'Make a home . . . a little bit of heaven'

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views the family as the most important organization in time and in all eternity."

Address at Preston Idaho North Stake, June 10, 1984

We are all here;

Father, mother,

Sister, brother

All who hold each other dear

Each chair is filled . . .

Charles Sprague

"We don't want any empty chairs."

That short statement often repeated by President Ezra Taft Benson sums up his feelings about families and Church members - every individual is important.

Personally, President Benson drew great strength from his tightly knit family. And few couples were as close as "Flora and T."

President Benson emphasized on many occasions that family closeness would come through family prayer.

"Let us strengthen the family," he declared. (God, Family and Country, p.231.) "Family and individual prayers morning and evening can invite the blessings of the Lord on our households. Mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body, but to feed the spirit as well with members of the family taking turns reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. . . .

"Children who honor their parents and parents who love their children can make a home a haven of safety and a little bit of heaven."

Family prayer was important in the Benson home. On one occasion in the 1940s, the family entertained John D. Miller, president of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, as a dinner guest.

"As we responded to the call for dinner and assembled in the dining room, the children began preparing, as always, for family prayer," President Benson wrote in a one-page vignette remembering the event.

The guest was invited to kneel with the family as one of the little girls offered prayer.

"Several months later," he continued, "in a distant state a group of cooperative business executives was sitting in the winter home of our guest . . . as they discussed informally the problems facing our nation.

"Without any warning . . . I heard this good man tell of his visit to our humble home. He mentioned particularly the family prayer and our little girl who had led the group that evening.

"Then he said, `Gentlemen, I have never had a sweeter experience in my life.' "

William O. Nelson, director of the Evaluation Division of the Church Correlation Department, served as President Benson's administrative assistant while he was president of the Council of the Twelve.

"His philosophy was that you always reach out to your children, and he did," said Brother Nelson. "He was constantly sending things to his children to build up their faith and spirituality.

"He wrote letters to his grandchildren; they really loved Grandpa. He taught the Brethren that they were responsible for their grandchildren just as they were for their children."

Brother Nelson recalled that once he and President Benson were discussing a letter from a member who would not accept his counsel. President Benson commented, "Our obligation is to teach the doctrines of exaltation and nothing less. We teach the principles of eternal life and let the Saints decide for themselves."

President Benson has also encouraged husbands and wives to have a close relationship. "One of the greatest things a man can do for his children is to love his wife and let them know he loves her," he wrote in God, Family, and Country, p. 185.

President and Sister Benson have exemplified this concept. Hulda Parker Young, widow of the late Elder S. Dilworth Young and secretary to President Benson when he served in the U.S. Cabinet as well as later, said Sister Benson always supported her husband.

In very trying situations in Washington D.C., "at times I could see that he was under a great deal of stress. I shall never forget on one occasion when he was to appear and bear testimony before the U.S. House Agricultural Committee, which was not an easy task in any way.

"He felt great anxiety. You could see that. Soon Sister Benson came, and she went with him to that appointment. It was a beautiful thing to see the strength that came to him when Sister Benson was by his side.

"He was magnified in his challenges there, and she was there lending him support. This is the type of thing that has been so typical throughout their entire life."

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