09 January 2008

Did we replace the worship of the Lord with the worship of our family?

This is a reflection on Christmas. (Isn't it a little late? you say. No, especially since I am reflecting on my observations of the holiday season just past, both of my own and that of others.)

It is customary and practically expected to hear and read denunciations of the commercialization and secularization of the Christmas holiday. That is not the purpose of the post. Materialism and greed are subjects that truly concern me, but others have addressed it far more ably than I could.

My own concern is that we have moved the focus of our worship away from our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and towards ourselves and our own family. Our obedience to commandments and participation in the rituals of the Church and Gospel are done not because of our perceived duty towards God, or the fact that he deserves the worship that we give him. Rather we undertake those activities because of what we want from him, namely to be with our families forever. While, among the pious, it is axiomatic that "Jesus = the Reason for the Season", do we truly celebrate his advent simply by being with our family, laughing with them, and eating tons of food at the common table(lets ignore the subject of presents for now)? How much emphasis is placed on togetherness relative to our meditation on what Nephi termed the "condescension of God"?

I am not aware of how much my own observed experience comports with that of members of other faiths. I am aware that, to a certain extent, this emphasis on the family is the result of the peculiar LDS teachings on the eternity of the family unit.

I am interested to see whether others' observations or experiences confirm or differ from the questions and concerns I posed above. Of course, even their confirmation would not conclusively establish whether such an emphasis is misplaced or wrongful in the eyes of God. I think from the scriptures one could certainly discern that the togetherness of His family is the object which our Heavenly Father desires. But can our (premature?) focus on the end harm our pursuit of the divine means of achieving it?


  1. You've put into words something I've been struggling with, and when you say it, it's so obvious that I don't know how I could have missed it before! No wonder I, who has no family either of origin or marriage, and who is unlikely to have any such family in this life, feel so out of place so often. I'm used to resigning myself to family lessons and talks, but lately it seems that even those lessons and talks that should be applicable to each individual are presented and discussed in terms of family, and I leave church still hungry for something I was denied. Thanks for giving a focus to my frustrations -- now that I suddenly understand the problem, I may be more successful in working around it.

  2. I think it all depends on our chosen focus. Do we obey prophetic counsel to focus our time on things that matter (which includes, but certainly is not limited to) family? If we think the focus is only on family, then we are missing a whole boatload of counsel and teachings that focus directly and powerfully on the Savior. Making sure we spend our time and energy on things that matter is one way that we show our devotion to Him. And bring glory to Him.

  3. Steven Covey addresses this in "The Divine Center." His point is that the center of our lives may be one of many things - work, church service, family - all good things but the center needs to be Christ. I think the family is probably the most deceptive center of all because when our focus is on our family, especially our children, we feel we are doing what the Lord wants and putting our efforts where we should.

  4. I think the problem is not in diverting our worship from God and to our families, but is rather in the narrow definition of family. I know what it means to serve my family, to serve a neighbor, and to serve an enemy. What exactly does it mean to serve the Lord?

    I think the scriptures are clear, especially in Matthew 25 and in King Benjamin's speech, that service to God is done by serving those around us. I don't see worship as being all that different. I have a hard time imagining a loving God that care all that much that worship is directed to him. Rather, my beliefs of a loving God is a God that wishes that worship of Him were performed through acts of service to his children.

    As such, I think that the emphasis on family should be seen as something more like Joseph Smith's notion of eternal families - not simply the small family unit, but the unification of all God's children.

  5. Everyone has made great points. Anonymous #1 took it in a different, but equally valid, direction. In my post, I was primarily thinking about what we do in our family activities, especially as they surround religio-cultural holidays like Christmas. But our behavior and focus in our worship meetings is equally worrisome at times.

    Sally, I have heard the Covey thing from the "Divine Center" and I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment about the deceptiveness of the family-centered life.

    And the narrator's comment reminded me of a Joseph Smith quote, which I will now paraphrase: when a man is filled with the Spirit of God, he is not content to bless his own family only, but ranges throughout the entire world. In light of King Benjamin's speech (which I feel like might get abused from time to time as an excuse for our family-centered behavior, but that is another post), maybe we should worship the family through service but our idea of family is certainly too narrow.

    Thanks to everyone for their contributions. You all moved my thinking ahead considerably on this issue.