Not all chains are steel, nor does every chain oppress. Some liberate. Such is the gospel legacy each has received from ancestral metal workers, a chain forged from souls in the furnace of familial love, a chain passed down through generations.
Each is a blacksmith entitled to add one link. Some dedicate their entire lives to the job, sacrificing all they have to make a link stronger than the previous. Others are so busy doing the unimportant that they work only sporadically, forging a weak link that trivializes the work of generations past. Yet others deny their responsibility all together. They spend their time in idle places doing idle things, and when they leave the blacksmith’s shop their link remains unfinished. Their chain ends. Their legacy is broken.
This chain extends not through space but through generations. Unchanging gospel values passed from grandparents to parents to children bind us to our ancestors, to our roots. Each has a divine mandate to hammer out a gospel-legacy link, to pass this our most precious family heirloom on to our posterity.
As a missionary, I dealt with families. I saw how they made and destroyed links and how chains were started and broken. I rejoiced when parents transmitted the priceless gospel legacy to their children. I sorrowed when they neglected their gospel heritage.
One young family of five lived in a humid city of northeastern Brazil. The father was an impressive sight, a strong, dignified-looking fellow with stately white hair and a well-defined jaw line. A capable man, he spent many hours at work and few hours with his family.
At home he was a beast. Even with missionary visitors he screamed at his teary-eyed children, sent them scampering off to the corner with strikes on their heads. His wife stared silently, wiping away her own hidden tear before anyone noticed it. Various church books–The Book of Mormon, Gospel Principles, Our Heritage–sat dust-covered on the shelf behind him as he rose to his feet. Without a word, he went to his bedroom, as uncomfortable in our presence as his own children were in his. He had not forged his link. His broken chain made a broken home.
Another young family of five lived in the house next door. The head of that household was a scrawny butcher with a pronounced overbite, a fellow who spoke Portuguese like a five-year-old. He prepared meat with his family at his side, the five of them laughing together as they chopped raw beef. Both he and his wife were illiterate, but both had spent a lot of time in the blacksmith’s shop. Both had spent a lot of time at the forge.
This young father loved his little ones. A Book of Mormon sat dustless on his table; both children and parents tried to build their lives on that book’s principles. His children were articulate and literate, some of the brightest I’d ever met.
One night he invited the whole ward over for family night. With pride in his eyes he watched as his nine-year-old son directed the meeting, reading from the itinerary in a competent voice. The butcher knew he’d never do what his son was then doing–he’d never read or speak eloquently–and yet he wasn’t embarrassed. He only felt proud, for he’d built a strong link. He’d amplified his gospel legacy. He’d passed it on to his children.
More than any worldly accomplishment–more than riches or fame or prestige–passing on this gospel heritage is life’s most important task. Time forgets men’s trite accomplishments, but our chain of heritage–our gospel legacy–is eternal. Holy are those who begin such eternal chains, those who have the courage to bless their posterity by following Christ.
I’ll never forget a certain visit to John, a father in the Brazilian back country. John, a slender fellow with a wrinkled face, had eyes that lit up like headlights every time we visited. He’d been baptized two weeks earlier and still had new-convert excitement. His family was receiving the discussions now, and we visited them often to enjoy their home’s sweet spirit. A black-haired eleven-year-old sat between his parents, flipping through the paintings of the Gospel Principles book, asking me about each.
He stared wide-eyed at two adjacent pictures. On the left was Joseph Smith in a rocking chair, a fourteen-year-old boy reading James moments before a passage of scripture came with more power to his heart than had ever before come to the heart of man. On the right was the boy prophet with his hand above his head, shielding his eyes from a light above the brightness of the sun that had gradually descended upon him, the glorious light of the Father and the Son standing above him in the air.
I was about to comment, but John interrupted.
“Jason, do you see how Joseph was studying the Bible even when he was a little boy like you? He grew up studying, always thinking about Jesus, and one day he saw Heavenly Father. Shouldn’t you study, too, to be just like him?”
Little Jason looked up into his father’s eyes and nodded, complete trust painted perfectly on his innocent face. In that moment the faces of a thousand little children flashed through my mind, thousands of John’s descendants who will one day look up into their fathers’ eyes to learn of their Savior, thousands of God’s children who will be blessed because of the first link of the solid chain John was then forging.
“I suppose you should be teaching him all this, Elders. After all, you know a lot more about this stuff then I do.”
The corners of my mouth slid up into a smile as I shook my head back and forth.