Here is an excerpt from a talk (or sermon) I gave to the congregation at my church on September 30, 2018. It has not been posted with complete documentation on all my sources, but each should be easily found with a Google search if you need it. If you cannot find the source to a certain quote, let me know and I’ll dig it up for you.
Hi, my name is Leslie Householder; as Nicholas said we moved in recently and are glad to be here. We have seven children, with 3 ½ still at home (I say half because he is sometimes with us, sometimes away at school). You met Nick, and our youngest daughters are almost 15 and 12. Thank you for your warm welcome to us.
I am passionate about my topic: maintaining an eternal marriage, not because ours has been only blissful but because the joys that have sprung out of getting through our difficulties have been extraordinary.
We’ve learned that marriage has a way of accelerating one’s personal growth and deepening one’s relationship with the Lord, when those challenges are faced in the Lord’s way. So many rewards OR tragedies sprout from, and hinge on those seemingly insignificant moments of decision, and we’ve experienced both. We’ve also discovered that the more difficult the challenge or decision, the greater the reward for setting OUR will aside and clinging to the covenant.
As James E. Faust said, “Happiness in marriage …can exceed a thousand times any other happiness.” And I can attest to this.
I told Brother Kennedy that this is a challenging topic for me, because I really want to just spew about everything we’ve learned in our marriage, but a lot of it would be too heavy for a sacrament meeting. I said, “I think many people divorce over much less than what we’ve gone through together.”
So today I just hope to touch on some principles of that I believe can be helpful to any marriage. And with this, I include a reminder from President Faust that, “Those who are single through no fault of their own, if worthy, will be given the blessings, if they wish, of an eternal [marriage and] family relationship.”
So that is the goal: to build and enjoy an Eternal Marriage.
It was the load
Elder Bednar shared a story of his friend who went too far along a snowy road. As he steered the truck off of the road at the place he had determined to cut wood, he got stuck. All four of the wheels on the new truck spun in the snow. Sometimes we feel stuck in our marriages, too, like there is no progress or improvement.
He said his friend decided:
“‘Well, I will not just sit here.’ So he climbed out of the vehicle and started cutting wood. He filled the back of the truck with the heavy load. And then determined he would try driving out of the snow one more time. As he put the pickup into gear and applied power, he started to inch forward. Slowly the truck moved out of the snow and back onto the road.”
“I pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I emphasize vital lessons that can be learned from this story about my friend, the truck, and the wood. It was the load. It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward…
“Each of us also carries a load. Our individual load is comprised of demands… obligations… afflictions… and constraints.
“Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness. Because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most,” (David A. Bednar, “Bear Up Their Burdens With Ease“).
And avoiding the heavy load, or choosing not to carry it at all, can literally rob us of the potential blessings and joy that were connected to the experience, for which the load was given to us.
This paradoxical idea gives me a new understanding of the scripture in the Joseph Smith Translation of James 1 that says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions;” The King James version uses the word “temptations” but the index explains Afflictions, not temptations, help to sanctify us.
So, when we find ourselves in tremendous afflictions in our marriage, how can we overcome them? How can we gain the promised blessings of joy and progress when sometimes we are not united in how to solve them?
Since every situation is different, and since only God knows the full and complete situation, the decisions we make get us from here to the ultimate goal MUST be guided by the Spirit.
While we can get answers from studying the scriptures or reading counsel that the Lord has given to the early saints, we can get even more specific, relevant, and timely guidance directly from the Holy Spirit.
Larry Lawrence in Oct 2015 General Conference explained that the Spirit gives personalized, specific, direction when we prepare ourselves to receive it. He said:
I knew a faithful mother who humbled herself and asked [for guidance…] In her case, the response from the Spirit came immediately: “Stop complaining.” This answer surprised her; she had never thought of herself as a complainer…
A humble young man who couldn’t seem to find the right young woman went to the Lord for help: [His] answer came into his mind and heart: “Clean up your language.” …
A single sister bravely asked [for guidance]… and the Spirit whispered… “Don’t interrupt people when they are talking.”
The Holy Ghost really does give customized counsel. He is a completely honest companion and will tell us things that no one else knows or has the courage to say.
…The Holy Ghost doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, “line upon line, precept upon precept, … and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, … for unto him that receiveth I will give more.”
God’s ways – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Evan Almighty – As portrayed in one movie, a woman’s marriage was collapsing and she had an opportunity to speak with a stranger in a restaurant about it. In response, the stranger (who was actually God) replied:
“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”
I would add, “If someone prays for an eternal marriage, do we think God gives us a perfect companion, or the opportunity to face challenges, be refined, and sanctified through difficulties?”
This indeed is exactly how he prepared his saints to become the people they needed to be, by sending them on a harrowing westward trek across the great divide and Rocky Mountains. Sometimes marriage can feel just as difficult. But if we are meek and faithful to the covenant, it can sanctify us in a similar way.
You’ll hear society disparage the institution of marriage. It isn’t as popular of a notion as it has been in the past. To that I would apply the response of one survivor of the Martin Handcart company who, in substance, said:
(And think of this as it applies to marriage…)
“‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold … facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine … but did you ever hear a survivor … utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’” He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.”
And I have felt angels attending to us in our marriage, in a similar way.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught that:
“two individuals approaching the marriage altar must realize that to attain the happy marriage which they hope for they must know that marriage … means sacrifice, sharing, and even a reduction of some personal liberties. It means long, hard economizing. It means children who bring with them financial burdens, service burdens, care and worry burdens; but also it means the deepest and sweetest emotions of all.”
HOPE in the power of communication and honesty
Years ago, I was visiting with a friend, whose marriage was suffering because her husband had a pornography addiction. She had come to the devastating news not by his admission, but through her own discovery. Upon confronting him, his response was one of anger and denial, and though they were still married years later, there had been no change, no real progress, and certainly no healing.
She wrestled terribly with what to do, because spending the rest of her life with a companion under that thick and evil cloud of deceit, emotional abuse, and bitterness had become beyond intolerable.
As we talked about other things, such as recent vacations, or what our kids were up to, she discovered that a man she had recently met was a good friend of mine. She said, “I have to tell you – that is one amazing individual.” She said, “I was attending church, and he was sitting in the row in front of me. He sang out joyfully during the hymns, and brought so much light and life to the room. I thought, I have got to find out who he is. When it was over, I tapped him on the shoulder. We talked for a while and I learned he was just passing through town and wanted to take the sacrament on his way home. He literally radiated – the light in his countenance was amazing.”
And then she added this: “And I thought to myself, now THERE is a man NOT on porn.”
I smiled and said, “Can I tell you something? And I only tell you this because he has given me permission to share it wherever it might help someone, but he was indeed struggling to overcome a pornography addiction at that time.”
She was shocked. How could he be so full of light? How could he possibly radiate the Spirit so strongly? How could he be so joyful?
I explained perhaps one major difference. This friend had been actively working on overcoming the struggle with a bright hope and expectation that one day it would be gone. He had found the courage and was humble enough to seek help, realizing it was too big for him to conquer on his own. He had been honest with himself, with his sweetheart, and with his bishop, who was lovingly guiding him towards complete and full recovery.
Even after experiencing a setback and returning to his bishop again, he learned some things about the atonement that day that he had not understood before, and joyfully reported, “I would have counted it a LOSS, had I NOT had a reason to meet with my bishop that day.”
It was the LOAD.
I explained to her, it’s not what we’ve done that determines whether our life will be full of light and joy, sometimes it’s whether we are open and honest in our communication, and whether we have an eye single to the glory of God, and a hope, desire, and expectation that we will one day be redeemed, healed, restored, and exalted in the kingdom of God, even if it takes us until the day we die, or beyond.
Truly, it’s not where we are, and it’s not even who we are today that determines our light. It’s the direction we’re headed, even when the victory has not yet been won. This is one reason we can have joy right now. Today, no matter what our past has been. In fact, this is exactly is why we are here, that we may have JOY. With each decision and effort to improve, we can taste joy, and I believe that the harder the challenge is, the greater that joy can be.
And the same goes with our marriages. It’s not who your spouse is today that determines your happiness, it’s not how your relationship looks today that determines your joy. It’s whether you are taking positive steps, and making the little decisions along the way that can have a great impact.
Credit for Trying
Elder Holland said:
“Keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever… The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful … gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you. Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined … are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve, he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.
“Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.” He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek.
‘As you desire of me so it shall be done unto you,” the Lord has declared.’
‘… Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously. …’
‘… [Then] whatsoever you desire of me [in] righteousness, … you shall receive.’
“If gospel standards seem high and the personal improvement needed in the days ahead seems out of reach, remember Joshua’s encouragement to his people when they faced a daunting future. ‘Sanctify yourselves,’ he said, ‘for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.'”
About the Covenant
The foundation of an Eternal Marriage is the New and Everlasting Covenant. It facilitates the difference between a relationship that is temporary, and one that will last into the eternities.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “I watched a new bride and groom… emerge from a sacred temple. They laughed and held hands as family and friends gathered to take pictures. I saw happiness and promise in their faces as they greeted their reception guests, who celebrated publicly the creation of a new family. I wondered that night how long it would be until these two face the opposition that tests every marriage. Only then would they discover whether their marriage was based on a contract or a covenant.”
The difference between a contract and a covenant
One writer describes the difference this way:
“My mother came into their marriage with a heavy load of unresolved pain from growing up with an alcoholic father. She dealt with a debilitating blend of perfectionism and depression, which lead to a combination of chronic physical and mental health challenges. For the most part, my father dealt with this by going silent.
“Now, for the record, I want to say that when she IS feeling well, there is no greater cheerleader, scriptorian, or saint on the planet. She has a tremendous talent for building people up and making her children especially feel amazing. But when she is not feeling well, she can only see life through the lens of darkness, and though she is conscious of the distortion, she struggles tremendously to cope with it.
“On one particularly bad day in the 1980s when my dad was out of work and stress was high, I watched my mother berate him viciously, burst into tears, and then zoom away in the car. It hurt me to see her criticize my dad, and visibly upset, I asked him, “Dad, how can you put up with that??”
“He sat me down and became very stern. I can’t remember a time before or since when he addressed me so emphatically. He said, “Daughter, you have no idea what you mother has been through.” And then he became tearful and added, “I love that woman with all my heart.”
“It was in that moment I learned the difference between a contract, and a covenant.
“My parents suffered in their marriage my whole life, but they both desired the blessings of eternal life and exaltation, they trusted in the promises of the atonement, they understood the importance of the ordinances, and chose to make sacrifices and put the covenant they made ahead of every other desire: the covenant to be companions throughout this mortal sojourn and into the eternities.” – K. N.
Else what is a covenant for?
This father could see his wife through the lens of an eternal perspective. He knew who she was without her ailments. That’s who he will spend eternity with, and his daughter imagines it will be joyful.
Where she once saw a father who appeared to be small and diminished under constant criticism, she now saw a spiritual giant with the wisdom of a sage. He was not diminished at all. Somehow amidst his suffering, he had discovered the blessing contained in the challenge. It had humbled him, softened him, given him an opportunity to experiment with unconditional love, and even exalted him.
Weaknesses are from God
As it was with her mother, so much of our pain and suffering springs from physical or mental ailments and the mortal weaknesses that God—yes God—gave us:
Ether 12:27 says, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. [Marriage does this like no other experience can]” He said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Strong marriages are born out of weak marriages. So, if yours ever feels weak, that’s a good sign. Keep the faith, hold to the covenant, and let the Spirit teach you directly what to do about it. As you set your intention on building an Eternal Marriage, it will give you direct, specific, and personalized instruction from day to day, as promised.
I’ve experienced this personalized instruction. There have been times when I have felt instructed to let the Momma Bear come out and confront a hard issue. Other times I have felt instructed to hold my tongue and force a smile. Moment by moment we can all be guided to do the right things at the right time to realize the blessing we seek.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball when he married our friends Julianne and Glenn on March 19, 1965 told them, “You’ve got to keep the doors of communication open. You’ve got to keep the windows of communication open…” and he rattled off numerous metaphors to emphasize his point. Then he added, “…any couple who will do that, will have an eternal marriage.”
Fear of Confrontation
A woman struggled for many years in a marriage where hurt feelings were never resolved. Hard conversations to work through issues and misunderstandings were avoided, because tensions had grown too high, feelings were always raw, and walls were solidly up. When her husband was too harsh with the children, she ached for their pain, but suffered her angst in silence. When he brought things into the home that were not appropriate or harmful, she bit her tongue, mentally stacking up the evidence to her case against him.
Although she was certain he would never physically harm them, the emotional tension was bad enough. Whenever she tried to bring up her concerns, her mind would freeze. They went to counseling, but he refused to open up, and then ultimately refused to return because, he said, “counseling doesn’t work.” Even my friend, whose idea it was to try counseling in the first place couldn’t find the courage to speak her concerns during the sessions, even with a mediator in the room.
Ultimately, they divorced, because separation was easier than confrontation. Would facing the hard conversations and doing the hard work of addressing their issues saved their marriage? I don’t know. But unfortunately, the problem didn’t go away, they simply added to the communication problem the complexities of divorce and raising their kids under joint custody.
With or without marriage, healthy communication is a critical skill to seek, and it can be developed with the guidance of the Spirit.
True and honest communication, no matter how ugly the truth may be, has the power to bring the Spirit of God into any relationship, no matter how broken it may be, which is exactly why Satan wants us to believe it’s better to hide the truth, to suppress our feelings, or to avoid the hard conversations.
Some things will be changed in the hereafter
Everything wrong with your spouse will eventually be fixed, but not all will be fixed here. God can soften hearts and increase capacities, but sometimes it doesn’t happen until you stop needing it to happen.
Let me close with the words of Boyd K Packer:
“Eternal love, eternal marriage, eternal increase! … No relationship has more potential to exalt a man and a woman than the marriage covenant. No obligation in society or in the Church supersedes it in importance.
“I thank God for marriage. I thank God for temples. I thank God for the glorious sealing power, that power which transcends all that we have been given, through which our marriages may become eternal. May we be worthy of this sacred gift, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
For more on this topic, read Third Option