I once showed a picture of my brother’s family to a friend at work: happy couplethree beautiful children, adorable outfits, all smiles. The reaction was, “OK, they’re perfect. I guess that’s what all Mormon families are like, huh?”
From the outside, it might appear that in order to be Mormon, you need to have a “perfect” family. At times even from the inside some of us may feel like that. But the truth is, Mormonism is not about having perfect families. It’s about FAMILIES — who are striving to be a little more perfect.
Don’t believe me? Fine then, I’ll prove it!
As Mormons, we treasure the stories told in the scriptures, and nearly every famous scriptural story centers on families. And like all good Disney movies, the presence of “perfect” family stories is virtually zero. Here is a simpler-than-cliff’s-notes recap on a few of them:
Adam and Eve’s Family:
They start out as companions in paradise. They live in a beautiful place, they have everything they need, they are naked and they have no clue. Then they partake of the fruit from the tree of knowledge and suddenly are launched into a world where pain, sickness, and evil abound. Their lives go from beautifully simple to terribly complicated, and they must navigate through a new world together.
Cain & Abel’s Family:
Brothers with serious competitive issues. Abel, the perfect child, gives an offering that is accepted by the Lord, while Cain, the naughty child, gives one that is not. Out of jealousy and greed, Cain kills Abel.
Born at a time when an insecure Pharaoh had decreed that all newborn Hebrew boys were to be killed. Rather than letting her son die, his mother puts him in a basket and sends him down the Nile, hoping for his survival. As fate would have it, he is found and raised by the very family that should have been the cause of his death.
Joseph of Egypt’s Family:
More brothers with more competitive issues. Joseph, the youngest and favorite child, with the famed coat of many colors. He was handsome, he was smart, he was a walking work of art!! And because of it, his brothers got jealous and sold him into slavery.
Clearly, these are not perfect families. Yet these are the stories that traditional Christian religions study in order to learn how to navigate the human condition. The Book of Mormon tells the story of a similarly imperfect family.
Lehi and Sariah’s Family:
Lehi and Sariah have four sons: Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam.
The two youngest, Nephi and Sam, are firm in their faith. They obey their parents and they believe in God. But the two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, struggle with both their belief in God and in obeying parents who are devoted to following Him.
The story begins by showing the immediate clash between siblings with different beliefs, trying to live together. Eventually their beliefs become so at odds that they are completely estranged. Their descendants are forever separated, designated by titles of either “Nephite” or “Lamanite.” The majority of the Book of Mormon is spent detailing the wars between these two family groups. Each group experiences periods of faithfulness and blessing, as well as times of foolish pride and destruction.
In a tiny, tiny nutshell, the Book of Mormon is the story of one imperfect family, and its struggle to find peace.
It is the same struggle faced by Adam and Eve, of Moses, of Cain & Abel, and of Joseph of Egypt
So why have people all over the world, for thousands of years, continually gravitated to stories about people from broken homes? Because these struggles– these awkward family situations and challenges and disagreements — are universally relatable.
In other words, NO ONE has a perfect family.
Somewhere along the line, the image of Mormonism has become perfect, happy families with lots of kids who always get along. And to be sure, having a happy family is something Mormons strive for.
But when you look at the people’s lives we study, from Adam and Eve to the Nephites and Lamanites, you will see the true goal of Mormonism: to help imperfect people from imperfect families become a little better.
All of us are in different places. Some of us have two parents while others have one or none. Some of us depend on our siblings while others are estranged from them. No matter what family situation we are born into, every one of us is part of the human family, and of God’s family.
If I can vouch for any aspect of Mormonism, it’s that when you join the Mormon Church you become part of a family. Since moving away from my biological family, I have realized how amazing it is to have a place to go where people, even though they might be strangers, care about your happiness and well-being. My Mormon family has provided love and support in times when I have desperately needed it.
So whatever your family life is like, you’re welcome to join ours. I can’t say we aren’t a bit dysfunctional at times. But I can say that we will do our very best to make your life a little better.