One of the first principles that we teach people as missionaries is that families are ordained of God. They are a gift from Him to bless us, to strengthen us, and to teach us. Families come in many shapes and sizes, but any family that centers itself on Jesus Christ can eventually be reunited in the eternities and receive all the blessings that God has to offer.
I don't know about you all, but when I was young, I had a hard time appreciating my family. I loved them, no doubt about it, but I couldn't comprehend a fraction of what they did for me. Maybe it's because I'd always grown up with a loving family, so I didn't recognize how important and beneficial my family was. Perhaps as a teenager I resented the "loss of freedom" that I imagined my family inflicted on my. And besides, they were so dorky! Did they really have to always embarrass me like that?
I think we all have moments when we don't give our families the credit they deserve. We get busy with careers and hobbies, we get distracted by life or fall into a rut. In short, we take them for granted. I think that I was in that state for many, many years. I simply didn't appreciate that my family was good for me! Fortunately, the Lord blessed me with some experiences that helped change my mindset.
It started on Christmas Eve, 2012. I was a Junior in High School, and enjoying a break from my busiest year of school. My mind was on my friends, on my goals for the coming Track season, and what my plans were for my remaining week and a half of freedom. But then the thought came to me: Wait. I didn't get my parents any Christmas presents. Now, I have never been a good gift giver, and up to that point it didn't really bother me. Looking back, I guess I was just selfish. (For the record, I'm still not a great gift-giver, but I am trying to improve!) This time, though, I was filled with a deep guilt. I scrambled to find something I could do in the 12 hours before our family would open our presents, but my mind was completely blank. Finally, I resorted to writing each of my parents a long letter. I don't remember much of what I wrote, but I imagine I did my best to sincerely express my gratitude for everything they'd done for me. As I wrote, though, it just felt fake. It's hard to throw something together last minute and still be sincere about it.
Christmas came, and my parents actually appreciated the letters! I was pleased that I'd made it work, but I was more grateful for the lesson that I learned. Because I realized that it wasn't just my gift giving that was poor, it was my attitude towards being a son and a brother. It wasn't until then that I realized that up to that point, I'd viewed my family as a way to get the things I wanted, instead of people that I needed to care for. I realized how selfish I'd been, only joining the family for meals and pulling the "I have homework" card anytime they wanted to spend time with me.
BUT, I didn't stop there, at the regret stage. I resolved to change. I decided that from that day forward, I would be a better son and a better brother. Now, I won't say I became a perfect family member, or even a good one, because I'm not sure how my family felt about my change (or if they even noticed it). I can say, though, that I began to sense a change in MY life.
Although there were many blessings that came as I dedicated more to my family, most of them boil down to the relationships I had with my parents and siblings. I stopped viewing them as burdens or obstacles, and started to actually get to know them better. I started developing real relationships with them, and I was amazed at the results! My love for them increased, and I started to genuinely care about them in a way I'd never experienced before. They became my best friends! I began to trust them, to love them, to appreciate them. As a result, I felt better about myself, because I was part of something larger than myself. I was no longer driven by selfish desires, but by a desire to make them happy!
Now, as a missionary, my relationship with my family has changed a lot. Our communication is limited to weekly emails, occasional snail-mail, and Skype calls twice a year. However, I still love my family more than anything, and I still feel them sustaining me in my hard times and rejoicing with me when I am successful. They motivate me in all that I do, even from hundreds of miles away. And I am still so grateful that I invested some quality time with them over the last few years, even though I wish I had started sooner.
In 1995, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement on the role of families, called The Family: A Proclamation to the World. I would like to share a few of my favorite excerpts from that statement:
"We...solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children."
I know that the family unit is truly ordained of God, and that He wants us to be successful and happy with our families. As we strive to bring our families closer to Jesus Christ's teachings, we can be blessed with peace, love, and strength, and eventually live together with them forever.
I'm so grateful for the blessings that God has given me, and especially for my family.