I was assigned to talk today about Marriage and Family. The following is the general outline and content of my talk:
First, at the risk of further embarrassing your good Bishop, I appreciate the mistake he made earlier when he announced the wrong opening hymn. I have made far worse mistakes from the pulpit, and those mistakes actually are a good introduction to the topic I have been assigned.
Second, I don't want this talk to be a downer in any way, but I have felt impressed to address my topic in a way that will not be traditional and might seem depressing at first. I hope this approach was inspired and can help someone here today in some way.
There are a lot of tension points in the Church and the Gospel that deal with our desire to teach what we see as the ideal while living lives that are not ideal. We say there is opposition in all things, but I'm not sure we understand how true that is. As an example, we teach that reverence, including quietude, is important for proper worship, but we also bring our little children with us to our worship services each week - and we all know those two things often are incompatible.
Ideal vs. Reality (caterpillar / butterfly)
I love the analogy of a caterpillar to resurrection and the Atonement (a creature that lives, seems to die and then emerges as a whole new, beautiful creature), but I have been struck by another application of caterpillars as metaphors for our lives. We often describe caterpillars as "ugly" and "worthless" prior to their metamorphosis into butterflies, simply because of our perception of what beauty and worth mean - but caterpillars are of great worth ecologically and can be seen as beautiful in a very real way by those who are willing to see them that way. How we talk about them is dependent totally on our view of them, NOT on anything objective about their individual lives.
It is important to accept and value the caterpillars as caterpillars and not just future butterflies - and this applies directly to my topic today: marriage and family.
1) I have been blessed greatly in the area of marriage and family (described that a bit), but I know many faithful, sincere, wonderful, worthy members who have struggled in many ways with their marriages and family situations. Let me tell you about a few of them.
a) Sister Renlund (from "Just Call Me Ruth") - only having one child in a Church culture that can be dismissive and even derisive toward those with no children or only one child.
b) friend whose husband got addicted to prescription medication and ruined his life and their marriage, causing her to become a single mother who heard (along with her children) over and over again in church how broken and non-ideal her life and family was.
c) friend in her 50's who has never married and hears regularly that she is lacking worth as an ideal Mormon woman because she is not a mother.
d) young man who is one of the most talented, good-looking, smart, kind-hearted, Christian people I know who walked out of church one day and never returned because a high counselor said people like him (gay) are enemies and are destroying the world. This young man believes he has no realistic chance to have our ideal marriage and family.
e) a dedicated Relief Society President who finally left the man she had married in the temple who subjected her to years of terrible abuse.
I have no idea why I have been blessed so much in this regard, but I do know it has nothing to do with being more righteous or better in any way than those without the blessings I have experienced. What I have come to believe about marriage and family, given my exposure to so much suffering and fervent faith of others, is the heart of my talk today.
I appreciated the intermediate hymn today, "Where can I turn for peace?" I believe we have two places to which we can turn: the divine (our Heavenly Parents and Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer) and to each other. I want to focus on our responsibilities to each other with regard to marriage and family.
1) Help each other become what we desire to become (Perfect = complete, whole, fully developed) in our own unique situations and as a community, no matter the structure of our individual marriages and families.
2) The ideal of the Proclamation to the World (equal partners, helping each other in all aspects of marriage), applies to our interactions with everyone, not just to spouses.
3) Ward as family (hospital ward and automobile repair shop)
4) Advice to those with "ideal" and "non-ideal" families
a) To those who struggle, listen to those who express gratitude for family and marital blessing with kindness and charity, even when those expressions sometimes hurt. We don't mean to hurt others in those situations, and it is important to express thanks and gratitude. As a friend once said, "Bear my joy a while."
b) To those who don't struggle, express thanks for your blessings but be aware of those who might be hurt by your words. Accept them and their lives as valuable and worthy, and never, ever, ever judge them personally based on their situations. Truly, there but for the grace of God go you, and they have much to teach and contribute to you personally and the Church as a whole.
Seeing all as children of God (why we call each other brothers and sisters) - Atlanta temple experience when the Lord was black
Zion is possible within our ward families, but it is possible only when we see each other as beautiful caterpillars, first and foremost, and we love and serve each other no matter what, without exception. Each of us is loved by God right now, for who we are, not just for whom we may become. As we come to church, often carefully clothed and groomed and made-up in ways that mask our struggles and brokenness, may we see past those facades and love each other in that same way - for our humanity and not despite it. May we model among ourselves as a ward what marriage and family are meant to be ideally.
That is one way we can comfort those who stand in need of comfort rather than heaping more discomfort upon their heads. That is one way we can talk of marriage and family in a way that uplifts and heals rather than oppresses and hurts. That is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus, of Nazareth - true, deep, unconditional love, acceptance and service.
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