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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
Note: Although this article speaks of the power available in the marriage sealing, many principles apply to singles, single parents, those working for eternal union with less-active spouses, and to children who are praying for their wayward parents. Faith and grace allow us to act as if we were in possession of that which we lack. The Lord assures us that when we do all we can do, He will make up the difference.
There is a vast difference between being in love and being loving. True love is built on the foundation of complete loyalty, complete sacrifice, complete trust and patience, which perfects all other virtues, including love.[i] To love, patience promises, “I will wait for you; I will wait with you; I will wait upon you.”
Clearly, true love is more than a feeling or a declaration; true love is acting in a loving way. That is true love is being charitable, exemplifying the “pure love of Christ.”[ii] Such love is a principle of power that lifts and saves.
H. Wallace Goddard observed that charity has three meanings: Love from Christ, Love for Christ, Love like Christ. The process of loving begins when we feel Jesus reaching after us (Love from Christ).
Somewhere along the path, the miracle of His love breaks down our resistance. As we begin to understand His goodness and redemptiveness, we are changed. We are filled with a profound awe and gratitude for Him. We experience the stirrings of hope. Without this conversion, we are nothing spiritually (1 Cor. 13:2; 2 Ne. 26:30; Moro. 7:44, 46; D&C 18:19). As the amazing truth of His unrelenting love pierces our hearts, we are led to the second kind of charity, love for Christ. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 1:19). . . . As soon as we glimpse His love for us we instinctively love Him in return. We fall at His feet and bathe them with tears of gratitude. Why would He do all He has done to love and rescue my flawed soul? Why??? The answer is charity. As we feel the love from Him and for Him, we naturally love like Him.We become saviors on Mount Zion with Him.[iii]
True Love in Marriage and Family
Interestingly, a temple marriage—especially one that is built upon the foundation of charity—is called a saving ordinance.[iv] Temple marriage saves a man and woman. Marriage is one of the greatest evidences of God’s salvation. In an act of unequalled charity, He snatches two individuals from their fallen condition, introduces them to each other as his beloved son and daughter, and invites them to experience His exalted meaning of love and thus partake of the fullness of His glory.
Through marriage God saves the couple, they save each other, and others are saved in the process. Amazingly, by means of the couple’s saving marriage, their progenitors now experience a higher manifestation of salvation, for “they without us cannot be made perfect.”[v]
Likewise, future generations are saved by the couple’s marriage. As children are born into this union, they are saved by the love and the covenants of their parents. Therefore, by the couple’s entering into the saving relationship of marriage, the children become the focal point of eternity for untold generations past and future.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states that husbands and wives, by virtue of their marriage vows, have a solemn obligation to love and care for one another.[vi] As couples continue to court and care for one another, they ensure their love will never die. Likewise, to keep their love vibrant, husbands and wives might try applying two keys of courting: anticipate the needs of their companion, then surprise and delight with constant acts of love. It has been said that children can receive no greater gift than being reared by parents who love each other.
Surely there can be nothing greater than the love that Heavenly Father has for our Heavenly Mother. About ten years ago, on our 30th wedding anniversary, I wrote these words:
After three and a half decades of marriage, I was recently distressed by the realization that, as much as I loved my wife, my level of love for her paled in comparison to the love that Heavenly Father has for His wife. His love is perfect love; mine is not. Therefore, I realized that I had a ways to go.
Because charity is a spiritual gift, I began to pray that I could learn to love my wife as Heavenly Father loves his wife. Every time I prayed, I received the same answer, Do more for your wife. Love, I learned, is a feeling that has expression and grows by loving actions. If I wanted to love more, I needed to do more, and I needed to do all this for no selfish expectation, and only for the pure purpose of expressing love.
Whereas worldly love often diminishes with time, charitable love increases until it becomes perfect and becomes like the love shared by our Heavenly Parents. Do I love my wife more now than when we married in 1972? Much more. Why? Because over the years we have shared so many loving experiences. My love for her is not perfect, but I am determined that it will be, and that is sure to be a wonderful journey.
To Love First
How does love grow? It grows as we love someone first. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us . . . We love him, because he first loved us.”[vii] We love first, and then love is returned. It is an oft-repeated scriptural formula that has many applications: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”[viii]
Elder Boyd K. Packer said it this way: “As you give what you have, there is a replacement, with increase!”[ix] Love is returned by someone’s loving first; love increases by being loving; love cleaveth unto love like “light cleaveth unto light.”[x] This love, a saving love, is charity, which never faileth. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “I’ll lift you, and you lift me, and we’ll both ascend together.” Of course, loving first is fraught with risk. Love shown might not be returned immediately. Sometimes it may seem like it will never come.
Elder Maxwell explained that parents often extend love that is not reciprocated. He quoted Edith Hamilton as saying, ‘“When love meets no return the result is suffering and the greater the love the greater the suffering. There can be no greater suffering than to love purely and perfectly one who is bent upon evil and self-destruction. That was what God endured at the hands of men’ (Spokesman for God, 1936, 112).” Elder Maxwell explained that the pain that we feel provides us an appreciation for the Savior, which appreciation we might not otherwise gain.[xi]
Nevertheless, love we must, for only love unfeigned has the power to rescue a wayward soul. If we want to love our wayward children back, we must start by better loving God and our spouse, which increases our capacity to love.
Then we are in a position to better love the “unlovable” child.
Often, we will need to show love for the child before he shows love to us, and we must persist in that love until love breaks down every barrier between us, melts the child’s heart, embraces him in an unbreakable bond, and finally leads him home. Professor Rex A. Skidmore has said, “Parents need to remember that a youth is never so much in need of understanding as when he is non-approachable and never so much in need of love as when he is unlovable.”[xii]
Being loving to our spouse is not only an expansive principle, it is a perfecting one that draws God near. “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”[xiii]Moreover, by loving acts we are endowed with an added measure of the Holy Ghost: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”[xiv] As we abide in this cycle of loving and receiving love, our love eventually becomes perfect: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect.”[xv]
Significantly, the only other person besides God whom a man is commanded to love with all his heart is his wife: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.”[xvi] Our model is Christ, who frequently refers to Himself as the Bridegroom,[xvii] and we, being part of His church, are symbolically His bride.[xviii] In Hosea, He is the forgiving, compassionate, nurturing Husband, and elsewhere He is the Good Shepherd, who gives His life for those whom He loves.[xix]
This quality of love is that which yokes us to Him, an important principle considering the fact that He, by covenant, is an important third partner in our marriage; He is as essential to us as we are to each other. Our marriage simply cannot be sanctified, and we cannot grow in the principle of love, without Him. In the case where we are in a struggling marriage where our spouse does not seem willing to work with us in increasing love, or where a spouse does not believe in gospel principles, we still may rely on the amazing power of love—freely given by us—to powerfully affect the relationship and us individually. This is one reason why we do not need to fear one-sided love.
No Fear in Love
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of loving is ceasing to be afraid: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” If our circumstance is causing us fear, we might consider reexamining the foundation upon which our love is built, “because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”[xx] We must regroup by being loving, and love will be returned with increase. As love grows, we will feel our level of fear decrease. This love is the love of God, giving us peace and ameliorating the risks of unreturned mortal love.
Love—The Greatest Power
Love—perfect love—is the greatest power in the universe. Love motivates God to do all that He does. The greatest expression of His love is to give and redeem life. He invites His children to experience His type of life, for therein is His joy made full.[xxi] By following His example—giving life and redeeming life—our joy is also made full.[xxii] Therein is the perfection of and hope for our love. Therein are children given and therein are children saved.
[i] James 1:4.
[ii] Moroni 7:47.
[iii] H. Wallace Goddard, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, 111.
[iv] See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Celestial Marriage,” 117–118.
[v] D&C 128:15.
[vi] See “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
[vii] 1 John 4:10, 19.
[viii] Matthew 5:7.
[ix] Boyd K. Packer, “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, January 1983.
[x] D&C 88:40.
[xi] Edith Hamilton quoted, also Elder Maxwell, in Neal A. Maxwell’s “Enduring Well,” Ensign,April 1997.
[xii] Rex A. Skidmore, “What Part Should the Teenager Play in the Family?” Improvement Era, January 1952.
[xiii] 1 John 4:12.
[xiv] 1 John 4:13.
[xv] 1 John 4:16–17.
[xvi] D&C 42:22.
[xvii] See Matthew 9:15.
[xviii] See Isaiah 62:5.
[xix] See John 10:11.
[xx] 1 John 4:18.
[xxi] See 3 Nephi 17:20.
[xxii] See Alma 26:11.