Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 4)

This is a continuation from Part 3. (See also Part 1 and Part 2.)

I think one of the reasons we are on this planet is to understand our passions and to get them under control. I've noticed in the scriptures that the Lord never says, "Don't have any passion!" but there are numerous appeals to bring them under control and to keep them under control. James chapter 3, for example, is a plea for us to overcome our fiery tongues.

One of the ways our adversary deceives us is by tempting us to seek gratifying results when what we really want are satisfying results.

For example, we sometimes let our kids raise our hackles and then we justify using anger or loud voices or sharp words or threats or whatever to get them to do what we want them to do. When we get a quick response we are deceived into thinking that bitterness is a great motivator when really it is not.

We may use the same method with our husbands or wives and get fast results, too. We learned this as children when we said to ourselves in essence: "If I throw a hissy fit, I might just wear down my parents and get what I want." Then we get older and use the same methods in our marriages or with our children and pow! Instant gratification. We're hooked!

But consider this verse:
And, ye fathers [and mothers], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4.)
And then cross-reference that verse with this one:
For the wrath of man [or woman] worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:20.)
The long-term results of wrath will not be satisfying. Over the years, as I have seen parents and spouses use "wrath" as a means to an end, I have seen their children or spouses get quite disheartened. Some even lose their way.
Fathers [and mothers], provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:21.)
We cannot work the righteousness of God with our wrath, as the scriptures teach. The two are incongruous. Too often we justify our "reproving betimes with sharpness" but then don't show "an increase of love" (see D&C 121:43-44). We err on the side of reproving, and don't do enough loving.

What we don't always realize is that we are planting thorns and thistles as we treat our loved ones this way, the deep seeds of resentment and rebellion. Those seeds may take time to grow and bring forth their ugly fruit, but they certainly will bear that fruit if we don't root out and displace poisonous plants with flowers.

The discouragement created by a parent's or spouse's wrath can lead to a child or spouse to seeking acceptance elsewhere, often with the wrong crowd or with new companions or through secret, virtual pleasures. The seeds of wrath may very well bear fruit by the shocking delivery of divorce papers, a last minute exit before entering the MTC, or the announcement, "I don't love you any more." The reasons behind those tragic moments are wide and varied, but sometimes we plant the seeds that bear this fruit without realizing it.

Satan is always tempting us to go after things that will bring us quick, gratifying results. Perverted uses of alcohol, drugs, money, pornography, sex, even junk food which can also bring us down physically and emotinally. He likes to throw things like this in our path when we are physically, mentally and emotionally worn down, when we are the most vulnerable.

Sin does not usually bring with it an instant punishment, but it often brings an instant "reward"; however, a moment's indulgence can be followed by decades of regret.

So my advice to couples and parents is to turn away from the temptation to go after gratifying results and instead seek for deeply satisfying results.

One last verse:
Bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love... (Alma 38:12.)
This verse seem to indicate that when we get our passions under control, it makes way for love to flourish. Invest in patience, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned. (See D&C 121:41-42; see also Galatians 5:22-23.)

Our passions are real. They don't go away. But we can bridle and control and guide them. Don't let the adversary deceive you any longer. Sharp-tongued words cannot bring you what you really want.

Only the virtues of love, patience and gentleness can bring you the deep, meaningful and peaceful relationships that you really want. Those virtues require discipline and perseverance and daily repentance.

Those virtues will not let you down. Those around you may let you down, but true principles and virtues will not. Like a seed planted in the ground, they take time to grow, but when nurtured, they will in due season yield their beautiful, satisfying fruit. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 3)

This a continuation from Part 2. Here also is Part 1.

You may be familiar with Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing where the bickering between Benedick and Beatrice—"My dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?" is entirely overthrown. Friends trick Benedick into believing that Beatrice loves him—"Love me, why?"—and also trick Beatrice into believing that Benedick loves her. It amazes me what a change takes place in a person when they feel loved, truly loved, by another. It changes everything.

But we can lose sight of that when we fall into the trap of focusing on the mistakes or weaknesses of those we love. To me, it is one of the biggest mistakes we can make in our relationships.

One thing that took me nearly a lifetime to recognize is this: that the things we complain about are most often brought about by our own actions or inaction. We deceive and distract ourselves from the real, core problem by blaming others for our troubles, and this, I believe, is one of the ways we hurt ourselves the most. We think our limitations are caused by others, but it is we ourselves who hold the key to our own prison cell.

As a young friend once said to me, "You are your only limitation." He was so right. We have little idea how much power we really have, to the delight of our adversary.

What you put out there comes back to you. We often call it the Law of the Harvest. The underlying doctrine behind this is very well founded in the scriptures, and if we believe the scriptures are true—that the Word of God is true and reliable—we will recognize more clearly where our blessings and troubles come from.

Let me with a simple yet powerful concept found in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7.)
And then add this illuminating cross-reference:
The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17.)
See how it works? If you show mercy, you will receive mercy in return. If you are cruel, cruelty will haunt your days.

These things don't always come back to us immediately, but they will surely come over time in the economy of God. Our lives, in time, always yield the same kind of fruit that we plant.

The Savior asked later in that same sermon:
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (Matthew 7:16-17.)
So if you are planting thistles and thorns in your marriage, what are you going to get back?

So what I am saying in this series, especially to the men, the husbands, is to lay down your weapons of defense and just love your wives. See the good, all of it, and emphasize that. Everyday. See her beauty. See her intelligence and cleverness and wisdom. Adore her darling habits. Truly appreciate the things she does for you every day. Notice the effort she puts in to be beautiful, mostly for you. Start making more sacrifices for her. Love her truly, deeply, madly. Tell her that you do, and really mean it.

Now what will you get back?

At first, she will be suspicious. She will say, "What do you want from me?" Don't place demands on her. Just love her to bits. In my experience and close observation, if you love in this way, she will pay you back 100 times.

If you do this consistently—no, unremittingly—your relationship will start bearing more pleasing, more shapely, sweeter, more delicious fruit.

The key is making the commitment within yourself to love her even if she is grumpy, mad, or upset. See past that and keep moving forward. This is the key to winning in love.

P.S. Once again, as always, this won't work readily if there are serious emotional issues at play. But even if there are, keep trying anyway. One way or another, it will all come back to you, good for good or grudging for grudging. The law the harvest is immutable.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 2)

Here I am continuing the conversation on marriage I started a few weeks ago in Part 1.

Do you remember how excited you were when you got married? Your relationship was so strong. You were head over heels for each other. Everything was so new and different and fun. You got along so well. Your wife felt wanted, needed, and cherished, and your husband felt honored and respected. He was everything to you, and you were everything to him.

Then you hit a pothole.

In the weeks or months following your marriage, you started to doubt your place in each others life. You discovered that you didn't see eye to eye on everything. Warm contentions arose. Worst of all, your husband started to seem more interested in things besides you. You felt like you were absolutely number one in your husband's eyes until one day the intensity of your relationship started to lessen. All of a sudden he seemed more focused on work or school or golf or football or hunting or his laptop or cell phone. The day that doubt crept into your soul was a sad day. Or your wife became disappointed in you and you didn't realize how snippy she could be about little things.

This is not the case in every marriage. Some women, sadly, have never felt like they were number one with their husbands, and some husbands feel like they can never live up to their wife's expectations. Whatever the case, it is all sad to me. And unnecessary.

I did this to my wife. I mean, I caused her to doubt. It's in her journal, her sad feelings about being displaced by my other interests and priorities. I feel terrible about this now. I didn't understand what to do when I was first married. Now I do.

This is what I do.

Beyond my daily devotion to God, my top daily priority is to reassure my wife that I love, cherish and honor her, that nothing and no one is more important to me than her. I want her to know that she can count on me to stand by her no matter what, sickness, health, grumpiness or bad hair day. I want her to know that I am always going to see the goodness in her and that I think she is absolutely beautiful, inside and out, which I do.

When it comes to marriage, as you have heard me say before, I play more offense than defense. It's an absolute commitment to myself that is not guided by mood swings or defensiveness. It comes from knowing where I stand myself and letting her know, too.

I have a very happy marriage. Very happy. It's not because I am "lucky." I don't believe in the common concept of good or bad luck which I think is just ignorance of how things really work and why things happen.

There are three reasons why I am extremely happy in my marriage and I think you can have the same three reasons to be happy.
  1. I deeply appreciate my wife. I have almost lost her several times to post-surgical trauma. That taught me appreciation like nothing else. And as a result, I made certain strong, unbreakable commitments within myself to cherish her each day. I think she can feel that and it makes a huge difference.
  2. Talk, talk, talk, talk. We talk a lot. I mean a lot. I am not a husband that can be accused of not communicating with his wife. She knows my heart because I expose it to her. I used to express my ups and downs with my moods; now I express them with my words. But I control those words to make sure that they are calm and respectful no matter the circumstances. I never put my wife down, ever, in or out of her presence. I hold her in great honor both on the inside and on the outside. 
  3. We are still on our honeymoon. You may doubt that, but we are. We love to be together. We go on one or two dates a week. We have lots of fun. We do new and interesting things together. We laugh and cry together. We work together and solve problems together. We are a team. We are together.
A few weeks ago, my wife and one of our older daughters were talking about our life as "empty nesters." (It's coming up fast. Too fast.) Our daughter said, in essence, "You won't have any problems. Your relationship is different than most others."

She is right. It is different. Why? Because we consciously choose to make it different and it is.

Don't get me wrong. We still have our rough spots and disappointments and disagreements, but we handle them so much better than we used to. We get over them quickly.  We put them aside and move forward. We take out the emotional trash regularly.

Let me close by saying this: I adore my wife. I think she is absolutely darling. My devotion to her is not based on how she behaves or how she looks at a particular moment, but it is based on who she is, who I feel that she is. Because she knows this, it makes all the difference.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I am sure that, like me, you can vividly remember the moment you heard the news of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

We were living in a Oregon at the time. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The summer was fading into autumn, and like the season, my wife was fading as well. She had had a feeding tube surgically implanted in her chest the day before. It seemed she was barely hanging onto life. She was sleeping in a separate bedroom from me. I often wondered that fall if she would be alive when I opened her bedroom door in the mornings.

There was a TV in her room and we turned it on that morning. We were shocked by the video of huge planes being flown deliberately into the Twin Towers in New York. My sweet wife was so sick that the news was even more confusing and upsetting to her than it might otherwise have been. We had to turn the TV off. I remember feeling tormented that I couldn't tune in to what was happening in the world and care for my wife at the same time.

It was a bewildering time for me. I was completely preoccupied. Medical bills were piling up and money was running low. I had little work. Our life seem to be falling apart. I didn't know where to turn and what to do. All I could do was fall to my knees and look up.

I remember that I went outside into our front yard that afternoon. I looked up into the clear sky which was eerily silent because all airplanes had been grounded by government order. Though I was troubled that day more than I had been during anytime in my life, I knew that God was up there, somewhere beyond the limits of my sight, somewhere beyond the deep, beautiful, quiet, blue sky. I felt it in my soul and it brought me great peace.

He was there. He was in charge. I rested on that assurance. I had nothing else left.

P.S. I found out a few days later that the mother and sister of a friend in our ward happened to be on American Airlines Flight 11, the plane that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was a total shock—someone I knew personally had been directly affected by the attack. It put my ordeal into humble perspective. Mine was the lighter burden to bear.