Afflictions are the process by which God cultivates growth. Rather than dread our difficulties, we can learn to welcome them. We can learn to see them as blessings from Heaven.
Since marriage is God’s finishing school, we should expect more afflictions or challenges in marriage than in any other arena of life. I think of challenges among couples we know:
Regardless of who we marry, there will inevitably be irritations. Mary Roach wrote humorously about a difference she and her husband experienced:
The Essential Tension
In every relationship there is an inevitable tension. It is often worse in marriage than other relationships in part because we share so much – money, time, food, space – even our own bodies. Marriage is not only intense but also can last for decades. As we are challenged to form our own little Zion, the natural man resists.
Our untamed, uncivilized, unconquered, unchanged natures are ill-suited for Zion. So we have limited choices. We can put our natures on the altar for God to change or we choose to chafe and struggle in unsatisfying relationships. Or we can depart Zion disenchanted. Those are our options. We will remain forever enemies to God and marriage —
This choice and change is not a once-and-for-all decision. Most of us are quite determined to love perfectly when we make covenants to each other. But we must have a change of heart if the resolve is to last. Even if we have had a mighty change of heart – even if at some time in our lives God has filled our souls – every day we decide anew whether to live by the guidelines of the mind of Christ or the imperatives of the natural man. Every day, every hour we decide whether we will continue to sing the song of redeeming love – or groan the whimper of discontent.
With practice, the choice to sing the song of redeeming love will become easier and more automatic. Yet every day we must choose.
Learning from this Earth’s First Couple
Adam and Eve are the models or archetypes for our life experience. Where they have led, we follow. What they have done, we are expected to do. So we study their lives for direction.
Adam and Eve had every reason to be gloomy about life in this world. They had lived in serene and peaceful abundance. Then they were evicted and sent to the slums. Eve’s sorrow was multiplied and the ground was cursed for Adam.
Was this a tragedy? No. It was a brave step toward eternal accomplishment. Note the encouraging truth nested in the words of the curse:
The curse was and is a blessing. Through our labors and struggles, we will learn to know good from evil. We will suffer the bitter taste of evil. We will learn to enjoy the sweet fruits of goodness. We can learn to choose and cherish the good.
Following Their Example
Imagine the terrible loneliness and emptiness that assaulted Adam and Eve as they left their garden home for an unknown and hostile world where thorn, thistle, and briar tormented them.
We have all felt as Adam and Eve felt. At times we miss our idyllic Home terribly. We long to be there. But we are shut out. The yearning creates a continuing pang of loneliness.
Even in their loneliness, Adam and Eve were an example to us.
The Only and Sure Remedy
The only remedy for our bracing loneliness is to call upon God. When we feel hopeless, lost, and desperate, we should call upon Father. In return we, like Adam and Eve, will be shown the path for our journey Home.
Adam and Eve were to offer God their very best, the “firstlings of their flocks.” I wonder what the firstlings of our flocks are. Is it our cherished free time that we must put on the altar? Is it our love for sports, games, reading, shopping, clothes, or money that must be sacrificed?
Paying Heaven’s Price
Most of us want the prize without paying the price.
We want to have a close, loving marriage, but we’re not willing to give up our pet affections. But God has required us to make sacrifices if we are to enjoy that which is most valuable.
We will not steal the fire of love from Heaven. We must buy it with soul-stretching payments.
Daily Installments on Heavenly Goods
In the continuing story of Adam and Eve, God has given us further directions for our growth in marriage.
It is clear that Adam and Eve were obedient. Even as they daily faced privation and desperation, they continued to worship God and make sacrifices. They continued to trust God’s counsel. Faith is fundamental.
Faith is the stubborn resolve to see God blessing us in all circumstances. Even in our struggles and disappointments, we believe God is ministering to us.
Being Led Along the Path
In return for their obedience, their trust in God, Adam and Eve were taught from on High.
Wow! So much truth in one verse! When we make sacrifices, we are following the example of the Savior, who sacrificed everything in order to rescue us. The making of holy sacrifices is full of grace and truth. The willingness to put our preferences on the altar in obedience to God and service of our partner is a sacrifice filled with grace and truth – goodness and eternal vision. Our sacrifices are the key to our growth and eternal possibilities.
So it turns out that our sacrifices are not sacrifices. They are purchases. We “sacrifice” our puny preferences and God rewards us with eternal joy. What a bargain! In Heaven’s economy, so much is gotten for so little!
We often go into marriage under a false premise. During the courtship it seems that we have never had such an effortless way to have fun. Happiness comes so easily. We laugh, giggle, and share from the bottom of our hearts. The satisfactions flow freely.
Yet the full experience of marriage will demand regular payments across time. What seems so easy at times will later feel impossible. We may feel cheated when we discover that this bargain requires so much of us. Character and companionship do not come without consistent investment. Yet, if we continue to make payments on our relationship, we will be amazed what we get for our “sacrifices.”
God knows that “what we obtain too easily we esteem too lightly” (as expressed by Edmund Burke). In His own words, “all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:5). To become heavenly, we must endure earthly challenges – including the unexpected ones in marriage.
When Jesus visited America, He told that people that he no longer accepted their sacrifices and burnt offerings. He wanted a new kind of sacrifice.
I feel sure that Jesus is not asking that we be depressed and miserable. I think He is asking that we surrender our demands that things be done our way. In place of demandingness we become agreeable, submissive, cooperative, and appreciative. This is the natural result of allowing Jesus to transform the natural man to the man of Christ.
This change may be most evident in our expectations. Often we hold our partner to some set of mythical standards (which are both unreasonable and unexpressed!). Inevitably she or he falls short. We feel discontent. We judge our companion as flawed and inferior. Over time this subtle discontent grows into the cancerous assurance that our partner is fatally flawed. With time we convince ourselves that the marriage was a mistake.
The cure for cancerous expectations is humble submission – a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This mindset helps us to be better appreciators and more willing learners. If we listen carefully and learn humbly about our partners’ points of view, we will be enlarged and enriched.
Brigham Young challenged us to think differently about the sacrifices that Heaven demands.
In striking the marriage bargain, we are (unknowingly) giving up the egocentrisms of childhood in favor of the charity of Godhood. Then, along with ennobled character, we win eternal companionship.
Buying a Heavenly Home
Heaven draws us toward godliness. Our sacrifices are the paltry down payments on our Heavenly Homes. Making such payments requires faith in the Lord Jesus Christ since the rewards are beyond our view. Faith is precisely what God wants us to cultivate.
We do ALL that we do in the name of the beloved Son.
We do it in the spirit of redemptiveness. We do it in imitation of His sacrifice. We show our willingness to rescue our spouse by giving up our tiny preferences in favor of our spouse’s blessing. Such a sacrifice, when graciously made, is full of grace and truth!
Each of us should pray earnestly for the heavenly help to make those sacrifices that will sanctify our relationships. As we enter our homes, we can pause to beseech God to grant us grace, goodness, mercy, compassion, and patience. We can ask Father to help us see our partner and his or her struggles with the loving-kindness with which He views them. In so doing, we place our time, our minds and our hearts on the altar. That is the ultimate offering, the required sacrifice. Making this sacrifice is the heart and soul of the required obedience.
The Deed to Our Heavenly Home
In return for Adam and Eve’s faith-filled sacrifice, they were rewarded with the Holy Ghost. Such spiritual outpourings must surely be God’s way of saying, “I am preparing a place for you. You cannot now imagine the glory. But I assure you, it is grand!”
Notice the beautiful reassurance: We may be redeemed! So can EVERY person who is willing to pay the price. We pay our pennies and dimes. He provides mansions and glory. Wow! What a gracious Paymaster!
Adam and Eve clearly understood the magnificence of God’s grace. Notice the majesty of their inspired testimonies.
Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, recognizing the perfect wisdom that placed them in this troubled world and invited them to follow the map of obedience in order to win partnership in God’s heavenly enterprise.
In a great parenting side note, the following verse points out how Adam and Eve used their inspired knowledge.
As we know, some of Adam and Eve’s children chose to follow in the path of obedience and sacrifice. Some chose instead to be fugitives and vagabonds.
Obedience and Sacrifice in Marriage
So the human story began with obedience and sacrifice. Our marital story hinges on our willingness to apply the same principles.
Applying these principles to marriage requires inspiration. Obedience entails a willingness to keep the commandments – whether our partner does or not. Obedience means that we love God with all our hearts. Obedience also requires that we “love [our spouse] with all [our] heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).
When I think about applying the principle of sacrifice to marriage, I think of the allegory of a man who had two friends in the manufactured-home business. When he wanted a new house, he asked each friend to send him half a house. He gave no plans. He provided no specifications on size or style. He left them to design as they would. So each friend sent a lovely half-house. When the two halves arrived at the site, they were jarringly different. Rooms did not line up. Utilities did not match up. Roofs and walls between the two halves did not connect.
This is a pretty good symbol for marriage. Each of us is created in a different “factory” or family. Two people come together assuming that they will readily connect. But we soon find that our traditions, expectations, assumptions, and ways of life do not line up. The more time passes, the more clear the differences.
Unfortunately we apply value judgments to our differences: “Your family doesn’t care about punctuality.” “Well, your family doesn’t care about people.” Each of us is inclined to believe that the way we have chosen is the better way. And we are tempted to pull our half-house down the road until we can find a better match. But we never match up perfectly with another human being.
What a glorious opportunity for accommodation! God knew that marriage would provide us unending opportunities to negotiate everything from what’s okay to wear on the Sabbath to what spices are favored in meals. When our relationship is built upon a firm commitment, it can endure – even thrive – in all these negotiations.
Elder Hafen (2004) has observed that, “when troubles come, the parties to a contractual marriage seek happiness by walking away. They marry to obtain benefits and will stay only as long as they’re receiving what they bargained for. But when troubles come to a covenant marriage, the husband and wife work them through. They marry to give and to grow, bound by the covenants to each other, to the community, and to God” (p.1)
We covenant to bring all to the altar. The Lord cannot bless what we will not bring. He asks that we bring our whole souls to Him so that He can transform us. If we are willing to let Him be the carpenter, He can blend the two half-houses together. He will help us create new, better family traditions and learn to enjoy the spices that our partners’ enjoy. C. S. Lewis offers a fitting metaphor (drawn from George MacDonald):
If we trust the master architect and appreciate the style of the other half of our house, God will turn our jarring differences into lovely courtyards and magnificent towers.
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