No empty chairs

A quiet reverence permeated the sacred sealing room in the temple. Family and friends, dressed in white, had gathered from a three-state area on that beautiful, early summer morning. They were there to witness the sealing of a couple to each other and to three of their children.

Now in his late 30s, the husband was the last of nine living children of his parents to be sealed in the temple. His gray-haired widowed mother, now bent with the infirmities of age, and all his brothers and sisters and six of their spouses were in the temple with him.It was a day long hoped and prayed for. It was a day of emotions and happy tears, and deep feelings of the heart.

The joy of that day perhaps helped to ease some of the pain that the soft-spoken, dear mother felt in so recently having to bury a son and a husband just a year apart.

On the wife's side of the family, two parents - temple workers themselves who undoubtedly had seen hundreds of couples come to the temple to be married - were so grateful and appreciative that it was their daughter this time who would be kneeling at the altar.

For the two families, it was a momentous occasion, but it brought neither headlines in the newspapers or the attention of anybody outside a relatively small group. It was, however, an occasion that had profound eternal significance.

Another family in the Church had taken those necessary steps in the House of the Lord to become an eternal family unit.

The joy of the family was almost unspeakable. Words were hardly suitable for the things felt most deeply by the Spirit.

But the occasion wasn't without some sorrow.

The oldest boy in the family, now mostly grown, was not with his parents in the temple that day. When the family pictures were taken outside the temple after the ceremony, there was a place for a tall and handsome son that wasn't filled. The pictures taken undoubtedly will be treasured and placed in family photo albums. But the picture will never be complete until all the family members are in it.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the Savior taught the parable of the lost sheep, saying:

". . . If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

"And if so be that he find it, . . . he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray." (Matt. 18:12-13.)

And then the Master declared:

"Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." (Matt. 18:14.)

As shepherds of our own flocks, is not that our clarion call? Should we not do all we can to try to prevent any of the precious lambs in our watchcare from perishing admist the throngs of life?

To prevent that from happening, there is no better place to start than in our own homes. The home, according to President David O. McKay, "is the basis from which radiate all good influences." (Improvement Era, January 1961.) A righteous home, said President McKay, is within "whispering distance of heaven." (Church News, Sept. 7, 1968.)

Surely our Heavenly Father weeps - just as parents on this earth do - when one goes astray, and rejoices when he returns to the fold. Each who comes into this life is given free agency to choose for himself whether he will follow good or evil, and sometimes, exercising that agency, he chooses evil over good. But that shouldn't keep us from continually searching for our lost sheep, trying to find them and bring them home again.

"We want you to watch, to feed, to tend, and to care for the flock," President Ezra Taft Benson has said, "and, in the event that some are temporarily lost, we challenge you to find them." (April 1983 general conference.)

President Benson has spoken of no empty chairs in our eternal home.

"God intended the family to be eternal," President Benson has said. "With all my soul, I testify to the truth of that declaration. May He bless us to strengthen our homes and lives of each family member so that in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there - father, mother, sister, brother. . . . Each chair is filled. We are all back home." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 493.)

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