Afflictions are the process by which God cultivates growth. Rather than dread our difficulties, we can learn to welcome them. We can learn to see them as blessings from Heaven.

Since marriage is God’s finishing school, we should expect more afflictions or challenges in marriage than in any other arena of life. I think of challenges among couples we know:

She doesn’t trust his judgment so she undermines all his decisions. He feels powerless and carps endlessly.

He uses calm reasoning to organize his life – and judge his wife. She reacts emotionally and defensively at the judgments.

She likes things organized. He takes the devil-may-care attitude. Both are chronically irritated with each other.

He wants to make his wife happy. She has impossible dreams. So he is endlessly in a frenzy trying to meet her needs.

She is task-oriented-always working on a perfect home. He wants unlimited attention and admiration.

He is gentle and deliberate. She races to decisions without giving him time to participate.

Regardless of who we marry, there will inevitably be irritations. Mary Roach wrote humorously about a difference she and her husband experienced:

I don’t notice filth. Ed sees it everywhere. I am reasonably convinced that Ed can actually see bacteria. Like any normal couple, we refused to accept each other’s differences and did whatever we could to annoy the other person. I flossed my teeth in bed and drank for the OJ container. Ed insisted on moving our vitamins out of the bathroom and into the kitchen, where the germs are apparently less savage… Ed called me insane. I called him abnormal. He was right, I was right. We decided we canceled each other out and that together we made one sane, normal entity, at least compared to, I don’t know, raccoons. Then Ed did something very touching. He reached over and kissed my hand, which we both knew hadn’t been washed since the night before. (Reader’s Digest, Aug 2002, Soap Opera, p. 36).

The Essential Tension

In every relationship there is an inevitable tension. It is often worse in marriage than other relationships in part because we share so much – money, time, food, space – even our own bodies. Marriage is not only intense but also can last for decades. As we are challenged to form our own little Zion, the natural man resists.

For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to God [and partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever… (Mosiah 3:19)

Our untamed, uncivilized, unconquered, unchanged natures are ill-suited for Zion. So we have limited choices. We can put our natures on the altar for God to change or we choose to chafe and struggle in unsatisfying relationships. Or we can depart Zion disenchanted. Those are our options. We will remain forever enemies to God and marriage —

unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

This choice and change is not a once-and-for-all decision. Most of us are quite determined to love perfectly when we make covenants to each other. But we must have a change of heart if the resolve is to last. Even if we have had a mighty change of heart – even if at some time in our lives God has filled our souls – every day we decide anew whether to live by the guidelines of the mind of Christ or the imperatives of the natural man. Every day, every hour we decide whether we will continue to sing the song of redeeming love – or groan the whimper of discontent.

With practice, the choice to sing the song of redeeming love will become easier and more automatic. Yet every day we must choose.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. Nephi 2:27

Learning from this Earth’s First Couple

Adam and Eve are the models or archetypes for our life experience. Where they have led, we follow. What they have done, we are expected to do. So we study their lives for direction.

Adam and Eve had every reason to be gloomy about life in this world. They had lived in serene and peaceful abundance. Then they were evicted and sent to the slums. Eve’s sorrow was multiplied and the ground was cursed for Adam.

Was this a tragedy? No. It was a brave step toward eternal accomplishment. Note the encouraging truth nested in the words of the curse:

… cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. (Moses 4:23, emphasis added)

The curse was and is a blessing. Through our labors and struggles, we will learn to know good from evil. We will suffer the bitter taste of evil. We will learn to enjoy the sweet fruits of goodness. We can learn to choose and cherish the good.

Following Their Example

Imagine the terrible loneliness and emptiness that assaulted Adam and Eve as they left their garden home for an unknown and hostile world where thorn, thistle, and briar tormented them.

We have all felt as Adam and Eve felt. At times we miss our idyllic Home terribly. We long to be there. But we are shut out. The yearning creates a continuing pang of loneliness.

Even in their loneliness, Adam and Eve were an example to us.

And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord… (Moses 5:4)

The Only and Sure Remedy

The only remedy for our bracing loneliness is to call upon God. When we feel hopeless, lost, and desperate, we should call upon Father. In return we, like Adam and Eve, will be shown the path for our journey Home.

And [God] gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. (Moses 5:5)

Adam and Eve were to offer God their very best, the “firstlings of their flocks.” I wonder what the firstlings of our flocks are. Is it our cherished free time that we must put on the altar? Is it our love for sports, games, reading, shopping, clothes, or money that must be sacrificed?

Paying Heaven’s Price

Most of us want the prize without paying the price.

We want to have a close, loving marriage, but we’re not willing to give up our pet affections. But God has required us to make sacrifices if we are to enjoy that which is most valuable.

“You have all kinds of trials to pass through, and it is quite as necessary for you to be tried even as Abraham, and other men of God,” and said he, “God will feel after you, he will take hold of you and wrench your very heartstrings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.” (Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, April 1963, p.88)

We will not steal the fire of love from Heaven. We must buy it with soul-stretching payments.

Daily Installments on Heavenly Goods

In the continuing story of Adam and Eve, God has given us further directions for our growth in marriage.

And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. (Moses 5:6)

It is clear that Adam and Eve were obedient. Even as they daily faced privation and desperation, they continued to worship God and make sacrifices. They continued to trust God’s counsel. Faith is fundamental.

We must believe that there is a purpose running through the stern, forbidding process. What men have needed most of all in suffering, is not to know the explanation, but to know that there is an explanation.  And religious faith alone gives confidence that human tragedy is not the meaningless sport of physical forces, making our life what Voltaire called it, “a bad joke.” (Fosdick, 1918, p.20, emphasis added)

Faith is the stubborn resolve to see God blessing us in all circumstances. Even in our struggles and disappointments, we believe God is ministering to us.

Being Led Along the Path

In return for their obedience, their trust in God, Adam and Eve were taught from on High.

And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. (Moses 5:7)

Wow! So much truth in one verse! When we make sacrifices, we are following the example of the Savior, who sacrificed everything in order to rescue us. The making of holy sacrifices is full of grace and truth. The willingness to put our preferences on the altar in obedience to God and service of our partner is a sacrifice filled with grace and truth – goodness and eternal vision. Our sacrifices are the key to our growth and eternal possibilities.

So it turns out that our sacrifices are not sacrifices. They are purchases. We “sacrifice” our puny preferences and God rewards us with eternal joy. What a bargain! In Heaven’s economy, so much is gotten for so little!

We often go into marriage under a false premise. During the courtship it seems that we have never had such an effortless way to have fun. Happiness comes so easily. We laugh, giggle, and share from the bottom of our hearts. The satisfactions flow freely.

Yet the full experience of marriage will demand regular payments across time. What seems so easy at times will later feel impossible. We may feel cheated when we discover that this bargain requires so much of us. Character and companionship do not come without consistent investment. Yet, if we continue to make payments on our relationship, we will be amazed what we get for our “sacrifices.”

God knows that “what we obtain too easily we esteem too lightly” (as expressed by Edmund Burke). In His own words, “all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:5). To become heavenly, we must endure earthly challenges – including the unexpected ones in marriage.

When Jesus visited America, He told that people that he no longer accepted their sacrifices and burnt offerings. He wanted a new kind of sacrifice.

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (3 Nephi 9:20, emphasis added)

I feel sure that Jesus is not asking that we be depressed and miserable. I think He is asking that we surrender our demands that things be done our way. In place of demandingness we become agreeable, submissive, cooperative, and appreciative. This is the natural result of allowing Jesus to transform the natural man to the man of Christ.

This change may be most evident in our expectations. Often we hold our partner to some set of mythical standards (which are both unreasonable and unexpressed!). Inevitably she or he falls short. We feel discontent. We judge our companion as flawed and inferior. Over time this subtle discontent grows into the cancerous assurance that our partner is fatally flawed. With time we convince ourselves that the marriage was a mistake.

The cure for cancerous expectations is humble submission – a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This mindset helps us to be better appreciators and more willing learners. If we listen carefully and learn humbly about our partners’ points of view, we will be enlarged and enriched.

Heavenly “Sacrifice”

Brigham Young challenged us to think differently about the sacrifices that Heaven demands.

I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times… to a man wearing an old, worn?out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake – I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. “Did you not leave a handsome property in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois?” Yes. “And have you not suffered through that?” No, I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.348, emphasis added)

In striking the marriage bargain, we are (unknowingly) giving up the egocentrisms of childhood in favor of the charity of Godhood. Then, along with ennobled character, we win eternal companionship.

Buying a Heavenly Home

Heaven draws us toward godliness. Our sacrifices are the paltry down payments on our Heavenly Homes. Making such payments requires faith in the Lord Jesus Christ since the rewards are beyond our view. Faith is precisely what God wants us to cultivate.

Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son,
and thou shalt repent
and call upon God in the name of the Son
(Moses 5:8, emphasis added)

We do ALL that we do in the name of the beloved Son.

We do it in the spirit of redemptiveness. We do it in imitation of His sacrifice. We show our willingness to rescue our spouse by giving up our tiny preferences in favor of our spouse’s blessing. Such a sacrifice, when graciously made, is full of grace and truth!

Each of us should pray earnestly for the heavenly help to make those sacrifices that will sanctify our relationships. As we enter our homes, we can pause to beseech God to grant us grace, goodness, mercy, compassion, and patience. We can ask Father to help us see our partner and his or her struggles with the loving-kindness with which He views them. In so doing, we place our time, our minds and our hearts on the altar. That is the ultimate offering, the required sacrifice. Making this sacrifice is the heart and soul of the required obedience.

The Deed to Our Heavenly Home

In return for Adam and Eve’s faith-filled sacrifice, they were rewarded with the Holy Ghost. Such spiritual outpourings must surely be God’s way of saying, “I am preparing a place for you. You cannot now imagine the glory. But I assure you, it is grand!”

And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will. (Moses 5:9, emphasis added)

Notice the beautiful reassurance: We may be redeemed! So can EVERY person who is willing to pay the price. We pay our pennies and dimes. He provides mansions and glory. Wow! What a gracious Paymaster!

Adam and Eve clearly understood the magnificence of God’s grace. Notice the majesty of their inspired testimonies.

And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. (Moses 5:10, emphasis added)

And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:11, emphasis added)

Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, recognizing the perfect wisdom that placed them in this troubled world and invited them to follow the map of obedience in order to win partnership in God’s heavenly enterprise.

In a great parenting side note, the following verse points out how Adam and Eve used their inspired knowledge.

And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. (Moses 5:12, emphasis added)

As we know, some of Adam and Eve’s children chose to follow in the path of obedience and sacrifice. Some chose instead to be fugitives and vagabonds.

And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish. (Moses 5:13)

Obedience and Sacrifice in Marriage

So the human story began with obedience and sacrifice. Our marital story hinges on our willingness to apply the same principles.

Applying these principles to marriage requires inspiration. Obedience entails a willingness to keep the commandments – whether our partner does or not. Obedience means that we love God with all our hearts. Obedience also requires that we “love [our spouse] with all [our] heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).

When I think about applying the principle of sacrifice to marriage, I think of the allegory of a man who had two friends in the manufactured-home business. When he wanted a new house, he asked each friend to send him half a house. He gave no plans. He provided no specifications on size or style. He left them to design as they would. So each friend sent a lovely half-house. When the two halves arrived at the site, they were jarringly different. Rooms did not line up. Utilities did not match up. Roofs and walls between the two halves did not connect.

This is a pretty good symbol for marriage. Each of us is created in a different “factory” or family. Two people come together assuming that they will readily connect. But we soon find that our traditions, expectations, assumptions, and ways of life do not line up. The more time passes, the more clear the differences.

Unfortunately we apply value judgments to our differences: “Your family doesn’t care about punctuality.” “Well, your family doesn’t care about people.” Each of us is inclined to believe that the way we have chosen is the better way. And we are tempted to pull our half-house down the road until we can find a better match. But we never match up perfectly with another human being.

What a glorious opportunity for accommodation! God knew that marriage would provide us unending opportunities to negotiate everything from what’s okay to wear on the Sabbath to what spices are favored in meals. When our relationship is built upon a firm commitment, it can endure – even thrive – in all these negotiations.

Elder Hafen (2004) has observed that, “when troubles come, the parties to a contractual marriage seek happiness by walking away. They marry to obtain benefits and will stay only as long as they’re receiving what they bargained for. But when troubles come to a covenant marriage, the husband and wife work them through. They marry to give and to grow, bound by the covenants to each other, to the community, and to God” (p.1)

We covenant to bring all to the altar. The Lord cannot bless what we will not bring. He asks that we bring our whole souls to Him so that He can transform us. If we are willing to let Him be the carpenter, He can blend the two half-houses together. He will help us create new, better family traditions and learn to enjoy the spices that our partners’ enjoy. C. S. Lewis offers a fitting metaphor (drawn from George MacDonald):

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.

(Mere Christianity [New York: Macmillan, 1960], p. 174.)

If we trust the master architect and appreciate the style of the other half of our house, God will turn our jarring differences into lovely courtyards and magnificent towers.