6 O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.
7 But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers.
(3 Nephi 9:6-7)
What does it mean for our homes to become desolate?
After the destruction which coincided with the death of the Savior, a group of people on the American continent heard the Savior’s voice. He expressed sorrow for the catastrophe which they had experienced. He then invited them to repent and turn their hearts to Him, so that they could be healed. In the passage above, He repeats a sentiment which He expressed only days earlier in Jerusalem: He is willing to gather them “as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” But if they are unwilling to be gathered, “the places of [their] dwellings shall become desolate.” (See Matthew 23:37-38.) This warning echoes a number of Old Testament passages, including Psalm 69:25 and Jeremiah 22:5.
The word “desolate” comes from two Latin roots: de, meaning “completely,” and solus, meaning “alone” (Online Etymology Dictionary). For this group of survivors, the term needed no explanation: Their homes had been destroyed and many of their relatives died in the fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions which they had just experienced.
But I wonder if this warning from the Savior might have a broader and a deeper meaning which extends to our homes. Can a home become “desolate,” even if it is still standing, and people are living in it?
“The Family: a Proclamation to the World” declares, “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Those teachings include forgiveness, repentance, respect, and compassion. Could our homes be “desolate” when those characteristics are missing? Could family members feel “completely alone” under those circumstances, even though they are surrounded by other people?
This past Sunday evening, at the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional, President Nelson urged us to think about what we really want during this Christmas season. He asked us to consider whether we are willing to receive the gifts the Savior is offering to us. Among the gifts President Nelson listed are the gift to love as the Savior loves and the gift to forgive.
Today, I will open my heart to the gifts the Savior is offering me. I will remember that those gifts will help me to establish a secure and happy home, a place where family members are safe, supported, and loved—a place where they don’t feel “completely alone.”