When the latest posting schedule for Northern Lights blog came out, I was excited to see that my day, today, fell on my thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. It falls only four days after the wedding of the last of our children. So, marriage is very much on my mind.
I’m writing this the day after my son’s wedding and there was a lot of advice given by their bishop for how to make a marriage last and be what the Lord wants it to be. It was all good advice, but one piece of advice often gets only a passing mention when people get married, and for us, it has been the most important factor. We’ve lasted this long for one main reason and to me, you can’t possibly succeed in a marriage without it.
They say that obedience is the most important thing, and I believe that it is right there at the top when it comes to our personal behavior. However, we know that other than Jesus Christ, no one has lived a perfect life and that we need his forgiveness to make it to heaven. As a means of having a healthy and happy marriage, there must be forgiveness and it has to happen as quickly as it can.
I remember sitting in a fireside for single adults back after I returned to the Church after my vacation in Babylon. The subject of the fireside was forgiveness and the speaker was making the case that God will forgive us only with the same willingness as we are willing to forgive others. I remember pondering how very many things I needed to have forgiven and thinking that it wasn’t just the extent of how we forgive but also the speed with which we forgive.
I resolved then and there that since I was like to want the Lord to forgive me quickly each time I stumble, I would have to forgive people as quickly as possible. That very moment, I resolved to forgive my abusers and start with a fresh and kind feeling towards everyone. Some people feel that it takes a lot of work to forgive. I don’t want to speak for others, but I found that I was able to shed years of resentment and anger in one powerful moment.
When I got married to Barbara, I didn’t consciously go about being a quick forgiver. I had already practiced being like that a couple of years. Also, not consciously, she was much the same way. She’s been a good forgiver and has never been one to hold a grudge.
We both can lose our tempers. Oh boy, can she lose her temper! Me too! The very few people who have seen me get really angry have told me how scary I can be.
It’s not that we don’t have feelings. It’s that we can let them go so easily and quickly, because our hearts are focused on something greater than what happens in moments of offense. It is one aspect of the eternal perspective we have in our marriage.
I know a lot of rocky marriages where people strive to be so righteous and do everything so perfectly, but the main feeling in the marriage is resentment for each other. If you hold on to the resentment for one offense, it just builds on the resentment of the last offense, nay, every prior offense.
Resentment is not only the effect of being unmerciful, it is also the cause of so much in the way of meanness. To me, it is the heart of marital and family dysfunction. The greater the resentment, the more problems there are. I think that infidelity is a result of the build-up of resentment over time. When it happens early in a marriage, it is the response to resentments still harbored from before with other people.
I’m impressed with my children as adults. They get along so well, most of the time. When they have disagreements, they make up quickly. We’re not a demonstrative family, but the love is enduring because we quickly forgive.
I figured out why we were doing so well one day after about ten years of marriage when there was a Sunday School lesson about marriage. The teacher was giving a laundry list of advice for a good marriage. She opened it up for others to share what was the most important factor in their marriages. No one mentioned forgiveness and I suddenly realized that my marriage was built upon it. So, I shared that. The response was only slightly better than the rolling of eyes. It was like a whispered, “Whatever” from the class.
People like all of the advice that is about doing positive things. I think it’s a Mormon cultural thing that doing things right is higher on the list than forgiving when things are not done right. I think that is sad. Striving to choose the right is always the highest priority, but if you can’t forgive when people don’t, you won’t receive it for yourself.
So, today, on my anniversary, I’m grateful for a great many things about my dear wife, Barbara, but there is one thing I want to thank her for more than anything else—instant forgiveness.
The comedian, Rita Rudner, in her book, Naked Beneath My Clothes, said that marriage is “…finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”
Barbara, thank you for being that one special person that annoys me, but only for one instant at a time.