Yearning for Home: The Divine Longing for Oneness in Christ
Jenet Jacob Erickson is an associate professor in Church History and Doctrine in Religious Education at Brigham Young University, where she teaches the Eternal Family (Rel 200) course. The 5th of 11 children, she was raised on a small farm in Orem, Utah, where they did a lot of music together. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Linguistics at BYU she completed a PhD in Family Social Science from the University of Minnesota. Her research has focused on maternal and child wellbeing in the context of work and family life, as well as the distinct contributions of mothers and fathers in children's development. She is a research fellow of both the Wheatley Institution and the Institute for Family Studies and a columnist on family issues for the Deseret News. She and her husband, Michael, have been blessed with two children, LaDawn (age 11) and Peter (age 9), who provide them unending opportunities for learning and joy.
Yearning for Home:
The Divine Longing for Oneness in Christ
Dear Students, I am so grateful to be here. The music was so beautiful. I appreciate that arrangement so much. It touched me deeply to hear that song about our eternal family of which we are all a part. I’m so grateful to be with you, gathered from all across the world and all across Utah. Thank you for your prayer, Matlock, that was so beautiful and to hear the testimony from Desmond, thank you. I have had deep feelings for Ensign College for a long time. I taught English as a second language at BYU for years and often I would have students leave that program and come to Ensign College and they would tell me about the unique and supportive environment they experienced, the personal mentoring by outstanding professors, and the care shown by the missionaries and other leaders. They felt so blessed to come here. I feel similarly blessed today.
I’m going to talk about something difficult right here at the beginning. You may be aware that there is a growing concern that young adults today are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness.  A national survey report by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found recently that a startling 61% of young people aged 18-25 reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time” in the prior four weeks.  The internet, cell phones, and social media that I didn’t have in college, have supposedly made us more connected than ever, yet there is an increased sense of isolation, disconnection, and loneliness. Loneliness, as you know, carries significant health risks and can be “brutally compounded” by feelings of depression and anxiety.  But perhaps even more damaging, loneliness leads to distrust. And “the fruit of distrust is division.”
Much has been said about this time that we live in of political polarization and division. Loneliness is surely at the core. “Loneliness radically cuts people off from human connection” changing the way we think, changing our relationship with others and changing the way we relate to ourselves.  Philosopher Hannah Arendt “defined loneliness as a kind of wilderness where a person feels deserted by all human companionship, even when surrounded by others.”  That leads to distrust in others and even more, it leads to “a basic distrust of one’s self” with feelings of shame, worthlessness and failure. 
Though it seems that social media is clearly linked to increased loneliness, maybe it was the epidemic of loneliness that fed social media’s success. Rampant individualism, this focus on one’s self, apart from others, workism, diminished community engagement and less religiosity all seem to have increased our loneliness. But the deepest loneliness, that we as social scientist can measure, seems to stem from disruption and disorder in family life. 
British historian Fay Alberti defined loneliness as “a conscious, cognitive feeling of separation from meaningful others.”  Hence, “If we follow the path of any pain, any psychological wounding, it will lead us to this one primal pain: the pain of separation.”  That is why Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, who declared an epidemic of loneliness in the United States in 2017 and 18, described loneliness as “feeling homeless.” To belong is to feel at home. It’s what Ensign College works so hard to create for you. “To be at home is to be known.” 
We are born to be in deep connection with others, we are born to be at Home. It is as fundamental to our wellbeing as the need for food and water.  As German analyst Frieda Fromm-Reichman wrote, “The longing for interpersonal intimacy stays with every human being from infancy through life, and there is no human being who is not threatened by its loss.”  We know, in fact, that the time an infant leaves the womb, they have one task that they must accomplish first. They have to establish a relationship with a primary care giver that they experience is consistently available to them. So, from the time they leave the womb, they are searching, looking, seeking, especially primed to seek for that mother, who’s smell they know, who’s face they know, who’s heartbeat they have heard. We are born to connect.
For centuries, poets and musicians and religious mystics have recognized the persistent reality of a sense of longing in each of us. It fills the music we are drawn to. I loved hearing Tanner’s organ playing today and just thinking about how much of our preferred music that we listen to alone is in the minor key. It’s not “happy” major music, it’s minor key and it’s illustrative of this human longing we have. It fills the music we are drawn to and is the fountainhead of creation in all of the arts.  What is it we are longing for? What is this human longing?
Brothers and sisters, we are longing for Home. For our eternal Home. In the Great Sufi, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee’s words, “There are many people who feel the unhappiness of a homesick soul and yet do not know its cause…The longing of the heart is the memory of when we were together with our Beloved. The pain of separation is our awakening to the knowledge that somewhere we are, [we were], united with God. The heart longs for God, and seeks to find its true Beloved.” 
In answer to these deepest longings of every human soul we have been given the truths laid out in the Proclamation on the Family. We learn first through the Proclamation that the entire Plan of Salvation is the sacred work of relationships, of creating and experiencing Home, and divine oneness in relationships forever. The sacred work of Christ is to enable each of us to experience divine oneness in our relationship with God, with our families, with all, forever.
Remember what the Savior said just before His profound sacrifice on our behalf in the garden of Gethsemane. His prayer-
21 That they all may be
; as thou,
, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be aone , even as we are bone :
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made aperfect in one. (John 17)
Whole, that word “perfect”, not meaning without flaws, meaning whole, complete, together.
The Proclamation begins with a statement that pierces through our loneliness, assuring every one of us of complete belonging in a perfect family of heavenly parents who are Divine Love itself. They are love and I get to tell my children, “I am not a perfect parent, but you have perfect parents, you belong to a perfect eternal family. “All human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Each of you is their beloved. The divine nature of our heavenly parents is carried in the composition of your spiritual bodies. Through them you have been transmitted the capabilities, powers and faculties they possess.  Their bond of divine love for you is at the core of your being. In the depths of your soul, you are loved by them. This love is the most powerful transformative force in the universe and the driving reason for the Plan of Salvation. They yearn for the fullest form of communion and oneness with you and with me, their beloved children, a oneness that is ever more possible as we become like them. It is that Oneness in relationships that defines Heaven. Heaven is not so much a place as a quality of oneness with others. That is the essence of eternal joy and it is that which every one of us long for.
The purpose of the Proclamation is to guide us in knowing the divine patterns and truths that define eternity, eternal joy, and eternal love. We learn from the Proclamation that eternity is composed of a holy ordering through complementary - male and female - in whose union we see the image of the eternal God. As Elder Erastus Snow explained, “There can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female.”  That is our eternal destiny, to be united as one.
In mortality, we witness that life cannot be created except through the coming together of woman and man, to form a whole. In the words of Elder Richard G. Scott: “A husband and wife are not two identical halves, but a wondrous, divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics. Marriage allows these different characteristics to come together in oneness–in unity– to bless a husband and wife, their children and grandchildren… Their efforts interlock and are complementary.” 
Let me give you a little window into what social science research reveals about this holy ordering. Though we should not expect mortal experiences to describe eternal verities, they can provide insight into the ways in which men and women “contribute differently, but equally” through a “combination of complementary capacities and characteristics”  to the sacred purposes of marriage and family life.
Consider how both mothers and fathers  experience a flood of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, in the process of caring for their new infant. But for mothers, oxytocin elicits bonding behaviors like cooing and cuddling. For fathers, the same hormone tends to elicit behaviors like tickling and tossing. I couldn’t believe how my husband started playing with our baby when we had just brought her home from the hospital! What are you doing?! All I wanted to do was just hold her! Both of those are very critical for their development. These differences foreshadow more extensive complementary patterns exhibited across children’s development.
Mothers are primed to establish a bond with their infant through which the emotional communication that is essential for development can occur. Her infant is also primed to bond with her, already knowing her smell, her voice, her face. Face-to-face, body-to-body, sound-to-sound, right brain-to-right brain, they communicate through that bond. In the process, the mother regulates the emotions of the infant—who has little capacity to regulate them—as an estimated one million new synapses are formed each second . And there begins the most profoundly influential relationship of a child’s life, a relationship that will be the strongest and most consistent predictor of development in every domain.
But what of fathers? Neuropsychological development indicates that mother and father are not equal systems; they both form a unique bond with the baby that is important to development. As mothers lay the core foundation for identity, sense of well-being, and emotional understanding, fathers lay a core foundation for relational capacity, mental processing, and achievement.
You have all seen this. Mothers tend to hold an infant close to her body, while fathers tend to hold babies like a football, looking outward at the world seeing what the father sees. That holding is indicative of the role fathers play in shaping how children relate to the outside world. His closeness during a child’s adolescence is a predictor of how they experience relationships in adulthood. Lack of father involvement has repeatedly been associated with delinquent and criminal behaviors.
Fathers tend to discipline less frequently than mothers, but when they do, they tend to hold to the consequence while mothers tend to be more flexible and reasoning. Fathers tend to play differently with children, roughhousing with them in ways that build confidence in handling their emotions and relating to their peers. Fathers tend to push children to demonstrate skill and ability while mothers tend to intervene to help. Fathers tend to foster independence, telling children, “You can do it. You can climb higher, you can take that risk and I’ll be here to catch you from the secure place of a father’s protection and guidance.” Fathers’ connection to children significantly predicts, in fact it’s the most important predictor of college graduation and academic achievement. His presence and closeness also play a powerful role in his daughters’ decisions about when to engage sexually and with whom, by giving her a deep experience of what male love feels like when it is truly protective. For his sons, a father’s presence and closeness provide a personal experience with masculinity that is pro-social, pro-woman, and pro-child, not driven by aggression, physical strength, and sexual proclivities.
I have marveled at this research at the remarkable complementary between mothers and fathers  . Both a man and a woman are needed to create life and both are needed to facilitate the nurturing of that life. These distinct contributions confirm a long-assumed proposition, one laid out in the Proclamation: namely, that the direct, continual, loving involvement of both a mother and a father in the home is ideal for the child’s development.
Which leads us to another core truth described in the Proclamation – the importance of marriage. We are told that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family, based in marriage, is central to the Creator’s plan for our eternal destiny. We are told that children are entitled to birth within the bonds of marriage and to be reared by a father and mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. It is a child’s right to have that.
Let me give you a little window into what our human experience as captured in social science research reveals about this. In 1960, in the US, the out-of-wedlock childbearing rate was 5%. By 2014, that percentage had increased to 41% where it has hovered since. Nearly half are born to unmarried parents. For decades, researchers have explored what being born outside the bonds of marriage has meant in the lives of children. Hundreds of studies comparing outcomes for children born to single parents vs. married parents indicate increased risks for these children in every developmental area – poverty, involvement in crime, failing in school, lower graduation rates, physical health, psychological distress, mental illness, suicide, exposure to aggravated parenting, and abuse. Even when we control for socioeconomic differences, whether or not children are born into poverty, children born to a single mother are at twice the risk for challenges compared to children born to married biological parents.
During that same period from 1960, the percentage of cohabiting couples with children increased 17 times. Children in these families are, on average, also twice as likely to experience challenges in every developmental area.  Some of this risk is related to the fact that they are twice as likely than the children of married parents to see their cohabiting parents break up, and instability in family relationships is very disruptive for children’s development. These risks are exacerbated by the fact that being born to unmarried or cohabiting parents is also associated with dramatically increased risk of poverty, and staying in poverty.
Children who experience the divorce of their parents are also at increased risk.  Sometimes divorce provides a better environment to grow up in. But when we look at the broad population, children whose parents divorce are at least two times more likely to experience serious social, emotional, or psychological challenges. Scientists have tried hard to figure out why this might be. In addition to the economic challenges that often result because of a split income in that family, children who experience the divorce of their parents are more likely to describe a feeling of “inner division,” a sense of loneliness, of exile, as they try to bridge the gap between their parents’ separate worlds.  Because children embody the union of their parents, in their very physical body, it can lead them to ask, “Was I meant to be, if the parents who came together and brought me into being were not meant to be?” 
We have all seen that many children raised by single and cohabiting and divorced parents can thrive, but there is no question that marriage matters profoundly to children. It is the structure through which a child is most likely to receive the essential gifts of two committed parents, a stable home life, more economic resources, and the experience of being wanted and welcomed.
This reality helps us understand another core truth in the Proclamation – that the sacred powers of procreation, the power of sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage. As Elder Holland explained, “the sexual union of man and woman is – or certainly was ordained to be --a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything.”  The vulnerable hearts of children depend on that union.
Each of us came into being from sexual union, and it touches a very deep core in ourselves. That is partly why the expression of that power can be a deeply connecting experience, or it can be deeply destructive. Being harmed sexually is the most disruptive form of interpersonal abuse. And we see the devastating effects of its misuse all around us. The breaking apart of sexual relations from marriage and from children is the root of the dramatic increase in non-marital childbearing with all of the challenges children born into that structure face – including abortion, poverty, and risk.
We see the disruptive effects psychologically for men and women of bonding sexually outside of marriage then parting- bonding and breaking, bonding and breaking, and the profound fragility that results from that. We witness the pain resulting from a disconnected, empty approach to sexual intimacy  in which others become objects to use in a never-ending quest for personal sexual satisfaction. We see what it has done to the sexualization of women, and the languishing of men.
I have given you just a brief glimpse into the large body of social science research elucidating why the family, grounded in marriage where the procreative powers are protected between a man and a woman, is described as the fundamental unit of society. There is no institution that has a more profound impact on children’s well-being, men’s well-being, women’s well-being, economic well-being, and societal well-being. Prophets of God continually invite us to see the importance and truth of the principles included in the Proclamation. These principles teach us who we are, and who we belong to. These principles are given to help us know how to experience the deepest forms of intimacy and connection and joy. They also help us understand why every single one of us experience some pain in family life.
Mortality is filled with experience in brokenness from the ideal perfected form of family we all desire. To some degree, all of our relationships will be fraught with some challenge, stretching and pain. All of us will fall outside the ideal patterns outlined in the Family Proclamation and our deepest pains will stem from disruption and disorder in the family relationships we yearn to be a haven of love and belonging, trust and intimacy.
And that is where the Divine Plan for our Learning and Growth and Redemption becomes most profound. The divine longing within each of us teaches us the way. We long for oneness, but as C.S. Lewis so powerfully wrote,  it is an inconsolable longing that cannot be satisfied in the ways of this world, because we belong to another godly one. Only God can make us whole. Only God can heal and bring oneness. And that is exactly what He has covenanted to do.
Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is the Being who brings At-one-ment to our souls and to all of our relationships. He is the great healer, the repairer of the breach, the Restorer. He calls each of us His Chosen, His Beloved and invites us to enter into a covenant relationship with Him. Through ordinance administered covenant, beginning at baptism, culminating in the sealing ordinance, His sanctifying power is allowed to enter us and change us into beings that are capable of being closer to Him, of being closer to others, more capacity for that closeness. 
As Elder Christofferson explained in this last General Conference, through our repentance and obedience, through our sacrifices to grow closer to Him, (and that’s what the word sacrifice means- in Hebrew it means “to draw closer”. Whenever you make a sacrifice in the day to draw closer to God you are experiencing more of His power in your life.) Elder Christofferson continues, we collaborate with the Lord in the transformation through which we become the kind of people, in the kinds of relationships, that define Heaven. 
His whole work, every commandment given, every covenant is to develop in each of us the capacity for trustworthiness in relationship with others. That is the ultimate purpose of righteousness – to build in us the capacity for the oneness and intimate connection with Him, in family relationships, and with all of God’s family. The oneness we long for is the fruit of loving Him with our whole souls – and loving our fellowmen with ever increasing purity of heart.
I was single for many years, my husband and I both were. For many years, I yearned for marriage and children. I desired and believed that a fundamental purpose of my life was to achieve the ideals of family life set forth in the Proclamation. Yet despite my most sincere efforts, I could not seem to make them happen. That struggle was painful. At the time, I could not see the miraculous work the Lord was bringing about in my heart through that struggle. My unfulfilled yearnings played a sacred role in inclining my heart toward my Redeemer, seeking peace and direction He alone could provide, deepening my trust in His perfect love and enabling power. Covenant belonging to my Redeemer led me to seek and experience His heart of submission, meekness, humility, patience, and love. In the process, thought it seemed that none of my dreams were being met, I was being changed and as I was changed, all of my relationships were blessed by the peace, joy, and love I experienced in my deepened relationship with Him.
Miraculously, I did finally marry the love of my life. But I found that my need for His covenant relationship with me, the Lord’s, only deepened. The painful yearnings of infertility invited me again to seek His face for peace and assurance. I struggled to know how I could ever have the joy I hoped for in family life without more children. When we were blessed with two children, I then felt keenly my inadequacies and weaknesses as a mother, knowing that at times I failed them in ways that I feared would inhibit their growth. I wondered sometimes if the other children we had yearned for had run when they witnessed my struggles as a mother. In my fear and shame, I came to a new and deeper understanding of what His covenant relationship means.
My brokenness, my weakness, my need for growth is inherent to this glorious story of redemption. The Sacrament teaches us this most beautiful truth. The miracle of union, of communion with the Lord comes through brokenness – His broken heart, His broken body, given for my broken heart and my broken dreams and broken ways. In the broken bread and poured out water, I receive Him, taking all He offers in His magnificent goodness and unspeakable love right down deep into my own body where I am re-membered. The words in the sacrament prayer, remember, remember, over and over again and what they mean – it means the parts are brought back together, re-membered, brought back together, healed and changed forever because each of us have been redeemed by His love. And I will take the sacrament next week, and again next week, and again the next, growing ever more able of experiencing greater closeness with Him and purity of love with Him, with my husband, with my children, with my siblings, with my Relief Society sisters and with all in my circle.
When I continue to struggle week after week, I might doubt His capacity to do it, but there is nothing He cannot do and will not do in this great story of redeeming me, redeeming my relationships, and making eternal oneness possible with Him and with all. Don’t you love studying the Old Testament? The account of our ancestors in the Old Testament keeps telling us: I will part the Sea; I will rain manna from the sky and be your daily bread; I will break open solid rock and pour out water; I will be your shade from blistering heat in the day; I will be your warmth by night, and surely, I will do it, for I am the Lord.
In response to all of our longings, whatever they are, He says, “I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  “I the Lord am with thee withersoever thou goest.”  “But with everlasting kindness will I gather thee.  And with healing will I take thee beneath my wings. Tho’ the mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed, know thou my child, my kindness shall not depart from thee.”  It is in the fullness of that covenant love, His offering of Himself to us every single day, that we become beings capable of the oneness that we so desire. I bear testimony of Him. I know His yearning is to heal every single one of us. His yearning is to enable us out of the path of loneliness and into belonging, full and complete belonging in relationships, eternally, forever. There is a reason our souls long for that oneness because it is exactly what His redeeming power offers us. I love Him. It is such a gift to be with you, who radiate His redeeming power in your lives. That is why you are here. You have felt the touch of His hand and the goodness of His love and His infinite capacity to re-story your life, to restore and re-story your life. It’s what He offers to each of us and I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Daniel Cox, “Growing up Lonely: Generation Z,” Institute for Family Studies, April 6, 2022.
2. Harvard School of Education, “Loneliness in American: How the Pandemic has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do about It,” Making Caring Common Project, February, 2021.
3. Harvard School of Education, “Loneliness in American: How the Pandemic has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do about It,” Making Caring Common Project, February, 2021.
4. Amber Lapp, “The Long Arm of Loneliness,” Institute for Family Studies, January 20, 2021.
5. Samantha Rose Hill, “Where Loneliness Can Lead,” AEON, October 16, 2020.
6. Samantha Rose Hill, “Where Loneliness Can Lead,” AEON, October 16, 2020.
7. Amber Lapp, “The Long Arm of Loneliness,” Institute for Family Studies, January 20, 2021.
8. Amber Lapp, “The Long Arm of Loneliness,” Institute for Family Studies, January 20, 2021.
9. Jill Lepore, “The History of Loneliness,” The New Yorker Magazine, April 6, 2020.
10. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, “Love and Longing: The Feminine Mysteries of Love,” The Golden Sufi Center, July, 1999.
11. Vivek H. Murthy, Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. [Harper Collins, 2020].
12. Gareth Cook, “Why We Are Wired to Connect,” Scientific American, October 22, 2013
13. Jill Lepore, “The History of Loneliness,” The New Yorker Magazine, April 6, 2020.
14. Susan Cain, Bittersweet, [Crown Publishing, 2022].
15. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, “Love and Longing: The Feminine Mysteries of Love,” The Golden Sufi Center, July, 1999.
16. Lorenzo Snow, in Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow: One of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 335
17. Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses, 19:272, March 3, 1878
18. Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, November 1996.
19. David A. Bednar, “Marriage is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Ensign, June 2006.
20. Jenet J. Erickson, “Why Moms and Dads Both Matter in Marriage,” Public Discourse, May 2015.
21. Jenet J. Erickson, “Why Moms and Dads Both Matter in Marriage,” Public Discourse, May 2015
22. Alysse ElHage, “For Kids, Parental Cohabitation and Marriage are not Interchangeable,” Institute for Family Studies, May 7, 2015.
23. W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Kids Are Not Really Alright,” Slate Magazine, July 20, 2012.
24. Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce [Crown Publishing Group, 2005].
25. Antonio Lopez, Torn Asunder, [Eerdmens Publishing Company, 2017].
26. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” BYU Devotional Broadcast, January 12, 1988.
27. Christine Emba, “A Manifesto Against Sex Positivity” The Washington Post, March 21, 2022
28. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [Macmillan Publisher, 1952]
29. Kerry Muhlestein, God Will Prevail [Covenant Communications, 2021].
30. D. Todd Christofferson, “Our Relationship with God,” General Conference, April 2022.
31. Deuteronomy 31:8
32. Joshua 1:9
33. Isaiah 54:7
34. Isaiah 54:10