Except the Lord Build the House …
June 1971

“Except the Lord Build the House …” Ensign, June 1971, 71

“Except the Lord Build the House …”

My dear brethren and sisters, humbly I seek the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This is April, this glorious time of the year when nature again comes alive. It is a season of promise, a time of beauty. It is a time for falling in love.

This morning I noticed a handsome young man and a beautiful girl walking hand in hand toward this building, a diamond on her finger, and I surmised that soon they will be married, as will scores of thousands of others across the land when April turns to May and May to June.

And then I recalled just such a couple who requested some years ago that I perform their marriage ceremony. I shall call them Tim and Sue. They were a young man and woman of great promise. They had come from good homes. They were well educated. They professed a deep affection one for another. The ceremony was such that it should have been unforgettable, with eternal blessings pronounced under authority of the priesthood of God.

The years have passed, and three children have come to that home. From outward appearances they have been a happy family, but recently Tim and Sue came to see me again, this time each alone. There were no smiles, only tears. They came to talk of divorce. Words of love, once spoken in deep earnestness, had now become words of accusation. It was unbelievable. It was like a vicious March storm that suddenly follows the warmth of the first soft day of spring.

“What of the children?” I asked. Sue replied that she thought separation preferable to exposing the children to their constant quarreling. The children, she said, were old enough to feel the meanness of those arguments. They were sensitive enough to experience deep wounds that will leave ugly scars.

What had happened to Tim and Sue? What is happening to tens of thousands like them? Why is it that in this country approximately one in three or four marriages ends in divorce?

Some 400,000 couples are divorced each year in the United States. They are the parents of more than half a million children. More than six million of the adults of this nation are now divorced or separated.

Even in those lands where divorce is difficult if not impossible to obtain, the same disease is evident—the same nagging, corrosive evils of domestic misery, of separation, of abandonment, and of immoral and illegal relationships.

Here is one of the tragic reasons for mounting juvenile delinquency: literally millions of children who come from homes where there is no parental love and consequently very little child security. Here is a root cause of our soaring public welfare burden, which is devouring billions of our treasure. Here is a denial of the kind of family ordained of God from the beginning. Here is heartbreak and failure.

I do not wish to dwell further on the problem. It is all too obvious. Rather, I desire to say a few words about the prevention of such tragedy.

To those of you who, with glad hearts, dream of marriage and the establishment of a home, I wish to repeat what was said of old: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” (Ps. 127:1.)

May I quickly suggest four cornerstones upon which to build that house? There are others, but I choose to emphasize these. They come of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not difficult to understand nor difficult to follow. They are well within your reach with a little effort; and I do not hesitate to promise you that if you will establish the home of which you dream on these foundation stones, the perils of your married life will be diminished, your love for one another will strengthen through the years, you will bless the lives of your children and of your children’s children, and you will know happiness in this life and joy eternal.

The first of these I call Respect for One Another, the kind of respect that regards one’s companion as the most precious friend on earth and not as a possession or a chattel to be forced or compelled to suit one’s selfish whims.

Pearl Buck has observed, “Love cannot be forced. … It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought.” (The Treasure Chest, p. 165.)

This respect comes of recognition that each of us is a son or daughter of God, endowed with something of his divine nature, that each is an individual entitled to expression and cultivation of individual talents and deserving of forbearance, of patience, of understanding, of courtesy, of thoughtful consideration. True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well being of one’s companion.

Companionship in marriage is prone to become commonplace and even dull. I know of no more certain way to keep it on a lofty and inspiring plane than for a man occasionally to reflect upon the fact that the help-meet who stands at his side is a daughter of God, engaged with Him in the great creative process of bringing to pass His eternal purposes. I know of no more effective way for a woman to keep ever radiant the love for her husband than for her to look for and emphasize the godly qualities that are a part of every son of our Father and that can be evoked when there is respect and admiration and encouragement. The very processes of such actions will cultivate a constantly rewarding appreciation for one another.

The second thing I mention is a very simple thing, but I regard it as a very basic thing. For want of a better phrase I call it The Soft Answer.

It was said of old that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” (Prov. 15:1.)

We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention. To me there has always been something significant in the description of the prophet Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal. The scripture records that “a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks … but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kgs. 19:11–12.)

The voice of heaven is a still small voice; likewise, the voice of domestic peace is a quiet voice.

There is need for a vast amount of discipline in marriage, not of one’s companion, but of one’s self.

I know of few more meaningful statements for fathers and for fathers-to-be than this counsel given by President David O. McKay. Said he: “A father can do no greater thing for his children than to let them feel that he loves their mother.”

How much greater the peace in the homes of the people, how much greater the security in the lives of the children, how much less divorce and separation and misery, how much more gladness and joy and love there would be if husbands and wives would cultivate the discipline of speaking softly one to another, and if both would so speak to their children.

Declared Paul: “… ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath. …” (Eph. 6:4.)

I repeat, the voice of domestic peace is a gentle voice.

I turn now to the third cornerstone on which to establish a stable and happy home. I title it Honesty with God and with One Another.

A wise man with long experience as a lawyer, as a counselor, as a church leader once told me that he was convinced that money is perhaps the major factor in strained marital relations and the tragic consequences that flow therefrom.

My young friend of whom I spoke earlier accused his wife of being extravagant, a waster of their means. In bitterness she told me that he was stingy, a poor provider. Their bickering over pennies had led to the erosion of their love.

I am convinced that there is no better discipline nor one more fruitful of blessings than for those who establish homes and families to follow the commandment given to ancient Israel through the prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10.)

Marriage usually brings with it the incurring of many obligations. To you, my young friends, I should like to suggest that you make it your first obligation to live honestly with God in the payment of your tithes and offerings. You will need his blessings; oh, how much you will need them! I give you my solemn testimony that he does that which he has promised to do. Among those blessings will be peace in the home and love in the heart.

As you discipline yourselves in the expenditure of your means, beginning with your obligations to your Father in heaven, the cankering selfishness that leads to so much strain in domestic affairs will go out of your lives, for if you will share with the Lord whom you do not see, you will deal more graciously, more honestly, and more generously with those whom you do see. As you live honestly with God, you will be inclined to live honestly with one another.

Now in conclusion, as the fourth cornerstone I should like to suggest Family Prayer.

I know of no single practice that will have a more salutary effect upon your lives than the practice of kneeling together as you begin and close each day. Somehow the little storms that seem to afflict every marriage are dissipated when, kneeling before the Lord, you thank him for one another, in the presence of one another, and then together invoke his blessings upon your lives, your home, your loved ones, and your dreams.

God then will be your partner, and your daily conversations with him will bring peace into your hearts and a joy into your lives that can come from no other source. Your companionship will sweeten through the years; your love will strengthen. Your appreciation for one another will grow.

Your children will know the security of a home where dwells the Spirit of the Lord. You will gather them together in that home, as the Church has counseled, and teach them in love. They will know parents who respect one another, and a spirit of respect will grow in their hearts. They will experience the security of the kind word softly spoken, and the tempests of their own lives will be stilled. They will know a father and mother who, living honestly with God, live honestly also with one another and with their fellowmen. They will grow up with a sense of appreciation, having heard their parents in prayer express gratitude for blessings great and small. They will mature with faith in the living God.

The destroying angel of domestic bitterness will pass you by and you will know peace and love throughout your lives which may be extended into all eternity. I could wish for you no greater blessing, and for this I humbly pray in your behalf, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.