David O. McKay proposed to his future wife, Emma Ray Riggs, in early December 1900, and she asked, “Are you sure I’m the right one?” He answered that he felt sure that she was. In a subsequent letter to Dr. Obadiah H. Riggs, Emma Ray’s father, David O. McKay described some of the qualities he valued in her:
“Her sweetness of disposition, her virtue, her intelligence, her unselfish nature, in short, her perfect qualities, won my love. When she told me that this affection was reciprocated, my happiness seemed complete. … I have asked your daughter to be mine in marriage, and now I ask you, Dr. Riggs, her father, if you will give your consent. She has given hers. … In return for this I can give her nothing but a true love and a heart and mind whose one desire is to make her happy.”
David O. McKay’s letters to Emma Ray during their engagement reflect the noble character of their relationship and the qualities that she inspired in him. In a letter dated 11 December 1900, he wrote: “Do you know that since I truly loved, I can better understand why the gallant knights of old always had a lady love to fight for. The very thought of pleasing her would nerve their arms, steel their swords, and make their courage dauntless. Each one would try to develop the best strength and activity that he could possibly reach that he might be the more worthy of the approbation of his lady. Nobility of character, too, the best would prize, that they might merit the companionship of those, who, they thought, possessed the truest and purest of souls.”2
In another letter written to Emma Ray on 22 December 1900, David O. McKay wrote of the union that he and his fiancée envisioned: “You say our union will be an eternal one. Eternity alone can satisfy the love I long for, and the love I have to give. … I am lonesome without you, Ray, and I long for the time to come when you will always be by my side.”3 Because of righteous living and honorable, wise courtship, Brother and Sister McKay were able to realize their goal. During his ministry, President McKay often taught about preparing for an eternal marriage and family.
Although President McKay’s teachings in this chapter are directed to youth who are preparing for marriage, these principles are also helpful for people who are married, particularly as they teach and counsel their children and other youth regarding dating and courtship.
Teachings of David O. McKay
Youth must be taught the sacred nature of marriage and parenthood.
Teach the young people that marriage is not merely a man-made institution, but that it is ordained of God, and is a sacred ceremony, and should receive their gravest consideration before they enter upon a contract that involves either happiness or misery for the rest of their lives. Marriage is not something which should be entered into lightly … or ended at the first little difficulty that might arise. The least young people can do is to approach it with honest intentions of building a home that will contribute to the bulwark of a noble society.4
Young people of both sexes should be taught the responsibilities and ideals of marriage so that they may realize that marriage involves obligation and is not an arrangement to be terminated at pleasure. They should be taught that pure love between the sexes is one of the noblest things on earth and the bearing and rearing of children the highest of all human duties. In this regard, it is the duty of parents to set an example in the home that children may see and absorb the sacredness of family life and the responsibility associated therewith.5
[The purpose of marriage] is to bear children and rear a family. Let us keep that in mind. Hundreds are now saying, and hundreds more will say—“How can I marry and support a bride in a manner with which she has been accustomed? How can I get an education and support a family? I cannot even find a place in which to live.”
These are practical questions. … I am willing to recognize these and other difficulties and meet them, keeping in mind what the Lord has said that “marriage is ordained of God for man.” [See D&C 49:15.] And I repeat that the very purpose of marriage is to rear a family and not for the mere gratification of man or woman.6
It is said that the best and noblest lives are those which are set toward high ideals. Truly no higher ideal regarding marriage can be cherished by young people than to look upon it as a divine institution. In the minds of the young, such a standard is a protection to them in courtship, an ever-present influence inducing them to refrain from doing anything that may prevent their going to the temple to have their love made perfect in an enduring and eternal union. It will lead them to seek divine guidance in the selection of their companions, upon the wise choice of whom their life’s happiness here and hereafter is largely dependent. It makes their hearts pure and good; it lifts them up to their Father in heaven. Such joys are within the reach of most men and women if high ideals of marriage and home [are] properly fostered and cherished.7
Youth should prepare for marriage and parenthood by living clean lives.
Often the health of children, if a couple be blessed with such, depends upon the actions of parents before marriage. In the press, from the pulpit, and particularly in the home, there should ring more frequently the message that in their youth boys and girls are laying the foundation for their future happiness or misery. Every young man, particularly, should prepare for the responsibility of fatherhood by keeping himself physically clean, that he might enter into that responsibility not as a coward or deceiver, but as one honorable and fit to found a home. The young man who, in unfitness, takes upon himself the responsibility of fatherhood is worse than a deceiver. The future happiness of his wife and children depends upon his life in youth.
Let us also teach girls that motherhood is divine, for when we touch the creative part of life, we enter into the realm of divinity. It is important, therefore, that young womanhood realize the necessity of keeping their bodies clean and pure. … No mother has the right to shackle a child through life for what seems in youth to be a pleasant pastime or her right to indulge in harmful drugs and other sinful practices.8
Happiness does not begin at the altar; it begins during the period of youth and courtship. These seeds of happiness are sown by your ability to master your driving passion. Chastity should be the dominant virtue among young people—the ideal which the world has not accepted, and which many in the world will not believe exists or is cherished in the hearts of youth.9
A dominant evil of the world today is unchastity. … He who is unchaste in young manhood is untrue to a trust given him by the parents of the girl; and she who is unchaste in maidenhood is untrue to her future husband and lays the foundation of unhappiness, suspicion, and discord in the home. … Just keep in mind this eternal truth that chastity is a virtue to be prized as one of life’s noblest achievements. … It is a chief factor to a happy home. There is no loss of prestige in maintaining in a dignified way the standards of the Church. You can be “in” this world and not “of the world.” Keep your chastity above everything else! God has commanded that we be chaste.10
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is but one standard of morality. No young man has any more right to be unchaste than has a young girl. That young man who asks for a recommend to take a pure girl to the altar is expected to give the same purity that he expects to receive.11
Chastity, not indulgence during the pre-marital years, is the source of harmony and happiness in the home, and the chief contributing factor to the health and perpetuity of the race. Loyalty, dependability, confidence, trust, love of God, and fidelity to man are associated with this diadem in the crown of virtuous womanhood and [strong] manhood. The word of the Lord to his Church is: “Keep yourself unspotted from the sin of the world.” (See James 1:27; D&C 59:9)12
God bless you to keep your lives unpolluted, that you may go in prayer to God and ask him to guide you in choosing your mates, and when chosen, that you will both so live that you can enter the house of God, and if he were present and asked you about your lives, you could answer him honestly, “Yes, we are clean.” A marriage begun on that basis, will bring you the happiness, the sweetest joy known in this life, or throughout eternity.13
Youth should date appropriately and should carefully evaluate their feelings.
Young people, young girls in high school, [go] daily in courtship with young boys of their age, of the girls’ age, in their early ‘teens, depriving themselves of becoming better acquainted with other companions; and in that daily courtship in their early age, [become] so intimate as to arouse their passions for an hour’s pleasure, bringing misery upon themselves through life. And that is not imagination! You men in the Presidencies of Stakes and Bishoprics of Wards, and you fathers and mothers of some of them, know that that is not imagination.14
Young man, always remember when you take [a] girl out to a party that her father and mother trust her to you. She is their most precious possession. If they gave you in trust a thousand dollars, you would not think of misusing it or spending it. They are giving into your keeping something which cannot be priced in money, and you are base indeed if you become disloyal to that trust. … I remember my father’s admonition when I started in my teens to court a young girl: “David, you treat that young lady as you would have any young boy treat your sister.” Young men, follow that advice and you will go through life with your conscience clear, and later in life you can say truthfully that with all your mistakes, you have never wronged a woman.15
In choosing a companion, it is necessary to study … the one with whom you are contemplating making life’s journey. You see how necessary it is to look for the characteristics of honesty, of loyalty, of chastity, and of reverence. But after having found them—“How, then,” you ask, “may you tell whether or not there is any consanguinity [or close connection], that something which will make you at least congenial in each other’s company?” “Is there,” you ask, “some guide?” Though love is not always a true guide, especially if that love be not reciprocated or is bestowed upon a surly creature or a brute, yet certainly there is no happiness without love. “Well,” you may ask, “how may I know when I am in love?” That is a very important question. …
In the presence of the girl you truly love you do not feel to grovel; in her presence you do not attempt to take advantage of her; in her presence you feel that you would like to be everything that a [great man] should become, for she will inspire you to that ideal. And I ask you young women to cherish that same guide. What does he inspire in you … ? When a young man accompanies you after a meeting, or after a dance, and he shows an inclination to use you as a convenience or as a means of gratification, then you may put it down that he is not prompted by love.
Under such circumstances, no matter how fascinated you may be, young women, no matter how confident you may feel that you love him, let your judgment rule and be master of your feelings. It may grieve you not to follow the inclination of your heart, but you had better be pained a little in your youth than to suffer pangs of torture later.16
Great blessings await those who properly prepare for an eternal marriage.
Young men and young women who would live the happiest lives would do well to prepare themselves to be worthy of that form of marriage which God has ordained—the union of a man and woman worthy to have their marriage solemnized in the temple of the Most High. There as true lovers kneel … , each may cherish the assurance of the following:
First, that their married course begins in purity. The children who come to bless the union are guaranteed a royal birth so far as inheriting a clean body is concerned.
Second, that their religious views are the same. The difficulty of rearing children properly is aggravated when Father and Mother have divergent views regarding doctrine and church affiliation. …
Third, that their vows are made with the idea of an eternal union, not to be broken by petty misunderstandings or difficulties.
Fourth, that a covenant made in God’s presence and sealed by the Holy Priesthood is more binding than any other bond.
Fifth, that a marriage thus commenced is as eternal as love, the divinest attribute of the human soul.
Sixth, that the family unit will remain unbroken throughout eternity.17
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
How can we help youth understand the sacred responsibilities that come with marriage? (See pages 136–37.) What can we do to help prepare youth for the challenges that inevitably come to a marriage?
Why is chastity essential in preparing for an eternal marriage and family? (See pages 137–39.) How might being unchaste affect a person’s ability to wisely choose an eternal companion? What process must a person go through to completely repent of unchastity? What are some of the blessings of remaining chaste?
President McKay taught that children are often affected by the actions of the parents before marriage (see pages 137–39). In addition to remaining morally clean, what else can youth and parents do to keep their lives pure and to protect their future children?
In what ways does the media attempt to influence our views of courtship and marriage? Why do you think President McKay warned against steady dating at an early age? What other safeguards should be observed as people date? (See pages 139–40.)
What counsel would you give to young people who wonder if they are in love? (See page 140.) What are some qualities that are important in a relationship?
What is the purpose of marriage? (See pages 136–37.) What are the perils of marrying too soon? What are the perils of delaying marriage too long? How can a couple know when the time to marry is right?
President McKay taught that those who view marriage as a “divine institution” are strengthened and guided during courtship. Why do you think this is true? How have you seen people blessed as they have lived gospel standards during courtship?
What similarities do you see in President McKay’s teachings for youth and the standards found in For the Strength of Youth? How can you help your children understand that the standards you were taught are the same as the standards for them?
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 7.
Quoted in David Lawrence McKay, My Father, David O. McKay (1989), 7–8; paragraphing altered.
Quoted in My Father, David O. McKay, 8–9; paragraphing altered.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, 32.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 6.
Gospel Ideals (1953), 466–67.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 7.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 6.
“As Youth Contemplates an Eternal Partnership,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1938, 139.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 6.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 9.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 6.
Gospel Ideals, 465–66; paragraphing altered.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1958, 90.
Improvement Era, Mar. 1938, 191.
Gospel Ideals, 459–60; paragraphing altered.
Gospel Ideals, 465.
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