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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them-Matthew 18:20.
The scriptures are thick with the commandment for the Saints to be one. The commandment applies to Apostles, husbands and wives, families, Church organizations and units, and the everyday disciple of Christ. The commandment has a blessing of great power to all who seek to obey it.
Your Power is Limitless
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught this incredible principle with a promise: “When you are united, your power is limitless. You can accomplish anything you wish to accomplish.”[i]
Jesus taught His disciples in Jerusalem concerning the power of unity, and then He restored that principle in this dispensation: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them-even so am I in the midst of you.” [ii]
Husbands and wives gather in the Lord’s name by virtue of their marriage covenant. Single parents gather in the Lord’s name by virtue of grace. The “one thing” that motivates the gathering could be any challenge or question. “One thing” is often a struggling loved one.
Oneness is exemplified throughout the gospel. The Godhead is comprised of three distinct individuals, whose united purpose makes them one. They should be our model. We become at one with God through the at-one-ment of Jesus Christ, and it is through His at-one-ment that we become one[iii] and joint-heirs with Him.[iv]
Another example of oneness is Zion. Individuals who create of their relationship a Zion are of “one heart and one mind,” and remarkably, this unified environment has far-reaching consequences-that of economic equality or the idea of “no poor among them.”[v] Beyond the economic implications, which are Zion’s least requirement, “no poor” also means no poor in spirit-that is, no spiritually or emotionally poor. No lack at all-something stressed-out parents of wayward children can appreciate! Consider the effects of the righteous Nephites’ oneness after Christ’s coming:
And there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. . . .
And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land . . . [and they] . . . were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them. . . .
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. . . .
They were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
And how blessed were they!”[vi]
Imagine personalizing these verses. What would your marriage and family look like if you better applied the principle of unity?
Other scriptural accounts describe the power of oneness with emphasis on power to reclaim and convert. Alma and Amulek became one, gathered in the Lord’s name, and helped to convert many wicked Nephites. The sons of Mosiah became one, gathered in the Lord’s name, and became the Lord’s instruments to convert thousands of blood-thirsty Lamanites. Alma’s grandsons, Nephi and Lehi, became one, gathered in the Lord’s name, and helped convert yet more thousands of the unrepentant. So how can we access the power of gathering in the Lord’s name for our wayward loved ones?
Unity of Faith Through Purpose, Action, Fasting, and Prayer
President Henry B. Eyring promised us that the wayward soul would return as a reward for our unrelenting efforts and oneness. In many cases, he said, God would call back our children (and one could certainly apply this to other loved ones) through those who are called to serve in the Church.[vii] We should become one with our bishop, family, and trusted and influential friends to apply faith in behalf of our struggling loved ones. Remember, Joseph Smith said, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise.”[viii]
Caring friends, family, bishoprics, teachers, and other relevant local Church presidencies could be invited to participate in fasting, praying and working with our wayward loved ones. Unity in purpose and action is made even more holy and influential through fasting and prayer.
For instance, in the presence of six Elders, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that, in part, speaks to the subject of the power of multiple voices united in prayer. Because they were gathered in the Lord’s name and united in prayer, the Lord was in their midst and invited them to ask for and receive blessings:
Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom. And, as it is written-Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive.”[ix]Then the Lord blessed them with what they were praying for because “it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed.[x]
That is, they had gathered in the Lord’s name, unitedly agreed, and, as if with one voice, they had asked in faith. This is the principle Alma the Elder applied in rescuing his wayward son. Notice in the angel’s words how others joined with Alma in his quest:
And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.[xi]
Then, when Alma the Younger had his experience with the angel, his father gathered those same people to help ensure the experience became one of conversion:
And he caused that a multitude should be gathered together that they might witness what the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him.
And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength-that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.[xii]
Oneness as Couples
Consider the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 38:27 which reads, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” Certainly this scripture applies to the husband and wife. By definition of their marriage covenant, they are (or should be) one. This principle of gathering in the Lord’s name has power to invite Him, and thereby, invokes extraordinary power when exercised in righteousness. Again, single parents invoke grace to access the same blessings and accomplish the same purposes.
In the oneness of a Zion marriage, where God has made two people one, and where the husband and wife have worked to knit their hearts and minds as one in purpose, there is simply no lack. The Nephites achieved this same oneness after the visitation of the resurrected Christ.
The oneness of a husband and wife in marriage can result in the same, unparalleled happiness, blessings, and abundance the Nephites experienced. More importantly, those who come in contact with such a couple, children included, are leavened by the couple’s oneness until all within their gravitational pull become one. In the same way that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father are one, which oneness enables Jesus to draw all men to Him,[xiii] so we parents, by our oneness, gain power to draw our children to us if we keep the full requirements of covenant marriage.
Synergy Versus Antagonism
The stress that comes in dealing with a wayward child can result in either antagonism or synergy between parents. Parents can either harden their hearts against each other or soften them and unite in an unbreakable union of purpose. Using the people of Nephi as an example of this very principle, Elder Boyd K. Packer noted,
The same testing in troubled times can have quite opposite effects on individuals. Three verses from the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Christ, teach us that “they had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years.
“And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi; nevertheless for the righteous’ sake, yea, because of the prayers of the righteous, they were spared.
“But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened . . . [but also due to the]great length of the war . . . many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility”(Alma 62:39-41, italics added).[xiv]
Afflictions can push parents apart, when in actuality afflictions are designed to weld them together. A young woman who had endured yet another miscarriage was told in a blessing, “This experience will weld you and your husband together forever.” We might ask, “But aren’t they bound by marriage?” Or even, “Aren’t they already sealed in the temple?” Yes, but they were not as yet welded. Both triumphing over the furnace of affliction and living worthy of the Holy Spirit of Promise are required to make a sealing sure.
When it comes to antagonism, we cannot factor out Satan, the father of antagonism, who seeks to tear us apart. Elder M. Russell Ballard said,
When evil wants to strike out and disrupt the essence of God’s work, it attacks the family. It does so by attempting to disregard the law of chastity, to confuse gender, to desensitize violence, to make crude and blasphemous language the norm, and to make immoral and deviant behavior seem like the rule rather than the exception.[xv]
Joseph Smith taught this frightening reality: “In relation to the kingdom of God, the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God.”[xvi] Imagine, on that joyful day when we were married, the devil also set up a kingdom to oppose us! Remaining unaware of that fact and neglecting to fight back can ruin us. Of this fact, President George Q. Cannon taught,
If any man or woman expects to enter into the celestial kingdom of our God without being tested to the very uttermost, they have not understood the Gospel. If there is a weak spot in our nature, or if there is a fiber that can be made to quiver or to shrink, we may rest assured that it will be tested. Our own weaknesses will be brought fully to light, and in seeking for help, the strength of our God will also be made manifest to us.[xvii]
With so much at stake, we cannot allow that which President Thomas S. Monson called “hidden wedges“[xviii] to form cracks in our relationship while expecting to save others.
Oneness has a synergistic effect. Synergy refers to the phenomenon in which two or more agents acting together create an effect greater than the sum of the individual agents. For example, if one thread can hold five pounds before it breaks, two threads woven together might be predicted to hold twice as much-ten pounds. But, because of the effect of synergy, the two threads woven together can actually hold twenty pounds!
Disturbingly, the opposite of synergy, antagonism, can result in two agents effectively working against each other, thus achieving less in combination than the individuals could achieve separately.
The Lord commanded us to be one and to share each other’s burdens: “And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance.”[xix] Oneness brings deliverance! But because we live in a fallen world where we are subject to the temptations of Satan, duality and conflict often retard unity and peace. We must quickly recognize and rectify such a condition; synergy must replace antagonism for unity and strength to reenter the relationship. An antagonistic relationship simply cannot produce the power necessary to rescue wayward children.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen related the story of Nicole and Geoff, a couple experiencing antagonism in their marriage.
A few years after their temple marriage, Geoff began losing interest in the Church, which left Nicole feeling spiritually very alone. . . .
As she searched for guidance, Nicole ran across a book about the Atonement . . . “and [her] life changed.” Instead of continuing to worry about her husband’s choices, she gave priority to putting her own “spirituality back on track.” She prayed for changes in her marriage, in her husband’s choices, and in her own choices. She was surprised when the changes didn’t come in big ways, but they eventually did come-“in the most subtle ways and through obedience to promptings.” Then, she wrote, “last Sunday, with no forewarning and with no apparent catalyst, Geoff woke up and casually announced he was coming to church.”
She had learned to stop working on trying to force his Church activity. Rather, she had focused on being “faithful regardless of others’ decisions” and on making herself “the kind of wife and person that Geoff wants to be with forever.”[xx]
David Whitmer, a close friend of Joseph Smith, related an enlightening experience that happened while the Prophet was translating the gold plates:
He [Joseph] was a religious and straightforward man. He had to be; for he was illiterate and could do nothing himself. He had to trust in God. He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards everyone. To illustrate so you can see: One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour-came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.[xxi]
The principle is clear: Become one. Heal your relationship first, and then you can heal others.
The Power of Love
The first step in healing our relationships is through practicing Christlike love. True love between a husband and wife gives them the power to effectively seek and secure blessings from heaven and to rescue their wayward children. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Charity, or love, is the greatest principle in existence.”[xxii]
The Apostle John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Restated, the man or woman who does not love well does not know God well: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”[xxiii] Therefore, the more like God we become, the more love we have to give, and the more love we have to give, the more power we have to save others.
“Craig and Janice,” parents from New Mexico, spoke candidly about the impact their wayward daughter had on their relationship and how the rekindling of their love saved their marriage from destruction.
Free agency is that wonderful gift that is full of promise and risk. When our daughter “Andrea,” exercised her agency to sin, she reacted by feeling dirty and worthless. Because she couldn’t forget the deed, she imagined that she couldn’t be forgiven. She was too embarrassed to talk to the bishop and begin the repentance process. But as quiet as she wanted to keep the deed, secrets have a way of getting out. Soon, members of the ward snubbed Andrea. In my opinion, this is a form of persecution. The snubbing had a spiraling effect-she no longer felt comfortable at church, so she quit attending, which caused her to lose the Spirit.
We were divided as to how to help Andrea. My husband wanted to press Andrea to repent quickly, because living with unrepentant sin can be disastrous. I agreed, but I wanted to take the nurturing approach and keep the relationship intact. Unfortunately this caused a lot of conflict and contention between us. Not only was this not helpful to Andrea, but it kept us from comforting each other at a very traumatic time. The adversary is so clever. We wanted the same thing, but we thought it needed to be done in two exactly different ways. That distraction pulled us away from each other and from Andrea.
Craig made the first gesture of reconciliation. Love notes and flowers started appearing at unexpected times. He planned a short romantic trip together, and he made sure that weekly date nights were sacred. He took more opportunities to compliment me on my appearance, and he continually expressed his gratitude that I was his wife. Even more important, he told me that I was a good mother, and gave me specific evidences. That was so comforting to me at a time when I was feeling like a failure. He asked for my opinion on dealing with Andrea, and he really considered what I had to say. We shared ideas and came up with a unified plan. All of this endeared him to me in a way that I had never experienced before. I was actually grateful for the adversity because it pulled us together in a remarkable, loving way. Of course, I could not let his loving gestures go unreciprocated. The more he gave the more I wanted to give back to him. Being loving is so wonderful.
We still struggle with Andrea, but the loving unity of our marriage seems to be bringing her around. Home is now the safe place that she needs to deal with her problems. She knows that her parents love each other, and she knows that we love her. We hope that the few narrow-minded people at the ward will someday soften their position, but for now we try to put all our energy into our relationship. We are certain that love and unity will eventually prevail.
Parents who are truly united in love have saving power that is perhaps only exceeded by the saving power of God. Thus it behooves parents to recommit to each other and tap into the incredible power of unified love.
[i] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, November 2000.
[ii] D&C 6:32.
[iii] See Bruce R.
McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Volume 1, 131.
[iv] See Romans 8:17.
[v] Moses 7:18.
[vi] 4 Nephi 1:2, 7, 11, 3, 15-18.
[vii] Henry B. Eyring, “The True and Living Church,” Ensign, May 2008.
[viii] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 183, emphasis added.
[ix] D&C 29:5-6, emphasis added.
[x] D&C 29:33, emphasis added.
[xi] Mosiah 27: 14, emphasis added.
[xii] Mosiah 27: 21-22, emphasis added.
[xiii] 3 Nephi 27:14-15.
[xiv] Boyd K. Packer “The Mystery of Life,” Ensign, November 1983.
[xv] M. Russell Ballard, “Let Our Voices Be Heard,” Ensign, November 2003, 18.
[xvi] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365.
[xvii] George Q. Cannon, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 3, 27.
[xviii] Thomas S. Monson, “Hidden Wedges,” Liahona, July 2002.
[xix] D&C 30:6.
[xx] Bruce C. Hafen, Covenant Hearts, 128-129.
[xxi] B. H. Roberts, History of the Church, Volume 1, 131.
[xxii] Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, April 1917, 4.
[xxiii] 1 John 4:7-8.