Cover image via Gospel Media Library.

I spoke at my brother-in-law’s memorial recently. Many people looked at Bob’s life and correctly surmised that he made a lifetime of poor choices. Yet he was the one who would stop to help anyone, give away the last $20 of his $750 monthly Social Security check, care for other’s animals, and help alcoholic friends get to Alcoholics Anonymous. He always thanked Richard and me multiple times and said “I love you” numerous times for any help we gave him. I shared this story.

When my mother- and father-in-law passed away, my husband and I, along with his sister and her husband, and Bob gathered at my in-laws’ condo to divide up their belongings. I told several friends about this upcoming event and heard horror stories of family members who thought they had solid relationships with their siblings, but when it came to divvying up their parent’s belongings, those siblings became contentious, competitive, angry, some never speaking again except through attorneys. I thought Richard had a good relationship with both of his siblings but I wondered what would happen.

There we were in the condo. My sister-in-law suggested we first divide up the furniture. There were three dressers. We all went to look at them. Two were unique, the other was ordinary. Bob said, “I could use a dresser but I don’t care which one. You two choose first.” Bob had set the tone, and that’s how it continued. I imagined my in-laws smiling as they watched this harmonious process from beyond the veil. Bob fostered family unity in what had been to others a powder keg. What a way to honor departed parents and earthly siblings!

The perfect example of honoring parents is Jesus Christ. In the 21 chapters of the book of John in the New Testament, Jesus refers to His Father over 100 times, showing His absolute obedience, devotion, and love. Here are a representative few:

“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (John 5:19).

“For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth” (John 5:20).

“I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father” (John 5:30).

“The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36).

“I am come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43).

“I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me” (John 6:28).

“He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 6:29).

The words of Jesus Christ, as recorded in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, include over one hundred instances in which Jesus gives all honor, glory, and credit to His Father:

“This is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you” (3 Nephi 15:13).

“This much did the Father command me” (3 Nephi 15:16).

“I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing” (3 Nephi 15:18).

“The Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you” (3 Nephi 15:19).

“Ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me” (3 Nephi 15:24).

Jesus would have the same honor and love for His Heavenly Mother as He does for His Heavenly Father. We have scriptural evidence of how He cared for and respected His earthly mother. Even when His “hour was not come,” He performed a miracle for Mary, turning the water at the marriage in Cana into high quality wine (John 2:1-11).

Some of His last mortal words expressed concern for His mother. On the cross he saw Mary standing by the Apostle John. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by… he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” According to John, when Mary was provided for, Jesus had completed His earthly mission. “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” After they put a sponge with vinegar to His mouth, Jesus said: “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:26-28).

Most all parents hope their posterity will care for them in their later years and divide up their earthly leftovers in harmony. All righteous parents hope their posterity will come to know their Father in Heaven and be faithful to Him. All righteous Christian parents hope their progeny will follow the lofty and perfect example of Jesus Christ’s love for His Father and mother. But mortality is mortality in which fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are not perfect—when siblings fight over parent’s possessions, when abuse scars, when trust is broken, when expectations are trampled.

Acknowledging these mortal challenges, the Savior gave handbook-like instructions to parents in 3 Nephi 18:28-32. What is surprising is that His topic was not parenting but the sacredness of the sacrament: who can and cannot partake and how to treat the unworthy. This is the perfect example of how to better achieve earthy family unity. 

The Savior stated: This is a commandment. Do not knowingly allow an unworthy person to partake of the sacrament, otherwise, he will be eating and drinking damnation to his soul. He restated using even stronger language: “Forbid him….  If he repents not, he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people.” This standard is a bookend.

Jesus then set the requirement for the other bookend: “Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth… then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood.” Two verses later, Jesus repeats for perfect clarity: “Nevertheless, ye shall not cast [them] out… [but] continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”

I heard a family therapist say that when a child (whether teen or adult) violates family values there are three things parents must never do: 1. Cast the child out without love; 2. Support him/her in the sin; 3. Turn a blind eye, that is, be in denial. Said in a positive way, there are three things parents must do: 1. Set boundaries; 2. Love the child; 3. Address the problem. As with Jesus forbidding the unworthy to partake of the sacrament, family unity demands that parents protect the nest and any fledglings with boundaries and limits. The unworthy, to use the Savior’s word, will know at some point the boundary was set in love. That is why the prodigal son came home. Deep down, he knew his father would be watching for his return.

Bob’s parents set loving boundaries as Bob grew up and continually made poor choices. I think that is why in his later years he kept in contact, why he shared freely with others, why he could be a father figure and help alcoholic friends, why he contributed to family unity as possessions were being divided up. I think he knew boundaries of love had been set for his good.

As imperfect individuals our goal is to work toward becoming united as families. We have the perfect example in our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. They want us to keep in touch, come home, and bring others with us.