And here it goes.
I want to begin with a brief personal story, because in some ways this was a very difficult topic to prepare to speak on. After Paul and I had dated for several months, I received a very powerful revelation that the Lord intended me to serve as a full-time missionary. This came as quite a shock, since Paul and I were already very much in love, but I honored that revelation and moved forward. In the months preceding my mission, I faced a number of emotional obstacles; many questioned my decision to serve a mission, noting that women are counseled to serve missions only when there are no immediate marriage prospects. I believe someone even asked me if I had prayed about this decision. (It’s a funny thing not to pray about.) In addition to this, my father passed away unexpectedly during this period, making me yearn for the blessings and comfort that come only in being sealed together as an eternal family. I felt heart-broken that I would be leaving this man I loved so dearly, and knowing that we may never have the opportunity to experience an eternal relationship. I mention this only because for a few brief months, I was an exception to the rule. Knowing that the Lord had a specific plan for me made it easier, but not easy, to listen to doubt-filled remarks, lectures on eternal marriage, and my own emotional weaknesses.
My topic today is Celestial Marriage, and I was constantly reminded of the exceptions that are all around us: those of us who have not yet had the opportunity to marry, or whose marriages have ended in divorce, or those of us who are earnestly seeking eternal marriage while our spouse is content with the more worldly variety. Russell M. Nelson stated “Through the years you will note that apostles and prophets teach the rule. We don’t teach exceptions to the rule. Exceptions are left to individual agency and accountability. The Lord knows we live in an imperfect world.” I pray that each of us today will feel only the sweet assurance of the Spirit of Truth, but for those of us who are reminded of personal pain, I ask you to go to the Lord and seek for a glimpse of his eternal plan for you. Allow his Spirit and love to wash over you and guide you continually back to him.
The title of my talk today comes from a little jewel I found in the Proclamation on the Family. It reads, “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s such a small statement, but with such grand implications. I think the key to this is the word founded, implying that the foundation of our families must be built upon the teachings of the Savior. Helaman explains the blessings of choosing this sure foundation in Helaman 5:12. He tells his sons,
“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson tells a story that echoes this principle.
Years ago when Sister Nelson and I had several teenaged daughters, we went on a raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The first day was beautiful. But on the second day, when we approached Horn Creek rapids and saw that precipitous drop ahead, I was terrified. Floating on a rubber raft, our precious family was about to plunge over a waterfall! Instinctively I put one arm around my wife and the other around our youngest daughter. To protect them, I tried to hold them close to me. But as we reached the precipice, the bended raft became a giant sling and shot me into the air. I landed into the roiling rapids of the river. I had a hard time coming up. Each time I tried to find air, I hit the underside of the raft. My family couldn’t see me, but I could hear them shouting, “Daddy! Where’s Daddy?”
I finally found the side of the raft and rose to the surface. The family pulled my nearly drowned body out of the water. We were thankful to be safely reunited.
The next several days were pleasant and delightful. Then came the last day, when we were to go over Lava Falls, known as the most dangerous drop of the journey. When I saw what was ahead… I reasoned with our family: “No matter what happens, the rubber raft will remain on top of the water. If we cling with all our might to ropes secured to the raft, we can make it. Even if the raft should capsize, we will be all right if we hang tightly to the ropes.”
That we did. We crossed those steep, rough rapids—hanging on for dear life—and all of us made it safely.
Brothers and sisters, I nearly lost my life learning a lesson that I now give to you. As we go through life, even through very rough waters, a father’s instinctive impulse to cling tightly to his wife or to his children may not be the best way to accomplish his objective. Instead, if he will lovingly cling to the Savior and the iron rod of the gospel, his family will want to cling to him and to the Savior. This lesson is surely not limited to fathers. Regardless of gender, marital status, or age, individuals can choose to link themselves directly to the Savior, hold fast to the rod of His truth, and lead by the light of that truth. By so doing, they become examples of righteousness to whom others will want to cling.
The longer we look, the more we will find on the principle of founding the family on the Lord Jesus Christ. What we must determine now is what a Christ-centered marriage looks like. While pondering on this, I immediately thought of the many Christlike attributes that would lead a marriage toward this definition. Faith, hope, charity and love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, and diligence are just a few of the attributes of Christ that we can emulate in order to improve ourselves and our relationships.
But even more than that, a marriage centered on Christ will also be centered on the principle of repentance. I think the Bible dictionary illuminates the concept of repentance by calling it “a change of mind” and “a turning of the heart and will to God.” It goes on to declare that without repentance “there can be no progress.” I am reminded of Billy Joel crooning “Don’t go changing to try to please me.” And it seems that he has missed this crucial doctrine. Indeed it is not only our marriages, but our entire lives that must be fixed upon this godly change.
A Christ-centered life takes advantage of the magnificent blessing that the Atonement brings us; the ability to change and grow and progress every day; that yesterday’s shortcomings, mishaps and failings can be forgotten and improved upon, and we can begin each day as a new person, “born again”. Marriage is a constantly evolving relationship, an unceasing journey toward each other and God. Russell M. Nelson tells us that “temple marriage is not only between husband and wife, it embraces a partnership with God.” I have seen the marriage relationship depicted as a triangle: husband and wife on the bottom two points, and the Lord at the apex. I love this visualization because it is easy to see that as both partners grow closer to the Lord, they also grow closer to one another.
We taught a couple on my mission who seemed relatively happy and in love; we did not notice anything amiss in the relationship. So, as always, we were excited to teach them the principle of eternal marriage. You can imagine my surprise when one partner expressed disinterest in this set-up. He said “I don’t think there is anything wrong with going our separate ways in the next life, maybe we will want to stay together, but maybe we will have different goals and needs, and we will be ready to move on.” I left their home perplexed. Why would anyone want a relationship to be so transient? Looking back, I think it involves this principle of eternal marriage. Celestial marriages are founded on the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. The goals of husband and wife are the same, to receive exaltation in the kingdom of our Father, to be perfected in the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not have to worry about having different desires in the life hereafter or in our earthly lives, for as we grow closer to the Lord, we grow closer to each other, creating an eternal relationship.
To truly reap the blessings of this principle, we should understand the priority marriage must take in our daily lives. Russell M. Nelson shares his observation,
As I meet with priesthood leaders, I often ask about the priorities of their various responsibilities. Usually they mention their important Church duties to which they have been called. Too few remember their responsibilities at home. Yet priesthood offices, keys, callings, and quorums are meant to exalt families. Priesthood authority has been restored so that families can be sealed eternally. So brethren, your foremost priesthood duty is to nurture your marriage—to care for, respect, honor, and love your wife. Be a blessing to her and your children.
I notice that we, as women, sometimes allow the many responsibilities of motherhood to eclipse our responsibilities as wives and companions. Our relationship with our spouse is second only to our relationship with God. And yet, is that how it is treated in the day to day hustle and bustle?
How easy it is to forget this divinely appointed relationship is not merely a convenience designed to ease the burden of children. “The Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” From this scripture comes the word “helpmeet”, which we usually use to mean wife. But the original meaning is clear, “I will make him a help meet for him” meaning “a helper suited to him, or worthy of him”. Men and women are designed to complement each other in every way. I love how the Lord tells us the creation story in Genesis; He begins with the simplest, most basic creation on the first day, Night and Day, and progresses onward gaining in complexity, Earth and Seas, grass and herb, fish and fowl, and the beast of the earth. Finally, God creates Adam in his own image, and then noting that “it is not good for man to be alone”, He creates Eve. Adam realizes quickly that he and Eve are meant to be one, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”, making the Lord’s crowning creation not man or woman, but the eternal partnership between husband and wife. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
The Lord designed eternal marriage not only to benefit individuals and families, but to fulfill a major role in his divine plan. Doctrine and Covenants 49:16 reads, “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” How powerful is that?! Seeking out a celestial marriage in this life enables us to play an immense part in God’s eternal plan for humankind.
I want to end with a story in Matthew 19. This is where the rich young man approaches the Savior and asks “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The Savior outlines for him the commandments he should be keeping, “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And the young man replies “All these have I kept from my youth up”. His situation is like many of ours, we know and understand the commandments, and we are actively seeking to follow our Savior. The key to this story lies in his next question, “What lack I yet?” And just as the Savior answered his query, so can we receive the Lord’s answer to our own question of what we now lack. I encourage each of you to return home and ask your Father in Heaven, “what lack I yet?” and wait for his answer. This is our most important tool in cultivating our celestial relationships. We can know how God would have us move forward, and use his promptings to strengthen our marriages and ourselves.
I know God lives, and that his divine plan has provided a way for us to live as families forever. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and our only way home to our Heavenly Father.