This month’s visiting teaching message had the theme of “The family is ordained of God.” It seems like such an obvious principle, one that everyone should be able to accept. And yet, I’ve realized that there are people who have serious problems with the idea of family.
I took a few writing classes some years ago at ASU. Through a series of events I happened to read the personal blog of one of my teachers and found that in a post she mentioned her personal decision she had made that she would never get married and never have children. (She never said this in class though.) Yet she had a boyfriend, and from things she wrote, it was clear she had been with him for some years. It seemed odd to me, and a bit of a shame that she wouldn’t want to take that relationship to the next level. But I didn’t get all judgey-pants over that. I took it simply as data.
Fast forward some years past graduation. This teacher sent me an email asking if I would read and review her new book. I ended up deciding I didn’t have time, but as I thought about her, I went to her blog to see what she was posting about her life. I read about her writing process she went through as she was putting together a memoir. She had an image of a spreadsheet she had made to distill and organize the chronology of her life in her memoir. From looking at that spreadsheet and the kinds of events listed month-by-month, I realized that my former teacher must have had a very difficult childhood, and that the tempestuous family relationships had continued into her adulthood.
That’s when I realized that for this woman, “family” was probably a term loaded with negative associations instead of positive ones. “Family” was something to escape from and put behind her and heal from if possible. I sensed that for her, her experiences may not have given her confidence that she could be a successful wife or mother if she followed her main example (her mom). For her, she may have felt it was all she could do to stop the cycle of pain by not marrying and not having children.
Some people are able to make the cycle of abuse and trauma end with them as they start and have their own families. But other people, for whatever reason, don’t have the confidence for that.
Family is ordained of God as a means of transmitting knowledge and values to the next generation, particularly to introduce children to the gospel and start them on the path leading to exaltation. But no family is perfect, and some are truly dysfunctional. Some parents teach the right things, but their example subverts the message. Some parents abdicate responsibility. Some parents teach well, but their children make bad choices that affect the rest of the family. Some family members may have weaknesses—emotional/mental/physical—that make it difficult to have a stable family. There are infinite permutations of interpersonal challenges that are possible.
I take a lot of hope from a statement in the Family Proclamation that says, “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I take two things from that. First, it is a nod to the fact that there can be successful families outside the gospel, but following the principles of Christ’s gospel is the best way. Second, that language of “most likely to be achieved” tells me that following the gospel of Christ greatly increases the statistical probability of having a happy and successful family even with all the challenges faced.
It seems to me that holding up to world the principle that the family is ordained of God is not about waving around a shiny ideal of perfection (which doesn’t exist). It’s about declaring its great potential as a nursery of formative experience and a laboratory for the refinement of character and connection to others. We want that laboratory to have the best equipment—father, mother, and children. We want that nursery of formative experience to include faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
It’s about opportunity, potential, and growth!