Family is such a vital part of the Gospel. We hear how central the family is to God’s plan frequently from many different leaders of the church. Loving parents teaching their children the Gospel is a beautiful safe haven from the darkness and sadness in the world. We are lucky to have loving families to bless our lives.
But what about those people who do not have the “stereotypical” family situation on this earth? What about those children of God whose children live far away, or who are orphans, or had abusive parents, or who never knew their real father, or who never married, or who never had the chance to have or adopt children? What about these people, who don’t have the blessing to seek comfort, love and approval from their families? What about these children of God who are aching and hoping to be loved and important?
Heavenly Father is so kind and loving that He thought of a way to show love to His children in these situations. This is where ward families come in. In the LDS (Mormon) Church, our congregations are called “wards.” And we often talk about our “ward family” as the community in which we worship. I do not think it is coincidence that we refer to each other as Brother and Sister so and so in the church. I think we do that in order to remember our familial relationship to one another. We are literal sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, making all of us family. Heavenly Father wants us all to be a part of a larger family—a community of Christ.
But how can you actually feel that kind of relationship from ward members? How can you feel close enough to them to consider them family? Well, think about what you do with your family. You spend time with them. You serve them. You make fun memories with them. You pray for them. You think about them. You worry for them. You find ways to fill their needs. These same things can be applied to our spiritual brothers and sisters around us. There is no need to only save our time, talents, and efforts for blood family. There are many “family members” in close proximity to us who need us too. Fulfilling our church callings, attending all of our Sunday church meetings in our own ward and choosing to participate in ward activities can help us get to know the amazing people around us to start these family relationships. We have the potential to have many aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We can have that special family bond with hundreds and thousands. We can give and receive much more love than we ever thought possible.
Kyler and I can truly testify of the amazing blessing of utilizing a ward family. We have tried to be fully involved in our wards, and it has changed our lives. We have so many loved ones who have helped us in times of need. We are watched over and protected and cared for by loving neighbors and friends. Henry has about one million aunts, uncles, and grandparents that spoil and love him. I have felt the friendship and love from so many of my sisters in our wards. I have been touched by loving and thoughtful people who have taken an interest in me and have helped to lift me when I felt low.
None of this is to say that our blood relation families aren’t important or can be flippantly replaced. Our families are so special and important and we need to strengthen these relationships if we are able to. But I think it’s important to develop the perspective that there are others who need us too. There are others who can help us too. And when we give our time, talents and efforts to those around us in our wards, the love felt is multiplied and fast growing. I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with everything else we have going on in our lives, but I have found that reaching out to others and extending my “family” helps me feel more at peace and like my time has been well spent.
In fact, as you prayerfully make decisions about where you live, I believe that God will direct you to exactly the ward family that needs you, and that you need at that time in your life. He has sent each of us to our wards for a very special purpose that is unique to our specific set of gifts, abilities, and needs. If you have a close, tight-knit family nearby, you are still very much needed in your ward. You can offer strength and love to the lonely. But to be able to do all of that, you have to first be present. Step one is to show up. It’s hard to be a part of a community if you are gone half of the time (even for very good reasons like baby blessings, missionary talks, or family gatherings). Talk with your family and pray about how often you will miss church in your ward (maybe once a quarter, or only for blessings/missionaries in your immediate family). In your ward, and in your community, you will get out of it as much as you put in. So I encourage you to put in your very best efforts—really put down roots and bloom wherever you are planted—and you will have an amazing experience.
If you find yourself feeling lonely, or missing your family that lives far away, or wishing that you could have a different kind of family, consider turning to those in your ward. Think of the people in close proximity to you that may need you. I think that as you consider those people and find time to serve them, help them and love them, your heart will be filled with so much love. You will realize even more how important and special you are to Heavenly Father, and you will realize ways that you can be an instrument in His hands. I believe in and testify of this with all of my heart.