THOUGHTS ON MARRIAGE, MISSIONS, AND DOING HARD THINGS. It's been wonderful over the past few weeks to observe a couple of recently called Latter-day Saint missionaries get ready to leave for the MTC this month, to be with them in the Temple, as they entered into covenants which will help them stay true as they journey to Billings Montana and Tokyo Japan, to teach people of Christ. I've been remembering how hard the first few weeks in the field, after the MTC, were for me, as I discovered the reality of the day-to-day grind I had, unknowingly, apparently dedicated myself to perform. I stayed the course through that challenging and miserable time, not because I wanted to, and not on the strength of my testimony or love for the Savior, but for the lowliest of all possible reasons: the sheer embarrassment I would have felt in giving up and coming home.
I am so grateful for that embarrassment. It kept me on my mission long enough to make it to the days when I was excited to wake up in the morning, and grateful to be there. It never got completely easy, but it got quite a bit easier, and often very joyous, after that initial rough patch, and one or two more along the way, and I experienced things during the last year of my mission I wouldn't give up for anything in this world.
I've had occasion in the past few years to sometimes chat and try to counsel with people who were going through a difficult time period in their marriage, sometimes in the very early months of their marriage, when they are discovering that life is not a Disney movie or a pop song, and they had to decide why they got married, and if they were willing to stick through some inevitable initial difficulties, in order to build a life that would not necessarily always be easy, but could be meaningful and joyous.
I have come to believe that a respect for the institution of marriage, as such, and a general understanding that staying married is simply "what married people are expected to do" kept many members of my parents' generation married, through initial hard times, allowing them to eventually flourish, and their stable union to eventually be a blessing to their children, raised with a sense that the world is a safe and secure place. But we have lost that mentality in our modern world. Indeed, we stigmatize that era, the 1950s, as a time of mindless conformity by men in grey flannel suits, instead of remembering that the adults of the 1950s had lived through WWI, the great depression, and WWII, and might just have some wisdom a later generation missed as it lived through a somewhat easier youth, experiencing the dawn of videogames and multiplexes.
I am sure that our no-fault divorce laws and our no-stigma divorce culture have been a great blessing in the lives of many people who might otherwise have been trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, but I think that, overall, we are a poorer world for having lost the sense that marriage is intended to be a commitment, and quickly abandoning commitments when we learn they aren't as fun as we had hoped, is to be avoided, perhaps even shunned as sometimes dishonorable. I'm not criticizing any one who has been divorced or come home early from a mission or given up on any other dream or goal. There are numerous perfectly valid and strong and legitimate reasons for all such decisions, and I have no right, nor ability, to judge anyone else's life. I'm just saying that perhaps we have lost something in our instant gratification society in recent years, that, had it not been lost, might have kept some people married, or kept some people in college, or kept some people on their own personal mission, whatever that mission may have been, long enough to get past the tough parts and get to the good parts.
I'm not sure what that lost thing was. Perhaps the WWII generation, to motivate their sacrifices, needed to be indoctrinated into putting as high a premium on honor and duty as we have been indoctrinated to put on happiness and success. Or perhaps it had to do with higher percentages of Americans attending church during previous times, where, through the message of Christ's life and selfless death, they would have imbibed the idea that a life lived purely for one's own personal satisfaction and happiness, will, paradoxically, not be nearly as fulfilling or meaningful as a life in which sometimes we do things that we don't want to do, or don't bring us instant gratification and immediate happiness, but that we feel we are supposed to do. I really don't know.
But as I've had these things on my mind lately, I came across this quote from one of my favorite writers, a staunch Roman Catholic who spoke as one having authority to an earlier generation, which I think teaches a lost principle that is applicable to all faiths, and should be remembered at the beginning of missions, marriages, and before embarking on numerous other commitments as well:
"[I]n everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender. In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. . . . [This is what justifies] the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault, or, at least, an ignominy . . . . Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. . . . Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging." G.K. Chesterton.