The Four Critical Relationships

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This was a talk I gave at a singles church congregation in 2016.

When I was a graduate student, my wife and I lived in Salt Lake City. We had four close married friends. By the time I had graduated, one couple had divorced. Just this last Christmas my wife and I received a Christmas card that broke our hearts. It showed a picture of our friend, with just her and her kids. As great and as happy as they looked in that picture, my heart hurt for her and her children. That picture represented tears shed, dreams and covenants broken…. You know how when you go on a vacation to some place and you go sightseeing and you take pictures of the cathedral or canyon or whatever it may be…but there’s no one in the picture. When you look back at these pictures, you really only give them a cursory glance. It’s the pictures with the people in them that actually have the most allure, the most meaning. This Christmas card, and this concept caused me to ponder and was the inspiration for my topic today.

When John Rockefeller, a ridiculously wealthy Clevelander, died, someone asked his accountant, “How much did Mr. Rockefeller leave?”

The accountant replied, “He left all of it.”

So what do we take with us then when we die? When Jesus was on the earth, he taught:

3 Ne. 13

  • Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;
  • But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

What are some examples of treasures in heaven? When we pass on, we will take with us our memories, talents, knowledge/experience, and relationships.

Elder Hugh Pinnock, a General Authority from 1977-2000 said, “Relationships are to be never ending” — BYU Speeches

I think that among the most valuable treasures in heaven will be the strength of our relationships that we have forged while here on earth.

A senior missionary couple who have served four missions working on genealogical record preservation, Elder and Sister Lombardi agree, “I submit that in Heaven, wealth is measured in terms of human relationships. We build personal eternal wealth by taking the dead through the temple ordinances. Those dead souls become our friends in eternal bonds of friendship. This whole effort from the preservation of records to the end product of temple ordinances is a great eternal wealth building effort for all concerned. Human relationships are the treasures that thieves cannot steal and that moths cannot corrupt.”–Elder and Sister Lombardi

 Relationships are like plants, they need certain nutrients and they need them often in order for them to thrive and grow, otherwise they wither and die. In a speech at BYU in 1996, Adi Fuhriman, then the Dean of Graduate Studies and a psychology professor, taught how the ten commandments are all based on teaching mankind about the importance of relationships.

“God’s word to humankind is instructive as to the characteristics that define how we are to be in relationship with one another. Indeed, the old law, or the Ten Commandments, appears to exist in order to ground, at the very least, the foundation of a relationship (see Exodus 20:2–17). Breaking or not adhering to anyone of the commandments does, in fact, violate or injure a relationship. Encoded within each commandment is a sin against relationship.

The first four—thou shalt not have other gods before me, make no graven image, do not take the name of the Lord in vain, and keep the Sabbath day holy—all reflect upon and affect our relationship to the Lord. Breaking anyone of these sends a message of how we think about and how we feel toward the Lord—maybe even more important, it shows how we value who he is and our relationship with him. By keeping these four commandments, we are saying that who he is is important and our relationship with him is primary and will not be subservient to falsity or imitation; we will honor and uphold the sanctity of his name, his identity; and we will acknowledge and revere his role and relationship to us through a dedicated seventh of our time.

The remaining commandments concern our relationships with others. The commandment dealing with mothers and fathers is set apart from all others—due, in large measure, to their unique role and responsibility. We are to honor them, further underscoring the uniqueness of our relationship to them. Coveting, bearing false witness, stealing, committing adultery, killing, and dishonoring are all behaviors that, with their companion attitudes, thwart the establishment of a relationship, contaminate an already existing one, destroy a previously valued one, and, ultimately, negate the concept and value of our connectedness.” –Adi Furhiman, BYU Speeches, The Tie That Binds

The commandments are there to help us live according to the manner of happiness. And the manner of happiness is having full, positive, connected relationships—both with our Father in Heaven and with those around us.

I believe that there are 4 relationships or relationship categories that are critical. I believe that our actions or inactions, be they good or bad, ultimately manifest themselves as either benefitting or damaging one or more of these four basic relationships.

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with ourself
  • Our relationship with our family/loved ones
  • Our relationship with our fellowmen

Sin Damages at least one or more of the 4 Relationships

Whenever we do something bad or wrong or “sinful” we damage our relationship with God, we distance ourselves from God. Our wrong doing will damage our relationship with ourselves, even if we don’t consciously admit this at the time. Our sin may manifest itself as damage to our relationship with our spouse, children, or our parents. Finally, our wrong doing may come to affect how we treat or view our fellowmen.

Let’s say I’ve promised one of my kids that when I get home from work that I’d play Lego Harry Potter on the Xbox. But, then I end up working a bit later than normally, and so by the time I arrive home we need to eat dinner and then I help clean up dinner and do the dishes. By the time the dishes are finished, the food is put away, and the table is cleared, it’s time to start preparing my four kids for bed. Pajamas, teeth-brushed, and gather for scriptures and family prayer. Then I’m reminded, “But Dad! You said you’d play Lego Harry Potter on the Xbox with me.” And I had, but it’s close to 9 p.m. now and 6 a.m. rise-and-shine comes awfully early for a 4-yr-old and without sufficient sleep that 4-yr-old acts more like a gremlin than a toddler. And so with a hesitant frown I say, maybe tomorrow. And like that, I’ve broken a promise and distanced myself by even the smallest amount from God. I’ve damaged my relationship with myself because now I’ve planted guilt in my heart somewhat and I’ve created some doubt about whether I can trust myself to follow through on what I say I will do. I have inevitably hurt the relationship with my 4-yr-old boy. Now, being a toddler, he is remarkably quick to forgive and forget, but nevertheless I have hurt our relationship.

Here’s another example, let’s imagine that you have a private pornography habit. This habit will damage your relationship with God. There’s a reason you indulge in private — you feel bad about it. As much as the titillation of it is attractive, afterward you feel dirty. You come to think negatively of yourself, perhaps because your efforts to quit have been unsuccessful. This is the damage of pornography on your relationship with yourself. But, in this example, pornography doesn’t stop there. The salacious images in your mind create unrealistic and false expectations for sex and intimacy. Porn wreaks havoc on marital relationships and it’s a waiting cancer that can infest courtships and destroy the potential for an enriching, intimate marital relationship.

Finally, porn damages the way one views other men or women in general. It objectifies them.

The same thing happens when we do something else that is wrong or sinful or refrain from doing something good and right, it damages one or more of the four basic relationships.

Listen to the following quotes and see how selfishness and pride hurt relationships…

“Pride is a damning sin in the true sense of that word. It limits or stops progression. (See Alma 12:10–11.) The proud are not easily taught. (See 1 Ne. 15:3, 7–11.) They won’t change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong. Pride adversely affects all our relationships—our relationship with God and His servants, between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, teacher and student, and all mankind.”– Ezra T. Benson

President Spencer W. Kimball declared: “Since the beginning there has been in the world a wide range of sins. Many of them involve harm to others, but every sin is against ourselves and God, for sins limit our progress, curtail our development, and estrange us from good people, good influences, and from our Lord” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], p. 174).

When we sin, we hurt our relationships.

Keeping the Commandments Prospers Relationships

The good news is that whenever we do good or whenever we change away from our sinful behavior and repent, this positive turning is also manifest in one or more of the four basic relationships. We shorten the distance between ourselves and God. We heal the hurt we’ve caused ourselves and our self-talk improves and our sense of self worth and confidence grows (D&C 120). When we change for the good and give up our wrong doing our relationship with our significant other, family, or loved one improves. Finally, as these relationships are improved our outlook on the whole world changes and we treat and view others in general in a more positive and hopeful light. As we have become more Christlike, we are more aligned to “the manner of happiness” (Alma 41:11). You want to find the one that you will want to spend eternity with? You want to prepare yourself to have a happy marriage? You want to have a rich relationship with your parents, siblings, friends or neighbors? Then simply become a more Christ-like disciple of Jesus Christ. This will bless all your relationships.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World reads: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

Sister Fuhriman further taught in her BYU Speech: “These imperatives (commandments), coming by way of counsel and example, extend a “hand” to us. They help us connect to one another. They help us be like him in our relationships with others: congruent in thought and action, in mind and heart, in intent and effort. These all point toward the fulfillment of a higher law and the blessing of a new commandment that he gave unto us, to all humankind: “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This commandment makes crystal clear the value of our relatedness to one another and its important role—its fundamental and intrinsic role—in the plan of salvation. This new commandment then answers our question “How shall we live?” We shall live as he lived; and the reality of his plan is that we live in relationship to others.”

To summarize so far: We each have 4 basic relationships:

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with ourself
  • Our relationship with our family, spouse, or loved ones
  • Our relationship with our fellowmen and women

We take with us the memories and experiences from those relationships when we die. It is the tie that binds us in those relationships and that bestows the right to continue in those roles and relationships that the Temple blessings confer. We will remember those relationships but that right and binding tie of marriage, if not sealed by priesthood authority, will be dissolved at death. The strength of these 4 relationships is determined by who we are and who we are is determined by what we do, think, and feel. Stephen R. Covey taught, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” If our eyes are such that it is as though we wear rose-colored glasses, we will see the world rosily. If our eyes are darkened, then we will see the world as dark and gloomy. When we are sinful, our relationships suffer. If our hearts are full of accusing feelings towards someone or others, we will see the world and seek to collect proof or data that our accusing feelings are justified. This leads to a dangerous cycle whereby we accuse, blame, provoke, accuse, blame, provoke…. But when we are righteous, when we experience a change of heart, our relationships prosper. As King Benjamin taught,

“I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual” (Mosiah 2:41)

Elder Francicso Vinas, a General Authority, taught, “The principles that we choose to incorporate into our lives will determine the spirit that we contribute in our relationships with others. When we adopt a principle, its influence radiates from us and can be felt by others.”

I feel that it is important to note that just because we are obedient or righteous, does not mean that automatically our family relationships will be perfect or even good. Relationships are two- way streets. The other party, regardless of our positive behavior, may yet choose to sever the relationship or continue to hurt the relationship through his/her sinful behavior. We have all heard of early pioneers in the church who lost family relationships because of accepting the gospel. Christ himself recognized that choosing to follow His gospel could “set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:35).

Richard Chidester, an associate area director for the Church Educational System in 1984 wrote:

The keys to peace and harmonious relationships are to be found within our personal application of the basic principles of the gospel.” In other words, in order to have peace and harmony in our relationships, we must first have peace and harmony within ourselves. Such peace comes when we are doing what we know to be right by following the still small voice of the Spirit.”

So what do we do if we currently have a strained or broken relationship? Fixing that relationship starts within ourselves. Brother Chidester continued:

“Both ecclesiastical and professional counselors regularly see people who want peace and harmonious relationships without repenting of unloving behavior. They want peace and a right heart through secularism instead of through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God.” – C Richard Chidester

It is when we focus on our own behavior, when we ask, “Am I in the wrong?” When we are humble, that we can see the world as it truly is, see situations without the bias of our own emotions, and therefore react in a more enlightened manner. Brother Chidester said it this way:

“When we are more concerned about our own attitude and behavior than those of others, improvements in relationships can begin to take place. We cannot force others to change, to be good, or to be more responsible; they have free will to act the way they want to. The real issue is how we react to them! Are we being compassionate, forgiving, and patient—or are we concentrating on whether they are being responsible or not? …. When we have the Spirit in abundance and are perceiving reality honestly and accurately, we realize that all mortals are a composite of strengths and weaknesses. Given our own weaknesses, we have little occasion to take offense at their mistakes. As we realize this, our hearts become broken and our spirits contrite, and we begin to treat others compassionately.” – C Richard Chidester (For more on this topic, read: The Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships and Coming to Ourselves by C. Terry Warner)

Notes on being Teachable

I love this! This is the other concept that I feel is key throughout this life, and that is the willingness to be humble or teachable.

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Father Abraham is a great example of being teachable:

“desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, (and here is the key) and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” –Abraham 1:2

 It is in the willingness to continually recognize our need for instruction and the insight of others, to continue to be taught and to learn, that helps us to continue the lifelong pattern of repent, baptism (sacrament), purification by the Holy Ghost; repent, renew covenants of baptism, purification by the Holy Ghost. Repent, renew covenants of baptism, purification by the Holy Ghost. This is really what enduring to the end means. Why else would the scriptures say, “Preach naught but repentance” (D&C 19:21)? If people get held up somewhere in the Repent, Baptism, Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Endure to the End principles of the gospel, it’s really usually in the refusal to repent. Why? Because this is really the hard part—we need to acknowledge we were wrong. Repenting requires us to change our hearts and sometimes this requires that our heart break first and then we’re given a new one. And when our own hearts are new, our relationships with others will improve.

If we are having a hard time changing our hearts, we can pray and ask for help. President Howard W. Hunter taught, “Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter [2015], 150).

–Richard G. Scott taught, “As you center your home on the Savior, it will naturally become a refuge not only to your own family but also to friends who live in more difficult circumstances. They will be drawn to the serenity they feel there…. One of the greatest blessings we can offer to the world is the power of a Christ-centered home where the gospel is taught, covenants are kept, and love abounds.”

 So I just came to the single adult ward and gave a talk on relationships? You may think, “I’m not married or dating anyone.”  So here are some of my thoughts:

Relationship Triangle
Imagine a triangle with you on one end, your future spouse on the other, and God at the top. As you move up your side of the triangle closer to God, the distance between you and your future spouse decreases. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you get closer to your future spouse in a temporal aspect (meaning that you’ll find your spouse sooner), but I do believe that becoming more Christlike is universally attractive to good potential spouses. Like Joseph Smith taught, “A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world anxious to bless the whole human race.” Someone filled with the love of God is happy, and if you are going around blessing people you will make others happy and like Elder Uchtdorf taught this last conference about Great Aunt Rose, people like to be around happy people! Happy people are attractive! I do believe that by moving closer to God through thinking, feeling, doing, and being righteous we prepare ourselves to find a spouse who is at a higher or equal plane as we are.

Notes on Vulnerability:

In the book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism makes Sense of Life, by Teryl and Fiona Givens, I learned a valuable point. Because Heavenly Father loves us all so much and is 24/7 focused on Moses 1:39—This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man; He has made himself vulnerable to weep, to suffer sorrow for the sins that His children choose to commit. And the really interesting thing is that the scriptures teach that “we love Him, because He first loved us.” He chose to take the first vulnerable step. In the philosophy of Hitch, He came the 90%, we just need to come the remaining 10%. That, to me, is a fascinating lesson in how important it is to embrace vulnerability as the key to creating an abundant life. Honestly, I am not sure whether there is a time in life where one feels more vulnerable or where the need to embrace vulnerability is more evident than in the young single adult years. This is a time of big decisions: career, school, dating, marriage or the painful absence thereof, of establishing independence and trajectories that could be followed for years to come and that could impact the outcome of our lives.

So why do I bring up vulnerability? Because I want you to realize the importance of risking your heart getting broken. In the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson: “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.” When was the last time you made yourself vulnerable by asking someone on a date? Don’t give up on being vulnerable. Is it easy. NO! It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Are you working on cultivating the 4 relationships in your life? (God, yourself, family (a special loved one?), and your fellowmen or women?)

Author Brene Brown shared a story on a podcast that I was recently listening to. Her daughter is a swimmer and in an upcoming swim meet her coach had asked her to swim the breast stroke.

Now, she was not a good breast stroke swimmer. She refused to swim it. She knew she would be the last one out of the pool, probably minutes after everyone else got out. She asked her parents to convince her coach that she couldn’t do it, and if that didn’t work she’d quit the swim team.

Her parents thought about it and realized that for her daughter the fear of swimming the breast stroke was huge. Swimming the breast stroke would make her feel incredibly vulnerable. So, in an effort to reward and recognize that vulnerability and the willingness to be vulnerable in doing this good thing, together they decided that for her daughter at that swim meet winning or success would not be winning that race or even getting a good time for that race. Regardless of when she got out of the pool, winning at that meet would be getting INTO the pool and just swimming the breast stroke. And that’s exactly what her daughter did, and yes, she was the last one out of the pool on that race and by a long shot, but she got out of the pool with a smile and went over to her mom and got a big hug because to her, she’d already won!

Maybe right now, success or winning for you doesn’t need to be courtship or marriage, maybe it’s in keeping faith in continuing the search, continuing to date. Or maybe winning is in strengthening your relationships with family, with yourself, or developing a deep relationship with your Father in Heaven. Maybe winning for you is in developing a new skill or overcoming a bad habit, deepening your knowledge of the scriptures, achieving a worthy goal, or just in reaching out to be more connected with your peers and serving those around you.

Testimony

I bear testimony that the Lord wants us to have relationships so strong and so bound together by eternal temple blessings that they fill us up with joy—relationships like that of Ammon and the sons of Mosiah and Alma. I know that marriage and family is ordained of God. I know that the sacred expression of marital love when enjoyed within the bonds of matrimony strengthens and blesses marriages. I know that the Lord guides our lives IF we ask Him and are humble and teachable to listen to him. I know that if we will change our hearts and repent and rid ourselves of pride and accusing feelings towards others that as we are pure, we will see the world as it truly is—and we will be able to better choose our path and actions in such a way that our relationships are strengthened. I bear testimony that the best place to find and receive revelation for the big decisions in life is in the temple in a spirit of fasting and prayer.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, it is my prayer that throughout our lives that we will put our time and efforts into making sure that people and relationships are primary and present in the pictures of our lives, and that, heaven forbid, if we ever have to send out a Christmas card with a family member missing, it will not be because of poor, sinful choices. And if we find ourselves in that unfortunate, painful position that we make it temporary by taking advantage of the atonement of Christ—repenting, renewing covenants of baptism, and being purified by the Holy Ghost. I say that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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