When I was a teen and looked around our ward in Salt Lake City on Sundays, it seemed that more people were asleep in Christ than alive in Christ. They may not have been in actual slumber, but, with a few notable exceptions, they seem bored, tired, and dispirited. They did not exude the sense of revelers at a glorious feast.
My beloved Aunt Ruth was a notable exception; she might begin a Sunday School class by exclaiming, “Don’t you just love Jesus!” But most members of the ward seemed to be more energized by a hallway (or classroom) conversation about the football scoreboard than by the offer of His cleansing flesh and blood. When the sports conversations were interrupted by gospel discussions, their faces turned listless.
It is certain that I was not privy to the hearts and secret devotions of the adults in our ward. But, as a youth, I was hungry for some evidence that adulthood could be a time of spiritual delight. As I marched reluctantly toward adulthood, I hoped that it would be a time of spiritual vibrancy, that I would not be sagging toward spiritual dullness. I wanted to be energized rather than comatose.
What is it that causes good members of the church to lose their spiritual vibrancy? Is there just not enough meat on the gospel bones to sustain vibrant living across decades?
Let’s compare our relationships with Jesus with our relationship with our spouses. When couples court, they exude joy. They delight in shared words, gestures, and touches. They rejoice in their partners.
Time passes. After a decade of marriage, many couples share living space, major appliances, and little else. Irritation is as much the theme as love and intimacy. Little annoyances are more common than little delights. There may still be times of delight but the relationship is no longer vibrant.
In how many long-term marriages do you see spouses delighting in each other’s company, listening appreciatively to each other’s thoughts, and making excuses to be together? Appreciation and devotion are sometimes replaced with toleration or irritation. They say they have grown apart. In truth, they have grown bored or weary with each other. They sigh that the person they now share life with is not the same as the person they married.
There are exceptions. There are those couples whose companionship seems vibrant, joy-filled, and affectionate. There are those who seem to have won the world’s war of attrition waged against long-term love. In my observation, they are rare; but they are real.
Maybe that is the point of mortality. Maybe God is giving us an opportunity in a world where weeds grow, wilt thrives, and fruit trees struggle to survive, to see what we will nurture. Will we battle pests, drought, and poor soil to assure a vibrant harvest? Or will we curse the weeds and slump into despair?
My colleague and friend, James Marshall, astutely observed that “the grass grows greener on the side of the fence you water most.” Some of us stop listening to and appreciating our spouses. We listen instead to Sports Central. Or the Shopping Network. Or political vitriol.
We consider our marriage partners old hat. She/he says the same things. He/she misses the great truths that I value. She/he makes the same mistakes over and over again.
The remedy prescribed by decades of research is a revelation. If you want your marriage to thrive, hold on to your illusions. Literally. Happy couples see qualities in their partners that no one else sees. They dismiss irritations as unimportant and temporary. They celebrate simple blessings.
Those who want to have happy marriages are anything but coolly objective. They steadily look for good and regularly find it. And, when they do, they cherish it.
The Bond with Heaven
This relates to our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. At some point we felt to sing the song of redeeming love. Do we still feel that way? Are our days and weeks filled with wonder at His works? Do we feel awe at His involvement in our lives?
Just as in marriage, sustaining a relationship with God involves selective perception. We can curse the inroads of disease or we can celebrate the miracle of life. We can complain of injustice or cherish His steady stream of grace.
We can make Him our companion on every errand or we can leave Him at home. We can appreciatively study His Word or we can drag through our daily reading as just another obligation. We can delight in His gifts or we can carp that things are not as we wished.
We can rejoice in our lessons and experiences at church or we can complain about rambling talks and poor lessons. We can cherish our opportunities to minister or we can grumble about the demands on our time.
We make real choices in our actions and our perceptions. The attraction of gloom is strong. To sustain love and faith requires real effort. We must choose light over darkness; it will not force itself upon us.
In the midst of the Revolutionary conflict, Thomas Paine made a wise observation: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as [a loving, vibrant relationship with Christ] should not be highly rated” (from The Crisis with the word “freedom” exchanged for the phrase in brackets).
Weeds fill vacant lots. Gravity pulls us toward slumping. Yet Jesus sends rain and light to nurture tender growth. His love tugs us Heavenward. He constantly offers us a vibrant and fulfilling relationship with Him. His prophets define the choice we must make:
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Deuteronomy 30:19, emphasis added).
By choosing life, we can be those people who fill their worshiping with purpose, their lessons with testimony, their learning with rejoicing, and their service with love. May we be those whose lives testify to the next generation that being alive in Christ is both fully available and indescribably joyous.
You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child. For more information about his books or his schedule at Education Week, visit www.FamilyCollege.com
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.