I would like to talk today about two parallel questions.
First: What does a journey of faith look like?
And second: Why did it take me 36 years to get married?
Any of the old-timers in the ward—or, I guess, maybe anyone who has ever had a conversation with my mom—will know that I served a mission in South Korea. Serving a mission was part of the plan for my life. There was graduating from high school and seminary, serving a mission, going to BYU, getting married, having children, and then becoming rich and famous.
I got as far as BYU. Like every other returned missionary, my expectation was to find myself a wife, and BYU was prime hunting territory. But the strangest thing happened. As I met all kinds of amazing young women, in my classes and at church, and as I had conversations, and went on dates—what happened was that I came to the realization that none of them were the woman I was going to marry.
I was doing everything I was supposed to. I knew that marriage was a true, eternal principle. I believed in it and wanted it. I just couldn’t seem to find it for myself.
One thing President Uchtdorf talked about the most recent General Conference was the journey of inquiry that we take when searching for the truth. He reminded us that “We see baptism as the starting point in our journey of discipleship.” It’s not just a journey that the non-believer takes toward receiving a personal testimony, but also an ongoing part of our “daily walk with Jesus Christ.”
So that is all very nice, philosophically, but what does a journey of faith actually look like in real life?
Well. First of all, in a journey you need to know what your destination is. I think it’s easy for us to oversimplify what we’re looking for. Often this happens with the word “just”. “I just want to know for sure that God lives.” “I just want a witness that the Book of Mormon is true.” “I just want to know that I can be forgiven for my sins.”
But that “just” transforms searching and inquiry into helpless, dependent waiting. We’re like some passive aggressive teenager, saying, “All I want is this one tiny thing. Don’t I deserve that much?”
When really, 1) a witness of God’s truth is a precious thing, and cannot come cheaply. 2) God cannot reveal these things to us unless we are actively doing our part, by pondering the scriptures, having sincere prayer, actively attending and participating in our church meetings, serving others, and keeping the commandments to the best of our ability. And 3), you may just want to know that God lives, but God has even more and greater gifts in store for you, if you are willing to search and not limiting what you are willing to receive.
In my search for marriage, I think I often said, “I just want to get married.” But that wasn’t really true. I didn’t just want to get married, or I could have married anyone. I wanted to marry the right person. But how do you know what to look for in a companion?
In searching for truth, we have all been given the light of Christ and the influence of the Holy Ghost. When you do something good, when you find something true… you know it in your heart. You feel peace, happiness, comfort. If you will consistently seek the things that bring those feelings to your heart, and avoid the things that cloud or darken your mind, then you will be on a sure path to God. In the words of President Uchtdorf: “Those who follow this path faithfully avoid many of the pitfalls, sorrows, and regrets of life. The poor in spirit and honest of heart find great treasures of knowledge here. Those who suffer or grieve find healing here. Those burdened with sin find forgiveness, liberty, and rest.”
In my case, I didn’t want to be one of those guys who had a long list of requirements that could never be fulfilled. And I wanted to marry someone where we would still love each other when we’re old and shriveled, so it couldn’t just be based on how she looked. In the end, I came to four guiding principles, and I knew if I found all four of these in a woman, then that was the one for me. These were the four:
1. I didn’t want to be the “smart one” in our relationship.
2. I didn’t want to be the “spiritual one” in our relationship.
3. I wanted a woman who had something she was passionate about in life.
4. I wanted a woman who loved me at the same time that I loved her.
It seemed like such a simple, broad set of criteria. But as the years passed, I searched and searched, and could not find anyone who fit all four principles.
During the many solitary years that followed, I started wondering if perhaps there was something wrong with me. What if I was expecting too much from a relationship. What if I was seeking safety by only being interested in the girls who weren’t available. What if I was broken somehow, and not actually capable of having a relationship. And of course, there are always people willing to come up with their own theories. As an unmarried man, I had the painful experiences of seeing a father uncomfortable with me playing with his child, or someone flinch when I give them a hug, because of what they imagine my personal problems to be.
There also came a time when I began to question my four guiding principles. I thought, maybe I can lower the bar just a little bit. Which is how I came to have my very first girlfriend. At age 32. I liked her a lot. I knew that I did not actually love her, but I thought maybe that would come in time. See, that was a reasonable stretching of my criteria. But as soon as we were a couple… she became a crazy person. And I became a crazy person. And we made each other absolutely miserable. For about six weeks. That experience did not bolster my confidence in my ability to have a healthy relationship.
President Uchtdorf said: “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.”
I would like to expand that a little to say that we respect those who honestly search for truth, no matter what their lives look like on the outside. We can’t know why people’s lives have taken the paths that they have, and sometimes, those people themselves would like to know why it’s happened!
This is President Uctdorf again: “It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.”
“Some might say, ‘I just don’t fit in with you people in the Church.’”
That was me as well. The very hardest time in my church membership was when I graduated from the single adult ward to the regular family ward. I would sit in my church meetings, and think, “I could leave right now, and no one would ever care.”
President Uchtdorf says, “If you could see into our hearts, you would probably find that you fit in better than you suppose. You might be surprised to find that we have yearnings and struggles and hopes similar to yours. Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.”
It never consciously occurred to me that my perspective, as someone who was single, was actually an asset to my ward. But I did recognize that it was after I started putting my talents to work serving others that I finally began to make friends and feel at home. When I lived in Tucson, there was a sweet single sister in the ward, who was probably in her fifties but due to health problems and a lack of teeth seemed much older. There were a couple of weeks when I noticed that she wasn’t there. So the next Sunday morning I called her up. It had been cold and rainy, and she said she hadn’t been able to stand out at the bus stop, so I offered her a ride, which she accepted. It wasn’t until later, at a singles Family Home Evening, that she pulled me aside and tearfully told me that that had been the first time she felt like anyone in the ward cared that she was there. And it actually wasn’t until I was writing this that I put two and two together and realized how God had allowed me to do for her exactly what I had wanted someone to do for me.
I have also known, over the years, a number of converts who have felt discouraged and sometimes become inactive because, after 6 months or a year, they felt like they knew so much less about the gospel than the people around them who grew up in the church. Which, by the way, is just a fact of life. Learning and growth take time for everyone. Just remember we’re not graded on a curve.
From the talk again: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In my search for a wife, I did stick to my four principles, because in my heart I felt that they were true. And finally. In 2012 I found Emily. And it was purely by the grace of God, because she was in Owasso, and I was in New York City, and how on earth does anyone start a relationship from a thousand miles away? It’s ridiculous.
Except that she was the one. The first woman in 36 years who fit all four characteristics that I was looking for. She has a brilliant mind. She is a convert to the church and also a spiritual giant. She has so many passions in life, from the gospel, to Hebrew studies, to gardening. And she loves me, and I love her.
I don’t have time now to relate all the details of our courtship, so I will just say that it involved, in chronological order, daily love letters, a flat tire, a tiny monkey, fireworks, and a wizard. I kid you not.
But I can tell you two things about both a journey of faith and a search for love.
One: When you find it, you must act or it will be lost. When I found Emily, I moved halfway across the country, left my full-time job and my professional contacts behind. We were married six months after we met, and had only spent a total of two weeks in the same time zone at that point. Because I knew I had found something true, and I was not going to miss it for anything.
And two: Our journey will not be over as long as we live. According to my youthful expectations for life, the step after marriage was having children. Well, in the first year of our marriage we had three miscarriages before being told that we would not be able to bear a child of our own. The day after the doctor told us that, we received our first foster child. It’s been less than a year from that day and we’ve had many kids come and go already. I love each of them dearly, but I can also tell you, it is a very different experience from raising your own from scratch.
And so once again we face uncertainty, and doubt, and struggle. Same song, different verse. But we keep our eyes on the goal of eternal life. We continue in faith toward that day when we will return to our Heavenly Parents and receive in fullness all of the blessings that we have been promised.
My own journey of faith has brought me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Through study, and prayer, and the Holy Spirit, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, called of God, to restore the fullness of the everlasting gospel upon the earth. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, recorded by ancient prophets and brought forth in these latter days. And I know that each of us is a literal son or daughter of God, sent to earth to seek truth, to gain experience, and to choose the good.
I pray that we may each continue to move forward in that journey.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.