Friday, March 12, 2010

Working Celestial Marriage

Mormons talk about "saving ordinances," meaning ordinances that we believe are required to return to our Father in Heaven's presence. The final of these is the sealing ordinance in which a man and woman can be sealed together in the temple for time and all eternity.

I agree that the ordinances are required. But the sealing alone is not what makes a marriage celestial. Elder Glenn Pace spoke recently at a BYU devotional. I haven't read his whole talk, but the following quotation from the Church News struck me: "It is the marriage ceremony in the temple where husband and wife receive the power to perfect their relationship and, thereby, obtain their exaltation" (emphasis mine).

It seems that the sealing ordinance is the just the start, just as baptism is the gate by which we enter a path back to God. The sealing ordinance is another gate, but it's the relationship, if I'm reading Elder Pace correctly, that matters. Said another way: a temple wedding does not by itself a celestial marriage make.

There's the sad joke about one spouse who wonders aloud whether he would want to spend eternity with his wife, and the wife's response wondering why she'd want to spend it with him.

As for me, I would be thrilled to spend forever with my wife. We're best friends and we have been since we met over three decades ago (when she supplanted my then-best friend who introduced us).

I believe that as spouses we have an opportunity to ennoble our significant others through service, devotion, loyalty, sacrifice, kindness and love. President Kimball taught the principle that a 50/50 marriage will struggle because each partner measures the 50% differently and so the two are likely not to meet in the middle. But a 100/100 marriage is one in which each spouse looks out for the other completely. In that circumstance, neither will want because one spouse will watch out for the other's needs.

Building such a marriage takes time and trust. And there are probably few that get to the 100/100 level. And there may be seasons where such an achievement is made difficult by the pressures of life. But my own experience is that it is a goal worth reaching for. The times when I remember to seek to understand my wife's point of view instead of defending my own, when I empathize instead of criticize, when I, after years of getting to know her, understand her concerns even before she expresses them are moments when I see a glimmer of what President Kimball spoke of. When my wife similarly reaches out to me, accurately articulates my point of view and demonstrates that she knows me and loves me, I feel safety and peace in our relationship.

Such a relationship is not without risk. If one partner offers 100% and the other takes it without offering anything in return, the relationship is not healthy, and may even be dangerous. But if couples can walk this path together, the results can be awesome.

I heard a bit of dialog in a movie on TV the other day that teaches one way this happens. This couple was getting ready to be married. The woman is upset about something and begins to share her feelings with her fiancĂ©, and he begins to respond with, "I don't think…" She holds up her hand to stop him and say, "I don't want you to take the other side. I don't want you to tell me what you think. I don't want you to fix it. I just want you to listen to me and let me say what I have to say." He agrees, and she starts again, and he interrupts her again, and she says again, "Just listen." He listens. She spills out her emotions. He touches her shoulder and then holds her, and says nothing.

Giving 100% to our spouses does not mean imposing ourselves or our solutions on them. It mean really listening, really working to understand their needs, and doing what we can to meet them (or to support our spouses in their efforts to meet them).

Here's to the 100% solution, and to the marriage relationships that will benefit from it.

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