From a lesson I taught in Relief Society April 9, 2017
Adam and Eve were given two paradoxical commandments. They could not create children without "having their eyes opened", and they could not have their eyes opened without eating of the fruit. After Eve chose to eat the fruit Adam might have chosen to follow the commandment not to eat of the tree. But he didn’t. He chose his wife. Thus began the saga of the human family and today I want to talk about all of the joy and heartache family life brings and how we can be better children, sisters, aunts, mothers, or grandmothers.
So let me first tell you a little bit about my family. I am the oldest of 5 children. I have two brothers and two sisters. Growing up we did plenty of squabbling, yelling, clawing, hitting, and tattling. We also did lots of giggling, talking, hugging, playing, and secret keeping. My younger brother and I were really good friends. When we were very young we shared a room and I remember trading late night back scratches while we talked ourselves to sleep. As we got older I still hung out with him and his friends a lot. We played nintendo, roller hockey, and would roller blade to the local Blockbuster for movies and candy.
I was not so close to my younger sister. I was always annoyed at her for tagging along and wanting to be part of everything. My brother and I would often exclude her from our adventures. It wasn’t until we were 18 and 14 that my sister and I started to develop a friendship. And then shortly after that, I got married and moved across the country. I truly regret how selfish and unkind I was to her but thankfully she hasn't held that against me.
My other brother and sister were much younger than me so I got to change their diapers, feed them bottles, watch them learn to crawl and walk and generally adore them.
My sibling, parents and I all share different relationships, and all of those are filled with happiness and regrets. Even though things weren’t perfect we were informed of and involved in each other’s lives.
As we began to mature into teenagers and young adults we started forming our own ideas about things like politics, religion, health, and happiness. And over the years it became apparent that our ideas were sometimes very different. From drug use, alcohoism, atheism, religious indifference, and divorce to marriage, children, college education, small business ownership and religious devotion, we’ve all made some very different choices in our lives. But one thing we will always have in common is that one word: FAMILY.
And it drives me to keep trying to stay connected with them, even when it’s difficult. I came to a realization of how important those relationships are to me when I was conversing with a sibling who has some very different ideas than I. I don’t remember the particulars, but I know that the conversation declined to the point where the spirit suddenly rushed out of the room. It was as though a gust of wind had extinguished it in an instant and I felt like I was being egged into saying something vicious. In that moment, quick as it was, I knew I was on the brink of a life changing choice. I thought of my sibling and of whether it was important to be right at the cost of our relationship. Even though I was frustrated and hurt I decided right then that I had to get over it, that it really didn’t matter. As I replied calmly and with kindness it was as though the flame of the spirit flickered back to life and that oppressive, nearly tangible darkness lifted. The spirit confirmed to me in that moment that nothing will ever be more important than doing my best to maintain family relationships.
Ask yourself this question: In what ways do you act differently toward or think differently about family members, than you do about others?
For me, it's often easier to judge my family the most harshly. I think we feel like because we were raised with, or are raising or living with them, we know their circumstances, thoughts and, motivations and somehow that’s justification to be offended, bitter, unkind, or critical toward them.
“At no time did Jesus Christ encourage us to spend time participating in damaging, destructive criticism. - Marvin J. Ashton
Quote 2: Ephesians 4:29 reads: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good and edifying that it may minister grace unto the hearers”
In his talk, What Are You Thinking?, Elder W. Craig Zwick said, “What does the phrase “no corrupt communication” mean to you? We all regularly experience highly charged feelings of anger - our own and others’....All of us, though covenant children of a loving Heavenly Father, have regretted jumping headlong from the high seat of self-righteous judgment and have spoken with abrasive words before we understood a situation from another’s perspective...The writer of Proverbs counsels, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” A “soft answer’ consists of a reasoned response - disciplined words from a humble heart. It does not mean we never speak directly or that we compromise doctrinal truth. Words that may be firm in information can be soft in spirit.”
President Uchtdorf, in his talk, The merciful Obtain Mercy, talked about how strained and broken relationships have existed since the beginning with Cain who allowed malice and bitterness to canker his heart. Who fed his hatred until he murdered his own brother. I don’t think most of us are in danger of allowing our feelings to go that far, but we truly are only poisoning ourselves when we stew over our feelings of anger and hate.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about how to prevent those feelings from ever culminating like that, and a huge part of it is proper communication. In a 1976 General Conference address Marvin J. Ashton suggested ways that we can make our family communication more effective.
A willingness to sacrifice
“Too early and too often we sow the seeds of “Can’t you see I’m busy? Don’t bother me now.” When we convey the attitude of “Go away, don’t bother me now,” family members are apt to go elsewhere or isolate themselves in silence. All family members on some occasion or other must be taken on their own terms so they will be willing to come, share, and ask.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to listen
“Listening is more than being quiet. Listening is much more than silence. Listening requires undivided attention. The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to vocalize feelings
“Too often we are inclined to let family members assume how we feel toward them...We must learn to communicate effectively not only by voice, but by tone, feeling, glances, mannerisms, and total personality.” - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to avoid judgment
Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!”
A willingness to maintain confidences
“Be worthy of trust even in trivial questions and observations. Weighty questions and observations will only follow if we have been trustworthy with the trivial." - Marvin J. Ashton
A willingness to practice patience
“Pure religions encompasses patience and long-suffering. A father recovering from the wounds of alcoholism has often said, “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me. Everyone had written me off except my wife and children.” How sweet are those words: “I am making my way back because my family would not give up on me.” - Marvin J. Ashton
Now of course loving family members, especially those who might be more difficult to interact with does not require that we suffer at their hands. Emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, dangerous addictions and the like may necessitate creating distance, and in some cases cutting ties for however long is necessary. And sometimes no matter how hard you try good communication, the other party may not be interested in putting as much effort. I know that our Heavenly parents are pleased when we do our best to love our family members.