Being Missionary to Your Spouse

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“Being Missionary to Your Spouse,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 58

Being Missionary to Your Spouse

“By Gentleness and Love Unfeigned …”

Unspeakable joy came over me as my husband walked to the stand to be sustained second counselor in the stake presidency. As he bore his testimony of his love for the Savior and of the gospel, he also gave thanks for his wife. I recalled the time I came home and found a poster tacked up on the dining room wall, proclaiming, “I love my wife because she has faith in me!”

It seemed not long ago that he emphatically announced, “They’d better not ever ask me to give a sacrament meeting talk, because that’s something I’ll never do.” He now is one of the favorite speakers in the stake.

I remembered, too, that my husband had said: “Just because you’re into dramatics, don’t think you can persuade me to be in a play. I’m just not an actor.” He was great in the lead part of a stake play.

“I’m not a reader,” he had insisted. Now he reads the scriptures faithfully every day and teaches them to all of us each morning.

“I don’t understand how to use the priesthood,” he once said. But since then he has blessed our family with the power of the priesthood on numerous occasions.

Yes, my husband has changed! Sixteen years ago he was a prospective elder.

What brought about this mighty change? For my sisters who stand in the perplexing situation of being missionary to their husbands, I would like to share a few insights. Since I speak from experience, I speak as a wife. But the principles could be used as well by a husband who has need of being missionary to his wife.

It is not easy to have faith in your spouse if he has disappointed you over and over. And for the woman who enjoys spiritual truths, it is frustrating not to be able to openly share them. Her desire to have her husband understand and appreciate the gospel becomes almost unbearable at times. And this is normal; for having achieved great joy, the natural consequence is to want to share it with loved ones.

But in these cases, a very delicate situation can arise. The man is the head of the house—the one who should lead, not be led. The woman, while being an equal partner in the marriage, should support and sustain her husband in his leadership role. But if he is not active or isn’t a member of the Church, she is placed in a very frustrating position. Often, if she wants Sabbath attendance, family home evenings, and other Church activities, she faces an inner battle and may even have open conflict with her husband—thus defeating her purpose to bring unity and spirituality into the home.

Where can a woman go for guidance and direction in her role as missionary to her husband? Great insights can be found through studying the scriptures. For example, I learned an important lesson when I studied about the council in heaven and the issues discussed there.

Satan proposed a plan of forcing everyone to obey the principles of their Father in Heaven. “I will redeem all mankind,” he said, “that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it.”

But Heavenly Father did not want “to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him.” Instead, he made available the plan of salvation through his Only Begotten Son, whereby we could enjoy freedom of choice. (See Moses 4:1–4.)

From this scriptural account we can conclude that trying to force another to accept the gospel is not pleasing to our Father. He cares not only that they return again to him, but also that they do so of their own free will and choice. He wants them to discover for themselves that the truths he has given are right and good and will bring the greatest joy. In order to do this, everyone needs to be free to experience and discover for himself.

Some true methods of exerting influence are listed in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” (D&C 121:41–42.)

These qualities, the Lord’s methods of persuasion, can become part of our very nature if we live worthy to obtain an endowment of his Spirit. I’ve learned that although a wife can encourage and be a light unto her husband, it is still the Spirit of the Lord that changes lives.

In Galatians 5:22–23 we find: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” [Gal. 5:22–23]

There are those who would counsel wives to pretend to have these qualities of love, gentleness, and meekness in order to establish a better relationship with their husbands. But in this pretense or guile, they bypass the Savior, who condemned hypocrisy.

I have found that the very core of our being must be purged of its natural inclination to criticize and to lose faith. To do this, we must obtain greater power than we alone possess. Heavenly Father can give us this ability to change—to make a faultfinding, sour disposition sweet again, as a little child’s. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we might plead; “and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10.) He can bless us with the ability to see better, to uncover beautiful and lovable qualities of character in our spouses.

Although it may not be easy to love those who have disappointed us, we are promised that the Spirit can endow us with the power to love even those whose actions make them difficult to love:

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moro. 7:48.)

One woman who attained this loving nature with the Spirit’s help expressed it in this way: “There was a time when I was so frustrated with what my husband wasn’t doing that I didn’t appreciate the good he was doing. I was hung up on the letter of the law and forgot the more important things, such as love, patience, forgiveness, and faith. I seemed obsessed with impatience for him to change.

“Then, somehow, I realized I was wrong. I knew my attitude towards my husband was without hope. I sought Heavenly Father for a change of heart, praying and fasting. Like a miracle, gradually my heart began to change. The more I felt the warmth of the Spirit in my life, the more I lost the compulsion to criticize. Not only that, but I was able to love and respect him in ways that I had overlooked before. I began deeply appreciating his patience with the children, his tolerance for others, his cheerful disposition, and his way of working with his hands—he could accomplish in one hour what many men would in half a day!

“Oh, of course I still wish he would become active in the Church, but I’ve gained a real tolerance for him to grow in his own way, and I pray that I will be the example of love that he needs in order to feel free to grow. I want him to see by my actions that the gospel of Jesus Christ is really wonderful, sweet, and exciting.”

Contrast this with the woman who uses bitterness, anger, hopelessness, and the spirit of contention as her tools of persuasion. In her frustration to have things right, she displays an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is not—pushing her husband further away and leaving him without a taste of its goodness.

Satan would thwart us in our attempts to influence with love, for it is truly our most powerful tool. He would have us be contentious and exercise coercion. He would have us neglect our own spiritual nourishment—prayer, fasting, study—for a fury of impatience. He would have us be as the Pharisees, nit-picking over practices and forgetting principles.

It is right, for example, to have family home evenings. But it is not right for a wife to force her husband, through embarrassment, into this practice. There are times when wives of inactive or nonmember husbands must be content to leave part of the law undone and patiently wait for their husbands to lead the way. In such cases, the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23) need not be left undone—for these are the gifts of the Spirit, which will help a wife “have no more disposition to do evil [nag, preach, judge], but to do good continually” to her husband. (see Mosiah 5:2).

We have all probably experienced being caught up in the spirit of a meeting and enjoying the feelings of warmth and love. As we drive home, the feeling lingers. The whole world looks different—filled with love, excitement, and promise. The same children whose prattlings may have disturbed us on the way to the meeting now seem to glow with angelic countenance.

Such is the influence of the Spirit, which is love, peace, and joy. We should plead for this influence daily. Only with it are we able to overcome and block Satan’s efforts to destroy our marriages.

One woman came up to me in tears after Relief Society one day and said, “I’m about ready to give up on him. I thought a year would bring some changes, but he’s no more ready to become active than he was last year. I feel like the Lord has failed me. Why should I keep trying if he’ll never change?”

After listening and searching for understanding, I asked, “You say you are still trying. Have you been devoting yourself to your own spiritual nourishment lately, as you were a year ago when you felt such promise for the relationship?”

“No,” she answered, “I haven’t felt like praying, and with moving to another home, I haven’t felt like I’ve had time for studying.”

“Well,” I confided, “I know that when I begin to lose faith in my husband and in our relationship, or when I start to become critical, I find that I have been starving my own spirit. But as I begin to restore a sweet spirit within me, I see my husband with new faith and love.”

A few weeks later, this woman called to tell me that through recommitting herself to a program of spiritual feedings, she once again had hope in her husband and in their marriage. She said, “I was wrong. There has been a change in him. It is so slight that I had overlooked it before.”

Each week when we partake of the bread and water in remembrance of the Savior, we are given the promise that if we keep his commandments, we will have his Spirit to be with us. And with his Spirit, spouses may know how best to truly be a help and a strength to each other.