Last night, I helped my son prepare a talk for church who was asked to speak on Elder Scott’s address from this past conference; one I can’t say I really remember hearing.
Elder Scott spoke of the covenant made by King Lamoni, his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi and their people, to not take up arms against others. They buried their weapons (not so they couldn’t use them, but so the weapons would remain spotless and stand as a testimony that they had kept their covenant).
They gave their lives to keep that covenant.
Years later Helaman, son of Alma, good friend to Ammon who taught King Lamoni the gospel, reminded the people of Ammon of their covenant not to take up arms. He, their former priesthood leader, pled with the people not to break their covenant, but instead send their sons, boys and young men to fight.
The talk brought to mind an experience I had just over a year ago. I was sitting in the spare bedroom in the basement, a pit in my stomach, wide-awake in the middle of the night. I had been living in the spare room for a couple months.
My parents had also been living in separate rooms for some time and the word divorce could be heard more and more often.
When I was sixteen, I lived a summer with my grandparents who at that time had a similar sleeping arrangement, up until they divorced a year or two later.
That night in the spare room, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t going to wait forty years to end a toxic marriage. I wasn’t going to prolong the inevitable. I decided to get a divorce.
I had been going to counseling for about a year and felt that I had been given many tools to help my relationship with my wife, and all that was missing was for her to fall in line and do her part. I had built a severe case against her; I accused her, diagnosed her, labeled her and judged her. I jumped at every opportunity to point out her faults and mistakes and to remind her of past failures. I told myself that by doing so I was helping her out, providing leadership. After all who doesn’t love to be told over and over and over again that they’re wrong. Moreover, I felt that I would somehow be held accountable if I didn’t point out her problems.
Elder Scott said that the people of Ammon’s “wise priesthood leader, Helaman, knew that breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. He offered an inspired alternative,” to send their sons that hadn’t made the covenant.
This passage struck me particularly hard. “Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified.”
A couple weeks ago I exchanged emails with someone that suggested God would under the right circumstances tell someone to get a divorce and break the covenant they had made over an altar of the temple before God, angels and witnesses. This person stated it was similar to God commanding, “Thou shalt not kill,” but then commanding Abraham to kill his son and Nephi to kill Laban. I suppose the point was that there are always exceptions.
Before I continue with this thought, let me clarify that I do believe that God cares about us and our wants and desires, and that there certainly are circumstances that would justify a divorce. Additionally, the covenant made in a temple marriage and sealing involves more than one party in addition to God.
Back to Nephi and Abraham. As I pondered this thought and read the passages of scripture where Nephi was commanded to take Laban’s life I realized that according to the Law of Moses and the doctrine given to Nephi, he was not commanded to do anything that was contrary to the Law of Moses or the law of the land. Nor was Abraham commanded to do anything contrary to the gospel. God used the experience to teach Abraham the true reason for living the law of sacrifice they had been given. Abraham nor Nephi were asked to break a covenant they had made.
As I further pondered, I could not think of any moment in scripture where God commanded anyone to break a covenant they had made. The story of the people of Ammon came to mind and I felt that God honored and supported our covenants and that even though the people of Ammon would have been justified in taking up arms, they were counseled not to because they had made a covenant.
Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. Elder Scott’s counsel came as an answer to prayer and my studying of the topic.
When I told my priesthood leader I was considering a divorce, he encouraged me to try and keep the sacred covenant that I had made in the temple. He invited me to continue to go to counseling, and invited my wife to go separately.
In our discussion, he helped me see that I was ever ready to bend over backwards for others, unconditionally love anyone, willingly forgive associates for great offenses but somehow I wasn’t able or willing to do those things for the person that at one time was the closest and dearest to me. I considered myself to be my brother’s keeper, but I was not that of my spouse.
I prayed and studied, pondered and prayed some more and I realized that I could not justify breaking that covenant. It didn’t happen right away, but my heart began to soften and change. The Lord in his goodness showed me the louse I had been and helped me see how to become something better. He helped me to see the need I had to check boxes rather than live the gospel as I discussed in a previous post. He guided me to develop unconditional love for my bride. As I repented and softened my heart, I felt happiness, true happiness.
Up until that time I had been miserable. I tried to hide it from the world; I blamed it on those around me, or things outside my control. I found some reprieve by badmouthing my wife, building the case, and reinforcing my judgments, but deep down I knew I was wrong, no matter how justified I felt, I was a hypocrite.
I professed to be a Christian. Christ didn’t look for opportunities to point out mistakes, condemn those that had sinned, cast out the unworthy, withdraw his love from even those that betrayed him. Quite the opposite. Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. My actions were not at all Christlike.
I didn’t necessarily care about solutions; I was more interested in not being blamed. Building the case helped me to feel justified in my hypocritical actions.
Looking back at the years, I realize that it was difficult for the Atonement of Christ to take effect in my life because of my pride, more than my sins. Sins won’t necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. How could my heart be mended if it was broken, or my spirit touched if it wasn’t contrite?
Once the healing power of the Atonement took effect and the peace came, it was easy to let go of the case I had built against my wife. Unlike the parable of the debtors, I had been forgiven of a great many things, who was I to not forgive the minor offense?
I feel like King Lamoni when he said, “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”