Years ago I sat in a stake leadership meeting. The visiting authority was running over his allotted time (and none of us minded; he was great to listen to), and so he closed with a parting shot: Teach your people if they'll have Family Home Evening and Family Prayer that everything will be just fine.
I don't know if I actually blushed, but I felt my head got hot enough to nearly explode at those words.
Two bits of history: at the time I was in a leadership position in my stake (I was in a leadership meeting, after all). And I had three young adult sons who were in varying stages of leaving the church.
FHE and Family Prayer were common in our home. We'd read the Book of Mormon as a family once a year for five or six years running when these boys were small. We took them to church, learned Articles of Faith, and sang Primary songs. I baptized and confirmed them, conferred the priesthood on them, ordained them deacons, teachers and priests, and watched each one peel away from things we held most dear one by one.
In that leadership meeting, I wanted to leap up and yell, "But what if it's not enough?" But I didn't.
I did email my wonderful stake president, a man whom I love and respect. He knows my family and me well. I told him of my feelings in that meeting. In his return email he said, "I was praying about your family this morning…"
I was stunned as I read that line. It jolted me just a bit to realize that of all the people in the stake, my family was on his "list." I felt before I read the rest of his note that I had already received quite a tender mercy.
He went on to offer some consolation. He neither defended nor refuted what the visiting general authority had said; he simply made a separate observation about our family -- and particularly about our sons -- that had come to him in his prayer that day.
I have thought over the years about what this visiting authority said and tried to make sense of it. There were lots of possibilities:
Maybe he was wrong. Maybe everything won't be fine. Medium term evidence seems to support that view in my case. But I reasoned that this general authority has served for years in the senior councils of the church; he surely has seen his share of good LDS families that don't live happily ever after.
Maybe I have a different view of "fine" than he does. I assumed at the time "fine" meant my kids would be sitting with me in sacrament meeting. But maybe "fine" meant that parents and their children who went a different way could still be civil and loving toward one another.
Maybe he had a specific assignment to remind priesthood leaders about FHE and Family Prayer, and he had spent so much time on other interesting subjects that he had to squeeze it in, and this is how he chose to do it.
Maybe his timeline was different from mine. He didn't say it would be fine now, or even tomorrow, or next week. Taking the eternal view, there may be more steps to take still.
In any case, he certainly got my attention. And he drove me to have a very touching and spiritual exchange with my stake president, through which I experienced a wonderful tender mercy.
I don't think he was wrong. There's plenty of counsel teaching us to have family prayer and Family Home Evening. And we still do that with our younger kids who live at home. (And when our older kids are in our home, they still participate politely in prayers, too.) And that regular prayer and learning time helps me to be a better dad – probably a better dad than I was to my oldest boys. (It's that way a lot – the older kids teach parents to be better parents to the younger kids.)
And, for today, that's all fine to me.