I have been reading the Family: A Proclamation to the World and it made me think about different families who might not feel they belong to the description in the Proclamation. How can I help people appreciate the Proclamation if they do not belong in a happy family, or if the parents are unsatisfied with each other or their marriage or if children are abandoned or neglected? How can I help them feel that the Proclamation is also for them?
When I’m teaching from The Proclamation, I usually paraphrase or sometimes even read portions from Elder Holland’s portion of the 2008 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting Building Up a Righteous Posterity.
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 catalog, 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.
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.
I hope this helps.