In a previous article, I mentioned the beauty of a singular scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants on strengthening each other. Doctrine and Covenants 108:7 counsels:
Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings (emphasis added).
In all of your conversation, all your prayers, all your exhortations, and all your doings ? strengthen each other. We have a divine mandate to be uplifting and supportive and helpful to each other. What I have pondered about is what we must teach when it comes to strengthening our marriage relationships and supporting others. What is needful for ourselves, for our families, and for our Latter-day Saint faith community?
Without a community and a culture that sustains and strengthens marriage relationships, many marriages fray and come apart and eventually drift into dangerous challenges. We want the marriages of our friends and family members to succeed. We want those who face marital challenges to overcome them, but we often don’t really know what might help or how to help.
We must realize that we are the community that sustains the marriages of those we know and care about. We are the ones who create the culture that helps them to believe in marriage and its potential for happiness. What can we do?
Teaching What is Both Necessary and Sufficient
If we are to realize the ideals of the Proclamation on the Family, and assist others in reaching for those ideals, we must be attentive to the messages that we send about marriage and family relationships. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed and highlighted the ideal that Latter-day Saints hold for marriage. The Proclamation states:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God… Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children… Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities. (emphasis added)
As I have thought about what we teach regarding marriage, it has occurred to me that we must teach both what is necessary as a starting point and also what is sufficient to give insight and preparation that will help individuals to succeed. For example, while it is necessary to teach our youth that the temple is the proper place to marry, it is not sufficient to teach them that principle alone. We must also teach them what is required to fully prepare themselves as individuals and as couples to be qualified and ready to marry in the temple.
We live in a culture that often promotes a shallow, self-centered view of the ideals and activities within marriage, rather than a mature and divinely informed perspective of the realities and ideals of marriage. We must teach with more depth, insight, and conviction the principles that will guide toward relationships that are centered in the gospel and its practical application to living in marriage.
So, what do we need to teach? Much, frankly. I have tried to come up with some starting points and hope they might be useful.
Twelve Principles to Teach About Marriage ? Where to Begin
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach our youth that marriage is the most important institution in time and eternity and that we honor it. We must also teach them that marriage is the preparation ground for life in eternity, and that we must approach it with faith, commitment, love, and diligence.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach our youth that they should seek to marry a member of our own faith and that they should marry in the temple. We must also teach them what to look for in a marital companion, principles for selecting a spouse, guidelines on dating and courtship that will help them to find a marital partner, and how to keep a marriage relationship vital and healthy once they have been married.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach our youth that they must keep themselves worthy and morally chaste before entering into the bonds of marriage. We must also teach them that sexual intimacy is a blessing to the married couple, to appreciate the blessings of their bodies and their affection for each other, and to develop the bonds of their intimacy as a couple with patience, respect, tenderness, and joy.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to assist faithful individuals in reaching the altar of the temple where they can be sealed together in an eternal marriage relationship. We must also assist them in coming home and keeping their covenants and establishing a home based upon hard work, mutual affection, friendship, trust, and meaningful time together as a couple.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to encourage individuals to keep themselves out of debt and be responsible in managing their financial affairs. We must also teach them to live within their means, to design and manage a family budget, to work hard in providing for themselves, to avoid debt, and to invest carefully in themselves and their family’s future.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach the importance of parenthood and to celebrate the birth of children into a couple’s home. We must also assist individuals and couples with the transition to parenthood, advise them to maintain and renew their couple relationship, and encourage them to keep a healthy marriage at the heart of their growing family.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to encourage the ideal of mutual helpfulness and shared effort within the sphere of marriage. Gospel homes are living laboratories for kindness, service, and sacrifice. We must also highlight the divinity of simple service that comes in mutual participation in caring for children, share the importance of bearing one another’s burdens in the little things such as doing dishes or cleaning a room, and foster an atmosphere of shared appreciation and responsibility in family living.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to emphasize the importance of mutual respect and the avoidance of abusive or controlling behaviors in marriage relationships. We must also model the love that is meant to exist between husbands and wives, correct the mistakes of anger or hostility that may occur, and intervene if necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of both spouses in a relationship.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to counsel that divorce is discouraged and couples should take steps to avoid it in their lives. We must also teach that repentance and forgiveness in marriage relationships are possible, that emotional alienation or hostility on a permanent basis is destructive, and that relationships can be healed through support, effort, and love.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to hold up the ideal of a loving marriage relationship as the Lord’s standard for his people. We must assist individuals from all backgrounds who associate themselves with the Lord’s church to understand the importance of marriage, to take steps to honor and improve their own and others’ marital relationships, and to be accepting and inclusive of those who do not currently live in a marital relationship.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach that marriages will be blessed and families will be strengthened through gospel practices such as prayer, scripture study, and church attendance. We must also teach that couples will be strengthened through other critical practices that include regular and caring communication, time together, recreation and enjoyment, fellowship with friends and family members, and shared activities.
- It is necessary but not sufficient to teach that individuals and couples may learn principles to strengthen their relationships from the scriptures and the teachings of the gospel. We must also teach that couples can and should seek specific understanding and insight to strengthen their relationships from reliable, trustworthy sources of information, education, and support that may include books, seminars, or other educational sources.
A Marital Ideal for Latter-day Saints ? Where to Go
President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke in a recent General Conference of his marriage to his beloved Marjorie Pay Hinckley. He stated:
She was my dear companion for more than two-thirds of a century, my equal before the Lord, really my superior. And now in old age she has again become the girl of my dreams… When all is said and done there is no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife, and nothing more portentous for good or evil than the unending consequences of marriage. (Ensign, November 2004, pp. 82-83)
I would draw your attention not only to his comment that there can be “no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife,” but to this resounding declaration: “[There is] nothing more portentous for good or evil than the unending consequences of marriage.” I have pondered this statement many long hours. I have tried to think through its implications. I find it to be profoundly true that marriage and its health and stability has unending and dramatic consequences, for good or ill, across generations and across eternity. I believe that the health of marriage relationships is in some ways a reflection of the health of the Latter-day Saints as a whole, and a reflection of the health of the kingdom of God.
We have the fortunate blessing, as a people, to see before us the living example of a caring, strong marriage that lasted for two-thirds of a century and will continue into eternity. As we thank the Lord in our prayers for a prophet, may we also thank him for that example of a strong, healthy marriage.
It has been said before, but it bears being said again, that a temple marriage is not equivalent to a celestial marriage. To be married in the temple, in the right place and by the right authority, is one of the highest ideals of our Latter-day Saint faith. It brings eternal blessings. But once the covenant of marriage, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, is entered into, each spouse must work to keep the covenants that will allow them to move toward a marriage relationship that is “celestial” in its quality.
What I am suggesting is that a temple marriage is a necessary ideal and starting point, ideally, for a marriage relationship. If one does not marry in the temple, then he or she should seek the blessing of having a marriage relationship that is sealed in the temple. But being married in the temple is a starting point, or an ideal point, and not an ending point. Covenants that are made in sacred settings must be lived out at home in the practical realities of our everyday lives as husbands and wives, parents and children.
It is possible to enter into a temple marriage and yet to experience, at some point, an unhealthy or hurtful or painful marriage relationship. What we need is both a temple marriage and a healthy marriage that becomes a celestial marriage.
President Boyd K. Packer has stated:
The ultimate purpose of every teaching, every activity in the Church, is that parents and their children are happy at home, sealed in an eternal marriage, and linked to their generations. (“The Father and the Family,” April 1994)
A marriage that is healthy and sealed in the temple will bless generations over time in the gospel of Christ. A marriage that is broken and unhealthy will not do so. Are we teaching the principles that are necessary and also those that are sufficient for strengthening our marriages?
The topic of strengthening marriage must be broad enough to encompass many realities. The sixteen-year old priest or young woman who has begun dating and wishes to marry in the temple in a few years. The twenty-three year old convert and young single adult who wants to find an LDS companion but also faces family concerns. The couple in their mid-thirties who are seeking to be sealed together in the temple. The woman who converts and becomes a Latter-day Saint but remains married to a spouse who expresses little interest in the gospel. The husband and wife in their forties whose relationship has become strained due to depression, pornography, or raising a difficult child. The empty-nest couple whose children have left home and left behind a mother and father who hardly seem to know each other.
These individuals, these couples, are our Heavenly Father’s children. He cares for them and loves them. He has given them commandments to follow and guidance to consider. He has given them the opportunity to make covenants and follow His Son. We are among them.
He has given them, us, all of us – something else. A community of Saints. We are that community. We need to be anxiously engaged in blessing and supporting and sustaining one another in healthy marriage relationships. We need to consider what we teach with care. We need to be attentive to the messages we send. We need to be honest and teach with maturity and spirituality those principles that the Lord has given us to bless homes and marriages.
A friend of mine once wrote of how he approached each day with the hope that it would his “best day so far.” A day in the life of a marriage is always important. What do you want tomorrow to be like for the life of your marriage? What do you want it to be like for the couple you know that is getting married or the friends down the street or in your ward? I hope you will work and teach and strive to make it the “best day so far” in the life of that marriage relationship.
What do you think? Please share your ideas, experiences, and insights.