I love General Conference. I anxiously look forward to it every April and October. I'd definitely rank it among the major holidays on the anticipation scale. I love that we clear the weekend of all interruptions, that we plan huge feasts, and that we devote 8 whole hours over a two day period to watching and learning from the Prophet, his Apostles, and the other General Authorities. It is truly an exciting event at our house.
Last April, I remember exactly where I was when I heard this specific talk, Watch and Learn, from Elder L. Whitney Clayton in the Sunday morning session of conference. I was happily making some kind of magic in the kitchen when I heard an unfamiliar voice tell a story about his little granddaughter saying, "Watch and learn, Grandpa." And as his talk unfolded including guidelines for successful marriages, I felt myself becoming increasingly more and more frustrated and anxious. I didn't love his talk at all. Nothing about it was appealing to me, and I remember being physically repelled by the entire thing.
Believe me, I was conflicted over the experience. Sure, there have been talks in past Conferences that haven't captured my attention the way some others have. There have been some speakers whose voices didn't call me from far off parts of the house the way President Eyring's voice or Elder Holland's voice does. But never in the 20+ years that I've listened to Conference, have I ever had a visceral reaction like the one I had that Sunday in April. I could hardly wait for the talk to end.
Typically in the weeks and months after Conference, I like to include the talks in some kind of daily study. The week after the April 2013 Conference, I started making my way through each of the Conference talks on lds.org. But each time I came to Elder Clayton's talk, I would skip it. Sometime that month, a close friend, who also happens to be a marriage counselor, caught me and said, "Did you hear the talk in Conference about marriage? I'd like you to read it and tell me what you think because I'm considering using that talk in every counseling session I have from here forward." I turned him down. That talk has in fact come up many times in the last 6 months. And each time I have gone to great lengths to avoid it.
Until last week...when a member of the RS Presidency called me and asked me to be a substitute teacher this Sunday. When she said, "Our lesson is on the April Conference talk Watch and Learn, by Elder L. Whitney Clayton." I laughed, I'm pretty sure right out loud while I was on the phone with her. And when she asked me if I needed her to email me a link to the talk online, or send a copy over, I laughed again, and said, "Nope, I think it's waiting for me on my Mac upstairs."
I have lived enough years to know that when a lesson or a person or a principle crosses my path that many times, I need to pay attention. So I agreed to teach the lesson and then started frantically searching for a little personal humility to be able to study it. And I heard that familiar little voice in my head saying, "Haunani, you need to check your pride at the door."
The last two weeks have been challenging as I've spent time becoming intimately acquainted with this talk. Here are the basic guidelines that Elder Clayton taught:
We can learn so much from watching and then considering what we have seen and felt. From watching wonderful, faithful marriages, the following guidelines have become clear.
1. The best marriage partners regard their marriages as priceless.
2. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of a happy eternal marriage.
3. Repentance and humility build happy marriages.
4. Good marriages are completely respectful, transparent and loyal.
5. Successful couples love each other with complete devotion.
Nothing earth shattering, huh? They're not ridiculous or outlandish or even unreasonably hard to accomplish. They're pretty straight-forward. They make perfect sense. And I probably am doing 80% of that stuff at least 80% of the time.
But here's what I discovered while I read and re-read this talk about 700 times over the past two weeks. While Elder Clayton was saying "Here are the guidelines for a successful, happy marriage..." I actually heard, "This is the way to have a happy, successful marriage, and if you have fallen short in any way, or if you fall short in the future in anyway, then...good luck." I heard, "You have to be perfect." "You have to do this perfectly." "This is the most important relationship you will ever have and you cannot mess it up." Every time I read it, that's what I heard. And every time I listened to it, that's what I heard. I finally stopped listening to his voice because even the sound of it after awhile was starting to fill me with hopelessness and despair.
That's not what he said, though. The problem I was having with this talk was from faulty hearing, not faulty teaching.
I've been married for nearly 20 years. I was not a perfect wife in 1994 and I am no closer to being perfect in 2013. I fall WAY short on a lot of the things I should be doing to put my marriage at the top of my priority list. And I've made plenty of mistakes. I WANT to be perfect. But I'm disappointingly not even close.
But here's the thing about that.
We're not supposed to be perfect. If we were already perfect wives, mothers, friends, and people, there would be no need for a Savior or an Atonement. The reason I have any shot at a happy marriage isn't because I can mark things off a checklist every night. It's because I miss a few, and then regret it, and then get on my knees and ask for help to do better the next day. There are things that I just naturally stink at, but with the power of the Atonement to change hearts and minds and attitudes and habits, I have hope that I can be better at all those things.
I've had a huge change of heart about this talk. I can see the truth in the things Elder Clayton taught. And I can see the benefit of having guidelines to follow and great examples to watch and emulate. I also have greater hope in the outcome of my less than perfect marriage. If there are things I'm not great at, and I have a righteous desire to change those things, there is a way to do that.
"However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made, or talents you think you don't have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines." - Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2012 General Conference, Laborers in the Vineyard
I know that those things are true. I know that the Savior will meet us wherever we are and bring us back to where He is. No matter how long we have been married, how many times we've messed it up, or how deeply rooted our flaws, there is always an opportunity to change.
I have a testimony that Heavenly Father is aware of me personally and that He picked this lesson specifically for me to learn and grow from. And if He knows me and cares about what I'm watching and learning and teaching, then He knows you, too. Wherever we are is not too far away for Him to find us, to hear our prayers for help, and to change us.