"My mother, bless her, was a marvelous seamstress. In my childhood years, when money was short and new clothing hard to come by, she would sometimes make clothing for us to wear to school. I would see a shirt in a store window or in a mail-order catalog, and my mother would say, 'I think I can make that.' By looking at the shirt as closely as she could, she would then cut cloth and put in seams to a degree that was close to the expensive original.
"I pay her tribute of being both willing and able to do that. But she didn't like to do it that way. While she could study the commercial products and come close, what she really wanted was a pattern. A pattern helped her anticipate angles and corners and seams and stitches that were otherwise hard to recognize. Furthermore, if she went back for a second or third shirt, she was always working from a perfect original pattern, not repeating or multiplying the imperfections of a replica.
"I think you can see my point and hers. We are bound to be in trouble if a shirt is made from a shirt that was made from a shirt. A mistake or two in the first product- inevitable without a pattern- gets repeated and exaggerated, intensified, more awkward, the more repetitions we make, until finally this thing I'm to wear to school just doesn't fit. ...
"Now, I hope this helps you understand why we talk about the pattern, the ideal, of marriage and family when we know full well that not everyone now lives in that ideal circumstance. It is precisely because many don't have or perhaps have never even seen, that ideal and because some cultural forces steadily move us away from that ideal, that we speak about what our Father in Heaven wishes for us in His eternal plan for His children.
"Individual adaptations have to be made as martial status and family circumstances differ. But all of us can agree on the pattern as it comes from God, and we can strive for its realization the best way we can.
"We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord's guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and, in our case, repeated. We take great strength in knowing the Lord has spoken on these matters, and we accept His counsel even when it might not be popular."
-Elder Jeffrey R. Holland ("General Patterns and Specific Lives", Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, February 9, 2008)