Patriarchal blessings have been given in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since the time of Joseph Smith. In addition to declaring a person’s lineage, the blessings can also serve as a source of guidance and comfort. In this interview, historian Keith Erekson shares patriarchal blessing examples from history and offers perspectives on how to understand them.
Read the book by Latter-day Saint historian Keith Erekson, Making Sense of Your Patriarchal Blessing.
What is a patriarchal blessing?
A patriarchal blessing is a priesthood ordinance that is not required for salvation, but which can provide an extremely helpful gift of personalized direction, guidance, comfort, and protection. The words of the blessing are recorded by a scribe and archived by the Church.
The term patriarchal blessing is commonly used to refer to both the ordinance and the resulting text.
How is it different from receiving personal revelation?
Personal revelation is communication from God to a specific individual. The ordinance that bestows the blessing provides one form of personal revelation by generating a written text. Subsequently, the acts of reading, remembering, and pondering the promises in the text can serve as a catalyst for additional personal revelation through the Holy Spirit.
How is a patriarchal blessing like a doorway?
A patriarchal blessing is not meant to be the only communication you ever receive from God. The text itself is not intended to answer every question you will ever have. Rather, it is an invitation to ask God for more light and understanding.
The promises in a blessing point us to more revelation, discovered in scripture and through the communication of the Holy Spirit.
If you assume that your patriarchal blessing is the end of the conversation, then you may incorrectly expect it to provide answers to every problem you encounter. However, if you treat your blessing as the beginning of a lifelong conversation, as the doorway to further enlightenment, you will turn to it for guidance and direction that extends beyond the specific words on the page.
How can ambiguity in our patriarchal blessings be a good thing?
Blessings are divine expressions from a Heavenly Father whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts and who communicates through symbolism and promises with multiple fulfillments.
If we attempt to fix the meaning of the blessing narrowly onto a specific detail in our own understanding, then we close our minds and hearts to so much more that God can reveal to us.
Acknowledging ambiguity is an act of humility that prepares us to learn more.
What can we learn from Makenna Myler’s blessing?
Makenna Myler grew up as a Latter-day Saint with aspirations to run in the Olympics and influence others by her good example. Because running formed such a significant part of her life—thousands of hours and miles of training—she assumed her patriarchal blessing would mention it.
She knew other Latter-day Saint runners whose blessings did mention running, so she looked forward to receiving her own guidance about running and being a role model.
But the blessing did not include a word about running.
She kept running, and succeeded in high school and college, but wondered about the omission in her blessing for more than a decade. She married and, while nine months pregnant, she ran a mile in 5:25 and the video went viral!
She did receive the opportunity to run and be an example, but the path did not go through the Olympics.
She expressed her awe in God’s higher thoughts by saying:
He just connects the dots differently than you would.Makenna Myler
She also discovered how to think differently about her role in making things happen. “I learned that you get to take action into your own hands,” she noted. “He is not going to tell you, and that was a big switch for me.”
How is my patriarchal blessing like the Liahona?
Lehi’s compass was prepared by God in a manner that was both simple and “curious.” Sometimes it showed Lehi and his family which direction to travel. Other times the ball contained additional messages that appeared and changed from time to time.
It worked according to their faith and did not work when their faith and diligence waned.
President Thomas S. Monson invoked this important metaphor, saying, “Your patriarchal blessing is to you a personal Liahona to chart your course and guide your way.”
Like the Liahona, your patriarchal blessing came to you from heaven in a way that is both “curious” and miraculous. Your blessing points you toward God, but it is not a GPS device that identifies every turn or delay. Further, your blessing can provide new understanding as you exercise faith and diligence each day.
What is the benefit of paying attention to the concepts and symbols in our blessings?
We can gain more from our blessings if we understand that they are given in language that is conceptual and symbolic. One patriarch explained that when a patriarch “places his hands on your head to give you a blessing, Heavenly Father, through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gives the patriarch ideas, concepts, and sometimes even specific words for you. The patriarch then includes those concepts and ideas in your blessing.”
Elder John A. Widtsoe elaborated:
Different men express the same idea in different words. The Lord does not dictate blessings to them word for word.John A. Widtsoe
Therefore, the exact wording is less important than the ideas.
How did Gordon B. Hinckley receive more than one fulfillment to his patriarchal blessing?
An eleven-year-old Gordon received a patriarchal blessing that promised, “The nations of the earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear.”
Like other young men, he assumed this promise referred to future missionary service, so he was not surprised to be called to England. At the end of his missionary service, he traveled home through the European continent and the Eastern United States.
Arriving home in Salt Lake City, he reflected:
I had borne my testimony in London; I did so in Berlin and again in Paris and later in Washington, D.C. I said to myself that I had borne my testimony in these great capitals of the world and had fulfilled that part of my blessing.Gordon B. Hinckley
Of course, the Lord meant so much more by that promise! His later call to the Quorum of the Twelve, to the First Presidency, and as President of the Church meant that President Hinckley would spend decades traveling the world and bearing his testimony.
How was George A. Faust’s blessing fulfilled?
George A. Faust was told in his patriarchal blessing that he would be blessed with “many beautiful daughters.” He married Amy Finlinson, and they became the parents of five sons—but no daughters.
Many years later at a family reunion, one of their sons, President James E. Faust, observed his father’s granddaughters “ministering to the young children and the elderly, and the realization came to me that Father’s blessing had been literally fulfilled; he has, indeed, many beautiful daughters.”
Your patriarchal blessing may contain promises that extend to your children and grandchildren. This idea runs counter to the modern notion that we are radically separate individuals who live in our moment, and everything revolves around us.
In God’s eyes, we are part of a great family that stretches across time and space. Some of the promises in your blessing may be fulfilled by others. By the same measure, some of the promises given to your ancestors may be fulfilled through your experiences.
Are patriarchal blessings conditional?
All of the promises made by the Lord in scripture are conditioned upon our obedience to His teachings and commandments. President James E. Faust applied this principle to blessings:
By their very nature, all blessings are qualified and conditional, regardless of whether the blessing specifically spells out the qualification or not. Each blessing is absolutely qualified and given upon the condition of the faithfulness of the recipient.James E. Faust
Some of the promises may also depend on the agency and actions of others, such as promises that a person will get married, stay married, or have children.
If you look closely, you will see that your blessing identifies specific conditions that need to be met for your promises to be fulfilled. The conditions may be listed all together at the beginning or end of the blessing, or they may be scattered throughout the text. They may appear as general statements of guidance or direction. They can also appear as formal if-then statements. Some conditions may be actions that every child of God should do; others may be specific to your life and your character.
If you meet the general condition of faithfulness and the specific conditions outlined in your blessing, then the promises will be fulfilled in the Lord’s way.
How does straying from the church affect a patriarchal blessing?
Some examples from sacred history suggest a range of possibilities. Sometimes the blessings are reserved for a person who recommits. After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, Peter and the Apostles returned to their familiar habits of fishing. The Resurrected Lord appeared again to call them back to His ministry, and they appear to have picked up where they left off.
Other times the promises are modified. In the early days of the Restoration, the Saints settled in Independence, Missouri—a place the Lord had designated as Zion and promised to the Saints—in anticipation of the Second Coming.
Then they were driven from their homes “in consequence of their transgressions.” Those particular Saints never did return to their homesteads but were “chastened and tried.” For them, “the work of the gathering” continued later in “holy places,” in Nauvoo and elsewhere. Today different Saints reside in the same area, with a temple nearby. Any other fulfillments for this promise await a future day (Doctrine and Covenants 101:2, 4, 64).
If you have strayed and returned, then the questions of if or how your promises will be fulfilled become personal mysteries for God to reveal to you.
How intentional should we be in trying to fulfill blessings?
The promises and blessings are not predestined to occur. The fulfillment of the promises depends on your faithfulness and righteousness, and maybe even the faithfulness of others. President Dallin H. Oaks counseled:
Do not rely on planning every event of your life—even every important event. Stand ready to accept the Lord’s planning and the agency of others in matters that inevitably affect you.Dallin H. Oaks
The promises in your blessing are fulfilled “according to the faith and diligence and heed” given (1 Nephi 16:28).
What if I’m disappointed by what my blessing doesn’t say?
Because God wants to reveal more to us, we need not worry about the things we don’t know right now. In fact, not knowing seems to play an important part in the process of our spiritual growth.
When asked about making sacrifice, Adam responded, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6). And omissions are not necessarily significant. Your blessing does not purport to identify every stopping point on your journey.
Finally, if the Restoration of the gospel continues to be ongoing, then so too can our grappling with the meaning of a patriarchal blessing. The unfinished nature of both the blessing’s meaning and the longer-term process of enlightenment form the very marrow of what it means to live a life of faith.
To persist with Christ-centered faith, hope, and charity in the absence of easy resolution or consolation is what each of us is called to do.
What does Henry B. Eyring say about a patriarchal blessing being a comfort?
President Henry B. Eyring explained that “a patriarchal blessing is whatever the Lord wants it to be for you,” adding that we should “not expect it to be comforting” and “it’s not supposed to make you feel sweet.” Rather, “it’s supposed to make you know what it is God has in store for you.”
So, “if it’s a warning, take that. If it’s comfort, take that. If it’s direction, take that.” (“How Can I Get Comfort from My Patriarchal Blessing?” Face to Face with President Eyring and Elder Holland, Palmyra, NY, March 4, 2017.)
What if promises in my patriarchal blessing seem impossible?
In some cases, you may need to seek peace in the face of promises that seem impossibly beyond reach. You may have to hold on to the promises, even as others around you criticize you and encourage you to give up. You may have to accept some uncertainty, knowing it will only be temporary, though the timeline for its resolution remains unclear.
All promises are conditional, though some may appear to require intervention beyond your control, such as international agreements or significant changes in policies and practices.
One of the titles for Jesus Christ that appears in the New Testament refers to His ability to fulfill even the most impossible-seeming promises—He is a “high priest of good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11).
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About the interview participant
Keith A. Erekson is the director of historical research and outreach for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also directed the Church History Library for nearly a decade. Erekson is the author of several articles and books, including Making Sense of Your Patriarchal Blessing and Real Vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-Day Myths.
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- Was Zion’s Camp a Failure?
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- What Is the Law of Consecration?
Patriarchal blessings resources
- Making Sense of Your Patriarchal Blessing (Deseret Book)
- Patriarchal Blessings (Gospel Topics)
- James E. Faust: Patriarchal Blessings (BYU Speeches)
- Joseph Smith’s Patriarchal Blessing (Joseph Smith Papers)
- Frequently Asked Questions about Patriarchal Blessings (Church History)
- Request a Copy of Your Patriarchal Blessing Online (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)