And We Did Liken the Scriptures unto Our Marriage

Bill and Susan are devout Latter-day Saints who, after nine years of marriage, have four children, a car, lovely home, and job security. In fact, there is really only one thing missing from their marriage: happiness. Oh, they have their happy moments, but the stormy days outnumber the sunshiny ones. They finally decided to make an appointment with their bishop.

After they had discussed a wide range of problems, the bishop explained to Bill and Susan that we all tend to live our lives according to “scripts”—behavioral patterns we’ve picked up from our parents or from other significant people we’ve known. These patterns and habits may be at the root of some of our marital misunderstandings. “Regardless of whatever patterns our relationships may have fallen into, the scriptures can provide us with the life scripts we need to guide our daily actions. Bill and Susan, how often do you read the scriptures together?”

“We’ve tried a few times,” Sue replied, “but it seems like we have a hard time scheduling scripture study around work, other obligations, and television.”

Bishop Wilson then challenged Bill and Susan to read the scriptures each week with an eye toward searching them for solutions to their mutual problems. Bill mildly protested: “But, Bishop, I studied the scriptures on my mission, and I can’t recall many verses that specifically tell us how to resolve our family problems.”

The bishop smiled at Bill’s response. “Maybe the answers were there, Bill. Have you ever followed Nephi’s counsel to liken the scriptures unto ourselves? (See 1 Ne. 19:23.) I’d suggest that during the coming weeks you set aside fifteen or twenty minutes each day to systematically study the scriptures. You may want to start with specific topics found in a topical guide. Follow through with a discussion of what you read—and above all, liken the scriptures to your own family relationships. You might also write in your journals the insights you gain so you can readily refer to them later.”

Bill and Susan accepted the bishop’s challenge. Before they began, they had assumed that scriptural counsel—like the Beatitudes, for example—was to guide their actions and attitudes toward neighbors, colleagues at work, and friends. Suddenly the insight grew within them that any scripture counseling us how to treat our fellowmen is, by definition, inspired counsel on how married couples should treat each other. For example …

1. Let thy love be for them as for thyself. Bill had always been an avid sports fan and sportsman. Fishing, golfing, bowling, hunting, going to ball games, and watching sports on television had been a regular feature of his life. To the extent she could, Susan also enjoyed many of his hobbies. But as the children began to arrive, it became more and more difficult to spend much time with him in such activities. This became a sustained source of irritation with her as she felt his lack of support with the children.

As Bill was reading the Doctrine and Covenants one day, a scripture struck him with thunderbolt force: “Let thy love for them be as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name.” (D&C 112:11.) He cross-referenced this scripture with one even more familiar to him: “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 10:39.) He was ashamed with his own past behavior as he recalled King Benjamin’s observation that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.)

Bill had a few mental pains of regret as he gradually disengaged from many of the activities with his friends and began to spend more time in family-centered activities. Often he would take the children for a walk in the countryside or a drive in the car and leave Susan some needed time alone to go shopping or just to relax at home without the demands of the children pressing upon her. He also resolved to go out alone each week with Susan, and to take frequent walks with her after the children had gone to bed. He was determined to lose his life in making his wife and children happy. And then an amazing thing happened: he began to enjoy the association with his family more than with his friends.

2. Forbear one another. It would be wonderful if all 365 days of the year found each of us at our best. Realistically, however, sometimes we get tired and irritable, or we encounter the flu or a backache—and then other people need to “keep out of our way.” There were times when Bill ridiculed Susan for not feeling well during her pregnancy. It didn’t make her feel any better for him to say, “It’s all in your mind, Dear.” At times like that, Susan would go into her room crying—and not speak to Bill for as many as two days.

Their growing inventory of gospel insights has helped change much of that now. Susan is expecting their fifth child, doesn’t feel well, and is still sometimes a little difficult to live with because of her condition. But Bill finds guidance in Ecclesiastes 7:8 [Eccl. 7:8]: “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” He has resolved to show his love to his wife in many ways—even when conditions are not the easiest.

The Apostle Paul said it well in his letter to the Colossians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body.” (Col. 3:12–15.) Paul counsels further to “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. …

“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. …

“Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” (Col. 3:2, 19, 21.)

Christ’s love for Bill and Susan is unconditional. Now they are trying to develop a similar love for each other, realizing that “a friend loveth at all times.” (Prov. 17:17.) They are becoming each other’s best friend.

3. The Lord really does answer prayers. While studying in the Book of Mormon one day, Bill and Susan gained an insight they had missed in previous readings. They were studying the account of the wayward Alma the Younger and the rebellious sons of King Mosiah, and how an angel of the Lord appeared to them saying:

“Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14.)

After discussing the marvelous events that followed this visitation of the angel, they reminisced about individuals who had blessed their lives in the past. Bill’s first senior companion in the mission field had helped to answer the prayers of Bill’s parents that he become a successful missionary. Susan reflected upon the influence of her Laurel adviser several years ago who had helped to answer her parents’ prayers that she would marry in the temple.

This discussion about prayer led to a candid, sensitive discussion regarding some of the changes in their relationship for which each of them had secretly prayed. Susan had secretly prayed that Bill would learn to control his temper more and not say insensitive and hurtful things to her and the children. He had been praying that she might be a little less domineering and businesslike and become a bit more affectionate and loving and understanding. Now that the lines of communication had opened up between them, they were able to resolve some long-standing differences in their relationship, and all as a result of a scripture that had nothing to do with marriage or so they had thought. As they continued reading Alma, they were again impressed with that great prophet’s counsel to bring all of their concerns to the Lord in prayer. (See Alma 34:17–27; Alma 37:36–37.)

4. The wife, the husband, and the Lord. A verse in one of Paul’s epistles had bothered Susan for several years: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22.) She now felt comfortable enough with Bill to approach the subject. “How would you interpret this scripture?” she asked. “How can we liken it unto ourselves?”

Bill thought about it for a moment. “Well,” he finally responded, “in the mission field when we were confronted with a tough question, we often found it helpful to read the verses before and after the passage to put it in the proper context. Let’s see what the other verses say.”

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;

“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us. …

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

“Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. …

“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. …

“Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself: and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Eph. 5:1–2, 21–25, 28–29, 33.)

After a discussion of this chapter, Bill and Susan agreed that the basic principle involved was to love each other in the same way the Savior loves us. That is, we should be willing to serve one another and even be prepared to die for each other. Bill remarked, “Sweetheart, Paul says that wives should submit themselves to their husbands and that the husband is the head of the wife ‘eve as Christ is the head of the church.’ I want to ask your forgiveness for the many times I’ve failed to be a Christlike husband. Too often I’ve thought only of my own needs and pleasures without giving a second thought to you and the children. I really am going to try harder to incorporate the Savior’s teachings in my life, to serve you and the children rather than commanding you and making demands on you.

“There have been times,” he continued, “when I’ve really felt like a henpecked husband. I guess I felt like I was being pushed into submission to you. But since we’ve been trying to incorporate the scriptures into our lives, I’ve come to realize that no husband who gladly loses himself in the service of his wife and family can be considered henpecked—because he is doing exactly what makes them happiest, and their happiness becomes a great source of joy in his own life.”

5. Building a celestial marriage. The scriptures give an occasional glimpse into societies in which people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18), where “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15.)

Bill and Susan used to think they had to wait for the Church to somehow establish such a society. But their immersion in the scriptures has given them the incentive to at least begin the task of building now a family that would be comfortable in a city like the one Enoch built.

Early in this dispensation, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that in building the kingdom “no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.” (D&C 12:8.) Following Nephi’s injunction to liken the scriptures unto themselves, the Johnsons consider this verse as follows: “And no one can [have a happy, fulfilling marriage] except [he and she] shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things.”

Their inventory of gospel insights continues to grow. Just as each family’s food storage program may differ, it’s very likely that Bill and Susan’s scriptural storehouse will contain counsel somewhat different from that of any other married couple. And as with food storage, the blessing of a scriptural storehouse is that “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30)—for “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 Jn. 4:18.)

Spencer J. Condie, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University and father of five children, serves as president of the BYU Tenth Stake.