The place to begin to improve society is in the home….We are trying to make the world better by making the family stronger.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1997
Temporal Responsibilities and Eternal Roles
The title of this chapter invokes a powerful image, one that hearkens back to ancient Roman times where priestesses kept ritualistic hearths in service to the gods. Women have always played an important, yet often unrecognized role in keeping and protecting hearth and home. In fact, the lesson gives examples of women throughout the scriptures who have done exactly this.
Faithful women and men have been true to this theology of the family and followed these standards, doctrines, and practices whenever the gospel has been on the earth. “Our glorious Mother Eve” and our “Father Adam” were leaders for their children, teaching them “the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Rebekah and Isaac ensured that priesthood covenants and blessings would not be lost for their family. A widow in the city of Zarephath was able to take care of her son because she had faith to follow the prophet Elijah. Two thousand sixty young warriors fought valiantly to protect their families, trusting their mothers’ promise that “God would deliver them.” As a young man, Jesus Christ “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man,” nurtured by the love and concern of His mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph.
It does not matter if we are single or married, mothers or childless, each of us makes up an important piece of our mortal and human families. We will perform our roles differently depending on our individual circumstances but each of us does so in good faith.
I love the quote from Emmeline B. Wells, “I believe in women.” This might be a good place to start, to emphasize our commonality as women and the way we can contribute to the strengthening of the family. I particularly like these quotes from the lesson:
Sister Barbara Thompson, who later was called to serve as a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, was in the Salt Lake Tabernacle when President Hinckley read the proclamation there. “That was a great occasion,” she recalled. “I felt the significance of the message. I also found myself thinking, ‘This is a great guide for parents. It is also a big responsibility for parents.’ I thought for a moment that it really didn’t pertain too much to me since I wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. But almost as quickly I thought, ‘But it does pertain to me. I am a member of a family. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, and a granddaughter. I do have responsibilities—and blessings—because I am a member of a family. Even if I were the only living member of my family, I am still a member of God’s family, and I have a responsibility to help strengthen other families.
Barbara Thompson, 2007
If I could have one thing happen for parents and leaders of this Church, it would be that they feel the love of the Lord in their lives each day as they care for Heavenly Father’s children. … I invite you, in all of your dealings, to put on the mantle of charity, to envelop your family in the pure love of Christ
Bonnie D. Parkin, 2006
The lesson defines nurture as “to train, to teach, to educate, to foster development, to promote growth, and to nourish or feed.” Although it directly defines this to motherhood, no where in that definition is being a mother required to nurture. Ask members of the class what they do to nurture and strengthen the family?
Defending the Family
11 And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.
12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
I have always loved the image of the Title of Liberty and believe that it is just as applicable to us as women as it was for the male warriors during Book of Mormon times. We should be willing to stand up against those things that do threaten the family. You may want to ask members of the class what some of these things are but be careful to sty away from divisive topics such as gay marriage and the mommy wars as they are guaranteed to alienate members of the class. When I taught this lesson I focused on more concrete problems that hurt the family such as domestic violence, inadequate education, poverty…things that we can be instrumental in addressing.
Making Home a Center of Strength
I often struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt in regards to my role in the home and I believe many sisters do as well. Anchoring this lesson in the Atonement and the love of Jesus Christ helps to ease these feelings. Ask members of the class to share their experiences with how the Atonement and their relationship with God has helped them strengthen their homes.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a theology of the family that is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. … The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. … The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally.
President Julie B. Beck, 2011
In that most important of places, our homes, we learn best how it is that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great,” for life at home is a series of small things that combine to create an eternal family. Perhaps because creating strong relationships with the Lord and each other is so incremental, or because teaching and encouraging and leading are sometimes thankless, it is easy to become distracted, even discouraged. The adversary would like to confuse us and divert our attention from what matters most. But we are blessed, for we know that faith and family matter most. The women who have touched my heart and motivated me to lead a better life are those who put the Lord and family first.
Virginia U. Jensen, 2000
“Glimpses of Heaven”
The manual recounts President Kimball as saying he had glimpsed heaven after performing a sealing. I like this turn of phrase and would encourage the sisters to engage with what we as women might be like in Heaven.
It is the opinion of many who are wise and learned that woman’s mission upon the earth is maternity, with its minor details, its accompanying cares and anxieties, and needful exigencies; that these fill the measure of her creation; and when this is done, she should with becoming matronly dignity, retire from the sphere of active life and gracefully welcome old age. … That motherhood brings into a woman’s life a richness, zest and tone that nothing else ever can I gladly grant you, but that her usefulness ends there, or that she has no other individual interests to serve I cannot so readily concede.
Emmeline B. Wells, 1875
How does establishing, nurturing and defending the family contribute to this vision? Consider telling the story of Emma Smith who asked her husband, Joseph, for a blessing shortly before he was martyred. Joseph suggested that she write the blessing herself and what we are left with is a wonderful example of a woman claiming power, authority and strength for herself:
First of all that I would crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings would be wisdom from my Heavenly Father bestowed daily, so that whatever I might do or say, I could not look back at the close of the day with regret, nor neglect the performance of any act that would bring a blessing. I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting. I desire a spirit of discernment, which is one of the promised blessings of the Holy Ghost.
I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children that are, or may be committed to my charge, in such a manner that they will be useful ornaments in the Kingdom of God, and in a coming day arise up and call me blessed.
I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn, but that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands…
[I] desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements. Finally, I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.
Ask the sisters in your class how they might follow Emma’s example and what blessings they would claim for themselves and their families?
If you feel comfortable, testify of the grace of God, that they love and support us in fulfilling our roles as guardians of the hearth.
May the Lord bless you, my beloved sisters. … May you be strengthened for the challenges of the day. May you be endowed with wisdom beyond your own in dealing with the problems you constantly face. May your prayers and your pleadings be answered with blessings upon your heads and upon the heads of your loved ones. We leave with you our love and our blessing, that your lives may be filled with peace and gladness. It can be so. Many of you can testify that it has been so. The Lord bless you now and through the years to come, I humbly pray.
Gordon B. Hinckley, 1995