Often overlooked and discounted, the ordinary activities of home life are among the most important for family happiness and success.
In the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ann Howell Burt emigrated from Wales, married, and lived in a Utah dugout. She had to work hard to keep order and see to the needs of her young family. This is what she recorded in her pioneer journal:
This is a hideous place. Some days ago, I killed a rattlesnake with my rolling pin . . . as he came crawling down the steps. I was just cooking supper and the baby was on the floor[,] or rather the ground. . . . A few days ago, while keeping the flies off the baby’s face as he slept . . . , I discovered . . . a large tarantula crawling toward the child. I seized the broomstick, thrust the end of it at the tarantula[,] and when it took hold . . . I hurriedly put it into the fire.1
We usually don’t have to worry about tarantulas and snakes invading our houses; instead, today we have even more dangerous influences threatening us. Our tarantulas and snakes are moral ones, and they are ever so subtle. They include dangers that enter our homes through the Internet, TV, music, and DVDs; the erosion of marriage through divorce; cohabitation and same-sex marriage; abortion; the difficulty of holding family mealtimes; cultural disdain for household work; and changing roles for mothers and fathers.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve reminds us that “we need to make our homes a place of refuge from the storm. . . . Even if the smallest openings are left unattended, negative influences can penetrate the very walls of our homes.”2 Today it seems that we live in houses without walls, or at least not walls that protect us from the tarantulas and snakes of the outside world.
Value Home Life
In 2005 it is normal to hear young women describe their goals for the future in terms of exciting careers. They most likely also desire to be wives and mothers, but today it seems more appropriate to announce career goals first. Though we value these opportunities for women, motherhood and homemaking suffer. In recent years these have begun to disappear from American society as a natural and valued pathway for women. Women and men often end up in conflict over the seemingly burdensome work of the home in order to pursue personal interests and activities. Some ideologies suggest that home duties limit women’s full potential, and many women and men are tempted to disregard the important, everyday aspects of home life.
American home life is declining. Author Cheryl Mendelson explains,
Homes today often seem to operate on an ad hoc basis. Washday is any time anyone throws a load into the machine. . . . Meals occur any time or all the time or . . . never. . . .
. . . Many people lead deprived lives in houses filled with material luxury. . . .
. . . As people turn more and more to outside institutions to have their [everyday] needs met . . . [our] skills and expectations . . . diminish, in turn decreasing the chance that people’s homes can satisfy their needs. The result is far too many people who long for home even though they seem to have one.3
The battle for your homes is real. To preserve your family, you will need to believe deeply in family life in the home and take action.
Make Daily Activities Sacred
In the Bible Dictionary we read that “only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness” (“Temple,” p. 781). What is it about the home that makes it sacred? TheWorld Book Dictionary defines the word sacred as belonging to or being dedicated to God, being worthy of reverence, being set apart for or dedicated to some purpose, and as something that must not be violated or disregarded and that is properly immune from violence or interference.
You can apply this idea of sacred to everyday home activities—such as mealtime, prayer, scripture study, music, caring for your home and yard, recreation, and laundry. These activities have purpose and must not be disregarded or interfered with. In the settings of everyday work and recreation, families can learn about moral truths, make choices, and practice honesty, patience, brotherly kindness, and charity.
Everyday home events can seem so simple that we may overlook them, but because they are simple, frequent, and repeated, they offer valuable opportunities to build individuals and families.
Consider mealtime. In our modern technological age, everything we do seems to be accelerated. It is easy for us individually to graze in our kitchens, dine from our dashboards, or go to the nearest restaurant for a quick meal rather than go to the trouble of preparing a meal and sitting down together.
Besides providing good food, family meals have numerous beneficial effects. Evidence suggests that family meals with parents present contribute to better nutritive intake, fewer psychological problems, and less risky or self-destructive behavior. Family meals also play an important role in preventing unhealthy weight-control practices.
Along with the physical benefits of family meals, the simple domestic act of creating a meal and enjoying it together is an important connector for families. The meal doesn’t have to be elaborate to create a time to connect and get a feeling for each person’s day. At home, outside distractions can be managed so emphasis is on interaction. The regular, expected mealtime experience gives children a sense of security. These simple, everyday routines have great power in our lives. I challenge you to plan a regular mealtime in your home and prepare meals with people you enjoy. See what happens when you regard an everyday event like mealtime as sacred.
Attend to Family Duties
In our everyday home activities, we learn lessons of life that build strong character. The integrative nature of everyday living provides opportunities to gain strength in many ways—physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Clothing is an example—we all cover and protect our physical bodies from the elements. We develop intellectually as we learn to budget and care for our clothing. We grow socially as we choose clothing that represents who we are and as we gain a sense of being and belonging. And we develop spiritual strength as we choose clothing that shows respect for our bodies and creates a personal environment that is conducive to the Spirit.
Paying attention to our family duties can have far-reaching effects. For example, by learning to do chores regularly, spouses and children can learn obedience and exactness in small things that have less-severe consequences, preparing us to keep commandments and make sacred covenants.
The Lord has always commanded His people to attend to their family duties at home. When the Church was organized, the counsel to “attend to all family duties” was among the important foundational instructions given. Priests were to “visit the house of each member, and exhort them to . . . attend to all family duties” (D&C 20:47). Later, the leading brethren of the Church were chastened for neglecting their family duties (see D&C 93). In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” we are reminded again of our sacred family duties.
We often think about family duties in terms of family home evening, prayer, and scripture reading, but we should also remember daily activities of the home like feeding or clothing ourselves and their power to help us practice obedience, service, love, and cooperation. Can we draw closer to the Lord through the clothing we choose, the meals we prepare, our recreational choices? Have you stopped to think about all the other small, ordinary things you do every day in this way? In section 98 we read, “For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith” (D&C 98:12). Prove faithful in the little things, and the bigger things will be added on.
Draw Closer to God at Home
Opportunities to learn and practice in the home are also times to grow spiritually and draw closer to the Savior. This is a lifelong quest, and our home environment gives us repeated, sustained chances to practice becoming Godlike individuals and families through the different seasons of our lives.
If you feel burdened down or unsure about your responsibilities at home, the Lord can bless you to know what to do. At one particularly stressful time in my life, I felt like the daily load was more than I could bear. One night I had a dream—I saw myself placing a large bundle at the feet of each of my children. When I woke the next morning I realized my children, not I, were responsible for their agency and that it was good for them to share in the work of our home. But I still had a very large bundle and wondered how I could manage it. Amazingly, the next night I had another dream, and this time I saw myself placing my bundle at the feet of the Savior. How I love Him. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had over the years to draw closer to the Savior as a result of working, learning, and growing in my home.
I know that our homes are important to our Heavenly Father. He chose a humble home for the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830; He invites us to His house to begin a new family unit with marriage. I know that He will pour out His blessings upon you and help you as you create and protect your homes.
Shirley Klein, an associate professor in the School of Family Life, gave the devotional address “Protect Our Homes, Renew Our Powers,” from which this article is adapted, on April 5, 2005. The full text is available in various formats at more.byu.edu/klein.
1. In Andrew H. Hedges, “Battle of the Homefront: The Early Pioneer Art of Homemaking,” in Ronald W. Walker and Doris R. Dant, eds. Nearly Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utah’s Mormon Pioneers (Provo: BYU Press, 1999), p. 121.
2. L. Tom Perry, “The Importance of the Family,” Ensign, May 2003, p. 40.
3. Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (New York: Scribner, 1999), pp. 7–8.