We’ve talked about the benefits of marriage, how to date for marriage, and how to build healthy and happy marriages, and now this series will wrap up with a discussion about three of the most important elements of family life- faith, healing, and forgiveness. A successful family relationship will be based on how well each of those areas are practiced by the members of you and your family.
Let’s start with faith; specifically church attendance. There are some specific benefits associated with church attendance that aren’t there for those who identify as religious but who do not attend church. While church attendance isn’t enough to save your marriage, it is a protection against infidelity in happy marriages. Here’s something interesting from Atkins and Kessel in 2008: “data indicated that individuals who had reported high religious importance but low church attendance were more likely to have had an affair than those in many other categories (pg 186).”
Another area that church attendance can help is in the avoidance of pornography. A study by Stack, Wasserman, and Kern in 2004 found that greater church attendance was related to lower rates of pornography use. Pornography is getting harder and harder to avoid and I don’t know about you, but I feel that the collective standard is slipping. Have you turned on a show lately? It’s alarming how much pornography is in just about every show out there. I can’t tell you how many times I started watching a series and within the first 2 min had to turn it off and look for something else. We are truly living in a sin sick world. Take note though that this study didn’t claim no instances of pornography use, but lower than those not attending church. What we want to do is give ourselves as many protections as we can to insure the best outcomes in marriage and family, and pornography destroys marriages.
In my previous article I talked about how it’s important to know each others stories about finances, marriage responsibilities, and traditions. These conversations can be difficult, but having a religious connection and an understanding of what it means to be equally yoked, will help you navigate those conversations with love and respect for each other. Social science data from Curtis and Ellison in 2002 suggests that “men who attend church with their wives have fewer disputes, not only over faith, but also over housework, money, how time is spent, and sex (pg 187).” Resolving the issues of how to be equally yoked will be easier when both partners come at if from a place of faith and commitment.
Healing is another aspect of a happy family life which occurs not only on an individual level, but also a family level. When loss of health, job, or family member occurs, how will you cope? There are many trials that can come between families which threaten to destroy relationships such as unresolved conflict. Healing will need to occur to repair the hurts, frustrations, and unmet expectations. The good news is that tests and trials come to all of us, so there’s no need to panic when it does. It’s how we choose to handle them that matter.
Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective under-stand that such refining is part of the perfection process (1979, p. 53).James E Faust
The most important thing you can do as a family during these times is to not allow yourself to do what comes naturally- seek isolation. It’s during these times of crisis that it is crucial to focus on connections and how to come together instead of contention and disconnection. It will be a struggle, but stay connected to your family and to God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to heal all hurts, sorrows, and disappointments in life. It can also help you have the strength and power to draw closer together as a family instead of being driven apart by trials. If we can keep an eternal perspective, our trials can give us new eyes with which to view our circumstances and to be able to see the hurt in others around us. I have been the beneficiary of new eyes through many of my trials. For me, it used to be very hard to relate to someone who had a hard time coming to church because they felt like a failure or that they didn’t fit in. It wasn’t until I went through similar trials that I finally understood what they were going through. Our trials give us authenticity in our efforts to connect with others inside and outside of our families. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago or even last year. Our trials help us grow and evolve. I like to look at them as superhero training. We need resistance to gain strength.
Sometimes in order to help someone to heal, an apology may need to be given. I have learned throughout many failed attempts at giving and receiving apologies that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. I’m sure everyone has received a backhanded apology at some point in their lives, and perhaps given a few. You know the type. An apology that starts with “I’m sorry you took that the wrong way” “I’m sorry but”… and then they tell you all the ways you’re a terrible person or they make it all about them. A proper apology is about saying you’re sorry. Taking ownership for what you have done and nothing else. There should be nothing in there about the other person and it should be void of excuses. A simple, “I’m sorry that I hurt you by doing/saying___.” It’s pretty hard to pull off if your pride is not in check or your self worth is not high enough because you will go into excuse mode and the apology will fall flat. If you’ve ever had someone say to you something like “I’ve apologized a million times, I don’t know what you want you want from me,” then you know what I mean by falling flat. The apology should be examined to determine if it was an actual apology. It may be that they’re not ready to forgive, but it could be that the apology really wasn’t one. You are not diminished as a person for taking accountability for hurting someone even if you didn’t mean to. Saying your sorry is a form of repentance and part of repentance is a restitution – righting a wrong. We ignorantly sin all the time and need to seek forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.
The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change. . . . Repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change (p. 37).Dallin H Oaks
Repentance and apologies are similar, but not quite the same. “Repentance is more than apology. It is a humbling, all-encompassing experience. It requires offenders to see themselves through the eyes of the injured party as well as through the eyes of God. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the repentance process is explained in the manual Gospel Principles (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009), and includes the following (Walton and Hendricks):”
1. Recognize the sin. We admit to ourselves that we have done something wrong.
2. Feel sorrow for the sin. Feeling sorrowful, we are humble and submissive before God, and we come to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit.
3. Forsake the sin. We stop committing the sin and pledge to never do it again.
4. Confess. We should confess all our sins to the Lord. In addition, we must confess serious sins that might affect our standing in the Church to the proper ecclesiastical authority.
5. Make restitution. Insofar as possible, we make right any wrong that we have done.Gospel Principles Manual. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
We’ve talked about apologies and repentance, but what about forgiveness? Forgiving someone is one of the hardest things we can do and it can feel very counterintuitive- like you’re giving them a free pass. That you’re saying it whatever the wrong was is ok by forgiving them. It feels like giving up your power, but in reality, you are gaining it. One of the most helpful exercises that I go through when trying to forgive someone is to see if I can empathize with them. Things like wondering what they might have been going through that made them do/say what they did, wonder how I would feel if the roles were reversed. There is also a difference between forgiving and allowing someone to continue hurting you. Physical, mental and sexual abuse make reconciliation not possible. Forgiveness is not about saying that this person still needs to be part of your life. Think of it rather as a gift that you give yourself. It’s like removing the infection that causes a wound to not heal and eventually infects the rest of the body.
In the end, sincere repentance and genuine forgiveness are gifts from God made possible through the Atonement of Christ. With enhanced humility and empathy, the offender can gain new perspectives—that of the victim and of Jesus Christ, who atoned for that transgression. Likewise, victims also achieve forgiveness through sharing Heavenly Father’s perspective-infinite love for all His children.Walton, and Hendricks. pg 210
Have grace for yourself and others in your family when it comes to the trials you will face together. Remember that this life is a time to practice. Not one of us here is an expert without faults and failures. It’s part of our human experience to get things wrong on the way to getting them right. Hang in there and use them as opportunities to grow closer together and to the Lord. A happy family life is possible if you remember to have faith and attend church as a family, allow yourself and others time to heal, say you’re sorry, and forgive.