Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when individuals realize the importance of relationships and put proper priority on them. We strengthen relationships with others by caring about them, listening to them and learning from them.
In the Priesthood Session of General Conference in October 2009, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum ofthe Twelve Apostles gave the following advice to the men and young men of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He first expressed joy at being united with men and young men of the priesthood and of seeing fathers and sons sitting together. He explained that priesthood and family are “two of the most important elements of our theology.” He further taught that priesthood is the divine power through which families are sealed together forever. Everything in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, including the ordinances of the holy temple, is focused on the possibilities of families becoming part of the eternal family of God.” He spent the rest of his talk teaching men and young men are to talk to each other.
Elder Ballard gave three simple suggestions to the young men on how they could “take full advantage of your relationship with your dad” and “make your relationship with your father even better than it is right now.” The three suggestions are: (1) Trust your father because he loves you. “Share your thoughts and feelings, your dreams and your fears. The more he knows about your life, the better chance he has to understand your concerns and to give you good counsel.” (2) Be interested in your father’s life. “Ask about his job, his interests, his goals. How did he decide to do the work that he does? What was he like when he was your age? How did he meet your mother?” (3) Ask your father for advice. “Let’s be honest: he is probably going to give you his advice whether you ask for it or not, but it just works so much better when you ask! Ask for his advice on Church activity, on classes, on friends, on school, on dating, on sports or other hobbies. Ask for his counsel on your Church assignments, on preparing for your mission, on decisions or choices you have to make. Nothing shows respect for another person as much as asking for his advice, because what you are really saying when you ask for advice is, `I appreciate what you know and the experiences you have had, and I value your ideas and suggestions.’ Those are nice things for a father to hear from his son.”
Then Elder Ballard spoke to the fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and other adult men and said, “You will notice that there is some linkage between the three suggestions I am going to give and the suggestions I just gave your sons. That isn’t coincidental.” His three suggestions to fathers are: (1) “Listen to your sons – really listen to them. Ask the right kind of questions, and listen to what your sons have to say each time you have a few minutes together. You need to know … what is going on in your son’s life. Find your own best way to connect. … Do whatever works best for you. A one-on-one relationship should be a routine part of your stewardship with your sons. Every father needs at least one focused, quality conversation with his sons every month during which they talk about specific things such as school, friends, feelings, video games, text messaging, worthiness, faith, and testimony.” (2) “Pray with and for your sons. Give them priesthood blessings [for] … a big exam … the start of a new school year, a birthday, or as he begins to date…. One-on-one prayer and the sharing of testimonies can draw you closer to each other as well as closer to the Lord…. (3) “Dare to have the `big talks’ with your sons. You know what I mean: talks about drugs and drinking, about the dangers of today’s media – the Internet, cyber technologies, and pornography – and about priesthood worthiness, respect for girls, and moral cleanliness. While these should not be the only subjects you talk about with your sons, please don’t shy away from them. Your boys need your counsel, guidance, and input on these subjects….”
Six months later Elder Ballard spoke to the women and young women of the Church because his daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters were asking for equal time. “Mothers and daughters play a critical role in helping each other explore their infinite possibilities, despite the undermining influences of a world in which womanhood and motherhood are being corrupted and manipulated.”
Elder Ballard quoted a statement made by President Joseph F. Smith to the women of the Church nearly a century ago: “It is not for you to be led by the women of the world; it is for you to lead the … women of the world, in everything that is praise-worthy, everything that is God-like, everything that is uplifting and … purifying to the children of men” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 184).
Explaining that men cannot perform the tasks “divinely designated” to women from our pre-earth lives and “cannot ever hope to replicate your unique gifts,” Elder Ballard made a profound statement. He said, “There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman.”
Speaking to the young women of the Church, Elder Ballard said, “Your mothers adore you. They see in you the promise of future generations. Everything you accomplish, every challenge you overcome brings them pure joy. And likewise your worries and heartaches are their worries and heartaches.” He then proceeded to give the young women suggestions on how to take full advantage of your relationship with your mother. (1) Look not “to contemporary culture for your role models and mentors,” but “look to your faithful mothers for a pattern to follow.” “Model yourselves after them, not after celebrities whose standards are not the Lord’s standards and whose values may not reflect an eternal perspective. (2) Learn from [your mother’s] strengths, her courage, and her faithfulness. Listen to her…. When it comes to matters of the heart and the things of the Lord, she has a wealth of knowledge. As you approach the time for marriage and young motherhood, she will be your greatest source of wisdom. No other person on earth loves you in the same way or is willing to sacrifice as much to encourage you and help you find happiness – in this life and forever.” (3) “Love your mother…. Respect her. Listen to her. Trust her. She has your best interests at heart. She cares about your eternal safety and happiness. So be kind to her. Be patient with her imperfections, for she has them. We all do.”
To the mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and other adult women, Elder Ballard stated: “We have a family friend who travels often with members of her extended family. Her primary observation after each trip is how much the young women behave like their mothers. If the mothers are thrifty, so are their daughters. If the mothers are modest, so are the girls. If the mothers wear flip-flops and other casual clothing to sacrament meeting, so do their daughters. Mothers, your example is extremely important to your daughters – even if they don’t acknowledge it.
“Throughout the history of the world, women have always been teachers of moral values. That instruction begins in the cradle and continues throughout the lives of their children. Today our society is bombarded with messages about womanhood and motherhood that are dangerously and wickedly wrong. Following these messages can put your daughters on the path to sin and self-destruction. Your daughters may not understand that unless you tell them or, better, unless you show them how to make good choices. As mothers in Israel, you are your daughters’ first line of defense against the wiles of the world.
“… Let me assure you that even when you think your daughter is not listening to a thing you say, she is still learning form you as she watches you to see if your actions match your words….
“Teach your daughters to find joy in nurturing children. This is where their love and talents can have the greatest eternal significance….
“Mothers, teach your daughters that a faithful daughter of God avoids the temptation to gossip or judge one another….
“A mother-daughter relationship is where a daughter learns how to nurture by being nurtured. She is loved. She is taught and experiences firsthand what it feels like to have someone care about her enough to correct her while continuing to encourage and believe in her at the same time.
“… God is the source of all moral and spiritual power. We gain access to that power by entering into covenants with Him and keeping those covenants. Mothers, teach your daughters the importance of making covenants, and then show them how to keep those covenants in such a way that they will desire to live worthy to go to the temple….”
Elder Ballard concluded his remarks to the women and young women with this prophetic summary from President Joseph F. Smith: “Our [family] associations are not exclusively intended for this life, for time, as we distinguish it from eternity. We live for time and for eternity. We form associations and relations for time and all eternity. … Who are there besides the Latter-day Saints who contemplate the thought that beyond the grave we will continue in the family organization? the father, the mother, the children recognizing each other …? This family organization being a unit in the great and perfect organization of God’s work, and all destined to continue throughout time and eternity?” (Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 385, 386).
As you can see from Elder Ballard’s remarks and those he quoted, there is much that must be done to strengthen family relationships. Father- son and mother-daughter relationships are some of the most powerful and important relationships in time and eternity. We can strengthen our families, our communities, and our nation by strengthening these relationships.