew one grandparent. Grandma lived in Pittsburgh, and we got to see her several times a year. One of my earliest memories as a kid was looking out the window of her apartment, which seemed high above the street. Sometimes we would go to her place and visit for a few hours, but mostly she would come and stay with us. I remember one time when she came to visit that I was so excited, I ran up to her and asked her when she was leaving. My mother thought I was being rude, but Grandma knew I just wanted to know how long she was staying.

Other than Grandma, the nearest relative was a great uncle (her brother) who had a farm in northern PA, that we visited once or twice a year. We had uncles in New York, Alabama, and Ohio, and Aunt in Washington, DC and some cousins (I think they were cousins) in West Virginia. Visiting was a rare event in our family. Our aunt would visit for short periods over holidays, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I remember seeing the others.

I should hasten to add that I think my parents remained close with their relatives. They would write letters (long distance was a big deal back then) and keep in touch in other ways. Its probably just that I, as a kid, wasn't aware of a lot of what was going on among the grown-ups.

In fact, I mostly kept to myself when I was a kid. I would mostly stay in my room, or outside alone. In fact, at one point I was ordered to spend one hour in the living room each evening "socializing". So, every evening, I would leave my room, go downstairs - with a book - and sat on a chair in the living room reading my book. After an hour I would go back upstairs to my room.

My father maintained contact with family, childhood friends, army buddies, and just about everyone he ever met for more than a few minutes. He attended two different high school reunions (he moved between his junior and senior year) army reunions, and work reunions. So when I say I wasn't around family much, it is probably that I just didn't remember, more than anything else.

Family and God's Plan

So, how does my family fit into God's plan? The same as every other family. They may not be LDS, but they are certainly family. In fact, I think we should avoid being too restrictive in how we think about families.

It is interesting that Linda and I have been struggling with many of these same questions while serving in South Philly. The Primary theme this year is “Families Can Be Together Forever”. What makes it so difficult in South Philly is that most of the kids who attend Primary are Cambodian children who don't have LDS families. Their parents aren't members. In fact, they aren't even Christian – they are Buddhist. Many of the Primary lessons assume the children come from LDS homes, with questions like: “How do your parents help you to understand ...” and then mention some Gospel principle. Well, their parents don't help them understand, because they don't understand it themselves.

How can we teach them that they can be together with their families forever, since the only way that can happen is if everyone in their family accept the gospel? Their parents don't know the Gospel, and in fact don't know much, if anything, about Jesus Christ. There are only a few kids whose parents have shown any interest in learning more about the Gospel.

Although it isn't a perfect fit, they still have families that love them, and so we simply adapt the message to suit their circumstances. After all, just because their families might not accept the Gospel in this life, doesn't mean they won't accept it in the Spirit World.

The scriptures tell us that exaltation is being sealed to our family and living with Heavenly Father. It will be an unbroken line back to Adam. Part of the joy of exaltation, I believe, will be sharing this experience with our family.

Who is Our Family?

But who is our family?

Clearly, it includes our parents and siblings, our children (including step and foster children), plus aunts and uncles, and cousins. And our in-laws. And their families. That can grow into quite a large group in a very short time if you think about it. Every time two people get married, two families are joined together.

But what about our church families?

I have a set of home teaching families that I love deeply. I still think about my former Primary and Sunday School classes, even though most of them are now grown and have Primary (or even Mutual) age kids of their own. I have enjoyed callings working with the youth, and still enjoy talking to many of them about the Gospel, scouts, video games, music, Harry Potter, or whatever else we have in common. And there are many members that we have grown to love over the years – both active and less active.

How could we be truly happy without them? Heavenly Father wants all of His children to return to Him, shouldn't we feel the same way?

After all, we are all brothers and sisters because we are all sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. But we are all descended from Adam. And Noah, for that matter. So we are also cousins, aunts, and uncles. Shouldn't we want all of our family with us to share in that great joy of living forever with our Father in Heaven?

And, in addition to our church families, we all have neighbors. Let me tell you about John and Mike. Many years ago, two little boys from down the street knocked on our front door. "Can we cut your grass, mister?" Now, this was before my arthritis kicked in, and I was cutting my own grass. But, they were so hopeful, and we have always been suckers for little kids, so I said "sure". They didn't have a lawn mower, so I let them use ours. Pretty soon, there was a knock on the door. "We're done!" I went out to look. "Well, you missed the side here." "Oh, okay!" I think the first time, it took them three or four tries before they actually finished the job. That first year, it took me more time letting them cut the grass that if I had done it myself.

But they got better and better. They started borrowing our lawn mower to cut other people's grass. Pretty soon, they bought their own lawn mowers. When they got a bit older, they bought a truck and had a thriving business. They put themselves through college cutting grass.

But we got so much more than our lawn cut. When we came home from the store, we no sooner pulled into the driveway, and they showed up to help unload the groceries.

They would come over just to hang out. In fact, they introduced us to video games. Now, both of them had a good home and a loving family, and it wasn't like they were always there, but we enjoyed our time together.

I recall once when we took them to a rock and mineral show. We gave them each some money to spend, and they would usually get something for their Moms.

I was with Mike as he was looking over some rocks, and the salesperson said something about his dad, looking at me. Mike said, "no, he's my friend." It was a great feeling.

It seems to me that families come in all sizes and shapes, but what is common to them all is love.

Families in the Scriptures

What do the scriptures say?

Let's start with the ten commandments. In Exodus 20:12 we read:

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Paul points out that this is the only commandment with promise. Doesn't that suggest that this command is something special, if not somehow more important than the others? Or, perhaps if we truly obeyed that commandment, the others would fall into place. What better way to honor your parents than to live a righteous life?

In Proverbs 23:24-25 we read:

24 The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.
25 Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.

So, if we want to honor our parents, we should take care to always do things they will be proud of, and never do things that they may be ashamed of.

In Malachi 4:5-6 we read:

5 ¶ Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Families are Essential for Society

Again, the family is essential for the well being of the world. If not for the family, the world would be cursed.

The message we receive over and over again is that the family is the fundamental unit of our society. It is how kids learn, and not just book learning. It is how they learn to be person, how to be a parent, how to relate to people, how to make decisions, how to cope with problems, how to live their lives. It is how they learn the important things in life.

The health of our society depends on the health of our families. Each child needs a nurturing environment in order to grow. Love and respect can do wonders in a child's life.

Not so long ago, it was normal for the extended family to provide additional support. This could be grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Back then, most kids didn't move far from where they grew up. These days, it isn't uncommon for kids to be scattered across the country, if not the globe. I believe that this trend has taken a toll on the family.

I teach part time at Penn State, and often on my ride home after class, I listen to the Tavis Smiley show on NPR. The other night he had a segment on a new book honoring "Aunties - the Other Mother". The person being interviewed talked about how aunts can be a friend in ways that a mother can't. I didn't have that when I was a kid, but I can see that relationship with Linda and her nieces and nephews.

In fact, thanks to Linda and Denise, I have a much greater appreciation of families that I didn't have before. Linda keeps in touch with her sister, as well as all her nieces and nephews. She gets birthday cards from many of them, and Christmas cards from most of them. There is an obvious love between them. Denise's husband, Bernie, has a very close family. They are always visiting or calling each other. And they have adopted us into their family.

My grandchildren (both here and in England) enjoy having lots of relatives around quite frequently. Although I have fond memories of my childhood (except of course for my teenage years), it is clear to me that I missed out on something special when I was growing up.

The extended family isn't limited to biological relatives. Church members often act like aunts and uncles. Or even grandparents. And I think most kids will tell you that when there are only a few members in their school, those other members feel much like cousins. (Sometimes kissing cousins, but cousins just the same.) Teachers and youth leaders have significant influence on the kids. And the adults.

So, once we understand the importance of families, what should we do?

We should start with our own families. Make sure the kids are well cared for. But don't forget about the adults. If the parents are having problems, it will affect the kids. Any problem of one member of the family is a problem for all members of the family. That person might be the only one who can fix the problem, but it is still a problem for everyone in the family.

Also, when talking about families, we should take care not to forget the “non-standard” families. Not everyone has a mother, father, brother, sister, and a puppy. We should be careful to not make anyone who doesn't fall into that category feel that there is something wrong with their family.

You often hear people talk about how they never realized they were poor when they were growing up. If the family members love each other, the material aspects become unimportant, provided their basic needs are met. I believe that a loving environment is much more important than material wealth. Just like there is no amount of money that can make up for a job you hate, there is no amount of material possessions that can make up for not feeling loved.

Personally, I believe that if you really want to help your family, you should also help other families. Many times, the best way to overcome your problems is to help someone else overcome theirs, especially if you can involve your whole family in the effort. By focusing your attention on the needs of others, you will find that your own needs, and those of your family, will be met, and you will receive rich blessings. You will find that such acts of kindness will draw your own family closer together, and help you appreciate all that you have.

I recall a talk given by a woman shortly after I joined the church, where she said that sometimes the best way to help someone else is to let them help you. I firmly believe that this is a true principle. When we help others, we get rich blessings. One of the joys of home teaching is that there is no way you can help your families without getting even more blessings for yourself. When someone you love is blessed, you can't help but feel blessed yourself. If we refuse to let others help us, we are denying them the blessings that they would get for helping us, and often we end up hurting them. Most parents can tell you the frustration of wanting to help a child who refuses to accept any help.

It is my prayer that each of us appreciate the importance of our families, and strive diligently to strengthen them. That we will call upon our Heavenly Father for help and guidance in knowing how best to help our families – both our immediate and our extended families.

And this is my prayer in the sacred name of our beloved savior, Jesus the Christ.

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