The Part Member Marriage
It has been discussed that not everyone meets the "ideal" presented by the Proclamation. Some are single, some are childless, some are single parents, many families are blended, shattered, mended and tattered. But teachings and promises of the Proclamation are of value to all.
Today I would like to talk about a small group of saints that also does not fall within the full "ideal" of the Proclamation, yet deserves our acceptance, admiration and support. I am almost certain you know someone in this group. Usually they are our Sisters, but not always. The part-member marriage.
I am in awe of these people. These are the saints that are at their meetings on Sunday, fulfilling callings, and serving others. And they do it alone, because their spouse is not a member of the Church. They push and struggle for eternity, even without the covenant of eternal marriage to guide them and strengthen them, or a partner with common goals. They don't see themselves as especially strong, which reenforces their goodness.
Some are alone in the Gospel because they married a non-member. Some because their spouse broke covenants and has yet to return to full standing. Some because their spouse fell away through weakness, or even more difficult, through apostasy. Some member-marriages are effectiely part-member through inactivity of one of the spouses. Yet half of the marriage continues on the path to sainthood, week after week - sometimes with their kids, but without their spouse by their side.
I don't know if I could do that. Or for how long.
I have several really good friends who fit this description. One married in the temple, only to watch her husband descend into apostasy. Another, whose husband was excommunicated, and has yet to return. Another who joined the church alone, hoping that one day the rest of the family would follow. And last, a friend who married outside the faith.
Some friends and family I know that married outside the faith found it less contentious to withdraw from activity, while others manage the best they can. Every situation is different, and preserving a marriage is a serious priority. Preserving a part-member marriage is a serious priority, too. If you decide to attempt to pass judgment in this area, you will usually get it wrong. So don't.
I recently asked one of my friends whose husband is not a member of the Church, "Hey! I'm writing a blog post about part-member marriages. Do you want to help?" (Tact is not as necessary among friends.) She agreed to answer some questions. And some of these are questions that you should never ask anybody. They are very personal, very difficult, and somewhat inappropriate.
But she did it any way. Why? Because she knows that I love her and respect her. She is incredibly intelligent, and very kind. And she is wise enough to understand that she might provide an insight that we don't usually get when discussing the Proclamation. Please note that she has a great marriage, great kids, and a fabulous husband, whom she adores. They are very much in love. He is an awesome guy, and they are a really cute couple. There is only one thing missing.
Here is the conversation with my friend. Please be respectful of her feelings and courage - she told me that this is hard. These are pearls. If you act like swine in the comment section, I will hunt you down.
You were a member of the church when you got married. Why were you dating non-members then, and why did you decide to fall in love with someone who could not take you to the temple?
I joined the church when I was 20 and, like so many new converts, quickly became inactive. Even though I attended a singles ward for about six months, I have never been on a date with a member of the church. I was dating non-members because I was essentially one of them, and had always been. With no background in the church and no support system, I had no idea how important marriage in the temple was, or what my gospel path would be in the years to come.
When did you become "active," and why? What changed?
Inactivity weighed on my conscience every single day. After we were married I attended church very rarely. Just enough to stay on the radar. Then I was blessed with a “visiting teaching stalker.” Now, unless the Holy Spirit instructs you do this, please don’t. But this woman, the most shy and meek person I’ve even known, was definitely moved. She called me at least once per week. She would catch me coming or going, make appointments (I would always stand her up), and leave happy notes or treats. She never seemed annoyed, although I gave her every reason to be. Finally, many months later, she wore me down and I let her in. At the end of our first real conversation she said genuinely, “See? I just knew we would be friends. I really like you.” With a friend by my side, I could do anything. Even come back to church. I began to attend every Sunday, and stayed through all three meetings, but even then I was still on the periphery.
You come to church faithfully, usually with your kids, and occasionally your husband comes with you. How does it feel to be a single-church-mom most of the time?
Honestly, it feels really hard.
When our children were smaller, I missed the extra pair of helping hands. Now that they are a little older (all three are still in primary) and behave themselves quite well, I "wish for" the companionship, shared vision, and eternal family that I know we are missing. The one phrase that I have heard more times from more well-meaning people than you can possibly imagine is, "It's like you're divorced on Sunday." Usually this phrase comes on the heels of a big, "You're such a strong person for coming all alone," compliment. I'm not divorced or particularly strong. I just know the church is true.
How do you feel you are perceived by the other members of the ward? Do you ever feel "less than?"
I have learned that I am perceived in whatever way I perceive myself. I used to feel "less than" every single day, and as a result, interacted less, served less, and gave less of myself to the people around me. I could spend three hours at church and not have a single person speak to me.
A few years ago we had a new Bishop who forced me into action with my first big calling. His trust convinced me that the Lord must have that same trust in me. I threw myself into the fray and began serving with my all for the first time. I learned then that the way people treat you is nothing more than a reflection of the way you treat them. I adore my ward family and try to serve them as much as I can.
You have been in some labor intensive callings. How does your husband feel about the time you spend on church service beyond the block?
My husband has always been supportive. He knows that I am the happiest mom and wife when I have lots of serving to do. I believe he sees "labor intensive callings" as a benefit to himself.
Some of your children are old enough to get baptized, but that hasn't happened yet. What is the family dynamic regarding ordinances?
Before we married, even though I was still inactive, we agreed that our children would be raised in the LDS church. Easy to do when the children are still hypothetical! My husband is a very active Lutheran, which I appreciate and respect, so his religious views are much deeper than "Sunday is for football." As our children are growing and starting to want to be baptized, the dynamic is very stressful. They know that the church is true, but upsetting Daddy is really scary. Our ten year old is moving in the direction of baptism, but we have to be clear that he'll still spend ½ of his Sundays at the Lutheran church.
Although I can't see the path between where I am now and our ultimate eternal family, I do know that it exists. I believe that maintaining a healthy marriage and family is just as important as helping my children to make and keep covenants because my ultimate goal is to get get to the Celestial Kingdom together.
So your full immersion in the church came well after marriage and kids. Did your renewed activity come as a surprise to your husband, and how has he changed because of your change - if at all?
He hasn’t changed, but I have. Immersion in the gospel changed everything about me. Every thought, every action, every interaction has the opportunity to be colored by the influence of the Holy Ghost... when I’m paying attention.
I know that you have had to teach RS lessons about temple marriage. Was it difficult, and how did you go about it?
In addition to not being married in the temple, I also haven't been there myself, so I could not have been more uncomfortable. First, I asked my Bishop if someone else could teach the lesson. He said no. Second, I asked God to make me sick so that someone else would have to teach the lesson. He also said no. Then I prepared the lesson with as much prayer, study, and humility as possible. What else was left to do?
What is the best thing that ward members can do to make your life easier, and develop relationships with your husband?
My life now is easy and wonderful. In harder times, I would have asked people to pay a little less attention to the fact that my husband was not present. I love it when someone who knows him asks after him. It's uncomfortable to answer questions about him with someone he doesn't know.
As far as my husband is concerned, I know that he has had so many random people bear their testimony to him, but he has never been asked what he believes. He thinks it's quite rude, and if the tables were turned, I think I would too. President Hinckley said, "Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it." There is a little gem in there that requires first knowing what good your audience has.
How often do full-time missionaries show up at your door with a part-member family list in their hands? What happens?
Too often. Everyone acts uncomfortable, including me. Then they leave with some cold bottled water.
Surely your husband knows your desires for him to be a member of the church and to be sealed in the temple. Does it come up in conversation? Is it an elephant in the room, or something that is just better left alone?
Any church topic only comes up when I bring it up. We used to have long discussions leading nowhere. Now he usually ends up cutting the conversation as short as possible. I leave it alone as much as possible.
What are your thoughts and feelings when you read the Family Proclamation? Does it bring you hope, or disappointment?
To me, the gospel of Jesus Christ is hope. And my part of hope is just to continue trying. My family situation isn’t perfect. It’s much better in some respects than many people I know, and worse in some ways too. “In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
We have the opportunity to progress toward eternal goals, moving forward, inch by inch, from wherever we currently are. “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
If you are like me, and not quite there yet, hear these inspired words with hope. Progress toward perfection. I know that those sacred ordinances and covenants are available, and will continue to be, until we get there.
Thank you , my friend.
Click on these links to read the final Proclamation Celebration posts: