A divine institution

Is there anyone who does not remember his or her first leave-taking from family? What college student, serviceman, missionary or newlywed does not recall the day he or she left home?

The experiences of two young women leaving home to travel together to a college in a distant state illustrate diversities of families and family traditions. One spent the night with the other, anticipating an early-morning departure. As the hour approached for them to leave, the friend's father called the family together for prayer. He then did something the young guest had never witnessed: He placed his hands on his daughter's head and gave her a father's blessing.Listening intently to the words this father spoke to his daughter, the young guest felt a yearning begin to grow, it seemed, from the very depth of her soul. She wanted to be part of such a family.

"That was nearly three decades ago, but I remember the longing I felt then as if I experienced it just moments ago," she said. "My perspective of family changed forever. I had never heard my father pray; I couldn't imagine how I would feel to hear him pronounce a father's blessing. My love for my father didn't diminish, but how I wished he had been a member of the Church and had held the authority to send me out into the world with that kind of blessing!

"We both had good families, but I couldn't help comparing my circumstances with those of my friend. Hers was an active LDS family, but I was the only active member in my family. I envisioned her leaving home with some sort of a protective shield that came with her father's blessing. I felt vulnerable."

Home and family. What refuges, what sources of strength, comfort, support, hope and love they can be. Situations vary greatly, from those who have what seem to be ideal families to those who are alone. Those who are fortunate enough to be part of loving and supportive families should never take them for granted. Those who have yet to feel embraced in the warmth of the family circle should cherish and continue to strive for the ideal of home and family.

Much attention is given to the family, not only by the Church but also by society. Newspaper and magazine articles are published about the family. Television and radio stations produce programs about the state of today's family. Even governments focus on the family. U.S. Congress has designated the fourth week in November as National Family Week. Observed every year since 1970 and sponsored by Family Service America, based in Milwaukee, Wis., it has as its purpose "to recognize the role of families as the building blocks of society and to encourage the support of healthy family life and family values." The United Nations has proclaimed 1994 as International Year of the Family.

Latter-day Saints, with our understanding of life in the eternities, have a perspective of the family unit beyond what is comprehended by society at large. We regard the family as a divine institution that can continue through the eternities.

From the earliest chapters of holy writ, we learn that marriage and family were organized by the Lord:

"Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make an help meet for him.

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Gen. 2:18, 24.)

Practically every program and lesson, principle and doctrine of the Church is correlated to help the home and family. No other organization provides more assistance to the family.

Some, especially those who are widowed, divorced or single, might feel at times that too much is said from the pulpits and in the classrooms about home and family. However, President Spencer W. Kimball said:

"We have no choice . . . but to continue to hold up the ideal of the Latter-day Saint family. . . . The fact that some do not now have the privilege of living in such a family is not reason enough to stop talking about it. We do discuss family life with sensitivity, however, realizing that many sisters do not presently have the privilege of belonging or contributing to such a family. But we cannot set aside this standard, because so many other things depend upon it." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 294.)

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the importance of the family as does the temple. The dedication of each new temple could be viewed as a celebration of the family. All of us, married or single, parents or childless, have the opportunity to be involved in a great work as we engage in family history research and perform sacred ordinances in the temple so families can be together forever.

The family is an important part of Heavenly Father's great plan of life. May we not only be aware of the family's importance, but also work to promote and cherish it always.

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