I’ve always been a very committed kind of person. If I tell you I’ll do a project, it will be finished. If I accept a calling, I will fulfill it to the best of my ability. This is what I’ve grown up being taught—to be a committed disciple, daughter, friend, sister, and spouse. I realize, however, that in a generation and society where people are more comfortable with the latest hairstyles, the current trends, or the most bizarre new dance moves to satisfy their need for change, terms “commitment” and “eternity” can sound pretty intimidating—even boring. This is especially true when it comes to marriage and family relationships.
With the changing landscape of dating and relationships in the world, it seems to be easier to justify bypassing even relationships that have been traditionally seen as committed in favor of so-called “open marriages,” one-night stands, etc., cycling through new people the same way we cycle through new cell phone models. So how can we as Latter-day Saints reject the dangerous ideas about adaptable commitment and embrace the idea of eternal commitment—especially in regards to marriage?
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When I was an ordinance worker, I heard stories of a few brides and grooms who found themselves so paralyzed with fear, doubt, or anxiety on their wedding day that one of them decided they could not move forward with it. While I don’t know what specific concerns these couples were facing, if you find yourself overwhelmed or scared by the thought of being married for eternity, here are five tips that might help you change the way you think about the eternal commitment of marriage and be able to move confidently forward on the path to this sacred, crowning ordinance:
1. Build trust.
Yes, yes. Of course you will need to build trust with your future eternal partner, but we aren’t just talking about trust in another person. We’re also talking about trust in ourselves and trust in God.
Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself:
- Do I trust myself to make sound, logical decisions?
- Do I trust my ability to receive, hear, and understand messages from God (receive personal revelation) in my life?
- Do I trust that I have eternal value?
- Do I trust that God knows where I’m at and will help me?
- Do I have faith that God will fulfill His promises to me, or do I try and fulfill them myself?
- Do I really trust the Savior?
- Do I not only believe in His divine identity and mission but also in His power to heal, help, and change me personally?
“Unfortunately . . . many of us just don’t trust the Savior. We believe in Him, but we don’t trust Him. We get so frightened and intimidated, so horrified, by our own imperfections that we don’t see how He can possibly save us from them, and we lose faith. . . . Many fear that if they commit themselves to Him and try to live the gospel loyally and faithfully, they will miss something important that the world has to offer.”
How can you develop both faith and trust? Sometimes we believe that God is there and loves us, but we balk when asked to take what seems to us to be a massive risk that could end up in us getting hurt. As Kimberly Reid shared in a 2008 Ensign article,
“Some of us, fearing heartache or sacrifice, would like to find a spouse without taking any risks. But without effort, loving ties can’t grow. Elder W. Craig Zwick of the Seventy counseled young adults to take a risk in order to ‘invest in eternal happiness.’ He emphasized, ‘The risk is necessary.’ This could mean facing the possibility of rejection or of sacrificing some independence. Taking action demonstrates faith in the Savior—faith in His power to heal us from disappointments and to create a more selfless disposition in our hearts.”
The first tip to overcome the fear of eternal commitment is to learn how to trust that God will always be there to help.
2. Relinquish control and then take it.
I’m not talking about giving your future spouse control over everything in your life; I’m talking about the control that belongs to Father in Heaven. If your fear comes from the unknown prospect of being “stuck” or disappointed in your decision of a marriage partner, step back and remember that as long as you trust and turn to God, He will always help you handle any unexpected situations and circumstances. You can’t possibly plan the next year of your life, let alone eternity. But you can react to changes with faith. With Heavenly Father, you can find silver linings and maintain healthy, positive relationships not only with your spouse but with family members and close friends who can also help you through new or difficult challenges that may arise.
At the same time, relinquishing control doesn’t mean you can simply take things as they come. There are some things you will still always have the ultimate control over, such as your reactions and decisions, and it’s important to recognize that there is a weighty responsibility that comes with that first decision toward eternity. With the exception of cases of abuse, physical or emotional danger, or other extreme or unique cases, you control and choose if you will continue to remember and find the good features of the person you committed to or if you will tire of trying and abandon eternity for the “newer, brighter” options around you.
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That same 2008 Ensign article shares an example of someone who learned how to manage his fear of eternal commitment:
“Mike was afraid to commit to Kristen, wondering if their love could last eternally. He worried that his fears were warnings from the Holy Ghost. ‘But we’re scared of speaking in sacrament meeting, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,’ he says. Finally he realized, ‘No fear I had was completely outside of my control. It was in my hands to bring those fears to reality or make them disappear.’ He chose to make them disappear by committing to work diligently to build the relationship. ‘Marriage requires effort,’ he says, ‘but so does being single. There is nothing more fulfilling than a successful relationship.’”
When you can trust God to guide you, it will be easier to manage the fear of the unknown ahead of you and believe that there is happiness in store for you.
The second tip to overcome the fear of eternal commitment is to turn control over to Heavenly Father, then take responsibility for the things that you do have control over.
3. Read your patriarchal blessing.
This was a huge one for me.
We aren’t born with a very large capacity to comprehend eternity, but if we practice, our vision will start to broaden and give us a more informed spiritual look at the world.
Patriarchal blessings give you a glimpse of the eternal and help you comprehend a little more of your divine identity and potential. Whether or not your blessing tells you about the qualities of the person you will be marrying, remember that your future spouse will have many of the same potential-describing blessings and promises that you do—promises that you will ideally both be working toward. Take courage in this, and use your blessing as an opportunity to step back and review the bigger picture and purpose of marriage: to grow together and help each other fulfill those eternal promises as you create a new family.
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If you are overly focused on worries about finances, living situations, the wedding celebration, outward appearances etc., it will be hard to be excited about or even see what could be in the spiritual future, which doesn’t make eternity sound very appealing. If you can instead put those earthly concerns in their proper perspective, you might find that faith and a bright future gives you hope for joy in an eternal commitment.
The third tip to overcome the fear of eternal commitment is to take time to step back and look at the bigger picture by studying your patriarchal blessing.
4. Consider, ask, move.
I’m not saying you should rush into any relationship. But if you’ve practiced listening to the Spirit and the answer to a marriage question feels similar to a previous positive answer, don’t second-guess yourself, and don’t procrastinate. Write down the feelings and thoughts you had that helped you make the decision and refer to them when you need a reminder of the validity of your choice.
I suppose this goes back to the point about learning to trust God, but it also reminds us that eternity won’t wait for us. Eternal commitments are constantly moving and reshaping—time does not wait. And sitting on the fence can simply make us sore and purposeless if we are not careful.
“No serious courtship or engagement or marriage is worth the name if we do not fully invest all that we have in it and in so doing trust ourselves totally to the one we love. You cannot succeed in love if you keep one foot out on the bank for safety’s sake. The very nature of the endeavor requires that you hold on to each other as tightly as you can and jump in the pool together.”
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Choose faith, not fear. And remember, eternity doesn’t mean stagnant! Part of the fun of eternity is that there will always be something to do, work on, or accomplish with a spouse. You never have to be stuck on repeat. That doesn’t mean eternal marriage on earth will not be filled with mundane, required daily tasks, but it does mean that you have the ability to decide to move forward physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and have fun and progress together.
The fourth tip to overcome the fear of eternal commitment is to write down promptings of the Spirit to reference in times of doubt and look for ways to create excitement in your life no matter where you are at.
5. Don’t rush eternity.
The fast-paced culture we live in creates a sense of urgency that can be burdensome and unrealistic in an eternal marriage or any eternal gospel covenants.
Whether you’re concerned about a current failing in yourself or your potential spouse or you feel like you don’t have the education, living situation, or something else that you need to start a marriage, stop. When I was preparing to receive my endowment, I felt the weight of eternity. The idea of making covenants that I would be accountable to keep or wear symbols of for the rest of my life was very daunting. Until I realized I didn’t have to know it all before I went. Truly, the purpose of going to the temple is to learn. You do the best you can with what you know now, you keep learning, and you keep moving forward toward perfect understanding and perfectly righteous living. But I have my entire lifetime and eternity to do it.
While the idea of eternity shouldn’t cause us to procrastinate change, it should encourage us to take things at a realistic pace. Marriage is the same way. You don’t have to know everything or be perfect now. Part of the joy of a happy eternal marriage is that you have time to make mistakes, repent of them, learn from them, and perfect your decision making individually and together as you go. One of the commitments I think is inextricably tied to the temple sealing is the promise that you will always try. You don’t promise to be perfect for eternity starting now. You promise each other and—more importantly—the Lord that you will work on improving yourself, your patience, your determination, your meekness, your love, your kindness, or whatever traits will make you more Christlike and a better companion, forever.
“[Marriage] . . . is a learned behavior. Our conscious effort, not instinct, determines the success. The motivating force stems from kindness, true affection, and consideration for each other’s happiness and welfare.
“A wise choice of a partner is a large contribution to a successful marriage, yet the conscious effort to do one’s part fully is the greatest element contributing to success” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 129–30).
The fifth tip to overcome the fear of eternal commitment is to practice making realistic spiritual progression goals now. Find joy in the gospel and joy in commitment as you do so.
Every situation has unique fears, concerns, challenges, and special circumstances, and only you and the Lord can truly know how best to work through them, endure them, or leave them behind as needed. But if you put your trust in Him and practice some of these skills now, the fear of eternity will not keep you from moving forward along the path of eternal life.