“When the Lord Changed My Heart,” Ensign, Mar. 1984, 42
It took me fifty years to discover how much I loved my husband.
He was an alcoholic, and our home was a nightmare. We argued and fought, bitterly and painfully. Our words were often harsh and accusing.
There were few things that were loving about our marriage. I blamed my husband for all the hardship the family had to endure. Everything he did was wrong in my eyes, and I badgered and insulted him about his drinking.
Once I made my home teacher listen to all my complaints. He interrupted me after a few moments and said gently, “Sister Tate, can’t you find anything good to say about your husband? Hasn’t he always kept a roof over your head and provided food for your family? Hasn’t he been scrupulously honest in paying his debts? Let’s think of all the good things he does, and let the rest be with God.”
But I couldn’t. I didn’t understand that Tom needed help beyond his own strength. All I could see was my own unhappiness. I had sunk so deeply into my well of self-pity that I could see no one’s problems but my own.
After fifty years of marriage I reached a point where I could no longer go on. The trials in our home were beyond bearing. I begged God to help us, for we had no hope left of our own.
Heavenly Father blessed us in a surprising way, with far richer blessings than I had dreamed could be mine.
A friend had been trying for years to get me to attend a gathering for families and friends of alcoholics. Her husband had died an alcoholic and she understood the misery I was in. But I was too proud and faithless. I didn’t believe anything could help us but a direct miracle from the Lord.
My youngest daughter, Madeline, went to the meeting instead. She came back encouraged—and I began to feel faint glimmerings of hope. I decided to attend the next meeting and find out for myself.
But when I arrived at the hall where the meetings were held, my newfound hope met obstacles. At that time my legs and feet were already crippled with arthritis and it was extremely difficult for me to walk. The building had inside stairs without any railing for me to hold. How was I supposed to get up those stairs? All my selfish bitterness welled up uncontrollably. All the unkind, critical things I had said for years came again to my lips.
I criticized everything. The people were smoking and drinking coffee. I felt very self-righteous about my own standards. How could these nonmembers possibly help me?
The leader of the group gave me twenty minutes to introduce myself and tell my story. And boy, I told it!
I told them of all the years my family had suffered. I told them about the heartache my husband had brought to my eleven children. All the blame was his; all the problems were his doing. After all, didn’t I attend church every week? Wasn’t I the better person of the two of us? Hurt and angry, I was too blind to see that some of the blame was mine. I wanted to make him responsible for all of our unhappiness.
When I finished, the leader said quietly, “We want you to know one thing, Mrs. Tate. You are not here to do anything about your husband’s drinking. Nothing you can do will ever make him stop. He’s got to want to do that himself. You are here to preserve your own sanity.”
I saw that he was right. His words helped me realize that I needed to do some changing. I hadn’t realized until then how wrong my attitude had been, how little I was living the gospel. I had gone to the meeting hoping to find the magic trick that would make my husband stop drinking. But suddenly, I was seeing my own faults—not his. The Spirit told me that I had been selfish and dishonest. I had turned away from my husband when he most needed me.
I knew then that the fighting and bickering in our home was not just my husband’s fault. Much of it was mine.
The weight of those horrible fifty years came down on me. For fifty long years I had played a leading role in the contention in our home. I had not followed the Savior’s example at all. Like a wounded animal, whenever I had been hurt I had whirled around to hurt back.
It took me fifty years to learn that this was wrong—fifty years to finally understand what the Lord’s way was. Although I had been a member of the Church for over fifteen years, it was that night in that meeting when I finally became converted to the true principles of love that the gospel teaches.
What a glorious awakening that knowledge was to me! My heart, like Alma’s, was changed completely. (See Alma 5:14.). My fear and selfishness vanished like a whisper. And as I thought of my own weaknesses, I felt so much love and compassion towards Tom that I thought I would burst. For years I had wished he would leave me and my children in peace. Now I loved him and cared for him in ways I never thought I could. I pleaded with Heavenly Father to give us another chance to bring love and happiness back into our home.
At that moment, I was happier than I had been for all of those fifty years. I understood that the secret to keeping the Spirit in our home was not my false sense of self-righteousness. I had to repent and perfect my own life first. I knew I had to pray for my husband, not curse or punish him. Peace would come back into our home only as I set the example for my family.
I was serious about changing, and I prayed with all the energy I had. Immediately things began to happen. Tom changed along with me. I was no longer demanding or nagging, and Tom stopped cursing. He didn’t fight with me anymore because I would no longer carry my end of the battle.
Tom never did stop drinking entirely. He died of cancer two years after I learned the truth about myself. But Heavenly Father had taught me the way of love and gentle persuasion—and he blessed us as the discord left our hearts.
One day Tom said he was going down to the tavern, but that he was only going to have some root beer. He promised me that he wouldn’t have any alcohol at all that time.
I looked him in the eye and said, “Now listen, Tom. I want you to know that from now on I trust you. I won’t yell at you when you come in. I won’t start any more battles. You have your own life to live. I’ve been wrong, and I’m sorry for all the things I’ve ever said or done to hurt you. I only want to make amends and keep things going the Lord’s way.”
He shrugged it off, for he was a proud man. But I knew I had touched him.
The whole family drew closer together. We weren’t anywhere near perfection, but we began to try to live the way the Lord wanted. We’re still in the process of that beginning.
I had never grasped the true spirit of the gospel before. It took a nearly disastrous marriage and an hour of understanding to see how wrong I had been all those years. But when my heart changed, “what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy.” (Alma 36:20.)
When you finish reading “When the Lord Changed My Heart” you may want to consider, individually or as a family, some of the following questions and ideas.
1. Truth must first be recognized before it can set us free. What truth did the author learn, and how did it set her free?
2. Why do we tend to blame others for our unhappiness? How much control do we really have over our happiness in this life?
3. Use the Topical Guide in the LDS edition of the King James Bible to locate scriptures about hearts being changed. What elements do these scriptures have in common? What other ideas do you learn from your study?
4. Are there unhappy aspects of your life? What can you do to change those conditions?