Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wife Rule #94: Let Us Adore Him

January is almost over, and some of my neighbors still have outdoor Christmas lights turned on at night. Despite being a self-diagnosed Christmas nut (a candied almond, with white chocolate and cinnamon glaze, to be specific), holiday lights just don't do anything for me this long after the New Year. Our lights, while not yet put away, are no longer turned on, and the other decorations and music and trappings of Christmas seem like distant memories.

All that said, one of the aspects of the holiday season that I'm always most reluctant to let go of when January comes--and I'm being serious here--is listening to the same Christmas carols over and over (and over and over) again.

I love the melodies, the numerous creative ways they have been arranged by various artists, and perhaps most of all, I love the inspiring, worshipful lyrics of many of the songs. When you possess a rather thick skull like I do, the constant repetition of such happy, hopeful messages really helps to cultivate the appropriate spirit of the season. For example, by the fiftieth time through O Come All Ye Faithful, the message finally starts to sink in:

O come, let us adore Him!

This past season, I spent some time pondering the word adore. Only in recent years have I begun to understand the awesome beauty, power and depth of what it means to truly adore someone. I believe I can accurately say that it began with my wife.

Sure, there have certainly been others in my life worthy of adoration. For example, as I have grown into manhood, my appreciation and admiration for my parents has blossomed. But I'm not sure that the shackles of selfishness, forged naturally in consequence of being born into this fallen world, have been fully shaken off as far as my parents are concerned yet. It seems that long years of habitually receiving so much more than I give back (can you say spoiled brat?) take a while to fully reverse. I have high hopes that I will someday grow into the adoring son that they deserve.

But I do adore my wife. I unequivocally, absolutely adore my wife. And how could I not? This is the woman who has awakened in me the best, highest, most worthy ambitions that man can aspire to. This is the woman who has planted a spark of nobility in my heart that lifts me to a higher plane than I could ever reach alone. This is the woman who has chosen to bestow upon me the most cherished titles of Husband and Father, titles I was powerless to take without her. This is the woman who has placed her earthly prosperity and her eternal happiness willingly into my hands, as I have placed mine in hers, unconditionally and with complete trust and fidelity. I have stretched more, yearned more, and risked more for her sake, as she has for mine, than any other person on this earth.

And yet, I also adore my children. When I look into their innocent, light-filled eyes, my heart throbs with adoration for these pure souls who are among my most precious assets in time and eternity. The sheer magnitude of the gift of each of these children in my life is incalculable. The joy I receive at their unwitting and even sometimes unwilling hands has been surprising and deeply enriching.

But in my pondering, I have come to the conclusion that there is more: more to adoring my wife than immense gratitude for what she has given me and the investments I made to win her affections. And there is more to adoring my children than the natural, almost effortless love that springs from playing a part in bringing them to earth.

Adoring comes from serving.

This is the great secret that I have only just begun to understand. My wife's countless charms were enough to catch my eye and win my heart, her virtue enough to inspire me to be my best, and the depth of her offering of body and soul enough to bind me to her with powerful ties. But I don't know that I can honestly say that I adored my wife when we first wed. In fact, I don't know that I had learned to adore anyone at that point.

Now I have spent over ten years of my brain-fully-developed, adult life in loving and serving my wife. Don't get me wrong; if we were keeping score (which thankfully we aren't), her service to me would far outweigh mine to her. But it is almost impossible to traverse this globe for so long, attached so closely to another person, and not eventually take opportunities to give--just a little.

The abundant rewards of that first giving spur further giving, and soon husband and wife have developed habits of giving and serving that seem almost automatic. It's as if a thousand little scraps of simple service have been suddenly sewn together into a patchwork quilt of mutual selflessness that completely covers and warms us both. And I believe this added warmth, combined with the aforementioned offerings, is what finally qualifies my affections for her as true adoration.

It's the same with my children; only after years of necessity slowly chiseling off countless rough edges, through the never-ending selfless acts that parenthood requires, do I find myself in a place I can honestly call adoration.

O come, let us adore Him!

So then, how do we come to adore the Creator and Redeemer of the world? I believe it is through the same simple acts of serving that endear us to our families. As the ancient king Mosiah asked,

How knoweth a man the master whom he has not served? (Mosiah 5:13)

And how can we ever come to adore our Master if we never come to know Him?

So how do we serve Him? We can start by simply doing what He asks of us (just imagine what would happen if all children tried that with their parents!) Jesus, with His knack for teaching elegant sermons with astonishing efficiency, instructed that

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

And knowing Jesus as we do, it's not surprising that the very commandments He gives us to develop and demonstrate our love for Him are always calculated to maximize our own happiness. Obeying Him always benefits us most of all.

King Mosiah offered yet another insight into serving when he instructed his people that

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)

So there you have it: to serve--and thus to come to adore--our God, we need only to bless our own lives through obedience to His commandments, and to bless others' lives through service to our fellow men. It seems apparent that God is more concerned about serving and blessing us than He is about Himself, a Father who demonstrates that He adores his often undeserving children.

O come, let us adore Him!

As we face the rest of the coming year, let's be careful that putting away the holiday decorations and music doesn't cause us to also put away the lessons that the Christmas season tries so diligently to put into our brains during a few brief weeks of winter. Let us serve. Let us love. Let us adore.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wife Rule #93: Overcome Selfishness

An acquaintance of mine was recently arrested on various charges, some of which had to do with the poor way he treated his wife. My first reaction to this news was great surprise; I didn't know this man well, but I had enough history with him to be surprised that his life had taken this dark turn.

Then came disgust, when I thought of what he had put his wife and children through; he took a sacred union, a marriage that had been created with vows of loyalty and respect and love, and had essentially dragged it through the mud, leaving it a tattered and broken shadow of what it once was.

And after this came feelings of sorrow--of pity, really--that this man had made choices that took him away from a place of peace and light and understanding, into the dark realm of utter selfishness, and the profound emptiness that always accompanies it.

How could he do this? I kept asking myself. How could a man who has once tasted the sweetness of love and companionship, who has willingly taken on the responsibility of fathering children, who has spent years providing for and protecting his family, end up in a situation where he is so consumed with himself that he would sacrifice all that ought to be most dear to him--his family--on the altar of selfishness?

It appears that this man currently thinks of his wife as merely a tool to be used for whatever selfish purpose he wants. This objectification of his wife--and by extension, of women in general--flies in the face of what marriage, companionship, and love are all about. Maybe because I have found such joy and satisfaction in my own marriage, the dominant feeling that has stayed with me after several weeks of mulling this over in my mind is one of pity.

I pity this man. I pity his wife. I pity his innocent children. I pity all those who have bought into the great lie that the pursuit of pleasure is man's purpose in life. I pity those who find themselves in a position of such intense selfishness that they are unable to experience the pure, simple sweetness of real love.

They are like the drug addict who is so set on getting his next fix that he is literally unable to enjoy the scents and tastes of delicious food; the sounds of beautiful music; the sights of mountains and trees and flowers; the joys of friendship and true, sincere companionship. All that matters is the drug.

In other words, their minds, souls, and even senses are stunted, seared, and pushed aside for their all-consuming quest of chasing the illusion that happiness is found through self-indulgence. When they finally realize they have followed a mirage into a vast desert of emptiness, their only trail back is to follow the ashes they left behind them: the wasted remnants of lost joys and opportunities and potential, which will haunt them long after they have finally given up the fruitless chase, which they always eventually do.

I pity the day when millions of men will someday wake up from the thoughtless, staggering stupor they wander the earth in, and realize that they have blown their one and only chance to experience the highest, and noblest, and by far the most satisfying of human emotions, love.

Love can only be found in the giving of self freely. Love can only be found by thinking more of the welfare of others that of self. Love can only be found by following the divine pattern laid out by the Author of Love, who spent and gave up His very life to save a world who largely ignores, or openly spurns Him. Love can only be found in the selflessness embodied by God Himself.

And love is within the reach of every man. Everyone can learn selflessness; everyone can learn to love. Even my acquaintance, who has descended so far into the darkness, can resurface and repair that which he has broken.

Even those of us who have tasted the bitter fruits of selfishness need not let that be the last taste that lingers forever on our tongues. Our God has given us brains and knowledge and the choice of a better way. He has even paid for our mistakes, giving us the power to purge our lives of selfishness, if we will only sign our debt over to Him and trust in Him. Now it's up to us to do it.