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Sacrifice is a heaven-anointed principle. Brigham Young challenged us to think differently about the sacrifices that God requires.
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.[i]
In striking the marriage bargain, we are (unknowingly) giving up the egocentrisms of childhood in favor of the charity of Godhood. We make a covenantal step toward unselfishness. As we progress in marriage we gain ennobled character as well as 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 forevermore” (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!”
Adam was taught by the Holy Ghost “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..
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 5:10-11, emphasis added).
Adam and Eve blessed the name of God. Under the inspiration of heaven they recognized His 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. However, some chose instead to listen to Satan’s voice and become 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. The success of 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 (or been raised) 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 mortal 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 Bruce C. Hafen 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.” [ii]
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.[iii]
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.
A higher kind of submission
There is a real danger in talk of sacrifice of self and preferences. Godly sacrifice is quite a different thing from the world’s kind of submission—giving in and giving up. Passivity is not what God is after. In the world we often encourage people to move from passive compliance to self-respect: “Stand up for yourself!” What we often fail to recognize in the secular world is that there is a level that is still higher than self-respect; it is God-respect. Submitting to God is quite a different thing from being a doormat.
In godly submission, as in all things, Jesus is preeminent. He did not allow Himself to be mocked and crucified because He was weak and frightened. It was a triumph of His goodness that He did not use His immense power to destroy those who persecuted Him. He chose to let goodness govern His power. The Person with the greatest power chose to be most submissive. There is a lesson there for those who worry about power in the world.
As we imperfect humans develop courage and strength, we don’t have to use them to prove ourselves smart or powerful. The better we get, the more we will use our strength to bless. We are “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
Authors Howard and Kathleen Bahr observed that “self-sacrifice in the service of family members, formerly seen as high virtue, is now often characterized as personality defect or self-defeating behavior. . . . [Yet] the experience of having sacrificed, and been sacrificed for—was the essential glue of a moral society. The morality of kinship was a willingness to not ‘count the cost’ in sacrificing for one’s own, in contrast to the morality of the market, which involved contracts, exchange, and profit motives. . . . The morality of the marketplace was ultimately alienating, for it encouraged us to treat people as things and relationships as opportunities for profit.”[iv]
Sacrifice is generally devalued and misunderstood in our society. Tzvetan Todorov, a social commentator, invites us to think differently: “To care about someone does not mean sacrificing one’s time and energy for that person. It means devoting them to the person and taking joy in doing so; in the end, one feels richer for one’s efforts, not poorer.” [v]
It takes strength of character to see errors in a partner’s grammar or perceptions and yet resist the temptation to correct needlessly. It takes godly goodness to see weakness and mistakes in our partners and yet resist the temptation to smirk. It takes heavenly humility to be proven right and yet to meekly acknowledge that we all make mistakes. It takes divine grace to discard or limit the hobbies that prevent us from helping around the house.
Fenelon, a 17th century French Catholic bishop, has captured the sweet spirit of submission in his remarkable prayer:
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. Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to Thy tender mercy. 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]
The next installment will conclude the discussion of sacrifice and provide activities for applying the principles.
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[i] John A. Widstoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, , 348, emphasis added.
[ii] Douglas E. Brinley and D. K. Judd (Eds.), Living in a Covenant Marriage, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book , 1.
[iii] Mere Christianity New York: Macmillan , 174.
[iv] Howard M. & Kathleen S. Bahr, “Families and Self-sacrifice: Alternative Models and Meanings for Family Theory,” Social Forces, [ 2001], Journal #79:1231.
[v] Facing the Extreme Moral Life in the Concentration Camps, New York: Metropolitan Books, , 85-86.
[vi] Francois de la Mothe Fenelon quoted in Harry Emerson Fosdick, Meaning of Prayer, 58-59.