What Will My Grandchildren Say?
Elder Ray H. Wood
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 25, 2003
Last November, I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Garth Hall, calling on behalf of BYU–Idaho. He asked if I was Elder Ray H. Wood of the Seventy. When I responded that I was, but had been released a year ago, the line went dead. Thinking that he had made a mistake and was really trying to reach Elder Robert S. Wood an active member of the Seventy, I assumed he had simply hung up rather than embarrass me by telling me he had reached the wrong Elder Wood. Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. Brother Hall confirmed that he had reached the right Elder Wood and asked me to be the speaker at this devotional today. I am much honored and grateful to be with you.
Two years ago, I was invited to speak at a young single adult conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was serving as Area President. Six hundred attended the conference, more than half of whom were black. As a matter of interest, I asked all of those who were first generation converts to stand. Almost all of the black members stood up. Anticipating such a response, I had prepared my remarks on the subject of establishing strong generational foundations. This is the same subject about which I shall speak today, even though I am certain most of you are many generations removed from ancestors who joined the Church.
Why is that subject so important? Because each generation makes its own contributions to those that follow. Be they worthy and constructive or debasing and profligate, their effects will unequivocally be felt and recorded in the habits, traditions and lives of their successors. At least one owes the responsibility of preserving what they have received, neither detracting nor diminishing from their own generational inheritance. But there is an eternal law to which all generations of families are subject, that demands improvement, enhancement, increase, betterment and enlargement of the heritage entrusted to each person by those whose lives were spent in worthy effort and sacrifice to provide us with what we receive. That law is stated in Doctrine & Covenants 82:3: " For of him unto whom much is given, much is required," not simply expected as is frequently quoted. On the other hand, significant consequences devolve upon the souls of those who neglect this law or who by their actions - deliberate or by default - deprive, mislead or squander the accumulated heritage of prior generations. There is indeed a sacred trust bequeathed to each of us to nourish and honor the contributions of those who precede us and to pass them on to our successors unsullied and in tact and increased by our own worthy contributions.
In the case of those precious blacks from Africa, they are truly pioneers in the most literal sense of the word. They are trailblazers and initiators who are preparing the way and laying the gospel foundation for others who have few family member exemplars to follow. They of all must get it right.
I chose as my text for them Isaiah 58:12 which so aptly describes those who have chosen to join the restored Church and who must now repair and change old traditions, beliefs and habits that have encumbered ancestors so that new generations may go forward. "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."
Imagine if you can their daunting task. They have only had the priesthood for 25 years. What stirrings must have filled their breasts as they heard the words: "The long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple." ( Doctrine & Covenants, Official Declaration - 2.) Those are blessings we have always had and take for granted, frequently without full appreciation. But "whether as the first in your family or as the fifth generation to hold the priesthood," spoke Elder Keith K. Hilbig in a recent General Conference, "we have each come to earth with a personal heritage of faithfulness and foreordination. Such knowledge gives us a firm resolve to always honor the priesthood and thereby to create or continue a multigenerational family in the Church and in the celestial kingdom." ( Ensign, November, 2001, p.45.)
Imagine the desperate desire and will of those people to establish rock-hard footings of knowledge and learning, to build sure foundations of faithful activity, and then to raise families blessed by ordinances and covenants, tying them to each other, with their dead for whom they have only had the last 25 years to prepare.
The blacks of Africa are of course only part of the first generation members of the Church from all over the world. None of these have ancestors that are able to pass on a firm foundation of beliefs of the restored gospel, but each one can nevertheless claim the spiritual ancestry of all the progenitors of our faith by adopting their teachings, living their examples and striving to walk in their footsteps. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said it well: "I have no ancestors among the 19th century pioneers. However, since the first days of my Church membership, I have felt a close kinship to those early pioneers who crossed the plains. They are my spiritual ancestry, as they are for each and every member of the Church, regardless of nationality, language or culture. They have established not only a safe place in the west, but also a spiritual foundation for the building of the kingdom of God in all the nations of the world." ( Ensign, Nov. 2002, p. 10.)
How then can one respond to that sacred trust of raising up "the foundations of many generations?" I believe there are definable provisions that one can follow to accomplish this.
PRESERVE OUR HERITAGE OF FAITH
The first is perhaps axiomatic, self-evident to any member of the Church: Stay faithful to the restored gospel, believe and follow the directions and counsel of the living prophets.
I know a man with whom I have been friends for most of my life. He is an accomplished professional, with degrees from prestigious universities. He travels frequently to various countries and places, unselfishly sharing his great knowledge and skills with others. In every sense of the word he is an honorable man of the world.
He was born into an active LDS home and grew up in the nurture of the gospel. He served a mission and was married in the temple. Several generations of faithful Church members have left a firm and devoted heritage to him. Coming from a foreign land, they had crossed the plains as early pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley, and had repeatedly responded to calls to serve in many places and for various purposes. This pattern has been followed by generations preceding him for many years.
Somehow in his later years, things began to change. He ceased his activity in the Church, repudiated its teachings and eventually had his name removed from the records. His family, following his example, had nothing to do with the Church. Whether is was his divorce from his first wife, his noted success as a professional, his accumulation of the things of the world, or his affiliation with those of his own academic prowess, self-styled intellectuals who have little use for faith in the humble teachings of Jesus Christ, I know not. But this much I do know. Whatever he has, lays claim to, desires or considers important, has been acquired at a terrible price. He has exchanged his heritage for a mess of pottage.
We still exchange Christmas cards and his usually include a picture of his entire family - three generations - apparently happy and devoted to each other. But not one is a member of the Church. No priesthood leads or blesses them. No temple ordinances promise a continuation of their happy family association. The lessons, experiences and counsel of prior generations have been discarded and refuted. A new generational foundation has been adopted, but one that leads not to "A fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever," but rather to a lesser position where they "are appointed angels in Heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." ( Doctrine & Covenants 132:19 and 16.)
Each individual member of each generation has enormous responsibilities to those who follow. If God holds us accountable to Him for our words, works and thoughts, (Alma 12:14), is it not likely we are also accountable for the effects of those same things on our own families and associates?
Have you ever watched the ripples caused by throwing something into a smooth pool of water? They spread out in every direction, moving far beyond the point of impact with an effect that is hard to counter or contain. So it is with almost everything we do in our family associations. "Our eyes are perpetual cameras imprinting upon sensitive mental plates and storing in the brain for future use, everything which comes within their range. There is a recording device in our natures which catches, however thoughtless and transient, every word we utter, and renders it immortal. These notes may appear a hundred years hence, reproduced in our descendants, in all their beautiful or terrible detail."
TREASURE OUR OWN PERSONAL HERITAGE
Next, learn about your own generational heritage, treasure it and live responsibly to preserve it, add to it and pass it on with "no clouds upon our titles."
President Spencer W. Kimball counseled us, "Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity....A journal is the literature of superiority. What could you do better for your children and your children's children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?
"Write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events. (See 3 Nephi 23:6-13)
"I promise you that if your will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to you, each other, your children, your grandchildren, and others throughout the generations." ( The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp.349-351.)
Very few of my ancestors left any written records of their lives, but two did, my maternal and fraternal great grandfathers. Both were converts to the Church.
In 1861, a new plant was completed for the production of paper made from old rags. Brigham Young called my great grandfather, George Goddard, on a three year rag mission for the purpose of gathering whatever could be converted into printing paper. He recorded in his journal, "This calling was a severe blow to my native pride.... after being known in the community for years as a merchant and auctioneer, and then to be seen on the streets going from door to door with a basket on one arm and an empty sack on the other, enquiring for rags at every house. Oh, what a change in the aspect of affairs....When President Young first made the proposition, the humiliating prospect almost stunned me, but a few moments' reflection reminded me that I came to these valleys of the mountains from my native country, England, for the purpose of doing the will of my Heavenly Father, my time and means must be at His disposal. I therefore answered President Young in the affirmative, and for over three years, from Franklin, Idaho, in the north, and Sanpete in the south, my labors extended, not only visiting hundreds of houses during the week days, but preaching rag sermons on Sunday. The first time I ever spoke in the Tabernacle....was a rag discourse, and President Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball backed it up with their testimony and enlarged upon it.."
"At the end of ten months, Goddard had collected 20,000 pounds of rags, and by the end of his three-year mission, he had collected more than 100,000 pounds of rags for the paper." ( Great Basin Kingdom, p. 115-116.)
At the conclusion of his rag mission, Brother Goddard recorded, "Many years have passed away since that rag mission was performed. I have never regretted it, and instead of its having been humiliatory in its influence among the community, it only increased their respect and confidence toward me....I therefore beg of all my young friends to hold themselves in readiness for any kind of mission they may be called upon to fill, and never say no....No matter what kind of labor any man holding the priesthood may be called to perform by the servants of the Lord, let it be done by a cheerful response, and God will sincerely bless you. Cultivate a humble and self-denying spirit, and I will promise you the yoke of Christ shall sit easy and his burden light upon you." (The Deseret Weekly, April 4, 1896, p. 485.)
When William Wood attended general conference on October 7, 1867 and heard his name read along with 99 other young brethren as missionaries to settle the Big Muddy Valley, he was astounded. He had some brief periods of remorse as he contemplated the labor which had gone into his business and the brand new home just occupied six weeks earlier. William regarded a call from the First Presidency the equivalent of a call from God. Once the call was officially confirmed and he was appropriately set apart, he hastened his preparations for the journey. He sold his butcher shop, his slaughter house, his fine brick home which had cost him $4,000, and within four weeks he was ready to proceed south into the unknown.
On their way through Utah valley, they encountered Brigham Young returning to Salt Lake. Brigham spoke, "What is your name and were are you going?" William Wood of Salt Lake City going to the Muddy," replied William. "You go and fill the mission and God will bless you." Brigham sat down and the line of carriages proceeded on. The occupants of each carriage smiled compromisingly at William's family as they passed, each one thankful in their hearts that their calling was not to the Muddy.
For four years William Wood and his family endured unbelievable hardship and privations. Hard work and faith had sustained them through the years. The spiritual and emotional strength gained through this service to the Lord became dominating factors in their character that helped them meet all adversities. This is best represented by Elizabeth's classic statement made while residing in a humble dug-out within sight of their former new home soon after they returned to Salt Lake City. As William wrote it, "While reflecting over the five year's experience, I asked my wife how she would like such a house as our old home now? Her noble answer was, 'I am glad you have filled your mission, and I would rather be in this dugout with your mission filled, than in that fine house with your mission unfilled'...." ( William Wood Pioneer 1862, published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers, p. 293.)
A short time before his death in 1916, William Wood bore this testimony. "I have lived to see several sons preach the gospel to the nations; also some of my grandsons. This is in fulfillment of my patriarchal blessing. Thus I lift up my voice in praise and thanksgiving to God for the testimony He has given me concerning the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and that this work is true, and my greatest desire is that all my children may live so that the Holy Spirit will dwell in their hearts, to give them a testimony that they may know for themselves that the work is true. My only object in writing the above is to impress all my family to maintain a strong determination, under all circumstances that fate may call them to meet in this life, to hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the faith of their parents." (Ibid. p.300.)
Now I ask you my Brother and Sisters, what person knowing of such noble and faithful ancestors could do anything but treasure, follow and build upon such a choice heritage?
FULFILL OUR OBLIGATION TO PRECEDING GENERATIONS
A third provision is to recognize your obligation to those who have passed on, to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.
A few months ago, Sister Wood and I stood among the 10,000 white crosses in Collville-Saint-Larent, France, marking the graves of those who died in the great Normandy invasion of World War II. As we looked upon those markers extending in every direction almost as far as one could see, we knew we stood on holy, sacred ground. Each cross bore the name of one who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep for us what we have today. Many crosses marking those who could not be identified stated simply, "Known but to God." They all lost their lives in that terrible war, and they want - no they demand - that their sacrifices have meaning.
Along with those whose lives were given to preserve our nation and freedoms, we owe even more to our generational ancestors who have given us the gospel, covenants and temple blessings or who have at least given us life and a heritage of worthy traditions. Many of those may even now be waiting expectantly for us to complete our family histories and to go into the temples to join them with us, "that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place." (Doctrine & Covenants 128:18.) Elder Robert D. Hales reminds us in our recent general conference that if we do this, "The generations of your ancestors before you and your posterity after you will rise up and call you blessed." (Ensign, Nov. 2002, p.29.)
A statement attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith describes the feelings of those for whom we do this sacred work. "Horace Cummings recorded: 'Concerning the work for the dead, (Joseph) said that in the resurrection those who had been worked for, would fall at the feet of those who had done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.' The Prophet added, 'We do not comprehend what a blessing to them these ordinances are'." ( Joseph Smith The Prophet, Truman G. Madsen, p.99.)
This work for our deceased ancestors is more than just "something nice to do," and even more than a privilege. It is a solemn duty. "We are not only to be messengers of salvation to the living, but saviors for our ancestors who went before us and who, though now dead, have paved the way whereby we might receive our present blessings. It is through them we received our priesthood. The promise was made that even if they were born at a time and place where they could not hear the gospel preached in life, God would provide saviors for them from among their descendants. We are those saviors God promised through whom they can have every priesthood blessing." (Ensign, May 1975, p.71.) So spoke Elder Theodore M. Burton.
To all of those who have preceded us on the military battlefields or in the daily challenges of living a faithful life, we say, "we know you are watching us. We know you will judge us. We promise to do our very best to carry on the great heritage you have passed on to us."
ENHANCE AND IMPROVE OUR OWN GENERATIONAL FOUNDATIONS
Lastly, accept by willing performance, your obligation to teach, bless, correct and help your own generation and that of others where you can.
In our home hang three documents framed in a single large frame and hung in a prominent place. The first is The Family Proclamation to the World; the second, The Living Christ; and the third, the Relief Society pronouncement defining the status and role of women. We regard these three documents as pillars of our belief and faith. We read them frequently and measure ourselves with them.
Time precludes us from reviewing them in detail. But I wish to draw to your attention some of their elements that might suggest ways to help you as you create and organize you own family generations.
The Family Proclamation;
In the Family Proclamation, by divine design, the duties of fathers and mothers are set forth. Fathers are to preside (that is to set in order, regulate and correct) in love and righteousness. "You preside at the meal table, at family prayer. You preside at family home evening. and as guided by the spirit of the Lord, you see that your children are actively taught correct principles. It is your place to give direction relating to all of family life." ( Fathers, Consider You Ways, Church Pamphlet, p.4-5.)
Fathers are to provide the necessities of life. This means the critically required basics of food, appropriate and modest clothing, and shelter commensurate with the abilities and income of the father. He is likewise to provide protection for the family, meaning "more than locking the door each night." Fathers are to teach and fortify by urgent example, to ward off the epidemic of worldly philosophies and to prevent distraction from, and indifference to, things of a lasting and eternal nature.
Mothers' primary responsibility is to nurture the children, to bring up, train and care for them, to promote the development of intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacities. Her domain is the home, free from the restraints of gainful employment, unless absolutely required, safe in the trust and confidence that her husband will provide and protect her in carrying out her divine duty.
I read recently in a national magazine of a mother who left her husband and nine year old daughter "to create a life of my own in nearby Manhattan." She believes that by living apart and seeking to "find out who I really was," she is a better mother by being available for important occasions, having periodic dinners together, and offering counsel and help when asked. As proof of her being "a better mother since I left my child," she states, "My daughter and I now have a wonderful relationship. She's an independent, happy, confident young woman, in part because I chose the freedom to grow up, over being a dysfunctional mother. People still look down on me because I bucked the traditional belief that says a mother's place is with her child, no matter what. But I didn't need to live with her to be a good parent." (Newsweek, December 16, 2002, p.14)
I find it hard to imagine a more flagrant abdication of parental responsibility than this. "Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live." Thus, have spoken the living prophets of our day!
While fathers and mothers both have their individual responsibilities, they are nevertheless "obligated to help one another as equal partners." The worldly philosophy that marriage is a 50/50 proposition, is not true. A successful marriage is more likely to happen when each participant gives all he has and can to the success of the marriage, regardless of what the other participant may contribute.
The Living Christ
"What greater witness can one have than the testimony of 15 living apostles of the Lord? When I read their testimonies of the Living Christ, my heart and soul reverberate with the words, "It's true! It's true! It's true!" These impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeply into my soul for through that power, "the truth is woven into the very fiber and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten." (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:48.) How grateful we should be to have that sure witness of Jesus Christ!
Relief Society Pronouncement on Women:
Today's society obscures and blurs the position and role of women. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, "You have been elected by God to perform a unique and sacred work....It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking and motherhood.... You were not created to be the same as men. Your natural attributes, affections, and personalities are entirely different from those of a man. They consist of faithfulness, benevolence, kindness and charity. They give you the personality of a woman." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.547-548.)
In a recent General Relief Society meeting, Sister Sheri L. Dew gave this counsel. "Everyone of us has an overarching obligation to model righteous womanhood because our youth may not see it anywhere else. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch and read; how we fill out time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy, and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women?" (Ensign, Nov. 2001, 96.)
What a vibrant and edifying reminder to read and ponder the wonderment of womanhood as set forth in that great Relief Society document!
Where our skills and talents may be used to bless others than just our own, we have an obligation to do so.
While serving with me in South Africa, Sister Wood learned that through the generosity of a member of the Church in Salt Lake, a number of keyboards could be made available to members in our area. In the black township of Soweto, few members had any kind of musical training. When Ann learned of this, with the permission of the stake president, she began traveling to the Soweto ward to teach as many students as could be accommodated with the keyboards.
Every Tuesday, a missionary couple would drive her to the chapel where she would begin teaching them as a group, the rudiments and technical foundations of music, i.e. how to read music, metrical headings, meters, measures, time signatures and downbeats, and how to play hymns from the beginning book for the course. Then each student would retire to a different room for a period of personal practice on their own keyboard. She would then move from room to room, listening, correcting and helping each student. She gave similar instructions to those who wanted to lead and direct music.
Some students struggled. It was not easy for all of them. Gradually, the fruits of effort matured. Prelude music began to be played more frequently before meetings began. A very small repertoire of hymns could be sung to new accompaniments. There were more choristers who could count and lead with correct time signatures. Choristers and accompanists took turns, mistakes were forgiven, and growth and progress were so obvious that the whole congregation became a supporting and rooting section for their newborn musicians.
Other couple missionaries began doing the same thing in other mission locations, and recently, a couple has been called to carry on this musical training in Africa where students now number in the hundreds.
There is so much each one of us can do with the gifts with which the Lord has blessed us if we can catch the vision and open our hearts to those who have so much less or whose needs can so easily be met by our willingness to share.
I conclude my remarks with a reminder that each one of us bears the responsibility of establishing strong generational foundations. At my age, my work will soon be done. You are at least two generations younger and have almost all of your lives ahead of you to do this great work. President Gordon B. Hinckley speaks of your generation with much love and admiration, but with a very pointed reminder that with your great blessings comes enormous responsibility. He says, "You are great young people. I have said again and again, we have the finest generation of young people ever in the history of this Church. I believe it....Never forget that you were chosen and brought to earth as a child of God for something of importance in His grand design. He expects marvelous things of you. He expects you to keep your lives clean from the sins of the world. You are the line through which will pass the qualities of your forebears to the posterity who will come after you." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p.714 and 712.)
May we feel and accept the great responsibility that is ours to pass on to succeeding generations a noble and righteous heritage, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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