Boyd K. Packer
Acting President of
the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Value the old folks for what
they are, not just what they can do.
Years ago on Christmas Eve, a cousin lost a little
five-year-old boy to quick-pneumonia. The family gathered around the casket
for the family prayer. A small blanket, made by his mother, lay folded
across the little boy's feet.
Just as they were to close the casket, my mother
stepped forward, put her arm around the grieving mother, and helped her
unfold the blanket and tuck it around the little boy. The last his parents
saw of their little son, he was asleep, covered with that favorite blanket.
It was a very tender moment. That is what grandmothers do!
We returned to Brigham City for the funeral of my
wife's father, William W. Smith. A young man I knew as a seminary student
stood at the casket, deeply moved. I did not know that he knew my
He said: "One summer I worked for him on the
farm. Brother Smith talked to me about going on a mission. My family could
not possibly support a missionary. Brother Smith told me to pray about it
and said, 'If you decide to go on a mission, I will pay for your mission,'
and he did."
Neither my wife nor her mother knew that. It was one
of those things that grandfathers do.
We have 10 children. One unsettled Sunday morning
when our family was young, my wife was in sacrament meeting. As usual, I
was away on Sunday. Our children took up much of a row.
Sister Walker, a lovely, gray-haired grandmother who
raised 12 children, quietly moved from several rows back and slid into the
row among our restless children. After the meeting, my wife thanked her for
Sister Walker said, "You have your hands full,
don't you?" My wife nodded. Sister Walker then patted her on the hand
and said, "Your hands full now; your heart full later!" How
prophetic was her quiet comment. That is what grandmothers do!
We presided over the New England Mission. One of our
missionaries married and had five children. He went away to get a larger car
for his family and never returned. His body was later found under an
overpass; his car had been stolen.
I called his stake president to offer help to the
family. He had already offered.
The grandfather said: "We know what our duty
is. We won't need any help from the Church. We know what our duty is."
That is what grandfathers do!
It is my purpose to speak to you about and to speak
to grandparents—the grandpas and the grandmas—and to other elderly members
who have no children of their own but who stand in as grandparents.
The scriptures tell us, "With the ancient is
wisdom; and in length of days understanding" (Job 12:12).
Once in a stake meeting, I noticed a larger than
usual number of older members, most of them widows. I mentioned to the
stake president how impressive they were.
The president replied, "Yes, but they are not
active in the Church," meaning they did not serve as leaders or
teachers. He spoke as though they were a burden.
I repeated his words, "Not active in the
Church?" and asked, "Are they active in the gospel?" He did
not quite understand the difference at first.
Like many of us, he concentrated so much on what
people do that he overlooked what they are, a priceless resource
of experience, wisdom, and inspiration.
We face an ominous challenge. Populations worldwide
are declining. The birthrate in most countries is falling and life
expectancy increasing. Families are smaller—deliberately limited. In some
countries, in just a few years there will be more grandparents than there
are children. The aging of the population has far-reaching consequences
economically, socially, and spiritually. It will affect the growth of the
We must teach our youth to draw close to the elderly
grandpas and grandmas.
The First Presidency recently instructed young women
approaching womanhood to join the mothers and grandmothers in Relief
Society (see First Presidency letter, 19 Mar. 2003).
Some young women draw away. They would rather be
with those their own age.
Young women: Do not be so very foolish as to miss
this association with the older sisters. They will bring more worth into
your life than much of the activity you enjoy so much.
Leaders: Teach the girls to draw close to their mothers
and grandmothers and to the older women in the Relief Society. They will
then have an association similar to what the young men have in the
All of the attention given to our youth, all of the
programs, all we do for them, will be incomplete unless we teach them the
purpose of the Restoration. The keys of the priesthood were restored and
the sealing authority revealed and temples built to tie the generations
together. From ancient times through all the revelations runs that eternal,
golden thread, "Turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the
heart of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 4:6).
Bishop: Do you realize that some problems you worry
about so much with the youth, and with others, could be solved if they
would stay close to their fathers and mothers and to their grandparents, to
the older folks?
If you are burdened with overmuch counseling, there
are older sisters, grandmas in the ward, who can influence young married
women and act as a grandmother to them. And there are older grandfathers
for the young men. Older people have a steadiness, a serenity that comes
from experience. Learn to use that resource.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "The way to get
along in any important matter is to gather unto yourselves wise men [and
women], experienced and aged men [and women], to assist in council in all
times of trouble" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel.
Joseph Fielding Smith , 299).
We try to gather young people and miss getting the
generations together. There is so much older members can do. If you see
older members as inactive in the Church, ask yourself, "Are they
active in the gospel?"
Do not overlook a great sustaining power in the prayers
of the parents and the grandparents. Remember, the "fervent prayer of
a righteous man [or woman] availeth much" (James 5:16).
Alma the Younger was a rebel. He was struck down by
an angel who told him, "Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his
people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for
he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought
to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to
convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his
servants might be answered according to their faith" (Mosiah
My wife and I have seen our grandparents and then
our parents leave us. Some experiences that we first thought to be burdens
or trouble have long since been reclassified as blessings.
My wife's father died in our home. He needed
constant care. Nurses taught our children how to care for our bedridden
grandpa. What they learned is of great worth to them and to us. How
grateful we are to have had him close to us.
We were repaid a thousand times over by the
influence he had on our children. That was a great experience for our
children, one I learned as a boy when Grandpa Packer died in our home.
Value the old folks for what they are, not
just what they can do.
Have you ever wondered why the Lord organized the
First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles so that the senior
leadership of the Church will always be older men? This pattern of
seniority values wisdom and experience over youth and physical vigor.
The average age of the Presidency and the Twelve at
the present time is 77 years old. We are not very nimble. We may be past
our prime. Nevertheless, the Lord ordered it to be this way.
A conference or two ago, Joseph Wirthlin said he was
going to challenge the members of the Twelve to a race. I thought once,
"Well, I'll accept the challenge." Then I thought it would be
safer to race against 96-year-old Brother David Haight. I thought that over
and decided that David might trip me with his cane, and I would lose the
race. So I gave it up!
When the Presidency and the Twelve meet together, we
combine 1,161 years of life with an astonishing variety of experiences. And
we have 430 years, cumulatively, as General Authorities of the Church.
Almost anything we talk about, one or more of us has been there, done
that—including military action!
We live now in troubled times. In the lifetime of
our youth, the troubles will never be less and will certainly be more. Old
folks offer a sure knowledge that things can be endured.
Our children have married and left home to seek
One family drove away with an old car and their
little children. My wife was in tears. I consoled her, saying, "The
Church is where they are going. There will be a grandma there to answer her
questions about cooking or nursing and a grandpa to teach him practical
An adopted grandma can be found in Relief Society.
And a grandpa will be found in the quorums of the priesthood. But all of
the grandpas and grandmas are not in the Church.
One son bought a small home in a distant state. He
showed me bricks on a corner of the foundation that were eroding away. He
asked what should he do.
I did not know, but I asked, "Is there an older
couple that lives close to you?"
"Yes," he said, "across the street
and down a few houses is a retired couple."
"Why don't you ask him to come over and look at
that. He knows your climate."
That was done, and he got the advice of an older man
who had seen problems like that and many others. That is what adopted
grandpas can do.
"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy
days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exodus 20:12).
The Apostle Paul taught that "aged women"
must teach young women and "aged men" must exhort young men,
"shewing thyself a pattern of good works" (see Titus
We are old now, and in due time, we will be summoned
beyond the veil. We do not resist that. We try to teach the practical
things we have learned over the years to those who are younger—to our
family and to others.
We cannot do what we once did, but we have
become more than ever we were before. Life's lessons, some of them very
painful, qualify us to counsel, to correct, and even to warn our youth.
In your golden years there is so much to do
and so much to be. Do not withdraw into a retirement from life, into
amusement. That, for some, would be useless, even selfish. You may have
served a mission and been released and consider yourself as having
completed your service in the Church, but you are never released from being
active in the gospel. "If," the Lord said, "ye have
desires to serve God ye are called to the work" (D&C 4:3).
You may at last, when old and feeble, learn that the
greatest mission of all is to strengthen your own family and the families
of others, to seal the generations.
Now, I am teaching a true principle. I am teaching
doctrine. It is written that "the principle [agrees] precisely with
the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation" (D&C 128:7).
In the hymn "How Firm a Foundation," which
was published in 1835 in the first Latter-day Saint hymnbook, we find these
E'en down to old age, all
my people shall prove
My sov'reign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples
adorn, . . .
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.
(Hymns, no. 85, v. 6)
Keep the fire of your testimony of the restored
gospel and your witness of our Redeemer burning so brightly that our
children can warm their hands by the fire of your faith. That is what
grandfathers and grandmothers are to do! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.