Relief Society Lesson 4: Strengthening and Preserving the Family
By Amy Cartwright
Amy is a blogger for Young Mormon Feminists
My childhood was spent watching far too much television. While I would never admit this to my schoolmates, one of my favorite shows was none other than Barney and Friends. That’s right, I’m going to quote a purple dinosaur in this lesson. In one episode, the children are talking about different kinds of families—one child had a “traditional” family with a mom, dad, brothers and sisters, pets and the like, another had parents who were divorced, and one was raised by her grandmother. As the children sang about different kinds of families, they taught:
“A family is people and family is love,
that’s a family.
They come in all different sizes and different kinds,
but mine’s just right for me.”
The eternal nature of the family is one of the most beautiful doctrines in all of Mormonism. This understanding that we are sealed, not only to our spouses and children in nuclear families, but in one great big human family, should move us to compassion, love, and service of all of God’s children, regardless of their faith or non-faith, nationality, race, orientation, etc.
Too often we have a tendency in the Church to become tribal in our approach to the gospel. We create an us vs. them mentality when it comes to beliefs and practices, especially concerning families. Too often we dismiss families that do not conform to the “traditional” model as an attack and forget that we are all part of the human family as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
In her 1993 General Conference talk, Chieko Okazaki addressed the diversity of families both within and without the Church and reminded us that there are many, many ways to be a faithful Mormon woman, man, and family.
“All of us women have an image of the ideal family—a marriage in the temple to an active priesthood holder, and children who are obedient and faithful. But President Ezra Taft Benson has pointed out that only 14 percent of American households in 1980 match the traditional image of a family—working husband, full-time mother with children still in the home. Reliable statistics indicate that only one out of five LDS families in the United States have a husband and wife married in the temple with children in their home. As Elder M. Russell Ballard has already reminded us, there is great diversity in LDS homes. But all of these homes can be righteous homes where individuals love each other, love the Lord, and strengthen each other.
“Let me give you an example. Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order. Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered. Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity. (“Strength in the Savior”, General Conference, October 1993).”
Just as there is no “one right way” to be a quilt or a Mormon woman, there is no “one right way” to be in a family. From Esther in the part-member family, Ruth the widowed and childless, to Bilhah and Zilpah the unwed mothers, and Deborah the career woman, the scriptures give us account after account of women who were in non-“traditional” families, but because of their faith and courage, they were able to do great things. Through their stories and the countless examples of modern-day Mormon women and their families, we learn that it’s not so much about having the idealized family to find and worship God, but to find and worship God regardless of the type of family we inhabit.