The Gospel of Jesus Christ – Providing Landmarks for Families
By Bishop Gérald Caussé
Recently I watched a television program about the migration of wild geese. Each year, wild geese fly long distances in order to spend the winter in areas with more moderate climates. Their migratory flights are perfectly organized. Generally, members of the same family migrate together. The father and mother fly at the head of the flock and guide their offspring over vast distances to their new destination.
The remarkable sense of direction that these birds have has always fascinated me. They fly thousands of kilometres without maps or a GPS. The parents are able to guide their families by using landmarks such as the sun, rivers, mountain ranges, and occasionally man-made structures such as bridges or roads. The young geese have not yet developed these migratory senses. They acquire this knowledge by following the route shown by their parents. Along their perilous journey, the parents constantly watch over each of their offspring to make sure that none of them get lost or stray from the correct path. The young birds eventually learn the migratory routes from their parents, and these routes are passed on from generation to generation.
This annual migration of the wild geese would not be successful if the parents did not pay close attention to the unchanging landmarks and without their care in teaching their offspring to recognize these landmarks.
A landmark is something that serves as a point of reference to help determine location, direction, or distance. It is a fixed, reliable, and recognizable point that indicates the path to follow and helps to prevent us from straying or getting lost. It is something or someone that indicates where we are, the direction from which we have come, and most importantly, where we need to go.
Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries throughout the world. It is a time each year for families to gather in a spirit of gratitude and celebration. Last year our oldest daughter, Valentine, was invited to give a talk in her ward on this special day.
She emotionally testified how her own mother’s example has served as a landmark for her in her current role as a young mother. She stated: “My mother influenced me a great deal by her example. Today, each time I have a decision to make regarding my own children, I think back to what my mother would do. When I remember what a happy nature my mother always had—and continues to have today—I quite simply want to be just like her. Her example has given me the desire to create a happy home environment like she did, and to be a leader like she was. I delight in raising my children because she always told me how much she loved being a mother. Every Sunday, I have a desire to attend church with my family because she passed on to me the joy she felt at taking us to church. I have a desire to serve others and to fulfil the responsibilities of my Church callings because I saw the patience and love with which she served others.”
More than ever before in our tumultuous society, the landmarks passed on by parents serve as protective beacons, especially for the younger generation. A recent study showed that teenagers are particularly influenced by their parents. When asked the following question, “Who in your circle of friends and family has had the most influence on helping you to become an adult?” 92% answered: ‘My mother.’ Fathers came next at 74%. Then in descending order came friends, siblings, grandmothers, and much further down the list were teachers.
Unfortunately, we live in a time that is incredibly difficult and trying for families. As President Thomas S. Monson said, “We live in a world where moral values have, in great measure, been tossed aside, where sin is flagrantly on display, and where temptations to stray from the straight and narrow path surround us. We are faced with persistent pressures tearing down what is decent, and attempting to substitute the shallow philosophies and practices of a secular society.”1
Essential landmarks, which since the foundation of the world have guided so many families, have been forgotten, disregarded, and even denounced as being outdated and intolerant by a growing portion of our society.
This general loss of vital landmarks was prophesied long ago as being one of the signs of the last days. In speaking of our day, the prophet Nephi said: “… they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.”2
Contrary to the precepts of men—which by nature change because of cultural and social shifts—the laws of God establish landmarks and points of reference that never change. In Proverbs, we read this short but important verse: “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”3
The ancient peoples of the Middle East used stone markers to indicate the limits of their property to separate it from the property of their neighbours. If someone moved one of these markers, it was considered to be a serious violation of the law because it indicated that they were trying to steal someone else’s property.
By extension, these landmarks can also represent the moral or spiritual limits established by God since the foundation of the world. The Lord asks us not to move these essential points of reference because they are not only the foundation of our society, but also of the plan He has prepared for our eternal salvation.
The family plays a central and essential role in God’s plan for His children. It is “the most important unit in time and in eternity.”4 Within the family, powerful influences help guide us during our mortal voyage. In the family unit, we have experiences that motivate us and prepare us for our eternal destiny, which is to return one day to live in the presence of Heavenly Father.
I recently asked my children the following question, “What is your principal source of motivation in life?” They came to the conclusion that the thing that motivated them the most was the ability to feel loved, and to love others. Above all else, they said their greatest source of happiness was to feel the love of God through the Holy Ghost.
The love of God is the purest and most marvellous feeling we can receive in this life. Once we have experienced it, we want to feel it again and again. We are ready to make all sacrifices required to one day have the right to live in His presence. There is no other place in this world where God’s love can be felt more abundantly than within the family circle. Sister Bonnie D. Parkin said: “Think of a mother with her new born baby. The warmth, safety, cherishing, and peace of a mother’s embrace can help us understand what it feels like to be encircled in the arms of [Christ’s] love.”5
There is a very popular ice cream store in a medieval city in Italy where our family loves to go on vacation. During the summer months, around thirty different flavours are on display, each as appealing as the next. Unfortunately, an ice cream cone can only hold three scoops at the maximum, and the choice is always difficult to make, especially for young children. Often, the ice cream vendor will distribute plastic mini-spoons with samples so that customers can try as many flavours as they wish. So, children will take these little samples of ice cream and taste them one by one until finally they cry out: “That’s the one I want!”
If you establish your home and family life on the teachings of Jesus Christ and surround your children with pure love, they will receive a pre-taste or “sample” of what eternal happiness is like. It is very probable that one day they will say, “That’s the one I want!” And they will find the strength and motivation necessary to remain on the straight and narrow path. Even if they stray for a time, one day they will have the desire to return to the source of genuine love.
My brothers and sisters, whether we want to or not or whether we are aware of it or not, we have a decisive influence on our posterity. Some adults might say, “I can do whatever I want. I am free to direct my life as I see fit.” But in reality we influence others, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of our Heavenly Father’s children by the choices we make and through our personal examples. We are never free from the consequences our lifestyles have upon those around us—those who love us and who put their trust in us.
President Henry B. Eyring put it this way, “Whoever you are and wherever you may be, you hold in your hands the happiness of more people than you can now imagine… When you choose whether to make or keep a covenant with God, you choose whether you will leave an inheritance of hope to those who might follow your example.”6
Unfortunately, there are fathers and mothers who are unaware of the blessings that the restored gospel can bring to their families. Often unintentionally, they hamper their loved ones in obtaining these marvellous promises. I remember a story told by two missionaries. One day they visited a family in their ward. This family had been members for many years, except for the father. Although the father had first heard the missionaries some 25 years earlier and had read the Book of Mormon, he never felt that he needed to be baptized himself. Our good missionaries felt inspired to ask this man, “Why don’t you love your family? Why would you hold them back from progressing along the path that is so important to them?” This good man just stared at them. His response was, “I know that you are right. I am holding them back. I am going to get baptized into the Church in two weeks.” Everyone in the room was stunned! For the past 25 years, for some reason this father had never connected the dots between the family, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can imagine how the climate in the home totally changed as they became united in the gospel and began preparing to go to the temple.
We have much to offer those who believe with all of their hearts in the importance of the family. We can testify to them that in the restored gospel, they will find the essential and reliable landmarks they need to guide and protect their families in a troubling and dangerous world.
The fundamental principles of family have been reaffirmed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in the document entitled, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Although it was first published almost 20 years ago, this solemn proclamation has never been as pertinent as it is today. It proclaims without ambiguity 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.” It reaffirms the principles that create happy families in this life and enable them to achieve their highest potential in the eternities. The proclamation specifically addresses vital issues of our day, such as the importance of gender, the sacred nature of the powers of procreation, the importance of love and fidelity among husband and wife, the sacred roles of the father and mother in the home, and the eternal nature of family relationships through the sealing ordinances of the temple. It notes that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
My brothers and sisters, I invite you to read and re-read this proclamation, and to study it point by point in your families, and in your Church quorums and classes. Discuss and reflect together on how the principles taught apply to your family and to the society in which you live.
When faced with a world that is losing its fundamental landmarks and principles, we can choose to exercise a positive and lasting influence by standing with courage for the values in which we believe. As President Thomas S. Monson stated: “Decisions are constantly before us which can determine our destiny. In order for us to make the correct decisions, courage is needed – the courage to say no when we should, the courage to say yes when that is appropriate, the courage to do the right thing because it is right.”7
I testify that the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ are reliable and immovable landmarks for families throughout the world. The message of the Restoration leads families to the glorious blessings of exaltation and eternal life.
I pray that we will follow ourselves and pass on to our children the vital landmarks we all need to guide us on our eternal journey. May we do it because we love our children and desire happiness for our family in this life and for all eternity.
1 Thomas S. Monson, “Be Strong and of a Good Courage,” Ensign, May 2014, 66.
2 2 Nephi 28:14.
3 Proverbs 22:28.
4 Quentin L. Cook, “The Doctrine of the Father,” Ensign, Feb. 2012, 33.
5 Bonnie D. Parkin, “Eternally Encircled in His Love,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 108-109.
6 Henry B. Eyring, “A Priceless Heritage of Hope,” Ensign, May 2014, 22.
7 Thomas S. Monson, “Be Strong and of a Good Courage,” Ensign, May 2014, 66.