Family History Work: My Testimony

2/15/2016 02:49:00 PM

In the Magazine, New Era May 1997, President Thomas S. Monson wrote:

"One warm summer afternoon when I was about 12, I took a large, inflated inner tube from a tractor tire, slung it over my shoulder, and walked barefoot up the railroad track which followed the course of the river. I entered the water about a mile above the swimming hole and enjoyed a leisurely float down the river.

 I was about to enter the swiftest portion of the river, just at the head of the swimming hole, when I heard frantic cries, “Save her! Save her!” I saw the top of her head disappearing under the water for the third time, there to descend to a watery grave. I stretched forth my hand, grasped her hair, and lifted her over the side of the tube and into my arms. At the pool’s lower end, the water was slower as I paddled the tube, with my precious cargo, to her waiting relatives and friends. They threw their arms around her and kissed her. Then they hugged and kissed me. I was embarrassed and quickly returned to the tube and continued my float down to the Vivian Park Bridge. The water was frigid, but I was not cold, for I was filled with a warm feeling. I realized that I had participated in the saving of a life. Heavenly Father had heard the cries, “Save her! Save her!” and permitted me, a deacon, to float by at precisely the time I was needed. That day I learned that the sweetest feeling in mortality is to realize that God, our Heavenly Father, knows each one of us and generously permits us to see and to share His divine power to save. "

While we may not often find ourselves saving actual mortal lives, we are often able and encouraged to be engaged in the saving of souls. This power to save has been entrusted to us both for the living and dead. The first chapter of Preach My Gospel asks a question that applies to every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: "What is my purpose as a missionary?" The answer in short, is to bring others to Christ. 

As concerns our dead, while we cannot personally help teach them, we have been given the privilege of performing the ordinances they need to enter into salvation. Some of them have already been brought to Christ by missionaries beyond the veil and wait only upon us to do their work by proxy. When you consider that an estimated 107 billion people have been born upon this earth, we have a staggering amount of work to do.

I will admit that a love of and desire to do genealogy research is a gift that I have been given.  So it's of little credit to me that I lack no desire in spending time and effort finding as much as I can about each person within my family tree.  But not everyone has this strong desire. We each have been given different spiritual gifts and at times it may seem difficult to pursue something we've been asked to do when we have so little motivation for it.

Some see this task as beyond their abilities, some see this task as unbelievably boring, some see this task as being fulfilled by others within their family and some may even see the task as fearful, after all some of us know we are more likely to pull heretics than heroes out of the pages of our family book. But do we realize how much we need to do this, not just for our ancestors, but for ourselves? 

Elder Theodore M. Burton has said, "We have assumed that temple work was to be done merely as a gesture of grace on the part of the living for those of our ancestors who are dead. This is a misconception which comes from not understanding the full meaning of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the plan of saving the children of God in a family relationship."

And Joseph Fielding Smith explained, "When everything gets finished, we will all be one family—every member of the Church a member of one family, the family of God.  It is not merely enough that we be baptized for our dead or for ourselves, but also we have to be sealed to our parents. We must have the parents sealed to their parents and so on, as far back as we can go, and eventually back to Adam"

 Family History work helps create some of those loving family relationships. As Elder Dennis B. Neunschwander has said, "Family history research provides the emotional bridge between the generations. Temple ordinances provide the priesthood bridge."  If possible, we should try to build both halves of the bridge to receive a fulness of the blessings promised.

As Joseph Fielding Smith has stated, "There will be cases of course, where some of our ancestors will not be able to be saved in the family of God, but the links will have to be joined without them...The Lord cannot save the willfully wicked.. nor [they] who refuse to accept the work."

But it is up to God to decide whether or not someone is worthy. As for us, if an ancestor hasn't had their work done, we do it. 

Elder Richard G. Scott has said, "Perhaps you have been prompted to look for ancestors but feel you are not a genealogist. Can you see that you don’t have to be anymore? It all begins with love and a sincere desire to help those beyond the veil who can’t help themselves...Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received."

It's not too late to start. You don't need to devote countless hours to research or visit the temple every single weekend, our leaders have not asked each of us to do everything, but they have asked each of us to do something. I know that even doing something is of course difficult when we have no desire so I would say, along the lines of the words of Alma, that even if you can no more than desire to have the desire to do your Family History, let this desire work in you. Pray for help in catching the vision of this work, and more than that, I would encourage you to go and do. For often we receive no witness of the truth and importance of a commandment, or love for it, until after we have put it to the test.

And you will have help. Elder Richard G. Scott has said, ""This work is a spiritual work, a monumental effort of cooperation on both sides of the veil, where help is given in both directions."

Remember what Nephi has said in 1st Nephi 3:7 - ..."the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."
Many of these people from whom we descend but never knew, know us and love us. They prepare the way for us to fulfill the commandment of God to do their work. They bring to light hidden documents and pictures, they sometimes preserve and protect things and help them make their way into the right hands and they often do so much more than this.

Brother John A. Widtsoe once stated that “Those who give themselves with all their might and main to this work...receive help from the other side, and not merely in gathering genealogies. Whosoever seeks to help those on the other side receives help in return in all the affairs of life.”

I testify to you of this. I know this. I cannot doubt it for I have experienced it time and again.

Aside from that, Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated that while family history work has the power to do something for the dead, it has an equal power to do something to the living. Family history work ... has a refining, spiritualizing, tempering influence on those who are engaged in it."

This is all true. There is no principle we can follow that will refine us more. As Elder Packer has said, "Was not the sacrifice of Christ a vicarious offering for and in behalf of all mankind? The very Atonement was wrought vicariously. The Lord did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Is it not Christlike for us to perform in the temples, ordinances for and in behalf of those who cannot do them for themselves?"
What an incredible privilege, perhaps the closest we will ever come in mortality to being like Christ, when we do for others what they cannot do for themselves!

President Harold B. Lee taught "Where is the spirit world? Is it away up in the heavens? That isn't what the scriptures and our brethren explain. They have told us the spirit world is right here round about us... And if our eyes could be opened we could see those who have departed from us--a father, mother, brother, a sister, a child. We could see them, and sometimes when our physical senses are asleep, sometimes our spiritual self...will be very keen and awake, and a departed one may come while we are lying asleep and come into our consciousness. We'll feel an impression. We'll wake up. Where does it come from? It comes from the spirits of those whom we are sealed to."

President Ezra Taft Benson taught us, "On the other side of the veil, the righteous are taught their duties preparatory to the time when they will return with the Son of Man to earth when He comes again, this time to judge every man according to his works. These righteous spirits are close by us. They are organized according to priesthood order in family organizations as we are here; only there they exist in a more perfect order."

I testify that those we have loved and lost and those we have never known who dearly love us, surround us. They are always close by, they are always aware of us, they are always anxious for us. They come in dreams, sometimes they come in thoughts and impressions. They are eager to help us whenever and however they are permitted. Death is only a rebirth into another plane of existence. We will see them again someday.

© Summer Owens