As I was coming home this afternoon, I saw a bride and groom coming out of that pretty little church on Spring Street. I thought, “That could well be one of my own children soon: beautiful, strong, happy, and in love—but marrying for only “until death do us part.” As I did. The thought made me feel wistful—it would be so beautiful to look forward to being forever with the one you love. I would like my children to be married in the temple, even though the Spring Street church is charming and a thousand miles closer to home.
By the time I got to the driveway my mind had turned to more daily thoughts: “Tomorrow is Sunday. I wish my love would even just go to church with us, to say nothing of going to the celestial kingdom. I hope he won’t be annoyed about using the car and the money for gas to drive the kids to the stake dance tonight, where I will sit alone and wait for them while he goes bowling.”
Our three teenagers were eating egg sandwiches and drinking lemonade on the deck and invited me to join them. They had been teasing Beth about her crush on a boy who had grown tall and handsome over the summer. He is a very nice person, but he is not at all interested in the Church. This was a perfect excuse for me to talk about those things which I had on my mind right then.
Our children have always chosen friends we felt we could trust, and I told them I was proud of them for that. But I also told them, “It is possible to find a lifetime love even while you’re a teenager, so it is important to date members of the Church.”
Melody said, “Well, Mom, I’m quite sure the Church is true, but I’m not really into it. So why should I date just members?”
“The gospel and the way of life it teaches will be more important to you than you realize now,” I told her. “It is important for your earthly happiness as well as your eternal happiness to marry someone who cares about the things you care about. Can you believe that life-style can ruin a relationship with someone you live with? You know how hard it is to get along with Beth just sharing a room, and you already have the same beliefs!”
They both laughed and told about the agreement they had finally come to this morning about tolerating each other’s noise and clutter. (Let’s hope it works!)
Then I said, “I know you each will marry people who we will be proud to take into the family. However, because of the painfulness of an interfaith marriage, it is important to date people who share your values. Becoming seriously involved with someone who would not go to church with you, much less the temple, could lead to temptations, lowering your standards, and interfaith marriages.”
Billy saw the pained look on Beth’s face, and turned to me and asked, “Why couldn’t we marry out of the Church, like you did?” (Ouch!) “And we could each believe whatever we want?”
I felt surprised by the question. After all, Billy has lived with this dilemma all his life. He used to wait to ask his questions about religion until his father wasn’t around. He did not like to hear that annoyed sigh when a gospel topic came up.
I chose not to remind him of these things. So I said, “The most important reason for marrying a Church member is so you both can love and be loved for who you truly are. Isn’t that better than loving someone in spite of who they are? When you marry a member you will be able to love and admire each other and respect the beliefs that are so much a part of you. Otherwise you have to make too many compromises. Have you noticed how hard it is to work out acceptable compromises here about how much time, energy, and money we should be giving to Church activities? Once one begins compromising it gets easier to slip about reading scriptures, going to meetings, paying tithing, even praying.”
They all agreed that the families they know who are all active members do seem to be more strongly founded in the gospel, support each other in activities, and help each other with challenges.
“Yes, a person’s belief is a person’s way of life, values, and understanding,” I pointed out. “Every decision is based on your belief. A marriage should begin with at least a common base for problem solving and goal setting.”
“Hey! I know what to do!” Beth said, brightening. “Marry them; then convert them!”
“Hey, yourself! That’s unfair!” I answered quickly. “Like I said, you have to marry someone for who he is, accepting each other; not planning to change him. Anyway, the only person you really can change is yourself. Besides, very few who marry nonmembers ever get to the temple with them. Some go inactive and lose the blessings of the gospel, many get divorced, and some remain somewhat active, at a price.”
Billy had turned away and been so quiet that I asked him what he was thinking about.
“Dad,” he answered slowly. “He’s been a good sport for us. I know Church things bother him, but he’s never said anything bad about it. I wonder what it’s like for him to be living with us, having us go off without him to meetings and activities and, well, you know.”
Oh, how I knew! “He has been a good sport,” I agreed. “And as sad as we are about not having him with us at church, he is sad that we are not with him at those times. And along with his feelings of sadness or annoyance, how do you think he feels about our loyalty? Could you imagine how scary it must be for a nonmember to worry whether the people he loves might love the Lord, His Church or His people more than they love him? So while the nonmember is sad, annoyed, and worried, the member is yearning and praying for him to join the Church.”
Melody said, “Yeah, but—,” which made the rest of us chuckle and join in our family chant of, “yeah, but; yehbut!”
“But we do have to be realistic, Mom. It’s not like there are even any kids in seminary with us. We will be dating nonmembers unless we move to Utah or somewhere out there. So what would you suggest if one of us does fall in love with a nonmember?”
I did have to be realistic; out here there are very few LDS people to date, and they are scattered. So I answered what I had been thinking over for months.
“I would hope that by then you would have realized your beliefs were important to you. You should plan to go to all your meetings during your courtship and invite them to activities and meetings. Also, if there is talk of marriage between you, ask them seriously to take the discussions.”
Melody looked annoyed and said, “Oh, Mom, that would scare them off!”
Beth suggested, “Maybe we could just cool the activities and meetings while we’re getting to know one another.”
I felt like she hadn’t really understood; then I remembered that people have to hear things at least three times before they remember and understand. “It would be important to continue your normal way of life during courtship so that anyone you’re going to marry gets to really know you and how you want to live. It would not be fair for you to drop it now to keep the peace, then plan to pick it up later. That’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game.
“Besides,” I reflected, “you may not be able to get yourself back to Church activity, for many reasons.”
“I have heard of people getting too busy or living too far away, or even just getting out of the habit of going to church,” said Bill. “I guess if staying active meant giving a rude surprise to someone you love, you’d probably decide not to do it.”
“Yes, then blame them for the sadness you’d feel about not going, like Sister Z.,” said Melody, who was friends with this inactive, part-member family.
Beth said thoughtfully, “Isn’t there some way to keep your love and your activity? What did you do, Mom?”
I did not fully prepare him; I surprised him, and maybe I hurt him. I could not bring myself to say it so bluntly. So I explained, “I was a new member when Dad and I met and fell in love. I had heard an interfaith marriage could be hard, but no one explained it. I had not known any active, part-member families; maybe that should have been a warning to me? Anyhow, I just thought telling people to marry in the Church was prejudice. No one told me Dad should know more about the Church and my hopes, and it never occurred to me that I would feel so lonely going to church without him. I also did not realize how I could upset him by going to church.
“You see, when you’re planning to marry, you think you are going to have everything you already have, plus everything the other has. There just is not time, energy, or room enough for everything, and sometimes one of you does not want everything the other has to offer. Compromises have to be made. It’s not easy to compromise your beliefs and way of life.
“Anyhow, after a lot of experiments, Dad and I finally came to an adjustment. As the saying goes, ‘When life hands you a lemon, add the sweetener of love and make lemonade.’”
Melody giggled as Bill raised his glass of lemonade in salute to the idea.
“Yes, Dad even went so far as to let you three go to church with me—after I was reactivated. Some nonmember dads would not be so generous. You have a very fine father.”
Bill’s face flushed and he looked a little sad as he blurted, “Why doesn’t he—?”
I interrupted because I did not want to feel emotional. “Dad doesn’t talk about religion, and it has to be between him and Heavenly Father. Just keep praying and loving. But to get back to your choosing someone—”
Beth interrupted this time. “What would you do if one of us was going to marry a nonmember?” “I would ask you a lot of questions and ask you to talk with each other about your life-style, hopes, and compromises before you married. Would you pray together? Could you plan to remain active in the Church and magnify callings? Could visiting teachers, home teachers, and missionaries be welcome in your home? Could beliefs be openly discussed? What would you have to do to accommodate his beliefs? What would you do about religion for the future children? You would probably think I was too nosey, so I would ask our home teachers and the branch president to help you with these things. I might even ask Dad to help; he knows the other point of view! And, if worse came to worse, I’d consider talking to your intended.”
“Boy, you’d sure make a big deal of it!” exclaimed Melody, sounding exasperated.
“Of course,” I replied. “It is necessary to plan how to make each other happy while being true to yourselves. After all that, if you still went through with the marriage, I would remember how Dad has blessed my life and I would be happy for your happiness. I promise, too, that I would stand back and try to be a good mother-in-law like both of your grandmothers are. You know I will always pray for your happiness and for the happiness of those you love. Each of you has the potential of bringing joy to someone’s life; you deserve the best.”
While we were speaking, Dad drove in. Billy went to greet him. I gave Beth a quick hug as she and Melody went to get a piece of cake and some lemonade for their father. When I caught his eye, I blew him a welcoming kiss, and waited.