May I suggest now eight brief, practical steps for those who would one day be true sweethearts, based on a foundation of righteous living.
First, have reverence for life, and the life-giving powers of the human body. Your body is a temple. It is a sacred and holy edifice. Have the same spiritual reverence for it that you have for any temple that seeks to be a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. It is also the dwelling place of the seeds of human life, the nurturing of which, with your chosen companion, within the bounds set by God himself, is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy.
Second, during the time of courtship, always be emotionally honest in the expression of affection. Sometimes you are not as careful as you might be about when, how, and to whom you express your feelings of affection. You must realize that the desire to express affection can be motivated by things other than true love. As one writer said:
“Desire can be stimulated by the anxiety of aloneness, by the wish to conquer or be conquered, by vanity, by the wish to hurt or even to destroy, as much as it can be stimulated by love. It seems that sexual desire can easily blend with and be stimulated by any strong emotion, of which love is only one. Because sexual desire is in the minds of most people coupled with the idea of love, they are easily misled to conclude that they love each other when they want each other physically. But if this desire is not stimulated by real love, it leaves strangers as far apart as they were before—sometimes it makes them ashamed of each other, or even makes them hate each other, because when the illusion has gone, they feel their estrangement even more markedly than before.” (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, New York: Harper and Rowe, 1956, pp. 54–55.)
In short, one might simply say: save your kisses—you might need them some day. And when any of you—men or women—are given entrance to the heart of a trusting young friend, you stand on holy ground. In such a place you must be honest with yourself—and with your friend—about love and the expression of its symbols.
Third, be friends first and sweethearts second. Relationships between young men and young women should be built like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is friendship. And the ascending layers are built of things like time, understanding, respect, and restraint. Right at the top of the pyramid is a glittering little mystery called romance. And when weary travelers in the desert see this pyramid far off in the distance, maybe the first thing they see is that glittering jewel on the top; but when they get closer, they see all that must underlie the jewel of romance to hold it up so high. Now you don’t have to be very smart to know that a pyramid won’t stand up very long if you stand it on its point and expect the point to hold up everything else. In other words, be friends first and sweethearts later, not the other way around. Otherwise, people who think they are sweethearts may discover they can’t be very good friends, and by then it may be too late.
Fourth, develop the power of self-discipline and self-restraint. Be like Joseph, not like David. When Potiphar’s wife tried with all her cunning to seduce young Joseph, who lived in her house as her husband’s servant, the record simply says that Joseph “fled, and got him out.” (Gen. 39:12.) Joseph knew that it is wiser to avoid temptation than to resist it.
King David, by contrast, despite his years of faithful devotion to God, somehow developed too much confidence in his own ability to handle temptation. He was tragically willing to flirt with evil, and it ultimately destroyed him. We read that as David walked upon the roof of his house, he saw not far off a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. But David did not flee and get himself out. Rather, he sent and enquired after her, and she came in unto him. For this greatest of the kings of Israel, it was the beginning of the end. (See 2 Sam. 11.)
In your courtships, even when you feel there is a growing foundation of true love, show your profound respect for that love and the possibilities of your life together by restraining your passions. Do not be deceived by the false notion that anything short of the sex act itself is acceptable conduct. That is a lie, not only because one step overpoweringly leads to another, but also because the handling of another’s body is in an important sense part of the sexual act that is kept holy by the sanctuary of chastity. If ever you are in doubt about where the line is between love and lust, draw the line toward the side of love. Nobody ever fell off a cliff who never went near one.
Fifth, in your searching for the fulfillment of your romantic longings, always live for the presence of the Holy Spirit, that you may have it as your constant guide. Don’t date someone you already know you would not ever want to marry. If you fall in love with someone you should not marry, you can’t expect the Lord to guide you away from that person after you are already emotionally committed. It is difficult enough to tune your spiritual receiver to the whisperings of heaven without jamming up the channel with the loud thunder of romantic emotion. In general, remember that you need—as much as you will ever need it for any purpose—the guidance of the Holy Ghost in seeking an eternal companion and in building relationships toward that end. The key to spiritual guidance is not how long you pray, or what steps of prayer you follow, or what words you say. The key to spiritual guidance is found in one word: worthiness.
Some time soon when you have a chance to do a little scripture study, I recommend that you compare section 63:16 [D&C 63:16] with section 121:45–46 in the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 121:45–46]. In the first of these two passages, you will find that “he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts,” they will experience three very significant harmful consequences: One, they shall not have the Spirit; two, they shall deny the faith; and three, they shall fear.
On the other hand, in direct contrast to these three results of filling your minds with lust, note what three things happen as described in D&C 121:45–46 when you “let virtue garnish [your]thoughts unceasingly.” The Spirit will be your constant companion. As for keeping the faith, the doctrine of the priesthood will distil upon your soul as the dews from heaven. And in contrast to the fear felt by the lustful, those whose minds are filled with virtue will find that their confidence waxes strong in the presence of God.
For these and a multitude of other reasons, live for the presence in your life of the Holy Spirit.
Sixth, avoid the habit of feeling sorry for yourself, and don’t worry excessively about those times when you feel socially unsuccessful. Everybody in the world doesn’t have to fall in love with you and marry you—it only takes one. I remember the experience of a choice young woman who had been very popular and successful in many ways in her home town. She passed up two or three chances to get serious with young men because she planned to attend college at a Church school, where she fully expected to find more promising opportunities. After she had been at that school for six months without a date, however, she honestly began to wonder if she had some loathsome disease. Seeing that experience through her eyes was very sobering for me about the risks we take in any large population center, because sheer size and numbers can so easily cause people to make incredibly superficial judgments about others, in ways that emphasize appearance above far more important but less obvious factors.
The opportunities for developing friendships (as sometimes distinguished from having “dates”) with members of the opposite sex are nonetheless plentiful at a college. Often these relationships lead to more promising possibilities than does the big social whirl. In approaching these opportunities, remember: “Worry not that you are not well known. Seek to be worth knowing.” The college-age years are a wonderful time in which to experience a variety of human relationships, to go places and do things, to read widely, to find yourself, to develop the roots of spiritual and emotional maturity. To gain this kind of ripeness and growth simply takes time, experience, and effort.
The discouragement you may feel as another empty Friday night rolls by is often a form of the insecurity we all encounter as we seek to find ourselves. Without the apparent approval of your self-worth that comes through social success, you may begin to doubt whether your life is really worthwhile. That kind of self-doubt is only part of a larger problem that accompanies most of us, married or single all the days of our lives. At times, we wonder if the Lord loves us; we wonder if other people love us. And so we mistakenly seek the symbols of success—whether that is being popular or being rich or being famous within our own sphere.
Sometimes you may let someone take improper liberties with you, or you may indulge yourself in some practice that seems to bring temporary relief but only makes you feel worse in the long run. Some even make poor marriage choices, just to show the world that somebody will have them. Ultimately, however, only the Lord’s approval of your life really matters. If you seek to be worth knowing and seek to do his will, all the rest will take care of itself. Never forget that all things work together for good to them who love God. (See Rom. 8:28.)
Your time for marriage may not come until the autumn of your life and then “be twice more precious for the waiting.” (Eternal Love, p. 17.) Even if your time should not come in this life, the promises of eternal love are still yours in the Lord’s view of time, if only you are faithful.
Seventh, in addition to avoiding fornication and adultery, you must avoid homosexual acts and abortion at all costs. These are extremely serious transgressions. Even persons who only assist others, much less pressure them, to have an abortion are in jeopardy of being denied the privilege of missionary service. They may also be called upon to face a church court, at the peril of their membership in the Church.
Eighth, if through some unfortunate experience in your past you have committed a moral transgression of the kind we have been talking about today, there is a way by which you may receive full forgiveness. There is no more glorious promise in all scripture than the words of Isaiah, speaking as if it were by the voice of the Lord himself: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” (Isa. 1:18–19.)
The steps for the process of repentance are outlined in President Spencer W. Kimball’s masterful book The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969). If your transgressions are of the serious kind, you will need to see your bishop and voluntarily offer a full and complete confession. As frightening as that experience may seem to you, please know that by this means you will find purpose and a peace of mind more hopeful and uplifting than you can now imagine.
And in wondering how you might stand in the eyes of the Lord after such an experience, I commend to you the counsel of Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who talked in the October 1980 general conference about the repentance process for serious transgressions. The most memorable part of that candid and loving sermon was Elder Featherstone’s expression of his attitude toward those who have had the courage and the faith to confess their sins and even face Church discipline, if necessary. Because I so much share Elder Featherstone’s feeling, I would like to quote a portion of his remarks:
“In Exodus 32 [Ex. 32], Moses had gone up to the mountain. The children of Israel had fashioned a golden calf with a graving tool. The people offered burnt offerings, and they sat down to eat, drink, and play; and there was great wickedness when Moses came down out of the mountain. He cast the tablets out of his hands, and they were broken; he burned the golden calf and caused the idolaters to be slain.
“Then, when the people had repented [and that is the key], Moses went back before the Lord and prayed, ‘Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.’
“I have listened to possibly a thousand major transgressions; and each time after a truly repentant transgressor has left my office, I have either knelt behind the desk or bowed my head in prayer and said, ‘Lord, forgive him or her, I pray thee. If not, blot my name also out of thy book.’
“Though their sins be as scarlet, they may become white as the driven snow (see Isa. 1:18), and the Lord has promised he would remember their sins no more (see D&C 58:42).” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, pp. 29–31.)
One reason I appreciate Elder Featherstone’s feelings so much is that those are also my feelings toward you. I love the students of Ricks College. I don’t want to be where you aren’t.
For all that I have said by way of warning about the social conditions of our day or the limits you must place on yourselves as you seek the right channels for your natural feelings, I also want you always to remember that the teachings of the gospel about romantic love are filled with hope and peace and joy of the most uplifting and everlasting kind. I testify to you with all my heart that the commandments of God are designed for our ultimate happiness, and that being sweethearts in the way the Lord intended is worth waiting for.
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