“A Painful Way to Grow,” Ensign, Dec. 1987, 16
It was 1973. My husband and I sat calmly listening to a speaker from the “Know Your Religion” series. He was describing how disfellowshipments and excommunications had increased within the Church. As I shook my head sadly, secure in my temple marriage, testimony, and Church activity, I hadn’t the least notion of how my life would be devastatingly affected by this process.
Reality slammed into my life some seven years later when my husband, an active Melchizedek Priesthood holder, returned missionary, former bishopric member, and father of our six children, was called before a Church court and disfellowshipped.
I felt rejected, betrayed, and frightened that this could happen to me. As I poured out my soul to the Lord, searching for answers, I learned eternal truths that helped me through this heartrending experience. In a way only he could do, the Lord has mercifully stood me back on my feet, both emotionally and spiritually.
I’m convinced my anguish couldn’t have been more intense had I been the one disciplined in court. I had tried long and hard to do all the Lord asked of me. I’d married a wonderful young man who glowed with a testimony of the gospel, and I now felt betrayed. He had changed, and I had no control over the situation. I wept for our young son approaching Aaronic Priesthood age and wondered how we could explain that his father could not confer this precious priesthood on him. Another son would be baptized in a short time. Again we would have to search for an explanation. I felt ill at facing family, friends, and ward members. Although I’d done my best to assure myself and my children of happiness, I was entangled in a nightmare.
Finding a way to deal with grief and disappointment ballooned into a full-time job. “Maybe I need someone to talk to,” I reasoned. I considered counseling and prayed to know if this would be wise. I was surprised, but comforted, to understand the Lord’s answer to me was a tender “No.” Rather, he seemed to say, “I will be your counselor.” I took him at his word and began to plead for help.
Several years earlier, at the death of our infant son, I had blamed myself for the loss. An understanding doctor had wisely counseled that this was common, but nonetheless wrong. A grieving person naturally searches for something he might have done to prevent tragedy. “Don’t give in to the temptation to blame yourself,” he advised.
Following the Church court, I found myself falling into this trap again. Gradually I realized I could neither control nor take responsibility for my husband’s actions. I began to concentrate on the things I could control and change in myself.
At the same time I tried to accept not only my situation, but my husband as well. I learned that comparing our spiritual progress to that of other couples was useless. When I read about exemplary fathers and husbands, I still struggled with discouragement. Yet I was able to tell myself, “Their situations are different. The Lord will help me with mine.” As I expressed gratitude for blessings I did have, a loving acceptance grew within me. Along with it, the attitude in our entire family improved. To my amazement, I discovered times when I was happier and more at peace than I’d been in years.
Sometimes I hesitated asking for certain blessings, fearing that my husband’s situation might prevent our receiving them. The Lord quickly dismissed my apprehension, however, and over the years presented us with material and spiritual blessings.
My self-esteem had been shattered by our experience with the disfellowshipment. I was busy many hours each week, serving as president of one of the ward auxiliaries. How could the Lord, or for that matter, the bishop, possibly expect me to continue in this calling? Emotionally and physically, I was drained. But nothing was mentioned concerning my release, and I stayed in that position. I later understood this to be the Lord’s way of demonstrating a need for my abilities. At the same time, our children continued to do well in and out of school. Here the Lord was assuring me that we weren’t failing as parents. These experiences buoyed me and convinced me of my worth.
As time stretched into weeks, months, and years, the pain sometimes diminished and sometimes intensified. I grew accustomed to most people avoiding the issue in conversation. Few got past the fear of not knowing what to say, and so said nothing. I’ll always appreciate the friend who sincerely asked, “How are things going?” and listened patiently as I told her.
The Lord continued to comfort and teach me. Often I complained about my husband’s unwillingness to change. Without exception, Heavenly Father refused to condone my criticism. Through inspiration he referred me, in a loving way, to scriptures on tolerance. He also reminded me of my special role as a wife. I was convinced that parts of Doctrine and Covenants 25, where the Lord calls Emma Smith to aid and comfort her husband, applied as much to me as to Emma. Over and over I read this section, each time believing more in my husband’s worth.
I prayed regularly for an increase in love toward my husband. The Lord answered in unusual but practical ways. I sought opportunities to give of myself, knowing those we serve become those we love. I didn’t have to look far, as my husband was hurt in three minor accidents within a year. During his short convalescent periods at home I gave, primarily, emotional care and concern. I was rewarded many times over with greater love and appreciation for him.
I realized, too, that my service didn’t need to be on a grand scale. Since my husband was away from home much of the time, I tried to make him the center of my attention when he was at home. Saying something positive or complimentary to him each day grew from a challenge into a habit. I also refrained from criticizing my husband, either to him or to anyone else. These small efforts worked wonders. Like a dormant plant rediscovering light and nourishment, our love regained vitality.
From the twenty-seventh chapter of Mosiah, I drew great comfort and hope. Here an angel appears to Alma the Younger because, he explains, of the faith and prayers of his father. (See Mosiah 27:8–17.) Through this scripture the Lord assured me that he answers prayers said in behalf of others. I have made it a point to never cease praying for my husband. More difficult, but just as important, is maintaining faith that one day his heart will change.
Charity, I’ve also discovered, is a gift from God. Shortly after the Church court, I was suddenly consumed with a deep affection and acceptance for my husband. I longed to help and support him in every possible way. This sweet sensation stayed long enough for me to realize that I wanted it not as a temporary guest but as a permanent resident in my heart. I pray regularly, as Mormon suggested, “with all the energy of heart [to] be filled with this love.” (Moro. 7:48.)
My husband has now been reinstated in the Church. Though many changes for good have come, his gospel commitment and spiritual drive have yet to return. I’ve accepted the fact, however, that only he can control those things. Instead of focusing on our failures, I can now express gratitude for the things we’re doing right. I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that it’s possible to be happy in any situation. I’ve also learned that through the most painful experience of my life has come my greatest growth.