Written By-Curtis Toone
*Disclaimer: as this particular blog post primarily deals with theological issues related to Christianity and more particularly to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be advised that if you're not familiar with this religion, this may not make sense to you as you are not the intended audience. To learn more about our belief click here.
After my divorce I knew I wanted to get married again. I also knew that I wanted to marry someone who had been married before. I wanted someone who had the experience of being in a marriage with both the positives and challenges. When I began dating I did not distinguish between those that had been divorced and those who had been widowed. This was because I hadn't spent any time thinking through the issues and potential consequences of the different circumstances.
At that time I had a very intense job and I was working between 50 and 60 hours a week with frequent travel. When I wasn't working I was spending time with my kids. This made finding people to date difficult. Although I had a number of high-quality dates through introductions from friends and family, and the Singles Ward, I hadn't found anyone with whom I had good chemistry. I consider myself fairly progressive technology wise so I decided I would give online dating a try. I found that it was a fairly efficiently to see lots of people who were interested in dating. I also was only interested in dating someone up my faith.
So after dating for a while, I had met a number of good and wonderful ladies, but for one reason or another, things just didn't work out between us. So I went back to the dating websites to find other women to date. I remember looking at Julie's profile and saying to myself, she's really pretty and I bet I could be a really good dad to her boys. (One of her pictures was of her and her boys) I approached her online and after some effort, time and divine intervention she decided to go out with me. (The divine intervention is another story for another day.)
After going on a couple of dates with Julie I began to wrap my head around some of the complex issues for the very first time of dating a widow in the LDS church. I remember her describing the tragic situation she had to endure with the loss of her husband. I felt sad for her as she described what a great person Jake was, how abruptly he was taken from her, in the ensuing grief and mourning she felt for him over the last several years. It was clear that she loved Jake very intensely. I wondered if she felt if she was able to love someone else as intensely. In retrospect, perhaps I should not have asked her that question directly, but I am a very direct person. I think this just illustrates how I was beginning to think about some of the issues around dating someone who is a widow or widower.
When you date someone who is divorced, you generally find that they dislike the person they were previously married to. The opposite is true when you date a widow or widower, they almost always liked the person they were married to. On our second date, Julie made it very clear that she was sealed to Jake and intended to remain so. On one hand that made perfect sense. This was the very instance that the sealing power was intended to provide comfort and reassurance that Julie and Jake would be together again. On the other hand, where did this leave me? I was a single unsealed man. (As my ex-wife had canceled our sealing and was sealed to her current husband.)
She told me that she felt that she could love another husband just as she has several children and loves each of them equally but in slightly different ways. This made sense to me, but we know there's a difference between parental love and romantic love between husband and wife. After reflecting on the conversation I decided to keep an open mind. This conversation obviously upset her and she left from the lunch date unhappy. I tried to ask the questions in the most sincere and kind way possible and there was no malice in my heart. I was just coming to grips with some of the issues for the first time.
I knew that I had upset her on the date. I tried to call her later that day and the next day. She didn't answer the phone so I tried to text and left her several voicemails. A day or two later I received an e-mail from her that I now call a "nasty gram". In the e-mail there was a lot of emotion and frustration about the issues I brought up and her overall situation. I think she was fairly determined to put me off. She questioned why would bring up those issues and be so direct when we had only been on a date or two. I think the quote she said is "I don’t even think I like you, and yet you want me to discuss spending eternity with you. I would just like to be able to go on a date without having to try and solve the mysteries of eternity". After reflecting on the e-mail she sent, I called her and left a voicemail saying that she was right and I’d make it up to her if she would go out with me again promising that we would go out just to have fun and keep things light. I hoped that she would go out with me again because I liked her personality and thought she was pretty.
Fortunately, she decided to go out with me again. In retrospect, I have to thank her father for talking her into it. We continue dating and we both enjoyed it. At the same time I was processing these issues in my head and trying to come to some resolution on them. A friend of mine had married a widow and in her circumstances she decided to ask for a Temple divorce from her first husband. Apparently he was an unsavory character. I don't pretend to think that I have enough information to judge whether this was the right decision in their case, but Julie made it very clear that Jake was a great guy, and she would remain sealed to him.
My thoughts on the Sealing Issue after much thought, prayer, processing and reflection. (This is my understanding and how I should apply it in my life. I know this point of view will not apply nor be appropriate in every circumstance and situation. Each person must prayerfully consider their circumstances and ultimately look to God and the influence of the Holy Ghost to determine the right path for them.)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a curious thing. It's not a Chinese menu where you can pick and choose which gospel principles you will believe and which ones you won't. You can't say I like Commandments one, five and six, but I don't like three, four and nine. If you're going to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ you must also accept it in its entirety. If you accept that through the Priesthood men and women may be able to be sealed together in God's holy temples, you must also accept that God is a just and loving Heavenly Father who is concerned about the happiness and well-being of his children.
We also know that it is "not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18, Abraham 5:14, Moses 3:18). I also believe that it is not good for woman to be alone either. Our moral existence on this planet is intended for us to interact with one another. I also feel it's ideal for children to be raised in a home with two parents even if both of those parents are not the biological parents.
We also know that we don’t know the mysteries of God nor a perfect picture of the gospel at this time. In the ninth article of faith we learn "we believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God." From this we know that we don't fully understand how things will be in the eternities. In first Corinthians chapter 13 the apostle Paul clearly illustrates that while we do not have a full understanding of things pertaining to the gospel, (we see through a glass darkly; for we know in part, and we prophesy in part), but what we have is an understanding of the fundamentals. If we master these gospel fundamentals everything that will be revealed to us in the eternities will make perfect sense. Paul exhorts us to develop the qualities of faith hope and charity. And we know the charity is a perfect love of Jesus Christ.
We also know that God's kingdom is not a kingdom of coercion, force or compulsion. We learn this in section 121 of the doctrine and covenants. This section teaches us how God's kingdom on earth is to function and how will be in the eternities. In the eternities we will choose to live in accordance with God's laws because that will be who we are, our very nature, because we have experienced the alternative and have chosen to overcome the natural man within us (Mosiah 3:19) and yield to the enticings of the Holy Ghost. To reside with God our Eternal Father in his Celestial glory we will need to have become like him in every way.
Versus 45 and 46 section 121 give us a glimpse into the eternities:
45 let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the Priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dues from heaven.
46 the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter and unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory mean, it shall flow into thee forever and ever. (note: comma added for emphasis)
There are some really powerful messages in these two scriptures. First, if we really truly understand, accept and live the gospel of Jesus Christ our hearts and minds will be full of love for everyone. The Holy Ghost will be our constant companion, the additional doctrine of God's kingdom and Priesthood will be revealed to us little by little over time, and our very nature, our essence, our everything will change and become aligned and match the will and nature of God. Every feeling, thought, and action will be in harmony with the Priesthood and God's kingdom not out of choice, but rather because of who we are.
The phrase "without compulsory means" is very interesting. Alternative ways of saying this are: without compulsory methods, without compulsory practices, or without compulsory procedures. In the kingdom of God no one will be forced to do anything. We will be asked to do things and then return and report. I believe that we will choose to do those things asked of us because it is right. The other implication of this is that we will not be with anyone we don't want to be with. If we don't want to be with the person that we were sealed to on the earth no one is going to force us to be with them in the eternities.
We don't know how things are going to work out in the eternities. We don't know what adjustments are going to be made. We DO know that the atonement of Jesus Christ compensates for every sin, mistake, frailty, challenge, sorrow and problem if we enter by the gate, live the gospel and endure to the end in faith, repentance and hope. We do know that if we are righteous, true and faithful it will all work out and we will all be happy and received a fullness of joy in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
It is true, that the church policy is that a woman can only be sealed to one man while she is living. I accept and support our church leaders in all that God has revealed to us at this time. Perhaps we get a glimpse into what God may reveal to us in the future by the fact that a woman can be sealed to multiple men after they are all deceased. Let me restate again that we do not know precisely how things will work in the eternities. We do not know what compensations and adjustments will be made. We DO know that if we become like God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, our essence and nature will change to become in harmony with him. He has promised that we will be happy and have joy in the eternities.
Do I know how things will work out between Julie, Jake and I in the eternities? No. But I put my trust in the hands of my loving father in heaven. I trust in him to make it all work out so that everyone will be happy and satisfied. No one, if we live worthy, will miss out on any blessing as the infinite and eternal atonement of Jesus Christ compensates for all shortcomings. No one will feel cheated or shortchanged.
If you accept the Priesthood can seal two people together for time and all eternity, then you must also accept that God is a loving and merciful God, we do not know how precisely things will work out in the eternities, what adjustments and compensations will be made through the atonement, and trust that God will want to bless you with every blessing you prove worthy of.
Caution! My opinion follows:
I think the point of view of shunning a widow because she is sealed to someone else is the exact opposite of everything the gospel teaches. This daughter of God has already shown that she is a good person of faith, accepts the gospel and was worthy to be sealed in the Temple. She may now find herself single through no fault of her own through the death of a spouse. This is not a reason to cast her aside or discard her for your own insecurities. If anything, the gospel teaches us to be full of charity toward the widow and the fatherless (James 1:27), to lift the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees (Hebrews 12:12). If you are going to believe in the Priesthood sealing power, you must also accept the rest of the gospel in its entirety which would lead you past your own insecurities in the sealing issue, if you can put your trust in God and exercise faith. There are many reasons to not marry someone, but to discard a faithful woman solely because she is a widow is wrong.
Aside: I have considered deleting this paragraph because I don’t want to come across as harsh or judgmental. But I believe it to be the truth based on my understanding.
As I sat and reflected on my understanding of this issue, it was one thing to feel prompted spiritually that I should marry Julie, a widow. It was another thing entirely to act upon it. This was not an easy thing to do. I had many times of doubt, insecurity and uncertainty. The adversary worked hard to strengthen my insecurities and amplify my doubts. Ultimately I had to take that leap of faith and decide whether I would let my fears and insecurities be stronger than my faith in my loving heavenly father. I chose then and I still choose today to trust my father in heaven and the promptings I felt.
For each of us, if we don't have enough faith to trust with the Holy Ghost when it prompts us to move in a direction then how can you ever expect to have enough faith to receive all the promises given to you in the Temple? Simply being sealed in the Temple does not ensure that you're going to be sealed for time and all eternity. There are lots of blessings that we are given to us that are dependent on further actions, how we live our life, and ultimately who we become.
Let me be also clear that I didn't get married to Julie just for spiritual reasons. No one should marry a widow solely because she is a widow and you are single. I married Julie because I love the person she is and the person she is becoming. Having passed through the tragedies, trials and grief in her life she has become a caring and compassionate woman. I want to be married to a caring and compassionate woman. Through dating we determined that we were a great fit for each other and had great chemistry in our relationship. My decision to ask Julie to marry me was both self-interested and spiritual in motivation.
For each of you that are single I offer some great advice I was given. "For whatever trial in your life, pray to the Lord and ask his help as if it all depended upon the Lord and then work like it all depends upon you." In Proverbs 3:5 it says "trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths." For any person male or female struggling with any of these issues my advice is to humbly inquire of the Lord what his will is in your life. When the answers come through the Holy Ghost, choose to follow them. Acknowledge that the answers come in God's time and not ours. Each of us have a unique path in mission in this life.
To the widows out there I offer you my condolences. I'm sorry for your circumstances having a spouse taken from you prematurely. I know this feels extremely unfair. I'm sure the heartbreak, loneliness and grief are overwhelming at times. If you have started dating I'm sure sealing issue is on one hand, a strength and comfort in knowing your connection to your spouse, and on the other hand a challenge and a source of frustration as you contemplate a second marriage. I hope that you can find someone to marry that is of great faith and has fully embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ in its entirety. I am not saying that my point of view on the sealing issue is right for everyone. I only say that it was right for me.
Just because I felt it was right to marry Julie doesn't mean that second marriages are easy. Both divorced and widowed people come into a second marriage with baggage. My life is infinitely more complex than I thought it would be. We manage relationships with a dead husband and his family, an ex-wife, stepchildren, special needs kids, and challenges of all kinds. We have our moments of peace and happiness in your times of trial and rough patches.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a competition. There is not one winner and one loser. Julie's husband Jake was a really good guy. A faithful member of the church, returned missionary, and serving as Young Men's president when he was killed. The fact that Jake was a really good person has no impact on what type of person I can become. The person the Jake was in no way diminishes me as a husband and father. Comparisons have no benefit to either Jake or me. While some comparisons are inevitable Julie and I try to avoid making them as they only sow the seeds of insecurities, criticism and discontent.
Some people who have heard our story have said "oh you're just a saint." Let me assure you that I am far from a saint. I have many shortcomings, frailties and imperfections. If you doubt that just asked Julie and I'm sure she would be glad to illuminate several to you. Throughout my life I've just tried to be in the right places and do the right things for the right reasons. In this attempt, I’ve been richly blessed.