It was always nice to sit with my Dad and talk of the gospel, his favorite topic. From time to time his words come back to me. “Many decisions are difficult because we have not made up our minds to do what is right.”
The things he taught become truer and truer, more and more meaningful as the years pass. His wisdom was reaffirmed for me recently. A friend called and asked for my advice. He told me of many years in a loveless marriage. At work he has become friends with a wonderful woman with whom he has beautiful gospel conversations. She is also in a loveless marriage. Recently they have shared their feelings for each other: They would love to be together. “What should we do?” he asked me. The next day she called me and asked the same question.
From the phone conversations it was clear that both of them were ready to do almost anything to open the way for their relationship. Their fondness and closeness had grown out of dozens of hours of talking and being together. Friendship had grown into something far more. Both had begun to think about ways the Lord might open the way for them to be together.
My initial questions to them may have seemed quite unrelated to their dilemma: “Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you trust him completely? Do you know that he will always act in your best interest?” Affirmative answers to these questions are liberating. Submission to God is the path to happiness.
And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; . . . and save they shall cast . . .away [learning, wisdom and riches], and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 Nephi 9:42).
We often walk away from sacred promises for alluring prospects. We turn our backs on yesterday’s impressions in order to grasp today’s whims. We devalue past joys as we lunge at prospective satisfactions. We reduce covenants to mere options.
The woman described above imagined that the Lord might end her husband’s life so that she could marry her co-worker. She even imagined a specific timetable. After all, her husband was insensitive while her co-worker was attentive. She had tried to make it work. Certainly the Lord wanted her to be happy.
Brigham Young taught us boldly:
There is no enjoyment, no happiness, no comfort, there is no light to my path, for me there is no real pleasure or delight only in the observance of truth as it comes from God, obeying it in every sense of the word, and marching forward as a good faithful soldier in the discharge of every duty (Journal of Discourses, vol.19, pp. 42–43).
Dishonor does not lead to goodness. Wickedness never was happiness. The only path to enduring peace is obedience. Working at our appointed station doing the pick and shovel work of relationship building may seem unglamorous and unpromising. But those who are faithful in duty will enjoy eternal rewards that are unimagined—even unimaginable—in our mortal way of thinking. Even as we labor along, God will hum hymns of comfort and joy to our souls. Duty does not have to be drudgery.
I recommended to both the man and the woman who called that they do everything in their power to make their respective marriages work. After they had done all they can, they still should pray for the Lord to provide miracles to open further ways to bless their marriages. Only as we honor our promises with our best efforts and heaven’s help can we expect to find happiness.
When we imagine happiness to be in some exotic place outside our mundane commitments, we will be everlastingly disappointed. When we chase happiness, we will be frustrated. When we obey with full purpose of heart, a peace beyond understanding distills upon us. Brigham Young gives the example of Lyman Johnson who left his covenant obligations for something that seemed more promising.
Lyman E. Johnson said, at one of our Quorum meetings, after he had apostatized and tried to put Joseph out of the way. . . . “Brethren—I will call you brethren—I will tell you the truth. If I could believe “Mormonism”—it is no matter whether it is true or not—but if I could believe “Mormonism” as I did when I traveled with you and preached, if I possessed the world I would give it. I would give anything, I would suffer my right hand to be cut off, if I could believe it again. Then I was full of joy and gladness. My dreams were pleasant. When I awoke in the morning my spirit was cheerful. I was happy by day and by night, full of peace and joy and thanksgiving. But now it is darkness, pain, sorrow, misery in the extreme. I have never since seen a happy moment (Journal of Discourses, vol.19, p. 42).
What a keen irony! We often do something because it seems best, wisest, or truest—even though it may not be in total harmony with the counsel of God and his servants. We imagine that we know better than they or that unusual circumstances justify our desertion. For example, we resolve to pay tithing after the bills are paid. We determine that food storage is folly. We take on debt with disregard for counsel and conscience. We minimize those parts of the Book of Mormon that do not agree with our advanced educations or humanistic philosophy.
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish (2 Nephi 9:28).
As I talked to the woman, I saw a miracle. She originally called with the desperate sense that she could not be happy without the companionship of her co-worker; when I encouraged her to honor her promises and entrust her happiness to God, she did not resist. She embraced God as the only true source of happiness. She trusted him. The miracle grew—as it always does when we trust God. She called the next day to report that she had gone home and apologized to her husband for her coolness and unkindness. They had spent a joyous evening together—something she had never imagined possible. Their marriage is not suddenly idyllic, but there is hope.
Submission came more slowly for the male co-worker. His marriage seemed hopelessly vacant. The prospect of losing his co-worker’s affection seemed intolerable. Slowly he resolved to throw himself on the merits, mercy, and grace of him who is mighty to save. His marriage may or may not work. But exercising faith in the giver of life, he cried out for mercy following Alma’s pattern, “O Jesus, Thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” His marriage is not changed. But he moves forward feeling heavenly peace.
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions (Mosiah 24:14).
There are, of course, marriages that must end because of abuse or betrayal. But Satan would lead millions more than the unavoidable few out of their sacred promises by prospects of something better, sweeter, or finer. But Satan is a liar. He will “not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60).
There is only one source of enduring happiness. When we act contrary to promises, covenants, counsel, and impressions, we are acting contrary to the nature of happiness.
…for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal head (Helaman 13:38).
As Dad taught, when we make up our minds to be obedient to the counsel of heaven, we will find peace, joy, consolation. We will be happy. Forever. God knows the path to happiness. He will lead us there if we will obey.
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