There is a word that I believe is of great significance in our homes. It is seldom spoken or discussed, but it exists whether or not we realize it. The word is EMPHASIS.

Children are extremely perceptive in picking up the emphasis, or priority, of our homes and lifestyles, however subtle it may be. Think for a moment and be honest with yourself — how do you stress such things as education, music, sports, vacations, fun times, traditions, clean houses, good food, and material possessions?

All these things are important, but are they all-important? What is most important? Where should our emphasis be? I refer to the scriptures for the answer:

        Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his
        righteousness and all these things shall
        be added unto you.
                              — Matthew 6:33

Children come to realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ is paramount in their parents’ lives when they observe that gospel standards and values impact everything their fathers and mothers do and say. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the home.

Parents lead the way by endeavoring to keep the commandments without compromise. Honesty in everything they do is a way of life. They try to be charitable and compassionate toward others in word and deed. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a priority in the home. Their time and money are spent on things of worth. Media and electronic material are carefully selected. Church callings are fulfilled willingly and faithfully. They strive to honor their covenants and are temple worthy.

Sunday clothes are standard dress for church for everyone in the family as an expression of respect and reverence for the Lord. Certainly our appearance is a powerful indicator of our values and priorities, and it has a huge effect on our behavior and attitudes.

Many worthy husbands and fathers send their wives and children a strong message by putting on a suit, white shirt, and tie whenever they give blessings or function in any priesthood capacity.

While vacationing in southern Utah one summer, we visited the old pioneer home of Jacob Hamblin in Santa Clara, near St. George. Brother Hamblin, with his family, settled there in 1854 in response to a call from Brigham Young to fulfill a life-long mission to the Lamanites.

We noticed in the house, which has been restored as it was when the Hamblins lived there, that the rustic chairs surrounding the old wooden kitchen table were placed facing outward toward the center of the room, rather than facing inward toward the table. Our missionary guide explained that the chairs were so situated for family prayer. As the parents and children approached the table for meals, it was obvious that they were first to kneel in prayer.

I thought about family life as it is today with many people so busy and hurried that they sometimes don’t even gather at all, let alone kneel for family prayer. I don’t envy the pioneer lifestyle with its hardships and sacrifices, but as I looked at those chairs facing away from the table I did feel a twinge of longing for a lifestyle that slows down long enough for family prayer to receive the attention it deserves.

Recently a woman in our ward said, in paying tribute to her husband, that he makes the scriptures a presence in their home. Later I asked her to tell me more. She said they did four things with their young children:

  1. keep copies of the Book of Mormon close to the kitchen table;
  2. read from them every day as a family;
  3. assist the children in their own personal, daily scripture study; and
  4. turn to the scriptures for making decisions, answering questions, and solving problems.

This brings to mind an experience one of our daughters had while she and her family were living in western New York — where they were the only members of the Church in their community. Halloween fell on a Sunday one year, and the question of how and when they were going to celebrate Halloween became a major concern for her four children.

Her husband told the children they could make their own decision about the matter and that they as parents would abide by whatever decision they made. First, however, they were to learn what Heavenly Father had to say. They opened the scriptures, turned to the Topical Guide, looked up every passage relating to the Sabbath, and discussed them.

The children decided not to go out “Halloweening” on Sunday and instead accepted the parents’ offer to host a party at their house on Saturday night for all their friends in the neighborhood.

An incident several years ago brought to my attention how strong children feel about our observing the programs of the Church in our homes. It was Christmas Night. We had cleaned up after serving soup and scones to thirty family members, and several of our daughters and I were visiting around the kitchen table.

We had just completed a four-week marathon of family activities in connection with Christmas, and it felt very good to sit and relax a minute. We were commenting about all the wonderful times that had been enjoyed, both as individual families and as an extended family, when suddenly our conversation was interrupted by four-year-old Nate, who burst into the room and cried out with great urgency, “What day of the week is this?”

We answered, “It’s Thursday.”

A look of anguish crossed his face as he lamented, “Oh, no, that’s what I was afraid of. We missed family night this week.”

We had to smile to ourselves, but we were glad that Monday family night was such a part of Nate’s young life. The fact that he hadn’t recognized that we had been having family night almost daily for a month gave us cause to think. We came to understand the need, on such occasions, to declare, “Children, this is family night.” It is important that Nate and all the other young children realize that family home evening is being observed.

When a family member is asked to teach a lesson or speak in a meeting (even if it’s just a one-liner in Primary), the assignment takes on the importance it deserves when everyone shows interest and provides encouragement. The importance is further underscored when family members demonstrate support by being in attendance for the delivery, if possible.

Great emphasis should be placed on a child’s baptism. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins should be invited to gather with the immediate family, whenever possible, for this significant occasion. The child should be helped to realize that after being born, being baptized is the next important step.

Receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood should be highly significant occasions in a young man’s life. Instead of just taking ten minutes between meetings for the conferring of the priesthood, the occasion could reflect the importance of the ordinance by meeting in the home or bishop’s office and taking time to do justice to the situation.

Once again, grandparents and other family members could join the immediate family for this event. Scriptures could be read and counsel given as well as time taken for responses by the parents and grandparents, and the young man himself.

It is an added blessing when the father performs the ordination. All the priesthood-bearing men of the family could join in the circle. The young man would be strengthened in honoring his priesthood through the love, support, and testimonies of loved ones.

Preparing children to go to the temple is one of the sweetest privileges, and most important responsibilities, parents have. It begins early in children’s lives as parents talk to their children about the temple; show them pictures; visit temple grounds with them frequently, if proximity allows; let them watch as brides and grooms are being photographed by the temple; teach them about temples from the scriptures; encourage them to do baptisms for the dead when they turn twelve; and in every way help them to live worthy of entering the House of the Lord. Taking a child to the temple is a culminating experience for parents and their children.

Such devoted parents further show their children what matters most by arranging their lives so as to see general conference each spring and fall. The Saturday sessions as well as the Sunday ones merit their full attention. When the leaders of the Church speak, they listen. Children will likely follow their example.

It’s traditional for many LDS fathers to gather their sons for general priesthood meeting. Mothers and daughters might enjoy a beautiful evening together for the annual Young Women conference or the General Relief Society meeting. Sports events and other activities are set aside for the blessing of being instructed by the general authorities and general officers of the Church.

Everything about the home should point to the transcendent importance of loving the Lord and serving our fellow men through keeping the commandments and honoring our covenants.

In homes where the gospel is emphasized above everything else, children come to understand why eternal life is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 14:7) Preparing them to be worthy of that gift is of the highest priority. It matters so much, in fact, that nothing else can compare; nothing even comes close. Elder Neal A. Maxwell expressed this powerfully when he reminded us:

If you do not choose the kingdom
of God first, it will in the end make
no difference what you have
chosen instead.

William Law, 18th Century Clergyman
as quoted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Ensign, May 1974, p.112