Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » In Our Ward: Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

In Our Ward: Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 03, 2013

Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work

no assigned scripture

Purpose: To help class members see the many different ways they can participate in temple and family history work and to encourage them to prayerfully determine the ways they should participate now.

Lesson Development

[1. The Spirit of Elijah is prompting people to turn their hearts to their ancestors.
2. Each member of the Church can participate in temple and family history work.
3. The Church provides many resources to help us participate in temple and family history work.]

1. Who was Elijah, and what is the Spirit of Elijah?

Our class discussions this year have been drawn from modern revelation and Church history. For this lesson, though, we’re going to start much further back – about 3,000 years ago, in ancient Israel. with the quickest possible review of Israelite history. [Sketch simple outline on board: a single line marked “judges” and “kings,” branching into two lines for “Northern Kingdom/Israel” and “Southern Kingdom/Judah.” pointing to appropriate place as points are mentioned below.]

You’ll recall that after Moses led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, the Israelites were governed for a time by judges. After a time, they demanded a king in place of their judges, so Israel lived under three successive kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. Upon Solomon’s death, though, there was civil war in Israel. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the southern part of the kingdom, from Jerusalem southward, followed Solomon’s son as king, and became known as the Kingdom of Judah, or the Southern Kingdom. The rest of the tribes in the north called for their king a man from Egypt who was not a descendant of David, and they set up the Northern Kingdom, which retained the old name of Kingdom of Israel.

The two kingdoms remained at odds for about 200 years. Then the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria, many of its inhabitants taken away captive, and Israel ceased to exist. Eventually the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, with many of them carried away into slavery in Babylon. A part of Judah returned to Jerusalem after years in captivity, and it is this remnant that still lived in and around Jerusalem during Jesus’s ministry.

Before the captivity, though, when there were still two kingdoms, both kingdoms had prophets among them. Most of the scripture we have in the last part of the Old Testament is the record of prophets who taught and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom. That makes sense – since our Bible is the record preserved by the Jews in the Southern Kingdom, it is reasonable that they would have told the stories and recorded the teachings of the prophets who lived among them, and would be less familiar and have less access to the teachings of prophets who lived in the Northern Kingdom.

Even so, the records of the Jews in the south preserved some of the teachings of the greatest prophets who worked in the north – some of these northern prophets were so remarkable that their words spread through both kingdoms.

Probably the greatest of these northern prophets was Elijah.

We know very little about Elijah personally. The Bible calls him “Elijah the Tishbite,” but no one knows what village or region that name comes from. His personal name – Elijah – means “My god is Jehovah.” He may have taken that name as an adult – it is a significant name, because Elijah was active as a prophet during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel worshiped the Phoenician god Ba’al, and Ahab, in order to widen the separation between the two kingdoms set up his own unauthorized centers of worship in the north, to keep his people from looking to Jerusalem for spiritual leadership. The scriptures record that

1 Kings 16:33

… Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.

So Elijah’s name amounted to a declaration of loyalty to the God of Israel, and of opposition to King Ahab.

Elijah had power as a prophet that we very seldom see in the prophets of the Old Testament. Most of the prophets were teachers, who told the people what the will of God was, and who warned them against evil and prophesied of the future. Elijah, though, had the power given to him not only to teach, but to actually to bring events to pass. That is, he could command something to happen here on earth, and, drawing on the powers of heaven, the thing he commanded came to be.

Let’s read about a few of those events.

1 Kings 17:1

1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I sand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

This curse of withholding rain was to demonstrate the power of Jehovah and the worthlessness of the false god Baal – Baal was credited with being the power that brought the rains every year and made life possible; by stopping the rain in the name of Jehovah, Elijah showed that Jehovah, not Baal, controlled the heavens. In response to Elijah’s command, the skies were closed and Israel endured a severe drought for three and a half years.

During the famine that resulted from the drought, the Lord told Elijah to take refuge in the village of Zaraphath, telling him that he would find a widow there who would feed him.

1 Kings 17:10-16

10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.

12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.

14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.

15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah;: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.

16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.

While Elijah was staying with the widow, her son became sick and died. The mother, asked Elijah if he were cursing her by killing her son.

1 Kings 17:19-23

19 And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed.

20 And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?

21 And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.

22 And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.

23 And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.

There are other stories in the Old Testament about Elijah’s powers over the physical world – he called down fire from heaven to consume soldiers who were coming to arrest him on Ahab’s orders, and he prophesied particularly gruesome deaths for Ahab and Jezebel that came to pass.

** What was the source of Elijah’s power over life and death, and over nature?

We don’t know enough about Elijah’s life to know where he came from or who taught him or precisely what his calling was. Some latter-day prophets, like Joseph Fielding Smith, believe that he held the Melchizedek Priesthood, based on the kinds of things he did, but we do not have a scriptural record of that. Scripture does record the testimony of another prophet, Elisha, that Elijah was taken up into heaven without tasting death – a departure in such glory that Elisha could only describe it as a “chariot of fire, and horses of fire” and that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11)

Possibly because Elijah did not die, and possibly due to prophecy that has been lost, there arose an expectation that Elijah would return to the earth one day. That belief is so literal with observant Jews that a place at the annual Passover table is set for Elijah and the door to the room is left ajar so that he may enter. The Old Testament ends with a prophecy that Elijah would return, to fill a very particular mission:

Malachi 4:5-6

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Elijah, with Moses, was present on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John were given a witness of Jesus’s divinity.

Matthew 17:5

… a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

Although we can’t point to a single scriptural verse that neatly lays out this doctrine, Latter-day Saints believe that Elijah (and Moses), as translated beings conferred priesthood keys on Peter, James and John. [Note: They were translated, the reasoning is, because a disembodied spirit cannot lay hands on physical beings as is necessary for the transference of keys, and until Jesus was resurrected, no one else could be resurrected.]

Then, in 1836, Elijah came again to commit keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a vision had in the Kirtland Temple.

Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16

13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:

14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi – testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come –

15 to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse –

16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

It is this commission of sealing keys by which husbands and wives, and parents and children, are sealed together in family units for eternity.

** What connection can you see between Elijah’s gifts and powers in mortality, and the sealing keys binding families together for eternity? [Elijah had the power and authority to command on earth and have his commands respected and carried out by the powers of heaven – what he bound on earth was bound in heaven.]

2. How can I participate in temple and family history work – right now, in my current circumstances, and in whatever level of interest I have?

The restoration of the sealing keys in 1836 seems to have loosed a widespread interest in genealogy – in turning the hearts of the children to the fathers.

How is that manifested outside the Church?

How is it manifested among Church members?

Latter-day Saints often have a stereotypical view of genealogy and family history work – it’s something done only by old people, and it requires hours and hours of squinting at foggy microfilms, and our boring Aunt Sadie is always going on and on about some trivial detail that you couldn’t care less about.

But the promise – the Spirit of Elijah – is that the hearts of the children will turn, not the microfilms, not the computer disks, but the hearts. What are some ways, large or small, that you have experienced a turning of your heart to your family?

[Spend the rest of the class time exploring ways that everyone – even busy people, even people who don’t enjoy history, even people who think genealogy is boring – can experience in some way the Spirit of Elijah: temple work, research, journal keeping, arts and crafts, other ways to preserve and share memories. Memo to self: Resist the urge to tell my own experiences; work on drawing ideas from class members!]



  1. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Comment by David Y. — November 3, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

  2. I feel like I can trust the Keepa community, to share this wound in my soul, and maybe find some advice, because so many of you love genealogy and must have run into difficult situations, like mine, at some point. If you feel it does not belong here Ardis, I will support your choice 100%, either way!

    My parents are both first generation members. My biological father’s parents joined the church at the same time as their 8 year-old daughter and 5 year-old twin sons. My grandparents were active in the church, eventually spending most of their retirement doing temple work. There was not much for them to trace of their ancestors, the vast majority of which were German Jews, and my great-grandmother, who knew the family best, died giving birth to her only son. Her husband didn’t even have the addresses to send birth announcements to anyone other than her parents, who never forgave their son-in-law for taking her away to America, and who died before they might have reconciled and met their grandson.

    My mother was baptized at 18, and my grandmother was baptized just this fall, after my grandfather’s death freed her from their pre-marital vow to never join a religion. My grandfather was raised in a very strict Christian Scientist family, and he has been supportive of my mom being LDS, and my uncle being a fundamentalist Christian minister after he retired from the Coast Guard, but he never changed his mind about allowing religion in his life, even knowing his wife was interested in learning more about the LDS faith.

    That’s a long way to say that I have no Mormon pioneer ancestors, and I have had a hard time doing the minimum that comes with family group sheets. (My paternal side has 10 names in total.) I feel like my heart is hardened to the Spirit of Elijah. I was molested for years by my biological father, and learning more about my family history, my paternal grandfather’s family seems to have a history of incest, of boys and girls, going back at least 3-4 generations.

    I simply don’t have my heart turned towards those ancestors, and I don’t want to have them be able to lay claim to me. We are in the process of having my step-father adopt me, as an adult. I wish there was a way that I could be sealed to him and my mother. I wish that my parents had not been married in the temple, because that means I was born “under the covenant,” and so even though he has been excommunicated, and my birth certificate will change, I have been told that my church records cannot be changed, because I was born to sealed parents.

    This may seem a small thing, for someone in her late 30s who is married with children, and yet it is something that continues to come up. Anytime there is an ordinance to be done, I have to see my biological father’s name on my records. When I move to a new ward, when I access any of my genealogy information, it is there. I have been told that even after being adopted, since I can’t be sealed to my step-father, his name cannot replace that of my biological father’s, on my church records because the genealogy of binding families together requires this way of record keeping.

    I can’t tell you how many days I have cried, how many nightmares I have had, or nights that I alternated crying and punching my pillows in frustration. I have prayed and fasted to be able to find some way forward, a way to stop avoiding interacting with things that require my church records. This is especially raw right now, because our records were transferred to my parents ward, (we are staying with them until we move to Alaska in mid-December) and having the paper handed me, to check for accuracy, almost made me come undone. I made it to the car before crying, but I really wanted to rip it up, yell at the poor clerk (who I know has no control over church policy) or hit something.

    Keepa’Ninny community, what am I missing from the big picture that might help me understand why his name must stay there, why the sealing to abusive parents is unbreakable, and valuable. I used to be able to help people input their info into Family Search without it impacting me, but now my heart has hardened against even that. I want to accept the blessings of Elijah, but I don’t want to be sealed, or associated in any way, with my biological father. If I can’t be turned toward him, how do I hope to have Elijah’s blessings realized for my own children?

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 4, 2013 @ 12:27 am

  3. Julia, I have to respond so you know you’ve been heard, but this won’t satisfy you at all, I know. It won’t satisfy you because it isn’t what you want, which is for the past to be changed. I can’t do that, obviously, and the only points I can offer are going to sound callous because of it.

    The day Elizabeth Smart came home after all those months of horrific mistreatment, her mother acknowledged that BDM had taken that time from her — nothing could change that — but Elizabeth should not give him one more hour of her life. I haven’t yet read her book to know how Elizabeth managed that or exactly what her mother meant, but I wonder whether there isn’t something in Elizabeth’s experience that wouldn’t help you. You may be every bit as justified as she would have been in letting the source of her pain consume her, fill her with bitterness, keep her from moving on … but that would have been surrendering the rest of her life to her abuser, voluntarily, without his having to lift a finger. She wasn’t willing to give him the rest of her life. Reading how she did that, and considering parallels to your own life, might help.

    A few years ago I helped a man trace his birth line. His grandfather had adopted my friend’s father, and no one in the family knew anything, or was telling anything, about the birth grandfather. When I tracked the birth grandfather and read his prison record, my friend was horrified — justly so. He shut the whole project down immediately. He didn’t want to know any more, and he certainly wasn’t going to accept a sealing line through that grandfather. Nobody would blame him, after reading what the man had done and getting to know, through newspaper articles and court files, the stories of the little girls whose lives he had blasted. Twenty-four hours later, my friend had had a change of heart, somehow. He didn’t think the grandfather could ever be forgiven or that he would be a part of my friend’s sealing chain once final judgments were made by the Lord, but he realized that no matter what the grandfather was, there were other people, good people, somewhere farther back in his family line, and the only way to be sealed to them was through this grandfather. So you have a bad link, too — maybe three or four of them. But reason and your heart must tell you that somewhere beyond them, there are ancestors you will be willing to claim, good people, loving people, people who were victimized just as you were, but who are looking to you as their only descendant who cares and might go looking for them. Because mortal men and women — including your bishops or others with whom you have discussed this — are powerless to change the past or to exercise the authority you wish they had to cut your birth father out of your heritage, you have to look past him and remember that there are countless generations of good (if fallible) people beyond him.

    As I said in the beginning, I know this isn’t going to satisfy you, because it doesn’t — nothing can — give you what you want. I haven’t been through what you have, and my reminding you that the Savior has “descended below” that much and more would sound preachy and unconvincing from me. But maybe you can trust Elizabeth Smart, and maybe something in her story will speak to you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 4, 2013 @ 4:50 am

  4. I was going to respond, because I have had heartache regarding sealing, but Ardis’ response was so beautiful, I am left with little more to say.

    Just this, from one survivor to another, the hardest and most worthwhile thing I have done since surviving abuse is to wrestle with myself until I could find enough trust in my Savior to know that He will judge righteously on my behalf.

    He knows your pain in the most intimate way possible. When you cry, beating your pillow and yourself, He is right beside you, also weeping. So are your righteous ancestors. I have felt mine there in my moments of darkest pain. He is mighty to save. Find that wellspring of trust in Him within your soul. It will bring healing, though not always as quickly and neatly as you would like.

    What you feel is natural. I can promise you there is a way through it. Forgiveness is not accepting what happened, it is letting the Lord handle it for you. Cast your burdens on Him, take upon yourself His work of salvation of the souls of men in the stead of your pain. And know that you are not alone.

    Comment by SilverRain — November 4, 2013 @ 5:50 am

  5. Thank you Ardis and SilverRain. I have cried as I have read your responses, and had the Spirit confirm that there is truth in them that is direct revelation for me. I don’t know in what ways it will change me, but I know that your words are precious pearls. Thank you.

    Ardis, if the man whose genealogy you did is still alive, would you be willing to share my comment with him, and see if he would be willing to talk about that spiritual journey with me. I am sincere in feeling that this has deprived me of the Spirit of Elijah, and I believe those who tell me that it is delicious to the Spirit, I just have never believed it could be a possibility for me. As I read this post, I was inspired to ask, trusting that this was the place I might find a different path. Thank you for letting me be part of the community.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 4, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  6. @Juliethepoet, I agree with Ardis and SilverRain. This is a very real problem, and you were doing well to get to the car before you burst into tears. Your feelings are entirely justified, if not yet sanctified. But I agree with Ardis that somewhere back there you have ancestors weeping with you and over you. If you were able to connect with some of them, I think it would help a little. I am reminded of a Christmas carol that says, “If thou wilt foil thy foes with Joy then flit not from this Heavenly Boy.” And you still have my love and respect if all of this takes you a long time.

    Comment by LauraN — November 4, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  7. For Julia: This may not be exactly on target, but I have heard several of the Twelve teach in private audiences over the years, when asked about very specific incidents, that the Church “teaches the principles” and “lets the exceptions take care of themselves”. To me they were trusting good, faithful, revelation seeking members to do the best that they can in their own painful circumstances.

    Comment by David R. — November 4, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

  8. Julia,

    I too come from a broken family and have a broken marriage myself. I recommend seeking out your stake president or the local temple president (if truly local enough) with your concerns in person as they are in the lines of authority the Lord has set up in the church for Saints to seek help.

    I can testify of the truths I know to be true through sacred communication and scripture study. The the Holy Spirit of Promise has to ratify the sealing first. This may or may not happen (the Lord will judge this according to scripture.) I agree with others who have mentioned that the Lord will settle all these matters and will not make you go against your will where you do not want to go. The covenant seals you to God’s family as much as it seals you to a parent. I have also learned and believe that you can have weak links but that righteous generations before those can be linked over the skipped relationships if sealings exist to connect you back to those ancestors. Lorenzo Snow said that righteous couples can save their posterity. Finally, no blessings will be held back from those who live worthy of them.

    Since I am sealed to my father (since I was born in a covenant) and my wonderful adoptive stepmother who raised me is sealed to him also, I am relying on these answers to know that I will still be connected to her in eternity.

    I hope you find comfort through the Spirit and good sources like scriptures and leaders.


    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — November 4, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  9. I wanted to quickly add that I am not as worried about if I can be sealed to my stepfather, who I call dad, as I understand that the sealing of children to parents, or being “born under the covenant” is more a function of membership and keeping track of family connections. While I might like to be allowed to choose a man who deserves the title of dad or father, as the man I am sealed to, I mostly want my buological father removed from the records that follow me from ward to ward.

    There is more to this than just the desire not to be triggered at seeing his name, although that would be a blessing. Having his name on my records, means that often times he is able to talk his way in to a conversation about me and my family, by calling a bishopric or other ward leader, and telling them that he is concerned about me and my family. In this way, he has obtained confidential information about me, my husband and children in 5 different wards, in the last 9 years. He has also influenced how ward leaders saw and interacted with my family, because they believed the lies of a “concerned father.”

    Even with the court order that enforces that he have no contact with my, or my children, he has continued to try and make it seem that contact is “accidental.” I do not blame the primary teachers and presidency members, who ge called to find out when primary activities were happening, so he could show up to them. All of them felt terrible about it. Until he was excommunicated, it was very hard to convince bishops to inform the ward counsel, and anyone who was responsible for my kids at some point, that my biological father was not allowed to have contact with any if us, and that no information should be given to him.

    I have a lot to get done this evening, but will check in later tonight. Thank you to all who have contributed.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 4, 2013 @ 5:33 pm