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We cannot save ourselves. Only He can save us. And He wants to save us!
Stephen Robinson summarized our situation in his book, Following Christ:
So the great divide between the saved and the unsaved, between those who inherit the kingdom and those who do not, between those who are right with God and those who are not, isn’t just who is “good” and who is “bad,” for technically speaking we are all bad in some degree. Rather, the great divide is whether we accept or reject the covenant with the Savior Jesus Christ, the only being in eternity who can make us innocent by incorporating us into his infinite, perfect, and sinless self.[i]
A related message is taught in the story of the prodigal son. Elder Bruce D. Porter reminds us that “the parable of the prodigal son is a parable of us all. It reminds us that we are, in some measure, prodigal sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. For, as the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’” (Rom. 3:23).[ii] Sister Henrie’s poetic rendering of the great story reminds us of the One who waits for each of us at the gate.
To Any Who Have Watched for a Son’s Returning
By Mary Lyman Henrie
He watched his son gather all the goods
that were his lot,
anxious to be gone from tending flocks,
the dullness of the fields.
He stood by the olive tree gate long
after the caravan disappeared
where the road climbs the hills
on the far side of the valley,
Through changing seasons he spent the light
in a great chair, facing the far country,
and that speck of road on the horizon.
Mocking friends: “He will not come.”
Whispering servants: “The old man
has lost his senses.”
A chiding son: “You should not have let him go.”
A grieving wife: “You need rest and sleep.”
She covered his drooping shoulders,
his callused knees, when east winds blew chill, until that day
A form familiar, even at infinity,
in shreds, alone, stumbling over pebbles.
“When he was a great way off,
His father saw him,
and had compassion, and ran,
and fell on his neck, and kissed him.[iii]
We can flee Him or we can go to Him. It is always better to go to Him. When we choose to follow Christ, we choose to be changed, as President Benson reminded us.
He is our advocate
Jesus has given us good reason to trust Him. For example, He tells us in some detail what to expect at the judgment bar.
We half expect Him to lead the way into heaven. Before He heads to His 40 acres by Kolob Lake, He wishes us well: “I hope you make it. I know you tried. Maybe it will be okay.” Then He is gone.
As we wait in line, we wonder if there be a scripture chase. Will we have to know all the books of the Old Testament in order? Will there be a spreadsheet of all the months we didn’t get our home or visiting teaching done? Will we have to account for each of our sins, weaknesses and omissions? Will others in line laugh as the failure-ridden video of my life is shown? Worst of all, will He be standing across the table from me shaking His head in disappointment as all my life’s thoughts and actions are reviewed?
That is what we expect. But that is not what He does. He does not leave us facing Father alone. In Doctrine and Covenants section 45, He tells us why we should listen to Him.
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him— (v.3).
One very good reason to listen to Him is because He is our advocate with the Father. He is the One who will present us to Father. He is pleading our cause. He is the only One who can get us in. We must trust Him.
In the scriptural account He tells us just how He will present us: “Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified” (D&C 45:4).
We might wonder why He is saying so much about His amazing life and infinite sacrifice. It makes our own stained life seem all the more awful. How will this help us? Sure, He will be glorified, but what’s to be done with me? How can I ever enter where the Gods dwell?
Jesus continues: “Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:5).
A thunderbolt! A total surprise! He presented the merits of His life and goodness in order to win my way into Heaven! He did what He did in order to save my soul!
One by one He pushes every believer into Heaven before He Himself makes His final entrance. We who are last are pushed in first while He who is First in all things enters behind the last saint. Whether we are timid or tortured, He will find and recover every last stray sheep before He Himself enters. What a shepherd he is!
The biggest surprise in all of God’s creation is that “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs,” as Elder Maxwell testified. Or, as Janice Tindall magnificently wrote:
Burning with Light
My soul quivers
At thy touch.
Oh God, my God
God of my fathers
Prince of Peace.
There is no mountain high enough
Nor ocean deep enough
Nor desert wide enough
To glorify thy name.[iv]
A partner in the process
I know that I can never be anything without Him. I am grateful that He is willing to labor to refine and rescue my flawed soul.
There are others to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I am grateful for children who strive to live noble lives. I am grateful to noble parents who taught me so much about God and goodness. I am thankful to ancestors who continue to sustain us.
Yet there is one person I thank above all but Jesus. Her name is Nancy. I wish I could be objective about Nancy, but I cannot. She is mild in temperament—we laugh in the family that she is by constitution and disposition unable to yell.
She is very compassionate–she seems naturally drawn to those who are lonely or disenfranchised. She is unselfish–she demands no gifts or considerations. Yet she is glad to serve–it will take half of eternity for me to repay all the back rubs she has given me in 40-plus years of marriage.
She has a gentle and clever sense of humor–only those who listen carefully get to enjoy it.
She is devoted–her children and grandchildren know that her love is stronger than the cords of death for she would gladly die for any one of them–and they know it.
She is uncomplaining–I was first drawn to her when, on a single adult activity, she fell in a bitter cold river and climbed into the raft laughing. In addition, she is beautiful–I love her sweet face and lovely frame.
As if that were not enough, she is also the kindest person I have ever known–bar none.
I regularly thank Heavenly Father for blessing me with a companion who is far better than I knew and far finer than I deserve. I cannot imagine life without Nancy.
So, why is it that I sometimes get irritated, impatient or judgmental of my dear companion? How can I explain patches of discontent?
After decades of episodic analyzing and blaming, I have discovered that my feelings about Nancy are not as much a measure of her as of me. Just as our feelings about God are a good measure of our faith, so our feelings about our companions are a reliable gauge to our personal goodness.
So why do we mortals build our dramas of discontent? How do we transform our early love into simmering (or seething) discontent?
Learning the lessons
I should note that I do not believe that every marriage can make it. (For a wise discussion of which can survive and which should end, see this excellent article by Alan Hawkins and Tamara Fackrell.
But the great mass of quiet-desperation marriages do not need divorce but need only more charity in order to flourish. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for the common marital complaint.
Jesus is not only the Creator of worlds but the Energizer of relationships. In Him all things have life. As He said: “The thief [Satan and his servants] cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Abundantly indeed. If I am unhappy with Nancy it is because I do not understand or do not honor the covenants I have made. I do not have charity. I believe that the covenant of consecration together with the marriage covenants effectively require me to promise God: “I now covenant with Thee that from this time forth and forever I will never see any fault in Nancy.” It is not enough just to stay in the marriage in solemn determination while occasionally mowing the lawn. I believe that God expects me to consecrate not only my time but also my thoughts! Even my feelings!
Certainly it is better to light a candle on our partners’ qualities than to curse the darkness that can be found in every soul. When I am unhappy with Nancy in any way, it means that I need to get a spiritual tune-up. As in the Lord’s great parable, having been forgiven a fifteen billion dollar debt, how can I fail to forgive Nancy her fifteen dollar (or fifteen cent) debts?
I think God designed marriage to help us grow spiritually. The most important lessons I have learned about being a good person I did not learn on my mission, sitting in High Priest quorum meeting, or serving as bishop; I learned them in marriage. But it has taken decades of work to go from a selfish clod who complains about tiny irritations to a marginal-saint who adores his companion. I thank Heavenly Father for the priceless lessons He has taught me about the sweet joy of love.
I end this exploration of marriage with Moroni’s concluding invitation and a few editorial additions of my own:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him,
[Only He can make us perfect!]
and deny yourselves of all ungodliness;
[especially the complaining and criticizing that is abundant in mortality]
and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness,
and love God with all your might, mind and strength,
then is his grace sufficient for you,
that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ;
[Perfect in Christ! He will carry us with His merits while we struggle to be better. What good news!]
and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
[His greatest miracle is the work He does to redeem our souls!] (Moroni 10:32).
He can make us perfect. I invite all readers to join me as we fill ourselves with the doctrine of Christ and make covenants with the Giver of Life. By this process we become the people and partners God invites us to be. As our remarkable Redeemer makes us at-one with God, He also makes us at-one with our partners. What a blessing! What a gift!
May God bless our marriages. Or, as in President Benson’s great benedictory on us: “May we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, be changed for Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him, and born again I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”[v]
Stay tuned for the final installment of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.
If you would like to buy your own copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, click here.
Creating Your Own Story
Read over the following prayer which was quoted earlier in this book. Enjoy the prayer’s sense of trusting submission. Consider whether it is a prayer you would like to take to Father:
Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of thee; Thou only knowest what I need; Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father! give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask. I dare not ask either for crosses or consolations: I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee. . . . Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up: I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thyself in me. Amen.[vi]
Alma asks us a searching question: “can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth? . . . I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (Alma 5:16, 19). Maybe we should imagine it. Maybe the thought will motivate us to come faithfully and humbly to the sacrament table begging the Savior to haul off our accumulated sins. The sacred rendezvous with Jesus at the sacrament table is our only hope for arriving Home clean and right. Alma continues his lesson: “I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins” (Alma 5:21).
As we are filled with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are inclined to act redemptively. We are less inclined to be irritated and more inclined to be helpful. In what ways can you help your spouse along the journey toward Heaven?
[i] Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book , 6, emphasis added.[ii] “Redeemer of Israel,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 15.
[iii] Ensign, March 1983, 63.
[iv] “Triptych,” Ensign, July 1992, 49.
v Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” Ensign, November 1985, 6
[vi] Francois de la Mothe Fenelon quoted in Harry Emerson Fosdick, Meaning of Prayer, 58-59.