General Patterns and Specific Lives
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity
February 9, 2008

Ongoing Emphasis on the Family

Brothers and sisters, we welcome you to our 2008 worldwide leadership training broadcast. Our theme today, “Building Up a Righteous Posterity,” continues the Church’s ongoing emphasis on family matters. Two years ago, the broadcast focused on the topic “Supporting the Family,” containing counsel we will refer to today.

You’ve also heard other spoken and written messages, including carefully worded letters from the First Presidency regarding the need to strengthen and protect the family. One of those letters, to have been read in sacrament meetings and delivered to families by home teachers, contains this language:

“We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. . . . However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.”1

You realize we are addressing the entire adult population of the Church in this broadcast. It may seem unusual to have young single adults invited to a discussion primarily about building up a righteous posterity. But we have extended that invitation consciously. You single adults must and will be the parents of tomorrow. And while you’re planning and preparing for that opportunity, you are very much part of your own parents’ posterity now and in the future. We are praying for all such to be righteously devoted to the family principles the Church and your parents espouse.

Furthermore, we know that others in our audience and in the Church are not now married, nor do some have an intact family fitting the ideal we regularly refer to in the Church. Please be assured we are fully aware of the many different circumstances that exist among our members. We love every one of you. We also realize that as more and more families are in disarray and as many cultural forces devalue marriage, children, and traditional family life, the General Authorities and general officers of the Church feel increased urgency to speak of ideals and gospel-centered principles. Otherwise, the moral drift which the world inevitably experiences could take us to a point where earnest people in and out of the Church are truly at sea when it comes to divine expectations in marriage and eternal family standards.

Patterns and Replicas

Let me use a parable that I hope can make this point, whatever your marital or family circumstance. For lack of a better title, I call it “The Parable of the Homemade Shirt.” My mother, bless her, was a marvelous seamstress. In my childhood years, when money was short and new clothing hard to come by, she would sometimes make clothing for us to wear to school. I would see a shirt in a store window or in a mail-order catalogue, and my mother would say, “I think I can make that.” By looking at the shirt as closely as she could, she would then cut cloth and put in seams to a degree that was close to the expensive original.

I pay her the tribute of being both willing and able to do that. But she didn’t like to do it that way. While she could study the commercial product and come close, what she really wanted was a pattern. A pattern helped her anticipate angles and corners and seams and stitches that were otherwise hard to recognize. Furthermore, if she went back for a second or a third shirt, she was always working from a perfect original pattern, not repeating or multiplying the imperfections of a replica.

I think you can see my point and hers. We are bound to be in trouble if a shirt is made from a shirt that was made from a shirt. A mistake or two in the first product—inevitable without a pattern—gets repeated and exaggerated, intensified, more awkward, the more repetitions we make, until finally this thing I’m to wear to school just doesn’t fit. One sleeve’s too long. The other’s too short. One shoulder seam runs down my chest. The other runs down my back. And the front collar button fastens behind my neck. I can tell you right now that such a look is not going to go over well in the seventh grade.

The Ideal Pattern from God

Now, I hope this helps you understand why we talk about the pattern, the ideal, of marriage and family when we know full well that not everyone now lives in that ideal circumstance. It is precisely because many don’t have, or perhaps have never even seen, that ideal and because some cultural forces steadily move us away from that ideal, that we speak about what our Father in Heaven wishes for us in His eternal plan for His children.

Individual adaptations have to be made as marital status and family circumstances differ. But all of us can agree on the pattern as it comes from God, and we can strive for its realization the best way we can.

We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord’s guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and, in our case today, repeated. We take great strength in knowing the Lord has spoken on these matters, and we accept His counsel even when it might not be popular.

Thank you for understanding why we are concerned about protecting all members of families, whatever your age, and why we speak in opposition to trends or forces that would seek to destroy any aspect of God’s eternal plan of happiness. How grateful we are that the Lord has said, “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived” (D&C 52:14)

1.   First Presidency letter, Feb. 11, 1999.