Get Real in Preparing for Marriage


President Eric B. ShumwayDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

September 7, 2006
President Eric B. Shumway
University Devotional

Aloha! What a blessing to be here today, together, to meet in the name of the Lord, to sing, pray, ponder, be inspired by beautiful and sacred music, and willing to hear counsel and testimony.

One of the alarming phenomena in our society today is the continuing decline of what is called the traditional family, that is: a father and mother, married with children. This decline is seen in the increase of divorce, the accelerating number of children being raised by one parent, the eagerness of many people to redefine marriage to fit diverse lifestyles, and the hesitancy for a variety of reasons of many young people to enter into formal marriage. Each of these is an impediment and adversary to the family. They create confusion, heartbreak and sorrow in ever-widening circles, even in the Church.

Today I would like to address the latter issue, the increasing number of young people who are of marriageable age, but who lack the faith and the personal attributes necessary for a wholesome, congenial marriage. Many seem to slip through adolescence, teen years and early adulthood, naive and clueless about marriage. They are mature physically to be sure, full of the chemistry of desire, but often are not prepared psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually for the realities of married life and family.

This address is a plea for us to sincerely prepare, to get real, to seek to acquire those personal attributes that will sustain a happy marriage. You can't do a cram course in marriage a few weeks or months before you kneel at the altar and expect to establish a warm, lasting, nurturing relationship. The personal qualities you need are life skills that require a learning life, that is, substantial time. If you are an older single and have not had opportunity to marry, these attributes will still brighten, even empower, your life. For if you are worthy, and truly desire the blessings of a joyful family, someday they will be yours and more!

If you learn all this school has to offer, but fail to acquire these qualities that sustain a marriage and family, your education will be sorrowfully incomplete.

I begin with the doctrinal foundation of marriage and family that should go down into our hearts like fire—even for those who have been married long but whose relationship has become cold or blasé with a great need for more sparkle and romance.

First, from the "Proclamation on the Family"(1995), "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the family is central to the creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children." Think of this statement; ponder it. "Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the family is central to the creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children." This single truth should inspire our souls and our imagination that the cosmic purpose of this earth and the universe has, as its central feature, marriage and the family, with husband and wife at the core. Thus, marriage and family is not a human invention or a social construct merely, developing or evolving out of human necessity. It is a heavenly order and a path to eternal life and eternal happiness. Listen to the following excerpts from Elder Russell M. Nelson's last conference address:

"Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human is the foundry for social order, the fountain of virtue, and the foundation for eternal exaltation...It is sanctified when it is cherished and honored in holiness....Marriage is both a commandment and an exalting principle of the gospel...the intimate physical expressions of married love are sacred....A marriage sealed [in the temple] launches a husband and wife into that grand order of unity so necessary to the perfection of God's work....priesthood office, keys, callings, and quorums are meant to exalt families...So brethren, your foremost priesthood duty is to nurture your marriage—to care for, respect, honor, and love your wife. Be a blessing to her and your children."

I would like to add that marriage and family offers the greatest opportunities for the growth of the character and the soul of the individual. It is a vortex of learning how to become like unto Heavenly Father in all of his sacred roles: as creator (you create life together with your spouse), as teacher, protector, provider, nurturer, judge and savior. In our own families, these are our roles, as in Heaven they are Heavenly Father's roles.

Since marriage and family is a primary duty and blessing to individuals and is at the core of God's plan for human happiness and eternal glory, why is it so many, who have long been at a marriageable age, show no eagerness to seriously consider marriage any time soon? What's the hang up? A number of single adults have offered their reasons. I am intrigued by their analysis and wisdom. One said, "There are basic reasons young people postpone marriage, "fear, fun, and focus elsewhere."

By fear is meant they are apprehensive about having the ability to provide for a family. They lack confidence. Part of this is girls who exhibit expensive habits and tastes and men fear they cannot provide what their daddy gave them. Another said, "They fear the responsibility of an interdependent relationship: a 24/7, nonstop, night and day relationship. That requires a maturity beyond their scope."

Others postpone marriage because they are perpetually enchanted by their own carefree life of fun, eating out, hanging out, surfing, parties, sports, and video games. Like Peter Pan, they want to stay young and adventuresome with other lost boys. They are fundamentally self-focused and self-indulgent. One of their problems is that they don't think they have a problem. Many of them are an older version of the X-Box generation, playing games of chance and destruction, consuming time and energy in a world of illusion.

Another person said, "Some fear marriage because they come from dysfunctional families themselves. Perhaps they were traumatized as children by divorce. Perhaps they saw arguing, violence, and other forms of unhappiness. Marriage and family hold no hope for joy because they never saw happiness in their own home."

Some post-poners may be in rebellion against well-intentioned people who are always asking, "Aren't you married yet?" Others claim they are tired of the dating scene and desperate girls (or boys) who always want to talk about the relationship (Where is it going?), trying to force the bud to open before it can bloom naturally into a flower.

Others, especially girls, may become disillusioned by the sexual advances of male predators, with lust and self-gratification being the goal, disregarding chastity, responsibility, and true love. You women, beware of behaviors that are slick and flattering and even artificially spiritual in order to win your trust, only to betray you. Some will try to put you off your guard with references to their missions or their favorite Book of Mormon character like Captain Moroni. "No boy has ever treated me so good" or "He is the nicest guy I've ever met" is often uttered by girls who discovered too late that there are countless "wolves in sheeps' clothing" out there. Date boys who keep the commandments and honor their priesthood.

Over the forty years Sister Shumway and I have lived close to the heart of this campus, we have always suffered heartache when BYU-Hawaii students choose to seek excitement off campus in the company of people neither of the faith nor the standards of the Church. So often their excitement seeking has ended in sorrow, even tragedy. So please be warned that you put your honor and your moral standards at risk by these excursions, and you also put your future spouse, wherever he or she is, and your future children, in harm's way. Your choices affect them for good or ill. Let the thoughts of your future spouse who you may not even know yet and thoughts of future children, who are waiting to come to you, help you make the right choices now. They are worth waiting for. They are worth being worthy for.

Leaders also inform me that single men should learn how to date and court a girl properly instead of just hanging out. They can learn conversational ability, manners, and good judgment. One frustrated group of girls suggested that a priesthood course be taught on how a young man should treat a girl on a date. They say, "It's all in the scriptures,"—humility, and charity—and in the scout motto: "Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent."

I have heard girls who were looking for "fun" say sarcastically, "I don't want to date a boy scout." Just as I've heard boys say just as sarcastically, "I don't want to date a Molly Mormon." Depending on your definition of "Boy Scout" or "Molly Mormon," the tone here of course is mockery and contempt. Too often it's the pointing fingers of the people in the spacious building ridiculing those who are holding on firmly to the iron rod. Good "Boy Scouts" make good husbands and fathers, true "Molly Mormons" make good wives and mothers.

Another formidable foe of a happy and healthy marriage is pornography. Pornography has taken a hold on many young imaginations with a terrifying grip that strangles, indeed chokes off the normal, protective, affectionate feelings towards the opposite sex. Pornography, like crystal meth, can rewire your brain. It objectifies women. It is calculated to arouse sexual desire, titillate, absorb, and addict. Normal human chemistry, especially male chemistry, cannot be involved with pornography without being profoundly affected. No person, as smart or controlled as he thinks he is, can allow his mind and emotions to be bathed in images of sexual perversion without subsequent enslavement.

Pornography specializes in escalation. It does not appease desire but excites desire to greater and more bizarre extremes.

In teaching about chastity, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made it very clear that any one "who looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his own heart" (Matthew 5:28). In that sense, so much of pornography in all of its sinister variety is virtual adultery. Continued involvement, again, completely destroys the ability to relate normally and kindly, and affectionately to women in general and especially in the sacred bonds of marital intimacy. How tragic it is that many beautiful temple marriages have ended in divorce because of pornography!

Worse, the Lord makes it clear in Doctrine and Covenants 43: 23, that "He that looketh upon a woman [or man I might add] to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out."

The Lord's command is that we must "let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly" (D&C 121:45) and "be ye clean who bear the vessels of the Lord" (D & C 133:5). Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? "He that hath" clean hands and a pure heart... (Psalms 24:4).

So what's the answer? In this precious time of preparation, what are the qualities a person can work on now, achieve now in preparation for marriage; regardless of present marriage prospects.

First, love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. The more you can love God and Jesus Christ, the more you will be able to love your future spouse and children. Follow Christ and keep an eternal perspective. An eternal perspective is keeping your eye and your heart on what is important eternally, and lasts eternally. Remember that in terms of joy and fulfillment, our mortal existence with all its toys and pleasure is so temporary and so minuscule in its comparison with heaven and the life beyond. The rewards of Heaven are so vastly more wonderful than you can imagine. As the apostle Paul has said, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Second, in looking forward to marriage do not assume a wait and see posture. Don't think this is just a period for marking time or treading water, just waiting for the marriage event. Seek to become a happy, productive human being in your own right. If you have been unlucky in love or hurt or betrayed or ignored, break away from complaining and self pity. Fill your life with all the things that will improve the head, the heart, and the hand. Read out of the best books, beginning with the scriptures. Get to know the great and noble human spirits in history and literature. Reading will open the doors of the world to you and make your mind a repository of things you can draw from later on in a marriage. Enjoy the beauties of the earth, nature, art. Engage proactively in church and community service, social activities that develop social skills. Fill your life with journal writing, temple attendance, acquiring new job skills, creating through hobbies, composing, missionary work, family history. Again I promise you that every gift you cultivate now will be a valuable asset when you do have a family.

Third, cultivate a cheerful attitude, the ability to laugh, even at yourself. A sour face and a grumpy disposition is truly a gruesome burden that we impose on roommates and other people, especially in marriage. Get a handle on your moods. Learn how to act better than you feel. One might ask, 'Well, isn't that hypocritical'? Certainly not. You may not be able to choose how you feel, but you can choose how you act. Learn how to be a good hostess or host. Cultivate a generous heart.

To those who have not seen a lot of happiness in marriage around them, who perhaps come from abusive, alcoholic, or other dysfunctional situations: don't despair. You can be what is called a cycle breaker, the pioneer who through faith in Jesus Christ and covenant keeping, cuts a new path of goodness and stability. Who creates his or her own legacy of righteousness for their posterity? One of my favorite little poems by a Russian poet illustrates the power and the joy that transcends one's environment and returns good for evil. It is entitled The Willow:

Of all the trees in our village,
The willow
Beyond the potato field
Had no luck—
They made a rubbish dump there.

Well, in the first place, it's not known whose she was,
Or who planted her there, and why—
We don't know.
If around other willows . . .
It is quite well swept and clean, as in a hut—
By that ill-conceived one
There's a pile of god-knows-what.
People bring scrap iron,
Galoshes, boots.
Quite useless now, of course,
(If they were good for anything at all they wouldn't bring them)
And when the cat dies, they dump it by the tree.
So encircled is the poor willow
With torn rags and rotting cats
That it is better now to give her a wide berth.

But still, when May comes,
Up to her knees in muck
She suddenly begins to gild herself peacefully.
She doesn't care a rap about the ripped galoshes,
The jars and tins and rags of clothes.
She flowers, as all her earthly sisters
With a modest flowering,
With the purest, most innocent of flowers
Opening primordially to the sun.

And it shines. And everything smells of honey.
It happens that bees fly to her
In spite of the refuse at her base,
Bear away the flowers' translucent honey, [honey]
To people who abuse trees.

(Translated by Daniel Weissbort)

Some of you may be thinking about marrying someone of a different language and culture from your own. Be careful. Use your brain to guide your heart. Of course, intercultural marriages can be gospel marriages, happy and eternal, but over the years we have witnessed many young people suffer needlessly because they naively assumed that their passionate love for someone would automatically overcome any differences in cultural expectations. They learned too late that different attitudes or habits of mind can make for serious conflict.

At the very least, before marriage, you need to visit and spend time where your boyfriend/girlfriend grew up, learn his or her language, meet the family. Nail things down; talk to your priesthood leaders; talk with people who are interculturally married but who have created a gospel marriage and can point out pitfalls to avoid.

There is another piece to this puzzle. I heard of one exasperated bishop recently telling his unmarried Relief Society sisters, referring to certain problematic single brethren: "Sisters, don't get involved with a 'project.' I am fearful for girls who date troubled brethren and fall in love with the idea of saving them. If you date a "project," go steady with a "project," you will marry a "project." Unfortunately, too often the "project" becomes the force that consumes the so-called rescuer. The rescuer becomes a victim. Now some of you sisters might think that if women didn't marry "projects," there wouldn't be many more marriages. That's not quite true although a good, righteous man is a rare commodity.

Friendship and learning how to be a true friend, is a perfect preface to a happy marriage. Become expert in friendship, respectful, loyal, fun, and quick to lift somebody up who is down, forgive and forget offenses quickly. One of the particular purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood, recited every week in thousands of priesthood meetings across the Church, is to "Show proper respect for women, girls, and children."

Young men, you need to realize just how much good you can do by showing respect and kindness to young women. That act of kindness and courtesy can have a huge impact for good. This is not romance, but friendship. Avoid the awful put-down jokes targeting women. So many men think it's cute and manly to make fun of girls, ridicule them; laughing at their size, their female constitution. Their sarcastic humor shatters feelings of self worth. Men, you do that at your own peril.

I am deeply grateful for four boys in the ward Sister Shumway grew up in because of their kindness and respect they showed her through their teenage years: Terry Summerhays, Terry Pantalakis, Legrand Lyman, Dwight Laws. These were her "friend boys" who danced with her, called her "Little Sister," and carried her on hikes when she sprained her ankle so that she wouldn't miss out on the fun; wrote complimentary notes to her for being a good girl and looked me over carefully when I started dating her. Their kindness and respect bolstered her feelings of self worth and confidence around men. She felt accepted, even honored.

I am blessed because of them. After 43 years of incredibly happy marriage, I still honor these men and their kindness to Carolyn before I ever knew her.

Men, honor womanhood. Shame on any priesthood holder who would ridicule or take advantage of a woman, sexually or otherwise. To be a priesthood brother or a friend boy to young women is an honor.

Again, women, realize that the virtue, honor, and high standards that emanate from you will have a powerful, positive effect on men. My wise mother used to say that a chaste, virtuous girl is worth 10 policemen in helping young men to stay in line.

As you prepare for marriage develop a sense, even a passion for some order in your life. A man or a woman who can't keep a clean or tidy room or their own clothes off the floor and hung up properly comes into marriage a cripple, severely handicapped. Regardless of what else is going well or how patient your spouse might be, your messy room and careless attitude toward order will weigh heavily on your relationship. I can testify, for example, that a made bed is the beginning for order and peace in the universe. Sing the hymn, "Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray and make your bed?" We are talking only about 35-45 seconds of bed making and a whole day of tranquil benefit. This is not a frivolous detail. Someone told me if you have a habit of a messy room, clean it up everyday for 21 days and you will have a new habit for life.

The temple in scripture is called "a house of prayer, fasting, faith, learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." (D&C 88:119) The same should be said of our own homes and apartments.

Practicing consistent acts of service and kindness toward your roommates and others is a huge preparation for marriage and family. Many of us serve others, but are we willing when it is not convenient? Serving in our family is seldom convenient, but so worth it. There is a pure pleasure in service itself. Perfect the art of service by following up on the question, "How can I help you?" What a pleasure to call certain offices on this campus and the person who answers says "How can I help you?" The supreme joy of marriage is unselfish service, not as a sacrifice but as a gift. As Jacob Needleman wrote "the essence of man [and woman] is happiness and love . . . and that essence is meant to serve the highest reality (call it "God") by serving one's neighbor [your closest neighbor is your spouse] . . . human happiness is literally—chemically—inseparable from caring for others. To serve with love is the substance of man's divinity" ("Two Dreams of America," p. 13).

A most critical preparation for marriage is a striving for moral purity, reserving sexual intimacy only for a covenanted loved one in the sacred bonds of marriage. The law of chastity, I testify, is a law of happiness. It's a law that protects the sacred powers of procreation, and magnifies the lyrical joys of romantic intimacy in a way that is God created, God ordained, and God blessed.

Again, however long you wait and prepare for marriage, be faithful to your future spouse. Any person who would try to persuade you to offer up sexual favors, no matter how sweet or wonderful or compelling it might seem at the moment, just know that "sin never was happiness." Satan never delivers joy, only misery, and the violation of the law of chastity, if not repented of, confessed, and overcome, will be a canker to your soul. It will be a great inhibitor to happiness. Total and complete repentance can bring about total and complete forgiveness and a restoration of chastity, but the law of chastity remains a glorious champion of gratitude and joy in marriage.

There is an added dimension of romance and excitement in a chaste person who waits for marriage for the full expression of his or her love. Total fidelity after marriage also ensures the quality and trust that magnifies the romance in marriage. The following is an account written by our daughter Emily who with her husband, Jon, just had their first baby, Elijah Holland Pfeifer. Please excuse this personal reference to family, but there is a lesson here for all of us about trust, fidelity, love, and romance. Emily wrote this a few months ago as a tribute to her husband. She entitles it, "Jon and I at the Play."

"A few months after our wedding Jon and I were invited to a play. The tickets were very expensive and we felt spoiled to be able to dress up in fancy clothes and attend this show we had heard was brilliantly hilarious."

"When we arrived at the grand theater we eagerly took our seats, full of anticipation. The first two acts were very witty and fabulously performed. But unexpectedly, early into the third act the language and the humor turned very crude and cheap. The heroine began to take off her clothing piece by piece, leaving her in only skimpy underwear as she acted out various vulgar antics across the stage. My eyes immediately shot to the floor and tears began to form in my eyes. I felt trapped. "I hate to be in these kinds of situations!" I thought angrily. I didn't want to offend the kind people sitting next to us who had paid for the evening, and dreaded the thought of arising and swishing off in what could be interpreted as a self righteous, "holier than thou" exit. "Heavenly Father, please," I pleaded in my mind, "help me know what to do right now!"

"Suddenly in my torture, I felt a warm hand cover mine. I looked at Jon. Our eyes met. He gripped my hand tightly and lifted me up. Without any pomp or ceremony he quietly guided me to the aisle and we walked out of the theater together. We walked out into the moonlit courtyard, neither of us saying a word. We stopped under a tree and Jon took me into his arms. After a few more moments of silence he whispered, "I don't ever want to see anyone dressed like that except for you."

"I can't express what that did for me as a new bride, still getting to know my husband's character. Indescribable trust, respect and love filled my whole body and made my heart burn. My mom has told me ever since I was a little girl that righteous men are the most romantic men on earth. That night her words resonated in my mind, and I knew she was right. Witnessing my husband regard me and the Lord in this way was truly one of the most romantic moments of my life and made me fall in love with him even more deeply. He made me feel safe and adored."

"Perhaps the reason why this experience is still so precious to me almost three years later is because Jon has continued displaying this type of purity and honor every day of our marriage. This was not just an isolated event when he chose to display some heroic act of morality. Anytime we have encountered anything obscene or tempting in that way, or even if we just see a beautiful woman, he always turns away—towards me."

In conclusion, I earnestly pray for each of you who are sincerely striving to acquire the gifts and the attributes of a worthy husband or wife, father and mother.

We at BYU-Hawaii are very blessed to live within the light and the spiritual force of the temple. The temple ordinances and all the learning that takes place there focus on the rescue and the salvation of families. What I have spoken about today has to do with a quest toward perfection and eternal life. By definition perfection and eternal life has to do with families, with eternal and celestial marriage. The idea of a quest or a journey is accentuated in the temple. The promises and covenants that we make in this symbolic journey empower us to resist the temptations of the world and to dismiss Satan from our lives.

The garment of the holy temple is a sacred reminder of the virtues and covenants that will allow us in to the presence of Heavenly Father. You brothers and sisters who have been endowed, live worthy of all of the temple's promises. Go back to the temple regularly. I cannot think of anything that will prepare a person better or more for the wonderful adventures and prospects of a happy marriage than regular attendance at the temple. You young men who are endowed, return missionaries, the temple should be your haven, a priesthood training site, almost like a school of the prophets in which the Holy Ghost is the instructor. And those of us who are not endowed let the temple be the focal point of our longing and our preparation.

I pray Heavenly Father will bless us all to be faithful, to get real, to cultivate with genuine sincerity the Christlike attributes that will bless and perpetuate a marriage and family into eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.