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"The Family Is of God"

For this talk, I did not have everything written out beforehand and just used short notes, so this is not everything I shared nor exactly what I said.

Sister Carol M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, spoke at the General Women's Broadcast in March about the Primary song "The Family Is of God." She began, "Is anything more beautiful and profound than the simple and pure truths of the gospel taught in a Primary song?" I have a strong testimony of the Primary songs and the pure and plain gospel truths they teach.

"In the words of “The Family Is of God” . . . [w]e learn not only that the family is of God but also that we are each part of God’s family." Although Sister Stephens addresses the importance of our individual families in her talk, I found that the focus was more on how we all are a part of God's family.

"The first line of the song teaches: “Our Father has a family. It’s me! It’s you, all others too: we are His children.” . . . We each belong to and are needed in the family of God. Earthly families all look different. And while we do the best we can to create strong traditional families, membership in the family of God is not contingent upon any kind of status—marital status, parental status, financial status, social status, or even the kind of status we post on social media. We belong."

Some of us may feel inferior or alienated because our familial circumstances look different than the ideal. But we need to remember that we are a part of the most important family. We are all spiritual brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. Heavenly Father wants us all to return to Him. We often think of sealing families as a linear chain, but it's really a chain link fence, spreading outward to unite every link into one big family that will live together with God.

The next lines of the song read, “He sent each one of us to earth, through birth, to live and learn here in families. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be.”

There are three purposes to families. The first is universal regardless of culture or religion: to provide a place of love and support. Most people express gratitude and appreciation for their family members, and those who aren't close to their biological families find others to fill in the gap because they realize the importance of having that unconditional love, reliability, and care.

The second is to provide a place to teach and learn the gospel. President Henry B. Eyring said, "Heavenly Father has assigned us to a great variety of stations to strengthen and, when needed, to lead travelers to safety. Our most important and powerful assignments are in the family. They are important because the family has the opportunity at the start of a child’s life to put feet firmly on the path home. . . . The family has an advantage in the first eight years of a child’s life. In those protected years, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Satan’s use of the mists of darkness to hide the path to return home is blocked."

The third is to provide a place to practice godhood. Godhood is parenthood, so if we don't enjoy it here we won't enjoy it in the eternities. We are given families so we can learn to become the type of parent that our Heavenly Father is to us.

These purposes don't just apply to the families whom we live with, but also to our ward or branch families. Sister Stephens said,
Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”—in part through us as we follow Him.
As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then “act according to those sympathies which God has planted” in our hearts. Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members. I have such a strong testimony in the importance of fulfilling Primary callings to help children feel loved and welcomed at church and have a solid foundation in the gospel. When they have strong testimonies early on, they need less rescuing later and are able to do all that the Lord wants them to do. Likewise, President Eyring shared,
In those precious years the Lord helps families by calling Primary workers to help strengthen children spiritually. He also provides holders of the Aaronic Priesthood to offer the sacrament. In those sacramental prayers, the children hear the promise that they may someday receive the Holy Ghost as a guide if they are obedient to God’s commandments. As a result, they are fortified to resist temptation when it comes and then, sometime in the future, to go to the rescue of others.
Many bishops in the Church are inspired to call the strongest people in the ward to serve individual children in the Primary. They realize that if the children are strengthened with faith and testimony, they will be less likely to need rescue as teenagers. They realize that a strong spiritual foundation can make the difference for a lifetime.
We all can help. Grandmothers, grandfathers, and every member who knows a child can help. It doesn’t take a formal calling in Primary. Nor is it limited by age.
Sister Stephens shared an example of a woman who understood the importance of this work:
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Sister Yazzie of the Chinle Arizona Stake in her hogan. When she welcomed me into her home, the first thing I noticed was the variety of framed family and missionary photos on her walls and tables. So I asked, “Sister Yazzie, how many grandchildren do you have?”
Surprised by my question, she shrugged her shoulders. Confused by her response, I looked at her daughter, Sister Yellowhair, who answered, “She doesn’t know how many grandchildren she has. We don’t count. All children call her Grandmother—she is Grandmother to everyone.”
Sister Yazzie doesn’t limit her love and influence to her biological family. She understands what it means to expand her sphere of influence as she goes about doing good, blessing, nurturing, and defending the family of God. She understands that “whenever a woman strengthens the faith of a child, she contributes to the strength of a family—now and in the future.” On the other hand, someone else in a previous general conference (I couldn't find the reference) told a story of a single woman who became bitter because she never married or had children. She did have the opportunity to influence children through teaching but let her bitterness prevent her from loving and blessing the children as she could have simply because they weren't her own. We all are responsible for every child that comes into our lives, whether they "belong" to us or not.

We also need to support the adults in our church units. This task can be hard when we can't relate to the trials that others have been through. Sister Stephens explained,
I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,” who experienced all and understands all.
We can invite others to come unto Christ, the One who truly understands exactly how they feel. Even if we have had the same trial as someone else, we may not have experienced the same thoughts and feelings about it because we are different people.

Sister Stephens continued, "The final line of the song returns to where it began: “This is how He shares His love, for the family is of God.” The Father’s plan for His children is a plan of love. It is a plan to unite His children—His family—with Him. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught, “Heavenly Father has but two desires for His children … : immortality and eternal life, ‘which means life with Him back home.’” Those desires can be realized only as we also share the love that Heavenly Father has for His family by reaching out and sharing His plan with others."

These words confirm that Heavenly Father wants us all to be united to Him and each other regardless of our earthly family relations.

Sister Stephens closed, "[W]e belong. We are loved. We are needed. We have a divine purpose, work, place, and role in the Church and kingdom of God and in His eternal family. [This reminded me of a line in the Primary song "Dare to Do Right" that says, "You have a work that no other can do."] Do you know deep in your heart that your Heavenly Father loves you and desires you and those you love to be with Him?"

We need to do our part to help in Heavenly Father's work to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39) by strengthening our homes and church units and by spreading the gospel so others can do the same.

Challenge: Strengthen and bless the family of God, both the one within your home and the ones without.

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