Practicing Meekness

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned my friend Rob and how his defensiveness hindered his marriage.  A few weeks later, Rob related to me that his wife is not a complainer.  In fact, he said that she is actually a positive person.  Because I knew his wife, I agreed with his assessment.  Furthermore, since Rob was a good friend, I asked him, “Why would you be so defensive when your wife makes suggestions that will improve your finances, or your home, or a child’s life?”  Rob related to me that because of his own lack of confidence in some areas of his life, he perceived some of his wife’s suggestions as a direct attack on him as a person.  Rob said, “I felt that I was inadequate as a husband if the fence wasn’t fixed, or I determined I was a poor father if there was trouble with one of my children.  Now, I came up with those conclusions on my own.  My wife never implied any of that.” 

Like all husbands, Rob wanted his wife to be impressed with him—not to think of him as an incompetent husband and father.  I assured Rob that I believed his wife thought he was a very capable and impressive person.  Then, I shared with him something Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said about husband and wife relationships:  “Think the best of each other….Assume the good and doubt the bad.”[1]  Rob promised me that he would try to work harder on being less defensive and more responsive to his wife’s needs.  He would look for the good in his wife and assume the best.  About two months later, Rob shared the following experience:

  I secured a new job out of state, and we were heavily involved in trying to fix up our house and make the lawn look nice so we could put the home up for sale.  Because of   my present Church calling as a bishop and my heavy involvement in running my business, my wife became exasperated with my busy schedule.  One day, in frustration,   she said, “Were never going to get this house fixed up so we can sell it.” 

  My normal response would have been to say something like, “Well, sorry that I had to be up at the Church all night, and sorry I have to work every day.”  However, I knew I had been wrong with my past responses, and I was working on becoming more meek, and less defensive.  I put my arm around my wife and said, “Don’t worry honey,   were going to get this house fixed up.  It’s going to happen.”  I knew that was only half of   the battle.  She needed more than comfort, she needed a solution.  I then assured her that I would take a few days off from work, and we would hire a man in the ward who needed employment to help us fix a few things.  Instead of an argument, a hug followed, and then we went to work on our house. 

After Rob shared this experience with me, I was proud of the changes he was making.  I reminded him that most often, when our spouses complain, they are not implying that their husbands are incompetent—they simply need comfort, assurance, and resolution.

The apostle Paul taught that those who enjoy the fruits of the spirit in their marriages will have “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” and “will not be desirous of vain glory, provoke one another, or be envious” (Galatians 5:22-26; see also Ephesians 4:2).  In the Book of Mormon, we learn that “because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love” (Moroni 8:26). Indeed, meekness is a fruit of the Spirit.  As couples tap into the power of the Holy Ghost, they will acquire other Christlike attributes. Meekness can unlock other strong virtues in a marriage.  For example, to be meek in marriage is to be humble, kind, gentle, accountable, comforting.  It is to do what the Savior would do.  Meekness is becoming Christlike. 

The following suggestions will help couples practice meekness in their marriage.

1. Learn to honor and respect each other.  Most of us want our spouse to be just like us—to see the world the way we do, to act how we act, and to feel passionate about our passions.  Chances are, however, that you are married to someone very different than you.  Instead of spending your entire marriage trying to change your spouse, or trying to get them to agree with you, learn to “roll with the flow” to some degree.  Trust your spouse and their position, honor them for who they are, and respect those differences.  Surprisingly, more of your conflicts and disagreements will be resolved through honor and respect than by arguing.  Loving your spouse more than you love yourself is the first step to meekness.

2. Be willing to listen to your spouse without feeling the need to defend your position.  When most men and women are in a disagreement, very little listening takes place.  Instead, one spouse is preparing their argument while the other is making theirs.  To listen without interrupting is an indicator of meekness.  In fact, the next time you and your spouse have a disagreement, decide simply to listen rather than talk.  You will be amazed at the outcome.  Years ago, former Brigham Young University Professor, Brent Barlow, posed a question to a group of priesthood brethren:  “How many of you would like to receive a revelation?”  Every hand in the room went upward.  Brother Barlow then suggested that every man should all go home that afternoon ask their wives how they could be better husbands. That would be their revelation!  He added, “I followed my own advice, and had a very informative discussion with [my wife] for more than an hour that afternoon.”[2]  Learning to listen and reflect the concerns of our spouse is to respond with meekness.

3. Recognize your own weaknesses and try to improve them.  After all, we are probably not as kind, loving, and Christlike as we think we are.  There is always room for us to improve and become more like our Savior. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has stated: “The pressures of life in a family will mean that we shall be known as we are, that our frailties will be exposed and, hopefully, we shall then work on them. … It is an encounter with raw selfishness, with the need for civility and taking turns, of being hurt and yet forgiving, of being at the mercy of others’ moods and yet understanding, in part, why we sometimes inflict pain on each other. … The home gives us a great chance to align our public and private behavior, to reduce the hypocrisy in our lives, to be more congruent with Christ.”[3]  Meekness is the recognition that without God, we are nothing, and that we need his help if we are to become like him.  To be meek is to be humble, and recognize that without our Heavenly Father, we are nothing.

4. Strip yourself of selfishness.  President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that selfishness “is the cause of most of our misery.”[4]  We understand the selfishness is the root cause for disagreement, contention, and divorce.  Elder William R. Bradford reminded us that “where there is selfishness, the Spirit of the Lord is absent.”[5]  The meek individual will put others, especially their spouse, before their own wants and needs.  When President and Sister Hinckley had their 60th wedding anniversary, they were interviewed by the Church News.  Sister Hinckley told the reporter, “You cannot be selfish in marriage.  You have to have as your first priority the happiness and comfort of your spouse.  If you work on that, then you are happy too.”[6]  To be meek is to be selfless—putting our spouse’s needs before our very own.

5. Strip yourself of pride.  At a recent General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated that “Pride is a deadly cancer.  It is a gateway sin that leads to a host of other human weaknesses.  In fact, it could be said that every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride.”[7]  Pride can destroy every human relationship we have—especially our marriage relationship.  Pride says “I am right, and you are wrong,” or “My way is the correct way, and your way is ridiculous.”  President Ezra Taft Benson taught us that the inoculation for the disease of pride is humility.[8]

6. Accept responsibility when you make mistakes or cause problems.  For too many, accepting responsibility is difficult to do.  It is as if men and women cannot have the “stain” of sin or fault on their shoulders.  We need to get over that notion quickly.  We are mortal, and all of us make mistakes—daily.  Remember the words of John in the New Testament, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).  Likewise, the apostle Paul taught, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  I am reminded of a newlywed couple who were having a disagreement.  The husband asked the wife, “So, are you going to apologize?”  His young bride responded, “No, I am never going to apologize to you because I am never wrong.”  When I heard this, I thought that this couple will have much to learn in the years ahead!  President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “If each spouse submits to frequent self-analysis and measures his own imperfections by the yardstick of perfection and the Golden Rule, and if each spouse set about to correct self in every deviation found by such analysis rather than to set about to correct the deviations in the other party, then transformation comes and happiness is the result.”[9]  Husbands are wife who possess the quality of meekness will take responsibility for their behavior, and will be quick to apologize to their spouse for their mistakes.

7. Only if you sacrifice for a cause will you love it.  One great indicator of meekness is our willingness to make sacrifices for our spouse.When the Apostle Paul taught, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25), he was teaching the principle of sacrifice.  It is good periodically to ask ourselves, “What have I sacrificed lately for my spouse’s happiness?”  President Howard W. Hunter is a wonderful example of sacrifice and meekness in marriage.  Before his marriage, Howard W. Hunter was a promising musician, in fact; music had been one of his greatest joys in life.  However, on 6 June 1931, four days before his marriage to Claire Jeffs, Howard “packed up his saxophones and clarinets and his music and put them away.”  He later said, “Since that night, I have never touched my musical instruments except on a few occasions….  Although this left a void of something I had enjoyed, the decision has never been regretted.”[10]  In order to create a happy marriage, both husband and wife should be making sacrifices for their marriage and the family.  President Spencer W. Kimball taught that “if each spouse is forever seeking the interests, comforts, and happiness of the other, the love ….. will grow.”[11]  The meek marriage partner will seek to understand and meet the needs of their spouse—often at the expense of their own needs.

8. Ask, “Lord, is it I?”  Each spouse contributes something to the problems in their marriage.  However, no one can really control their spouse’s behaviors; the best place to begin the change process is with us.  Some experts call this the “I Change First” Rule.  Even though both partners in the marriage have made some mistakes—the other spouse’s mistakes should not concern us.  The best thing we can do to improve our marriage is to improve ourselves.  Our own behavior is really the only thing we have control over anyway.

9. Seek the Spirit.  If married partners would each seek to have the Lord’s Spirit in their lives each day, they could overcome many of the common challenges that face couples.  Human kindness and charity wane when spiritual resources are ignored or forgotten.  Once couples lose the Spirit, their relationship deteriorates.  They may become sarcastic, or angry, or critical, or defensive, or uncaring.  On the other hand, when an eternal perspective of marriage is clear, and the Savior is a part of the relationship, it is much easier to be kind, and considerate.  The nearer we are to God, the more likely we will be to have his attributes.  As we come to know the Savior, we can obtain the mind of Christ.  When we begin to think how he thinks, and behave how he behaves, it is amazing what we can accomplish and overcome in our marriage relationships.  When we have Christ-like character traits, the Holy Ghost will be with us to inspire us and teach us how to act and what to say.  Meekness comes to those who seek the Spirit and pray for humility.

[1] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee,” BYU Speeches 1999-2000, 160-161.

[2] Brent A. Barlow, “To Build a Better Marriage,” Ensign, September 1992, 7.

[3] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Feb. 1972, 7.

[4] President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, November 1988, 54.

[5] Elder William R. Bradford, Ensign, April 1983, 51.

[6] Marjorie Hinckley, Church News, 19 April 1997, 3.

[7] President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Pride and the Priesthood,” Ensign, November 2010, 56.

[8] President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1989, 6-7.

[9] President Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 19.

[10] Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City:  Deseret Book, 1994), 81.

[11] President Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce (Salt Lake City:  Deseret Book, 1976), 23.