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The following is Part 2 from Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage. To see Part 1, click here.
“And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man” (D&C 49:15).
The Lord is very clear in His attitude about marriage. Marriage is designed and endorsed by Him. Marriage is ordained of God. Ordained. To ordain means to authorize or order by virtue of superior authority. To ordain is stronger than approving of. It is closer to commanding. So marriage is ordained, endorsed, or commanded by God unto man.
But what is God’s purpose for marriage? Did God design marriage as a refuge—a safe haven—from a troubled world? Or did He design marriage as a laboratory where each of us could conduct daily experiments in gospel living? Or did he design marriage as a spiritual challenge course to humble us, stretch us, and refine us?
Yes, to all of the above. For most people, marriage is sometimes a refuge from the storm. At other times marriage is the storm where cold squalls and pitching decks test our balance and determination as we seek the promised shelter of marital harmony.
One thing is sure. God did not design marriage as a retirement village where we sunbathe, work the buffet, and play golf. When God ordained marriage, He had loftier and more demanding purposes in mind.
When we understand God’s purposes for marriage, we are more likely to feel blessed by it. And we are less likely to feel disappointed and persecuted by it.
The keys to surviving and enjoying marriage are found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where do we find the solutions for marriage’s stern challenges? What are the tools God would have us use? Since God’s objective is to help us develop godly character, He has provided a set of tools perfectly designed to help us master the challenges of marriage (and life in general): the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
We will only succeed at marriage as we use eternal gospel principles to become more of what God has invited us to become. Marriage is God’s graduate school or advanced training in Christian character. Those truly succeeding at marriage are those who are applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World declares the enduring truth that happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved if founded on the teachings of our Lord and Savior. We could go even a step farther. Perhaps enduring and soul-filling happiness in marriage is only found by actively using the principles of Jesus’ gospel.
Douglas Brinley has suggested that, “our entire [LDS] theology is geared to help us succeed as married companions.” President Packer has confirmed the formula: “If you seek for a cure that ignores faith and religious doctrine, you look for a cure where it never will be found.”
The key to a satisfying marriage is to be found in living the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other place to find the solution.
How does this work?
How can gospel truths help us solve the knotty and persistent problems of living and loving with another person? How do we translate faith, hope and charity into sweet and productive companionship?
Brother Brinley suggests that understanding doctrine softens our hearts and leads to Christ-like behavior, which culminates in happy marriages. Rather than learn a set of skills for dealing with difficulties, we seek a change of heart.
That is a tall order. I have worked for a lifetime to get a change of heart. There have been small successes and lots of failures.
What changes hearts? The following scripture gives the formula: “As many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them” (Helaman 15:7).
Perhaps we have badly underestimated the power of the doctrine of Christ to transform our lives and relationships.
A story with transforming power
Jesus spoke a parable that can change the way we think about all our relationships. This is a unique story, one of the greatest stories ever told by anyone anywhere. This amazing parable gives us a perfect metaphor for marriage and life: a journey. It was designed by the Perfect Teacher to enrich our understanding of His purposes. In the pages ahead consider the story and its interpretation. See if it holds precious surprises for you as it has for me.
The story was evoked from the Master by a devious and malicious question. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tempted him saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). A Jewish expert in the law set a trap for Jesus. He hoped to confound and disgrace Him.
As a side note, I must acknowledge that I have asked many questions of my dear wife with the same ungracious intent, such as: “Why in the world did you do that when you know we decided to do otherwise?” In asking such a question, I am not humbly seeking insight; I am seeking to humiliate my partner. I am acting like a lawyer looking for a conviction. That is not a good way to strengthen a relationship.
Perhaps I am not alone. Perhaps you also have cross-examined your partner with the intent to humiliate and shame her or him. For any who have asked or who have been asked a mean-spirited question, Jesus provided the model response.
Responding with grace
Jesus set the perfect example. Running counter to the universal human tendency, He did not react to the dishonesty of the question. Nor did He try to outmaneuver the attacker. He did not even play to the weak side of the questioner. Notice how wisely and graciously Jesus crafts his reply: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” (v. 26).
Jesus—sweet, exemplary Jesus—invited the lawyer to cite the law. He invited the lawyer to put his talents to noble (rather than ignoble) purpose. In effect He said, “I know that you are an expert in the law. Based on your study, what would your answer be?”
If my questions and replies were inspired by the same graciousness, would I be a better husband? Rather than bringing a spirit of accusation to our frustrations, we can bring a spirit of reconciliation and kindness. I might comment, “Your decision surprises me. Would you tell me about your thought process in making that decision?” If we listen humbly and charitably, we will appreciate the logic behind our partner’s decision. We might still favor a different option, but we can be gracious about his or her decision.
For any who have been asked a malicious, accusatory question, Jesus is still the model. If our partner attacks us with malicious questions, we, like Jesus, can respond with grace. If we follow Jesus’ lead, we will neither use malicious questions nor respond to them in kind. Instead, we will invite our partner to join us in solving a problem.
After Jesus had asked about the law, the lawyer replied to Jesus’ query with familiar words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (v.27).
I wish the scriptural account gave us more detail about the spirit in which the answer was given. Since the lawyer’s questions before and after this answer were given with malevolent intent, we might assume that this rendering of the law was given in an impatient, condescending way. Perhaps he rolled his eyes and smirked as he answered the Master’s question.
Yet Jesus acknowledged the answer: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (v.28). Jesus did not launch a follow-up lecture. He allowed the interest of the lawyer to drive the conversation, a wise course for us in families. Most of the lectures I have given to family members are not only unproductive, they are counterproductive. Most of my lecturing and cross-examining fits the description given in the following scripture:
“When we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).
When we insult the dignity of family members, we create a system of resentment and spite. We lose any influence we could have had. As Jesus ably demonstrated, a simple and gentle answer is best. Often less is more.
Goodness that sees beyond the present
“But [the lawyer], willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” (v.29, emphasis added) Jesus clearly recognized the sneaky, nasty intent of the lawyer, but rather than confront and lecture him, He taught and invited him with a parable that challenges us all, a story that can teach us the central purposes of life. Maybe when we feel attacked by our partners, we might revisit the story told by the Master.
It is also worth considering what the reason was that Jesus treated such a relentlessly malicious lawyer with such graciousness. Why would Jesus return beauty for ashes? Did He know something about the lawyer that was not evident to anyone else? Or was He more focused on goodness and graciousness than anyone else?
I suspect that both are true. I think that Jesus honored the malicious lawyer with such grace because He knew that there was underdeveloped tenderness inside the man. Under layers of prejudice and small-mindedness, there was a seed of goodness waiting for life-bestowing water. Jesus is the Water that gives life.
I also believe that Jesus is remarkably focused on goodness. It is His nature “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). Jesus is the model of charity.
What a glorious example for any of us who ever dealt with disappointment with another person! As we follow His example, we look for goodness even where none may be evident. We become “relentless in our redemptiveness,” as Elder Maxwell said of Jesus.
So Jesus offers the hard man an amazing parable, a redemptive story.
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