One of the most profound love stories in the Old Testament centers on the love between Jacob and Rachel. When Jacob first saw Rachel, she was tending her father’s sheep (Genesis 29:9–10). Jacob wasted no time rolling back a stone from the “well’s mouth” so that the sheep could drink. We learn from the Genesis account that no sooner did Jacob meet Rachel than he was kissing her. Either we are missing a few key verses, or Jacob wasted no time in getting to know his future wife!
Rachel’s father, Laban, was also Jacob’s uncle.1 Jacob was anxious to have Rachel as his wife. Since he had little money or material possessions for a dowry, he offered to work for seven years for Laban in order to obtain Rachel (see Genesis 29:17–18). Therefore, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (Genesis 29:20). As many Bible readers are aware, at the end of seven years, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel (see Genesis 29:24–26). Laban later explained that in his country, it was unheard of to give the younger daughter in marriage before the elder. On their wedding night, Leah would have been heavily veiled and covered in garments, so it wasn’t until the next morning that Jacob realized he had consummated his marriage with the wrong woman. Laban did give Rachel to Jacob a week later, but he had to work seven more years without pay.
Although there is much more to this story, a key principle is that true love requires sacrifice and work. In Jacob’s case, he labored for fourteen years before his wife was his, “free and clear.” For those of you who think you may be in love, would you be willing to pay so great a price for an eternal companion? I am aware of a young man who thought he was in love, but when his girlfriend asked him if he would wait for her for eighteen months while she served a mission, he responded by saying, “Probably not.” And eighteen months pales in comparison to what Jacob was willing to do. When we are truly in love, we come to understand what sacrifice really means. Our own needs become less important than the needs of our future spouse. But when we are willing to work and toil for our future spouse, if we are truly in love, it would seem “but a few days.”
Love Requires Sacrifice
Let’s describe a typical scenario at Brigham Young University, BYU–Idaho, or just about any other Lateer-day Saint institute of religion. A young man and young woman meet and begin to date. They begin feeling a romantic attachment for one another. Over time their feelings for each other grow and intensify. Soon they feel that they can’t live without each other. Being faithful and honorable people, they maintain the standards of the Church and keep the law of chastity. Before long, their arms are wrapped around each other; they are gazing longingly at the temple. Within a few months, they get engaged. Eager to be married, they greatly anticipate their wedding day. Finally it comes, fulfilling a lifetime goal of temple marriage and a blissful honeymoon. Now this is true love, right?
Well, not exactly. Let’s call this scenario an opportunity for or perhaps even the beginnings of true love. But true love in its fullness will come only over time as our commitment and faithfulness are tested. True love must include both a selfless attitude and selfless actions. Looking back on our example, how much of what happens during the dating, engagement, and honeymoon period come about because of selfless attitudes and actions? Although there are opportunities to serve each other and make sacrifices, the significant life experiences that really build, test, and strengthen love have usually not occurred at this point. Love builds over time and intensifies as couples experience life—the school of hard knocks—and ultimately learn to love each more than themselves. Love further develops as couples learn to work together and meet each other’s needs. Additionally, no one can truly love another person without the element of sacrifice.2
Therefore, as you prepare for marriage, ask yourself, “What have I truly done for my future spouse?” Is there more you can do? Only when you begin to make sacrifices for another person does true love begin to blossom. In 1 Corinthians 13, we learn that charity, or the charitable person, suffers long, is kind, is not selfish, and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4–6). Or in other words, charitable people love their spouse more than they love themselves, and they put their spouse’s needs and desires before their own.
My oldest daughter and I used to have discussions about true love when she was in middle and high school. Brittany would tell me about young couples at her school who were deeply in love, how cute they were together, and how they would be married for hundreds of years because they were “so perfect for each other.” I would burst her bubble by saying, “Actually, Britt, they aren’t really in love—they really don’t know what love is. You can’t know what true love is when you’re in ninth or tenth grade.” Brittany would get rather upset, but I would then explain that these couples could have no idea what it means to love someone more than they love themselves and to give up things that they want so the other person could be happy. I am not convinced that couples that young have the maturity or life experiences to love someone that deeply.
I would then ask Brittany, “What if the girl in the relationship was in a terrible accident, and her face was severely burnt? Or what if the guy received an injury where he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life? Do you think this couple would still be in love?” In every case, Brittany would say, “Probably not.” I would then tell her of husbands who wake up early and deliver newspapers so their family can have food on the table; of wives who stay up until midnight helping their husbands with a school or work project; of men pushing their wives in wheelchairs; of women bearing children and completely sacrificing their entire bodies; of couples taking care of each other when they are sick. I would explain to Brittany, True love is born and bred of sacrifice, work, and effort. My daughter was a bit confused because, in her tenth-grade mind, if the perfect couple came together and looked at each other while they batted their eyelashes, they would live happily ever after. Now that Brittany is married, she understands exactly what I was trying to teach her. When you really love someone, you are willing to give your life for their happiness.
1. Yes, that would make Jacob and Rachel first cousins.
2. This scenario was altered from the original authored by Richard Turley, “True Love,” BYU–Idaho Devotional, 23 October 2007, 3–4.
Have you found "the one"? Are you really ready for marriage? How can you create a lasting marriage?
The eternal significance of the questions of how to find—and become—a great marriage partner can feel overwhelming. With humor and warmth, LDS family therapist and BYU Marriage Preparation Teacher Dr. Mark Ogletree presents principles of marriage preparation that address the questions and concerns of today's young single adults.
Within a framework of gospel teachings and real-life examples, readers are invited on a step-by-step exploration of the path toward wedded bliss. First, cultivate a foundational understanding of the doctrine behind making and keeping temple covenants. Next, develop the dating skills that can lead to temple marriage. And finally, understand how to determine if you've found the person you could spend eternity with. Find inspiration in success stories—and cautionary tales—as you learn to unravel the mysteries of matrimony.