Equal Partners “In the Lord”

 

By Jeff Reber at Stake Conference: June 13, 2015 

Marriage

I would like to begin my talk this evening with Paul’s words to the people of Corinth found in 1st Corinthians 11:11: “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” These words express a fundamental truth of the Gospel and of the Plan of Salvation: Men and women cannot be “in the Lord” without each other. At every level of the church, men need women and women need men. Every man and every woman here has different gifts, talents, and abilities and different roles to play in building the kingdom of God. These differences, when practiced “in the Lord” are good and complementary and contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, men and women constitute the body of Christ, and there is not a single part of that body we can do without. Wrote Paul:

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body [of Christ], as it hath pleased him. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

Every man and woman in this room is needed; you are part of the whole. This stake is not a complete body without each one of you, whether you are single, married, widowed, a parent, rich, poor, highly educated, fully active or less engaged. Each one of you is a crucial cell in the body of Christ, and without your participation and contribution we are all the lesser for it. As the English Poet John Donne wrote:

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were.

Adam and Eve and the Lord’s Model of Marriage 

We find the superlative demonstration of Paul’s teaching about the necessity of men and women in the Lord in the holy sealing bond of marriage. And our primary model of a marriage “in the Lord” is that of Adam and Eve. Indeed, if there is one “assignment” I hope Adam-and-Eve-for-blogyou will commit yourselves to tonight, it is that you will agree to attend a temple endowment session soon wherein you will be taught in the clearest way possible, the Lord’s model of marriage through the example of Adam and Eve.

It is important to remember that Adam and Eve were married by the Lord for time and eternity in the garden. They were the first of many to be sealed together and to become “one flesh”. This means that after Eve had been tempted by Lucifer to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if Adam did not eat the fruit as well, husband and wife would have been separated, with Eve living outside the Garden apart from Adam in Eden. The sealing covenant would have been broken. However, the need for man and woman to be together in marriage was so essential to Adam and Eve that Adam partook of the fruit, fully expecting to die as the Lord had promised. This is why, when God asked Adam about eating the fruit, that Adam gave the following explanation: “The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.” Adam was not blaming Eve for his behavior. He explained honestly the reason for his transgression, which was to keep the covenant of marriage and remain with his wife, at all costs.

As promised, the consequence of their actions was death, a spiritual death that they and all their prosperity would share eternally, were it not for a Savior, who would redeem Adam and Eve and all their prosperity from eternal separation from each other and from their God. As Paul taught, without each other and without Christ, Adam and Eve could not inherit eternal life, and neither can we. Tonight, I would like to discuss two critical implications that follow from Paul’s words and from Adam and Eve’s model of marriage. First, husbands and wives have covenanted to a marital relationship that is more important than their individual concerns. Second, husbands and wives must be married “in the Lord,” which means the marital relationship itself is in need of Christ’s constant redemption.

Implication #1: The Marital Relationship comes First 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that has ever existed or will exist that seals a relationship into the eternities. In every other church, salvation, exaltation, enlightenment, Nirvana, or what have you is always an individual matter. In our church, exaltation is a relational matter. We cannot enter into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom nor achieve a fullness of joy alone. Adam and Eve knew this, and chose to remain with each other, putting aside their comfort and ease in their paradisiacal home in Eden, as well as their fear of death, in order to maintain their marital relationship. We know from Moses 5 that they were “glad” that they made that choice.

My request of you tonight is that you too will choose or re-choose your marital relationship over your individual concerns, and also be glad to do so. What does that mean in practical terms? First, it means you cannot be egoistic in your marriage. Your marriage is not designed to maximize your personal pleasure and minimize your personal pain. It cannot be the means to your selfish ends. If your egoistic gratification is more important to you me-me-methan your marriage, then the words of Jacob to the Nephite men who pursued selfish pleasures may apply to you: “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.”

Second, putting the marital relationship first also means you cannot be wholly altruistic in your marriage. It is good to serve your spouse and show him or her kindness on regular occasion, but that service should strengthen the marital bond, not just benefit the other person. I have seen too many marriages, including physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive marriages, in which one spouse tries to please the other spouse at all costs, including damaging costs to the marriage, him or herself, and the children. Too often, altruistic spouses are treated more like property or indentured servants than equal partners, and woe be unto the spouse who exploits the tender heart of an altruistic partner.

Third, putting the marital relationship first means our top priority is the marriage itself and we endeavor in everything we do to cultivate that relationship. We are not accustomed to thinking of relationships, the space between people, as having qualities and properties that can be attended to and cultivated, but I am here to tell you that your relationship with your spouse is its own reality and it has properties and qualities that are tangible and depend upon the Savior, just as much as the qualities of individuals do. Indeed, it is possible that spouses may be individually worthy and yet have a sinful marital relationship. You may recall a talk by President Monson given in the priesthood session of the April, 2011 conference in which he visited a couple at 2:00 in the morning who stood on opposite sides of the room and would not speak to each other. He asked them to attend a sealing with him, noting that despite their marital sinfulness, they were “otherwise worthy and held temple recommends.” They were not individually unworthy, but their marriage was steeped in sin.

Taking an inventory of the worthiness, holiness, and righteousness of your marriage is not the same thing as asking yourself if you are worthy and righteous. I ask you tonight that when you leave this stake center on your drive home, take an inventory of your marriage. How is it doing? Does your marriage have the qualities of love, goodness, kindness, gentleness, meekness, longsuffering? If you were to pretend your marriage was an object and set it in front of the two of you to examine it, what would it look like? Would it be dark or would it glow? Would it be atrophied and weak or would it be strong and flourishing? Examine it tonight and then examine it again every night. Give your marriage its own regular analysis and then do not neglect it lest it receive no nourishment and wither and die.

Implication #2: The Marital Relationship Needs Christ’s Constant Redemption

Once you have placed your marital relationship at the front and center of your lives and you begin to examine it in its own right, you will see its weaknesses and its need for Christ’s redemption.36481_all_05-01-JesusGethsemane Marital weaknesses, like individual weaknesses, are part of God’s plan. They are given to us by God to show us our dependency on Christ and to allow his atonement access to us. As the Lord described it in Ether 12:27, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Marital inequality is a common relational weakness that can be made strong by Christ if we humble ourselves and come unto him. The proclamation on the family clearly teaches that husband and wife “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” On this point, President Howard W. Hunter taught that “A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto. … The Lord intended that the wife be a helpmeet for man (meet means equal)—that is, a companion equal and necessary in full partnership.” President Monson adds that: “Your wife is your equal. In marriage neither partner is superior nor inferior to the other. You walk side by side as a son and a daughter of God.”

Many things can make our marriages unequal but two particular causes of inequality stand out: pride and sin. Pride comes in many forms and we must be constantly vigilant for its subtle encroachment into our marriage. For example, pride can enter into a marriage by a misunderstanding and misuse of the priesthood. Echoing D&C 121, President Hinckley warned priesthood holders: “Any man in this Church who … exercises unrighteous dominion over [his wife] is unworthy to hold the priesthood. Though he may have been ordained, the heavens will withdraw, the Spirit of the Lord will be grieved, and it will be amen to the authority of the priesthood of that man.” We know from that same section of the doctrine and covenants that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood.” A priesthood holder can only act in power and maintain equality with his wife by persuasion, kindness, meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, and love unfeigned. Anything other than behavior that is marked by these Christlike attributes courts pride, not priesthood power, and promotes marital inequality.

Similarly, if a wife becomes jealous of her husband’s priesthood authority and believes equality is only possible if both husband and wife are ordained to the same priesthood, she misunderstands this holy authority, is lifted up in pride, and engenders inequality in the marriage. Other forms of pride that create inequality include being lifted up by or jealous of spousal differences in education, income, status, church callings, and even differences in attractiveness, talents, and etiquette. This list is not all inclusive. It is up to each of you when you take your marital inventory each night to take stock of the inequality that has creeped into your marriage and to identify the specific forms of pride that have contributed to it.

Sin is another prominent source of inequality in marriage. All of us sin. “As Isaiah taught, all we like sheep have gone astray.” But when we do not repent for our sins or accept God’s forgiveness of our sins we are not “in the Lord” and we are not equal partners.Unhappy couple The unrepentant sinner lowers him or herself beneath the spouse and becomes a drag on the relationship, often forcing the other spouse to carry more than his or her share of the load. I have met with many couples where one partner in the marriage has stopped attending church and living according to the commandments, and it falls almost entirely to the other partner to get the kids ready for church, hold family home evenings, pray with the children, and so on. This is not an equal partnership and it is not a marriage “in the Lord.”

When I meet with such couples, I notice immediately that the partner who is not carrying their load is not happy about this circumstance. Instead, they are downtrodden and often depressed. They feel like they have fallen into a pit and they can’t get out of it. They have tried repentance, but they keep falling back into sin, and believe they are not forgiven by God. They have cried out for help from God, but they feel alone and abandoned. They tell themselves God won’t answer their prayers because they are too far gone. They are not worthy and deserving of an answer or of God’s love. They slip deeper and deeper into darkness and despair and believe they have found a dark corner of the universe where God’s redemptive power can’t reach them. On top of that, they feel they are ruining their marriage and their family and come to believe their spouse and children would be better off with a different partner and parent.

My heart aches for marriages plagued by this sin based inequality, just as it aches when I see a spouse lifted up in pride. My heart aches even more when I see one spouse lifted up in pride and the other downtrodden in sin. I call this the Pharisee/Sinner dynamic of marriage because it reminds me of the woman who was caught in adultery whom the Pharisees wanted stoned for her sin. They stood above her pointing their accusing fingers down at her, while she could barely raise her gaze above the ground, feeling so dirty and worthless. I have seen a similar dynamic play out so many times as a Bishop and marital counselor. I have seen the husband who is hopeless because he has tried to kick his pornography habit many times since his youth, but continues to fall back into that sin. He has come to believe he cannot kick the habit and cannot be forgiven by God. His wife, feeling exhausted and ashamed of her husband, tired of carrying the load of righteousness alone, can’t help but point the finger of blame at him. If he wasn’t like this, she could have a better marriage, a happy marriage, a righteous marriage. Other women seem to enjoy such marriages. Why must she be burdened with this heavy, unfair load? The deeper he bows his head in shame, the greater her indignation. The greater her indignation, the deeper his despair. They are locked into a vicious cycle.

Then, in my mind’s eye, I see the Lord brought by the Pharisees to the woman caught in adultery. I see him kneeling down by her. I see him stand and challenge the Pharisees, woman caught in adulterysaying “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” I see the Pharisees feeling guilty because none of them keeps the law perfectly and all are sinful, as they depart one by one. Then, I see the Lord kneel down again and ask the woman, his eyes meeting her’s, “Women, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She answers, “No man, my Lord.” Then comes the healing balm we all need, “neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” And the Lord raises her from despair with his forgiving hand.

Everything the husband and wife sitting before me trapped in their vicious cycle need to become equal partners in the Lord is here in this story and its symbolism. The wife needs to see the inequality of her pride and stop focusing on his sin, as dire as it may be, and look inward at her sins for which she has not repented—her pride, her resentment, and condemnation of her husband. She needs to come unto the Savior and bring her weaknesses to him and be humble. The husband needs to see that the Lord is right there next to him, no matter how low he sinks, no matter how deep the pit. The Savior who descended below all things, is alongside him extending his hand of forgiveness. The husband must look at the Lord, take his hand and be raised by the Lord out of the darkness into the light. Only then, when both partners are humble, contrite, and broken-hearted before the Lord, can they be equal partners. Only, when we place our marriages on the altar of the Lord and beg him for forgiveness for all of our marital sins and pride, can we be married in the Lord.

One of the things I teach the couples I work with is the practice of relational repentance. Relational repentance is not individual repentance. It is repentance for the sins of the relationship itself. I have never experienced the spirit stronger than I have kneeling with a couple as the husband or the wife cries unto the Lord and begs him to heal their broken relationship. couple-praying1As both husband and wife shed tears and offer the weaknesses of their marriage up to the Lord in humble sacrifice, I have felt the spirit inhabit the room so strongly and I have felt so clearly the confirmation that nothing matters more to the Lord than his children bound together in the covenant of marriage. He wants to heal all of our marriages. He wants to strengthen the bond between us. He stands at the door and knocks, not just to bring you individual mercy, grace, and joy. He yearns to bring you marital mercy, grace, and joy. It is my prayer that you will unlock that door and open it wide by getting on your knees as a couple and crying out with full sincerity, like Enos who prayed relentlessly to his God, until you have felt the loving, forgiving embrace of the Lord through his holy spirit, until your hearts are “knit together in unity” and you both, like the people of King Benjamin “experience a mighty change in you, or in your hearts, that you have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Then, you will again be equal partners in the lord as you were when you first came unto the Lord at the temple altar.

Conclusion 

I leave you my testimony, which is that I know marriage is the hardest thing we will ever do in this life, with parenting as a close second. Marriage is hard, but it is precisely the relationship and experience we need to become like our Heavenly Father. Nothing teaches us his attributes, his character, his way of life better than marriage. Nothing shows us our weaknesses and dependency on Christ and his atonement, better than marriage. There simply is nothing in this life that matters more than our marriage, in the lord. If you are not married, live your life in such a way, that when the time for marriage does come, whether in this life or the next, you will have cultivated your relationships with the Lord, your parents and family, and friends in such a way that you have developed the attributes of Christ that will enable you to be a husband or wife in the eternities, in the Lord. Until then, know that you are an essential member of the body of Christ and your talents, gifts, and abilities are essential to that body functioning as fully and capably as it can. If you are married, practice relational repentance, attend the temple with your spouse often and learn from Adam and Eve how to be married in the lord. Hold regular marital inventories where you examine the qualities and inequalities of your marriage. Beware of pride, do not condemn each other, and repent for your sins and accept God’s forgiveness. Open the door to the Savior whose only desire is to come in and abide with you, to be yoked to both of you, to make your burdens light and to give you rest and comfort.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen


Live BYU Radio Interview with Jeffrey Reber

Wiki_byuradio_2014 MTSHOW

 

Listen to the upcoming interview with Psychology Professor/Author Jeffrey Reber on BYU radio on the Matt Townsend Show where he will be discussing both his recent topic at BYU education week “The Paradox of Perfectionism” and past education week topics.  The interview will air live on Tuesday, September 9th from 3:15-4:00 MST. You won’t want to miss this interview!

 

 

 

 


BYU Education Week 2014

THE PARADOX OF PERFECTIONISM
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Come hear Jeff Reber and Steve Moody speak at BYU Education Week August 19th-22nd on their topic titled, “The Paradox of Perfectionism: How the Pursuit of Perfection can make our Relationships Imperfect.” They will be speaking Tuesday through Friday in room number 206 of the Martin Building (MARB) 8:30-9:25 am.


Sandy Hook: “Evil did not win.”

“How Strong and How Big God’s Love Really Is”

 


Book Review: ‘Are We Special?’ takes a close look at a growing epidemic

 

By 

 

“Have you ever felt you might be special?”

That’s the gnawing question authors Jeffrey S. Reber, a Brigham Young University associate professor, and psychologist Steven P. Moody pose in their book, “Are We Special? The Truth and the Lie about God’s Chosen People”.

Upon first asking myself the question as I began to turn the first few pages of the book I thought to myself, “Why yes, of course I am.” But then that train of thought quickly changed into, “Well…no. Not really.”

And then I realized, with each turn of the pages, that my back and forth reasoning and roller coaster of emotions are actually…normal. And suddenly I had a blueprint for the many versions of who I am, how I perceive myself, and how I perceive my identity in God.

Reber and Moody break down the truth and the lie about feeling special. There are four different ways we can react:

1. Accepting the truth and the lie, which makes people believe they’re above others.

2. Denying the truth and accepting the lie, which makes people give into selfishness.

3. Denying the lie and the truth, which makes people feel worthless and deflated.

4. Accepting the truth and denying the lie, which makes people realize they’re of divine worth, yet not above their fellow man, who is also of great worth.

Reber and Moody use data, psychology, research, and wonderfully crafted examples and analogies in this book to illustrate how all of us can find ourselves in so many places within the spectrum of feeling special, even if that means trying on the shoes of the Pharisee during a walk down the path of what we feel might be discipleship.

The book is an amazing journey of self-exploration and what it really means to be a child of God within a culture that celebrates pride and heroes and those who stand apart.

By the end of “Are We Special?” the reader will be on a quest to not let a day go by without asking him or herself, “Am I believing the truth or the lie today?”

Read more amazing articles at http://lemmonythings.wordpress.com


“Christ forgives us because He loves us.  To be His disciples, we too must learn to forgive because of the charity that fills us.  True forgiveness is only achieved by focusing on God’s love for us.”

                                –Are We Special?  


“If we keep the commandments out of duty or to avoid feeling bad we may not be moving further from God necessarily, but we are not growing closer to Him either. We can check off all the boxes that show that we are a member in good standing, but we are quite stagnant in our relationship with God.”

                                                                                                         –Are We Special?


Breast Cancer Awareness Month & Are We Special?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! To  help with this campaign a portion of the proceeds from every copy of  Are We Special?  sold in the month of October  will be donated to  The National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Click here to purchase your copy and help spread awareness


Are We Special? Book Signing at Deseret Book in Bountiful, UT

Come meet the authors of Are We Special? on Saturday, August 24th from 11 am to 1 pm for their book signing at the Deseret Book store in Bountiful, UT 

Address: 135 N 545 W, West Bountiful, Ut 84087


Relationships of Absence

By Jeff Reber

A few days ago, a family that our family has grown close to over the last several years lost their father due to injuries resulting from a tragic motor accident. The family is as faithful and hopeful as any people I know and they have found comfort in the Lord and in each other. I have no doubt that the comfort will continue to come as they learn to live in a relationship of absence from their father.

It may seem curious to speak of a relationship of absence.  How can there be a relationship when the person is not there? Absence should mean the absence of relationship, not a relationship of absence.  Surely, this is what a number of men tell themselves as they make the decision not to be involved in their child’s life. They try to convince themselves that the child will be better off without them around. What they don’t realize or admit is that they are “around” for that child, even if they aren’t physically present.  Whenever the child wonders why her dad chose to abandon her, he is in a relationship with that child. When the child questions what traits and characteristics she inherited from her dad whom she has never known, the child is relating to the dad in his absence.  It’s not that his absence negates the relationship. It just changes its form and meaning. It is a relationship of absence rather than presence and it is just as real and just as important to that child he has left as it would be if he stayed.  I have experienced how real and important it is in the many heartbroken clients I have worked with in therapy who can’t get over the relationship of absence they are in with the person who abandoned them.

Now, this wonderful family that is dear to me and my family has been thrust into a relationship in which their father cannot be physically present, and they will experience the unique challenges of relating to him in his absence. This will be particularly difficult because he was such a large presence in their lives and was so engaged in their activities.  When they have a thought occur to them and they find themselves picking up the phone to share it with their dad, they will become painfully aware of his absence.  When they get stuck trying to fix the refrigerator and think to call on their dad for help they will feel that yearning for him.  When his beloved wife kneels to pray and waits to hear his voice offer up the prayer and remembers that he is not there, she will miss him dearly.

These feelings are at the heart of the grieving process–all those little moments when he would have been there, when he should be there, when you need him there. These are the moments that mark a relationships of absence, and they hurt. They feel wrong, off-kilter in some way. Like a phantom limb, something is missing that ought to there, that you can almost feel and rely on, but isn’t present.  These feelings will occur and recur all of their lives as they relate to their dad in his absence in their everyday experiences that would have otherwise included him.

There is only one being who has ever lived who fully understands and has felt this relationship of absence, and because he has felt it and gone through it to every degree his empathy, his love, and his spirit can fill the void that is felt when we reach out to our loved ones who aren’t able to be there with us.  So great is the love of our Heavenly Father for us that he did something that had to be very hard for him that caught even Christ off guard.

Just as Christ was at the height of his suffering. As he was still shaken from the atoning sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane, still stung by the betrayal by one of those closest to him, still hurt by the call of his own people for his crucifixion, and writhing in great physical pain from the suffering on the cross; in that moment of his greatest anguish his father removed himself from the presence of his son and allowed Christ to feel the full pain of a relationship of absence from his father.  This absence was so unexpected and so painful that the Savior of the world cried out publicly, “My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Christ came to know why his father did this, just as we do. The father allowed the son to condescend below all things so he could comprehend all things, so he could succor us in our relationships of absence with our loved ones.  None of us is ever fully and completely abandoned as Christ was. His spirit surrounds us and is in all things and through all things, filling the voids in our lives. He alone experienced the absolute absence of God, which makes him uniquely qualified to comfort us in our relations of absence no matter how severe they may be.

What love and foresight our father In heaven has. He knew that the plan of salvation and the necessity of physical death it entails would cause us to suffer from the separation of loved ones.  He could have let us suffer,but instead, in his mercy, he let the lamb that is without blemish suffer for all of our sakes. And now, when we feel the absence of our loved ones and begin to despair and feel so utterly abandoned, he alone, our personal Savior, can reach his loving arms around us and embrace us in his love, a love that knows exactly how we feel, and a love that knows exactly how to comfort us.

I pray that my dear friends can feel the loving embrace of the Savior as they experience the absence of their father, just as I pray that all of us who feel sometimes abandoned and alone can have that void filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding.