I've always wondered what it would be like to speak on one of the revered holidays of mothers and fathers. Today I found out. Here's my talk (it's long, so if you make it to the end, you have my undying admiration!):
Today being Father’s Day I was asked to speak on the topic of fathers. I wasn’t given any particular aspect of fatherhood, so as I contemplated on what to focus on my thoughts turned to some of the problems that plague our country and world today. The roles of parents have changed dramatically in the world. With the recent California Supreme Court ruling regarding same sex marriage, groundwork has been laid for the further erosion of the family. The sacred institute of marriage is in jeopardy. The idea of mom’s staying home with their children has long been ridiculed and single parent homes have been on the rise for the last 20-30 years. In a talk given by President James E. Faust in August of 2004 he says:
“Modern sociological studies powerfully reaffirm the essential influence of a caring father in the life of a child—boy or girl. In the past twenty years, as homes and families have struggled to stay intact, sociological studies reveal this alarming fact: much of the crime and many of the behavioral disorders in the United States come from homes where the father has abandoned the children. In many societies the world over, child poverty, crime, drug abuse, and family decay can be traced to conditions where the father gives no male nurturing. Sociologically, it is now painfully apparent that fathers are not optional family baggage.”
He goes on to say,
“One authority states: “Studies show that fathers have a special role to play in building a child’s self-respect. They are important, too, in ways we really don’t understand, in developing internal limits and controls in children.” He continues, “Research also shows that fathers are critical in establishment of gender in children. Interestingly, fatherly involvement produces stronger sexual identity and character in both boys and girls. It is well established that the masculinity of sons and the femininity of daughters are each greater when fathers are active in family life.””
With the changing climate it is even more imperative that we as members of the Church understand our parental roles and what better place to look for a role model than to our own Heavenly Parent.
A careful study of the characteristics and the attributes of God give a person the blueprint that can be used to build their own eternal character. Through the scriptures we are able to find various passages where God has revealed himself to us.
Exodus 34:6 says, “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth.”
Psalm 103:6,8 says, “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”
In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith submits that the attributes of God include: knowledge, power (faith), justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. As I thought about each of these attributes, examples of different fathers who exemplified them came to mind. Some are from scripture, some from books, and some are more personally acquainted with me.
D&C 131:6 states, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” Without knowledge of all things God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures. Because he is all knowing, he is able to give us understanding and enlightenment that will help us in our eternal progression.
A quote I often use with my family is, “Ignorance is not not knowing, it’s knowing what isn’t so.” True knowledge is a clear perception of fact, truth, or duty. It is enlightenment.
The Book of Mormon tells us that Nephi, “having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.” We know that Lehi was a “visionary man”, and we know that he shared his dreams with his children, teaching them valuable principles as he expounded on them. Nephi took from the knowledge of his father and asked the Lord for more. I am grateful for that every time I read about the vision of the Tree of Life.
Most children are in awe of their fathers and think they know everything. A favorite comic strip at our house is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is always asking his dad questions, and his dad, well, he has answers.
Calvin—Why does the sky turn red as the sun sets?
Dad—That's all the oxygen in the atmosphere catching fire.
Calvin—Where does the sun go when it sets?
Dad—The sun sets in the west. In Arizona actually, near Flagstaff. That's why the rocks there are so red.
Calvin—Don't the people get burned up?
Dad—No, the sun goes out as it sets. That's why it's dark at night.
Calvin—Doesn't the sun crush the whole state as it lands?
Dad—Ha ha, of course not. Hold a quarter up. See, the sun's just about the same size.
Calvin—I thought I read that the sun was really big.
Dad—You can't believe everything you read, I'm afraid.
Calvin—What causes the wind?
Calvin—How come you know so much?
Dad—It's all in the book you get when you become a father.
In the Lectures on Faith Joseph Smith says, “faith…is the moving cause of all action…without it both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.” “It is the principle by which Jehovah works.” Faith is power.
I never knew a person who worked harder that my Father-in-law. Before and after he retired he was constantly out in the yard working. He had a large garden and a grove of fruit trees that produced a bounty of fruits and vegetables. He worked hard all his life and while he was never rich in the ways of the world, he was able to provide for his family in more than just temporal ways by teaching his sons the value of work. Through his example he taught his sons faith. Faith that through their own hard work they would be able to determine the quality of the life they lived.
Fathers have been given the blessing of holding the priesthood which is a source of strength and power. I have been plagued with allergies since I was a young girl. I hated the beginning of school because it coincided with the onset of hayfever for me. The first couple of months of school my eyes were red and puffy and I was completely miserable. My school pictures always reflected that as they were taken usually within the first month. Before school started each year my father would give me a blessing. I remember one year I was particularly stressed about my allergies. I wanted my dad to bless me that they wouldn’t bother me, but I didn’t know if it was ok to ask for that so I didn’t say anything. However, in the blessing he did ask that my allergies not be so severe, thus stating the desires of my heart. From that blessing and others he gave me I gained a testimony of the power of the priesthood and the strength that it can bring into our lives.
Justice is the virtue which consists in giving to everyone what is his due; it is practical conformity to the laws and to principles of rectitude in the dealings of men with each other.
I love the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” The last stanza says,
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Laman and Lemuel were perpetually murmuring that life was not fair. Nephi, on the other hand, didn’t murmur. He turned to the Lord for answers and for help. In response the Lord says, “ Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper…and inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.” (1 Nephi 1:19-22)
That prophecy came to pass. We can see the consequences of these different approaches to fatherhood throughout the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s posterity had continual access to the light of the gospel, while Laman and Lemuel’s posterity were ignorant of the blessings withheld from them because of the choices of their fathers.
“Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you." (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)
The attribute of judgment gives power to the mind for the exercise of faith and confidence in God, and they are “enabled by faith to …wade through all the tribulations and afflictions to which they are subjected…believing that in due time the Lord will come out in swift judgment against their enemies.” (Lectures on Faith)
Psalm 37:28 says, “For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever.”
There is nothing that gets my husband’s ire up more than the thought that one of his children may be in danger or has had their feelings hurt in some way. He would move heaven and earth to keep his children safe.
Mercy is that benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; it implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.
My sister tells a story which illustrates how my father applied the principle of mercy.
“When I was a teenager, I used to ask to borrow money from him so I could go out with my friends. He'd give me ten or twenty, reluctantly, and I'd smile and leave. Once I asked to borrow money again. He took out a piece of paper from his desk, tallied up the total, and asked me if I really wanted to borrow this. "Of course," I said. "Well then," he proceeded, "when do you plan to pay this back?" I stopped for a moment to think. I didn't realize I actually had to pay it back. I was a little shocked at this question, which he quickly picked up on. He then went on to explain that if I didn't intend to pay it back, then I should ask if I could 'have' ten dollars instead of 'borrow' ten dollars. If I asked to borrow it, then he wrote it down, expecting that it would be paid back. I then said, "I don't have the money to pay all of that back, so could I just have some money tonight?" He smiled and handed over ten dollars. I liked this arrangement much better. He decided to relinquish my debt and tossed the paper in the trash. His point had been made, and this little lesson taught me that he was actually a pretty cool guy.”
A merciful father seeks to understand his children and shows love through mercy.
Truth implies fidelity; constancy; steadfastness; faithfulness.
In the Book of Mormon, we have the account of Alma, the son of Alma, being numbered among the rebellious and doing all manner of iniquity. Alma the father prayed with much faith that his son would come to a knowledge of the truth. If you will recall an angel came and rebuked Alma,
“Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people."
“And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (Alma 27:13-14)
When Alma the Younger recovered from this experience, he was a changed man. He was appointed as the first chief judge by King Mosiah and went on to rule in righteous judgment. Later in his life he gives wonderful counsel to his sons Shiblon and Corianton instructing them in the ways of truth and righteousness.
If fathers would study and strive to develop these attributes within themselves, many of the ills of the world would be rectified. One of my favorite time periods in the Book of Mormon is after Christ’s visit which is written about in 4 Nephi. It is a relatively short period of time, only 200 years and only comprises one chapter, but I imagine that it was a time during which fathers (and mothers) embodied these attributes.
“And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land…And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them…And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people… And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings."
I am eternally grateful that I had a loving, caring, devoted father while growing up. I went through a period of struggle in my youth as most of us have. I was working and since I didn’t have my own car my parents would take me and pick me up. My dad liked to do it because it was an opportunity for us to spend time together. He wasn’t a particularly talkative man, but he was a good listener and when he did speak he instructed me in ways of truth. Those times are precious to me because he has since become inactive in the church, yet his teachings in my youth laid the foundation for the kind of person I have become and the faith that I am able to exercise in my own life.
My husband is everything I could have wished for in a father. He embodies many of the attributes that I have talked about. I think my kids would say that he is a “fun” dad. He keeps the mood light in our home through his banter and jokes. He loves his children more than anything else and shows that through his actions.
I’m also eternally grateful for my Father in Heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ. Knowing their attributes give me a feeling of total trust and confidence and also a great measure of comfort. This assurance spills over into my prayers, for I know that whatever I stand in need of, God has the power & knowledge to fulfill.
I testify of the truthfulness of these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.