Relief Society Lesson 9: Sacred Family Relationships

Lorenzo Snow taught:

If we are faithful we will associate with each other in an immortal and glorious state…Those connections formed here, that are of the most enduring character, shall exist in eternity.5 Footnote 1

How can the doctrine of eternal families affect us during our mortal lives? Snow had some ideas:

The doctrine of eternal families offers comfort.

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers—yes, mothers who see their lovely ones expiring by their side, know that they will be theirs in the spirit world, and that they will have them as they lay them down. 6

The doctrine of eternal families promotes tolerance and patience.

I know you have to put up with many unpleasant things…Try to endure the unpleasantnesses which arise at times, and when you meet each other in the next life you will feel glad that you put up with those things.9

How does knowing the doctrine of eternal families affect your family relationships?

Lorenzo Snow adds that the doctrine of eternal families will not punish single people, male or female.  I appreciated this clarification because I frequently hear modern talks which seem to limit this promise to females, perhaps influenced by assumptions that women care more about having families than men do and that any man could successfully find a wife if he tried. Lorenzo Snow praises his sister Eliza R. Snow, who was single for much of her life and did not have children, yet demonstrated that there are many other ways a woman can contribute to her faith and her community.

People who have no opportunity of marrying in this life, if they die in the Lord, will have means furnished them by which they can secure all the blessings necessary for persons in the married condition. The Lord is merciful and kind, and He is not unjust. There is no injustice in Him; yet we could scarcely look upon it as being just when a woman or a man dies without having had the opportunity of marrying if it could not be remedied in the other life. There would be injustice in that, and we know that the Lord is not an unjust being. My sister Eliza R. Snow, I believe, was just as good a woman as any Latter-day Saint woman that ever lived, and she lived in an unmarried state until she was beyond the condition of raising a family. … I cannot for one moment imagine that she will lose a single thing on that account. It will be made up to her in the other life, and she will have just as great a kingdom as she would have had if she had had the opportunity in this life of raising a family. 7

In our family-centered faith, how can we be more inclusive and appreciative of single members?

Lorenzo Snow offered some fatherly advice for improving our family relationships:

See that the little, trifling misunderstandings in domestic concerns do not poison your happiness.8

What are some specific ideas that can help us avoid this “poison”?

To the husbands, I say: Many of you do not value your wives as you should…When they go out to meeting, you carry the baby at least half the time.9

This advice struck me as a bit funny.  It provides a glimpse into Snow’s time period, when caring for children was considered “women’s work.”  Yet, the principle it demonstrates is applicable today. How can we overcome cultural norms that prevent us from serving others? Do we “value” others when we demand that they perform certain roles because of their gender?

If we wish to sway a proper influence over our families, we must show them good examples as well as give them good precepts. We should be able to say, do as I do, as well as to say do as I say.13

Eat Your PeasThis principle can be illustrated in a fun way with a story my daughter and I both enjoy, Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray, available at many libraries and bookstores like Amazon  or Barnes & Noble  In the story, a mother wants her daughter to eat her peas and offers a wee little reward for compliance—icecream for dessert. When that doesn’t work, she sweetens the pot little by little, until eventually her inducement includes never having to go to school again and the purchase of 92 chocolate factories. In the end, the daughter makes a counteroffer, “I’ll eat my peas if you eat your brussel sprouts.” Her mother’s lip quivers at the prospect.

In what ways can we teach by example? What are some principles you have learned because of family members’ good examples?

Finally, Snow reflects on family life as a spiritual pursuit:

Men and [women] who wish to retain their standing before God in the holy priesthood must have the spirit of prophecy, and be qualified to administer life and salvation to the people; and [even] if they cannot do it to the world they must do it at home, in their families, in their shops and in the streets that their hearts may be inspired with words of life at their firesides, in teaching the gospel to their children and to their neighbors as much so as when they are speaking to their [sisters and] brethren from this stand. This having a little of the Spirit when before the people and then laying it aside will not do. Some men [and women] will speak to the people and then go home … , and instead of having the words of life in them they become perfectly dry and dead, but this will not do any longer. It becomes the duties of fathers [and mothers] in Israel to wake up and become saviors of men [and women], that they may walk before the Lord in that strength of faith and that determined energy that will insure them the inspiration of the Almighty to teach the words of life to their families. …In this we will see a spirit of determination that will enable us to become one, that we may learn how to love each other, and I pray to the Lord that he will deposit that love in each of our hearts which he deposited in Jesus his Son, and that he will continue to deposit a knowledge of that which is good.15 Footnote 2

Why is the spirit of prophecy necessary to our families? How can we ensure that spirituality thrives at home as well as church?

Sometimes we overemphasize “ideal” families with a married father and mother and their young, biological children, ignoring the many members of our congregations in other kinds of families or stages of life.  I like these videos at because they are about real families, not “ideals.” To finish this lesson, we will watch three videos about real Mormon families, including an elderly couple, a stepfamily, and a single woman whose friends serve her like family.  As you watch, consider the ways that these families nurture their sacred family relationships.

Footnote 1: This quote confused me a little. Is it about eternal families or some other kind of “connection”? So I went to the original source of the quote, the April 11, 1888 edition of the Deseret News, which the University of Utah has graciously published online, to read the quote in context:

In the career of the church the Lord has done all that He has promised. He has brought us through affliction and has enlightened us in regard to his own nature and our relationship with Him. There is no people that has more reason to be grateful to Him than the Latter-day Saints. He has shown us that if we are faithful we will associate with each other in an immortal and glorious state; that those connections formed here, that are of the most enduring character, shall exist in eternity. As we keep the commandments of God, new things that give us knowledge and joy are unfolded to our view.

Does that clear things up? No, not for me either. Oh well. But it is nice to know that the source material is online in case it can be useful in some other lesson.

Footnote 2: The text in the section Children learn the gospel best when their parents seek inspiration and set good examples addresses “men” and “fathers” almost exclusively. In my first draft of this lesson, I cut this section out completely because it appeared that it was intended for an all-male audience. However, then I noticed that in the discussion section of the chapter, the text editors had written: “President Snow expressed concern about parents who teach with power at church but not at home (pages 133–34).” It appears that the editors saw this advice to fathers as inclusive of both genders. Another clue that the editors felt this way is that they titled the section using the word “parents” instead of “fathers.” Therefore, I decided to include quotes from this section after all and added gender inclusive language in brackets for clarification.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Podcast: Religious Feminism Podcast Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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10 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    April, this is brilliant. I love that you address what we can do to be more inclusive of families that don’t fit the Mormon ideal. It seems to me that the doctrine of the eternal family can be absolutely wonderful for families that are intact and functional. But it can, I imagine, be inordinately painful for people who are not in the “ideal” situation. Acknowledging that feeling of otherness, of pain, etc. is a very important thing I think.

    i love your video links!

  2. EmilyCC says:

    April, I love the Eliza R. Snow story and that it was included here. And, I’m impressed by the quality and variety of the YouTube links as a way to show families. So much good stuff here!

  3. April says:

    I don’t now how I forgot to embed the videos when I put this up (it just had links before) but they are there now.

  4. Kim Jones says:

    Hi Ladies, thank you so much for this helpful website!!! I was wondering how best to share youtube videos in the setting of a RS lesson so that everyone could hear and see them? thanks

  5. Josi says:

    So, I was hoping for some help on the Eliza R. Snow part. It annoyed me that Lorenzo held up his sister as an example of a woman who hadn’t had the opportunity to marry. That is not my understanding at all. I think she may not have born children. But, I’m pretty sure she was married twice to two different prophets. Why would he have used this–and more still, why would Curriculum Development not remove this bit? Why would they leave it in and allow Eliza to be esteemed as an amazing single sister, when she was an amazing sister who had been married twice? Ideas?!

    And great approach to different family arrangements and cultural norms. And there are so many families, who even if they are married, are not both “active” or committed in the same way to church. It is good to make space for them.

    • Linda says:

      Thank you, Josie; I’ve been wondering the same thing all week. Any input, sisters?

    • April says:

      Good point, Josie. I should have clarified that it makes more sense to describe Eliza R. Snow as an example of the important contributions a childless woman made to the gospel, as she was not a single woman. Although, I think the same principle applies to single women. Your contributions should not be limited by your family status.

    • Wendy says:

      The title of that section says, “…who are unable to marry OR RAISE CHILDREN in this life…” He never said she didn’t marry, he said Eliza “lived in an unmarried state until she was beyond the condition of raising a family…” So she didn’t marry until she was too old to have children. President Snow was referring to his sister to address those who are unable to raise a family and says that “it will be made up to [them] in the other life.” I’m glad they included this in the lesson as I’m sure it can bring great comfort to those in this circumstance.

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