“Unexpected Marriage Advice,” Liahona, Aug. 2005, 40–41
Fernando gently closed the book and looked up into our faces. A tear trickled slowly down his cheek. Seated next to him but seeming far away, his wife, María, looked on with a mixture of horror and disgust. Finally, without wiping away the tear, Fernando spoke.
“Yes, Elder, I will accept baptism,” he spoke softly but with quiet confidence.
His wife stood abruptly, her chair teetering, then falling backward. Her face twisted with rage, she pointed at her husband.
“How can you be such a fool? How can you abandon Jesus for the teachings of these gringos and their North American prophet? How can you turn from the Bible for these false scriptures? You are a fool, a wicked fool, and may God have mercy on your damned soul.” She turned and strode from the room.
Fernando sighed. “She is a good woman,” he explained in apology. “She will come to understand—if not agree.”
Months later, his baptism behind him, Fernando walked into the chapel and took his usual seat on the back row. His expression was troubled. I watched him from the stand as I fulfilled my duties as branch president. More than once I caught him gazing intently at me.
After the meeting, as the congregation moved through the door to mingle in the humid sunshine of the Venezuelan Andes, Fernando asked if he could speak with me. He and his wife had fought again. He had tried to explain the joy he had found in the growing sureness of his faith, but she had refused to listen. She had threatened to leave him and to take their daughter away. At the threat, he too had become angry. Bitter words led to tears, and the two of them had retreated to separate parts of their small apartment.
“What do I do?” he asked me.
I sat in my chair, trembling under the responsibility placed on my shoulders. I was 20 years old. I had never been married. Even my teenage attempts to form relationships had not lasted, leaving both lessons and a few scars. My own parents’ marriage had ended after 18 years. I had no training in counseling. What could I give this man who was trying to save his marriage and his family without sacrificing his faith?
I opened my mouth to spout some platitudes of comfort and hope, but instead an idea crowded them out and expressed itself. For once my broken Spanish was clear and unencumbered.
“My friend,” I began, “next time you and your wife begin to discuss your baptism and you start to feel anger and frustration, stop. Say no more for a moment. Then take your wife into your arms, and hold her tight. Tell her that you love her, you appreciate her, and nothing will take her place in your life.”
He looked at me blankly. Perhaps he had expected a lecture or some grand principle that would save his marriage. He waited, maybe expecting me to continue, but I had nothing else to say.
“Yes, Presidente,” he said. He left my office solemnly without saying anything more.
A week passed, and once again Fernando walked into the chapel. But there was a lightness in his step. His head was up, his eyes were clear, and he smiled. Throughout the meeting he fidgeted like a small child. Afterward he came to my office.
“Presidente, Presidente!” he exclaimed in a quiet but excited voice. “You will not believe what happened. I did as you said. We talked again of my faith and my baptism. Again she criticized me and told me I was deceived. I wanted to yell and tell her she was wrong, but I remembered your words. I stopped, took a breath, and looked at her, trying to remember all the years of love we have shared and the love that I still feel. She must have felt something in my gaze, for she softened. I took her into my arms and held her. I whispered that I love her, that I appreciate her, and that nothing could take her place as my wife. We cried. Then, sitting close, we talked for many hours about all we have experienced—the good, the bad—and then I held her again. For the first time in many weeks we felt love. Thank you, Presidente.”
The next month I finished my mission and left to make the long trip back to the United States. I was happy to be going home, sad at leaving. Fernando and I wrote, and he shared his hopes and disappointments. His wife had not come to believe as he did, but she had become more tolerant, less antagonistic. He said it was a start, and he spoke of her with great love. In time we lost contact. Now many years have passed. But the lesson of Fernando still inspires me. Love—not concepts, teachings, or rituals—has the power to soften hearts.