I am blessed in my life to have the most wonderful father I could ever ask for. I know he is not perfect, but he has been everything I have ever needed him to be. He has all of those qualities that I just listed in addition to a listening ear, patience, and a sense of humor – all of which were essential in being a father to a daughter like me.
I want to focus my thoughts on the one word I feel the Spirit has guided my preparations for: Shepherd. What is a shepherd and how does a Father become the best shepherd his sheep could require?
In the scriptures, the Lord refers to himself as the good shepherd. In John 10:11, he says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” In the Savior’s time and place, a shepherd who was the owner of the sheep not only loved them, but would risk his life for them. Which He did.
President Faust shares a lesson in which he learned what it means to be a shepherd:
As a small boy he forgot to put his pet lamb in the barn one night when a storm arose.
“I knew that I should help my pet, but I wanted to stay safe, warm, and dry in my bed. I didn’t get up as I should have done,” he recalled during a priesthood session of general conference. “The next morning I went out to find my lamb dead.”
“My heart was broken,” he said. He realized that he had not been a good shepherd. His father’s loving rebuke hurt him even more: “Son, couldn’t I trust you to take care of just one lamb?”
That day, the young James resolved that he would try his best to never neglect his stewardship should he have the opportunity again to be a shepherd. To the end of his ministry, President Faust remained devoted to the Lord’s admonition: “Feed my lambs”
As fathers, each of you has sheep to nourish, encourage, and serve. Each is called by the Lord. Each is accountable to the Lord for his or her stewardship as a shepherd.
In the Proclamation to the World, it reads ““… By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.
Elder L. Tom Perry says, “Fatherhood is leadership, the most important kind of leadership. It has always been so; it always will be so. Father, with the assistance and counsel and encouragement of your eternal companion, you preside in the home. It is not a matter of whether you are most worthy or best qualified, but it is a matter of [divine] appointment.”
“Fatherhood is not a matter of station or wealth; it is a matter of desire, diligence, and determination to see one’s family exalted in the celestial kingdom. If that prize is lost, nothing else really matters”
“Take an active part in establishing family rules and discipline. As a leader in your home you plan and sacrifice to achieve the blessing of a unified and happy family. To do all of this requires that you live a family-centered life.”
As President Joseph F. Smith counseled: “Brethren, there is too little religious devotion, love, and fear of God, in the home; too much worldliness, selfishness, indifference, and lack of reverence in the family, or it never would exist so abundantly on the outside. Then, the home is what needs reforming. Try today, and tomorrow, to make a change in your home.”
“When you recognize the importance of teaching your children, you become humble. You cannot be one thing and effectively teach another. You must live and study and pray for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. You must purify and organize your life so that your example and leadership reflect the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“You must plan your day as guided by the Spirit of the Lord, earnestly seeking your own welfare and the welfare of your family before other cares blind you. As we have been taught by living prophets, ‘No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home’
Growing up, my father was always very busy with work or in his church callings. He spent many hours away from our home for various responsibilities, however... when he was home, he was truly at home. And the time that he spent with us individually or as a family was his focus and his priority. I remember a few times he would come home late at night from his church meetings, which were often hours away. He would sit at the foot of my bed and ask me about my life. He took a genuine interest in who I was and what I needed. He would hold family counsel and give us the opportunity to talk about concerns. Most of the time it was just that my brother was bugging me or my sister was borrowing my clothes, again. But when it really mattered, he was there.
I remember attending a baptism with him when I was about 9 years old. As we sang, “Families Can Be Together Forever” I was overcome with emotion and didn’t understand why. In the car on the way home, he testified to me that was the Spirit of the Holy Ghost teaching me that what I was singing is true.
I remember I was going through a particularly difficult time in 6th grade. He sensed there was something wrong and asked me to go get ice cream with him. We talked about how I was feeling and he gave me some much needed advice.
When I was in High School, I skipped school when my parents were out of town. He found out about it and asked me what happened. I lied about it, but I knew that he knew I was lying. I’ll never forget what he said. “Karen, you have always made really good decisions in your life and I know that if you keep making good choices, you will have more blessings than you can even comprehend. But as you begin to make poor choices, while in and of themselves, may not seem like a big deal... overtime, you will find yourself on a path you never intended to be.”
As a true shepherd, to a sometimes wayward sheep, he believed in the person I could become. He saw in myself what I didn’t see. He saw the Lord’s love for me even if I didn’t know it was there. He loved me unconditionally. He helped me to believe what he believed I was truly capable of. In spite of my stubbornness, or unwillingness to listen, he watched over me. And I know that as a father, it is because of his love that I have felt the love of my Savior like I never imagined. I cannot wait to see my parents return from their mission in less than 2 weeks. It has been a long 3 years and I am so grateful for their service.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Fathers, by divine decree, you are to preside over your family units. This is a sobering responsibility and the most important one you will ever assume, for it is an eternal responsibility. You place the family in its proper priority. It’s the part of your life that will endure beyond the grave.”
The Savior was the perfect Shepherd. In John 10:2-5
“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
“To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
“And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers”
Do you know your sheep? Do they know your voice, or must they hearken unto the voices of strangers? Do they know you as true shepherds who loves them, who willingly and freely gives time and attention to their needs, and, in that marvelous process, instills the confidence and security so greatly needed? Are you then able to lead them to immortality and eternal life? Do you go before them, constantly reassuring and building confidence because they know your voice?