For the purposes of this piece, I am setting aside questions of abuse and actively damaging relationships that simply must be exited for personal safety. For the sake of this discussion let’s limit the topic to relationships that still may feel damaging, painful, draining, empty, or difficult, but are not abusive.
Should I stay in this broken marriage?
Should I keep ties with this manipulative parent?
Should I keep attending these tense, cold family gatherings?
Should I embrace this difficult wayward child?
Should I keep going to this church when I often leave more empty and hurting than when I went in?
When the hurting is louder than the call to duty, when obligation or even obedience isn’t compelling me strongly enough to counter the compulsion to avoid pain. What to do?
Dang it, we all just want love in this world—to feel valued, to belong and feel safe. Why is such a universal aching need so very hard for us all? Almost everything comes down to this. We want love–we want to feel love for others, yes, but mainly we want to feel love from others.
Aye, there’s the rub. We’ll give them ours when they give us theirs (and in the way we want it given). We’ll give them ours when they earn it. We’ll give them ours when they behave as they should.
And they echo the same conditions. Thus the standoff.
We deem relationships worthwhile because they bring something to us. If not love, security, friendship, joy and peace, sometimes we simply value the relationship more than the alternative: solitude, guilt, fear of sin or judgment. Sometimes we are noble, and value the lessons we gain in a hard relationship and trust in the personal growth and hope in a positive turn in the relationship.
It still all comes down to: what’s in it for us?
In a marriage, people end it because the pain or work outweighed the benefits. Same with church going, jobs, friendships, and sometimes even children and parents.
In the case of marriage, it can be said “We just fell out of love,” like our relationships are dictated by random weather. Do our relationships just happen to us passively, like a spell has been cast? But what they mean is, “We determined the relationship no longer held value, it didn’t give me anything anymore.”
Yet Christ tells us all relationships are inherently valuable. Not just spouse and child and sibling and parent, but boss and employee and coworker and neighbor and fellow church member and friend—and enemy. Why? Because He knows our need–that we just want love in this world. And He knows that love can be found in any relationship.
Learning to feel and give love is the purpose of life. Family, our first relationship lesson, creates a flawed environment where we practice that. We don’t get a say in our parents or siblings (the LDS worldview sometimes implies maybe we did at some point, but I certainly hope a wiser soul did the pairing up), but now these relationships seem thrust upon us. Family relationships naturally develop because of sheer time spent together and the weight of influence our parents have (for both good and bad). We may choose in most cases how many children we have, but we don’t get to choose who they are.
Marriage, on the other hand, is different from other family relationships in that it involves autonomy and choice, as opposed to biology.
It may be all our family relationships are purposefully designed by God and not an accident of biology, it adds a measure of meaning and purpose to the people we are placed with, parents and siblings. It may be that it could be just as well random because God knows we can learn about love in any environment. While we can’t see now whether our choice was involved as with a marriage, all relationships offer an education in love whether you believe that God is involved or not.
This is because God is love (1 John 4:8), and all love is merely an extension of the love of God.
All our love to each other, and even to Him, is simply moon to His sun, and we are all in various phases at various times. Just like the moon, we shine brightest when we position ourselves directly to Him.
This is why love can be felt and given in any relationship, because God is always there. But, we can choose to receive or reject that opportunity for education, and of course some relationships make it easier than others.
Let me channel my Born-Again Mormon Buddhist for a moment and say that I believe that what we think is “good” or “bad” in our family relationships is generally not necessarily either, but always comes down to an experience and education in love, or compassion, as the Buddhists might be more apt to say. Call me crazy (and I am), but my ability to love and empathize with others, for instance, was a direct lesson from an abusive parent who was himself severely abused. What is good there? As I’ve said before, God does not dispel darkness, just as darkness is not pushed out by light, God transfigures darkness into light. We run around labeling circumstances and experiences and people “bad'” then later often can see, even with our human, fallen eyes, that God has transfigured it into what we would call “good.”
God can, and will, and already has—whether we believe it or see it yet or not—transfigured our darkness into light.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God
Whether marriage or sibling or parents, we can choose whether we really want to feel and reflect love in that situation or not. Of course you can decide you are going to practice this only with selective people, to make it a little easier. Whether to church, or any relationship we find ourselves in, we can choose to learn how to make it work or choose not to bother.
That’s where that first principle of faith is again involved, believing there would be any growth or value in making that effort.
And maybe that is why this life really is inherently an equal playing field for everyone, no matter the circumstances we are born into. If the purpose is only to learn to feel and reflect love, we can learn that in both negative (or what we call negative) or positive (or what we called positive) experiences. We can learn it with any type of person in our family, our workplace, or our church. The Savior has gracefully provided for our inevitable failures to do so in the learning process. This provides a level of safety (our only safety), even in this most treacherous world.
Christ said, “It is finished.” He has done His work already, and we are simply learning to cooperate with Him. This is what my friend’s Bishop means when he says, “Everything is already alright.”
It is not saying that everything goes exactly as God would have it. Of course, that would be a perfect world, and how could He wish upon us such pain and suffering when He couldn’t even allow us to fall in the first place without our active consent?
It is saying He can work with anything, and he can save us in any circumstance, and no darkness is out of his reach. He is that big.
Neither is it saying that nothing we do matters. We can choose to prolong our pain (and that of others) by resisting His love and staying on the dark side of our moon.
It is simply saying that we can choose to learn to love one another, or we can choose not to, in every moment and every situation.
It is saying that Christ has already paid the price for all of us us not loving one another. He did this so that when we do choose not to love, later we are free to choose again—to try again.
Christ’s immense patience and gentleness works with us in our messy free will. He can even make our dark choices to not love now end up later increasing our capacity to love when we turn again and try. He is that big.
As we see the consequences of our choices in ourselves, our families, churches, our nations, not to love, it helps us understand the importance of that love all the more.
That’s the need for the fall, the ugly beauty of this very painful fall: to see what lack of love does to us and to others, and to the world, and to experience the healing power of love. God is the realist, who, knowing how this would all go, provided a Savior to swallow up all of that loveless pain in His love, ever giving us another chance to learn to love again. Always shining His Son to our moon.
If you boil it down, giving and receiving love is the only source of true joy and value and meaning in our lives We don’t always call it love–we can call it feeling valued, belonging, having purpose or a connection. But in the end it is a sense of being loved. And there are many loving relationships that don’t see God as the source of love, but thus it is regardless. I know many happy, loving, generous souls that aren’t necessarily spiritual or religious and say they have no interest in obeying God, yet here they are loving one another (exchanging God, as God=Love) just as their Savior asked. Others may warm a pew every Sunday yet have cold hearts.
This parable in Matthew 21 on this point has come to mean a lot to me:
28 ¶But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go a to day in my vineyard.
29 He answered and said, a: but afterward he repented, and went.
30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and a b.
31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
This is why the hard phrase “Wickedness never was happiness,” (Alma 41:10) really does apply. Selfishness or fleeting and immediate pleasure never brings lasting happiness. The moon cannot brighten itself. The Sun still shines—yet we sit alone in darkness at noonday.
They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.
Yes, no man can save any of us. Cursed is he that puts his trust in the arm of the flesh (his own, or others).
We look to each other–other fallen mortals–to fill our need for love, and we ultimately are left empty. We cannot look to other flesh to fill our aching heart. Even the nicest of them.
Yet, facing the Sun, feeling love (God) in us and through us, and then reflecting it back to one another, relationships brighten—it brings joy. Thus the true definition of repentance: turning from self and sin to Savior.
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
So we can say to ourselves, I’m not feeling any value/love/joy from this environment — this family, this neighborhood, this church, this job. And we can choose whether we want to be a part of it or not. God gracefully allows us to take the time we need to figure this out. He knows we’ll need time, that’s why he placed us here in time.
We can even isolate ourselves completely, disassociate from these neighbors, this church, this family, this marriage, because we cannot feel that love there. It is true that some places are easier to feel loved and others, some lessons are harder than others. It is true that when we are empty and feel no connection to the love of God, we are more inclined to turn away from harder relationships where the love is not free-flowing, because our own moon is new and we feel dark and cold. We then increasingly see our relationships as empty, because we are empty.
But the Son still is ever radiant and always patient. He knows that love can be felt anywhere and He is always ready to make us shine full again.
And even if only one member of a marriage or family or workplace or congregation turns to face the Sun, their light is reflected to the other members. When you face Him, those facing you, even those not currently facing the Son themselves, will feel His love, too.
This is why the love of God and man stands at the head of all the law and all the prophets. When we feel the love of God, it flows into all of our relationships, actions, it sparks purity and goodness at every level.
But the measure of the first (love of God) dictates the measure of the second (love of man). That is why we cannot look to man first to put love into our relationships.
So again the question: “Should I stay or should I go?”
The answer: “Whether here or somewhere else, the lesson will be the same.”