I wrote the following e-mail to a daughter, a few months before her marriage. It contains some of my best thinking on the importance of purity before and in marriage.
I felt last week …that perhaps a letter to you might be helpful. Not really because I am worried, but simply because I love you, and perhaps because there is a topic I have not given written counsel on that might be good to have in my journal to record, and you provide a window for doing that. How to style to topic? I guess I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it would best be called becoming one with another person.
God is a Spirit
How to start? Well, perhaps with this verse of scripture from John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” When I was your age, I would have focused almost completely on the Joseph Smith Translation of this verse if someone were to quote that to me: “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.” I have come recently to recognize there is another meaning to this verse, one clear in its original form. God is a spirit.. Said another way, God at his core is spiritual. As I believe Elder Packard once taught: We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. God’s spirit rules, even in his perfected physical form. And he wishes to teach us how to do that as well.
From here, perhaps we should go to a fireside I gave in Woodridge in November 2002. I’ve edited some of my notes from that lesson.
We are Temples
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor. 3:16 – 17)
What do we usually think of when we think of that scripture? We usually think of keeping it clean. We think of President Hinckley’s talk:
Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin? (Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” New Era, Jan. 2001, 4)
He went on to talk about tattoos. Certainly this is one important way to think of this scripture. But consider with me another meaning to this scripture. I think we are like a temple in more than one way.
What was the structure of the Tabernacle that Moses built in the wilderness? It had 4 areas.
- Outside the temple
- The Outer Court
- The Holy
- The Holy of Holies
(See Old Testament Institute manual page 155) I believe these four areas are similar to what we might call four types of “relationships” with others. In very broad categories, they are:
- Strangers. These are by far the most people we will interact with in our lives. This category includes people who are at the same baseball game we are at, or people we pass in the mall. We might make eye contact, or even say, “Excuse me”. But short of that we don’t know anything more about them than what we can see.
- Acquaintances. This includes people who, usually at a minimum, we have heard their name and they have heard ours. We might have a very brief interaction with these people, or it might go on for years. They might be people in our same grade at school, or co-workers or neighbors. But we rarely disclose something to these people that we would not tell anyone else, such as our names, where we live, what we do for a living, etc.
- Friends. This is obviously a still smaller group of people. We share more information, experience and trust with these people.
- Family. This is usually a smaller group still. It should be the place that we feel the safest. These people should know the most about us—often the good and the bad.
Trust and Sharing
How are these four groups of people like a temple? Before we answer that, let’s read another scripture.
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:9 – 10)
What does this scripture mean? It means that we grow over time to learn more about God and His ways. As we are trustworthy, he teaches us more and more. But if we are not trustworthy, we learn less.
“I heard President Marion G. Romney once counsel mission presidents and their wives in Geneva, ‘I do not tell all I know; I have never told my wife all I know, for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.’ ” (Boyd K. Packer, “Candle of the Lord”, Ensign Jan. 1983 Speaking Today section)
People who go through the temple are put under obligation not to speak of the things in the temple outside of it. Why is that? Because the Lord is sharing his sacred things with them, and he wants to control how and when and with whom those things are shared. It is His knowledge. He has the right to determine who is trustworthy and who is not.
We are temples. We have things that are sacred, and holy, and are to be kept that way. We should guard them and be very careful whom we would share them with.
Sacred or Personal “Stuff”
Perhaps we all have a box of small mementos, a box of “stuff” that has value for us because of the memories or emotions that are attached to them. Rarely does this box actually contain something of much monetary value. But for us, the things in this box are valuable.
And we are typically careful about who we share these things with, knowing that if someone does not treat our feelings about these things with respect, it will damage our relationship.
But these items disconnected from our feelings would not have much value. Elie Wiesel’s book “Night”, about the Holocaust, describes the stuff left hanging around the Warsaw ghetto when everyone was rounded up and put on boxcars to concentration camps. “The procession disappeared around the corner. A few steps more and they were beyond the ghetto walls. The street resembled fairgrounds deserted in haste. There was a little of everything: suitcases, briefcases, bags, knives, dishes, banknotes, papers, faded portraits. All the things one planned to take along [in many instances things of perhaps the most importance to them] were finally left behind. They had ceased to matter.”
If what is sacred becomes common, or “profane,” from Latin, pro = before, fannus = temple, or literally outside the temple, then it has been defiled.
In each area of our lives, spiritual, emotional/social, intellectual, and physical, we have a temple, we have things that we treasure or protect. There are things that are very sacred which should not be shared with just anyone. For example, our patriarchal blessings should be something we hold in our holy of holies. It is probably best to only share it with members of your family, and then perhaps not all of them.
There are things that the Savior considers so sacred; he has revealed them to very few. For example:
4 Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.
5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.
6 For the Lord said unto me: They shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.
7 And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are. (Ether 4:4 – 7)
There are other things that we should guard carefully. Emotionally, perhaps, we should be careful in sharing some of our dreams and goals. There might be things that we have learned that others would not easily understand, or ridicule. We should guard such.
And certainly there are things that are physical that we must not share, only in the bonds of marriage.
Why is all of this important? Is there no time in which we should share these things?
Let’s read what the Savior said in his great, last prayer, prior to going to the garden of Gethsemane.
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:21 – 23)
The Savior has commanded us, as saints to be one.
24 And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me.
25 And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself.
27…. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38:24-25, 27)
What is the commandment to a couple when married?
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)
Being one means that we have the same goals, objectives, dreams, and knowledge. When we are one, we are in that center circle. We trust each other.
The greatest joy in life comes from having someone that we trust completely, that we are one with, in our hopes and dreams; someone that we can share ourselves with completely.
Be One, Spiritually First
God is a spirit. It is critical that in order to be like God, we are first one spiritually with our spouses, perhaps also emotionally, socially, and intellectually before we are one physically.
If we share our most scared things with someone who does not hold them as sacred, we defile our holy of holies. If we do not protect our most sacred places, no one else will.
15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples. (D&C 97:15 – 17)
…I bought you a small book called “Letters to a Young Mormon” by Adam S. Miller. You probably haven’t had time to read it yet—such is college life, understandably. So perhaps I’ll extract a couple of thoughts from it are useful in this context. In the chapter on Hunger, he speaks of our needs to eat and rest.
If religion is about living life rather than dodging it, then [these] hunger[s] can’t just be brushed aside, tramped down, or covered over. Your heart beats and your lungs expand and your brain thinks and your cells divide because of it. Like the ocean tide, the push and pull of your body’s needs give order and direction to your day. They put you in bed at night and pull you back out in the morning. They set your table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They stand you in the shower. They wrap you in warm clothing. Soliciting you, these hungers give body to your most elemental joys….
Don’t run from your hunger. Don’t call it names, curse it, regret I, or shame yourself with it. But don’t indulge it either. Rather, care for you hunger. Pay attention. Watch it grow and fade. Become acquainted with and sensitive to it…Welcome the world, love it, and express trust in it by caring about your hunger for it.
…Learn to eat with gratitude and care. Eat like you would like to eat again. Save some hunger for later. Eat what makes you feel good, not just while you’re chewing it but two hours later. Learn to go to bed early and get up early. Don’t cling to the day or the night by staying up too late or sleeping in too long. Sleep like you would like to sleep again.
In the next chapter, titled Sex, he builds on these themes: “Remember that your hunger for intimacy, like all hungers, is a gift and not a punishment.
This new hunger is different from the others. You’ll die if you don’t eat and breathe, but you won’t die if you don’t have sex—though, to be honest, you may sometimes feel like you will. …
Chastity is not a kind of perfection. You may have arrived in this world innocent, but chastity is something more than innocence. Chastity is not something you are born with and then break or lose, it is something that is made. Chasity is a habit built over time by way of good choices…
Caring for your own hunger will teach you how to care for the body of the person you’ll one day love. Watch your hunger closely….
Listen, practice prayer, and let your hunger teach you. When you are alone, and feel, as you often will, a growing hunger for sex, don’t always run away. Don’t automatically distract yourself from it or automatically lose yourself in it. Rather try doing the one thing we’re most afraid to do: pay attention to the hunger itself. Just watch. Acknowledge the hunger’s weight, autonomy, and reality…. Become friends with [the sensations that compose this hunger] and watch patiently as their grip loosens. Don’t pour fuel on the fire by entertaining your fantasies, but don’t try to put out the fire either. Just watch the flames as they burn, on their own, back down to coals. Practicing chastity means caring for these coals. Practicing chastity means learning how to offer this hunger back to God as a prayer.
Some Practical Guidelines
I think you know all the things I have outlined above, but I thought it might be worthwhile to reiterate the points, and their importance. Perhaps a bit more practical counsel might be helpful to you, now that I have given the principles behind these ideas.
(1) Physical relationships don’t have a practical reverse gear. You might ask yourself seriously, what purpose would there be in advancing to the next stage of a physical relationship prior to marriage, and then abide by the decision you make.
(2) It is hard for me to imagine what good purpose is served by being inside either’s apartment together after 11:00 PM. There will be plenty of time to be together later.
(3) Don’t lie down in each other’s presence. If you need to lie down, then it’s probably time to call it a day. A lot less can happen in a physical relationship when one is not lying down.
(4) Be in the open, particularly after 9:00 PM. This is prime time “see and be seen.”
I’m very grateful to have you as my daughter. When I consider all the people on this planet, the number of people in the first three groups described above, I don’t know why we have ended up associated here in this earth life together as a family. For all my understanding of God’s plan for us, this is still a completely mystery to me.
And yet there must be an eternal pattern here, for Christ is God’s Only Begotten Son; and it is clear from Christ’s life that he had various kinds of relationships, but the deeper the relationship the fewer of them there were. His relationship with his mother was, like for all of us, a unique relationship.
God has filled my life with close relationships, just the right number, for me to love and care for an nourish and learn from. One of those is my relationship with you.