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Setting the stage
Think of reasons you are grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you feel blessed by His amazing life and example? Do you feel Him sustaining you from moment to moment by lending you breath? Do you recognize the incomparable gift of His sacrifice to redeem your soul? Do you stand all amazed that He went beyond paying for your sins to bear your pains and sorrows so that His compassion would be fully activated? Do you feel you would join that obscure woman in washing His feet with your tears if you were given the chance?
Replacing evil with goodness
Jesus was just returning with Peter, James, and John from the transcendent experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Together they had been visited and taught by God, Moses and Elijah. They had their eyes on eternity. Then they descended from Heavenly communion to earthly contention. They ran into the jarring scene of Jesus’ disciples contending with a group of scribes. Jesus asked the scribes about the subject of their contention. They dared not answer him. However, “one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit” (Mark 9:17).
The man who spoke came as an anxious and desperate father. We can hear the tender concern in his voice. “And wheresoever he [the evil spirit] taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not” (Mark 9:18).
His apostles had previously been given the power to cast out devils. They had previously performed miracles. But they had no success with this man’s son. Jesus identified the reason they were unsuccessful. It was a lack of faith. Had their faith faltered as Jesus and the leading apostles were away? Did the power fail them because they depended on themselves rather than God? Had they become careless in regard to drawing heavenly power into their ministering?
Jesus called for the boy to be brought to Him. The evil spirit in the boy perceived Jesus to be an enemy and the boy immediately exploded into convulsions. Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been troubled by the terrible seizures. “From childhood,” was the father’s agonized reply. Jesus did not ask because He did not know—He knew and knows all things. He asked so that His disciples could understand that even the most intractable enemies have no power in the face of heavenly authority.
Again we hear the father’s soul-rending cry as he describes his son’s suffering: “And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us” (Mark 9:22). This broken-hearted father would do anything to rescue his son from Satan’s grasp.
The man posed the question whether Jesus could do anything: “If thou canst do anything . . ..” Jesus reversed the challenge: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). The question is not whether Jesus is able to heal. The question is whether we will believe in Him.
The father’s response was poignant and exemplary. “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). (How often we are all in the same dilemma as the father. “Lord, I believe. I want to believe. I’m trying to believe. Will you give life to my imperfect efforts to believe?”)
The father’s faltering efforts to believe were enough. Jesus responded with power: “He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him” (Mark 9:25). Jesus gladly dispatches the evil from all our lives—when our faith—even our budding faith—invites Him into our lives.
After the evil spirit departed, the boy collapsed and appeared quite dead. In fact, we often appear quite dead when evil departs. We may be inclined to say, “What’s left? Life may seem empty and we may feel quite listless even as we are relieved of the evil that bedevils us.
“But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose” (Mark 9:27). Just as He does with us. He takes us by the hand, lifts us up, and we arise to new life.
It is not enough to cast out evil. We need more. We have vibrant, light-filled life when Jesus lifts us up. And Jesus lifts us up when we focus our souls on Him.
In this great story Jesus taught all of His followers that it takes focused faith to remove the most stubborn and persistent maladies of mortality. It takes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to remove evil from our marriages and bring them to vibrant life.
Put God first.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught us that “when we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities. We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives.”[i] That’s a powerful idea: When we put God first, everything else falls into its proper place!
But how does all this relate to the frictions and challenges of marriage? Can faith in the Lord Jesus Christ make a difference in the quality of our relationships?
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ provides eternal perspective.
Marriage is full of tempests in teapots. We bristle over our partner’s word choice or disinterest in our story. We fret and complain about this purchase or that insensitivity. We grumble about a chore neglected or a kindness unappreciated. We may be bothered by indecisiveness, hygiene, grammar, food preferences, clothing style, personality, lack of religiosity, stubbornness . . . the list is endless! Over time we transform irritations into evils. With time we come to think of our partners as disappointments or failures.
On the way to work one day Nancy asked me a question. I gave a carefully-considered answer. She looked perplexed and asked me to repeat my answer. I growled at her. I felt the indignation that is so human: “Why didn’t you listen to what I said?”
It was all very natural. Very human. Later in the day I felt guilty. I knew I had done wrong. I probably had given a reasonable answer to her question. But Nancy may have been thinking about something else. She may have been distracted as I was explaining. The irony is that I do the same thing to her all the time. I’m distracted as she answers my question and I ask her to repeat her answer.
Why is that forgivable when I am inattentive but not when Nancy is? The answer is pride. I see the whole world from the perspective of my needs, wants, and preferences. That is the painful reality of humanness.
The irony—or one among many ironies—is that Nancy and I were talking about arranging a visit to our home by a pest control man. We have chiggers and ticks in our backyard. But, even worse than those pests, I have judgment and narrowness in my soul. (I wonder if they can spray for those.) I believe that if we replace judgment and condemnation of each other with compassion and love, we not only find more peace, serenity, and tranquility but also become one smidgen more like God.
Nancy and I have lots of faults. At least I do. Yet we enjoy each other immeasurably almost all the time! So I testify of the power of faith. It causes us to be a little more patient with temporary—but annoying—humanness.
When our focus is on the unpleasant and mundane, we trivialize everything. We become like the three stooges endlessly punching and shoving each other. What a shame for nobles who are on a journey Home to the King! Like those in Zion’s Camp on the journey to redeem Missouri, we bicker and bristle and fail to claim the blessings that God has offered.
Is our faith a vibrant and ennobling power in our lives? Or do our complaints and discomforts eclipse any vision of the eternal? An acquaintance once described to me his philosophy, life as pointless tragedy: “It is our duty to suffer and die for the amusement of our creator. And I’m doing my part.” Jesus taught something far nobler: Life as perfectly-guided moral education.
For the Latter-day Saints, God has opened visions of eternity. We have seen His radiant face in glorious Latter-day theology. We have felt His relentless redemptiveness in the great plan of happiness.
Satan knows that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptiveness are enemies to his cause. Satan’s best hope is to keep us from looking up. He must keep us fully absorbed with the trivial, fretting over our inconveniences and stewing over our grievances.
Brigham Young was once approached by two sisters, each of whom wanted a divorce. I paraphrase his response: “If you could only see your husband as he will be in the glorious resurrection, this very husband you now say you despise, your first impulse would be to kneel and worship him.” [ii] He said the same thing to husbands who had “fallen out of love” with their wives. Those are mighty words.
When we have the eternal perspective on our marriages, everything is different. Filled with faith, we might adapt Jesus’ advice as our mantra: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). I would add “fret not, panic not.”
We can even go one step farther. When we have vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that the irritations and challenges of marriage are blessings intended to develop our character. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observed, “Too often too many of us run from the very things that will bless us and save us and soothe us. Too often we see gospel commitments and commandments as something to be feared and forsaken.”[iii]
As we turn from the ways of the natural man to the ways of Christ, we will respond to our challenges differently. Instead of judging our partner, we will invite Christ to soften our hearts and fill us with goodness. No challenges or differences in marriage can thwart the work of God-given charity.
Carlfred Broderick, a nationally respected Marriage and Family Therapist, told of a sister who appeared to have brought family misery on herself and her children-to-be by her choice in husbands. Soon after a temple marriage, the husband quit the Church and, as the children joined their family, he lured them into his faith-deprived lifestyle. It appeared that all four of their children would choose non-spiritual and non-religious lives. When Broderick was called upon to give her a blessing as her stake president, he made a great discovery. The Lord revealed to him that this good woman had chosen to take these trials as part of her covenant to rescue some of God’s children who would struggle in mortality. This woman should be commended rather than judged. With the help of a good bishop, the older son chose to serve a mission and he joined his mother in bringing a spiritual influence to the family. What appeared to be an unwise woman was a savior on Mount Zion.[iv]
President Howard W. Hunter taught us that “whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives.”[v]
In part 9 of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, I will talk more about applying faith to enriching and ennobling our marriages.
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[i] “The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4, emphasis in original.
[ii] Truman Madsen, “The Temple and the Atonement,” Meridian Magazine online, July 28, 2003.
[iii] Trusting Jesus , 74.
[iv] Carlfred Broderick, “The Uses of Adversity,” in The Best of Women’s Conference, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft , 50-66.
[v] “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 65.