In Goddard’s book Drawing Heaven into Marriage, he talks about the importance of sacrificing for one’s spouse. When Adam made sacrifices to the Lord, an angel came and asked him why he was doing it. He didn’t know, he just knew he had been commanded to do it and intended obedience no matter what. The angel instructed him that it was in the similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of the Father. Goddard finds immediate applicability in our marriages, in that everything we do to sacrifice for our spouses is a similitude of the Savior’s sacrifice.
Pondering on this idea is a must; the implications are vast. When I decide to put him first instead of me, I’m putting a little bit of selfishness and greed of mine on the altar. Is that really something so beautiful and treasured that it qualifies as an acceptable offering to the Lord? It seems initially not to be so, but those are the things we hold onto with white-knuckle fists. I want the best, the biggest, the prettiest, the first, the most, etc. Yet when I put that on the “altar,” I’m allowing that ugly part of me to be exposed and the real me to be altered by my Father to become more like Him, someone entirely beautiful and whole, healed from the original deformity.
Remember the story of Eustace Scrubb in C.S. Lewis’s The Dawn Treader, where the boy is frustratingly flawed: annoying, peevish, self-centered, and entitled. He is changed into a dragon and cannot regain his boy shape despite his best efforts to shed the exterior skin. That is, until Aslan the Lion comes and helps him scratch off his ugly scales with his Lion claws. We come to this life encased in a mortal body that very much pulls down the loftiness of our premortal spiritual strength. Throughout our lives we try to become more like Christ but find ourselves saturated with weaknesses and riddled with hurts (both those we inflict and those that inflict us). As much our selfless efforts reflect a genuine willingness to put ourselves on the altar, we cannot be completely healed without the Savior. However, as we make these efforts, these sacrifices, it is the essence of cherishing our spouses.
President Russell M. Nelson counsels us to action in three specific ways :
“My suggestions use three action verbs: to appreciate, to communicate, and to contemplate.“
My husband, Russ, goes to school online. He’s finishing his bachelor’s. When I met him he was going to a community college, after that a fledgling online school. He transferred again to Army U after being in the military for awhile, and at some point discontinued there. Later he enrolled in Excelsior to finish school; he needed only one capstone class. This class was hugely leaning toward liberal ideas that he could not and would not subscribe to and was failing the class. He decided to not graduate from that college after all, and several months later learned of another college that seemed like a perfect fit. This is his current school, and he has to get done at least one class per term (there are two terms per year). This term started in January and ends in a week, and because of traveling with his job and my pregnancy, the birth of our seventh child, and my subsequent and slow healing, he’s been incredibly tasked and not able to get done even a single class. He tried to test out, but the first two scores weren’t high enough (he had one more pretest available, if he scored well, he could take the final and be done).
I had promised him I would forego my sleep to let him sequester himself in the office and study, but I wasn’t delivering on that promise – at least, I didn’t know when he was ready for me to start and he assumed I wasn’t really in earnest. After a fun filled Saturday of lots of family outings and togetherness, I saw him in the office watching a movie and wondered why he wasn’t studying. He said he didn’t have time to study and finish the class because of his last pretest failure. He looked at me and immediately became defensive and said, “You’re angry with me, aren’t you?” I could honestly say I wasn’t, but I wanted to know why he had already decided to not try again.
Russ is the kind of guy who has FUN and must have decompression or he doesn’t do well. He will watch shows to make him laugh, he has ten stories he’s writing at a time, he does a great job ensuring his personal rejuvenation, and I love that about him because he is not stressed and fun to be around. I’m exactly not that way. My way is driven and rest is overrated. At night when he’s relaxing, I’m getting out my online school assignments and learning and working. He helps me relax and laugh, I try to help him stay grounded and focused, to complete things. We appreciate each other and grow because of our different strengths.
This experience with his school was a beautiful test for me. Was I going to exert my work ethic over him and try to persuade him to do what I wanted him to do when he was already moving on? Was I going to insist he owed this to us after all this time; we’re on the fifth college! Because the GI Bill is paying for school, if he doesn’t pass this term, they make him take the next term off, and this would financially impact our family a bit. There were a lot of reasons for us to push on this, but he had to choose it for himself. Time for some honest and forthright communication. . .
I could honestly tell him that I wasn’t mad, that I wouldn’t make his decision for him, that I would not manipulate him in any way, I just wanted to know why he wasn’t going to try with ten days left of the semester. He said, “I don’t see myself being able to finish it.” I told him that’s exactly why he wasn’t going to, then, he couldn’t even envision himself completing it. I’m an intense person, but this was done quietly, as a friend. He paused and said, “all right, I’ll try.” He felt a little like I was pushing him, but I insisted I was good either way with whatever decision he made; I just wanted to know how I could support him if he did choose to go for it.
He started immediately, and so did I. Dinner was made, table set and ready with kiddos gathered all around before I called him to eat. We did all the clean up, put ourselves to bed, and he studied and studied. The next day was the same; I was up early with the baby so he could sequester himself in the office. The kids were strictly mindful to leave him alone in his work. He took the test and passed and scheduled the final for today. We all prayed for him as a family and were as quiet as could be while he took his test. After an hour we heard his online proctor signing off and we yelled, “DID YOU PASS!?!?!” He came out beaming! Success!
I love this experience because the foundation of our relationship is so strong from lots of contemplation, especially together in the temple, that Russ was willing to do something for me that he really didn’t want to do but knew he should. I love it because since we nurture our relationship all the time, we could have a hard conversation without feeling like it would take us to a rocky place in our marriage. I love it because I was emotionally ready and capable of dealing with the situation if he had decided to not take the final tests. I love it because he loved our family more than himself and pushed beyond his limits. This experience made huge deposits for both of us because we put the other first.
As we nurture our relationships, the hard things come and we’re strong and healthy, able to handle the stresses. Sacrifices for marriage give supreme protection and almost palpable power to overcome all things.
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President Nelson concludes and so do I with this beautiful song,
Because you come to me with naught save love, And hold my hand and lift mine eyes above, A wider world of hope and joy I see, Because you come to me.
Because you speak to me in accents sweet,
I find the roses waking round my feet,
And I am led through tears and joy to thee,
Because you speak to me.
Because God made thee mine, I’ll cherish thee Through light and darkness, through all time to be, And pray His love may make our love divine, Because God made thee mine.
words by Edward Teschemacher (1902).