I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

“We married in the temple, but my husband is now inactive. I feel so frustrated by regret and conflicts that it makes our marriage very difficult. Can you help me?”

Phillip R. Kunz, professor of sociology, BYU It is difficult to be very specific because there are so many differences from one individual case to another. But usually it is possible to find a working solution within the framework of the following general principles and suggestions.

I think the first thing we should do is seek the Lord’s help through fasting and prayer. Prayer, humbly offered, will strengthen your testimony and increase your patience. Prayer and meditation may bring about the inspiration of “the right words” or behavior that will influence the inactive one. Prayer may actually lead to reactivation. As a rare and beautiful example, we remember Alma the Younger, whose wickedness was halted by an angel. “For this purpose have I come,” said the angel, “to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants [including Alma’s father] might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14.)

While the Lord may not provide such a direct miracle in your case, he will be mindful of you and your circumstances. The lack of such a miracle should not raise self-doubt and feelings of guilt. Continue in humility and prayer. And always remember that your husband has the agency to choose the direction of his life. Your prayers can help, but they cannot ultimately alter his agency.

Also very important, you should counsel closely and consistently with your bishop; he is the one individual ordained and set apart to counsel individual members at the ward level. Because the bishop is frequently in a position to know about the specific case, he can give the best counsel possible. The stake president can be a further resource. While at times an individual may believe priesthood leaders don’t really understand the problem or may not be capable of handling it, they are still the men the Lord has placed in stewardship over members and can receive inspiration for individuals in their charge and should never be overlooked by one with deep, distressing difficulties.

Another suggestion is for you and your husband to do things together as much as possible. Your husband may not attend church, but he might work with you on the welfare farm. He may not go to the temple, but perhaps he would be willing to help you supervise the ward party or call a square dance. Doing Church things together is important, but doing other things is also important for you, so that your relationship will continue to grow. It would be well to seek couples for friends who will set a proper example but who will not alienate the inactive spouse by being overbearing. Since nonmembers and other inactive members will generally do little to increase Church activity, it is most important, if possible, to be good friends with at least one couple who are committed members of the Church.

There are several things that you already know are dangerous. Quarreling with him, criticizing him, nagging him, or reproaching him will usually only drive him further away from you and your values. Be patient and as loving as possible. Be considerate of his feelings and be realistic about the compromises that must be made. Of course, there may be a conflict, but you should be wise and flexible. Seek the Lord in prayer; the Spirit will direct you in each specific case when it appears that you must make a choice between your husband’s wishes and your responsibility to the Church. And keep your bishop informed of your circumstances as they change, too.

President Brigham Young said: “It is not my general practice to counsel the sisters to disobey their husbands, but my counsel is—obey your husbands; and I am sanguine and most emphatic on that subject. But I never counselled a woman to follow her husband to the devil. If a man is determined to expose the lives of his friends, let that man go to the devil and to destruction alone.” (Journal of Discourses, 1:77.)

Raising children with an inactive parent involves more problems, but the general principles discussed above are still useful. Whether active or inactive, he is their father, to be respected and loved. Nothing you do should ever undermine their respect for him. You should honor him as the head of the house. Help him to lead out in family affairs. One home teacher did much to build up an inactive father in the eyes of his children when he overlooked his smoking, Sunday sports, etc., and said, “You children should be really proud of your father. He has the best reputation in the whole country for never swearing.”

When children wonder why they must attend church when their father doesn’t, you can do much to salvage the situation by truthfully explaining as much as he can understand. “Your dad is not yet ready to go to church with us.” It’s appropriate to discuss free agency, the responsibility to prove ourselves, temptation, repentance, and so on with an older child. An interview with the bishop may help an older child understand his role in a family with an inactive parent.

Finally, there remains the highly personal problem of dealing with your own regrets, the “might-have-been,” and the frustrated hopes of “it’s not too late—if only …” Those same principles of free agency and individual responsibility are key in your own attitude. Remain assured that the prophets have said the Lord will not deprive you of any blessings if you are faithful, including, ultimately, the eternal blessings of temple marriage. Your responsibility now is to be faithful and humble, and to trust in the Lord’s eternal justice.

We’re often counseled to seek guidance from the Spirit in our daily lives. Just what does that mean, and how can I go about doing it?

Andrew M. Allison, administrative assistant, Church Missionary Department “The Spirit,” of course, is the Holy Ghost. The very first thing we must do is believe that the Holy Ghost is a real person, and that he actually will communicate with us. Remember that when we were confirmed as members of the Church, we received the gift of the Holy Ghost. But the words of that ordinance are not, “We give you the Holy Ghost,” but rather, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” When we seek and obtain the guidance of the Spirit, we are literally fulfilling that instruction.

The second part of the question—how to do it—is not easy to answer. I do know that we have to prepare ourselves before we can receive direction from the Holy Ghost. We cannot control him, nor should we want to; his direction comes in his own way and in his own time. The Lord knows exactly what guidance we need, and when it will help us most, so we don’t have to worry about that. All we need to do is make sure that we’re ready to receive the guidance at any time.

How do we prepare ourselves to be led by the Spirit? I believe that we must live in constant worthiness, read and ponder the scriptures regularly, and frequently pray in faith. If we do, we will soon come to understand what is meant by the “guidance of the Spirit.” More than that, we will experience that guidance often.

Because “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Hel. 4:24), we must be obedient and pure if we are to receive the personal revelation promised the Saints. “To get this revelation,” explained Brigham Young, “it is necessary that the people live so that their spirits are as pure and clean as a piece of blank paper that lies on the desk … ready to receive any mark the writer may make upon it.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 41.)

I mentioned scriptural study. Many times the guidance we need will come right out of the scriptures. Nephi exhorted us to “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.) If we are searching the scriptures, we have the assurance that the Holy Ghost will recall pertinent passages to our minds at the very moment we need them. (See John 14:26; D&C 84:85.) I’ve noticed that most of the personal revelations in my own life come in that way.

We need to go directly to the Lord in prayer for guidance in our decisions. “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” (Alma 37:37.) We all know we should pray—frequently, sincerely, with genuine faith. The problem, though, is learning to recognize an answer. That requires careful listening.

What should we expect to hear? It won’t be something mysterious or unnatural; it may not seem very dramatic. Elder S. Dilworth Young of the First Quorum of the Seventy shares his own experience: “If I am to receive revelation from the Lord … his word will come into my mind through my thoughts, accompanied by a feeling in the region of my bosom. It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 23; italics added. See also D&C 8:2–3; D&C 9:7–9.)

This next point, I think, is very important. We shouldn’t stop listening when the prayer is over! I wonder how many times we’ve knelt and asked the Lord to “lead, guide, and direct” us through the day, only to jump up and rush through our routines without once listening for the “still, small voice” of the Spirit. What might we have heard? How might our lives have been changed—or the lives of others? If not for two missionaries who heeded an impression several years ago to turn down a certain street in Dallas, Texas, someone else would probably be answering your question today. I lived on that street. When I consider where my family and I might be now without their message, I’m so grateful to those two elders for following the whispering of the Spirit.

Just over a year after we were married, my wife and I began to sense an inexplicable urging to move to another state. There appeared to be no justification for it; in fact, our circumstances made a move seem foolish. So we ignored the urging. But the still, small voice became less still over the next few weeks, and we ultimately decided to go. Now, looking back on those days, we marvel at the unforeseeable blessings that never would have come if we had made the “logical” decision.

Have you ever had an impression come into your mind to say or do or avoid a certain thing—a sudden impression that seemed to come just “out of the blue”? That may have been the Holy Ghost speaking to you. The more experience we have with him, the more familiar he becomes. And the easier it is for us to distinguish between the voice of the Spirit and our own thoughts or imaginations.

The Holy Ghost may warn us of danger. A friend of mine is alive today because the Spirit once prompted him to jump off a freight car he was loading. He saw no reason to jump, but had he ignored the impression he would have been crushed to death beneath several tons of falling steel.

Perhaps during a stirring sermon the thought has come to you that it was time to change something in your life. How do you know that that prompting wasn’t the Holy Spirit?

The guidance of the Spirit may function in many ways to help us. Perhaps our own testimonies of the gospel provide the best example; a true testimony is nothing less than a revelation from God. The Holy Ghost will also quicken our understanding of the scriptures; prepare our minds and hearts to receive new Church callings; inspire us to meet the needs of family members and others; comfort and strengthen us during severe trials; and in a thousand other ways bless and enrich our lives.

I know this guidance will come if we are obedient, studious, and prayerful. I know it because I have experienced it many times in my life. We can learn to recognize the language of the Spirit, and the direction that comes to us will be a protection and a source of powerful faith.

How can I be sure that my children are reading the right kind of books?

Berniece Rabe, author of children’s books, mother of four, and a Relief Society teacher in the Elgin Ward, Wilmette Illinois Stake One can never exercise complete control over the behavior of another person, a free agent. I’m assuming that your concern is for help in choosing “good” books for your very young children, with the hope that such exposure will influence them to seek out the best books themselves when the choice becomes totally theirs.

When my children were less than a year old, and the choice was totally mine, I began to choose books to read to them. Children are fascinated with words and sounds and rhymes and color before they have learned to talk. The cuddly closeness of the mother and her exciting voice inflections all add to building a love for books. (Also, when I was tired or ill or out-of-sorts, it was a relaxing and beneficial way to bring harmony to the household.)

Often, when hurried, I took advantage of our librarian’s judgment by selecting books from those she had displayed on tables and counters. It is her job to keep abreast in the children’s book field. She has access to various recommended book lists and critical reviews that she will gladly show you on request.

If a certain book delighted the children and met my own criteria on values, information given, aesthetic delivery, and good art and layout, then on the next trip to the library we’d find more books by the same author.

Sometimes the books were just lots of good wholesome fun, an escape into fantasy or the giggly world of humor, and sometimes that is all that is needed by child or adult. Or perhaps the child with the singular concern for what-happens-next chose books whose main essence was plot. When my oldest son was nine, he read twenty-two Hardy boy books one summer. He got a great sense of accomplishment out of this. He also achieved a several-words-per-minute increase in his reading speed and was vocalizing something—a pride in books; that pleased me. This same son became an avid Shakespeare fan while yet in high school.

Occasionally, a book would appear that not only let my children escape into fantasy or laughter, or had a fast-moving plot, but also was filled with rich cultural background material and touched our souls with its moral lessons. We dubbed it a classic. Often the critics had dubbed it the same. We would discuss this book at length. I would ask questions like “What do you think about … ?” and we’d talk our way to the dinner table and let Dad join in, too. It was a great way for a child to feel he had something important to say to grownups. It became a pleasant training ground for the child—he could freely express his very own opinion of a thing and have it heard. The daughters in one family I know, which discusses books, authors, and philosophies routinely, can hold to their own convictions with ease when a crowd tries to sway them.

One approach I used with Dara on a difficult book was to read the first chapter aloud and then enthusiastically discuss it with her. The first chapter of a novel is the most difficult, for so much has to be established—the setting, the characters’ traits, and the issues. With all this being fed in, it is difficult to also make it entertaining. Our discussion helps her become familiar with strange terms, places, and ideas, and my own eagerness to continue the story often makes her grab the book and keep reading. Subsequent chapters are easier. If she runs into depth and wants assistance, we’ve already established a mutual interest in the book and she feels free to continue the discussion. Recently I held her close while she wept for the wife of Wang Lung in The Good Earth. “Oh, Mother,” she wailed, “she lived all her life and never knew she was worth anything!”

So I would like to recommend that you discuss books with your children, be taken in by their excitement, read the books they read, and let your opinion be heard. Many children’s books are written on more than one level and become great reading for the adult. If discussion is a common occurrence, when a son or daughter comes home with or mentions a controversial book read by others at school, it will not gain undue attention. It will merely be another book to accept or reject, in part or entirety.

If I am selective in what I myself read, I’ve set the example. Subtly, I have announced that I believe that books do influence for good and evil. Church leaders have admonished us to seek wisdom out of the best books. (See D&C 88:118.) But I am sorely aware that we cannot protect our children from the world, as they increase in years, except by our love, example, and teachings. They will come in contact with what I consider undesirable books. When this does happen, I have the hope that evil can be used for good by making them appreciate good all the more (for having been made aware of the hurt of evil). Perhaps my discussions with them can help this awareness grow. That would be so much better than having them gain an awareness of evil through direct experiences.

My daughter came to me and asked about a certain word in a child’s book. I stopped my work to discuss it with her. This little bit of bad exposure gained, she commented, “Why did the author put that in? It had nothing to do with the story.” This gave me the chance to explain that some authors write for money only, that certain things mean more sales and are exploited. She was disgusted. Now she has her own censor honed for future reading. Where unpleasantness arises, she may just close the book and not read that author again.

Publishing is a business. As in any business, the object is to make money; unfortunately with some businesses it may be the only object. Children often believe that no company would publish something untrue or immoral. Because of the innocence of youth, there used to be fairly strong censorship of children’s books. The trend is away from this. A book may be extremely well written from a technical point of view but expose some philosophy you would find offensive because it is out of harmony with gospel principles.

In spite of our concern for our children, we still wish to give them training in the art of making wise choices. In the vicarious world of books, a child may have hundreds of thousands of chances to choose, collecting gems of experiences out of which great wisdom and knowledge can grow. We can read and pray, study and decide.

With the help of respected librarians and critics I made choices for my children when they were very young; later I allowed them to choose and we discussed; and finally the choice was all theirs. I’m delighted now when one of my adult children tells me on the phone, “Mom, I’m sending you a book you’ve just got to read,” and I find they’ve made an excellent choice.